MARK E Smith, the "hip priest" and founding member of The Fall, has died aged 60. Editor Andy Richardson recalls the singer's fractious relationship with the North-East. 

I HAVE been to more than 1,000 gigs. I got thrown out of only one of them for bad behaviour. Some bands make you do daft things I suppose. For me, that band was The Fall. 

With his hollowed out smoker's cheeks and twitchy, restless stage  presence Mark E Smith was the Hurricane Higgins of alternative music. A wiry, effortlessly brilliant savant whose way with a lyric made anybody else sound trite, derivative.

He was also maddeningly erratic with a self destructive streak that saw him break up dozens of incarnations of his band The Fall. Just as he appeared to have put together the perfect line-up he’d sack key members and start all over again with a bunch of rookies, sometimes teenagers who could barely play a note.

Creative tension was The Fall's lifeblood. On one memorable occasion at Brownies club in New York City April 1998, which you can still see on a Youtube clip, he wound up his bandmates to such an extent that drummer Karl Burns leaped over his kit and attacked the singer mid set.

Burns had finally flipped at Smith’s bizarre habit of fiddling with his band’s amp settings and instruments during songs. "Live mixing," Smith called it. Amazingly the band played together for six more songs before Burns, guitarist Tommy Crooks and Steve Hanley, the Fall’s seemingly indispensable bassist who had been slogging it out with Smith since 1979, split during the final song, the aptly titled “Powder Keg.” The on stage brawl continued back at the hotel before management finally called the cops and Smith was arrested.

"They were dickheads who couldn't hold their beer and needed to get home to Cheshire" reckoned the singer. 

By the time The Fall played London's Dingwalls club three weeks later Smith had pulled together a brand new version of the band – by then it’s 37th different line-up. As he explained: "If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s The Fall.” 

DJ John Peel championed the band with a fervour bordering on obsession. Asked which was his favourite Fall lp, Peel replied: "You need everything. If it's live in Nova Scotia, 1984 or whatever, even if the sound quality is terrible and Mark's pissed and he's sacked half the band you still have to have them. Anyone who can tell you what are the five best Fall tracks is missing the point. You must get them all."

Part of Smith's allure came from his ability to conjour lyrics which combined existential angst, druggy imagery with the withering put downs of a misanthropic Mancunian barfly. He was part Albert Camus, part William Burroughs, part Jack Duckworth.

Former band mates, two of whom he married, talk of Smith as a control freak who'd stretch them to the point of exhaustion until he got the sound he wanted. He said: "I like to push people till I get the truth out of them. Get them drunk, or whatever. Then discover what they really think. Push them and push them and push them."

“If you're going to play it out of tune, then play it out of tune properly,” was another way he summed up his highly unorthodox approach, which had more in common with Captain Beefheart and early rock n roll than it did with the punk movement from which The Fall emerged.  

On stage at the Newcastle Cluny in October 2001 Smith treated the sold-out gig as if it were a rehearsal. The band, as far as he was concerned kept fluffing part of the song And Therein, so he got them to begin from the start. No, start again he insisted a second time when it still wasn't up to scratch. By now the audience was getting restless like guests a dinner party who shuffle in their seats and check their watches when the hosts start trading personal insults. After a third attempt at the song Smith lost his rag, swore and clambered off the stage.

The North-East wasn't always a happy hunting ground for Smith. Three years after the Cluny show in the early hours after a gig at Newcastle Opera House he slipped on the icy pavement as he reached to pick up a box of matches and broke his thigh bone. After cancelling a few nights he was soon back on stage marshalling his troops, this time from a wheelchair. His face and body now showing signs of years of drug and alcohol consumption, as Smith hectored band and audience alike he came across as Prestwich's answer to Davros, the Dr Who villain.  

In October 2005 at the Sage, Gateshead, Smith was up to his old tricks again, leading his band off stage in a huff after only eight songs and leaving the audience short changed and angry. I jumped on stage but was quickly dragged off down some stairs and thrown out onto the street by a bouncer. And quite right too. I did manage to grab a setlist before being chucked out which at the time felt like some kind of victory.  

At the Beacons Festival, on Heslaker Farm in Skipton 2014 The Fall's performance was interrupted by a hurricane, but an undaunted Smith defied the elements - and fearful health and security staff - to get his band back on stage and complete the show. 

From their inception in 1976 to last year's New Facts Emerge album, The Fall's 32nd studio release, Smith's work rate never let up and his disdain for other musicians was caustic to the end. He recently described Ed Sheeran as like "a duff singer songwriter from the 70s you'd find in charity shops". Sharing a festival bill recently with Mumford and Sons, Smith's patience cracked as soon as he heard the folk-rock superstars play a few bars, launching a bottle in their direction he shouted "shut them c**** up."

If you agree with those sentiments then there is a fair chance that you would have liked Mark E Smith.