Alton Towers



In excelcis (2)
And the waves
Through the slits
In San Rocco (3)
Look very different
And are no longer any way sublime (4)
How to get out
How to stay thin
The spawn of J. "Loaded" Brown (5)
And L. Laverne crawl around (6)
The crows
Look very different today
And the crows are not reflecting
Any form of quality
At all (7)
On the saint of advertisers dead (8)
How to get in
How to get out
The spawn of J. "Loaded" Brown
And L. Laverne
are laughing
In excelsis
Mongs crawl around
And their sons are singing songs
In Leeds, Montreal and Rome
How to get out
How to stay in
The spawn of J. "Loaded" Brown
And L. Laverne
With the dept. of no name (9)



1. Alton Towers is a theme park in Staffordshire, England, that occupies the site of an Iron Age fort, later a medieval fortress, and still later a castle. Its theme song is "In the Hall of the Mountain King," by Edvard Grieg, which was composed for Ibsen's 1876 play Peer Gynt. The bass line of the Fall song is similar to the theme that tuns through Grieg's piece, which may be why the song has this name. Veritable hordes of rock acts have had a stab at Grieg's theme, including Rainbow, ELO, The Who, Savatage, Helloween, Brian Setzer, and Marillion. The lyrics to Grieg's piece are sufficiently amusing to merit inclusion here (in English translation):

Slay him! The Christian's son has bewitched
The Mountain King's fairest daughter!
Slay him!
Slay him!
May I hack him on the fingers?
May I tug him by the hair?
Hu, hey, let me bite him in the haunches!
Shall he be boiled into broth and bree to me
Shall he roast on a spit or be browned in a stewpan?
Ice to your blood, friends!

The Macc Lads, a British punk band from Macclesfield, released a song called "Alton Towers" in 1994. There is no apparent connection to the Fall song, but it does contain the memorable lyric "Fuck cunt wank shit."


2. In excelsis is Latin for "in the highest degree." The phrase appears in the hymns "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" and "Angels we Have Heard on High," and there is a cantata by Bach called "Gloria in Excelsis Deo."


3. San Rocco (named after a 14th century saint, called "St. Roch" in English) is most famously a church in Venice, Italy. There is also apparently an Italian restaurant in the Manchester area with that name, which may be what MES is thinking of here. "The waves through the slits," on the other hand, could suggest a Venetian view through, appropriately enough, Venetian blinds. According to Simon Wolstencroft's memoir, MES visited Venice frequently (thanks to Dan).

Both San Rocco's could be in play, and to compound the matter, in the comment section Danny has advanced another theory: "the waves through the slits" could be a reference to the "double-slit experiment" in which light passing through very narrow slits exhibits wave-particle duality, in other words displays properties of both particles and waves which had been thought to be mutually exclusive. See note 7 below.

And here is more, from Dan:

An echo of these lyrics that I've just spotted in a 2010 Quietus interview:

Whenever I go to Italy, or Venice where I've only been two or three times, I'm never out of the churches. You find these little churches, and they're open for three hours a day, some old priest comes and lets you in. And they've got Titian, you know what I mean? It's like being in a Hollywood film from the 50s, so rich. You forget the size of these things. They'll have these slits in the stone, like arrow slits, and the light will come in and hit Jesus in the eye, and it looks like he's crying. 


4. The sublime in art usually refers to an experience of nature as powerful or overwhelming, rather than beautiful or tranquil. Joseph Turner's 1805 painting The Shipwreck is a famous example of a depiction of the sea that attempts to convey an experience of the sublime.  


5. James Brown is a British journalist who founded the magazine Loaded,  a popular "lad mag" (or what is called a "men's magazine" iin the United States); lad mags are publications that are targeted at males and that usually include pictures of, and material about, attractive women. MES gave what is perhaps his most notoriously inebriated interview to Loaded in 1997, in which he threatened and berated the interviewer (and several other parties into the bargain). At one point, he refers to the interviewer as a "Macc lad" (i.e. from Macclesfield), which is the closest thing I could find (thanks to Reformation) to a connection with the song mentioned in note 1.  


