Leave the Capitol



The tables covered in beer
Showbiz whines, minute detail (2)
Hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square (3)
It's vaudeville pub back room dusty pictures of
White frocked girls and music teachers
The beds too clean
Water's poisonous for the system

And you know in your brain
Leave the capitol!   (4)
Exit this Roman Shell!  
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home
One room, one room

Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman shell! (5)

Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home 
One room

Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave The Capitol!
I live with cancer death wife! (6)

Then you know you must leave the capitol

It will not drag me down
I will leave this ten times town
I will leave this fucking dump
One room, one room

Hotel maids smile in unison
Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman shell!  
Then you know you must leave the capitol

I laughed at the great god, Pan! (7)
I didnae, I didnae
I laughed at the great god Pan
I didnae, I didnae
I didnae, I didnae, I didnae, I didnae
I didnae, I didnae

Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman shell! 
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Pan resides in welsh green masquerades
On welsh cat caravans
But the monty (8)
Hides in curtains
Grey blackish cream
All the paintings you recall
All the side stepped cars
All the brutish laughs
From the flat and the wild dog downstairs  (9)




1. Mark E. Smith hates London, although in the sleeve notes for Slates the following note appears: "Any capital. Polite no-manners plus barman of the year claimants = quick exit." On the other hand, this song could be taken as a horror tale rather than a straightforward slag on London (see especially note 5 below). As for the spelling, "capitol" originally referred to the temple to Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, or the hill itself, and is probably chosen to highlight the Roman history of London (see note 4).

MartinM writes on the Fall Online Forum, in response to a question about the meaning of the exhortation in the title of the song:

Because "capital" means more than London: it's a reference to the head (as in, "capital punishment" - your head is deprived of life).

So I always heard the song as both anti-London and anti-logic or anti-habit: get out of the confines of metropolitan thought imposed by our barren time modelled on Roman ideals (straight roads, worship of armed force), and return to older, instinctive ways of thought and imagination. 

That's why the "London" voice has always laughed at the great god - and the Scot, the Celt, the voice from marginal places "didnae": in those zones "Pan" is a living reality. Follow it, and you will indeed go "straight home."

Arthur Machen, the author of "The Great God Pan," seems to be an important influence on this song (see notes 6 and 7 below). Mark E. Smith once declared, “MR James is good, but Machen's fucking brilliant," and at one point he was reportedly a dues-paying member of Friends of Arthur Machen (FOAM). In this connection Joanna Wargen's essay "All Eyes are On the City: Arthur Machen's Ethnographic Vision of London," which MES may have been familiar with, is quite suggestive:

"Machen describes a city of contrast that is light and dark, alive and dead, observing and observed. His work encompasses the essence of Victorian ethnography that endeavoured to capture the city and the life within it. Machen’s London is a space that has the power to both degrade and enlighten the individual, yet, his writing suggests a city that only invigorates the privileged few in the traditional family unit. London is a locale of gloom and emptiness by day, where urban clearance has instigated a modern architectural surveillance through the erection of colonial edifices. By night the light of the city illuminates the lives within it, but only middle-class families are protected by the walls of the buildings, and illuminated by the natural warmth of the fire. In the darkness of night the poor wander like lost souls with only the light from naphtha to recognise the lives that they lead. Machen creates a living Panopticon which embodies the metropolis as a site of mass surveillance which observes the theatre of life that dwells within it."


2. Grant Showbiz (née Cunliffe), frequent Fall producer/collaborator, takes one for the proverbial team (Reformation): 

In an email interview, published in The Pseud Mag issue no. 13 (December 2006/January 2007) Grant Showbiz (producer) commented: In "Leave The Capital" The lyric had been "Showbiz mimes.........."but the best take used the line "Showbiz whines......." so it was that I chose the best take and became a whiner and not a mimer.


3. Leicester Square is in London's West End.  



4. The first major settlement at London ("Londinium") was founded by the Romans in the first century C.E., and by the end of the century became the capital of Roman-ruled Britannia. Incidentally, London has never been officially given the status of the capital of England.  


5. At this point, on Slates, MES seems to say "Exit this Foamin' Shell." It sounds like a vocal misstep, however...but see note 1 above regarding Friends of Arthur Machen (FOAM).


