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 (4)

And you know in your brain
Leave the capitol!   (5)
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! (6)
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home 
One room

It's Hogarth prints,  mucky yellow prints  (7)
Eleven one one one  

Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave The Capitol!
I live with cancer death wife! (8)
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! (9)
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 (10)
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  (11)




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.  Gizmoman: "A reference to someone trying to 'pick you up'; Leicester square is notorious as a pick-up point (gay & straight), and has even been refered to as 'pester square'" (Leicester more or less rhymes with "pester" in English English). Dan points out that a "hand on the shoulder" could as easily be a cop, or someone just trying to get your attention.


4. From David: "London's water comes largely from aquifers and is very high in calcium and magnesium carbonates. Tap water in Manchester is piped from Lake Thirlmere in the Lake District and is regarded as some of the best quality drinking water in the UK; many people from the North West comment on the relatively poor quality of London's water."


5. 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.  


6. 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).


7. William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English artist who is known for, among other things, his satirical paintings and drawings that portrayed the poverty and squalor of London life (similar to some of the writing, although less so the visual art, of Blake, another MES touchstone).


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


9. "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.  


10. 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...

Mxyzptlk remarks:

I've always assumed that "The Monty" referred to MR [Montague Rhodes] James (reinforcing MES's Machen vs James theme), largely because MR James's story "The Diary of Mr Poynter" features a ghost who hides in curtains made to a specific design.


11. 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 (59)

  • 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
  • 30. David | 18/09/2018
"Water's poisonous for the system" - London's water comes largely from aquifers and is very high in calcium and magnesium carbonates. Tap water in Manchester is piped from Lake Thirlmere in the Lake District and is regarded as some of the best quality drinking water in the UK; many people from the North West comment on the relatively poor quality of London's water.
  • 31. bzfgt (link) | 13/10/2018
Great note, David, thank you.
  • 32. dannyno | 14/10/2018
"The Monty".

I've been attacking this line again, which has annoyed so many of us for so many years.

Is it a human? Is it a cat? Or a vampire?


But there is a significant "Monty" in Machen's life, which may be relevant. Montgomery Evans: http://www.kentstateuniversitypress.com/2010/arthur-machen-and-montgomery-evans/

Ach, this is just throwing stuff at the wall.

I even wondered if it could be short for "mountebank".
  • 33. dannyno | 14/10/2018
Or how about "Monty" as a reference to M.R. James, even? He was "Montague Rhodes James", but "Monty" to close friends, apparently.

There's also, in overlapping social circles, Montague Summers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montague_Summers
  • 34. bzfgt (link) | 21/10/2018
It seems clear that "monty" refers to Pan, in context, doesn't it? The meaning of the word "monty" itself seems to be the known slang term, which MES himself glosses as "the real thing." It is certainly possible there's an allusion to James packed in, but "real thing" is the surface reading, isn't it? That seems relatively clear to me (unlike "cat caravan").
  • 35. Darrg | 12/12/2018
A very tenuous thought about the Pan/I didnae thing .... There was a character called Robert Ogilvie Crombie (aka 'ROC') who died in 1975 and who claimed to have encountered Pan and his fauns in Edinburgh on several occasions from the mid-1960s. ROC was associated with the new age community at Findhorn (also in Scotland) and a couple of mass-market books came out in the mid-70s on the subject of that community, one of which has a chapter on ROC, so it may be MES heard about this and made a subconscious link between Pan and Scotland ... as I say, tenuous!
  • 36. Mxyzptlk | 30/12/2018
I've always assumed that 'The Monty' referred to MR James (reinforcing MES's Machen vs James theme), largely because MR James' story 'The Diary of Mr Poynter' features a ghost who hides in curtains made to a specific design.
  • 37. bzfgt (link) | 19/01/2019
Hmm, Darrg, that is very tempting, I wonder if that connection could somehow be corroborated a bit...a good thing to chew over for a while, and see what others who are hip to it think too...
  • 38. Bazhdaddy | 07/02/2019
Small insert; muttered line at 01:37, approximates to;

"Its Hogarth print, mucky yellow prints in W1 - one- one" (W1 = postcode of London's West End or alludes to W11 1JA, post code of Rough Trade)

