The Cardiacs – an epic overview by Mr. Spencer with help from Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Captain Sensible
TIM SMITH: LEADER OF THE STARRY SKIES
When CARDIACS’ resident genius TIM SMITH was felled by a heart attack and two strokes in 2008 his friends and admirers rallied to help by releasing what could be the greatest tribute album ever. Mr Spencer talks to BLUR’S DAMON ALBARN and GRAHAM COXONÃÂ plus CAPTAIN SENSIBLE,ÃÂ WILLIAM D. DRAKE and CARDIACS’ KAVUS TORABI about a man who makes hearts soar”Â¦
HEAVEN BORN AND EVER BRIGHT
“Cardiacs is our life and everything we do, and everything we have ever done since we were tiny. We play a kind of music that we are very, very proud of and love more than life. A kind of music that apparently makes people hate us with a terrifying vengeance, or love us so dearly and passionately that it becomes a worry. No in-betweens. But to us it’s just tunes. Lovely tunes. Tunes are important in life”Â ”â Tim Smith (2005)
It was the mid Seventies and 14-year-old Tim Smith had already played in various local bands with fellow oddballs from Fleetwood Secondary School in Chessington, Surrey, when he bought himself a copy of The Who’s Tommy song book and taught himself to read and write music. If Cardiacs’ official history is to be believed, he wanted to make a noise that no one in their right minds would enjoy, in order to make his big brother Jim ”Ëlook as foolish as possible on stage’.
But Jim, who played bass guitar, became popular – as eventually did Tim’s strangely intense but addictive music.
left: the ”Ëclassic’ Eighties line-up, with William D. Drake second left, Jim second right and Sarah Smith in front.
According to the official history, Tim had formed what was then called Cardiac Arrest merely to punish his brother ”Ëfor all the unkind things he would do to him as an infant’. But despite this ”â true or not – the band clearly had something going for it. For in 1979 a single was recorded, and a year later they blossomed into Cardiacs, the equally revered and reviled cult band who would spend the next three decades attracting both critical hostility and a following that expressed its love with a near-devotional fervour at packed, celebratory gigs.
left…Tim Smith from the Cardiacs
By the mid-Eighties, with Tim handling lead vocals and guitar, playing solos that sounded (in his words) “like a worm that can’t be stretched any longer”Â, and egged on by the Alphabet Business Concern – the invisible tyranny that allegedly controlled the band – and The Consultant – their “sordid, waxy”Â manager – Cardiacs had coalesced into what is widely regarded as their classic line-up.
mid-Noughties pic from one of the annual Astoria spectaculars with the scary percussionists and the big Alphabet Business Concern banner mentioned above.
The band at this time featured Tim plus his then wife Sarah Smith on blustery saxophone, the classically trained William D. Drake on keyboards, Tim Quy in charge of sparkly chimes, bells and other percussive wonders, Dominic Luckman holding it all together on drums and Tim’s long-suffering brother Jim, the band’s only other constant member, on effortlessly brilliant bass guitar.
At their gigs, playing in front of a huge Alphabet Business Concern banner – the band having supposedly been forced by Alphabet to replace their original decorative white daisy backdrop – Tim’s stage persona would flick between that of a cheeky infant, adoring parent and authoritarian; he would admonish the crowd one moment, but soothe them the next. Or he might initiate a soppy call and response – “I want you all to say ”Ëlove’”Â – only to then become angry, attempting to restore order in the manner of a flustered supply teacher. “Shut up!”Â he’d shout. “Shut up! I can’t hear myself THINK!”Â
During his more childlike moments, he would gaze in innocent wonder at the grinning, swirling moshpit and address his fans sweetly as “fish”Â swimming in the “pond”Â.
The crowd would rejoice in chanting Jim Smith’s name ”â “Jim! Jim! Jim!”Â – in support of the sad/bored looking bassist, a constant target of his brother’s theatrical bullying. Epic songs would swell into glorious, uplifting choruses and hands would shoot skywards in celebration; strangers hugged each other, eyes blinked back tears.