6. Arthur Machen's first wife. Amy Hogg, died of cancer (see note 1 above). Thanks to Martin on the Fall online forum.


7. "I laughed at the great god, Pan!" the title of a 1959 comic by Jack Kirby (Tales to Astonish #6) in which a snide and effete man on a date in an art museum mocks a painting of Pan, and extols reason over what he sees as ignorant and superstitious beliefs. Unfortunately, the museum guard overhears him. This wouldn't be so bad, but the guard is apparently Pan himself, who exacts a horrible vengeance by making the man's moustache fall out, never to grow back (the entire issue can be accessed here). "The Great God Pan" is also a novella by Arthur Machen, an author MES has lauded (see note one), and the author of "Leave the Capitol" is certainly quite familiar with this, Machen's most renowned tale. The novella describes a woman who has undergone brain surgery performed with the intention of making her more susceptible to all the forces in the universe that the sane mind generally excludes. The surgery is successsful, and she winds up bearing a child sired by Pan, who goes on to have an evil and infamous life of her own, driving several society people to commit suicide as a result of the (unspecified) horrors to which she she exposes them. My synopsis doesn't do the story justice, however, as it is one of the finest creepy tales in the English language. A character in the novella utters the line, "I shall leave London to-morrow...it is a city of nightmares." 

Pan is a Greek god who is associated with untamed wildness, but also with pastoral scenes and shepherds, hunting, ribald sexuality and music, particularly flute playing, which in ancient Greek culture was often associated, like Pan himself, with drunkenness and revelry. His name probably derives from the ancient Greek paein, "to pasture, " but in folk etymology it has, throughout history, often been identified with the Greek word for 'all' ("pan," with different diacritical marks, in which form it survives as a common English suffix). He is sometimes associated with Dionysus; the latter (as famously underscored by Nietzsche) is often associated with a kind of self-abandonment and absorption in the unity of nature, and this may be one reason the etymological connection with "all" is so attractive in the case of Pan, with whom madness and revelry are closely intertwined. The phrase "Great God Pan" probably originates in the traditional tale that a sailor passing the island of Paxi early in the Christian era was commanded by a divine voice to spread the news that "The great god Pan is dead!" (or "Great Pan is dead!", Pan ho megas tethneke!") This utterance has been often quoted, and is usually taken to be a sign of the new religion (Christianity) superseding the old. Pan is the only Greek god who, according to tradition, actually died.  


8. The preceding lines also refer to scenes from "The Great God Pan." As for "cat caravan," that is what the lyrics book put together by MES says, although it is possible he says something different; many pixels have been split over this (or whatever) over at the Fall online Forum. The most plausible alternative I've seen is "camp caravan," but it is not clear what MES is singing and, when in doubt, I've decided to go with the lyrics book. John Peel's first radio show was apprarently called "Kat's Caravan," but I don't know what the meaning of the phrase could be in the context of these lyrics. In Machen's story, the daughter of Mary Vaughan and Pan, Helen Vaughan, grows up in a Welsh village where she frolics with Pan in the forest ("Welsh green masquerades"). As for "the monty...", on the live version from Tut's in Chicago (7-16-81) Smith inserts an explanatory note for the American audience: "Monty--that means 'real thing.'" Keeping in mind the references to Machen and the Kirby comic strip, the idea here may be that the domesticated and aestheticized image of Pan is in stark contrast to the "monty," who is lurking where he just might get you...  


9. Dan:


 from the "Slates and Dates" 1981 US tour press release (some of this ended up in the orange lyrics book as cited by Martin in comment #8:


... rounded off by Leave The Capitol (note fancy spelling) which relates time warps and encounters in Victorian Vampiric London.

and some of the lyrics:

'The Great God Pan resides in Welsh green masquerades/On Welsh cat caravans/But the Monty hides behind curtains grey blackish cream All the side-stepped cars and the brutish laughs from the couple in the flat downstairs'

Which might seem to clarify certain matters. However, it doesn't seem that what's on record actually reflects that text in all respects.



