2nd Dark Age



Fat conference women 
Clap return of glass house (2)
And the Arabs have it made 
Oil is women in veils, eyes glazed (3)

Second dark age
Death of the USA  (4)
Return of the family (5)
And pursuit of cabbages (6)

And the commune crapheads sit and whine (7)

While the common near my birthplace is now a police college (8)

It's a second dark age 

No sun Sunday or any day (9)
The city is dead (10)
Bust. Ghost Dance rite. Tepid (11)

I could join a pray-peace group (12)
Spy in Norway 
Cause groups can change the world (13)
and meet Miss Fjord and Benny 
Miss Fjord and Benny

"Hi I am Benny" (14)
Go where the brave prance
No Czechoslovak food queues are a party rule

A mediocre anti-Jew (15)
And single people are screwed (16)
In the Second Dark Age

I am Roman Totale XVII
The bastard offspring
Of Charles I and the Great God Pan (17)



1. This is sometimes listed as "Second Dark Age."


According to Dan, the song "veers from the general to the particular, but seems – where dates can be identified - to relate specifically to the politics of 1979. The year, lest we forget, that Thatcher became Prime Minister for the first time (the election was on 3rd May). Some of its themes seem to, maybe, vaguely (very vaguely) echo The Clash’s song “London Calling”, released in December 1979...The song has what seem to be clear references to contemporary political issues scattered throughout:

“return of the family” (obviously a Thatcherite theme)

“and single people are screwed” (tax policies?)

“No Czechoslovak food queues are a party” (there were recent news stories about food shortages in Czechoslovakia)."

Indeed, Dan has discovered that he song seems to derive its inspiration from an address in Parliament by Conservative politician William Whitelaw concerning penalies for criminal minors (see note 2 below):

"For these cases I have suggested a short sentence at a detention centre run on tough lines...This idea has been instantly condemned by some as returning to the dark ages of penal reform."

There is more to come from Dan's comments in what follows, and all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from he (occasionally with a little editing). 

Nairng has pointed out what we had all intitially missed, an echo in the title of the famous first paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu," with which MES is certainly familiar:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.?

I have given the title as it was spelled on its first release, which is my usual policy. Subsequent releases have "Second Dark Age."


2. Dan has done a great service to Falldom with his research on these lines (for the sake of readability I've removed most of his references, but anyone who is interested can find them in the original post):

The “glass house” line is easily explained. 

In the British Army, a “glass house” or “glasshouse” is the colloquial name for a military prison. The name derives from the glass roof of the military prison at Aldershot barracks, and came to be applied more generally. The only remaining one is now the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester, which the army is keen to emphasise is not a prison), but which does have a unit which holds convicts before their transfer to the civilian prison system for sentences over three months. 

Why would “fat conference women” (who?) be applauding their return? 

To answer that we need to go back to 1902, when a youth detention centre – intended to provide places for young offenders who would previously have been sent into prison alongside adults – was opened at Borstal Prison, in a village called Borstal, Kent. The name “Borstal” came to apply to all such institutions until their abolition in 1982 (replaced by “youth custody centres”). 

The Daily Mail praised them. They were supposed to be more about training and remedial treatment than punishment per se, the idea being that young offenders would eventually emerge and be able to get stable jobs, and that reoffending would be low. Whether or not that was true, the borstals seem to have had problems with bullying, etc. Sentences were indeterminate: youths would be released when deemed “reformed”.

The Labour government’s Criminal Justice Act, 1948, introduced a range of other institutions to deal with young offending, in particular “Detention Centres”, designed, in language borrowed from The Mikado, to administer a “short, sharp shock.” 

The phrase “There is a type of offender to whom it appears necessary to give a short, but sharp reminder that he is getting into ways that will inevitably land him in disaster,” was used in the parliamentary discussion of the Act.

Unlike borstals, these Detention Centres were supposed to be all about punishment and deterrence, but convicts would be there only for a limited time compared to a borstal. The first one opened in 1952. In practice, it was realised before too long by staff that a hardline approach often just would not work, and so the culture softened. They effectively evolved into short-stay borstals.

The watering down of the “sharp” end of the intended system was objected to particularly on the right. Hence Margaret Thatcher’s 1961 speech during a parliamentary committee in which she used the phrase “a short, sharp lesson”.

In 1970, a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System recommended that detention centres embrace the reforming purposes they had started to pursue in practice. Punishment was satisfied by the removal of liberty; education and training provision should become their main focus. These recommendations were accepted, formalising what was often already happening informally.

But opponents of what they saw as a “soft” approach were never going to be happy with that. They didn’t mind “short” so long as it was “sharp”.
Fast forward a few years.

In 1977, during a House of Commons debate on crime, the then Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees said:

“having read with the greatest interest the report issued by the Conservative Party, I believe that there is no way through on the glasshouse mentality. It is not true, in modern times, that after a quick, short period in the glasshouse with one's head shaved, one comes out and behaves properly. It is much more complicated than that.”

William Whitelaw, then the opposition Home Affairs spokesman, said:
It is in connection with custodial sentences that I have proposed short, sharp shock treatment for a small minority of young offenders. The cases I have in mind are those when a magistrate has before him a young man who has been guilty of numerous offences in the past. Clearly, the available sentences, as at present, have not proved successful. The magistrate is reluctant to send such an offender to a long term in prison because he fears that the young man will simply become acclimatised to criminal attitudes there. 

For these cases I have suggested a short sentence at a detention centre run on tough lines. We have had such detention centres in the past, and they have been changed. I compared what I was saying with the Army glasshouse treatment, for one very good reason. Those who experienced treatment there were determined never to return. 

