Cardiacs

Cardiacs are an English avant-garde rock band, active since the late 1970s. They self-pressed two limited-edition cassette albums, followed in 1984 by The Seaside, their first professional release. In 1988, they scored an indie hit with “Is This the Life” and secured a global cult following with A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window and its 1989 followup On Land and in the Sea, both on their DIY label Alphabet Business Concern.

Members: Tim Smith (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Jim Smith (bass), Colvin Mayers (synthesizer, 1981), Mark Cawthra (drums, 1981-83), Sarah Smith (saxophone, 1981-90), Dominic Luckman (drums, 1982-94), Tim Quy (percussion, 1982-90), William D. Drake (keyboards, 1983-90), Marguerite Johnson (saxophone, 1983-84), Graham Simmonds (guitar, 1983-84), Christian “Bic” Hayes (guitar, 1989-90), Jon Poole (guitar, 1991-2004), Bob Leith (drums, 1994-present), Kavus Torabi (guitar, 2004-present), Claire Lemmon, (vocals, 2004-present), Melanie Woods (vocals, 2004-present), Sharron Fortnam (vocals, 2004-?), Cathy Harabaras (percussion, 2004-present), Dawn Staple (percussion, 2004-present)


Background

Cardiacs have their roots in Filth, a Surrey quartet formed in late 1977 by Kingston upon Thames teenager Tim Smith with his bassist older brother Jim and locals Michael Pugh and drummer Peter Tagg.

Smith (July 3, 1961 – July 21, 2020) acquired a kickdrum at age eleven and held blues-based jams with Jim and their neighbor. He took up guitar at age twelve and wrote his first song (“Interlude”) at thirteen.

In 1975, Smith formed an unnamed band with Fleetwood Secondary schoolmates Mark Cawthra and Peter Tagg. They rehearsed Egg-inspired instrumentals but never made a live performance. Smith inherited the miniKORG synthesizer from their soon-deceased organist David Philpot. After Mark’s suspension, he and Tim tape-traded new song ideas. 

In 1976, Smith gave his first performance at the Surbiton Assembly Rooms as part of Gazunder, a trio with guitarist–singer Adrian Borland and drummer Bruce Bisland. Gazunder, which played two gigs, based their sound (purportedly) on The Man Who Sold the World, the hard-rock-inspired third album by David Bowie. Borland soon formed The Outsiders (a springboard for The Sound) and Bisland later played in a sequence of metal bands (Tank, Wildfire, Praying Mantis).

When Tim assembled Filth, Jim played bass for the first time since their 1972 living room jams. Smith picked Pugh as their singer because of his loud voice. Billed as “Philip Pilf and the Filth,” they gave their first performance in late 1977 at the Kaleidoscope, a hostel for troubled Kingston youth. Their set featured “Icky Qualms,” a Smith–Cawthra original.

Filfth became The Obvious Identity, then Cardiac Arrest, which promptly cut its first demo.


Cardiac Arrest E.P.

In 1979, Cardiac Arrest released a three-song 7″ maxi-single on Tortch, a post-punk indie linked with the French pressing plant A.R.E.A.C.E.M. It features “A Bus for a Bus on the Bus,” a co-write between ‘Peter Boker’ (Michael Pugh) and ‘Philip Pilf’ (Tim Smith). Side B contains two songs by ‘Duncan Doilet’ (Colvin Mayers): “Food on the Wall” and “A Cake for Berties Party,” the latter co-written by Tim and ‘Patti Pilf’ (Jim Smith).

A1. “A Bus for a Bus on the Bus” (4:33)
B1. “A Cake for Berties Party” (3:10)
B2. “Food on the Wall” (1:08)

Tortch issued Cardiac Arrest in a simple b&w sleeve with a doodle and no band info. The Smith brothers recorded the songs on July 22, 1979, with Pugh (vocals), Mayers (synthesizer), Peter Tagg (aka ‘Richard Targett,’ drums), and Raphael Cadd (saxophone). Cardiac Arrest appeared as the second Tortch release (TOR 002) between the debuts of Adrian Borland’s synth-punk project Second Layer (Flesh As Property) and The Sound (Physical World).

Tagg cleared for Tim’s Fleetwood Secondary classmate (and tape-trade co-writer) Mark Cawthra.


1980–1982


The Obvious Identity

In June 1980, Cardiac Arrest self-pressed 1000 copies of their first cassette album, The Obvious Identity, for sale at concerts. It features six originals by Tim Smith, who plays guitar, synthesizer, organ, and glockenspiel. He assumes the frontman role from ‘Zip’ Boker (Michael Pugh), who makes his final appearance on the two side openers.

