Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Interview: BRIX SMITH, the Fall & the Adult Net


An interview with Brix Smith
in which the former 
Ms Mark E Smith talks about 
her group The Adult Net, and her 
other extra-FALL activities 


Brix scruffs her immaculately pre-scruffed hair. ‘Not if they’re not to HAAAAAAT.’

‘All lights are hot – otherwise there’s no STRENGTH in ‘em’ reasons the Lightman with the Black Uhuru T-shirt.

Brix smiles. ‘Well, like half-dimmer or something?’

For a moment it seems he’s going to argue back, then he capitulates, ‘well – I’ll get the lights up, and if you wanna come around, we’ll switch all the houselights down and you can just have a look and make sure you’re happy.’

‘OK, thanks.’ She beams delightfully, then turns back to me, ‘now – ask me some more questions.’ And who could resist? Certainly not me.

Rock spouses – as a species, have not always rated highly on the credibility profile. Let’s name names here, Angie Bowie, Linda McCartney, Bianca Jagger – remember? But ‘Brix’ Laura Elisse Smith (Smith as in Mark E Fall) is the exception proving the rule. To describe her as ‘attractive’, ‘vivacious’, or even ‘effervescent’ sounds at the worst, a sexist condescension and at the very least tabloid idiot-speak. But the qualities of attraction and vivacity are REAL qualities that go beyond such banal stock usage, and in the final analysis there are few other adjectives that so accurately describe her.

She ignites the aforesaid Fall, on stage, page and vinyl with an energy, adrenalin and visual splash this erstwhile dour but worthy band have never before enjoyed. While – wearing a different hat, she’s served up a series of delicious 45rpm concoctions in her own right, as Adult Net. No Suzy & The Red Stripes they – Adult Net are distinctly different and definitely Brix. Reviewing their third single – “White Night (Stars Say Go)”, ‘New Musical Express’ struggles to find a prose sufficient to cross ‘Hawkwind with the Shangri-Las’, and wind up commending a sound they find ‘nicely individualised with a series of quarter-demented guitar breaks’ (28 June 1986). ‘Melody Maker’ fares better – their Jonh Wilde describing Brix’s “Take Me” single as simply ‘a shimmering cascade of syrup and speed’ (15 July 1989).

Brix is here now, awaiting a Fall soundcheck. She punctuates our conversation with ‘you know what I’m saying?’, with a dance of highly expressive verbal emphasis, and the kind of laughter you last heard in a ‘Swinging London’ movie. She’s sharp, very alive, enjoys being in a band or two – ‘guitars, they’re my FAVOURITE things.’ She enjoys being interviewed too… 

Twenty-six years young, she comes from ‘L-L-L-L, A-A-A-A’, carefully spelling it out. ‘I wrote that song’ she swanks (side one, track six of Fall’s 1985 ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ album), and name-drops like a fan about how she used to hang out in Los Angeles with girls who would later be Bangles. And she’s still new enough to all this to be suckered on celebrity, to be refreshingly excited by this whole Rawk ‘n’ Roll life-style. Billy Idol for example – ‘I lurve Billy Idol’ she gushes. ‘Oh – he’s SO cute. I met him once and he was s-o-o-o nice to me. He was the n-i-c-e-s-t boy in New York…’

“Incense And Peppermint” was the first Adult Net single, a charting debut covering what had been originally a cheapo quasi-Doors US no.1 by the bizarrely named Strawberry Alarm Clock, an anonymous Santa Barbara-based six-piece. ‘I chose that song because I saw this movie called ‘Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls’ (a 1970 Russ Meyer exploitation)’ she explains. ‘And Strawberry Alarm Clock were playing it in this movie, and I just fell in love with it.’ July 1967 I muse, I remember the song first time around. ‘You do?’ Brix laughs prettily, ‘I was four years old, ha-ha-ha!’

Something snags deep in my memory-cells hereabouts, some rusty synapses close making odd conversational connections – Billy Idol/ Strawberry Alarm Clock/ Generation X… didn’t THEY do an album called ‘Valley Of The Dolls’ (1979)? But maybe that’s a tenuous link too far…?

