Mavis's Dream Four

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandi Apple is an expert on Cardiacs. Hell, she nearly joined the group at one stage. So who else is best appointed to write about them for Mavis?

Cardiacs should be recognised as an institution in the UK. Yes, that’s what I wrote – not ‘Cardiacs should be IN an institution in the UK’, although that’s what many misinformed and misguided individuals might think. Cardiacs are as defiantly English as seaside holidays, Monty Python, cups of tea and moaning about the weather. If you’ve never heard this completely indescribable band, then I suggest you give them a try. Unsung heroes of the English underground scene for nearly quarter of a century, you’ll either love them or loathe them – there’s no Radiohead-type ‘yeah it’s OK’ middle ground here. In my opinion, they are one of the most undervalued bands the UK has ever produced, having even influenced the likes of Blur, who have always loved them, ever since their first incarnation as Seymour – in fact, Blur invited Cardiacs to support them when they played at Mile End Road Stadium in 1994; and John Peel and Mark Radcliffe of Radio 1, who play as many Cardiacs and related side-project band tracks as they can get away with without having the switchboards jammed with complaining listeners.

Toytown meets Eraserhead meets Devo in a dark alley to do some illegal trading in underground Benny Hill archive footage might give you an idea (or not!) of the kind of music they have always made – seriously weird, wonky, wobbly, bendy, twisty-and-shouty, aggravating stuff, like difficult and disturbed 6-year-olds tripping on acid and destroying the playground with delight and delirium. Time-signatures? What are they, then? From 16 beats in a bar to 5 beats in a bar without missing a single note, to 7 to 25 to… oh Christ knows how many, I’ve given up counting… and yet all the stop-start seizures are so perfectly and accurately synched-in it’s almost military, almost scientific, at the very least psychic. The songs sound so simple, and yet are so intricate that you can hear the same song for years and never notice a detail. And yet for all the anthemic chanted choruses, the oblique cut-up and upside-down lyrics, the barking-mad antics and the bizarre time-signatures, there is in every song something very special that their thousands of international fanatically devoted and obsessive fans recognise – a great deal of soul. It’s not gimmicky, or pseudo-odd, it’s really just the way Cardiacs set out their world-view.

As for the live shows… over the years, they have only changed their quality inasmuch as some of the old traditions are gone, such as the band uniform of military band jackets liberally coated in beer and mud and flour, the white face paint, the ritual beating-up of Jim onstage - although the fish in the pond (Cardiacs have always invented their own bizarre style of language, and a rough translation of this phrase would be ‘the fans in the moshpit’) still scream ‘Jim!’ over and over in order to persuade Tim to perform a traditional humiliation ceremony on him), and the confetti flying out of the wind-machines… however, these are only minor details, as the shows are tighter, more focussed and even more entertaining than before, new antics being performed with every different show (and Jim does occasionally still get beaten up on stage, to appease the hardcore Cardiaddicts)… it is an experience which has to be seen to be believed.

Formed in approximately 1976, beginning life under the moniker ‘Philip Pilf and the Filth’ changing the name to Cardiac Arrest to release their first single, ‘Toy World’, before again shortening the name to the much catchier Cardiacs, the band line-up has never stayed the same for very long, although the founder members, Tim Smith and his brother Jim, have always remained together in the band. The classic longest-term Cardiacs line-up reads something like this:

TIM SMITH – Vocals, guitar

JIM SMITH – Bass, vocals

SARAH SMITH – Saxophone, vocals

CHRISTIAN (Bic) HAYES – Guitar, vocals

WILLIAM D. DRAKE – Keyboards, vocals

DOMINIC LUCKMAN – Drums

TIM QUY – Percussion

… although at any given time, there may have been anything from 3 to 13 members of the band. Taking influences from the beginning from such contemporaries as Wire and Devo, and simultaneously drawing on elements from classic English psychedelic and prog-rock bands such as early Genesis and Gong, Cardiacs’ sound developed its unique style very quickly. From the first official release on their own label The Alphabet Business Concern (which, by the way, is the only label the band have ever released records on, later in conjunction with Organ Records and Distribution, although there have been countless deals offered by many major labels along the way) ‘The Obvious Identity’ in 1977, it became apparent that the band were not prepared to follow the course most bands usually take.

Over the 24 years of Cardiacs’ existence, they have built up their fanbase internationally to a staggering extent, despite having been fanatically ignored by the press and media, and even, in the case of the NME, actually publicly banned from appearing in that particular publication ever again. They have recorded and released countless albums and singles, one of which, ‘Is This The Life?’, released in 1986, making it at last into the UK Top 20 and earning the band the somewhat risible prestige of being voted ‘Best Newcomers’ by Smash Hits! readers in their 1986 poll. They have also re-released their entire (previously very hard to find) back catalogue on CD due to popular demand. For the Cardiacs virgin, I would definitely recommend buying a copy of ‘Sampler’, a compilation which covers just about every style of music that Cardiacs have ever made. Alternatively, the majority of fans would point out ‘The Seaside’, ‘On Land and In The Sea’ and ‘Songs for Ships and Irons’ as being equally good places to start. There is also in existence a video of a Cardiacs’ performance at Salisbury Arts Centre in 1990 entitled ‘Mare’s Nest’, which is an excellent snapshot of just how entertaining, quirky and how much downright brilliant fun the average Cardiacs gig is.

There are also other Cardiacs-related side projects which are well worth checking out – of these, perhaps the most notable is Sea Nymphs, a trio comprised of Tim Smith, Sarah Smith and William D. Drake, playing mainly acoustic instruments and percussion (although the trademark Cardiacs keyboards are in there too) – it sounds like a much gentler, more organic, less punky Cardiacs – almost whimsical (if that’s not too revolting a description). There is an album now available on CD from Cardiacs’ official website that was originally released in 1992 in an extremely limited promo-only edition sold directly at Sea Nymphs gigs (500 copies only). Other side-projects include Tim’s solo offering, ‘Tim Smith’s Oceanland World’; William D. Drake’s band Lake of Puppies; Jon Poole’s previous band Ad Nauseam; and a project that gigged quite extensively throughout 1991-2, namely Panixphere, involving Tim Smith, Bic Hayes, Dave Francolini (Dark Star, ex-Levitation) and Jon Poole. Tim Smith has produced records for many bands (including Levitation and Dark Star), and has also directed videos for those two bands (currently the video for the Graceadelica Remix for Dark Star), among others. To date, the most recent news from the band HQ is that Tim Smith has embarked on a series of solo gigs in London supporting such bands as the newly-reformed Miranda Sex Garden.

The Official Cardiacs site on the Net is currently located at http://www.cardiacs.com and offers great links, a full-scale discography and some totally wicked merchandise, soon to include such fascinating artifacts as CARDIACS bath-towels and CARDIACS wall-clocks (that is not made-up, I promise you)… There are further cool links to everywhere (including Cardiacs, Levitation and other such sites) at Org Records Official Webzine Site, located at http://www.organart.com .