Backdrop

Lyrics

(1)

The Leicester YOP/TEP instructor (2)
Emerged from corridor
His state-subsidized cannabis haze (3)
Moved reptilian in its all-levelling routine

I said to him
It's about time you started thinking
About the black dog on your back (4)
I said it's about time you started thinking
About the rerun which is your life
Moveable backdrop

The Leicester YOP instructor 
Emerged from corridor
His state-subsidized cannabis haze 
Moved reptilian 

Moveable backdrop
The backdrop shifted and changed, shifted and changed

The Manchester regiment of the Stuarts 
Would not tread on your patch
Got nearly down to Derby, you know
Was stopped by stinking Billy (5)
And rode a racing horse which I had liberated
From a Tyneside Lord (6)

I said to the men
It's about time you started thinking
About the black dog on your back
It's about time you started thinking
About the void in your life
A military prison or worse, or worse
Moveable backdrop
The backdrop shifted and changed

The semite man's home was full of sperm (7) 
And pulled down 
His Mezuzah was kicked around (8)
As I did it I said to them
It's about time you started thinking about the black dog on your back
It's about time you started thinking about the void which is your life
But the backdrop shifted and changed
So did not even know what song was, what it was (9)

The backdrop shifted and changed 

Moveable backdrop, moveable backdrop
The backdrop shifted and drifted

Who put the yellow pills in the Gordon's gin? (10)
The backdrop shifted and changed
Until did not even know
When the lot come up
Bomb-hole in our sched..., bomb-hole in our sched-ULE, sched-ULE (11)

(12)

Who put the yellow pills in the Gordon's gin?Who put the yellow pills in the Gordon's gin?
Who put the yellow pills in the Gordon's gin?
The backdrop shifted and changed
Till the reptillian TEP instructor merged
With stinking Billy's morass of flesh
And the Yorkies drifted
1902 Metropole (13)
The Yorkies, Ripley Yorks, shifted and drifted (14)
I said to them it's about time you started thinking about the black dog on your back
I said it's about time you started thinking about the void in your life
Moveable backdrop, moveable backdrop

The backdrop shifted, the backdrop shifted and changed
And this was The Fall
Goodnight (15)

Notes

1. The lyrics here are from the version on In a Hole, from a performance on August 21, 1982. There is no studio version of the song; In A Hole is the version on the Lyrics Parade, which was my template. But there are certain lyrics missing that appear on other versions; these will be filled in in the footnotes.

"Bournemouth Runner" is about a Fall backdrop that got stolen. Whereas the "backdrop" in this song is not simply a literal stage prop, it is nevertheless enlightening to reflect that the author of the lyrics has spent a good part of his life playing music in front of a moveable backdrop. Here there seems to be a suggestion that a variety of times, settings and even events are a moveable backdrop before which the same scene continutally plays out. Either the characters are essentially the same, or their actions repeat the same sort of pattern, regardless of the varying details. This conceit is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick's notion that history is a "Black Iron Prison"; Dick (a writer for whom MES has expressed admiration numerous times, and see "The Aphid") speculates that time stopped in the early centuries C.E. (during the time when the Roman Empire persecuted early Christians), and the trappings of subsequent times are a thin veneer masking this fact.  

^

2. YOP stands for Youth Opportunites Programme. The Wikipedia entry for the latter is short, so I reproduce it here in its entirety:

"The Youth Opportunities Programme was a UK government scheme for helping 16- to 18-year-olds into employment. It was introduced in 1978 under the government of James Callaghan, was expanded in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher's government, and ran until 1983 when it was replaced by the Youth Training Scheme.

People taking part in the YOP scheme were informally known as YOPpers."

On the version from the bonus disc of Perverted by Language (from 10/27/1983), MES keeps up with the times by substituting "YTS" for "YOP," and the character is now an "inspector." TEP could stand for Teacher Education Program, as I had initally surmised, since the protagonist is an "instructor," but it seems more likely to be a shortened form of STEP, or Special Temporary Employment Programme, a program that began in 1978 and provided temporary government jobs to the indigent.

^

3. In 2010 a cannabis-based pill was approved for medical use in England. Since this post-dates the song under consideration by around 30 years, it seems more likely that the state was unwittingly subsidizing the instructor's marijuana habit.