This idea has been instantly condemned by some as returning to the dark ages of penal reform. On the other hand, I have had many letters of support, including some from those who experienced such treatment themselves and believe that they benefited from it.

Whitelaw had been in the Scots Guards during the second world war, hence his use of the military phraseology.

He was still using “glass house” in 1978: 

“I want to go further and have one centre with severer discipline, along the lines of the glasshouse systems in the Services. This would provide a short, sharp, shock sentence under very severe conditions.”

The phrase caught on: the Daily Mirror referred in a headline to “Whiplash Willie’s Glasshouse Justice Plan”. The Times had a headline on 1 March 1978 that referred to “Tory plan for glasshouse regime”. The Guardian printed a critique on 6 March 1978 under the headline “Tory glasshouses don’t make sense”.

The 1979 Conservative Party manifesto stated:

“We need more compulsory attendance centres for hooligans at junior and senior levels. In certain detention centres we will experiment with a tougher regime as a short, sharp shock for young criminals.”

The Conservatives won the election in May 1979.

And so, on 10th October 1979, William Whitelaw spoke to the jubilant Conservative Party conference, as Home Secretary. He confirmed the launch of the new detention centre regime, and was cheered to the rafters.

The Guardian reported on 11 October 1979 (“Tories administer ‘short, sharp shock’ to fight juvenile crime”, by John Hooper, The Guardian, 11 October 1979, p.1):

“Mr Whitelaw said the scheme would be operating by next spring at the latest. He told the Tory party’s annual conference in Blackpool that “from 6.45 a.m. to lights-out at 9.30 p.m. life will be conducted at a brisk tempo.” Which suggests that young offenders will have to carry out tasks “at the double” as in the military “glasshouses.” 

“Much greater emphasis will be put on hard and constructive activities, on discipline and on tidiness, on self-respect and respect for those in authority,” The Home Secretary added. “We will formally introduce drill, parades and inspections. Offenders will have to earn their limited privileges by good behaviour.”

Thus ends the quote from Dan, and I will just add that in the Mikado, a "short sharp shock" refers to being beheaded:

"To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,/ In a pestilential prison with a life-long lock/Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock/From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big, black block."

Now that's getting tough on juvenile delinquency. 


3. "In January 1979 the Shah of Iran went into exile [see note 4 below], heralding the return to Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini and the victory by the end of the year of the Islamic Republicans. The Iranians are not considered culturally Arabs (the official language is Persian, and only 2% of the population speak Arabic), but the energy crisis triggered by events in the middle east led to oil regimes benefiting from spiralling oil prices." While it is true that Iran is not an Arab nation, they were a part of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). The majority of OPEC nations were culturally Arabic. OPEC was widely blamed for the steep increase in pertroleum prices during the 1979 "oil crisis," which was precipitated when instability in Iran, including a strike by oil workers, led to a decrease in oil production and export. In the USA, it is estimated that 150,000 gallons of oil were wasted every day by motorists waiting in gas lines with their cars idling. It was a time of panic, anxiety, confusion, and jingoism, and I say this in full awareness that on the one hand pretty much every era in the USA is characterized by these qualities, which are central elements of the nation's character; on the other hand, such generalizations are inevitably misleading simplifications: people still found time to watch Diff'rent Strokes. The world don't move to the beat of just one drum, and neither, of course, does America.   


4. Dan points out the chants of "Death to the USA!" in Iran at this time, which was undergoing an Islamist revolution (see note 3 above). US client Shah Reza Pahlevi was deposed when an Islamic republic was estabished with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to avoid any possible confusion, adopting the title of "Supreme Leader." It was a time of national anxiety in the USA, for various reasons. Dan mentions President Jimmy Carter's famous "malaise" speech of July 15th. I don't see any reason to think MES was thinking of that speech in particular; rather, the crisis in confidence" Carter identifies in the speech provides a clue to the general context in the USA at the time this song was written.   

The usual story, which is true in many ways and also a simplification, is that the USA was riddled with anxiety and an identity crisis after Vietnam and Watergate, which Carter was elected to assuage, restoring trust and decency to Washington (although this psychologizes the situation unduly it has a lot of truth as a description of how things were perceived in the press). Carter, who would prove to be a one-term Johnny when his re-election effort failed to stop Ronald Reagan the following Fall (1980), failed to "heal the nations wounds" (in a popular cliché of the time) as things only got more chaotic during his Administration. The Iranian revolution precipitated an "oil crisis" and a standoff with OPEC in which the price of oil rose to the point where it cost more per barrel than it would again until the 21st century. During the crisis Carter gave his much-maligned "malaise" speech in which he attributed America's problems to a crisis in confidence--instead of looking for economic causes, he overshot in the other direction, essentially implying that, among other things, the US was taking slogans like "Death to the USA!" too much to heart. His critics quite reasonably pointed out that America wasn't simply depressed, but that there were, you know, problems. 

There was no one in the USA in late 1979 did not have Iran constantly on her mind. The hostage crisis which began Nov. 4 was on TV every single day at all hours. Gasoline was being rationed, and the popular wisdom chalked this up to the perfidy of "the Ayatollah." Many of these same people made t-shirts with Mickey Mouse extending his middle finger and saying "Hey, Iran!" into a hot selling item.

It was in this atmosphere that Ronald Reagan, like Thatcher in England, was able to bring about the hegemony of conservative politics for the next decade or so (and arguably this contines until this day, regardless of which party controls the White House or the houses of Congress). 


