Mother-Sister

Lyrics

Er, what's this song about?
Er, nothing. (1)

None
No recipes
It was like a see-saw
No
It was like an up and down
Bye bye
Mother, Sister
Mother, Sister
Why did you put your head in?

Reach or preach
It's all a diminished return
Now
Floorboard
Creaks

Mother, Sister
Mother, Sister
Why did you push your head in?

Astray
Our Friends
And the fathers are underground
Your mouth is sold out

Mother, Sister
Mother, Sister
Why did you put your head in?

The pylon 

Notes

1. Despite this introduction, it has been suggested that the song may be about being caught masturbating, or in the midst of some sex act. This seems like a plausible reading, for the most part. Una Baines wrote the music, and her band Poppycock released a song in 2016, "Lizard Man," which appears on the German Shepherd charity album Malawi. It begins with a man saying "Eh, what's this about?" and another man responding "Eh, nothing!"

Martin Brahmah tells a story that woukld explain much about the lyrics:

THE STORY OF MOTHER-SISTER!

“Mother-Sister!” That’s a funny one. That’s one I just arranged, I suppose, because Una’s credit was writing the music, because she did write the basic chords on the piano. Playing off that, I had to come up with an interesting bass line and a quirky guitar part. I was trying to make it Beefhearty, more angular. Obviously Mark wrote the words. Mark told me to say, “what’s this song about?” at the start of it - that’s me saying that. That was the little patter he just told me to say in the studio, you ask me what this song’s about, and I’ll say, nothing.  

I didn’t get for a while that Mother-Sister! is actually about my mother, about a story I told him. He’s describing where we lived, but I didn’t realise it at the time, it was only later that I did. That’s why he asked me to ask what the song was about, because it was about me and my mother. That’s what Mark is like, subtly deceitful! He only came round to our house once, I think. I’d told him about not having a father, and he’d tell me to shut up, because he thought I was bragging. But that’s just my story, I didn’t know my father.  

I grew up with my mum . . . well when I was younger, I lived with my gran, and I’d see my mum at weekends. They’d tell me that this was quite common then, in Manchester in those days, in the sixties. But for kids who didn’t know who the father was, they’d say your gran was your mum, and your mum was your sister, and your great-gran was your gran, et cetera . . . they’d move the generation up a notch to explain the lack of a father. So when I was young, I thought my gran was my mum, because that’s who I lived with, and I thought my mum was my sister.  

So when I tried to explain this to Mark, he was quite miffed that I’d had a more urchin-like childhood than him, because he saw himself as working class, but he had a dad, and his dad was a self-employed plumber. So he had his own business. Whereas, I didn’t know who my dad was, I’d been brought up between houses in east Manchester. The penny didn’t drop for a while, nonetheless, that Mother-Sister! was obviously about me talking about my relationship with my mother, that she’s more like a big sister than a mum. I went to live with my mum finally when I was seven, and that’s when I moved to Prestwich, in north Manchester.  

I was telling Mark about that, and outside the house, when he visited . . . we lived by the motorway, and there was a big electricity pylon outside of the house. You could hear buzzing all the time, but we got the house really cheap because it was by an electricity pylon and a motorway! And of course, the song ends with “why did you put your head in the pylon?” and he starts screaming! That part doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s impressions of my family home.  

I had quite a pretty mum, so he may have fancied her. A lot of my friends did, because she was a pretty blond and young for a mum - a lot of lads with older mums thought mine was quite sexy, as teenaged boys do! I was told that my mum was my sister, though my mum denies it now! I’d been given it subtly, at a young age. I used to stay with my mum at weekends. My mum lived with my great-gran, and she’d had the same thing happen . . . she thought her gran was her mum when she was young. There were no men around for three generations!