6. Lauren Laverne (Lauren Cecelia Fisher) is a British DJ, television presenter, and sometime rock and roll musician who is the source of perhaps the most anodyne controversy in the history of the Fall. Interviewing Mark E Smith, she inquired whether he was ever tempted to kick his wife out of the band; he replied "Don't get funny with me," and the interview proceeded to its conclusion, at which point Laverne happily proclaimed that MES was a congenial fellow, despite his reputation for prickliness. Nevertheless, she has since declared that she was so traumatized by this brief remark that she can no longer bear to listen to the Fall.


7. Nineteenth Century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and, following him, 20th Century philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre described the experience of anxiety as a state of mind in which things appear stripped of significance, presenting themselves as meaningless. The crows are also perhaps reminiscent of Wallace Stevens' famous poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," in which the titular birds are placed in various scenes or juxtaposed with various phenomena in such a way that they condition or congelate a range of meanings. The final stanza, however, presents the reader with the bare presence of a blackbird, no more and no less than a part of a simple winter scene. This last blackbird is not made to reflect any kind of quality, it is simply placed before us in such a way that we are not called on to contextualize or interpret its presence in a cedar tree:

It was evening all afternoon. 
It was snowing 
And it was going to snow. 
The blackbird sat 
In the cedar-limbs.

It seems that the world in this song has been stripped of beauty and mystery; the waves in the double-slit experiment (see note 3 above) have robbed the waves of San Rocco of their sublimity, the crows are denuded of quality, and below we see "mongs" (I know) crawling around on their hands and knees, considering the ground rather than the heavens. At the same time, the double-slit experiment is not your typical reduction of the world to bare facts we might expect in such a context: the human observer, for one thing, occupies a dispositive position in such experiments, and the world discovered is, if not in any obvious way a reflection of human desires, at least a correlate of the cogito (at least indirectly, as it is not so much an actual observer as the experimental parameters she has set that are dispositive, if I understand it correctly). The realm of value in this song is reduced to the twin banalities of advertising and chattering celebrities; in that sense, we could almost see this song as a miniature "Garden," without the theology of the latter or very much of its sublimity. 


8. The patron saint of advertisers is Saint Bernadino (thanks to dannyno).


9. Smith often sings an abbreviated word phonetically, as with "dept." here ("dept." also appears in "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul"). "The department of no name" is mentioned in "Is This New," also on Imperial Wax Solvent.  


Comments (30)

  • 1. dannyno | 17/03/2013
"saint of advertisers dead"

The patron saint of advertisers is Saint Bernadino of Siena
  • 2. dannyno | 17/03/2013
A rook is of course a bird that looks a bit like a crow.It is also the name of the castle in chess. The Italian word for "fortress" is "rocco".

What this may mean is anyone's guess.
  • 3. dannyno | 17/03/2013
"dept of no name"

The "department of no name" also appears in the lyrics of "Is this New" on the same album.
  • 4. dannyno | 17/03/2013
"And the crows are not reflecting
Any form of quality
At all"

"The Crows" is the nickname of Royston Town FC, based in Hertfordshire. In the period up to the release of Imperial Wax Solvent in 2008 they were indeed struggling ;-)
  • 5. dannyno | 17/03/2013
And weirdly, since Royston Town FCs nickname is "The Crows", St Roch's FC, Glasgow, is on Royston Road. Just coincidence, I'm sure, but worth recording.
  • 6. dannyno | 13/10/2013
"waves through the slits".