5. Dan identifies this as a Thatcherite theme, and certainly in the US the rhetoric of family was gaining traction in the politics of the time. The phrase "family values," which was to become ubiquitous in the 1990s, was included in the Republican party platform in 1976. The emphasis on family by poiliticians has mostly been associated with the Right and conservatism, and is usually invoked in the context of a jeremiad about the decline of morals and the decadence of modern culture; often the spectre of something like the "death of the USA" (or at least a serious illness) is invoked in the context of a speech about family values.


6. Presumably a mutation of "pursuit of happiness" (note the reference to the USA) (thanks to egg).


7. Mark Turner suggests, plausibly, that this is a reference to Crass. This may or may not be what MES had in mind, but it’s reasonable in any case to take them as representing a kind of left-wing impotence.

The same crapheads, or similar ones, are excoriated in "English Scheme": "The commune crap, camp bop, middle class, flip-flop/Guess that's why they end up in bands."


8. "He’s obviously talking about Sedgley Park, Prestwich, which was formerly the site of a teacher training college but was bought by Greater Manchester Police for their own training purposes in 1979 (which presumably entailed closing the site to the public).


9. The Lyrics Parade has "No psalm Sunday." I don't know if this was just transcribed by ear or if there is any supporting evidence for it, but I don't hear "psalm" here. "Psalm Sunday" would presumably be a pun on "Palm Sunday," the Sunday before Easter. 


10. "The City is Dead" is a 1978 song by the Belgian punk band The Kids. Both lyrically and musically it is heavily indebted to the Ramones. 


11. The Ghost Dance also pops up, according to Colin Morton, at a gig 1979 when MES actually specifies the elusive "three rules of audience" (see "C'n'C-S Mithering" and "What You Need," where the "rules" are mentioned but not elaborated): 

"'No requests - you do not pay us enough to dictate our actions,'  'we do not play for the ghost dance' and 'if you don't like it, it's already too late.'"

The Ghost Dance was a Native American religious movement which spread throughout various tribes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on a prophecy that performing the dance would unite Indians with their dead ancestors, unify the tribes, and bring an end to white colonialism. This is probably at least one connotation of the phrase here, meant as one of MES's digs at Leftism; the "dead" city could be analogous to the decimated Native villages in 19th century America, with the Ghost Dance standing in for an effete and pro forma leftism that MES finds wholly inadequate to the situation (like the "pray-peace" groups; see note 11 below). 

This is almost certainly also a reference, either directly or by way of Madness, to the song "Ghost Dance" by Prince Buster." Dan again:

"The phrase 'ghost dance' was certainly in the air in 1978/1979. Patti Smith’s 1978 album Easter has the track 'Ghost Dance,' for example.

I think we need to look instead at the pop/ska band Madness’s song 'The Prince.' 

A tribute to Jamaican ska hero Prince Buster, like a lot of their early records, ‘The Prince' was broadcast as part of a Peel Session on 27 August 1979 (repeated 18 September 1979). It was released as a single at the beginning of September, entering the UK charts at no. 37 on 15 September 1979. It stayed in the charts for 11 weeks, peaking at no. 16 on 6 October. 

Madness appeared on Top of the Pops on 6 September.

The lyrics of 'The Prince' include the following:

'An earthquake is erupting / But not in Orange street / A ghost dance is preparing /You got to help us with your feet'

'Earthquake,' 'Shaking up Orange Street' and 'Ghost Dance' are all Prince Buster tracks. Orange Street in Kingston was where Prince Buster had his studio. The point of the song, if there is one beyond the clever juxtaposition of Prince Buster references, seems to be that Madness are providing the musical soundtrack for a kind of English rebellion.

Looked at that context, it’s plausible to think that MES would have regarded Madness as mere 'tepid' ska, compared to Prince Buster."

This may be so, but the negative tenor of the reference to (the) Ghost Dance, which is Prince Buster's title rather than Madness's, makes me think this is at the least a more submerged meaning than the Left-bashing one indicated above.


12. Dan identifies the "Prayer of St. Francis" as the reference here. The prayer, traditionally attribited to but not actually written by Francis, in part runs:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light ;And where there is sadness, joy.

Mother Theresa quoted the prayer when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, and according to Stephen Parkin "Anyone in the UK at the time of the 79 election will remember M Thatcher reciting the Prayer of St Francis on the steps of Downing Street after she had won. It seemed a dam' cheek at the time, and came to seem more so once she started in on her destructive policies."

In the 1960s and 1970s, Christian--particularly Catholic--groups of activists protesting ills like the war in Vietnam and nuclear power became a significant part of the Left. This could be a clue what MES means by the Ghost Dance (see note 10), which was a Native American movement to bring an end to colonialism by spiritual means. 


13. Dan makes an amusing connection here: “'Groups can change the world' seems to echo a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead (but never traced to anything she wrote): 'Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.' Variations on this quote appear back in the 1960s. Margaret Mead died on 15 November 1978. But 'group' also suggests 'bands,'  and the line may refer to idealistic musicians." Dan is surely right on both counts: while MES may not have had Mead's "quote" in mind, it aptly identifies that segment of society that had, and has, the words plastered on the rear bumpers of their cars. And the double connotation of "groups" is surely intended as well; although this was not yet the time of "Live Aid" et al., Smith always had a caustic eye for the self-righteous altruism of rock groups, and was positively delighted when it became institutionalized in the 1980s.