^

4. The phrase  "a black dog on [one's] back" is sometimes used as a metaphor for depression.

^

5. The Manchester Regiment were a unit of Jacobite soldiers, who attempted to place the Catholic Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charley," 1720-1788) on the throne of Scotland and England during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Having scored some military victories in Scotland, Stuart's Jacobites marched into England, where they recruited some 300 men in Manchester, mostly from the ranks of the unemployed. English support for a Catholic restoration wasn't as strong as Stuart had figured, and the Jacobites soon retreated back into Scotland. Many of the Manchester men were imprisoned or executed, and the remainder returned to Scotland with the Jacobites, where the rebellion was put down by the Hanoverian Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (known as "Stinking Billy")  at the Battle of Culloden. See also "The N.W.R.A." As with the latter song, there seem to be time shifts or jumps going on, here indicated in the lyrics by the line "the backdrop shifted and changed." William was born in a house called "Leicester House," which is a connection back to the first verse. On the 10/27/83 version, MES sings "Lancashire regiment."  

^

6. Tyneside is in northern England. On some live versions, the racing horse is "crucifixed."  

^

7. The word "semite" looks like it may be etymologically related to "semen," although it is not. "Semen" comes from the Latin word for "seed." "Semite" derives from Shem, a son of Noah. The name "Shem" itself means "name" in Hebrew. On the PBL version the lyrics include the following lines: "His math map metaphysics was strewn around/Had to sleep with his girlfriend in chains/Ha ha, ha ha....you wouldn't laugh if you had to take them off her..."  

^

8. A Mezuzah (MES pronounces it "Mezuzo")  is a small scroll or sheet of parchment, containing verses of the Torah, that is affixed to the doorpost in a Jewish home.

^

9. Sometimes "Did not know where the bathroom was" is added.

^

10. Gordon's is a London dry gin, originally produced in 1769. "London dry" is a variety of gin; Gordon's is mostly produced in Scotland. Yellow pills could be a variety of drugs; the most famous lyrical reference to yellow pills, from the Rolling Stones song "Mother's Little Helper" ("and though she's not really ill, there's a little yellow pill") is variously thought to be about either Valium, Quaaludes, or Nembutal.  

We should also consider this comment from Zack:

"Whilst discussing yellow pills and Gordon's gin on The Mighty Fall Facebook group yesterday, a Fall fan posted a link to a YouTube video of a song called "Who Put The Benzadrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?" by Harry "the Hipster" Gordon (1944).

A bit of cursory googling reveals an older (likely related) song: "Who Threw The Overalls In Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" (1898).

I'll let you connect the dots."

At this point in the song, MES usually sings, "The stars drip from the sky/ In a race upside down." See also "Birtwistle's Girl in Shop." Dan points out:

MES will probably have been familiar with the Albert Camus line:

"Sometimes at night I would sleep open-eyed under a sky dripping with stars. I was alive then."

Whether he nicked the line we are not in a position to say, but it's possible he remembered it. The image of a sky dripping with stars is not unique, at any rate.

^

11. From the liner notes to Grotesque: "GRAB before all bands sign on for e.m.i. pension scheme and over-reactive elements in their discomfort try to bomb a hole on [sic] the Falls' [sic] schedule..."  

^

12. At roughly this point in the song, the following lyrics appear in the PBL rendition: "The steak was friendly and bendy/And lumbered into the incensed restaurant/The steak was six foot cooked/The backdrop shifted and changed/Til did not know what song what it, what it, what it, what it, what it..." And from the Austurbaejarbio version (May 6, 1983): "Was cast as adulterous schemer/The steak was friendly and bendy/And lumbered into the hotel/The steak was six foot cooked/Had a palm buzzer in Brisbane/Bomb a hole in our sched...bomb a hole in our sched-ULE...bomb a hole in our sched-ULE/Had a palm buzzer in Brisbane/Was cast...adulterous shemer/The backdrop shifted and changed!"    

 ^

13.  In 1902 the Metropole Hotel in Catalina Island, California was the scene of a famous murder (from WIkipedia):

"[Earl] Rogers is also remembered for the defense in the Catalina Island murder case. In the early morning hours of August 13, 1902 at the Metropole Hotel, a colorful gambler and cardsharp named William A. Yeagar, known as "the Louisville Sport", was murdered during a cardgame. Alfred Boyd was one of three men in a room playing poker. Upon hearing the sound of gunshots, a bartender entered the room, and saw two men and the dead body of the third, bleeding over the Ace of Spades. Harry Johnson, the third man at the table, ran from the room yelling "He shot him, he shot him!" and handed Boyd's gun to the bartender. The first man on the scene and almost-witness bartender Jim Davin thought there was no question that Boyd was the killer. Boyd was charged with the murder, and Rogers won his acquittal after getting Johnson effectively to confess under masterful cross-examination."

