Cardiacs singer Tim Smith suffered a heart attack and a paralysing stroke two years ago, and musicians are now flocking to cover his strange, unique songs to help fund his treatment
IN JUNE 2008, Cardiacs singer Tim Smith attended the last night of My Bloody Valentine’s five-night comeback residency at the Roundhouse in London. After the gig, he went for a drink with a long-time friend and collaborator, former Levitation guitarist Bic Hayes, before heading off in the early hours to meet some other friends. He never arrived.
Smith, who has no memory of the night, suffered a heart attack that triggered a major stroke. A second stroke in hospital a few days later left him paralysed down one side of his body and unable to speak. Two years on, he remains chronically disabled in a neurological rehabilitation centre in Wiltshire.
“Tim can’t do anything except be hoisted from his bed into a wheelchair,” says Hayes. “He also suffers from dystonia, which makes him go into spasms. He is such a great guy, and we wanted to see if we could help.”
Casting around for ideas, Hayes and partner Jo Spratley made tentative inquiries among artists about a possible benefit record for Smith. Thirty-five immediately asked to be involved. The result is Leader of the Starry Skies, an album of the Cardiacs singer’s songs covered by a host of independent-music luminaries from the last 20 years.
The Cardiacs’ brittle, absurdist art-rock is notoriously polarising — a 1984 support tour with Marillion saw them subjected to a hail of bottles every night — but the album locates an affecting beauty amid their surrealist muse. Andy Partridge and Robert White turn Lilywhite’s Party into a spectral litany; former All About Eve singer Julianne Regan lends Shaping the River a delicate, folky splendour.
“Tim supported All About Eve with one of his side groups, the Sea Nymphs, and was such an enchanting character,” Regan says. “He was childlike but not childish, he really lit up the room — he was larger-than-life without being a pain in the arse.”
Nineties indie rockers Ultrasound, who split acrimoniously a decade ago, reunited to cover Big Ship, and are now reformed and on tour. Romeo Stodart, whose Magic Numbers pick their way through A Little Man and a House, was a Cardiacs fan from a very early age.
“I moved to London when I was 16, heard them on John Peel, and thought, ‘What the hell is this?'” he remembers. “They were such a clever group — and musicians appreciate bands who ignore all trends and follow their own path.”
The money raised will fund extra physiotherapy and treatment for Smith. Hayes has watched the recent high-profile recovery from a severe stroke of Edwyn Collins, but wryly notes that his circumstances differ: “Edwyn had family around him, and sold a lot of records, so he had money to pay for treatment. Tim’s situation is not like that.
“Tim can’t talk except, on his good days, via a letter board, but when I play him these covers of his songs, he wells up. He loves hearing his music given this new lease of life.”
A planned benefit concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall foundered on logistical grounds, but with Damon Albarn, Neil Hannon and even Faith No More’s Mike Patton having pledged their support and future involvement, Hayes is not ruling out a follow-up album. Mike Vennart of Oceansize, also a contributor to Leader of the Starry Skies, succinctly sums up the aim of this laudable project. “We want to raise some money, get Tim home and try to give him a better quality of life,” he says. “It would be great if it also woke people up to his incredible, criminally ignored music.”
© Ian Gittins, The Guardian, 3 February 2011