14. This refers to Abba, as is made explicit in certain live verions; as Reformaton reports, "On 1 September 1979 (JB's Dudley) the early version of the song includes the words 'Hello, I am Benny out of Abba,' the group name missing from the studio version." The Lyrics Parade has the entirely plausible "and meet Bjorn and Benny" (Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were the male principals of Abba); however, the line sounds like "Miss Fjord" rather than "Bjorn." A fjord is a narrow inlet surrounded by precipitous hillsides or cliff faces which are a common feature of the Norwegian coast. Abba vocalist Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, who is Norwegian and was married to Benny Andersson, is the most likely candidate for "Miss Fjord." 

From Dan:

The references to ABBA here may be explicable in terms of the following quote by MES, which comes from a 14 page feature on ABBA in the May 1999 issue of Mojo magazine, as part of which various musicians were invited to talk about their favourite ABBA track. MES: "GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! (A MAN AFTER MIDNIGHT) My favourite, the real evil, pagan crypto-Nazi one. Genuinely frightening, wasn't it? They got really depraved after Fernando. I can't stand Swedes, me. They're pagans, aren't they? Liberal Nazis. I find it very weird this revival; but it fits in with the new regime we've got here: all cleanliness, no smoking, no drinking, all that crap. And open sex. All their stuff was based on The Beach Boys, the way they used to write, like, eight parts for each song. When we started out playing workmen's clubs, every fucking group was playing ABBA. The second Dark Age, we used to call it."

See also "U.S. 80s-90s" for more about the "Liberal Nazi" phenomenon.


15. "A mediocre anti-Jew" – the fascist National Front was in the news, but perhaps MES has someone or something else in mind. Interestingly, and not remotely current, the phrase brings to mind Jean Paul Sartre (who died in April 1980), who in his 1948 book (written in the shadow of French complicity during the wartime occupation) Anti-Semite and Jew describes anti-Semites as mediocre.

For example:

"The anti-Semite has no illusions about what he is. He considers himself an average man, modestly average, basically mediocre…"


"there is a passionate pride among the mediocre, and anti-Semitism is an attempt to give value to mediocrity as such, to create an elite of the ordinary."

The Fall are named after the novel of that name (in French, La Chute) by Sartres friend and fellow existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, so it is entirely possible that MES, who has been known to read philosophy, is familiar with Sartre's essay. 

Sean, on the other hand, points out that Nietzsche, whom MES was definitely familiar with, expressed similar ideas...


16. This is perhaps a continuation of the "return of the family" theme, envisioning a society in which the the traditional (as they now say, "hetero-normative") nuclear family is privileged as the basic social unit and other forms of (dis-)organization or (dis-)connection are marginalized in the face of the bourgeois complacency of all the "mediocre anti-Jew"s. This makes sense, but it doesn't quite sit square enough for me; it wouldn't surprise me if MES had a specific proclamation by some politician or journalist in mind again. 


17. RT XVII is MES's favorite pseudonym in this era, gracing album liners with his mysterious prose, and showing up, most notably, as the protagonist of "The N.W.R.A." On the sleeve of the "Fiery Jack" single (of which "2nd Dark Age" is the B Side), "Totale" writes: "... I have not long left now but I urge the finder of this 'master tape' never to unleash it on humanity! - Ah! already the evil Deit-y Ri-Kol is clawing at my brain! - If it is unleashed - The Fall is here, the ectoplasm exorcised and Humanity Can Either Eat That Grenade Or Face The Second Dark Age!'

As he is in full prophet mode here, it is only fitting for MES to adopt the RTXVII persona, not only to establish that the perspective of the song is that of an outisider, but also to fend off the impression that MES is directly editorializing which would be a distraction to anyone trying to understand a Fall song. Yes, I realize that adding a distraction to fend off a distraction is odd, but the potential confusion would be thinking that one is not confused, which is always a false impression in these circumstances.












Comments (70)

  • 1. John | 02/08/2013
It is TOTALLY Bjorn and Benny and he says "out of Abba" multiple times in live performances. Then again, there's a chance he was just saying what he audience thinks they hear, but there's too much corroborating other things said after, like "do you like my hairspray?" that indicates it really is the Abba folks.

I have always thought is said "As well as mediocre anti-Jews" and it was coupled with the Abba reference. Were they antisemites? I don't know.
  • 2. dannyno | 26/08/2013
"While the common near my birthplace is now a police college"

The reference is surely to Sedgley Park, where since about 1979 there has been a police training facility.

  • 3. dannyno | 19/01/2014
"return of glass house"

"Glasshouse" is the name given to British military prisons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasshouse_(British_Army)

Most of them were closed down after the second world war, with only one in Colchester surviving.

I'm wondering whether there was an announcement to revive them at a party conference.
  • 4. dannyno | 19/01/2014
"Glass house"

I think I've cracked it. In 1977, William Whitelaw, then the Tory opposition Home Affairs spokesman, said he wanted to see "glass house"-style short sharp shock treatment for young offenders. I bet this was applauded to the rafters at the Tory Party conference.

Search for "glasshouse" in Hansard, official record of the House of Commons, in the crime debate here:

It seems there was a Tory party report on the issue, and it was also in the 1979 Tory manifesto:

"In certain detention centres we will experiment with a tougher regime as a short, sharp shock for young criminals."

See also:

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short,_sharp_shock

Worth noting that the song seems have been first performed in September 1979, the Tories having been elected in May that year. Their party conference was in October, between the first and second listed performance of the song. Would be interesting to know if this bit of the lyric was there from the beginning, or appeared in the November performance. Otherwise it would refer to the 1978 or 1977 Tory conferences.

  • 5. dannyno | 19/01/2014
In fact, the entire song seems haunted by the Tory election victory, or at least the election of 1979 in general, and directs sarcasm at the useless approach of left wing groups. Apart from the "glass house" reference to Tory party youth offending policy, there's also the reference to "return of the family". "Single people are screwed" could be a reference to tax policies.

