What do you remember about being interviewed for your first NME cover in 1981?
Mark E Smith: That was a time of great stress. I didn’t have time to read interviews, but I remember doing it very distinctly. We were just back from our second American tour. We’d been in Georgia where we just played ‘Hip Priest’ for about 20 minutes. When we came off this fella said to me: “If you get back up and do an encore, buddy, I’ll kill ya!” The actual interview with Barney Hoskyns was in this big hall in Birmingham. Nico was on with us that night as well. That was weird for me. Me and my best friends at school had liked the Velvet Underground since we were about 14. Then Nico moved in with John Cooper Clarke about four bloody streets away! I opened the curtains in me mam’s house one day and saw Nico walking past! Dead strange. In them days New York might as well have been Mars. I couldn’t really talk when I met her, I was still a bit starstruck. It was interesting to see the six or seven person line-up from 1981 in that magazine, and a bit depressing, really! They were great players but the ones I’ve got now are much better. I always think we haven’t even started yet. Coincidentally I did listen to ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ last week for the first time in ages and it was impressive. On reflection, I was a bit very nasty to the group!
In 1989 we got you together with Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan for an NME pop summit. You seemed hell bent on winding the other two up, is that right?
Of course! I remember it being a fun interview. Loads of people wrote to me, this was before the internet, saying: “I don’t know how you bleeding get away with saying things like that, Mark!” I don’t think I’ve talked to either of them since. Not surprising, I suppose.
What do you think of the bands that the NME have championed more recently?
I didn’t mind The Libertines at all. I thought they were alright. They wanted to meet me. When they played in Manchester they were put in this sort of compound with yellow accident tape roping them off. I thought, he’s not that bloody outrageous is he?
Were you pleased that the NME supported The Fall in the early 80s?
Yeah, you’ve got to remember that in them days no record company would come anywhere fucking near us. We’d left Rough Trade and we were on a heavy metal label. With The Fall you’re always living day-by-day. Nobody understood us. As John Cooper Clarke says: “It was the time of the ‘guitars are dead’ mob”.
Had you always been an NME reader?
Yeah, I first got the NME in about ’74 and I used to read people like Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray. I remember the first time we were ever in the NME was when Paul Morley mentioned us in a live review in about 1978. My sister still has a copy of that first cover that my mother bought. NME was always good because it had the freedom to put shit like us on the cover. That’s admirable. The Fall got bad reviews from the NME as well but it didn’t bother me. I thought that passion was good. A review in a newspaper might say something was “slightly disappointing” but the NME would say it was “totally crap”. I like reading bad reviews, I don’t read the good ones!
Originally published in NME’s 60th Birthday Issue, 29 September 2012.