Comments (29)

  • 1. dannyno | 23/04/2013
"Cat's Caravan" was the name of John Peel's first radio show, in Dallas, from 1961.
  • 2. Martin | 22/06/2013
The whole disputed phrase about "Welsh (cat?) caravans" doesn't seem to appear in early (1980) performances of the song. In a couple of days I'll listen systematically to other live gigs in which the song features and try to pinpoint its first use, and hopefully try to understand the exact words spoken!
  • 3. Martin | 27/06/2013
The first instance I can find of any lyric containing "caravan" is at Tilberg on 13 May 1981, but all MES says is "Welsh caravans" after one of the "Leave the capitol" refrains; that's to say, it's not in the place it was given in the studio version. My copy of 19 May 1981 (Hamburg) is cut short so I don't know if this lyric or a variant of it was used on this night. The Munster gig on 20 May 1981 omits any mention of caravans. Nothing at Bonn on 25 May 1981, either.

Sorry about the sporadic nature of this research, by the way!
  • 4. Martin | 30/06/2013
Okay, so I've just about listened to every live version of the song, right up to its final appearance (there's a complete list via the first link kindly provided above) and no mention at all of cats, camps or caravans. That's not to say that unrecorded versions don't contain the phrase (the only semi-exception I can find is mentioned in the comment above) but it does seem to indicate that the lyric itself was a late addition to the recorded lyric, based on some (maybe forever unknown) observation/tangential thought process that came into MES's head...
  • 5. John | 24/08/2013
I could swear that one of the choruses (the one before the Great God Pan bit) he says "foamin' shell". I am sure if so, it's quite intentional, as it should be.
  • 6. dannyno | 21/02/2014
Some suggested corrections:

"Hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square" - not "It's a..."

I hear "Water's poisonous for the system"

Second verse begins:

"And you know in your brain", not "Then you know..."

The verse before "It will not drag me down" is missing a line. It should be:

Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave The capitol!
I live with cancer death wife
Then you know you must leave the capitol

The cancer death wife bit has been omitted for years!

  • 7. bzfgt | 22/02/2014
Got it, Danny.

John: he indeed seems to say "foamin'," I put it in...
  • 8. Martin | 02/10/2014
It may be worth quoting (though I don't know what to do with it!) a few lines concerning the song (penned by MES himself, presumably) which appear in the first lyrics book:

"...rounded off by Leave The Capitol (note fancy spelling) which relates time warps and encounters in Victorian Vampiric London."
  • 9. dannyno | 20/06/2015
The link to the page image from the comic is broken in the note above.

Here's an alternative:

  • 10. Zack | 18/07/2015
Thank you for mentioning the Tut's Chicago 1981 live recording. You should seek out any and all live recordings from the 1981 US tour. More so than in any other Fall era, MES was really trying to communicate to his audiences, not just baffle them, and he annotated his own lyrics extensively for US audiences.
  • 11. Zetetic | 05/12/2015
The final lines, as I hear them are:

(in a doltish voice) "I looked at the Great God Pan"
(then, as a crazed visionary madman) " I've Been there! I've Been there!!"

(Pan : The God of Panic - counterpoint to the god of order: Apollo - bollocks the details, you can wiki them up)
  • 12. bzfgt | 06/12/2015
I don't think so, Zetetic, "I laughed at the Great God, Pan!" is a direct quote (see note 6): http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/pan1.jpg
Joseph Mullaney
  • 13. Joseph Mullaney | 10/12/2015
Probably worth mentioning (for non-Scots) that `didnae' is the Scots form of `didn't' and MES is clearly impersonating a Scottish accent.
  • 14. bzfgt | 13/12/2015
Joseph, I've always read it that way myself, as denial, due to the "didnae." On the other hand he may be saying "Didn't 'e?" But I think it's more likely that you're right, "didnae" is in the Orange book and is likely correct. Although the preceding line is also in the first person, I guess he's reporting what he did and then trying to deny it, or even more likely "I laughed at the great god Pan" is meant to be in quotes---I don't know if I can say this so it makes sense, but I hear it as the narrator quoting the phrase from the comic book, and then insisting that he did no such thing, in such a way that it lets us know that he in fact did do that very thing...
  • 15. dannyno | 01/07/2017
Just an interesting observation.

On 15 August 1981, NME published MES's lists in its "Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer" series: http://thefall.org/news/mesconsumer.jpg

In it, under "Reads", MES cites "Gulcher", by Richard Meltzer. This book was originally published by Straight Arrow Publishers in 1972. My edition is the 1990 reprint by Citadel Underground.

