2024 has a special date on the calendar, March 16th. It marks the 45th anniversary of one of post-punk’s seminal albums, The Fall’s uneasy and atmospheric debut ‘Live at The Witch Trials’.  In celebration of this monumental milestone, Cherry Red Records is releasing a fully remastered version of the band’s crucial debut on April 19th 2024, kitted out with the U.S. sleeve and track listing. This version of the album is the U.S.A.’s original release from 1979 so is, unfortunately, missing great tracks off the U.K. release like ‘Mother-Sister!’ and one of my personal favourites ‘Industrial Estate’. However, the album does contain two songs that were not included on the album’s original U.K. release, the six-minute epic ‘Various Times’ and the drug-addled tune ‘underground medecin’ which tries to make up for what’s lost but doesn’t quite in my eyes.

Live at the Witch Trials was originally released to mostly positive reception and acclaim from the public and critics, which catapulted The Fall up but mainly Mark E Smith really as he was the start and end of the band, to new heights; Their follow-up album ‘Dragnet’ would soon follow in the autumn of 1979. The Fall recorded this album in just one long day, much like The Beatles’ debut, in December 1978. Due to Mark E Smith falling ill on the week of recording and cancelled three days in the studio. Then was mixed the following day by producer Bob Sergeant. The band by this point was already on their second or third lineup, it’s hard to keep track, after both Una Baines and Tony Friel had left the band separately but both still had credits on the album for their contributions.

The record’s lyrical themes are about drugs, the music industry, jobs and The Fall’s hate of trends, of which they never wavered throughout their long stay in the industry. ‘Rebellious Jukebox’ talks about their hatred of musical trends because once the jukebox starts playing The Fall instead of ABBA or any big artists of the late 70s, it would be as if the jukebox was sentient and deciding to play music not considered pop. Becoming rebellious like punk and post-punk rebelling against the music industry and creating their music, their way independently. The Fall are that jukebox creating what they want to hear and they don’t care if you listen or not.

The album’s opening track ‘Frightened’ is an insight into Mark E Smith’s experience with the drug ‘speed’ at the young age of 16. Mark talks about loneliness contrasted with wanting to be alone, being entranced by speed and the feeling of anxiousness from the high. The instrumentation is perfectly gloomy and doomy for the lyrics, making you feel uneasy, jittery, dark and the feeling of being alone outside on a cold winter’s night. Creating a monstrous atmosphere of anxiousness and that something bad is going to happen, that something is lurking.

The theme of drugs is carried on throughout the album with songs such as ‘No Xmas for John Quays’ (pun for junkies) and ‘Underground Medecin’. A drug user for some time Mark E Smith was around this drug scene a lot so it would’ve been a large source of inspiration and I presume helped his writing in some ways. A good portion of the album is about this topic and I think that the accompanying instrumentation suits the bleak and tortured topic well, demonstrated fantastically on Frightened.

This album is one of my favourite vinyls in my collection already so it was an absolute pleasure and an amazing opportunity to be able to re-listen and review this piece of brilliance, from the most unique mind that there was in the music industry for over 40 years, Mark E Smith. The album I know will not be to all listener’s tastes, but for those lovers of post-punk and or The Fall it’s a great album to add to your vinyl collection, for fans old and just discovering.

The Fall: Live at the Witch Trials – Out 19th April 2024 (Cherry Red)