ANYONE PAYING attention to the British music scene in recent years cannot help but have noticed T.V. Smith. Across three superlative albums, 1991’s RIP: Everything Must Go, 1994’s March Of The Giants, and now The Immortal Rich, T.V. has offered the current decade one of its most captivating musical spectacles.
Yet anybody picking up on T.V. Smith on the strength of those records has a considerable surprise awaiting them. In a career which stretches back over two decades, and three seminal bands, T.V. has conjured up a repertoire which might not be vast, but is certainly remarkable.
His first solo album, Channel Five (Expulsion EXIT 4), was released as long ago as 1983; his first American release came at the helm of T.V. Smith’s Explorers, two years before that (the LP Last Words Of The Great Explorer Epic ARE 37432). Before all of that, however, there was the Adverts, the punk rock band which first brought him to attention; which propelled him into the British Top 20; and whose legacy remains so bright today that this year alone has seen three “new” albums by the band hit the stores, a bonus packed remastering of their debut, the 14 track Singles Collection, and a John Peel Sessions set which brings together all four of the band’s BBC Radio performances.
Add to this the two 1977-era live albums which appeared earlier in the decade, and the veritable host of punk compilations to which one or more Adverts classics have been appended; add, also, T.V.’s barnstorming appearance at last summer’s Holidays In The Sun punk festival, and clearly, we are confronted by a band whose reputation may have been huge, but whose heritage is Brobdingnagian. Not bad for a band whose entire recorded legacy, at the time of their break-up, could be fit onto a single 90 minute cassette!
None of this was lost on Henry Rollins – himself a vintage Adverts fan. It was he who ensured that The Immortal Rich, T.V.’s third solo album overall, became the first to land an American release (through Rollins’ own 2.13.61 label, THI 21306.2) in July, 1996; that in turn opened the floodgates for the sudden deluge of Adverts imports which has flooded the country in recent months. Stores which might not have heard of T.V. Smith a year ago now boast bulging racks of his albums, while American reviews of the recently released Holidays In The Sun souvenir album (Cleopatra CLP 99942) have been unanimous in seeking out T.V.’s contribution as the highlight of the set.
The Immortal Rich, too, ran directly into a firestorm of critical acclaim. “At a time when British pop has been abbreviated back to the sound of cricket bats on Sunday and bone china tea sets at dawn,” enthused Alternative Press, “this most quintessentially English of singer-songwriters has so firmly nailed England’s own slide in McColonialism that when Clinton gets sick of Fleetwood Mac, he should try out “Immortal Rich” for his campaign anthem.”
The fact that he didn’t doesn’t detract from the sheer brilliance of the record. Indeed, in a career whose origins stretch back over two decades, and three crucial bands, T.V. Smith has won more applause than virtually any other songwriter of his generation… and the U.S. is still waiting for him to follow up his American concert debut, a one-off gig at South By Southwest, in 1994.
Ever since the demise of his last band, Cheap, the heads down, no-nonsense, post-punk noisemakers whose entire career was so uncompromising that they’d split up before their first album (RIP) was released, T.V. has been criss-crossing Great Britain and Europe, with a live show which has few peers.
Maybe Pink Floyd, at their inflatable pig flying peak, put on a more spectacular visual performance; maybe Nirvana, with Kurt’s contorted intestines leeching pain through every movement, offered more gut-wrenching vehemence. But still T.V. is utterly captivating, and all the more so when you realize that his full-blooded roar, and raw-nerve intensity, are the product of voice and acoustic guitar alone.
“I just got bored playing with a band, having to write songs that they would want to play, or be able to play,” he explains, before admitting that he fell into the solo routine completely by chance. “It was Attila The Stockbroker who suggested I do it, and got me a gig opening for him at a little folk club in north London. I did three or four songs, and it seemed to go down well, so I played some more shows, and when Cheap broke up, I just carried on.”
Since that time, T.V. has literally redesigned his career, to the point where his appearance at Holidays In The Sun was undertaken completely solo, and utterly unplugged. But even he was amazed at how well acoustic renderings of “Bored Teenagers,” “One Chord Wonders” and the 1977 chart hit “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” were received.
Unlike the shouters, ravers, and unrepentant punkers of similar high volume fame, however, T.V. neither bellows nor bullies his audience into submission. In less fashion conscious times, The Immortal Rich, like its 1993 predecessor, March Of The Giants (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD 047), would have been described as Hardcore Folk, the rage of one and the delivery of the other conspiring to create a whole new noise. Today, T.V. Smith’s most frequent comparisons are with the likes of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, and a purer, more purposeful Morrissey, musical mavericks lurking on the far fringe of commercial, but closing the gap with every new outburst.
Where T.V. has the edge is in his refusal to dilute his reality with abstraction. Again, in earlier times, he could be described as political, but it is easier now to call him committed and concerned; he writes of injustice, despair and decay, the end of a world or two before dinner, and the sheer imponderability of living in a democracy where only the rich are really free.
It’s a message whose meaning seems even more tangible in the wake of his continuing absence from the American stage, leaving us with nothing more to look forward to than what we’re fed by MT.V.. He seems to be taking it in good spirits, however. Indeed, mention MT.V. and he laughs out loud. “It’s funny you should say that because I just figured out what my name is an anagram of.”
