The band's output is prolific—as of April 2008 they have released 27 studio albums, and more than triple that counting live albums and other releases. They have never achieved widespread public success beyond a handful of minor hit singles in the late 1980s, but have maintained a strong cult following. The band were long associated with BBC disc jockey John Peel, who championed them from early on in their career and cited The Fall as his favourite band, famously explaining, "They are always different; they are always the same."
From their first live lineup of Mark E. Smith (vocal), Martin Bramah (guitar), Tony Friel (bass) and an unknown drummer on Monday, 23 May 1977 North West Arts basement, King Street, Manchester, the group produced a sound quite unlike anything else being played in the run-down dancehalls of northern England's new wave scene. After this first gig the lineup would change, losing Dave/Steve the drummer (years later Smith referred to Dave/Steve as "that little bald fellow that died from Stockport" and Tony Friel remembered Dave actually being called Steve and claimed that "some years later he killed himself by throwing himself under a train") and adding Una Baines on keyboard and Karl Burns on drums for the second gig on Friday, 3 June 1977 at the Squat Club, Manchester. It was this line up of Smith, Bramah, Friel, Baines and Burns that recorded "Bingo-Master's Break-Out!", "Psycho Mafia", "Repetition" and "Frightened" on Thursday, 9 November 1977 at Indigo Studios, Manchester. The session was funded by Richard Boon, manager of Buzzcocks, and he planned to release the tracks on his New Hormones label. Boon later gave the tapes back to the band as he decided to concentrate on Buzzcocks.
Two tracks, "Stepping Out" and "Last Orders", were released on the compilation Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus in June 1978 on Virgin Records, a compilation album recorded at the Manchester venue The Electric Circus on Sunday, 2 October 1977. Founder member and bassist Tony Friel left to form The Passage after a gig on Friday, 23 December 1977, at Stretford Civic Centre, Manchester. Friel's replacement Jonnie Brown lasted from January 1978 to March 1978 appearing at several gigs and taking part in the Granada TV show So It Goes hosted by Tony Wilson. The Fall were filmed by Granada for the show in Prestwich on Monday, 13 February 1978 performing "Psycho Mafia", "Industrial Estate" and "Dresden Dolls".
In early April 1978 Una Baines left The Fall. This was in part due to her relationship with Jonnie Brown, who allegedly was a heroin addict (Brown still thinks "No Xmas For John Quays" is about him), but also due to band differences. He and Baines struck up a relationship and when Brown left Baines followed soon after. Baines stated in interviews years later that when Brown walked in there was an obvious attraction between them. She also added that Brown said if they were going to get together then he had a secret and to be with him she'd have to share it... she did and they had a short relationship.
Replacing Una Baines came Yvonne Pawlett in late April 1978, with Jonnie Brown also replaced in April by Eric McGann (aka Rick "Echo" Goldstraw - not to be confused with Salford-based percussionist Eric Random) but he again lasted only a short time until Tuesday, 30 May 1978. Eric's departure was due to the Fall's then van driver and conga player Steve Davis showing up to take the band to London to record their first John Peel session in a Hawaiian shirt. Such was Eric's disgust he refused to get in the van and was summarily sacked. During the recording of the Peel session Martin Bramah played the bass parts.
New bass player Marc Riley joined and appeared with The Fall on Sunday, 11 June 1978 at Band on the Wall, Manchester. The debut EP, "Bingo-Master's Break-Out!", was finally released on 11 August 1978 on Step Forward Records but did not include "Frightened" from the recording sessions. Apparently Mark E. Smith asked for it to be left off as he felt that it was a dull version; a copy of this recording has never been officially released. The second single was "It's the New Thing" released November 1978 and featured the new line up of Mark E. Smith, Martin Bramah, Marc Riley, Yvonne Pawlett and Karl Burns.
Debut album Live at the Witch Trials was recorded in one day at Camden Sound Suite, London on Friday, 15 December 1978. Further line up changes were afoot with the departure of Karl Burns. His last appearance was on Saturday, 30 December 1978 The Venue, Manchester. Burns' replacement, Mike Leigh, first appeared live on Wednesday, 14 February 1979 at Bowden Vale Social Club, Altrincham.
The debut LP by The Fall, Live at the Witch Trials was released on 16 March 1979. Founding member Martin Bramah quit the band during late April 1979 to form Blue Orchids. This created a significant shift in band dynamics, with the replacements Steve Hanley and Craig Scanlon first appearing live on Wednesday, 9 May 1979 at Music Hall, Aberdeen. Yvonne Pawlett's last appearance with The Fall came on Saturday, 28 July 1979 at the Mayflower Club, Gorton, Manchester. She left to look after her sick dog. Years later she appeared in The Shy Tots releasing a single "Gallery" in 1982. On 30 July 1979 "Rowche Rumble", The Fall's third single, was released featuring the new line up of Mark E Smith, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Steve Hanley, Yvonne Pawlett and Mike Leigh.