I found reports in 1978 about food shortages in Czechoslovakia, so that's another clear contemporary reference. A Times article from June that year noted that it has been a fortnight since potatoes were available in the shops.
  • 6. dannyno | 19/01/2014
"Psalm sunday"

There is no "Psalm sunday", perhaps it means "Palm sunday", the sunday before Easter.

  • 7. dannyno | 19/01/2014
Palm Sunday: Pope Paul VI died in August 1978, having cancelled public appearances around Easter that year: he missed mass on Palm Sunday.

I wonder what else it might represent, or what else might have happened that year
  • 8. dannyno | 19/01/2014
"Bust. Ghost Dance rite. Tepid"

Just to note that in August 1979, i.e. shortly before The Fall started performing Second Dark Age, the ska/pop band Madness released their single "The Prince", a tribute to Prince Buster (who is a Mark E Smith fave). It includes the lines:

"An earthquake is erupting
But not in Orange street
A ghost dance is preparing
You got to help us with your feet"

"Ghost Dance", of course, is a Prince Buster track from 1967. And a track on Patti Smith's (another MES fave) 1978 album Easter.
  • 9. dannyno | 19/01/2014
The Fiery Jack single was recorded in September 1979, according to various sources, so therefore before the Tory party conference that year. Therefore the fat conference women must have been doing their applauding the previous year.
  • 10. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
"Psalm Sunday" is the kind of word mangling that is fairly common for MES, is it not? Anyway Palm Sunday is when Jesus entered Jerusalem, so it's entirely consistent with a song about the turning of an age, isn't it? I immediately am reminded of "What rough beast, it's hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born" although doubtless I've misquoted it. Anyway I don't know why I'm down here, I should be up there in the notes...but I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop with your mysterious lost comment, so I may wait before opening this one up again.
  • 11. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
I suppose I did technically misquote the poem, as I have added an apostrophe...otherwise, surprisingly, I remembered it correctly.
  • 12. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
Damn it, that Ghost Dance thing is helpful, I knew there must have been something to that aside from the Indian thing. I can leave all that in the notes, too, since it's ultimately the reference, but things seem to make a lot more sense now...I couldn't figure why he'd be going on about the Ghost Dance.
  • 13. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
Darn, I can't really make out enough of the words to "Ghost Dance." Does "ghost dance" have a negative connotation in the lyrics, or any indication of why it's something the Fall wouldn't play for ? It seems unlikely it'd be intended as a diss of Prince Buster, right? I may have to hold off on this until I can figure more of it out, this changes "C'n'C" and "What you Need?" also...any ideas?
  • 14. dannyno | 22/01/2014
Ghost Dance: well, it probably works at more than one level. I think the Patti Smith song is probably a red herring, though maybe not.

MES would certainly be familiar with and appreciate the Prince Buster original, and likely would regard Madness's pop/ska tribute as "tepid".

Since Madness's single would be familiar to audiences at the time (see below), it's a current thing for MES to be citing in the lyrics. I suppose the only sense I can make of the "won't play for the ghost dance" comment is that Madness seem to be saying they are providing the soundtrack for a rebellious "Ghost Dance": and MES is saying The Fall are not. That makes a kind of sense I suppose.

Orange Street was the centre of the ska scene in Kingston, Jamaica: it was where Prince Buster's studio was. I guess the point of the Madness lyric is that this time the rebellion is supposed to be in England, not Jamaica. But it makes that point, if that's what it is, through references to Prince Buster songs: "Earthquake" and "Shaking up Orange Street" are also Buster song titles.

The Prince was released at the beginning of September, very close to the first performances of Second Dark Age (the same day, 1st September, as the first performance of Second Dark Age if you believe the ReformationPostTPM site) and entered the UK charts at no 37 on 15 September 1979. The Prince stayed in the chart for 11 weeks, hitting its no 16 peak on 6 October. Madness got on Top of the Pops on 6 September 1979.
  • 15. dannyno | 22/01/2014
http://www.visi.com/fall/gigography/gig79.html says the JBs gig often dated to 1st September may be wrong. Second Dark Age is supposed to have debuted there, however it would be better for my thesis if it was later, because it's more likely MES heard the Madness song once it entered the charts.

Certainly the same gigography page suggests that it wasn't played at the Prince of Wales Conference Centre in London on 15 September. The next date it appears on the set list, according to that, is Rock Garden, Middlesborough, on 4 November, which is also the second date given on the ReformationPostTPM site. So on the grounds that it would be unusual to debut a song in September and then apparently drop it until November, I reckon the JBS gig is misdated and we have more room for MES to hear the song and find it tepid and incorporate it into his lyrics.

This also means that the "fat conference women" can be from the Tory conference in 1979 rather than 1978, which always seemed a bit too far afield for comfort.

I will repost my whole explanation of the glass house thing soon.
  • 16. dannyno | 22/01/2014
Correction; the Tory conference was in October 1979, and the Fiery Jack single was apparently recorded in September, so that means we do have to reach back to 1978 for that. But it stacks up in terms of the Madness/Prince Buster reference.

On the other hand, if Colin Morton's memory is correct, then the MES rules of audience statement in Newport Stowaway Club could have been from April 1979, which undermines the Madness connection it would seem. But he might not be right. The Fall played Newport twice that year. And Fiery Jack was recorded in Wales.