There is an essay entitled "Funktional" in the book (pp.29-32 of my edition), which mainly seems to concern the band Grand Funk, with some comments on Capitol Records. And there is this line:

they walked up to the company president and the chairmen of the board and said quite plainly, "We'd like a change. No we don't want to leave Capitol, actually we're rather happy aboard the the Capitol steamship. But we would like you to go and change the color of the label....

see that: "leave Capitol".

I make no implausible claim as to the significance of that, I merely place the note here with a raised eyebrow.
  • 16. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2017
Raised eyebrow noted (I mean noticed, you see, not actually noted).
Mike Watts
  • 17. Mike Watts | 11/11/2017
Is it just me, or is this one a bit different??? For me this is PERFECT FALL! To start, the fluid guitar riff is a wonder to behold in its own right - I could listen to it for years, is it Riley or Scanlon? Whoever, they deserve a medal.

But instead of wrecking it as only MES can - from a pub he delivers the most beautiful critique part W.C. (not water closet) partly from an autobio angle, obliquely nods at Arthur Machen (Welsh author of spooky book about Pan) calling London the 'Roman shell', a pointed reveal of the continuous centre of English power for a millennia - then FLASH! He pulls god Pan himself out of his top hat, the mischievous god of the wilds, shepherds, flocks and nature, of mountains wild and rustic music, and we are then transported to Wales...

It's all relevant, it's all seamless and delivered as a perfect package. In my view this is the first real glimpse of the Fall's brilliance. Four albums in and this last song says see what we have in store, it's a lot more than you ever bargained for
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 02/12/2017
Yes it is brilliant, and the vocal line is just screwy and non-melodic enough to keep you awake and aware that you're not listening to an ordinary pop song.
  • 19. petey | 25/01/2018
i hear
"I laughed at the great god Pan
I did that, I did that"
  • 20. Sean | 25/01/2018
Been listening to this for many years, but now just wondering if it's "Welsh Caff Caravans"?
roadside cafe-caravans parked in lay-bys, serving tea & bacon butties used to be quite common in Wales due to the lack of motorways & services. Still a couple left on the A5 near the Wales/England border flying Welsh & union flags
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 04/02/2018
Petey and Sean--both seem plausible, I can't be sure in either case...
  • 22. dannyno | 11/04/2018
I can't believe we haven't quoted from the "Slates and Dates" 1981 US tour press release (some of this ended up in the orange lyrics book as cited by Martin in comment #8:


... rounded off by Leave The Capitol (note fancy spelling) which relates time warps and encounters in Victorian Vampiric London.

and some of the lyrics:

'The Great God Pan resides in Welsh green masquerades/On Welsh cat caravans/But the Monty hides behind curtains grey blackish cream All the side-stepped cars and the brutish laughs from the couple in the flat downstairs'

Which might seem to clarify certain matters. However, it doesn't seem that what's on record actually reflects that text in all respects.
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 23. Dr X O'Skeleton | 26/04/2018
That amazing fluid guitar is Scanlon, as this live vid shows
  • 24. richard | 01/05/2018
I have always heard 'I bin (ie been) there, I bin there", in mockery of well-travelled, seen-it-all-before-ya types. And Foamin' is a real stretch - Roman it defo is. And the slinky guitar line belongs to Mr Riley - in the vid Craig confines himself to scratchy rhythm while Marc picks out the notes.
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2018
It's hard to tell from what I saw of the video but Riley is up the neck for sure in the brief shots of him.

Did I really put "Foamin'" in the lyrics?! Now I have to reread these comments and see who got to me. As far as I can remember, in my right mind, I never thought it was anything but Roman. And I have no memory of this incident. What the hell?
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2018
Wow, that's been here since 2014! And I claimed to have heard it. Fuck, I need to listen to this again.
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2018
Yeah he sort of does say "Foamin'" one time, but it's probably a vocal flub. On the other hand, did anyone make the connection with Friends Of Arthur Machen? It's never simple...
  • 28. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2018
OK, fixed--it's actually worthy of a note because of the Machen (probable) coincidence, but I restored "Roman" to the main text. If anyone hears "FOAMin'" on a live version let me know...
  • 29. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2018
RE: "bin there," God only knows what that line is, we will never know

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