Smith co-wrote three songs (“A Game for Bertie’s Party,” “Pip as Uncle Dick but Peter Spoilt It,” “To Go Off and Things”) with ‘Little Bobby Shattocks’ Mark Cawthra, who contributed “Cameras.” Keyboardist Colvin Mayers co-wrote the interlude “Rock Around the Clock.” 

1. “The Obvious Identity” (2:11)
2. “Visiting Hours” (4:50)
3. “Pip as Uncle Dick but Peter Spoilt It” (4:35)
4. “To Go Off and Things” (2:25)
5. “Rock Around the Clock” (1:53)
6. “Leaf Scrapings” (3:13)

7. “A Game for Bertie’s Party” (7:02)
8. “Cameras” (1:02)
9. “Bite 3/a” (2:37)
10. “Pilf” (3:22)
11. “Let Alone My Plastic Doll” (4:06)
12. “A Balloon for Bertie’s Party” (8:02)

Cardiac Arrest self-produced The Obvious Identity, titled after their earlier makeshift band name. Three tracks (“The Obvious Identity,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “A Game for Berties Party”) appear on the 1989 compilation Archive Cardiacs. They re-recorded “To Go Off and Things” for their 1984 album The Seaside.

The Obvious Identity was never re-released but its songs live on through recorded live versions apart from “Bite 3/a,” which never reappeared in any form.

Cardiac Arrest again underwent multiple name changes and settled as Cardiacs. In April 1981, they live-premiered their now-permanent name.


Toy World

In 1981, Cardiacs self-pressed their second cassette album, Toy World. Like The Obvious Identity, they made roughly 1000 Toy World copies for exclusive sale at concerts.

Tim Smith composed the album’s eleven songs with input on one (“A BIG NOISE in a Toy World”) by Mark Cawthra, who co-authored the Toy World lyrics with Tim and Jim Smith. “A Time for Rejoicing” interpolates Peter Ivers‘ 1977 Eraserhead theme “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song).”

Keyboardist Colvin ‘Max’ Mayers co-wrote “Over + Over + Over + Over,” one of four tracks (along with “Dead Mouse,” “Trade Mark,” and “As Cold as Can Be in an English Sea”) recorded before he jumped ship to The Sound. The remaining songs feature new Cardiac Sarah Cutts, who plays clarinet, alto saxophone, and occasional keyboards.

1. “Aukamacic”
2. “Icky Qualms”
3. “Over + Over + Over + Over”
4. “Dead Mouse”
5. “A BIG NOISE in a Toy World”
6. “Trade Mark”
7. “SCRATCHING CRAWLING SCRAWLING”
8. “AS COLD AS CAN BE IN AN ENGLISH SEA”
9. “Is This the Life?”
10. “Nurses Whispering Verses”
11. “A Time for Rejoicing”

Sessions took place between June 1980 and March 1981 at Crow Studios in Surbiton, where Cawtha co-engineered Toy World with studio owner Peter Kunzler, also credited on Twelfth Night‘s self-pressed album Live at the Target.

Cardiacs re-recorded “Is This The Life?” and “Nurses Whispering Verses” for their 1984 third cassette album The Seaside. “Aukamakic,” “Icky Qualms,” “SCRATCHING CRAWLING SCRAWLING,” and “AS COLD AS CAN BE IN AN ENGLISH SEA” appear on Archive Cardiacs, which also features “My Trademark” (a retitled “Trade Mark”).

Three Toy World tracks — “Over + Over + Over + Over,” “A BIG NOISE in a Toy World,” and “A Time for Rejoicing” — remain exclusive to this never-reissued 1981 cassette. (The masters to “BIG NOISE” and “Rejoicing” are presumed lost.)

After Toy World, Cawthra traded drums for keyboards and Cardiacs hired drummer Dominic Luckman, a prior roadie. Percussionist Tim Quy joined as a sixth member.


1983–1985

In mid-1983, Mark Cawthra cleared out for keyboardist William D. Drake, recently of the unsigned Honour Our Trumpet. Drake first opened HOT’s bassist slot to Tim Smith, who returned the favor welcoming Drake into the Cardiacs fold. In July, Tim married Sarah Cutts, who assumed his surname. Meanwhile, Smith produced two issues of a comic titled Peter and His Dog Spot.

By autumn 1983, Cardiacs swelled to an octet with alto saxist Marguerite Johnston and (onetime Dunneau) guitarist Graham Simmonds. However, both left by the summer of 1984 when Cardiacs established their classic six-piece lineup: singer–guitarist Tim Smith, bassist–singer Jim Smith, saxist–singer Sarah Smith, keyboardist–singer William D. Drake, percussionist–keyboardist Tim Quy, and drummer Dominic Luckman.