^

Comments (21)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 22/06/2013
From an interview c1980, via the Fall bibliography : Ohttp://www.visi.com/fall/news/010930.html#vsign

"You'd be amazed at how many people react to that 'Little & large' bit on 'Mother/Sister' That song was an attempt to use words as music more or less - I hate idea of 'LYRICS' on paper. If that was my job I'd be a poet or J.C.Clarke. One day I hope I'll drop words all together as they're inadequate & just make emotive word patterns Maybe!"
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 22/06/2013
Martin
  • 3. Martin | 31/08/2016
I could post this quick message in any number of songs, but anyway, here's the link which mentions them:

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/blueorchids

Basically, for a fairly hefty sum (though some of the secrets on sale have already been sold) Martin Bramah promises to tell us the stories behind not only Mother-Sister but also No Xmas For John Quays. as well as various songs on the Dragnet album ("Uncredited, Martin pretty much wrote six of the tunes on The Fall’s “Dragnet.” What’s the story with that album, anyhow? Typewritten on acid-free paper, just one copy. This is an early draft which differs from the account in Martin’s forthcoming autobiography!")

Does anyone have any more information about any of the above?
bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 03/09/2016
We should take up a collection and purchase the material for the Annotated Fall...no doubt MES would be mad, if he reads this site. I hope he doesn't! He would probably heap contumely upon me and I don't know that I'd like that from someone of whom I am a fan...
Martin
  • 5. Martin | 14/09/2016
Some of the questions I raised in my previous comment can be answered, I've just realised, by quoting directly from wontonton's post in The Fall Online Forum from 22 March 2016:

I asked Martin about the news of an autobiography, and he said it was a wind-up - he's not really doing one - but he had lots of people ask him about early Fall stuff, so he wrote up his versions of various events and what resulted is what's up for sale on the PledgeMusic. One of a kind and that's it. Given that, they don't seem very expensive. One of them (don't know which) is seven typewritten pages, apparently done on a real typewriter. The best thing he told me was how about half the music on Dragnet were written by him without credits and that the music of Work was originally the music for Before The Moon Falls, but Mark couldn't sing that forcefully so the later version changes the tune!

http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=33579&st=150
Bob
  • 6. Bob (link) | 25/09/2016
The opening two lines of this song are repeated by Una Baines Poppycock band in the song "Lizard Man" which appear on the German Shepherd charity album "Malawi" which is released via Bandcamp on October 1st 2016
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 15/10/2016
We should take up a collection and get a copy for the AF! Good stuff (also thanks for that, Bob, I'll put it in the notes)
dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 20/02/2017
I want there to be connection, but there probably isn't. Pylon is a 1935 William Faulkner novel, filmed as The Tarnished Angels (1958), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson. I haven't yet read the book or watched the film.
dannyno
  • 9. dannyno | 20/02/2017
"And the fathers are underground"

Dead and buried? Miners?
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 20/02/2017
Lizard Man, by Poppycock: https://youtu.be/CjPeX0sYl4I

"What's this song about?" etc, present and correct.
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt | 25/02/2017
I have read the book. I haven't read it since 1991, however, and I don't remember anything about it except that it was one of my least favorite Faulkner novels (it thought I remembered it being between Mosquitos and Sartoris, but it's actually from his mature phase so it can't be that bad, I should read it again and indeed will, but maybe not soon).
dannyno
  • 12. dannyno | 18/03/2017
Just posted to the FOF by wontonton (http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=42122&view=findpost&p=40046748):

"a Blue Orchids fan has allowed the story of "Mother-Sister!" to be made public, as told by Martin Bramah":


THE STORY OF MOTHER-SISTER!

“Mother-Sister!” That’s a funny one. That’s one I just arranged, I suppose, because Una’s credit was writing the music, because she did write the basic chords on the piano. Playing off that, I had to come up with an interesting bass line and a quirky guitar part. I was trying to make it Beefhearty, more angular. Obviously Mark wrote the words. Mark told me to say, “what’s this song about?” at the start of it - that’s me saying that. That was the little patter he just told me to say in the studio, you ask me what this song’s about, and I’ll say, nothing.

I didn’t get for a while that Mother-Sister! is actually about my mother, about a story I told him. He’s describing where we lived, but I didn’t realise it at the time, it was only later that I did. That’s why he asked me to ask what the song was about, because it was about me and my mother. That’s what Mark is like, subtly deceitful! He only came round to our house once, I think. I’d told him about not having a father, and he’d tell me to shut up, because he thought I was bragging. But that’s just my story, I didn’t know my father.