More muttering at 2:00, hard to make out, something about mud leading up to "it will not drag me down"
  • 39. Darrg | 12/02/2019
ROC's 'experiences' were chronicled in a book called 'The Gentleman and the Faun' but I can't find any information on when it was originally published. It may not have been issued until long after his death. There is also a recording of him reading it, which obviously must pre-date 1975, but again there is no evidence I can find that it was actually issued publicly until much later. So tenuosity remains!
  • 40. dannyno | 21/02/2019
comment #39. According to the COPAC catalogue of various academic libraries, "The Gentleman and the Faun" was published in 2009. This is also what some online sources say, and what is on the copyright page of the book. I found one reference which dated it to 2001, but that might just be wrong.

However, the notes to the book (viewable on Amazon) say that the first 5 chapters were edited from the ROC lecture, "The Elemental Kingdoms", previously published in a 1970 book entitled "The Findhorn Garden" (reprinted 1975) and elsewhere. "The Elemental Kingdom" was also an audio cassette (1975).

Other chapters are also edited from material published much earlier.

So it's chronologically possible this could be a source.
  • 41. bzfgt (link) | 21/03/2019

I'm not sure about "W"

For now I have "eleven one one one"

Either way, is this a museum ID number or something?
  • 42. bzfgt (link) | 21/03/2019
Findhorn Garden is definitely the kind of thing MES would have read about. We need more for this of course, but I'm just pointing that out.
  • 43. gizmoman | 30/01/2020
"Hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square" A reference to someone trying to "pick you up", Leicester sq. is notorious as a pick up point (gay & straight), has even been refered to as "pester square".
  • 44. dannyno | 13/02/2020
I think the cultural meanings of the location have to be part of the note, good point.

But I don't know about the specific. Is "a hand on a shoulder" a recognised pick-up thing? Wouldn't it be arm/bottom/leg, if it was sexual? Perhaps I am erotically naive. "Hand on the shoulder" almost suggests the police to me. Am I wrong? Or just someone who knows you attracting your attention.

Mind, you if it was "arm around the shoulder"...

And actually, thinking about it, a light touch on the shoulder, or a tap, might be a signal of the right type.

  • 45. dannyno | 22/03/2020
Comment #15.

It's still a very thin and dubious echo/connection, but just to record that MES and Meltzer were friends for a while:

The Fall
By Richard Meltzer
Seattle Weekly
Monday, October 9, 2006

From 1979 to somewhere in the mid-’80s, me and Mark Smith of the Fall, the second greatest band of the late 20th century, were (let’s call us) friends. We hung out when he was in town. We corresponded. He was a very funny guy.
  • 46. dannyno | 21/06/2020
That US tour press release quote:

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

The "Victorian Vampiric London" bit is reminiscent of Wyndham Lewis' Blast, #1

  • 47. Boo | 18/10/2020
It's a black and yellow tint
It's a Hogarth print
  • 48. dannyno | 18/10/2020
Grant Showbiz (tweeting as @zombat) repeating a story about the lyrics during one of Tim Burgess's Twitter listening parties, 18 Oct 2020:

#TimsTwitterListeningParty I always sacrificed everything 4 The Take.......all the other versions of this song had ‘“ Showbiz mimes minute detail “ but on this killer take he substituted whines for mimes........ had 2 use it.........I still mime minute details

  • 49. dannyno | 18/10/2020
Paul Hanley, same listening party:

The ‘One room’ line always reminds me of the Notting Hill Gate hotel, a right dump, but where we always stayed in London. Me, Steve, Marc and Craig always shared a room. Hotel room with four beds!
9:22 PM · Oct 18, 2020
  • 50. SRH | 18/10/2020
Surely the words "Exit this Roman shell" have, at least as a subtext, a reference to Roman Totale XVII - the notes on Grotesque (After The Gramme) are subtitled "Didactic discourse from the shell of R. Totale" who is described as" deceased". MES is stating his desire to leave Totale behind, much as Bowie left Ziggy. RTXVII was, according to the lyrics of '2nd Dark Age', "the bastard offspring of Charles I and the Great God Pan", which takes us on to Arthur Machen. Machen was Welsh, and the rear cover of 'Fiery Jack' refers to the remains of RTXVII lying next to the master tape of the three songs which were recorded at Foel Studios in mid Wales. Totale left a note with the tape which states "this master-tape is the result of experiments which took place in the remote Welsh hills", and recommends that the tape's finder should never "unleash it on humanity".
Of course the "Roman shell" is also London but could be a nod to Machen's birthplace Caerleon about which he wrote in the introduction to Notes and Queries "I am the citizen of what was once no mean city...once the splendid Isca Silurum, the headquarters of the Second Augustan Legion" and which he claimed was later "the capital of King Arthur's court of faerie and enchantment". He also stated that modern Caerleon was about to become "another pustule on the corrupt body of industrialism". Caerleon is certainly a "Roman shell" these days with its grassed over amphitheatre and the scant remains of the barracks.
As a side note with regards to the opening verse, the narrator of Machen's The Novel of The White Powder is a Miss Leicester, whose brother after partaking of the poisonous white powder, taken in water, develops a mark on his hand and then declines into "a dark and putrid mass, seething with corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid, but melting and changing before our eyes, and bubbling with unctuous oily bubbles like boiling pitch", which has previously seeped through the ceiling onto his sister's clean bed. For Machen and MES alike there is a mysterious and sinister world behind the facade of the mundane world, as there is for writers such as HP Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti.
  • 51. SRH | 19/10/2020
Further to my comment above in a press release for Totale's Turns there is a comment on the origins of RTXVII, which states "In the summer of 1979 he [RT] fled Lancashire and settled in the Welsh mountains until an encounter with F. Jack forced him into withdrawal from the world. He is the mental manifestation of The Fall camp, and dwells underground while above him trends grind on slowly and sickly". This "self-proclaimed professor of speed speech" also says "I have this natural thing in me which hates following the logically obvious and detests current modes regardless of their credibility or quality From U. Medecin." (???) The sleevenotes for Totale's Turns were written by R. Totale XVIII - is this a typo or is this one of RTXVII's sons? He is undersigned as an "honorary member of Wakefield Young Drinkers' Club". RTXVII is earlier cited in a press release for Dragnet dated 26/10/79. Of course the track 'The NWRA' details his part in the uprising of the North, as described by his son Joe. In a press release for Grotesque (After the Gramme) it is noted that "R.T. XVII has a heart attack on the last note of the song". And in a press release from late April '81 for the forthcoming US tour it is stated "ROMAN TOTALE IS DEAD. LONG LIVE JOE TOTALE". RTXVII's last words are cited as "Write on my tomb: 'THE FALL WILL OUTLIVE YOUR SINS". Also: "This indicates a new, tougher edge to The Fall". In other words RTXVII's reign is over, the band have moved on to another level. Later Joe will be supplanted by the Hip Priest.
All this shedding of characters is reinforced by the lyrics to 'Leave the Capitol'. "Exit this Roman Shell". On the other hand the song is about "time warps and encounters in Victorian vampiric London". Again this takes us to Arthur Machen who, Welsh born, was exiled in and wrote much about the city. Late 19th century London was full of mystics and dabblers in magic(k). To quote from the introduction to my Dover Thrift edition of The Great God Pan and Other Classic Short Stories "Machen is not interested in the superficial surfaces of the world his narrators live in, but the deeper currents of life flowing beneath the veneer of modern society. The physical worlds that Machen builds function as more than backdrop; they are settings that tempt the characters to explore and yet simultaneously withhold their secrets, serving as a cloak for ominous doings just underneath the surface". I think the same could be said of MES.
As Mark Fisher says in his piece on The Fall in The Weird and the Eerie concerning 'The NWRA' the story of the plot to restore the North "to glory" is "more than a matter of regional railing against the capital, in Smith's vision the North comes to stand for everything suppressed by urbane good taste: the esoteric, the anomalous, the vulgar sublime, that is to say the weird and the grotesque itself...[R} Totale is the would-be faery king of this weird revolt ". See my above post for Machen's quote on Caerleon as "the capital of King Arthur's court of faerie and enchantment". Fisher places the MES (of the period 1980-82 anyway) firmly in the tradition of "weird" writers such as Lovecraft, HG Wells and Philip K. Dick. And in the song 'Backdrop' where the "backdrop shifted and changed, so did not even know what song it was ", we are reminded of JG Ballard's assertion that "reality is little more than a stage set, whose cast and scenery can be swept aside and replaced overnight " (quoted from The Ballardian website). See also PKD's Time Out of Joint, in which the "pre-cog" Ragle Gumm is living in a simulated reality to ensure that he continues to make predictions about future nuclear strikes during a war against Lunar colonists without realising what he is actually doing (he thinks he is entering newspaper puzzle contests and that it is 1959, not 1998). However his "reality" begins to slip and evaporate. Perhaps MES had a similar experience when the Bournemouth Runner "got away with our guiding light...two nights before Bristol ball, a Runner took backdrop, exit hall". I was at that Bristol (University) ball in 1985 - no wonder MES looked so glum when I spotted him unloading equipment from the car with Brix prior to the gig.
  • 52. dannyno | 20/10/2020
The earliest reference to Roman Totale, outside of the Smith-Friel letters (where the first reference is to a "Kram Totale" in a letter dated 6 October 1975, and explicit references to a Roman Totale appear from 1976), is in ZigZag, Feb/March 1978, predating the Dragnet press release by a year and half.