“I was a big fan of Cardiacs when I was at Kingston Poly in the Eighties,”Â recalls devotee Sarah Sparkes. “Visually it was dark and absurd and a bit subversive, but it worked because the performance extended through the home-made stage props, costumes and make-up, the performers’ adopted characters and the wondrous music in a way that was totally transporting and believable. It was in the fine tradition of English surrealism and was unlike anything else I’d seen.
“My friends and I had to keep going back for more. The set was always more or less the same, and there was a feeling towards the end of everything building to a increasingly euphoric climax with confetti fired out of a cannon. It was a totally euphoric experience and everyone seemed to ”Ëfeel’ it. I think I shed a few tears of joy on more than one occasion. Strangely, it reminded me of being five years old, at infant school, running around with arms out and heart exploding with joy. Oh, and they were very funny too!”Â
With very few exceptions, music critics were flummoxed and in some cases enraged by Cardiacs’ trippy stage show and kaleidoscopic sound. But the band’s growing following loved the feeling of belonging and the sheer escapism offered by their uniquely powerful gigs. Opinions became polarised. If outsiders couldn’t stomach this exotic and stupendously inventive band – too bad. Their loss was the fans’ gain.
Recent Cardiacs photo with Kavus second left, Jim on the right and including their regular posse of elegant and slightly scary female backing singers/percussionists who graced their gigs in the Noughties.
“I’ve never found Cardiacs’ music inaccessible,”Â says Kavus Torabi, who joined the band as second guitarist in 2003. “I loved it from the get go. Anyone with even a small understanding and interest in music would hear that melody is key in Tim’s compositions. The intensity probably comes from the sheer audacity in the amount of melody used. Once you get a grasp of Tim’s wonderful music what is surprising is how mundane and monochromatic most other stuff sounds by comparison.”Â
Keyboard maestro William D. Drake agrees: “Tim’s songs brim with melody. I cannot think of anything by him that is not immediately accessible, and every song he’s ever written is so beautifully and lovingly crafted, he’s never written anything boring or uninspiring.”Â
SOFT AND MELLOW SADNESS RISED
“The chords and tunes we use sound pretty to us, certain key changes make your tummy go funny, the ones we use make our tummies go funny. We’re a ”Ëpop’ group. WeÃÂ play pop music. It is however a kind of pop music that, apparently, is not very easily definable. When we use great big church organs, or an occasional lump of Mellotron, we use these instruments because they sound beautiful. Any instrument is beautiful if it plays a tune that you like”Â ”â Tim (2000)
left..Tim Smith from The Cardiacs
In summer 2008 the future looked bright for Cardiacs. The band’s new studio album LSD ”â their first of the decade – was almost ready and due to be released that October. On Monday 23rd June they performed three songs live on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music radio show, and with a further Marc Riley session, two new singles and a ten-date November tour ahead of him, Tim Smith attended My Bloody Valentine’s 25th June performance at London’s Roundhouse, the last night of the band’s now legendary residency at the venue.
Following the concert, Tim went for a drink with his long-time friend and musical collaborator, former Cardiacs guitarist Bic Hayes. Shortly after saying goodbye to Bic, he suffered two strokes and a heart attack, during which he effectively died.
In the weeks immediately after Tim’s collapse, the Alphabet Business Concern issued two news updates to Cardiacs mailing-list subscribers. The first of these began: ”ËAs some of you have no doubt become aware, Tim Smith, the stalwart front man of your beloved CARDIACS has fallen foul of ill health’. The message explained that Tim had been ”Ëthe unfortunate victim of, ironically, a cardiac arrest’. Fans were relieved to hear that his life was no longer in danger, but the bulletin added: ”Ëthere is a long road ahead’.
At the end of July a further update arrived. This provided an email address through which fans were invited to send positive messages to ”Ëthe sickly lad’. It also stated: ”Ëfollowing the health issues pertaining to CARDIACS’ very own Tim Smith we have deemed it appropriate at this time to officially call a halt to all activities concerning CARDIACS for the foreseeable future’. This included the band’s November tour and the unfinished album.
Almost a yearÃÂ of silence followed. Then in June 2009, fans at last received a fresh update from the Alphabet Business Concern. Sadly, the email confirmed what many had long feared:
”ËTim Smith’s body has become his enemy. He is in a great deal of pain and is experiencing difficulty with the finer points of control with regard to his extremities so obviously perfected prior to the unhappy event, but”Â¦ THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN can confirm that no part of YOUR favourite pop star’s intellect or personality has been found to be absent WHATSOEVER.’
