Powder Keg



You better listen

You better listen
It's thin
It's a powder keg.
You better listen to me.

Take me home.
I don't want to go.
Take me back to the safe.
You know better.
You better listen.
It's a powder keg.
You better listen.

Retreat from Enniskillen (2)

I had a dream
Bruised and coloured
It going to hurt me
Manchester city center
Caroline      (3)
Take me back, I can't get the bus.
You know what they say.
Retreat from Enniskillen

You better listen he's a powder keg.
You better listen to me

Sickening in its infection.
His radioactive radio head drips with powder (4)
His aura, red halo.
Listen to me.
Retreat from Enniskillen.

Head loaded people avoid bad luck.
Hives away.
Confined to the university end of town.
Made powder, made retreat from Enniskillen.

I don't want to go.
Take me home
Take me back to town, Mark.
Don't you know,
Town is a powder keg.


1. I try not to clog up the notes with too much speculation about "pre-cog" nonsense, but it is impossible to avoid in this case since the song is so closely associated with the bombing in Manchester of June 15, 1996 (five days after the release of The Light User Syndrome). The song may refer to imminent violence (it would surely be going too far to say "the imminent violence"), although an equally plausible interpretation of the song is that it is about drug abuse. In any case, MES himself has more than once weighed in on this question, and while he doesn't dismiss the "pre-cog" talk entirely, neither does he seem to take it very seriously (the following is originally from The Wire):

"I've got a funny story to tell you," he begins, "about the song "Powder Keg" on the last LP [The Light User Syndrome] It was about the Manchester bombing and all that The Sun kept ringing me up going, 'It's really weird this song of yours: "Manchester's a  powder keg"'. It's typical Sun stuff, they don't get off the bleeding phone I'm going, 'Well, it's a song I wrote' And they go, 'Well, it's funny that a bomb in Manchester went off last week and you actually said Manchester is a powder keg. How did you know about i t?' It's 10 o'clock in the morning 'And also you wrote this song about Terry Waite years ago ' And I'm going, 'Yeah, you know ' And I didn't realise this, but they started insinuating that I had inside information 'It's funny that you knew about Terry Waite's kidnapping, in this song "Terry Waite Sez" in 1986, and then you wrote this song called "Powder Keg" about the Manchester bombing ' And I'm thinking that I'm talking to people like you, but I'm talking to some slime, you know. And I'm going, 'Well, yeah, I don't know why it happened, maybe I'm prophetic, you know, because I was a psychic when I was a teenager ' they say, 'So you were psychic about Terry Waite, now you're psychic about the Manchester bomb.' I'm going, 'Yeah, yeah, get off the phone, I've got things to do, I've got my life to lead I don't want to talk to you ' So then the fucking Daily Star gets in on the act- 'Oh, you're the man who knew about Terry Waite and the Manchester bomb. . .' I just said, 'Well, I'm a fucking psychic, fuck off .'"

 To be clear about where I'm coming from, I do not categorically reject the possibility of some sort of pre-cognition (nor do I particularly endorse it), but the details are invariably too vague to warrant dragging in a supernatural explanation for any of MES's lyrics. As the old saw goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and these lyrics don't come anywhere close to reaching that standard, even taking into account the fact that this is not a scientific investigation. 


2. The IRA detonated a bomb in the Northern Irish town of Enniskillen on November 8th, 1987 (Remembrance Sunday, a holiday to honor British war veterans). Enniskillen was also the site of the Battle of Newtownbutler in 1680, when troops of the recently deposed Catholic James II attacked the Protestant force that was garrisoned there and were loyal to the King, the Protestant William of Orange (aspects of the history of this period are also touched on in "Backdrop" and "Kurious Oranj"). The Jacobites were ultimately repulsed.


3.  MES has a sister named Caroline. 


4. Possibly, or possibly not, an allusion to the band Radiohead...



Comments (16)

  • 1. policetruck | 05/09/2013
Always thought it was "His aura - wrap halo"?
  • 2. Zack | 11/01/2015
The big mystery here (for me, anyways) is whether MES's use of the words "radio head":

a) is a deliberate reference to the band Radiohead;

b) is an accidental, unconscious borrowing of the name of the band; or

c) has nothing at all to do with the band Radiohead.