MES sometimes says "the Metropole, Brighton." The Hilton Metropole Brighton is a four-star hotel which was built in 1890.

^

 

14. Ripley is a village in North Yorkshire. Ripley Castle, built in the 14th century, has been continuously occupied by the Ingleby (after 1780, "Ingilby") family from that time until the present day. The Inglebys were at one time recusant Catholics; the castle contains a "priest hole," a nook behind wall panelling in which a priest could hide from Protestant pursuers. Francis Ingleby was hung, drawn and quartered in 1586 for the crime of being a practicing Catholic priest (he was beatified in 1987 by John Paul II). In 1605, Sir William Ingleby was accused of participating in the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to kill the Protestant James I by blowing up the House of Lords (still commemorated every November 5 on Guy Fawkes Day); conspirators Robert and Thomas WIntour were his grandsons. The plotters had apparently stayed at Ripley Castle for a while during the planning stages of the assassination; however, William was acquitted. I have been unable to find any record of the doings of the Inglebys during the second Jacobite Rising; either in 1617, or at some point in the 18th century, depending on the source, the family became Protestant, and I have been unable to determine whether their true sympathies might have remained, for a time, with the religion of Bonnie Prince Charley. In general, Ripley seems to have been somewhat of a hotbed of Catholic dissent, and in the 18th century--the time of the Jacobite Risings--their numbers were reportedly growing; around the middle of the 1700s, Catholics are reported to have made up a quarter of the population of the parish of the Church of England that included Ripley Castle. Twenty-two Jacobite rebels were executed in York in 1745, and their heads were displayed on one of the gates of the city, the Micklegate Bar--such were the men the song's narrator warns of "a military prison or worse."  

 ^

15. Five more songs appear on the setlist for the evening; its not clear whether this was a set closer and they were all encores, or whether MES's "goodnight" was premature.  

^

More Information

Backdrop: Fall Tracks A-Z

The Story of the Fall: 1982

The Fall Online Forum: Backdrop; the discussion is worth reading, among other reasons, for some fascinating but probably apocryphal reflections on a David Icke connection.

Comments (20)

Stephen Parkin
  • 1. Stephen Parkin | 20/03/2013

YOP could have meant the Youth Opportunity Programme, an attempt by the Govt to shift the blame for youth unemployment onto unemployed youth; the YOP was generally seen as useless, in its stated aim of getting young people back into work, rather than taking them out of the unemployment figures. (Introduced by Labour, expanded by the Tories.)

Stephen Parkin
  • 2. Stephen Parkin | 20/03/2013

Sorry - the YOP was introduced in 1978, and replaced in 1983 by the Youth Training Scheme (the YTS - those initials should crop up in a Fall lyric somewhere, but I don't know if they do).

bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 24/03/2013

Thanks, Stephen--you're absolutely right. In fact, YTS does crop up in a Fall lyric--in the version on the PBL bonus disc, from late 1983, "YOP" is replaced by "YTS." I updated the notes above, and many thanks to you and to Martin on the FOF who also pointed this out.

George Cochrane
  • 4. George Cochrane | 20/06/2013

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA at "First Avenue" on 4/27/83 MES adds a little more information for the American audience. The first time around he sings "Leicester YOP job instructor emeged..." The next time his omits the "job" in keeping with known and sited versions. To my (American) mind this further clarifies his intentions.

George Cochrane
  • 5. George Cochrane | 02/09/2013

On August 6,1982 in Melbourne Australia at Mt.Erica Hotel clarifies the lyric as he sings "I said to the Liecester Youth Opportunity Programmer, it's about time your all-leveling routine was cut down." So there it is!

Jeff
  • 6. Jeff | 12/09/2013

is it definitely "steak" each time? The first couple times on Austubaejarbio it sounds like "state," which seems more meaningful, but not like an MES-ism.

bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 07/10/2013

Jeff,

Now I'm not sure, I'll listen again. Maybe it is "state." I always heard "steak." He does say "six foot COOKED," though.

Martin
  • 8. Martin | 23/01/2014

Manchester University, 4 December 1982: "It's about time you started thinking about the re-run of your life... about that big snake on your back. The snake was friendly, bendy and lumbered into the hotel. It was a friendly snake. Had a cousin that just emigrated."

