One day Geoff Shelton buys a real electric guitar, it’s all painted in flowers and it is about 1972. Geoff is a boy who lives over the road from brothers Jim and Tim Smith in Chessington Surrey England… so, Jim is made to buy a bass guitar from the shops so that he and Geoff can play a blues riff at each other over and over again in the garage. Jim’s fat little eleven year old brother Tim owns a snare drum and spoilt the boys fun by drumming along with them with one stick in one hand on one drum, and in his other hand, his face. Then a cymbal and stand came.
Then they didn’t play anymore.
Another time, maybe a year or so later…Geoff Shelton lends Tim Smith a ‘how to play the guitar’ long playing record and during one of his visits teaches him the ‘G’ chord. From the record Tim learns how to play ‘Frankie and Johnny’. He forces his mum to sing it for him while he strummed and strummed and strummed and his fingers bled red. He later hears a section of a record by someone that makes his stomach go ‘funny’ and gives him goosebumps. “So, music can do this then can it!?” he probably realised.
This made Jim stop playing the bass.
At secondary school Tim had a friend called Colvin Mayers, they were friends from the age of five, we join them now aged 14…in the playground at Fleetwood Secondary school Chessington. Someone fat who they don’t know yet bounds up to them all sweaty and in a high pitched not-broken-yet voice says something like “I hear you like the Mahavishnu Orchestra?” and Colvin Mayers bursts out a shriek of high pitched laughing. It is Mark Cawthra and he would file his front teeth with a heavy-duty metalwork file leaving bits of tooth all along it. He had just been expelled from his other school and nobody ever found out why. On the other side of the playground is Peter Tagg hanging about with his older friends, all of these people talked about so far (except Geoff Shelton) would at one point or another end up playing in Cardiacs.
But before all that Cardiacs rubbish, Tim Smith and Mark Cawthra would play in a group with a mad organist friend called David Philpot. Tim on bass and Mark on drums. It’s about 1975. They would attempt to write and play stupidly fast and unnecessarily taxing instrumental weird shit which apparently sounded a bit like that band way back when called ‘Egg’. They never gave their band a name and never did a gig. Dave Philpot was weird and died a few years later. He had frizzy black hair and a little frizzy black beard and was the first owner of the mini Korg synthesiser that Cardiacs inherited and became an integral part of that early Cardiacs sound.
Mark Cawthra gets kicked out of school again and moves away to York after living for a short while in a strange hostel in Kingston Surrey called ‘The Kaleidoscope’ (the place where Cardiacs played their first ever gig). Tim and him keep in touch sending each other tapes of themselves doing whatever, for example…Tim’s dog ‘Sally’ dies and Mark sends him an unkind song about it. Mark’s three legged poodle dog ‘Tingaling’ dies and Tim sends him an unkind song about that…etc.
It’s 1976 and Tim and his pal Adrian Borland (who at the time was in a punk band called ‘The Outsiders’ and later on fronted a band called ‘The Sound’) and an amazing rock drummer called Bruce Bizland (currently drumming for that glam rock band ‘The Sweet’ now) make a band and do about two gigs then stop…they sounded a bit like the rocky instrumental bits on that David Bowie album ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ didn’t they. They never gave their band a name either. And now it’s 1977.
Tim Smith thinks… “Peter Tagg has got a whole drum set and my brother Jim has got a bass and I’ve borrowed a guitar and Jim’s friend Mick Pugh has got a shouty voice” …then they all go and write and play a song called ‘Icky Qualms’ and then a few more tunes emerge…bit by bit…usually written ten minutes before each rehearsal time… “Oops we got a rehearsal today…better write a song” …or something like that. Sometimes Peter Tagg’s brother Derek would go along and shriek along to the songs, but really really shriek, all high pitched, like a woman in a horror film will shriek. He did it at some early gigs too.