‘Sure’ says Brix in a bemused kind of way, ‘but whaddya mean? That’s just the name of one of their records – ‘Valley of The Dolls’.’ She looks at me oddly, yet I get a sneaky suspicion that, like her friend Susanna Hoffs (of the Bangles), Brix is something of a sixties-ophile. She decides on a course of intensive instruction – ‘‘Valley Of The Dolls’ was a book, right, about these three girls, one of them is – like, addicted, because they all take these pills – called ‘dolls’ or whatever. And one gets her breast cut off, and one – y’know, dies. It’s tragic. But ‘Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls’ – you see, is nothing whatsoever to do with ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, and it says so. It’s just a movie, but it’s a REALLY weird movie. It’s like an acid trip. It’s like the California sixties. It’s completely different.’ Then, to ram her point home, ‘I didn’t like Generation X so much anyway! But go on…’

Suitably chastened I move on hurriedly to November 1985, and the second Adult Net single – “Edie”, ‘about Edie Sedgwick.’ Not a cover, she adds, ‘I wrote it myself this time.’ The record’s based loosely around the book ‘Edie: An American Biography’ (1982) by Jean Stein, a biography of the suicided New York socialite that was issued ‘a l-o-n-g time ago. About seven years ago. But it was good.’ The book was made up interview-style, of block-type sections. ‘Yes, by all the different famous people that knew her and stuff, those who just hung around in the Andy Warhol crowd.’ The Cult subsequently issued a single about Edie, and it’s alleged that Bob Dylan wrote his “Just Like A Woman” for Ms Sedgwick, with her ‘amphetamine and her pearls.’ If so, then Brix’s song about Edie ‘in the death-seat of Warhol’s car’ is a worthy successor – albeit in a parallel dimension. Brix’s universe draws its energies more from the ‘California sixties’ – witness the surf-warm Beach Boys harmonies on the next-but-one single “Waking Up In The Sun”, with energy inputs from the like of the aforesaid Shangri-Las. In fact, Adult Net revive THEIR classic weepie “(Remember) Walking In The Sand” on its B-side.

Any more cover versions lined up, Brix? ‘With Adult Net? I’m gonna do a song…’ A pause to decide what is and what is not safe to reveal. ‘An album will come out, I think there will be a cover on there, but I won’t say what it is in case someone snatches it…!’ You have to check out ‘The Honey Tangle’ (1989, Fontana 838 125-1) album to trace out her references. Following the up-switch from Indie to major, from Beggars Banquet to Fontana (distribution through Phonogram) Brix issued her Adult Net version of the Grassroots’ “Where Were You (When I Needed You)”, a 1967 American hit written by legendary eccentric PF Sloan. It’s there, as she tells it, on the album.

But she’s already proved herself by writing a clutch of fine originals for Adult Net – contributing “Get Around” and “Phantom Power” to the original “Edie” twelve-inch, and “Naughty Or Nice” for the flip of “White Night (Stars Say Go)”, before writing the bulk of ‘The Honey Tangle’ material. She’s also written songs for Fall. She was fronting her own group, Banda Dratsing, when she first met Mark E at a Chicago concert, and subsequently found herself in Manchester in time to contribute “Hotel Blöedel” to the ‘Perverted By Language’ (1983) album. Then some of the more accessible titles on ‘Bend Sinister’ (1986) – like “Riddle” and “U.S. Eighties-Nineties” are hers. A member of Fall for six years, her contribution shouldn’t be underestimated. Indeed, not since the departure of Kay Carroll, former manager and Mark E’s girlfriend, has anyone got to input so much material. It’s surely no coincidence that her tenure with Fall coincided with their hit covers of “There’s A Ghost In My House” (no.30 in May 1987) and “Victoria” (no.35 in January 1988), the closest Fall would ever get to the ‘Top Of The Pops’ mainstream?

‘Now – ask me some more questions’ she demands. And who could resist? Certainly not me.