I've been thinking the sea through windows, but could this be the first Fall song to address the weighty topic of experimental quantum physics?
  • 7. bzfgt | 15/10/2013
Yeah, Danny (comment 6)--now that you say it, it's impossible not to think of that, it seems likely in fact that there is at least a secondary reference to physics there.
  • 8. dannyno | 28/11/2013
Worth noting that MES is on record as liking Venetian artists like Tintoretto, who did stuff for San Rocco.

And there is the San Rocco monastery on Sicily which is now the Isidor I Rabi Institute: Probably a red herring, but the Venetian artist link I feel to be significant.

  • 9. dannyno | 04/12/2014
Simon Wolstencroft's book, "You Can Drum But You Can't Hide", reveals that MES is (or was) a regular visitor to Venice. Venetian references therefore have plausibility. Just noting that.
  • 10. dannyno | 09/12/2014
The facade of San Rocco's, Venice, was designed by the Italian architect Bernardino Maccarucci, who shares a first name with the "saint of advertiser's dead".

It never ends, this stuff.
  • 11. dannyno | 04/06/2015
"And the waves / Through the slits / In San Rocco / Look very different"

This line, I've suddenly realised, reminds me of this line:

"I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating
in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today"

Space Oddity, David Bowie
  • 12. dannyno | 04/06/2015
And the crows look different today to, so another Bowie echo.

See also "The steps look different today" from On My Own.
  • 13. dannyno | 13/06/2015
Note 9 typo:

  • 14. clay | 11/11/2015
MES also uses 'dept' for 'department' in "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul": "I was in the supervision dept..."
  • 15. dannyno | 24/02/2016
An echo of these lyrics that I've just spotted in a 2010 Quietus interview:

Whenever I go to Italy, or Venice where I've only been two or three times, I'm never out of the churches. You find these little churches, and they're open for three hours a day, some old priest comes and lets you in. And they've got Titian, you know what I mean? It's like being in a Hollywood film from the 50s, so rich. You forget the size of these things. They'll have these slits in the stone, like arrow slits, and the light will come in and hit Jesus in the eye, and it looks like he's crying.

There is a Titian, "Christ Carrying the Cross" in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice. Whether this is what MES is referring to, or if he is referring to anything in particular, I don't know.
  • 16. dannyno | 29/10/2016
Just to come back to my previous thoughts linking crows, Royston Town FC and St Roch etc. Was just reading W. B. Lockwood's Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names, and found an entry for "Royston Crow". This is another name for the hooded Crow, "the reference is to Royston (herts), where migrant birds appeared on the heath in winter..."
  • 17. Zack | 04/03/2017
"Monks" should be "Mongs," I'm sorry to say - see the handwritten lyric sheet posted on the FOF: .
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
"Considering the ground rather than the heavens" doesn't make as much sense any more, but I'll keep it until I think of something better to say.
  • 19. Wrayx8 | 19/03/2017
I fucking love everything about this. One of those Annotated Fall pages that really gives you some new perspectives. Nice one.
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
Thank you, Wray! I assume you're the wraywraywraywretc. from the FOF?
  • 21. dannyno | 16/12/2018
In the Smiley-related novels of John Le Carre, "the Department" is (according to David Monaghan's encyclopedic Smiley's Circus, the "Branch of British Intelligence concerned with military targets. The Department is of major importance during the Second World War. By the 1960s, however, its role is greatly diminished and most of its functions have been taken over..."

Although what it would be doing as a linking reference on Imperial Wax Solvent I have no idea at this time. So perhaps it's a red herring.
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 19/01/2019
Yeah I mean he doesn't get amnesia (wasn't there a Le Carre character who had amnesia?) every month, why couldn't he be thinking of this as a vague sinister-spy-y kind of name kicking around his brain?
  • 23. dannyno | 19/01/2019
I don't remember whether there was a Le Carre character with amnesia.