Tim and Sarah play brass on the 1984 Sound EP Shock of Daylight.


The Seaside

Cardiacs released their third cassette album, The Seaside, in early 1984 on Alphabet Business Concern, their newly established DIY label. It features eleven songs composed by Tim Smith, including “Dinner Time,” “Jibber and Twitch,” and “Gena Lollabrigida,” plus rerecorded versions of “Is This the Life?” and “Nurses Whispering Verses.” He also co-wrote pieces with Sarah (“Hello Mr. Sparrow”) and the entire band (“It’s a Lovely Day”).

The material spans three years (1980–83) of sporadic sessions. Three tracks (“A Wooden Fish on Wheels,” “Ice a Spot and a Dot on the Dog,” “To Go Off and Things”) date from the pre-Dominic Luckman timeframe with keyboardist Colvin Mayers and drumming and lyrical input by Mark Cawthra, who plays keyboards on the post-Mayers, pre-William Drake tracks (unspecified). The Seaside also documents the brief involvement of Marguerite Johnston and Graham Simmonds.

1. “Jibber and Twitch” (4:48)
2. “Gina Lollabrigida” (3:13)
3. “Hello Mr. Sparrow” (4:33)
4. “It’s a Lovely Day” (3:25)
5. “A Wooden Fish on Wheels” (3:22)
6. “Nurses Whispering Verses” (6:03)

7. “Is This the Life” (5:03)
8. “A Little Man and a House” (4:15) features backing vocals by one Wendy Collins.
9. “Hope Day” (6:36)
10. “Dinner Time” (4:35)
11. “Ice a Spot and a Dot on the Dog” (3:34)
12. “R.E.S.” (5:26)
13. “To Go Off and Things” (2:13)

Tim Smith co-produced The Seaside with engineer and temporary second guitarist Graham Simmonds. In addition to Marguerite alto saxophone, the album features four auxiliary brass players: trombonist Tim Hills and trumpeters Lanze Lorrens, Mike Peters, and Nick Pell.

The Seaside is the first of Cardiacs’ three cassette albums with a clean, professional sound. As such, they thrice pressed the cassette for sale at concerts and through their fan club. However, pre-2015 CD reissues omit four tracks (“Nurses Whispering Verses,” “A Little Man and a House,” “Dinner Time,” “Is This the Life?”) due to damaged masters.

Cardiacs re-recorded “A Little Man and a House,” “R.E.S.” and (for the third time) “Is This the Life?” for their 1988 album A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window. They later cut a third, semi-rewritten “Nurses Whispering Verses” for their 1996 album Sing to God.

The band’s label, Alphabet Business Concern, represented a namesake mythology and theatrical presentation. Cardiacs promoted The Seaside with their first major UK tour. Between November 5 and December 21, 1984, they supported Marillion at the invite of Fish. Meanwhile, Tim, Sarah, and William formed an acoustic side-project (later dubbed Sea Nymphs) and made the cassette album Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake.


Seaside Treats

In 1985, Cardiacs released an extended-play single and a corresponding video, both titled Seaside Treats. The EP marked the vinyl debut of four songs from Side Two of The Seaside: “Hope Day,” “A Little Man and a House,” “To Go Off and Things,” and “R.E.S.” The VHS contains promo clips for the last three songs and a comedy sketch titled “The Consultant’s Flower Garden,” which shows the Cardiacs in bizarre scenarios.

For the videos, Cardiacs employed Portsmouth College of Art and Design film-makers Mark Francombe and Nick Elborough, who first approached the band with an offer to make a Cardiacs concert movie. The Seaside Treats EP and VHS both appeared in the limited-edition “Seaside Bag,” a collector’s package complete with a poster, badge, and Cardiacs seaside rock.


1986–1989


Reading ’86, Rude Bootleg

On August 24, 1986, Cardiacs played the Reading Rock Festival, a three-day weekend event with sets by Balaam & the Angel, The Bolshoi, Dr & the Medics, FM, It Bites, Killing Joke, March Violets, The Mission, Outlaws, Outside Edge, Rough Cutt, and Saxon.>

Cardiacs performed on Day 3 (Sunday) along with Cherry Bombz, The Enid, Hawkwind, New Model Army, Thrashing Doves, and Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction. A low-quality recording of the Cardiacs’ Reading set constitutes Rude Bootleg, a plain-sleeved 1987 ABC release with eight numbers.