(My earlier summary of the key dates in the Totale mythos on the FOF a couple of years ago missed ZigZag: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/thefall/harvard-made-an-outsider-study-t42834-s14.html)

Anyway, that aside, while personally I don't buy Roman=Roman (not sure why he needs to "shed" a character he's already explicitly killed off), it's there if you want it.

And as with many Fall songs, and as the "Showbiz" line indicates in this song, we have a text that works on more than one level - a 'mundane' one, referencing hotels the group stayed in, meddling producers etc, and a more esoteric one, built on details from the life of Arthur Machen.

Some similar thoughts in the FOF thread on the song: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/thefall/leave-the-capitol-t35486.html

Anyway, couple of stimulating posts there. Got me going back to things.
  • 53. SRH | 22/10/2020
Fascinating stuff. A lot of the points I made have been made elsewhere, by people who obviously know a lot more about The Fall than I do. I still think it is a big coincidence that the sleevenotes for Grotesque refer to the "shell" of R.Totale, and that Totale was the son of the Great God Pan. Also, the line "Exit this Roman Shell" could have preceded the song, as MES did seem to use phrases in songs that he had used earlier in press releases and so on. And Grotesque was only released in November 1980, with Slates following in April 1981, so there isn't that long a gap between the two. Finally, just because MES had killed off RT didn't mean that he wasn't still there "in spirit". Maybe like Banquo's ghost at the feast. MES had blood on his hands. "Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mock'ry hence!....Why, so;-being gone I am a man again." And as Macbeth says later "[life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Interesting to read that Danny Baker article from ZigZag. Apparently it was Baker who alerted John Peel's producer John Walters to The Fall. And in the letter sent by MES to Tony Friel on 10/02/77 "MASTER RACE IN TOTAL PSYCHOSIS - THE COMING OF ROMAN TOTALE", does the image Race sees when "all night long he had been prone to horrible dreams featuring some incomprehensible THING, faceless, gibbous and MENACING" refer to RT?