The message continued: ”ËAt this point Tim Smith can neither sing nor play his guitar. THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN can state that it is extremely unlikely that CARDIACS will perform live for the foreseeable future. THIS IS NOT, IT MUST BE NOTED, THE END OF CARDIACS.’
SAVOUR ALL OF MY BEASTS
“The kind of stuff we play can come from all sorts of directions. It can be blatantly pop, it can be blatantly”Â¦ whatever else. In the end there’s so many different pieces of stuff in this bucket that we do, anything can be a Cardiacs song. You could write a tune and we’d play it and it would sound like Cardiacs”Â ”â Tim (1997)
In the months and years since Tim Smith became ill, those closest to him have joined forces to find ways to raise money for his ongoing care and help hasten his recovery. Initially a fund-raising concert was due to take place at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, but this idea had to be scrapped when it proved impossible to co-ordinate the many artists who wanted to be involved. Kavus Torabi, one of the organisers, says a future concert hasn’t been ruled out.
Meanwhile, a plan was hatched to celebrate all of Tim’s music, made with and without Cardiacs, by inviting his many friends and admirers to record covers of his songs. And with the arrival of Leader Of The Starry Skies, a brilliantly diverse collection boasting elegant and often palpably emotional contributions from the likes of Julianne Regan, Andy Partridge, Ultrasound and The Magic Numbers, people who previously didn’t ”Ëget’ Tim’s music, or were even hostile to it, are starting to listen and fall in love with it themselves.
This is no surprise to Damned guitarist and eccentric-pop enthusiast Captain Sensible. The long-time Cardiacs fan recently posted his own online tribute to the band’s stricken singer. “Tim Smith’s a genius in my book,”Â he tells me. “I’d guess we share a similar record collection. You have to admire him for flying in the face of commerciality in a heroic and comprehensive fashion and making some bloody spectacular music along the way. It’s people like him that give psychedelia a good name.”Â
Kavus was among those who helped assemble the musicians for Leader Of The Starry Skies, which has just been fully released through his own Believers Roast label. In addition, an exquisite version of Stoneage Dinosaurs, by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, has been issued as a seven-inch vinyl single.
All the artists involved in the Starry Skies project have donated their services for free, and all funds raised will go to the man they hold in such high esteem. “There’s a lovely sense of community around Tim,”Â says Kavus, whose own band Knifeworld has supplied an intoxicating folk-tinged take on The Stench Of Honey. “So many people love his music dearly, and he in turn is a massive fan. Many of these bands and artists have worked with or have close associations with Tim anyway. There would have been much more but we had to eventually set a deadline to put a cap on it. Had we waited until now, we’d probably be talking about a box set.”Â
Did you and the other contributors find it tricky to play Tim’s songs? Are they as complicated as they seem?
“I can’t speak for everyone else, but as the guitarist in Cardiacs I didn’t find it particularly hard. When you play that stuff you start to understand how Tim works. Perhaps it is complicated by mainstream rock standards, but any perceived complexity is there to serve the tune rather than for its own sake.”Â
Is Tim touched that people want to pay tribute to him in this way?
“He’s over the moon about it, why wouldn’t you be? It must be so flattering to hear your best friends and favourite groups re-interpret your stuff. For the record, Tim has said he thinks The Scaramanga Six version of Home Of Fadeless Splendour is better than the original.”Â
William D. Drake’s tender performance of Savour reinvents the song as a briney ballad boasting a gorgeous refrain worked out with Tim in Cardiacs days but never before used. He agrees with those who say the shifting keys and tempos and unlikely but beautiful combinations of notes within much of Tim’s music can be likened to the work of great composers including Mozart, Vaughan Williams and Beethoven.