Dragnet, The Fall's second album was recorded on 2 - 4 August 1979 at Cargo Studios, Rochdale and was released on 26 October 1979 featuring the stripped-down line-up of Mark E Smith, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Steve Hanley and Mike Leigh. Dragnet signaled a sparser, more jagged feel, which on subsequent albums filled out into a more grinding, industrial sound.
13 January 1980 The Fall release their fourth single, "Fiery Jack", their last record for Step Forward.
Mike Leigh's last gig was on Thursday, 20 March 1980 at Manchester Polytechnic, he apparently left and went back onto the cabaret circuit.
Paul Hanley, Leigh's replacement and Steve Hanley's younger brother, first plays live with The Fall on Friday, 21 March 1980 Electric Ballroom, London.
5 May 1980 Totale's Turns LP released on Rough Trade. The live album (apart from 2 tracks) documents the band during various appearances, with Smith announcing last orders at the bar and berating band members and audience throughout.
In mid June 1980 The Fall tour The Netherlands with drummer Steve Davis. He stood in for Paul Hanley while he took his O levels.
The Fall release their fifth single on 11 July 1980 titled "How I Wrote Elastic Man" and is the first release to feature the line up of Mark E Smith, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Steve Hanley and Paul Hanley.
17 November 1980 Grotesque Lp released. With the album came a significant improvement in production and content, which continued throughout the period.
In 1978, 1979 & 1980 The Fall played the Deeply Vale Festivals and Mark E Smith said in a 2004 TV interview that the Deeply Vale events were his all time favourite festivals despite in later years having performed at many larger festivals. Smith also said his favourite place to record albums was in Rochdale which has featured heavily throughout their career as a town where The Fall have gone to record initially at Cargo / Suite Sixteen and later at Gracieland.
Slates, the mini 10" album, released 24 April 1981 their last recording for Rough Trade. Several of the tracks include Dave Tucker on clarinet, he had appeared with The Fall on numerous occasions in a live capacity.
May - July 1981 The Fall tour America with the line up of Mark E. Smith, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Steve Hanley and Karl Burns on drums. U.S. immigration said Paul Hanley was too young to play America's "21 and over" clubs.
September 1981 Karl Burns appears as a second drummer with The Fall for the first time and 77 - Early Years - 79 LP (a Step Forward compilation) is released.
On 13 November 1981 The Fall release their sixth single called "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul" produced by Richard Mazda, recorded at Workhouse Studios in London and released on Kamera Records featuring the line up Mark E. Smith, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Steve Hanley, Paul Hanley and Karl Burns.
The Fall's seventh single is released 19 April 1982 titled "Look, Know" on Kamera.
May 1982 A Part of America Therein live LP released on Cottage Records, having been recorded during their last tour of America.
27 September 1982 Room to Live album released on Kamera.
Marc Riley's final appearance with The Fall is on Wednesday, 22 December 1982 at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester.
1983 was a year of changes in The Fall camp, firstly it was the first time The Fall had recorded and gigged after the expulsion of guitarist Marc Riley, a band member for the previous 4 years. 1983 also marked The Fall's return to Rough Trade Records, after being promised better treatment this time around. On 7 June 1983, Rough Trade Records issued The Fall's 9th single The Man Whose Head Expanded and on 19 September 1983 issued the 10th single and double pack Kicker Conspiracy. Bizarrely in November 1983 Kamera Records issued around 2-3 thousand copies of the planned 1982 single Marquis Cha Cha, the release date having been put back due to Kamera's financial troubles in late 1982, making it The Fall's 11th single issue. 1983 heralded another dramatic change with the departure of Riley and the arrival of Smith's American girlfriend and later wife, Californian Brix Smith (born Laura Elise Salenger and named after the track Guns Of Brixton by The Clash, due to her liking of it), as guitarist alongside Craig Scanlon. Brix's first live appearance being on Wednesday, 21 September 1983 at the Hellfire Club, Wakefield. A last album for Rough Trade Records, before the friendship soured, (Perverted by Language, released 5 December 1983) was the first record by The Fall to feature Brix E Smith. Also released in December 1983 was the live album In A Hole, recorded during The Fall's tour of New Zealand in 1982, on Flying Nun Records.
This era found The Fall scoring a few modest hits with singles from a string of highly acclaimed albums: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984), This Nation's Saving Grace (1985), Bend Sinister (1986), The Frenz Experiment (1988). I Am Kurious, Oranj is notable as the fruit of a ballet project between Smith and dancer Michael Clark. Simon Rogers and later Marcia Schofield played keyboards, and Simon Wolstencroft replaced Burns on drums after This Nation's Saving Grace.
