Review: Brix & The Extricated, The Duchess

The songs feel fresh and alive – Brix & The Extricated. Photographs: Simon Godley

Brix & The Extricated

The Duchess

November 24

The Duchess website

Brix Smith-Start had reinvented herself. She had become a fashion expert, stylist, co-owner (with her husband Philip Start) of a Shoreditch boutique and a celebrated TV presenter.

Yes, she was that loud-mouthed, Pug dog-wielding American co-host of Gok Wan’s Channel 4 programme Fashion Fix before moving on to present the first series of Ultimate Shopper in her very own right.

For those who had become familiar with her new millennium persona it may have been difficult to reconcile this with her previous incarnation as guitarist with Mancunian post-punk legends The Fall – two stints, one in the Eighties and then a brief return in the mid-90s – and former wife of six years to the band’s mercurial founder and only constant member Mark E. Smith.

In fact that part of Brix Smith-Start’s life appeared to be well and truly over. She had resisted all efforts to speak about her marriage to Mark E. Smith and time spent in The Fall and had not picked up a guitar in more than 15 years.

Thrilling the Duchess crowd
Thrilling the Duchess crowd

That all changed following the publication last September of Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall, a book co-written by Steve Hanley, former Fall bassist and after Mark E. Smith the longest serving member of that seminal group.

The book prompted a reunion between Smith-Start and Hanley out of which eventually emerged Brix & The Extricated.

Supplemented by Hanley’s brother Paul on drums and guitarists Steve Trafford and Jason Brown, the band made their first live appearances towards the end of last year. Their first rule was that they would only perform songs they had actually written for The Fall.

This guiding principle dictated that the Fall pool from which they could draw was almost exclusively the years between 1983 and 1989 when Smith-Start was first with the band.

‘The songs feel fresh and alive’
‘The songs feel fresh and alive’

This period signalled a marriage, in every sense of the word, between Brix’s greater pop sensibilities and Mark E.’s magnificent, maverick miserablism.

For many this period of time that stretches for six full albums from Perverted By Language to I Am Curious Oranj was to be the Fall’s high-water mark.

Tonight, in front of a small, but incredibly enthusiastic crowd Brix & The Extricated harness that perfect moment in time and carry it firmly into the present.

They kick off with a blistering US 80’s-90’s (taken from the 1986 album Bend Sinister) and end up about an hour later with an equally coruscating Bombast (from the previous year’s The Nation’s Saving Grace).

In between times they slalom their collective way adroitly and quite thrillingly through Leave The Capitol, L.A, 2×4 and an absolutely cracking Lay Of The Land – amongst many other Fall classics of a similar vintage – whilst still having time for the glam-rock stomp of new song Failed With Time and a cover of The Temptations’ Ball Of Confusion which in these troubled times seems like an entirely apposite choice.

We even get a brilliant blast of Totally Wired.

Brix performed a blistering set
Brix performed a blistering set

The songs feel fresh and alive and with Brix Smith-Start spitting out Mark E. Smith’s words; the resolute, resilient rhythm of the Hanley brothers; and an often three-pronged guitar attack, there is no mistaking that irrefutable Fall sound.

But to dismiss Brix & The Extricated as a mere Fall covers’ band – as many, including I would suspect Mark E. Smith himself will do – would be incredibly wide of the mark.

Smith-Start and Steve Hanley in particular had a significant hand in writing these songs and shaping what was the sound of The Fall during this fertile period in the band’s life and, as such, have every right to recreate them today in all of their wonderful resounding glory.