“Classical composers use all sorts of combinations and connotations of melody, harmony and tempo,”Â he says. “Tim does this too, but he is different because he has been completely self-taught. As a result he has complete musical freedom.”Â
Kavus is less inclined to compare Smith’s work to that of classical composers. “Tim has always thought of his stuff as pop music and I’d be inclined to agree,”Â he says. “I think it’s just pop music that hasn’t been filtered through a reductive process. It’s pop where ideas sprout wings and explode in colour and magic.”Â
CHARM ENOUGH TO CHOKE
“It’s strange when people hate us ”â they really do hate us, it brings out something odd in people. There’s just a lot of tunes all crammed in there, coming at you at once. There’s lots of pictures and ideas in there with the act and the music. A lot of people need something to hold on to, but you should really let it all flow over you”Â ”â Tim (1987)
Blur are probably the best known band to have splashed a hint of Cardiacs colour over their own music. During Britpop, Damon Albarn’s punky singing style and Graham Coxon’s choppy guitar owed a clear debt to Tim Smith’s twisty troupe, particularly on 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and its top 30 single Sunday Sunday, which hoisted the Cardiacs flag high with its punchy, Wurlitzer-flavoured seaside pop sound.
“Blur were in the moshpit/pond with us from the mid to late Eighties,”Â Cardiacs fan Jake Pinhead recalls. “When they were number one with Girls & Boys, they appeared at a Cardiacs gig at Camden Palace and walked through the crowd up to the stage and shook the hands of the entire band mid-set, in total respect.”Â
Back in 1984, progressive rockers Marillion had tried to help Cardiacs by giving them a UK tour support slot. Unfortunately, the headliners’ audiences took an extreme dislike to the strange opening act and, as word spread, fans travelled to venues fully prepared to make merry with missiles. When a typically hostile reception was dished out at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, Marillion’s frontman Fish launched an angry onstage rant at his own narrow-minded fans. “If you don’t like it,”Â he told them, “fuck off to the bar and let them get on with their set”Â. However, the well-meaning singer’s cause was lost a few days later in Manchester when his fans attempted to set fire to the safety curtain during Cardiacs’ set.
It was with knowledge of this earlier fiasco that Cardiacs fans Blur – at the height of their success – tried to introduce Tim’s music to what they hoped would be a receptive audience at their famous Mile End Stadium concert in 1995. Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Blur’s Britpop-hungry fans were less than impressed.
“I was in the audience at Mile End,”Â remembers William D. Drake, who had left Cardiacs in 1991 but remained close to the band. “When Cardiacs came on there was a sea of V for victory signs. However, by the time they had begun the second song, those hands had mostly turned round to V for fuck off signs!”Â
The band’s guitarist at this time was Jon Poole.ÃÂ A big Blur fan, Poole was upset by the crowd’s response, but his successor Kavus is philosophical about the incident. “People are finding out about Tim’s music all the time,”Â he says. “I think it’s something you have to let into your life. I’m not sure that putting it on a stadium stage alongside the likes of Dodgy was the ideal introduction. People wanted Blur and songs they knew. I don’t think they were ready for the show Cardiacs put on, I don’t think they ever would have been.”Â
Drake identifies the time Cardiacs soared to the giddy heights of number 80 in the singles chart in 1988 as their closest brush with success. “Radio 1 played Is This The Life five or six times a day for weeks,”Â he says. “That was the turning point, and we began to sell out London’s Town and Country Club and Astoria.”Â
Blur man Graham Coxon, who displays his affection for Tim’s musicÃÂ by liking Cardiacs on Facebook, recalls the band’s Eighties heyday fondly. “All of us used to love listening to their John Peel sessions,”Â he says. Then, as if gripped with a need to hear those recordings again, he asks: “Is that on CD anywhere? My vinyl is scratched to bits!”Â
“Cardiacs were an early inspiration for all of us in Blur,”Â Graham’s bandmate Damon Albarn confirms during a break from working on his latest project. “I remember one of their gigs at ULU. It was amazing, one of the most magical live performances I’ve ever seen.”Â
Damon’s verdict is spot on, as anyone who witnessed the band playing songs like The Icing On The World, with its soaring, sing-your-heart-out chorus, or their majestic tour-de-force Big Ship, will testify. Cardiacs transported their fans to a magical place somewhere between fevered-dream panto and epiphany.
To quote a nameless Tim fan on a Quietus thread: ”ËFor any of you reading this who have never seen Cardiacs live, it may sound like we are all nutters. But what other band create moments when the entire venue stops dancing, lifts their arms in the air and start crying? Really. No exaggeration.’
