From Fall guitarist to fashion expert | Many musicians have joined and quit post-punk band The Fall thanks to Mark E Smith and his eccentric management techniques. But none have the same tale as Brix Smith Start, given that she was also married to the band’s notorious leader. Now a fashion guru, Smith Start has come through some tough times and in her book The Rise, The Fall, and the Rise she shares her extradorindary story, and joins the Edinburgh International Book Festival to talk about it.
“You know what? Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.”
“One of my favourite things is to read memoirs, I’ve always loved them,” says Brix, but she would always wish they’d “cut to the fucking chase” through their younger years. Get to the part on being famous. So she talks of going from Laura to Brix, through her family, but she’s made sure it’s a really good first part because of her own rage at reading memoirs.
She studied literature and theatre at college – Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt were two of her classmates – and she loved music so much. She decided she wanted to do it on her own time. She took her book money and bought a bass guitar – she started writing, people loved what she was doing so much they told her she should leave and do it properly.
“I thought: You know what? Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.”
She went on a pilgrimage to the local record shop with her friend and they found Slates by The Fall. She put it on and “was completely obsessed. Every time I listened to it I got something different. It was a musical Rorschach test for my brain.”
Two weeks later, The Fall came to Chicago and they went. She was utterly transported. Afterwards, she walked slap bang into the singer, Mark. He invited her to a party, she drove, she spoke about being a musician, he asked if she had a tape – “Someone once told me you should always carry a demo tape in your bag” – they listened, he said “you’re a fucking genius”, she thought “Oh my god”, and six weeks after that meeting she’d gone to the UK with him.
She’s a believer in fate and following her gut instinct. “I just thought it was my destiny and it was meant to be.” She speaks highly or Mark E Smith throughout, and says she regrets nothing – living her life by gut instinct has taken her all over and through many wonderful things, but some of it has been crushingly dark for her.
“A piece of my soul was missing and I didn’t even realise.”
“Life is a duality,” says Brix. “You cannot know happiness unless you’ve known absolute pain.”
It’s a hysterical and charming hour that sees Brix tell stories from her obsession with Disneyland, to Gary Lineker’s infamous accident during the 1990 world cup, to how she lost everything in one swoop when Mark left her, to rebuilding herself and finding new things in life. Impressively, it was all done while battling probably the loudest firework display ever overhead.
“Music had really broken my heart, I had no inspiration, I gave it up,” she says. She found a career in fashion, a new life. She drew a line in the sand and moved on gracefully. She didn’t talk about it – many she worked with had no idea she was Brix from The Fall.
But there came a point where music crept back in, serendipity of sorts. She began to wonder, “Why am I not standing up and owning my achievements as a woman? As a musician?”
“This book has really saved my life,” she continues. She started writing the book, she picked up a guitar again, and now the it’s out and she’s in a new band and she feels alive again. “Yes, I was rusty, but I could still fucking do it. A piece of my soul was missing and I didn’t even realise.”