Reading The Adverts

THE NEW WAVE scythe has brought about a dual personality in programming for a lot of the more established clubs.

However reluctant they might be, many venues have instigated a “punk night,” when security guards either outnumber the punters or turn a blind eye as an innocent onlooker is mechanically savaged.

Crackers Club, situated in the heart of London’s film and “French lessons” district, used to cater exclusively for a disco audience. Now, realising the box office potential of punkerie, they are devoting a couple of nights every week to the sound of the chainsaw guitar. To make the distinction that much clearer, Crackers becomes The Vortex on those evenings. Vortex, as you all know, means a mass of whirling fluid. Standing by the stage, the name is clearly appropriate.

Last week the Adverts played there, and to put it mildly their set was a shambles. But, in a way, that is what has always appealed to me about the band. It never ceases to amaze me how they can stumble through one number, let alone a whole set. Every song constantly teeters on the verge of collapse as it careers along.

It’s as if the group has some unfathomable, extraterrestrial understanding with one another. They certainly don’t seem to communicate on the usual wavelengths. Gaye Advert, who is rapidly becoming the focus of the punk movement, will occasionally fix those sultry eyes on the audience, though most of the time she has to concentrate with single-minded ferocity on her bass playing. She isn’t in the Jack Bruce division yet.

Drummer Laurie Driver (full marks for the name) is also locked in his own space, flailing away and staring psychotically into the middle distance.

Laurie and Gaye sometimes link up musically. Guitarist Howard Pick-Up can thrash out a full-tilt rhythm, while vocalist T. V. Smith (Gaye’s close friend) virtually offers himself for sacrifice. As T.V. says, “we’re not great musicians – let’s face it, we’re terrible musicians”.

I met T.V. the day after the gig, and even he couldn’t muster much of a defence for the Vortex fiasco. But on to other matters. Gaye and he came up to the Big Smoke from Devon about 18 months ago and tried, unsuccessfully, to get a band off the ground, advertising for the two extra members.

They were flat broke. “I took on a few crappy little jobs, but the trouble with those was that you take on a job in the theory that you are going to get some money out of it and get your gear out of it, but you end up getting trapped in this horrible little job.

“I don’t advise it to anyone who is intending to get a band together. I was horrified, seeing people who were going to do these jobs for the rest of their lives. The only thing that made me do it was knowing that I wasn’t going to do it for long.”

By Christmas things had finally gelled. They grabbed “supports at the Roxy at every possible opportunity, for peanuts”. How were they received? “At first both members of the audience were unsure! We get a lot of people now who like us just because they think we’re a punk band, but when the scene wasn’t quite so strong back then people weren’t sure whether it was hip to like us or not, because we were doing it a bit differently.” In what way? “Just the fact that we bothered to have things like rhythm changes and, lyrics. You remember lyrics – those things that Bob Dylan wrote.” What was that? Dylan!

T.V. writes all the band’s material, having penned such stage faves as ‘Bomb-Site Boy’, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, ‘New Church’, ‘Bored Teenagers’, ‘New Boys’ and ‘On The Roof’. Could he be attempting to emulate the denim poet laureate?

“Oh, Dylan – that was just a slip of the tongue. I’m not the new protest singer.

“I don’t want to pin anything down, like explaining a song. It’s there to be misunderstood, and I’m quite happy for people not to understand.”

Wouldn’t he like the Great Listening Public to have some idea about the contents? “Well, maybe I’ll make it seem better than it is. I can’t control the audience. I put something out and I’m not going to force them to listen or understand. That’s their half of the work. YOU VlL UNDERSTAND ZE SONG. DO YOU KNOW VOT I AM TALKING ABOUT? We’ll start throwing lyric sheets over the heads of the audience during the final number and they’ll be tested after the gig. If you fail, go and see Bad Company.”

The Roxy shows brought them to the attention of Jake Riviera, the wily brains behind the infamous Stiff label. He offered to put out a single. T.V. (his mum and dad christened him Tim) elaborated:

“We went in knowing there wasn’t going to be much money for us. It was an exposure deal, really. The way Stiff works is that Jake knows that he is picking up a lot of bands who are then going to go on to another record company after they get a first single out.”

Stiffs half-way house function worked completely. Though it divebombed fairly spectacularly, the single, ‘One Chord Wonders’, reached the appropriate ears at Anchor records. Two weeks ago they signed the customary one single deal with options on further work at Anchor.

T.V. seems happy with the arrangement. “At present we’re intending to stay with them because they’re doing a good job for us, or it certainly looks like they’re doing a good job for us. The good thing is that they can concentrate exclusively on us because they haven’t got anything else in this area. Like Stiff have the Damned.”

A second single is due in early August. It will couple their two strongest Smith-songs, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ and a new (possibly disciplined?) studio version of ‘Bored Teenagers’ which appeared on the recent live Roxy compilation. T.V. agreed: “That track is really insane.”

‘One Chord Wonders’, however, is a different kettle of halibut. An eminently respectable debut, it thunders along at an inter-city pace and boasts a successfully original structure. Give it a listen, if you can find it.

I wondered what he thought of the whole shebang at the moment. “It’s rotting, really. I don’t mind. I think it’s good that it rots. There’s plenty of room for rot. Most of it’s so lousy because everyone’s doing the same thing.

“Things aren’t going badly at all. I’m just being a sour old creep basically. I like to have my jaundiced outlook on life.

“It makes me feel good when I watch Abba and I’m feeling sour. I just hate to see someone smile, and they’re always smiling.” Possibly because they are selling vast quantities of records? “Yeah, probably that’s why. It’s kind of a vicious circle.”

© Ian BirchMelody Maker, 6 August 1977

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