Returning briefly to Machen, in The Novel of the Black Seal the main character Professor Gregg, who is investigating the "little people" in a remote part of Wales, is found dead at the end next to a parchment covered with mysterious characters wrapping some of his possessions - similar to the remains of RT being found next to the 'Fiery Jack' master tape. And there is an "idiot" boy (who is the son of a human mother and one of the little people) who speaks, it is narrated, in a "queer, harsh voice that caught my attention; it gave me the impression of someone speaking deep below under the earth, and there was a strange sibilance, like the hissing of a phonograph as the pointer travels over the cylinder." Reminiscent of the vocals on some of The Fall's more lo-fi recordings. Later the boy has a fit during which "something pushed out of the body on the floor, and stretched forth a slimy, wavering tentacle." In 'The NWRA' of course RT is covered in tentacles. But, as we know, MES is himself a inventive writer, not a mere copyist, and his lyrics are ultimately unfathomable.
  • 54. SRH | 22/10/2020
A final post from me on this one. I would also point to an HP Lovecraft connection to this song and the Seer of Prestwich's work in general. There is an obvious nod to Lovecraft's 'The Cats of Ulthar' in the phrase "cat caravans". In this tale an old couple living in Ulthar dislike cats and kill them - "from some of the sounds heard after dark, many villagers fancied that the manner of slaying was exceedingly peculiar." "One day a caravan of strange wanderers from the South entered the narrow cobbled streets of Ulthar. Dark wanderers they were and unlike the other roving folk who passed through the village twice every year...What was the land of these wanderers none could tell; but it was seen they were given to strange prayers and that they had painted on the sides of their wagons strange figures with human bodies and the heads of cats, hawks, rams and lions, and the leader of the caravan wore a head-dress with two horns and a curious disk between two horns." Sounds like Sun Ra, eh? Anyway, a black kitten belonging to an orphaned boy, Menes, who is travelling with the caravan, goes missing, and when he learns about the old couple he invokes a prayer which causes all the moggies in the village to descend on the elderly pair and kill and devour them. HPL was a big lover of felines (the cat being "the soul of ancient Aegyptus") but thought only "peasants" liked dogs.
Then there is the Jermyn Temperance character named after Lovecraft's tale about the late Arthur Jermyn; and the ab-human figure of Roman Totale XVII, whose body was "a tentacle mess", is reminiscent of Cthulhu with its octopus-like pate, "a pulpy tentacled head, surmounted on a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings." And HPL wrote a story called 'The Outsider' in which the narrator, who as far as he remembers has always lived alone in a castle, travels to another castle and encounters a creature who is a "compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal and detestable...the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity and dissolution, the putrid dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation, the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide." He has actually been looking in a mirror. The Fall were, of course, originally The Outsiders, supposedly named after Camus' L'Etranger. Oh, Meursault!
  • 55. dannyno | 23/10/2020
Machen/James/Lovecraft are all over The Fall.

"Outsider" is confessedly Camus but inevitably we think of Colin Wilson, no reason not to add Lovecraft. Wilson apparently discovered Lovecraft after coming across his short story (a coincidence, it seems Wilson was not aware of Lovecraft or this story before writing his own book).

It's all there. I think MES was, particularly in these early years, consciousnessly influenced by those gothic horror writers, and that's why his writing shares something of the same atmosphere and themes and use of language.

The Cats of Ulthar is a good connection to draw, and I think a new one. Not sure about it being obvious, but I do like a new angle.
  • 56. dannyno | 23/10/2020
BTW, isn't it Macbeth who has blood on his hands, rather than Banquo's ghost? (comment #53)
  • 57. SRH | 24/10/2020
Sure was. My meaning was that RTXVII might turn up like Banquo's ghost, and MES would be like Macbeth.
"What hands are here? Ha, they pluck out mine eyes!
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?"

ROMAN Polanski's film version of the play was noted as one of Smith's favourite films. He also professed to like Third Ear Band who provided the soundtrack, and whose pieces often had occult/fantasy type titles.

Kram (I see what he did there) was a fan of cats and Brix has said that when she first went to his home it was full of them. Perhaps one of them was called Monty?

The only other thing I gleaned when going down the rabbit hole chasing the meaning of this song comes from the Vorticist publication Blast 1. MES was a well known fan of Wyndham Lewis, and the typology used in that volume, and his writing style from this period is very similar to the one found in Lewis' "play" Enemy of Stars which appears there. With its two protagonists Arghol and Hanp it is an obvious precursor to Waiting for Godot. At the beginning of Blast 1, amongst the "blasts" (as opposed to the "blesses") is the following:
"CURSE the flabby sky that can manufacture no snow, but can only drop the sea on us in a drizzle like a poem by Mr Robert Bridges.
VICTORIAN VAMPIRE, the LONDON cloud sucks the TOWN'S heart."
It is this London in which MES sets his "time warps and encounters" in 'Leave the Capitol'.
  • 58. SRH | 24/10/2020
Erratum. The play was Enemy of the Stars.
  • 59. dannyno | 25/10/2020
Careful, though, Fall songs seldom have a single coherent narrative, you'll end up trapped in that rabbit hole.

See my comment #46 for the Wyndham Lewis "VICTORIAN VAMPIRE" bit.

Enemy of the Stars is almost certainly a source.

See also comments 32 onwards re various candidates for "monty". I think only two of MES' "drove" of cats are named in Brix's book: Frau, and Primrose ("Primmy").

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