How we met

Michael Clark And Mark E Smith
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The dancer Michael Clark, 35, was born in Aberdeen and trained at the Royal Ballet School. Though a hugely talented classicist, he preferred to form his own company and forged his own distinctive, punk-influenced style - which earnt him the tag 'the wild boy of British dance'. Until his recent appearances on stage with long-time collaborators The Fall, he hadn't danced for two years. Mark E Smith (far right), 40, was born in Salford. In 1977, bored with his desk job, he formed seminal indie band The Fall; since then the group has released a total of 30 albums. Smith and Clark have worked on several performance pieces together, including a punk ballet, 'I Am Curious, Orange', in 1989

MICHAEL CLARK: I had seen Mark and The Fall perform a few times before we actually met, but there was one particular occasion I remember. He was playing with his band when someone in the audience punched him in the face - and he punched them back twice as hard. Fantastic.

I met Mark properly for the first time in the early Eighties - before that I had been using The Fall's music in my dances without actually making contact with him. I was so nervous about the meeting that I drank a bottle of pure Polish vodka for Dutch courage. I had a tape recorder around my neck and I recorded the whole of our first conversation. This was quite embarrassing the next day, when I heard how I'd gone on and on and on about how inspiring I found his work.

Before we met I'd been producing work using existing stuff by The Fall. Afterwards, we spent time in the studio working out new material. That changed my relationship with Mark - it took it to another level. Things grew in a natural sort of way from spending time in the studio, to then doing something in France for the Paris Opera, and on the way playing gigs together and making people stay in their seats and not leave the theatre for any reason.

The piece I did for the Opera was called Le French Revolting. At the time Mark and I shared a hatred of the French, so it was enjoyable to be paid to ridicule them. I don't feel the same now, but at the time it seemed appropriate. The piece was based on the French Revolution and had a lot of decapitation in it - that was down to Mark's music. Mark really made me appreciate violence, the idea that we police each other's behaviour. I found it interesting. I guess Mark continues to push boundaries which I find very invigorating. As for the French, they loved it. They compared it to Dynasty - I don't know why. I don't think it was a mean- spirited thing. I was happy they could embrace the humour of it.

I see Mark as a catalyst. He's a very mercurial person. We're very alike, in that as soon as he achieves something he loses interest and has to move on to the next thing - like me. This means that the way we work is always changing - it's not cut and dried. But, essentially, Mark will write a song and I'll respond to it by making a piece of dance. And then, at its best, that dance will make Mark look at the song in a different way.

Mark's best work is done when it comes purely from him. We have tried working together in the past on an idea but the best work is done when someone is really full of their own vision. We have tried imposing the idea that "we're going to do something about this, or we're going to do something about that", but it doesn't end up being as good work.

I like the fact that Mark's spontaneous. He's cerebral. I guess people expect us to argue but we don't, really. I suppose there's that weird balancing thing which one does with one's closest friends: you thrive on that kind of friction. But Mark will quite often be saying to me exactly what I was wanting to say to him.

There isn't such a thing as a holiday with Mark: we've gone away together on tours, but that's part of the job. When we're not working we just do the most mundane things together, the most ordinary things you can imagine: go to the pub or ride on the bus.

We're probably the last two people you would imagine being friends, or close. I don't think people can imagine Mark being close to anyone - but obviously I'm very fond of him. There have been times when we haven't seen each other for years. Then what I've tried to remember - what I've treasured most - is his sensitivity and all that that embraces: his sense of humour, his way of observing things. Ultimately there aren't that many people in the world who I can relate to in that way."

Mark has this kind of natural, nurturing quality, and right now he's really helped me. Until recently I hadn't danced for a couple of years, and had been on the dole; then Mark said: "Michael, join the band. We've got a gig and you're playing."