In 1994 and 1996 The Fall played at the Phoenix Festival in Stratford, England - the 1996 appearance being one of much surprise to many fans as they were not scheduled to play. They followed novelty keyboardist, Margarita Pracatan. The next album, Levitate (1997), toyed with drum and bass and polarised opinion (long-serving drummer Simon Wolstencroft left halfway through the recording sessions, and was replaced by Karl Burns). Steven Wells in the NME (11 October 1997) wrote, "Imagine pop without perimeters. Imagine rock without rules. Imagine art without the wank. If you've never heard The Fall then Levitate will be either the best or the worst record you've ever heard." The group was temporarily reduced to Smith and Nagle when a disastrous U.S. tour ended in April 1998 with a violent onstage row and the departure of Hanley (bassist for 19 years), Burns and guitarist Tommy Crooks. The following day, Smith was arrested and charged with assaulting Nagle in their hotel.
In January 2005, The Fall (described as "one of the most enigmatic, idiosyncratic and chaotic garage bands of the last 30 years") were the subject of a BBC Four TV documentary, The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith. Later that year, a 97-song box set containing all of the sessions the group recorded for John Peel's BBC Radio 1 programme was issued to widespread acclaim. Their 25th studio album, entitled Fall Heads Roll, was issued on 3 October 2005, preceded by a single "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" (a cover of a song by The Move) on 6 September 2005 (US) and 19 September 2005 (UK). Ben Pritchard (guitar), Steve Trafford (bass), Spencer Birtwistle (drums), all of whom played on Fall Heads Roll, left the group somewhat acrimoniously during the group's Summer 2006 tour of the US after just four dates. In a US radio interview, Smith described their departures as "the best thing that ever happened" to The Fall, although it was some months before he confirmed that they would not be returning to the group.
From 9 May 2006, Smith and Poulou were joined by Tim Presley (guitar), Rob Barbato (bass) and Orpheo McCord (drums) who joined them for the remainder of the US tour, a flagship show in Manchester held in June 2006 and an appearance at the Oya Festival in Oslo, Norway in August 2006. Presley and Barbato are members of the band Darker My Love while McCord was one half of the experimental duo The Hill With Barbato and Presley fulfilling Darker My Love commitments back in the US in late August, the first 'squad rotation system' of Fall musicians emerged with new members Pete Greenway (guitar) of West Midlands group Pubic Fringe (more recently known as Das Fringe), and Dave Spurr (bass) making their Fall debuts alongside Smith, Poulou and McCord at the Reading and Leeds festivals in August 2006. The musicians appeared in various configurations, usually with two bass players although on occasion gigs were played with a double-drummer lineup. On 1 June 2007 Presley, Barbato and McCord played their most recent gig with The Fall. Although no official statement by the band has been made they are now assumed to have ceased being part of the Fall, with the line up of all gigs since having consisted of Smith, Poulou, Spurr, Greenway and Melling. Melling and Spurr play together in the group MotherJohn Recently, the Fall have been joined onstage by former bass player Simon 'Ding' Archer, whose group Bobbie Peru are supporting the Fall on their current UK tour.
Sonic Youth covered three Fall songs (and "Victoria" by the Kinks, also covered by the Fall) in a 1988 Peel Session, which was released in 1990 as the "4 Tunna Brix" EP on Sonic Youth's own Goofin' label. The 1990s indie acts Pavement and Elastica (Smith contributed vocals to their final EP and album) showed an influence of The Fall, while Suede parodied the band with "Implement Yeah!", a song found on the cassette edition of their 1999 single "Electricity".
The Fall is referenced in the Jens Lekman song "Maple Leaves" with the lyrics "And when she talked about her fall, I thought she talked about Mark E. Smith". The Electric Soft Parade album No Need to Be Downhearted is named after a lyric from The Fall song "15 Ways". The German rock band Tocotronic has a song called "Ich hab geträumt ich wäre Pizza essen mit Mark E. Smith" (German for "I've dreamed I would eat pizza with Mark E. Smith"). The Dutch indie band Seedling refers to The Fall in their song "The Upshot", singing "You make it sound so sexy, as if you're Mark E. Smith from the Fall". U.S. indie singer-songwriter Barbara Manning's song "Mark E. Smith & Brix" describes running into "the man of my dreams" (and his then-wife) while out walking. Included as the opening song on their 1984 album "Scandal in Bohemia", The Jazz Butcher contributed the ode " Southern Mark Smith," a title that Pat Fish (the song's author) admits is oxymoronic, in that "Mark E. Smith is so stereotypically northern that the very phrase 'southern Mark Smith' comes across to me like 'lush Sahara'or 'wise and noble Bush.'"