A1. “The Icing On the World” (2:41)
A2. “To Go Off and Things” (3:16)
A3. “In a City Lining” (6:25)
A4. “Tarred and Feathered” (3:11)
A5. “Big Ship” (5:20)
B1. “I’m Eating In Bed” (5:25)
B2. “Is This the Life” (5:48)
B3. “The Whole World Window” (6:02)

Three numbers (“The Icing on the World,” “In a City Lining,” “The Whole World Window”) made their proper vinyl debut on the Cardiacs’ 1988 studio album. “I’m Eating in Bed” became a non-album b-side.


Big Ship

On January 27, 1987, Cardiacs released Big Ship, a nineteen-minute EP with four Tim Smith originals and one William Drake co-write (“Tarred and Feathered”). This was the first Cardiacs studio release recorded entirely by the classic sextet lineup established in late 1984. The title track became a concert mainstay.

1. “Big Ship” (5:47)
2. “Tarred and Feathered” (3:31) quotes the third verse of “O God, who metest in thine hand,” a hymn by Anglo-Irish clergyman Richard Frederick Littledale (1833–1890)

3. “Burn Your House Brown” (2:37)
4. “Stoneage Dinosaurs” (5:22)
5. “Plane Plane Against the Grain” (1:21)

Sessions took place at Racen Studios, where Smith co-produced Big Ship with former Cardiacs Graham Simmonds (production, mixing) and Mark Cawthra (sound engineer).

Big Ship sports a framed, garnished portrait of Cardiacs in their stage makeup by group photographer Tony Stringer. The trademark stamp (seen on all prior covers) appears on the back and inner-sleeve.

The Cardiacs made headlines after a March 1987 article in the Sunday Sport claimed that Tim and Sarah Smith were an incestuous brother–sister couple. The article (self-debunked by a quote from the Smith brothers’ mother) was inspired by a rumor purportedly started by Cardiacs manager Mark Walmesley.

The video for “Tarred and Feathered” aired on the April 17 broadcast of the Channel 4 music program The Tube.


“There’s Too Many Irons in the Fire”

On August 12, 1987, Cardiacs released their second a-side, “There’s Too Many Irons in the Fire,” on a maxi-single with two additional Tim Smith originals.

A1. “There’s Too Many Irons in the Fire” (3:17)
A2. “All Spectacular” (2:35)
B. “Loosefish Scapegrace” (7:46)

Sounds magazine picked “There’s Too Many Irons in the Fire” as “Single of the Week.” All three tracks reappeared on the 1991 Cardiacs compilation Songs for Ships and Irons.

In the autumn of 1987, Cardiacs performed in-studio sessions for BBC Radio Leeds and the BBC Radio 1 show Night Track, hosted by Janice Long. The latter appeared as a 12″ on Strange Fruit Records.


A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window

On March 21, 1988, Cardiacs released their proper debut album: A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window, titled after the first and last songs. The album follows the loose concept of a musical clown troupe under the tyranny of the Alphabet Business Concern, led by the Consultant and Mrs. Swift.

ALMaaHatWWW features nine Tim Smith originals, including “In a City Lining,” “The Breakfast Line,” “Victory (Egg)” “Dive,” and re-recorded versions of The Seaside numbers “A Little Man and a House,” “R.E.S.” and “Is This the Life?” William D. Drake co-wrote the closing track, “The Whole World Window.” Tim and Sarah both add recorders to their arsenals.

1. “A Little Man and a House” (5:05)
2. “In a City Lining” (5:52)
3. “Is This the Life?” (5:37) first appeared on their 1981 cassette album Toy World.
4. “Interlude” (0:47)
5. “Dive” (4:09)
6. “The Icing on the World” (4:02)
7. “The Breakfast Line” (4:55)
8. “Victory” (3:08) concerns the Great War (WWI).
9. “R.E.S.” (5:16)
10. “The Whole World Window” (5:56)

Sessions took place between 1985 and 1987 at London’s Workhouse, where Tim Smith produced the album with five engineers, including ongoing Cardiacs soundman (and former member) Graham Simmonds and Latin Quarter producer (and onetime Nick Straker Band bassist) Pete Hammond. ALMaaHatWWW musical guests include trombonist Ashley Slater, trumpeter Phil Cesar, and violinist Elaine Herman.

Cardiacs released “Is This the Life?” as a single, backed with the non-album “Goosegash” and “I’m Eating In Bed,” a Smith–Drake number.

B1. “Goosegash” (1:56)
B2. “I’m Eating In Bed” (5:06)

“Is This the Life?” went Top 10 on the UK indie chart and peaked at No. 80 on the UK Singles Chart.