As mentioned earlier, the first Cardiacs gig was in 1977 at a place in Kingston upon Thames Surrey called the kaleidoscope (a hostel for misfits and that) Derek shrieked along at that gig along with Colvin Mayers and Ralph Cade (the Cardiac-ettes) who then officially joined Cardiacs…Colvin playing David philpot’s old synthesiser and Ralph would just hold a saxophone that he had no idea how to play and ‘dance’.
Cardiacs had begun. They were called ‘Cardiac Arrest’ back then. They didn’t even know what ‘Cardiac Arrest’ meant. Contrary to popular belief they were never called ‘Philip Pilf and the filth’. Why would they want to be called that? It is said that Tim formed the band merely as a revenge to take on his brother Jim for all the unkind things he would do to him as an infant. It is true. It all backfired for Tim though. His cruel idea was to form a band playing a kind of unpalatable ‘music’ that no one in their right minds would enjoy very much, thus humiliating his brother and forcing him to look as foolish as possible on stage. But Jim became popular, as did the band eventually, and at the concerts Jim’s name was, and still is chanted with joy to this very day. “Jim…Jim…Jim..” It is said that Tim counts the “Jims” and for each one a different punishment is brought down upon his brother who apparently has no idea why this is so. It is also said that Tim sometimes encourages the chants for obvious reasons, or will not go back onto the stage for an encore until he’s almost lost count of the “dividends” as he calls them.
Cardiacs at this time knew that they were in their ‘infant’ stages and were aware that they were still very inept at playing their instruments, so it was decided that their uniform, for the time being, would simply be the Romper Suit. A dashing different colour for each member of the band. This uniform would be worn until they had earned their ‘pop star’ clothes. Lovely glitter maybe? Smashing solid gold shoes? Who could possibly know?
Cardiacs made a single called ‘a bus for a bus on the bus’ in 1979 at an embryonic ‘Elephant studios’ in London. It was released on Tortch Records. … Oh, and then Mick Pugh left and Tim Smith started singing because no one else wanted to.
Pete, convinced he was from the planet ‘Miron’, left with Ralph in 1979 and formed a band with Pete’s brother Derek called ‘The Trudy’ and Mark Cawthra moved down from York to live with Tim and Jim and took Peter’s place on them drums… So…The band now is Tim Smith on guitar and singing, Jim Smith on Bass, Colvin Mayers on synth, and Mark Cawthra on drums and it’s time to do some more recording.
Not far away in a very tiny basement was a recording studio called ‘Crow’. “Let’s go there and record some of our tunes” someone probably said. This they did. They didn’t know what they were doing and the recordings sounded very bad and the band were as happy as Larry. So happy in fact that they released the recordings on a cassette album called ‘The Obvious Identity’. It’s about 1980 now by the way and they would find any old, or worn out cassette tapes to copy the albums onto for sale at their few and far between gigs such was the quality control. “The recordings were so shit it wouldn’t matter if they were copied onto washing up sponges” someone later said, probably.
Now it’s about 1981 and for some reason Mark Cawthra was given a sort of ‘job’ in Crow studios. While the owner was away he’d break in through the windows, let Cardiacs in and record them. These recordings ended up being Cardiacs 2nd Cassette album. This album, it was decided, would be called ‘Toy World’, which also sounded rubbish. Cardiacs were as delighted as can be and loved the recordings. “Every time the door bell went or the phone rang, it would put a massive crackle on the tapes”.
Mark got fired from Crow after he drilled into the owner’s car’s petrol cap because it was locked.
Colvin Mayers left Cardiacs to join Adrian Borland’s band ‘The Sound’ just before the Toy World recordings but left behind in his place a girl called Sarah Cutts who had a saxophone. No one has ever found out where she actually came from.
Between the years 1982-1984 a few changes happened. Mark Cawthra swapped playing the drums for getting up front and showing off in front of some keyboards and singing. Dominic Luckman, who was already a part of Cardiacs loyal crew at the time, joined playing them drums. Tim Quy, also a member of the loyal crew, enlisted himself into the band in a fit of jealousy playing anything he could get his hands on.