I was meant to be pressing buttons, cueing-up backing tapes - but the next thing I knew, five minutes before the first concert, Mark said: "You're going to go out there and you're going to scream." I thought, "Oh my God, I haven't been on stage for two years", so I was completely terrified. But to be just thrown in like that was the most generous thing he could have done for me. I've been thinking for nearly three years now about what I had done in the past, and what I'd like to do; but it was the spontaneity of the situation Mark put me in that finally unleashed something and freed my spirit.

In 20 years' time? We'll be friends, and we'll still be working together. That's what we do: that's our life. And it's the greatest pleasure of all.

MARK E SMITH: Mike remembers us meeting a lot better than I do. The first time I ever saw him he was in a tea-time TV show, where he was dancing through a Manchester supermarket in a dress. Everyone was going, "he looks a right idiot," but I thought, "he looks pretty cool to me". That was my first impression - and first impressions are usually the best.

I think I actually met him when we played at Heaven, the gay club, before it got trendy - I'm a bit hazy about it. But I first started working with him in 1986 on the play Halluciana; then he did that Le French Revolting thing in Paris which the band went over to see. It was great, it was brilliant and I thought: "We really should do something more together." I thought his production was stupendous - before that he'd been using a ghetto blaster. But this was a full-scale production. Leigh Bowery was doing the costumes, and Mike was using The Fall's music. I got the blame for the violence, did I? Typical.

Mike's from a different world than me. He's an athlete. In ballet the work that they do makes rock music look like a complete doddle. But he's still a kindred spirit and there's very few people I can say that about. I like Mike because he's tough; he's not what he appears, and that's good.

When we're working together we've sorted things out in a night. You get so fed up of explaining ideas to people: having to do it over and over again until by the time you've explained it you're sick of it yourself. With Mike he knew what I meant and I knew what he meant - just like that.

When we're not working we sit around hotel rooms and talk rubbish - it's the best way to be, really. In fact we sit around and slag people off: we slag off inept artists and say how crap they are.

We're very similar in many ways - my mam's like his mam; I've got three sisters and he's got loads of brothers. He went back to live in Aberdeen, and I still live in the same street as my mam. People think if you're a pop star you live in poncey places in London. But that's what's good about Michael: he's in touch with real life, which is very unusual in the theatre or ballet. He hasn't lost touch with his roots, but he can parody them as well - he does "white trash" very well, to show up those people who romanticise it but don't have to live it.

I make him laugh and he makes me laugh, which I think is very important for pals. I shouldn't really tell you the daft things we do. Like the other week, I was staying in this hotel, and Michael turned up and goes through reception and says in a very camp voice: "It's Michael Clark, the ballet dancer, for Mark E Smith" - taking the piss. I'm like that too. I pretend I'm German or I'm gay to annoy people who get on my nerves. There's so many nosey people around. Anyway, we're just hanging around in my room for an hour and suddenly all the hotel staff are there trying to look in. You know, they come in and say, "Oh, we need to look at the skylight", and start trying to look in the shower. So Michael starts saying things like "false nipples" under his breath, and all the staff are straining their ears. So I start going: "Well, will you get the needles out of the toilet first?" And the hotel staff are, like, "Huh???"

Another thing we do is that I pretend I'm a mental nurse taking a handicapped person round and I put on another voice saying: "Come on now, come on, the ambulance is coming now, come on." And everyone gets really cross and thinks: "Oh look, there's a working- class nurse bullying an upper- class mongoloid around."

We did have a falling out in 1989. Looking back it was completely trivial. I didn't like his management, he didn't like my management and there were other people getting in the bloody way, as usual. But when we did the Dingwalls gig the other day we clicked straight away. You can pick up straight where you left off. He did all his prep, he listened to the album. I didn't know what he was doing on stage but I know that he's not going to embarrass me and I'm not going to embarrass him. It's not as if he's going to bring Gary Numan on stage behind him.

Actually he did try to get off the stage half-way through, and I stopped him. He needs a kick up the arse, like most creative people. But it's part of our friend-ship, pushing each other to achieve.

! The Fall are touring until 9 Dec.