For Brix, Adult Net is ‘just a separate band which is just sorta like – a release. Y’know what I’m saying, just like – fun!’ Being in the Fall is ‘the day job’. Adult Net is one of a number of extra-curricular activities – the details of which are often kept cagey. Apart from Brix, Adult Net members have been – according to various hand-outs, either odd names like Ottersley ‘Der Golem Of Romford’ Kipling (aka Simon Rogers), Mask Aiechmann (aka Karl Burns), and Silki Guth (Craig Scanlon) possibly fabricated at Beggars Banquet invention, or a pool of star pick-ups for the Fontana line-ups, including ex-Blondie/ Eurythmics drummer Clem Burke and former Smiths guitarist Craig Gannon. The album also credits Cassell Webb (support vocals), Luis Jardin (percussion) and James Eller (bass) – while Smiths Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, as well as Morrissey’s sideman Gannon, fell into the Adult Net to play the band’s one-off live ICA gig!

Various adventures in other guises tend to suggest such a flip and flexible attitude. Brix and other Fall-members cameo on the video for Tom Watts – Lofty from BBC-TV’s ‘Eastenders’, first single. That, too, was a sixties retread – Bob Dylan’s word-scrambler “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. It was issued on Tom’s own ‘Watt The Duck’ label around mid-1986. A month or so earlier Brix and some other Falls could be seen, and heard, on the Channel Four screening ‘Hail The New Puritan’, an avant garde ballet predating ‘I Am Curious Oranj’ by dance’s enfant terriblé Michael Clark. The film was made up of twelve odd sequences following Clark through a seedy travelogue of decadent symbolist London. Directed by a ‘Charles Atlas’, it was supposedly inspired by the Fall-song “New Puritan”…

And Brix, she looks attractive, vivacious, and yeah – effervescent too. You know what I’m saying? But whatever the full details of Brix’s covert activities, she’s staying schtum…

‘Hmmmmm – I’m SO tired’ she yawns distractingly.

…and lets the music stand on its own merits.

The Lightman with the Black Uhuru T-shirt hovers, waiting for her approval, and it’s time for me to go.


July 1985 – ‘Incense And Peppermint’ c/w ‘Searching For The Now’ (Beggars Banquet BEG 137) with ‘Fat Hell’ on the twelve-inch

November 1985 – ‘Edie’ c/w ‘Get Around’ and ‘Phantom Power’ (Beggars Banquet BEG 148) Producer: John Leckie

June 1986 – ‘White Night (Stars Say Go)’ c/w ‘Naughty Or Nice’ Beggars Banquet BEG 164)

August 1986 – ‘Waking Up In The Sun’ c/w ‘(Remember) Walking In The Sand’ (Beggars Banquet BEG 171) Producer: Ian Broudie

1987 – ‘Spin This Web’ (Beggars Banquet) unissued LP, the tapes aborted at ‘the request of Brix Smith’

March 1989 – ‘Take Me’ c/w ‘Sea Of Rain’ (Fontana BRX1) CD and twelve-inch EP also includes ‘Going Nowhere’ and ‘Incense And Peppermint’. Producer: Craig Leon

May 1989 – ‘Where Were You (When I Needed You)’ c/w ‘Over The River’ (Fontana BRX2) twelve-inch also has ‘Edie’ and gatefold sleeve

July 1989 – ‘The Honey Tangle’ (Fontana 838 125-1). Produced by, and additional keyboards by Craig Leon. With Side One: (1) ‘Take Me’, (2) ‘August’, (3) ‘Waking Up In The Sun (re-recorded)’, (4) ‘Spin This Web’, (5) ‘Sad’. Side Two: (1) ‘Where Were You (When I Needed You)’, (2) ‘The Honey Tangle’, (3) ‘Tiffany Tuesday’, (4) ‘Tomorrow Morning Daydream’, (5) ‘It’s The Way’, plus ‘Baby You’re Away’ on the cassette edition, and ‘Going Nowhere’, ‘Over The River’ and ‘Incense And Peppermints’ on the CD version

August 1989 – ‘Waking Up In The Sun’ c/w ‘August’ (Fontana BRX3) with ‘Baby You’re Away’ on the twelve-inch

(Since this interview took place it was announced that Brix had ceased to be a member of Fall, and would concentrate her energies on Adult Net, who were then dropped by Fontana in October 1990, and subsequently split. She currently works with Brix And The Extricated)

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