Cardiacs slipped out of their dirty romper suits and into something a bit more grown up. They felt they had earned this after the completion of their 3rd cassette album ‘The Seaside’ which was also recorded at `Crow’. (Cawthra was forgiven by the owner and allowed back in if he wore only red shorts however cold the weather might be, and on condition that Cardiacs actually pay for the recording this time).
During all this time Cardiacs gradually became uncomfortably aware that they were being continually watched. But by who? Everything they did was done with terrible feelings of dread. No one knew why.
In 1983 William D. Drake was spotted by Tim Smith playing the piano in a small back room of a public house. William was accompanied by a girl singing her heart out and playing the trumpet. Her name was Lansi Lorrens. (She played the trumpet on ‘The Seaside’). Tim, liking Williams music, quickly wrote out a tune on a bit of paper and stuck it in front of William. “Play that!” he probably snapped. After William had effortlessly played the tune Tim told him that, like it or not, he was now in Cardiacs! William wasn’t sure what he meant by this but found himself in the band anyway.
…Again, that feeling of being watched…Those feelings of dread…Mark Cawthra mysteriously disappearing…A badly written and vulgar letter from someone called ‘THE CONSULTANT’ …An extremely courteous visit from a small lady called ‘Miss Swift’…Cardiacs didn’t know it then, but Mercy Alive, were things about to change!
Mark Cawthra was still missing. Apparently no one really noticed.
One day the front door flies open… Some boy with a guitar strapped around him is held by his shirt collar by a very tall and greasy man shouting “THIS BOY WILL DO FOR YOU! … THIS BOY WILL DO FOR YOU!” and shaking him like a rag doll. The boy was Graham Simmonds. The tall man was THE CONSULTANT who’d been spying on Cardiacs for some time. Graham never wanted to be in Cardiacs but he was made to join. THE CONSULTANT made him. He had no choice. Cardiacs had no choice. It was Cardiacs’ first meeting with THE CONSULTANT and was so not to be the last. It was around this time that a girl called Marguerite Johnston was asked to join the band to make up the other half of a saxophone section with Sarah and to fill the space that Mark Cawthra had mysteriously left. (It turned out that THE CONSULTANT had ‘misplaced’ Mark in order to ‘introduce’ his boy Graham into the band and was furious when Marguerite joined and made it virtually impossible for her to stay very long. She went missing in early 1984.)
For reasons know only to the band, (or not), Cardiacs remained under the tyranny of THE CONSULTANT and Miss Swift for years to come. They supplied Cardiacs with new brown clothes. “Shit brown uniform…where’s my glittery uniform.” one of the band was heard to timidly mumble under his rotten breath, but THE CONSULTANT insisted and said the uniforms were smart and tidy. Make up was introduced to make the band more attractive. After the make up was applied it was insisted upon that it must remain on their faces day and night. In time it smudged and started to smell putrid and the brown uniforms became sweat-ridden and tatty. They were never washed.
Miss Swift would console Cardiacs whenever she could and give them the guidance and the words of wisdom they so badly needed. Miss Swift, although very wise, was also very sensitive, so any vexed questions put her way would have to be filtered through another unknown source, (an organisation called THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN). For reasons known only to him at the time, THE CONSULTANT insisted that Alphabet’s name should appear on all Cardiacs releases and insisted that they be contacted before any decisions, however trivial, were made. It is thought that it was Alphabet’s decision to rid the band of Graham Simmonds without consulting anyone. Not even THE CONSULTANT. But the more popular theory is Graham walking off into the distance in a sulk because everyone had forgotten him. No one actually witnessed this. If Alphabet was anything to do with this action, then it was to be the first of many liberties to be taken.
Always an invisible entity in the background, THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN demanded that THE CONSULTANT and Miss Swift should appear on the stage with Cardiacs at the end of their shows to celebrate the closing of another triumphant evening, if they had earned it. This wasn’t popular with the band as it marked the end of the show. It was, back then, the only way to make them stop playing. Miss Swift and THE CONSULTANT would sometimes have to drag a blubbing Tim Smith off the stage. It was all getting very ugly. Before long THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN took offence to the large white decorative Daisy back drop that Cardiacs used to perform in front of and insisted that it be replaced by the Alphabet banner still used to this day.