IT’S TAKEN TO MY LIKING
“We were not aware that we looked strange back then. The suits and make up we wore in those days was us just trying to look our best. We read somewhere that pop groups were supposed to look their best so we were told to do it. Maybe we got it a bit wrong”Â ”â Tim (2005)
Cardiacs fans’ sense of entering a parallel world at the band’s confetti and flower-strewn happenings was heightened in the early days by the band’s unhinged onstage style, which included shabby Sally Army uniforms and deliberately badly painted faces.
But by the time Kavus Torabi joined, a new era of extreme hygiene had been introduced, supposedly at the whim of the band’s ever-oppressive and mysterious management.
“The stage look that we arrived upon in more recent years is something that Tim and I would talk about,”Â Kavus says. “Tim loved the fact that the band that wore those filthy army uniforms and smeared make up in the Eighties had become an almost stately presence with smart shoes and sashes by the 2000’s. The look of the stage had become more austere too.
“The thing is that it has seemed like a natural progression, and each stage seemed relevant to where the band was currently at. If the look at any point put people off, I would have thought, ”Ëwell that’s the least of their worries, wait until they hear the music!’”Â
Tim’s critics already hated Cardiacs’ visual image and unconventional musical constructs, but they were equally angered by their lyrics, which they tended to treat as some kind of abstract joke. To their fans, however, these literary gems possessed a profound power. Smith’s elaborate and ornate strings of words – which he said were designed to “create pictures in your head”Â – evoked a near-mystical world of wonder, of everyday detail filtered through a fairy-tale lens. Sometimes it felt as if Tim’s lyrics held the key to life and everything.
heWhen William D. Drake joined the band in 1983 he was already a fan. “I think everyone who loves Tim’s music can remember where they were when they first heard or saw Cardiacs,”Â he says. “I met a singer called Lanze Lorrens at the office where I worked. She had a gig planned at the Grey Horse pub in Kingston, Surrey, and asked me to accompany her on the piano.
“We rehearsed at hers, which is where I first heard a Cardiacs song. It was an early version of Is This The Life. I was utterly transfixed, and had to listen to it quite a few times in a row, I can remember lifting the stylus again and again! Lanze knew Tim, and described him as the ”ËBeethoven of Kingston’. The first gig I went to was at The Grove Tavern pub in Kingston, where I was retransfixed!”Â
Kavus was a 16-year-old student when his life changed after hearing Cardiacs’ first proper album, 1988’s A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window. “A friend lent me it saying, ”ËYou’ll love this’,”Â he recalls. “He was right, before the record had finished they were my favourite band. That’s the only time that has happened. Perhaps it was the right place and time or maybe it was recognizing the extraordinary power of the music, but it was exactly what I’d been looking for, although I hadn’t realized it until then.”Â
Prior to becoming a Cardiac, devoted fan Kavus had already spent eight years working as the band’s guitar technician.
“I’ve been very close friends with Tim for nearly two decades,”Â he says. “But on a wider level as the teenager hearing Cardiacs for the first time, Tim wakened in me just what it was possible to do in music. It was realising, oh my God”Â¦ you can do all of this”Â¦ it doesn’t have to be just that.”Â
William says Tim has inspired him in many ways. “His composition makes me realize that anything is possible in music. He allows himself a complete freedom to create whatever he fancies. This spirit is infectious, which is why he has influenced so many other artists.”Â
Despite all this, for those who’ve read some of Cardiacs’ more negative reviews, it’s probably hard to understand why anyone would want to listen to their music at all, never mind attend their gigs or buy their records. But despite a media profile that reached its lowest point when one NME editor banned all mention of them in the paper, their timeless sound has won thousands of hearts, including those of fellow musicians who regard the band and Tim in particular with something approaching awe.