A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window originally appeared as a vinyl release on Alphabet Business Concern (UK) and Torso, a Dutch post-punk label with an established continental roster (Flue, Mecano, Mekanik Kommando) and select titles by international acts (The Cult, Green On Red, The Legendary Pink Dots). Torso also issued a fifteen-song CD version of ALMaaHatWWW, which adds the two b-sides and the “Irons in the Fire” single.


“Susannah’s Still Alive”

Cardiacs followed “Is This the Life?” with a non-album cover of the 1968 Kinks “Susannah’s Still Alive,” backed with the exclusive “Blind In Safety And Leafy In Love,” a Smith–Drake original.

A. “Susannah’s Still Alive”
B. “Blind In Safety And Leafy In Love”

Cardiacs filmed a video for “Susannah’s Still Alive” with director Steve Payne.


Cardiacs Live

On Halloween 1988, Alphabet Business Concern released Cardiacs Live, an eleven-song document (51:58) of their May 15 show at the Amsterdam Paradiso. Sarah, Jim Smith, and Tim Quy add “big bass drum” to their arsenals.

1. “The Icing on the World” (6:12)
2. “To Go Off and Things” (3:10)
3. “In a City Lining” (6:53)
4. “Gina Lollobrigida” (4:02)
5. “There’s Too Many Irons in the Fire” (3:13)
6. “Tarred and Feathered” (4:21)
7. “Goosegash” (2:05)
8. “Loosefish Scapegrace” (7:31)
9. “Cameras” (2:09)
10. “Is This the Life” (6:11)
11. “Big Ship” (6:11)


On Land and in the Sea

Cardiacs released their second proper album, On Land and in the Sea, on May 2, 1989, on Alphabet Business Concern and Torso. It features nine Tim Smith originals, including “Buds and Spawn,” “The Leader of the Starry Skies,” “The Duck and Roger the Horse,” “Baby Heart Dirt,” and “The Stench of Honey.”

Keyboardist William Drake co-wrote the miniature “I Hold My Love in My Arms” and the Side Two bookends “Mare’s Nest” and “The Everso Closely Guarded Line.” Quotes of Irish poet George Darley (1795–1846) appear in “Mare’s Nest” and “Arnald.”

On Land and in the Sea is the final Cardiacs release of the classic sextet lineup of Tim, William, saxist Sarah Smith, bassist Jim Smith, percussionist–synthesist Tim Quy, and drummer Dominic Luckman.

1. “Two Bites of Cherry” (3:19)
2. “Baby Heart Dirt” (3:32)
3. “The Leader of the Starry Skys” (3:52)
4. “I Hold My Love in My Arms” (1:10)
5. “The Duck and Roger the Horse” (3:56)
6. “Arnald” (2:49)
7. “Fast Robert” (3:59)

8. “Mare’s Nest” (4:15)
9. “The Stench of Honey” (3:33)
10. “Buds and Spawn” (6:46)
11. “The Safety Bowl” (1:45)
12. “The Everso Closely Guarded Line” (8:23)

Sessions took place in late 1988 at The Slaughterhouse in Yorkshire, where Smith produced the album, which Graham Simmonds engineered with Walkie Talkies soundman Roger Tebbutt.

“Baby Heart Dirt” appeared in April as a single (b/w “I Hold My Love in My Arms”).

The Cardiacs newsletter offered free signed copies to readers who sent “a morally uplifting motto or proverb” in under nine words. ABC also pressed the album on CD with an additional miniature, “Horsehead” (1:20), as track 8. The Torso CD contains nineteen tracks (60:11 duration) with six additional cuts.

14. “ABC Chimes” (0:14)
15. “Baby Heart Dirt” (3:32)
16. “I Hold My Love in My Arms” (1:10)
17. “Horsehead” (1:27) recorded “in the hand.”
18. “The Safety Bowl” (1:45) recorded “in the bush.”
19. “Tarred and Feathered” (3:31)

On the brink of the album’s release, Sarah Smith left Cardiacs but stuck around as an auxiliary player. Tim hired guitarist Christian ‘Bic’ Hayes, recently of the unsigned psych-rock band Ring.


Discography:

  • Toy World (1981)
  • The Seaside (1984)
  • Seaside Treats (EP, 1985)
  • Big Ship (EP, 1987)
  • There’s Too Many Irons in the Fire (EP, 1987)
  • A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window (1988)
  • On Land and in the Sea (1989)
  • Day Is Gone (EP, 1991)
  • Heaven Born and Ever Bright (1992)
  • Sing to God (1996)
  • Guns (1999)

Sources:

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