Yesterday I had a text from an old mate to tell me that Tim Smith, lead singer and genius composer for English nutcases The Cardiacs had sadly died, some twelve years after surviving a stroke.
The Cardiacs played quirky alt-rock, with classical elements, writing songs that sounded like ten songs worth of material cut up and spliced into one, and as a band they unified lots of nutters in the late 80s – you have to remember that the pop charts were all about smooth easy listening at the time – and this disjointed music was the complete opposite. So, you’d see all sorts at their gigs – punks, crusties, hippies, and of course lots of students, who were the only people who actually had any money, so if you played your cards right you’d usually get to go to a party afterwards, and hopefully get somewhere to sleep too.
Their first proper album The Seaside manages to balance dissonant rhythmic and textural ideas with good solid tunes, and it abounds with the exuberance of youth. Later stuff was a bit more melancholic, venturing into pop territory with 1988’s ‘Is This The Life’?. They stayed with the compositional model of hyperactive non-linear prog that they used on Seaside on their nineties releases, and were supported by their faithful fans through the Alphabet Business Concern.
As a youth I saw them live quite a few times – in those days where you’re riding a wave of chance encounters, ending up in all sorts of places, going ‘huh?’- by my twenties, though, I was more interested in other things, and today musically it’s not my bag at all. However I still must confess to being a little sad re-listening to them now – they are definitely a band to be aware of, should you feel your ears need a break from the present, and certainly an English treasure – one that would never have existed were it not for a trailblazer like Tim Smith, and all the musicians and artists who helped him achieve his vision.