An NME award that captures the spirit of legendary founder of The Fall - Mark E Smith - is expected to spark a bidding war among die-hard fans across the globe at auction.
The unpredictable northerner, who died at the age of 60 on January 24, refused to take The Godlike Genius Award on stage – which he walked on to before compere Eddie Izzard had chance to announce he was the winner in 1998.
Plus, in typical Mark E Smith-style, the award – in the shape of a middle-finger salute -was damaged afterwards. According to The Fall’s former manager John Lennard, Mark pointed the middle finger at several people backstage, including radio and TV presenter Jo Whiley, and the finger broke off on a wall and had to be re-attached. Plus, a bracelet on the award, bearing Mark’s name, was damaged too.
After the event, Mark gave it to John Lennard who said: “Mark handed the award to me telling me I deserved it for putting up with him. He then hugged me and disappeared into the night. The following day I took the award to our London office where it has sat ever since.”
Now the award is due to be sold at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers on March 14 with an estimate of £5,000-£8,000. Most of the proceeds - £5,000 - will be donated to Chelsea’s Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity, centres which specialise in heart and lung disease.
Following the huge response to Mark’s death from lung and kidney cancer, fans of The Fall are expected to grasp the opportunity to own an item so relevant to a man described as ‘a strange kind of antimatter national treasure’.
Jim Spencer, valuer at Hansons in Etwall, near Derby, said: It was an honour to handle and catalogue this object having been introduced to The Fall by my older brothers when I was ten years old.
“I still love the discordant sinister glam stomp of New Big Prinz, the wired pop of Hit the North and the mellower hung-over mood of Bill is Dead.
“Mark E Smith was deceptively clever in both his lyrics and vocal style and, though he appeared anti-intellectual, he was well read. His lyrics are often poetic and inspired. I'm sure he would find me oily and unctuous for saying that. I know he admired John Walters for describing The Fall as ‘the worst tuneless rubbish I’ve ever heard’. This is a piece of cult pop history.”
Smith formed the Fall in 1976 in his home town of Prestwich, Greater Manchester, and was the only constant member of the band. He frequently fired bandmates. During The Fall’s 42-year existence, the line-up included 60 musicians who released 32 albums.
With him along the way was John Lennard who said: “I first met Mark E. Smith, and his wife, Brix Smith, in the early 1980s when I was promoting The Fall’s concert at London’s Hammersmith Palais.
“After the sound check we sat down to eat and Mark started taking the p** out of anyone eating vegetables. Having never eaten one myself, I joined the banter and found myself really warming to his sense of humour.
“At the end of the meal I asked Brix who I should pay that night. She looked at me blankly. I asked where their tour manager was. At this point Mark came over and ranted about tour managers, ‘just a bunch of morons with a second-class degree and a student bus pass they think makes them capable of getting five people from here to there. I don't need a f***g student to tell me what time to get on the f***g bus’.
“ ‘Manager?’ I proffered.
“He then looked at me and said ‘are you interested?’
“So, began over a decade of working together. I went on tour with Mark round the world, dealt as well as I could with all his business affairs and much of his personal, too.
“Brix stayed with me throughout their separation because Mark asked me to take care of her. I oversaw the band’s final years at Beggars Banquet and orchestrated Mark’s departure to Fontana Records.
“Being at a major label didn’t work for Mark and The Fall were dropped after one release. I’d set up my own label and immediately signed Mark. The Fall’s first album, Infotainment Scan, entered the top 10, their highest ever chart entry. We made a further five albums together, our last being Marshall Suite.
“In my time in the music business I have worked with difficult artists but Mark wasn’t difficult. He just wouldn't accept fools gladly and had no desire to be part of a system that employed so many.
“On January 27, 1998, Mark E Smith and I pitched up at Brixton Academy for the Brat Award, which was the NME’s alternative to the Brit awards.
“After Radiohead, The Verve, Beck and The Prodigy took their awards there was an announcement for a new Godlike Genius Award. Before Izzard could announce the winner, Mark got up from the table and walked on stage, cutting Eddie’s speech short.
“Mark’s first words set the tone and he went on to thank me, followed by saying the real winners of the award should be NME readers for reading it from cover to cover. Afterwards, Mark was taken backstage for a very tense interview with Jo Whiley for TV. To say it didn’t go well would be an understatement but so typical of Mark.
“If there is one incident that I think sums up Mark it was this evening where he took the chance to tell the music industry exactly what he thought of it. I can’t say it made my job any easier but that was Mark E Smith.”
The Godlike Genius Award presented to Mark E Smith in 1998 will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on March 14. To find out more, place a bid in advance or book a phone line to bid, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.