<mike drop>

You're right, of course.
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 24. Dr X O'Skeleton | 24/06/2019
Just to clarify on the double slit experiment, in its original form it demonstrated that light is a wave because it produces an interference pattern (light and dark bands). Later it was done with electrons, and produced the same pattern, showing that electrons behave both as particles and a wave. However, I think in the context of this song, the slits appear to be ones in church walls (as the MES quote suggests), making Christ appear to cry. I think the meaning is the decline of the sublime.
Alton John
  • 25. Alton John | 11/01/2021
think its "On the saint of advertisers day" not "dead". May 20th apparently.
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 28/02/2021
Huh that would make sense, the vowel sounds more like "eh" to me so I'm not sure (25)
George Mc
  • 27. George Mc | 02/05/2022
The bit about the crows always reminded me of that creepy moment in Philip K Dick’s “Time Out Of Joint” in which the main character boards a bus that seems to be full of people but then seems to suffer an hallucination whereby the people around him are revealed to be cardboard cut-outs. I had no idea why the crow line from the song should make me think of this passage in the Dick book but when I consult the book again I read:

“The sides of the bus became transparent. He saw out into the street, the sidewalk and stores. Thin support struts, the skeleton of the bus. Metal girders, an empty hollow box. No other seats. Only a strip, a length of planking, on which upright featureless shapes like scarecrows had been propped. They were not alive… Ahead of him he saw the driver; the driver had not changed. The red neck. Strong, wide back. Driving a hollow bus… He was the only person on the bus, outside of the

Scarecrows, you see! I must have made the connection unconsciously.
Mark Oliver
  • 28. Mark Oliver | 26/08/2023
I have nothing to add which is relevant to the song, but I'll mention a couple of things this piece reminded me of; when I was a little kid, we made the short hop to Alton Towers- in those days, it was pre- the big theme park rides.. they had the gardens and a small funfair. I found a tiny froglet and mithered my parents to let me take it home, without success. James Brown...I encountered him once, at Eric's club in Liverpool (conceivably at one of the Fall gigs I saw there). He was selling his fanzine, 'Attack on Bzag' and was quite the pushy bleeder.. I demurred..
david rathbone
  • 29. david rathbone (link) | 21/10/2023
Footnote four is right: the sublime and the beautiful are the two halves of aesthetic experience as defined by Kant in his Crtique of Judgment. In the expereince of the beautiful, the mind feels the Understanding, Imagination and Reason all working together in harmony. But the experience of the sublime is different. It is terror sublimated into understanding. We see the raging storm approaching at the cliff-top, and we realize that we could be annihilated in an instant, so weak and insignificant are we. But then it dawns on us suddenly that we know our fragility, our weakness and insecurity. This reminds us that there are forces greater than us to which we have access, like Reason. So we get the hell outta there and seek shelter. That moment of experience, when we feel the actual terror of immanent destruction, but know reason's ability to avoid it: that is the feeling of the sublime. It's why horror movies are popular, and rides at amusement parks. Real sublime is profound. Ersatz sublime is nauseating.
Comment #24 is also right: the demise of the expereince of the sublime in a banal world which shields you from all danger and replaces it with a simulacrum of danger is the real lament of this song. A mighty ancient fortress devolved into a theme-park is symbolic of the middle-mass's descent into all-consuming banality. I think of "the waves through the slits" as what a soldier with a bow and arrow saw looking out of the battlement scanning for invaading ships, knowing he could die at any moment. It's not physics which has stripped our lives of the experience of the sublime -- on the contrary, wave/particle duality seems to me a kind of sublime idea. But I don't believe that's what MES had in mind, so much as the dusky realm of decadence in a bland safety-world of organized experience.

Crows are the smartest birds. Remember Eva's Warning by Snakefinger: "it follwed from in front of me since I was very small."
david rathbone
  • 30. david rathbone (link) | 25/10/2023
Oh yeah, and Captain Beefhearts's final musical statement: Icecream for Crow (7th August 1982)
(compare the front cover of the Fall single "High Tension Line" - lines of transmission)

stop the show
I need to say hello
to the crow

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