  • 17. dannyno | 22/01/2014
Correction. The back of the Fiery Jack sleeve says it was recorded in October.
  • 18. dannyno | 22/01/2014
And it turns out that The Prince was broadcast as part of a Madness Peel session on 27 August 1979, repeated on 18 September the same year: http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/Madness

That takes some of the pressure off my theoretical timeline; MES could easily have heard the Peel Session - no gig that night - well ahead of the first performance of the song. And the recordings for Fiery Jack took place at Foel Studio in October (see back of sleeve), which is the same month as the Tory conference. The JBs gig is likely misdated. That all seems to work for my theory, so long as the FJ recordings took place later in October than the Tory conference, and so long as the Short Sharp Shock stuff was newsworthy at the conference.

The Tory conference was early in October, so when did The Fall visit Foel? We know it was a residential visit so we need a few clear days, as its mid Wales (not near Newport). There is time very early in October - the first gig that month in Liverpool was on the 8th. But that probably won't work for the Tory Conference dates (I need to check this though). The Fall were touring 23-27 October, so there is room right at the end of the month and between 8th October and 23 October.

The only problem, then is Colin Morton's apparent claim that MES was citing the ghost dance as early as the Newport gig in April. Although actually he's ambiguous. However, Bramah left the band in April 1979, so if Bramah was in the band when MES was citing the ghost dance in his rules of audience, that means my Madness theory breaks down. However, there was a Newport gig in November 1979, so perhaps Morton (who says he saw the Fall a lot) was conflating gigs.
  • 19. Martin | 25/01/2014
Tangential comment on those Czechoslovakian food queues:

Imposition of the Soviet model introduced a chronic inflationary bias into the Czechoslovak economy, although the inflation was not necessarily reflected in prices. Control of prices (only private food produce, especially fruit and vegetables, were priced freely) repeatedly produced inflationary manifestations in other areas, such as shortages in the market and increased savings by the population. Although officials generally limited the rise in prices (causing price indexes to advance slowly), by the mid-1970s prices had to be adjusted upward more frequently. This trend continued into the 1980s, and major food price increases occurred in 1982." (from Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_communist_Czechoslovakia#1970s
Stephen Parkin
  • 20. Stephen Parkin | 12/02/2014
Anyone in the UK at the time of the 79 election will remember M Thatcher reciting the Prayer of St Francis on the steps of Downing Street after she had won. It seemed a dam' cheek at the time, and came to seem more so once she started in on her destructive policies.
  • 21. dannyno | 12/02/2014
Stephen Parkin.

Indeed, I noted her recitation in my original postings on the Forum.
  • 22. dannyno | 13/05/2014
"Scooters and cabbages"

I'm hearing just "Scooter cabbages"

Then I think it's

"I could join a pray-peace group and spy in Norway"

I don't hear a "Go" in "Go where the brave prance"

And finally:

"And single people are screwed
In the Second Dark Age"

I hear:

"And single people are screwed
In a second dark age
In a second dark age"
  • 23. dannyno | 29/05/2014
"I could join a pray-peace group
Spy in Norway
Cause groups can change the world"

A suggestion:

In February 1979, Owen Wilkes and Nils Petter Gleditsch published a report entitled, "Intelligence installations in Norway: their number, location, function and legality". They were prosecuted and eventually stood trial in 1981, the case known as "the rabbits case", because personnel at the installations were known as "rabbits". They had published their research to undermine the prosecution in the case of three other people who were then on trial for disseminating the names of Norwegian secret agents.
Joseph Mullaney
  • 24. Joseph Mullaney | 23/11/2014
Anyone have an idea what Marc Riley is chanting during the second chorus? To me it sounds like `Czech beat group'.
Raging Ostler
  • 25. Raging Ostler | 11/01/2015
Fairly certain it's "Return of the family / And the scooter cabbages."

("And the" is muttered quietly, so it's barely audible in the mix... but the intonation on "scooter cabbages" is certainly consistent with it being there).

It's just a reference to the Mod revival, which MES obviously saw as another example of regressive stupidity. "Cabbages" is meant in the old British slang sense of "stupid people" - you don't hear it much these days because it's rather un-PC (it refers to people with brain damage who've been left as "vegetables") but that's pretty obviously what's going on here, I think.
  • 26. bzfgt | 31/01/2015
Great, Ostler--I buy it. I can definitely hear "and the..." at the beginning and probably nothing between "scooter" and "cabbages," so I made the change and incorporated your explanation.
  • 27. nairng | 26/05/2016
Hello bzfgt, lots of fascinating details on this one...surprisingly, no one seems to have mentioned the title's reference to the first paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu...."flee...into the peace and safety of a new dark age."
  • 28. bzfgt | 24/06/2016
Whoa, I can't believe we missed out on that one! Nice catch.
  • 29. Lanark26 | 07/07/2016
I've always thought the the line in the first verse was "Oil-less women in veils, eyes glazed"
  • 30. bzfgt | 15/07/2016
Yeah I listened and to me the "is" actually sounds fairly distinct, but not decisive for all that, it could be "oil-less" pronounced in such a way to make me think it's "is." That way lies madness, of course; there's no lyrics book help with this one, either.
  • 31. dannyno | 04/03/2017
"Ghost dance".

This song debuted in September 1979.

On 1st March 1979, Smith introduced "Stepping Out" with these words:

This is the history part of the set. Ghost dance. 'Stepping'


This seems to throw my Madness theory into deeper doubt (see comments above).
  • 32. dannyno | 04/03/2017
And from the Marquee gig 27 July 1979:

There are no '77 ghost dances tonight. No tepid ghost dance. No three chords and big boots.
  • 33. dannyno | 04/03/2017
But MES did make a comment about Prince Buster rip-offs at Birmingham University, 18 March 1980:

Why don't you ignore this Prince Buster rip-off crap?