Has MES ever stated his opinion of Radiohead? I have a pretty good idea of what he might think about that band; I just want to know for certain.
  • 3. bzfgt | 31/01/2015
That's funny, it never occurred to me to explore that possibility, I guess because I thought they weren't around yet, but of course that's way off...
  • 4. dannyno | 11/06/2015
Typo in note 2:

"homor" should be "honor " (well "honour" really, but I make allowances).
  • 5. bzfgt | 17/07/2015
I know, I even use American spellings in the lyrics (I don't know if I'm consistent about it though). It may be wrong but I can't bring myself to do otherwise. I'd rather choke than write "judgement."
  • 6. Martin | 02/04/2016
Who is "Caroline"? The name doesn't seem to appear in any other Fall lyric. It could be Mark's sister, though, As a sidenote, the address for The Fall Cog Sinister fanclub as printed on inlay sheets on the Victoria 7" box-set: "c.o Caroline, 6 Dorchester Ave., Prestwich, Manchester M25".
  • 7. bzfgt | 19/05/2016
Where does Caroline come into it? I'm listening to it right now but I'm afraid I missed it as I was just sending an email, I'll listen again but I haven't located it.
  • 8. bzfgt | 19/05/2016
Crap, sorry, Martin, it's right there in the lyrics. For some reason command+F didn't raise it and I missed it. Anyway I'm not sure if that's what he says even, it could be "come on" or something, it's slurry. But good info if that is it--is there any evidence from live versions?
  • 9. Zack | 30/05/2016
MES does indeed have a sister named Caroline. Of his three sisters, MES seems to be closest to Caroline, who occasionally runs errands for the group like sacking Dave Milner in 2004 (as per "The Fallen" book).
  • 10. Martin | 09/06/2016
With reference to some comments above, on the version linked to on the Reformation! website MES sings (I think): "Caroline said, 'Take me back, I can't get the bus'."

  • 11. dannyno | 04/10/2017
What interests me about this song as an example of precog is what the text actually says.

So the Manchester bombing was on 15 June 1996, and "Light User Syndrome" was released on 10 June 1996, having been recorded early that year.

In the text of the song, the focus shifts - "It" is a powder keg at first, then "he" is a powder keg, and finally "town is a powder keg". What comes across is the story of someone being overcome with fear. Note that idiomatically "powder keg" is generally used metaphorically rather than literally - and indeed in the song "town is", "he is", "it is" indicate that metaphorical usage. It's not "there is a powder keg". The language is not that of a literal explosion, but of tension, violence building.

Obviously it's perfectly possible to interpret "powder keg" literally to mean "bomb", but the textual support for that is thin. The interpretation gets its power and plausibility from the events after the album's release, and the Irish textual references to Enniskillen.

But to take the later claim of precog seriously for a second, i.e. to accept that the song describes what you can not implausibly interpret as a precognitive experience, of someone overwhelmed by a feeling of unease about impending violence. What kind of psychic insight is this, though? If we are to take the experience as MES's own, it must have taken place at the latest in early 2016 - so at least 6 months before the actual IRA bombing. Yet the experience, on my reading of the text, seems to be about a real and immediate threat, which precipitates action on the part of the narrator/MES. It's not a vague inkling that something might happen half a year down the line, it's a dramatic and deeply felt and intense insight in to something apparently imminent.

I just wanted to note that. Obviously if precog is real, who's to say it has to be chronologically accurate in the way I imagine? (I don't think precog is real, though).
  • 12. dannyno | 04/10/2017
I mean, it seems a bit odd that a psychic would have some intense episode 6 months distant from an incident, but apparently no further such episodes (at any rate, MES is nowhere recorded as saying, "I felt really weird about going into Manchester for months"). You'd think the feeling would get stronger. But I guess it's probably wrong to try to apply logic to this.

I also wanted to note that Manchester had been bombed by the IRA before - in 1992 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Manchester_bombing[/url). And in February 1996, was the Canary Wharf bombing. It would be good to know exactly when the song was recorded.

Footage of the 1996 bomb explosion here: [url]http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/new-video-ira-manchester-bomb-10850795
  • 13. dannyno | 05/10/2017
Oops. Got the formatting somewhat wrong there!
  • 14. bzfgt (link) | 18/11/2017
Yeah I guess I don't really take the pre-cog angle seriously, and there's no reason to think, I don't think, that he picked up on tangible but perhaps subliminal signs that a bombing was coming--in short, it doesn't seem a good candidate for the Clever Hans effect either.
Fit and Working Again
  • 15. Fit and Working Again | 30/05/2018
The first half of the Powderkex version has an alternate vocal & different lines with a change from "his" to "it's"

It's radioactive radio-head drips dust
It's aura bruise-coloured
Litmus screamed
It was not neg.
It was not neg.
It was not neg.

On Powder Keg I hear "his aura, rad. halo" continuing the radio/active theme
Fit and Working Again
  • 16. Fit and Working Again | 30/05/2018
In fact the radioactive angle appears the most fruitful to me. Something or someone radioactive from the university/research lab end of town poses a threat to the city. The enniskillen massacre might be in the narrator's mind, but is a red herring. The first instance in the song is pronounced more like cod-Deutsche; Eins Killen. One killer or killing?

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