I grew up with my mum . . . well when I was younger, I lived with my gran, and I’d see my mum at weekends. They’d tell me that this was quite common then, in Manchester in those days, in the sixties. But for kids who didn’t know who the father was, they’d say your gran was your mum, and your mum was your sister, and your great-gran was your gran, et cetera . . . they’d move the generation up a notch to explain the lack of a father. So when I was young, I thought my gran was my mum, because that’s who I lived with, and I thought my mum was my sister.

So when I tried to explain this to Mark, he was quite miffed that I’d had a more urchin-like childhood than him, because he saw himself as working class, but he had a dad, and his dad was a self-employed plumber. So he had his own business. Whereas, I didn’t know who my dad was, I’d been brought up between houses in east Manchester. The penny didn’t drop for a while, nonetheless, that Mother-Sister! was obviously about me talking about my relationship with my mother, that she’s more like a big sister than a mum. I went to live with my mum finally when I was seven, and that’s when I moved to Prestwich, in north Manchester.

I was telling Mark about that, and outside the house, when he visited . . . we lived by the motorway, and there was a big electricity pylon outside of the house. You could hear buzzing all the time, but we got the house really cheap because it was by an electricity pylon and a motorway! And of course, the song ends with “why did you put your head in the pylon?” and he starts screaming! That part doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s impressions of my family home.

I had quite a pretty mum, so he may have fancied her. A lot of my friends did, because she was a pretty blond and young for a mum - a lot of lads with older mums thought mine was quite sexy, as teenaged boys do! I was told that my mum was my sister, though my mum denies it now! I’d been given it subtly, at a young age. I used to stay with my mum at weekends. My mum lived with my great-gran, and she’d had the same thing happen . . . she thought her gran was her mum when she was young. There were no men around for three generations!
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
Ha, you don't miss anything, I just finished putting that in and I suddenly was overcome with the certainty that it would already be here in the comments!
dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 20/03/2017
The quote up there in note #1 includes this line:

"You'd be amazed at how many people react to that 'Little & large' bit on 'Mother/Sister"

"Little and Large", I think, refers to the British comedy duo of that name: Syd Little and Eddie Large. Little was the straight man. There are youtube videos of them, and if you watch them you will marvel at how such a dismal act ever became a massive mainstream hit, with their own TV series etc - ITV in 1977, and then a BBC series from 1978-1991. An indictment of the culture.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_and_Large
dannyno
  • 15. dannyno | 20/03/2017
Sorry, my comment #14 should refer to comment #1, not note #1.
Martin
  • 16. Martin | 20/03/2017
Just a random dedication:

25 November 1978 Prestwich Hospital Social Club:

"The next one's dedicated to Una. I know you're out there, baby. And it's 'Mother-Sister'." (before "Mother-Sister")

And a brief introduction:

8 December 1978 Teasers, Dundee:

The next song is about nothing. 'Mother-Sister'.
Martin
  • 17. Martin | 21/03/2017
My own opinion on the Mother-Sister lyrical controversy (see thread on TFO) is that while MES may have had an initial idea based on what Bramah told him about his family, most of the lyrics in the song seem to have little or nothing to do with this subject. I'm reminded by how Marc Riley imagined, without too much internal evidence, that Middle Mass was about him.
dannyno
  • 18. dannyno | 21/03/2017
Yeah, this is my feeling too.
Martin
  • 19. Martin | 22/03/2017
I've found another example of MES introducing the song:

22 September 78 Harp Lounge, Belfast:

- "This song is about nothing. The words just fit the music. So anything I say [unclear] or something. This song's good, know what I mean?. Mother - Sister."
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
Martin, that's my feeling too. The funny thing is that even if every word is closely and certainly about Bramah, we still don't know whether it is about Bramah caught masturbating, or whatever. Yet people there want to insist that interpretation has been put to bed! And yet not one of them can articulate to me how the anecdote discredits that reading.
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
If the lyrics really are just sounds to fit the music, then it seems to me there is more freedom for interpretation--because then even MES might say something like, "Hmm, caught masturbating (or whatever)? Yeah, maybe something like that is happening" rather than "That's not what I wrote it about."

I know for a fact that that comment will read to some people as completely foolish and delusional.

And, to reiterate, I don't think it's very likely that this is what the song is about, it's just one of the more plausible interpretations on offer at the moment.

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