At around the end of 1989 THE CONSULTANT and Miss Swift received a telegram from THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN and were not seen again.
Throughout all this time (1984-1989) Cardiacs managed somehow to record a Mini album called ‘Big Ship’ (1986) Do a few TV appearances, accidentally make a short film called ‘Seaside Treats’, record an EP called ‘There’s Too Many Irons In The Fire’ (1987) and record their first ‘proper’ album ‘A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window’ (recorded between 1985 and 1987 and released in 1988).
Cardiacs manager Mark Walmesley somehow managed to sort out the recording of this album. It was recorded at a studio called ‘The Workhouse’ in the old Kent road in London. The studio belonged to Manfred Mann. It is not known how this was paid for.
Mark Walmesley worked in mysterious ways. He was seen spitting in THE CONSULTANT’S face in anger on more than one occasion. THE CONSULTANT was witnessed punching Mark Walmesley square in the face very very often. It was not a good time. One time Miss Swift was so upset when Mark spat in her face that she started her period.
Mark was an independent manager who was nothing to do with THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN and this obviously didn’t sit right with THE CONSULTANT or THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN. Cardiacs have no idea how he came to end up managing them. They’d never even met him before he allotted himself to the thankless task and did their best to avoid him there after.
Mark recruited the band’s loyal crew including Big Jon Daniel, who was to become Cardiacs ‘Dad’ and Mr. Murder who was to do Cardiacs live sound and many other skilled people too numerous to mention in this history.
Between 1988 and 1989 Cardiacs recorded their album ‘On Land And In The Sea’ at ‘The Slaughterhouse studios’ in Yorkshire. It was released in 1989. Mysteriously, both ‘The Workhouse’ and ‘The Slaughterhouse’ burned down shortly after Cardiacs had finished there.
Now it’s 1990. THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN have secured their grip on Cardiacs. Cardiacs still don’t really know who THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN are. They are somehow fooled into thinking that they, Cardiacs, are in control of their own doings. But it is clear that they are not.
Little Sarah Smith, formally ‘Cutts’ but now ‘Smith’… (this was due to THE CONSULTANT forcing her to marry Tim Smith as a punishment, saying it was to cover up a sordid story about the pair of them that was published in a newspaper called ‘The Sunday Sport’)… left Cardiacs to be a full time Witch and live in the woods with the snails. An album was recorded in these woods under the name of ‘The Sea Nymphs’. (The Sea Nymphs were Tim Smith, Sarah Smith and William D Drake who’d recorded another album together in secret some years before under the name of ‘Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake’).
A Girl called Christian Hayes was brought in to take Sarah’s place, but instead of turning up with a Saxophone she brought an electric guitar by mistake so ended up playing that. A Live concert called ‘All That Glitters Is a Mares Nest’ was filmed in a spooky church in Salisbury that year and it was Little Sarah’s last appearance with Cardiacs. It was also Tim Quy’s last appearance. He was very still after the concert and everybody thought he’d died. He had broken the nausea rule laid down by THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN several times that day and so was disappeared. Today, somewhere, he is alive and well.
Several months later it was realised that Christian Hayes was not a girl after all. Just a strange looking boy. Upon this discovery he felt he had to leave Cardiacs and joined ‘Levitation’. A band he’d formed in secret with, among others, Terry Bickers who had just left ‘The House of Love’ because he was insane. The remainder of Cardiacs, not knowing what to do, sat and awaited orders from THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN but no orders came. William D Drake took this opportunity to ‘jump ship’ and went missing without a bag…and so…Cardiacs were now just Tim and Jim Smith and Dominic Luckman.