CHEER THE FAINTING MIND
“I find the sound of some mediaeval stuff to be very pretty, I like the squarky krumhorns and buzzy recorders”Â¦ We have used the sound of a kind of fairgroundy organ from time to time because it is so incredible if you get it to play a tune of your own liking. Within the visuals of the music it’s ridiculous if all of a sudden one of those mechanical things raises its ugly head and takes over for a moment”Â ”â Tim (2000)
Organ magazine’s review of Cardiacs’ 1995 double album Sing To God stated that one Cardiacs track can contain enough ideas for most other band’s careers, and while this might sound fanciful, it is completely true. “Pungency of sound was something we liked,”Â recalls William D. Drake from his days working with Tim Smith, “smells and atmospheres.”Â
Tim paints Cardiacs music from his very own extra-special shimmering palatte. Saxophones, recorders, clarinets, flugelhorns, trombones and trumpets frolic across the mix along with Mellotron, marimba, school-hall pianos and church organs in a range of styles including brakes-off ska-punk, nostalgic Beatles-hued pop, medieval ballads, choral spectaculars and salty singalongs that splash like sea shanties or, as is often the case, stir the heart like hymns.
Tim’s trick is to channel wonderfully catchy pop hooks via centuries of great music and, inside each song, create pictures that burst into dazzling colours. The end result is invariably a treat, each tightly-written tune a symphonic marvel that sparkles with orchestral detail and leaves you giddy with delight.
Propelled by Tim’s free-spirit creativity, every multi-layered moment, from the grandiose sweep of Everso Closely Guarded Line, through to Dirty Boy, described by writer Martijn Vorvelt as ”Ëa purgatory Mahlerian symphonic movement cleverly disguised as a rock song’, spills over with glittering surprises. At other times, on full-pelt wonders like Baby Heart Dirt and Jibber And Twitch, Cardiacs capture a feeling of fairground-ride exhilaration; childish glee mixed with a hint of danger as deliriously happy music swirls all around. NME once tried to sum this up by saying that the band’s noise was ”Ëlike a pit-head brass band attempting to play full-steam punk rock in a gale.’
Newcomers are sometimes shell-shocked by the multiple elements in Cardiacs’ infinitely flexible sound. This can initially seem puzzling in terms of conventional pop, but when your focus adjusts, the music forms into what writer Cathi Unsworth calls ”Ëa perfect, moving, stained-glass whole’. And when this happens, making your heart soar, chances are you’ll find that most other ”Ërock’ music no longer seems worth bothering with.
WE GRIN LIKE ALLIGATORS
“Obviously the question ”Ëcan you define your music?’ has been asked to us a billion times now. We’ve had over 20 years to think about it and we still haven’t bothered to come up with an answer. To be honest we’ve never really tried, maybe life would have been a bit easier if we had”Â ”â Tim (2001)
Cardiacs’ 2007 UK tour had been notable for its jubilant atmosphere, a heady acknowledgement of the many years shared by Cardiacs and their loyal fans. A highlight was what turned out to be the last of the band’s annual gatherings at London’s since-demolished Astoria theatre; peaking with a transcendent Everso Closely Guarded Line, it was a night during which emotions bounced back and forth between band and crowd in waves of what can only accurately be described as love.
The tour ended on 24th November in Leeds with confetti bombs reminiscent of old-school Cardiacs gigs and what fan Chris Luxford remembers was “a real party atmosphere”Â. The dates had drawn attention to the band’s still-expanding following, with fans of all ages, including first-timers with their jaws on the floor and small children in Cardiacs T-shirts, packing out eleven triumphant shows in defiance of pop’s fickle ebb and flow.
“That’s completely true and it was lovely to see,”Â Kavus recalls. “It’s a real honour to play to an audience like that rather than one that is there because of some scene. I think the reason is that there is only one Cardiacs. As the band grew older no one younger had come along that offered that kind of music. If you like that sort of thing, regardless of your age, then there was only one band serving it up. I imagine sixteen year olds in 2007 hearing the band for the first time felt exactly as I did in 1988.”Â
That London show was remarkable, the audience’s delight was infectious and there was a strong feeling afterwards that Cardiacs were back on an upward curve. Are you able to say much about the album that was due to be released the following year?