Lyceum, London, 12 Decembrr 1982: "Said it's started thinking about that snake on your back. The snake was friendly and bendy..."

These are from two of the middle performances of the song. "Snake" would tie in with the animal theme (horse, dog) and also echo the use of "reptilian".

bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 23/04/2014

On Austurbaejarbio I clearly hear "steak." I don't have those other ones, but it looks like I have one from August of 1982 and one from December 2nd, which should be the same as the one on the 4th, one would think.

George Cochrane
  • 10. George Cochrane | 19/05/2015

Another thing: I was always baffled by "Tyneside morgue" but I think I now hear, correctly, "Tyneside lord." Now "liberated" takes on a different, less opaque meaning: stolen.

dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 14/06/2015

"And rode a racing horse which I had liberated
From a Tyneside morgue "

This is a curious image, what's going on?

Is this supposed to be a dead horse brought back to life or living death? Is it another way of saying "flogging a dead horse"? Or did the horse belong to a mortician?

bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 26/06/2015

Did you read the comment previous to yours, Dan? I'm running with it but I don't have time to check it, particularly with all the versions I have of this song, which would have to be cross-checked in the event of mumbling. I will just go with it and somebody come back at me here if they hear something else, or think "morgue" is clear. If I get a chance to check it tonight I will.

dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 13/09/2015

Yeah, listened again. It's "lord" in this version, isn't it?

In other versions the horse is "crucifixed". No idea.

dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 13/09/2015

"And rode a racing horse which I had liberated
From a Tyneside Lord"

Here's a thought. It kind of fits but also kind of doesn't.

The verse in question is a bit tricky, as it's not clear who is supposed to be speaking.

But what if the racing horse in question is White Sorrell? There's a famous picture of this horse, which is the horse from which William III fell and received the injury from which he died.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wra-1356327493272/article-1355829878058/

White Sorrell was the premier racehorse of Jacobite sympathiser Sir John Fenwick of Wallington Hall, Northumberland. Northumberland and Tyneside are neighbours, so it doesn't entirely fit. But, the point here is that Fenwick was executed for his part in a plot to assassinate King William, and that White Sorrell (among other Fenwick property) was confiscated by the crown... and the horse stumbled on a mole hill, the King fell off, and later died from complications from his injuries.

So there's a race horse. The race horse is "liberated". From "a lord". The Lord was from Northumberland, but that seems close enough. So is the "I" in this verse King William himself? Could be, although the natural flow of the verse is a bit disjointed if so, because "and" in the previous line seems to indicate that one of the Manchester Jacobites is the one with the stolen horse (there were stolen horses in the regiment, it seems, as well as other hints in bits of books I've seen that the Young Pretender himself rode a stolen horse at times).

Anyway, worth noting.

dannyno
  • 15. dannyno | 01/05/2016

I think TEP is supposed to be STEP, the Special Temporary Employment Programme:
http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=4945&view=findpost&p=22574277

Dan

dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 02/05/2016

Bomb/schedule

So this line seems to date back to Grotesque's liner notes in 1980. So the question is, is it meant metaphorically, or does it refer to an actual bombing which disrupted, or potentially could have disrupted, The Fall's travel/tour plans?

bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt | 24/06/2016

The USA has a "Student Temporary Employment Program." I can't find when it started but of course even if it was around in 1982 or so it would be very unlikely that this is what he means, I was just kind of curious...

bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt | 24/06/2016

Re: 16, something like that seems likely as MES often has something in mind that makes the lyrics make a lot more sense, more targeted and in that sense more rigorous, than they seem to at first, as we've both discovered many times over the past three and a half years...don't you think? We should look into it, and by "we" I of course mean you.

Zack
  • 19. Zack | 29/06/2017

Whilst discussing yellow pills and Gordon's gin on The Mighty Fall Facebook group yesterday, a Fall fan posted a link to a YouTube video of a song called "Who Put The Benzadrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?" by Harry "the Hipster" Gordon (1944).

A bit of cursory googling reveals an older (likely related) song: "Who Threw The Overalls In Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" (1898).

I'll let you connect the dots.

dannyno
  • 20. dannyno | 29/06/2017

I like comment #19, but are there any other examples of MES being so deliberately cryptic in this way in Fall lyrics? His texts are not really full of puzzles like that, are they?

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