  • 34. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
Hmm, "history" seems to support the Native American interpretation, which Jeff Wheeler has challenged...

I whacked another "Danny" here...
  • 35. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
12 of them, in fact!
  • 36. dannyno | 19/03/2017
dannywhacking. Sounds fun.
mark turner
  • 37. mark turner | 12/05/2017
i always thought "and the commune crapheads sit and whine"was a reference to crass.
  • 38. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
Mark, that seems really plausible to me, I'll give it a mention.
  • 39. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
I added a comment about that in both this and "English Scheme." As luck would have it it became note 7 in both, and I had the hardest time keeping straight which song I was doing when, since each song needs a link to the other, but each note needs a link to the same song...gug.
  • 40. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
No, it was note 5 there but I put it 7th because of this one...this is breaking my mind. I'm sure you're all fascinated to read this...
  • 41. dannyno | 27/09/2017
Note #14. The references to ABBA here may be explicable in terms of the following quote by MES, which comes from a 14 page feature on ABBA in the May 1999 issue of Mojo magazine, as part of which various musicians were invited to talk about their favourite ABBA track.



My favourite, the real evil, pagan crypto-Nazi one. Genuinely frightening, wasn't it? They got really depraved after Fernando. I can't stand Swedes, me. They're pagans, aren't they? Liberal Nazis. I find it very weird this revival; but it fits in with the new regime we've got here: all cleanliness, no smoking, no drinking, all that crap. And open sex. All their stuff was based on The Beach Boys, the way they used to write, like, eight parts for each song. When we started out playing workmen's clubs, every fucking group was playing ABBA. The second Dark Age, we used to call it.

Poor quality scans: https://web.archive.org/save/http://abbafansblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/archive-mojo-abba-article.html
  • 43. thehippriestess | 12/10/2017
Magma's 1976 album 'Üdü Ẁüdü' had tracks called 'Tröller Tanz (Ghost Dance)' and 'Zombies (Ghost Dance)'. Speculation as to whether Smith would have been aware of this but he knew his Krautrock and his out-there garage rock...
  • 44. egg | 20/10/2017
I've never believed that it's "scooter cabbages", and have always heard "the pursuit of cabbages" — ie, a distortion of "the pursuit of happiness". To me this seems to fit better with the lyrics in this part of the song (ie, it's mocking the idealistic language used by those promoting "the return of the family", or later in the "pray-peace group" who can "change the world"). The alternative joke about Mods does make sense, but doesn't quite seem to fit the theme so well.
  • 45. bzfgt (link) | 04/11/2017
I wondered, why do I have this "2nd"? It seems to appear both ways.

Egg: I just listened to it and I'm sold, "pursuit" it is.

HP: Troll would be troll, not ghost, though? But those are subtitles not translations, right?
  • 46. dannyno | 04/11/2017
"And pursuit ofcabbages"

Typo! Missing space!

I'm going to have to listen to that line again myself. First alternative reading to "scooter" that seems plausible.
  • 47. bzfgt (link) | 11/11/2017
Ah, there's an anchor there that hides the typo in the manager interface...I think the line is correct.
  • 48. bzfgt (link) | 11/11/2017
  • 49. dannyno | 15/12/2018
Error in note #14:

"This refers to Abba reference"
  • 50. sean | 07/07/2019
Re: Note 15, Sartre's thinking and even language here owes a lot to Nietzsche, whom it's certain MES was reading (whereas I suspect he didn't know much of Sartre besides the more literary works, but I could be wrong). From a 2003 bio of Nietzsche: "It is indisputable that Nietzsche was an 'anti-anti-Semite"...Furthermore, he abhorred German chauvinism. He regarded the anti-Semitic movement of the 1880s as a mutiny of the mediocre, who unjustifiably played themselves up as the master race..." (https://books.google.com/books?id=7udeYKCQNSAC&lpg=PA338)
  • 51. bzfgt (link) | 12/07/2019
Excellent point about Nietzsche, I should have thought of that!
  • 52. bzfgt (link) | 12/07/2019
Is that note (15) mine, or am I quoting someone? It starts in double quotes, every quote in it is in single, then the double quotes never close...if I am quoting you, please let me know, whoever you are.
  • 53. bzfgt (link) | 12/07/2019
Well unless someone claims it, I'm changing it a bit for now...
  • 54. bzfgt (link) | 12/07/2019
I don't think those are my words. For one thing, I don't think I'd have said "attributes anti-Semistism to mediocrity"--the thought that anti-Semitism is caused by mediocrity is not a very clear one, if anything I'd say "attributes mediocrity to anti-Semitism," meaning calls it mediocre, not mediocrity is caused by A-S, of course. Anyway, where the hell did that note come from?
  • 55. dannyno | 12/07/2019
  • 56. bzfgt (link) | 09/08/2019
OK I don't know what I changed now, I put "thanks to Dan the bulk of this note" and let me know if you want anything changed.
  • 57. bzfgt (link) | 09/08/2019
I mean I guess I could go back and check, but just let me know if you want anything above changed.
  • 58. dannyno | 12/05/2020
MES on ska from the fanzine Stand & Deliver #1, c1980:

S & D: What do you think of the mod revival?