“Just that Tim and I were extremely pleased with where it was at and where it was going. It was never finished and that’s that. Last time I saw Tim he’d got a copy of the work in progress and we listened to it together. As you might imagine it was very emotional. It was the first time I’d heard what we did in two and a half years. It sounded wonderful.”Â
HOME OF FADELESS SPLENDOUR
“We obviously never set out to be commercially successful, in truth we are more successful than I thought we would ever be. Main driving force? Apart from the absolute love of all music and its attachments, it is without doubt the total complete and utter love for the people I have had the pleasure of doing all of this with. I shit you not”Â ”â Tim (2000)
A few years before Kavus’s close friend became ill, he told Spain’s Popular 1 magazine: “Tim’s music sounds like it comes out of dreams sometimes. The music of Cardiacs seems to get right down into the guts of what this whole crazy life is about, while not actually seeming to be about anything.”Â
“That’s still how I feel,”Â says Kavus now. “It’s that side of music that is so hard to articulate into words. That otherworldly property that no one does like Tim. It does make me suspect most other artists are just mucking about when I hear the emotional depths his music goes to.”Â
“Tim has a strong sense of awe for all creations in this universe,”Â adds William. “And it can be heard loud and clear in every song that he has written.”Â
Tim’s songs are often exhilarating and dramatic in scale, with an emphasis on choral magnificence. Big Ship in particular has the ability to reduce fans to tears; Tim himself looked overcome at the end of the last London show. Has he always relished the atmosphere of communal bliss at Cardiacs gigs?
“It’s possible,”Â says Kavus. “Tim’s pretty modest, but he does realise how good his stuff is. It’s not an accident. This has been a real struggle for him, and who the hell knows what he’s really going through right now. I almost can’t bear to think about it, while being also unable to think about much else a lot of the time.
“If we rewind to before his awful accident I’d say that performing to that kind of euphoric response made the difficulty of producing that stuff worthwhile, but wouldn’t any artist feel that? There certainly wasn’t much money around.”Â
Can Tim’s approach to music be summed up in the words of Big Ship – is it all about joining in and celebrating happiness and joy?
William replies without hesitation. “It is all about celebrating happiness and joy,”Â he says. “What better sentiment can there be?”Â
“Tim was always reluctant to talk about his lyrics,”Â adds Kavus. “Obviously they are very personal to him, but if I can take a liberty and say yes here, not that he has any great ”Ëmission statement’ but those lyrics do sum up his vibe.
“Tim is a very warm and loving person and extremely un-judgemental. I think that’s been one of the most inspiring things about him on a personal level. He has brought a great deal of joy to all those who come in contact with him and I think on a wider level that’s what his music does too. He is very like his music actually.”Â
Last August, in a podcast interview for The Epileptic Gibbon website, Kavus broke the heartbreaking news that Cardiacs will never play live again. For the time being, the band’s frontman and creative force remains hospitalised in a neurological rehabilitation centre in Wiltshire. Torabi recently wrote on the Progressive Ears forum: ”ËTim listens to music continually, including a lot of his own stuff, and enjoys regular visits from his pals.’
Kavus is keen to let it be known that a further volume of cover versions could be released to supplement Leader Of The Starry Skies ”â which is subtitled Songbook 1 – at a future date.
“It’s a big possibility,”Â he says. “It was like a full-time job for a few months for Bic Hayes, Jo Spratley, Mark Cawthra (all former Cardiacs), plus Robert White (ex-Levitation) and myself. We’re all busy people and need a little time to do whatever it is we do before taking on another massive project like that again.”Â
It’s interesting that we’ve been talking about Cardiacs in the present tense. Is the band merely on hold? Will Cardiacs always exist?
“That’s a hard question to answer,”Â says Kavus. “For me, while being a Cardiac is something I’m immensely proud of, to think of the band as over, even though it may well be, is just too painful. Tim is Cardiacs and as long as he lives and breathes I can’t accept the band is finished.”Â
* Knifeworld release their ”ËDear Lord No Deal’ EP in July. William D. Drake’s album The Rising Of The Lights arrives on 16th May. Leader Of The Starry Skies is available now from all good record shops and online (in all formats) fromÃÂ HERE!. All money raised will go to Tim Smith to support his continuing care.
Thanks to Time Out Of Mind, Pie, Harmonie, Margen and Popular 1 magazines for the Tim quotes. Thanks also to Paul Carey for dragging me to my first Cardiacs gig (you were so right!). Biggest thanks of all to Tim.