They sat and waited for what seemed like an eternity for any instructions. Finally they came through and Cardiacs were told to write and record an album in glorious praise of THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN. They were told that the album must be called ‘Heaven Born and Ever Bright’. This they did and their hearts were lifted and filled with awe and power! They found a guitarist to take Christian’s place. Jon Poole was his name. Being not quite right was his game. Cardiacs were now a proud four piece. During the ‘Heaven born’ sessions Little Sarah dropped in and added some Saxophones. William D Drake came and played his Television Organ (that he accidentally built out of an old television), and Christian Hayes took time out from his recordings with Levitation to sing on many of the tracks. All in glorious praise of THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN! Cardiacs finally understood the significance of all this… THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN! The caring concern! …or so they thought.
The next few years proved to be very strenuous. Ritualistic duties were laid upon Cardiacs and a gruelling work schedule was forced into place. Gone were the brown uniforms. Stinking and half decayed, they were stolen from out of the back of a van. The rotten thieves, obviously thinking they were stealing a trunk full of equipment, were disappointed with their swag and so left a note of complaint. Because of this, a new regime of hygiene was enforced upon Cardiacs, but enforced to such extremes that, when they weren’t touring or attending functions, took up most of the band’s time. One morning in 1993 as Cardiacs sat down to their lumps of food they noticed there was someone missing. It was Dominic. He was not in his room either. He had run away for good. In his place sat a stranger, a bemused Bob Leith. He was to take Dominic’s place on the drums. Cardiacs were refused permission to record anything for the next five years.
In early 1995 Cardiacs were finally given the go ahead to record an album. The time of their chastisement had come to an end. They were never really sure why they had been so punished, but that time was over and it was now a time for rejoicing! They recorded their album ‘Sing To God’ at ‘Apollo 8’ and ‘Sally Birthday House’ studios. So many songs it had to be a double album. (It was later split into two separate albums due to a mistake). They also re-released their entire back catalogue onto super-CD format.
Over the next few years Alphabet gave the impression that they had ‘loosened the reigns’ a little so the band toured a lot and recorded their next album ‘Guns’ which was released in 1999. It was probably a good time.
It was during these supposedly ‘good times’ that Tim Smith took unfair advantage of Alphabet’s impartiality and went AWOL to write and record with strangers! He wrote an album with an peculiar bunch he’d been taken in by who all lived in a forest or something. The band was called ‘Spratleys Japs’. It was when Tim boasted that it was one of the best things he’d ever worked on, and then released the album on a different label, that THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN re-tightened their invisible hold. Another 5-year penalty was enforced. No recording and hardly any gigs were permitted. Maybe one concert per year? Or two if the bands behaviour had been exemplary.
For obvious reasons, any information on the years that passed is a little difficult to come by.
However, In 2003 Cardiacs were permitted to record some concerts they did, but only if the concerts consisted entirely of the songs they played when the band very first started when they were children. Whether this was a punitive action taken by THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN or not is anyone’s guess, but record the concerts they did. These concerts were to be the first with new guitarist Kavus Torabi. Alphabet thought it best if Jonny Poole left the band and joined another band called The Wildhearts, and told Kavus, who had already been working alongside Cardiacs as a member of their loyal crew for some years, to take his place.
The live albums are due for release in 2005 when the curfew is finally lifted.
Throughout 2004, as the curfew began to relax a little, Cardiacs felt confident enough to ask some more people on board. They wanted singers to sing out high notes and sing them out loud, so they invited three of their associates, Claire Lemmon, Melanie Woods and Sharron Sadington to do this for them. They wanted their drums to sound bigger and louder so they invited drummers to hit huge drums. Cathy Harabaras (already a drummer) and Dawn Staple (a competition winner… Dawn had won a competition granted by THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN back in 1994. The first prize was to have the winner’s winning story included on the Cardiacs album ‘Sing to God’. The second prize was to have to appear live with Cardiacs as often as THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN saw fit whether the lucky winner liked it or not. Dawn was the only person aware of the competition due to an administration error and so won both prizes). All the girls now hang out together. They keep themselves to themselves.
Anyway, now it is the year 2005. With the curfew abolished, Cardiacs were officially given authorisation to record another studio album.
They began the recordings earlier in the year.
That’s all for now.