Mark: I don't rate it mate. Cant fucking suss why they changed to an old culture, I suppose it was easier. I like the Ska but the true revival was exploited. Specials and Selecter are just watered down Ska, "gangsters" is "Al Capone" with H.M. influences. Prince Buster did that, he was real ska. He was fucking great.
Daniel Puckett
  • 59. Daniel Puckett | 31/05/2020
Just want to say, I agree with the "common in my birthplace" is likely what he is saying here. But I had, for twenty years, always heard "coven," given the supernatural tendency toward MES's lyrical output, especially at this time. And damn if that wouldn't have been more fun.
  • 60. dannyno | 02/10/2020
Re: Margaret Mead. She died in 1978, as noted, but I've just discovered that BBC 2 aired a tribute to her on 6th January 1979, in fact a repeat of a 1976 documentary in the Horizon series, "The World of Margaret Mead". Unfortunately it's not available online at the moment, but we need to look out for it.
  • 61. dannyno | 24/02/2021
The 1960 John Moxey film, The City of the Dead, starring Christopher Lee (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_City_of_the_Dead_(film)) was shown on Granada TV at 12:10am on the night of Friday 28 December 1979 (well, the morning of the 29th, really).

Might be worth a viewing.
  • 62. dannyno | 24/02/2021
There is of course a difference between a city of the dead and a dead city, but just to note that City of the Dead is the B-side of The Clash's Complete Control single, released 23 September 1977.
  • 63. dannyno | 30/04/2021
"Hi I am Benny"

There's an unreleased ABBA song, which gets called "I Am An A", sung as an introduction during the group's 1977 US and Australian tour. It's awkwardly amusing. See here for the lyrics.

At one point Benny sings, "I'm Benny".

But the problem is that it is unreleased - it didn't appear in "ABBA: The Movie", for example, which includes songs from the Australian tour. So i'm not sure how MES would have heard of it. Also it's from 1977 and most of the dateable elements of the lyric concern later events.

But anyway.
  • 64. dannyno | 01/07/2021
"While the common near my birthplace is now a police college"

Just to return to this with some links.

So MES was born at Crumpsall Hospital, subsequently incorporated into North Manchester General Hospital: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Manchester_General_Hospital.

But the family home was on Dorchester Avenue, literally just down the road from Sedgley Park and the Police Training Centre as already noted:

Link to Google Maps

History of Sedgley House
  • 65. dannyno | 24/07/2021
The Fall's Rowche Rumble and Madness' The Prince were both reviewed on Melody Maker's "Singles" page by Ian Birch in the issue dated 11 August 1979 p.18 (see comments about chronology above...)
  • 66. dannyno | 21/04/2022
Comment #2, note #8.

"the common near my birthplace is now a police college".

I noted that the college opened at some point during 1979.

I have now established that it was officially opened on Monday 10 September 1979. The earliest currently known live performance of the song was at J.B.'s, Dudley, on 3 November 1979.

See the article from the Prestwich and Whitefield Guide, 7 September 1979, p.8.

  • 67. dannyno | 30/11/2022
Another reflection on Prince Buster's Ghost Dance.

The lyrics are:

Ghost dance

Dear Keithus, my friend, good day
Hoping you're keeping the best of health
How is the music down there in bone yard?
I hear that Busby have a sound system
And that Nyah Keith is disc-jockey
But them can't get no Red Stripe beer
Fi sell in the dance at night
Tell Zacky, the High Priest
Who used to lead the toughest
One who could go, baah toughest
Give him my regards
Tell him Prince Buster says hello

Baah, toughest

And Keith, if you should see Rashi
You know Rashi from Back'o'Wall?
Give him my regards
And if you should see, the two brothers
Stinky Pommells and Herbman, we grew together
Tell them Prince Buster says, so long
Sorry they had to go so soon
Since music be the food of love, I'll forever sing on
And Forresters Hall, we'll soon get back on shape

Baah, toughest
Ghost dance
Ghost dance

Baah, toughest

The song takes the form of, perhaps, a letter "back home" to Jamaica, and mentions old friends and others on the scene there, some of whom have evidently died.

According to Richard Williams:

Real people and places are being described here. Busby was indeed a sound system. Nyah Keith, born Albert Brown and murdered by a gunman in West Kingston in 1966, became the subject of a song by Burning Spear included on the 1978 album Marcus’ Children. Zackie was apparently a heavy for Edward Seaga’s Jamaican Labour Party, shot dead in 1966. Back o’ Wall was a Rasta community in West Kingston, demolished in the early ’60s and redeveloped as Tivoli Gardens. Forresters Hall was a popular dance hall on North Street in, I think, Campbell Town. On Rashie, Stinky Pommels and Herman, history is silent.

Source: https://thebluemoment.com/2016/09/08/prince-buster-1938-2016/

So perhaps MES is indicating, by saying The Fall do not play for the ghost dance, that he rejects nostalgia in general, or perhaps refuses to participate in some kind of nostalgic concert or event. For example, Sid Vicious died in February 1979, and maybe (I haven't found anything, mind you) there were suggestions of a tribute concert to which The Fall were incongruously invited. I've nothing more substantial than that, but it's another direction of thought.
Mark Oliver
  • 68. Mark Oliver | 20/09/2023
Could 'Miss Fjord' be the newsreader Anna Ford? She was big big big in the media at the time- caused a kerfuffle when she moved from BBC to ITV in 1978 and was appearing onstage with Monty Python members in 1979 in the show that became 'The Secret Policeman's Ball'.
  • 69. dannyno | 04/11/2023
The Buzzcocks' three rules of audience, Sounds, 4 November 1978:

Malcolm Boyle
  • 70. Malcolm Boyle (link) | 18/01/2024
I contest MES referred to Crass specifically at this point. I reckon given the timeline at that point he's looking at Here And Now, and maybe even TG.

Add a comment