“Yeah. It’s ‘MT.V. Shit.’ I like that.”
Tim Smith was born on April 5, 1956, in Romford, Essex; he was eight when the family moved to the Dartmoor town of North Tawton. At grammar school in Okehampton, with several national poetry awards behind him,he put his first band together, to perform the songs he had recently started writing. Slaby Witness lasted throughout his sixth year at the school; on arrival at the South Devon Technical College in nearby Torquay, in 1974, Tim and Slaby’s bassist Andy Benny put together Sleaze.
Sleaze swiftly became renowned for playing two hour gigs around town (including supporting George Melly at the local Tiffanys), and in 1975 the group cut a five track album to distribute amongst friends and family. A limited edition of 50 copies means it is impossible to find today, but one track from the set, at least, would live on: “Listen Don’t Think,” the album’s closer, would be reborn two years later as the Adverts’ “New Boys.”
It was during this period that Tim met Gaye Black at the college (Gaye was studying for a diploma in graphics),and with Tim teaching her bass, the two begin to hatch the idea of forming a band together. With Sleaze breaking up during the late summer of 1975, Tim and Gaye moved up to London the following year
“The only reason we moved up was to form a band,” Tim acknowledged, “but we were both so broke that we had to take on a few crappy day-jobs just to survive.”
Evenings were spent going over the songs Tim was writing for the new band.
“We went through loads of names,” he said; “we were the One Chord Wonders for a while, then The Adverts came up in conversation one day, and we kept it”.
At the same time, Tim rechristened himself, reasoning that if Smith was the most common name in the country, then the T.V. was most common household item. It also tied in quite nicely with the band’s name.
They also spent a lot of time going to gigs. They were regulars at The Stranglers’ London performances (Gaye was already a devotee of Jean Jacques Burnel’s bass playing), while the Stranglers were also responsible for giving her a stage name. Gaye’s reluctance to tell anyone her surname meant that they had to name her after her band – Gaye Advert was born.
Another regular outing was to see the Sex Pistols.
“It was just so great to see a band getting up and doing it, without having the proven requirements,” T.V. said. “I liked the attitude of ‘like it or fuck off,’ that was something that I could actually identify with. It was just so completely different… of course, then everyone started doing the same thing and it all settled back into nice complacent role playing.”
Constantly advertising in Melody Maker, the duo found a guitarist when Howard Boak, a reformed folkie and (or so he claimed to Melody Maker) a former brain surgeon at Kings College, came in answer to T.V.’s plea for “special guitarist who isn’t special.” His surname, Howard announced, was a quaint Northern English colloquialism meaning “vomit”; it seems inexplicable, then, that he should decide to change it to Pickup.
And then there were four. Laurie Muscat “stumbled into rehearsals one day and pretended to play drums; he was totally untalented, so he was obviously the right person for the band.”
Rechristening himself Laurie Driver, the new boy defended his lack of finesse thus: “it doesn’t matter how good a drummer you are. Technique doesn’t really count for much these days; it’s songs and lyrics that matter,and we have got a very good song and lyric writer. He’s very imaginative. And we have also got a female bass player.”
“To all outward appearances, anyway,” countered Gaye, “but I really wish that I’d been born a boy; it’s easy then cos you don’t have to keep trying to be one all the time. You can’t always trust people if you’re a girl; people you think have been your mates for ages, you suddenly find out that they’ve been leching after you for all this time, and being in a band, people always expect you to take advantage of being a girl; there was one photographer who wanted me to pose with my jacket undone, all that….”
And she wasn’t alone in regretting her sex. Every time there was an Adverts put-down to be done, it was usually the bass player who got the stick.
“People seem to resent the fact that I’m female,” Gaye said; “they have totally the wrong attitude towards me. They always go on about what I’m wearing, how I present myself. All I’m trying to do is get a good sound, and play right – I’m not one of Pan’s People. I get furious when someone tries to make me out to be some kind of sex symbol.”
The punkette poster pin-up on a nation’s bedroom walls, she would spend much of the next three years being very furious indeed. New Musical Express journalist Tony Parsons reckoned, “The Adverts have got the majority of their press on account of their bass player having superb squeakers,” while even the daily press got in on the act.
The Sun would describe her as “one of the saucy girl singers who have taken over pop” (and that despite her not actually singing more than a handful of backing vocals); the Daily Express ascribed to her “the fragile beauty that made the world and Mick Jagger fall in love with Marianne Faithful. Gaye is beautiful, she is as dark as Marianne was fair, with black hair and Castillian white skin. She wears black nail varnish to match, and the black make up which encircles her eyes gives Gaye a sort of morose panda look.”
Or, as Sounds‘ Jane Suck said, “she’s a dead ringer for Joan Jett and she carries her clothes better than any punkette I have ever seen. She could have the impact of five Runaways, Patti Smith’s armpit, and Blondie’s split ends on Britain’s vacant female scene.” And, of course, a good-looking girl was always ideal for a subeditor who wanted to pad out an article with photographs. T.V. Smith, Suck mused in one interview, must be utterly fed up with pictures of Gaye dominating the bands press?
“Must 1? I’m not sick of it at all. I knew it would happen. People need something to latch onto. Bowie had to paint himself to sell records.”
An early rehearsal tape, dating from the tail end of 1976, and appearing on bootleg three years later, captures the band in these most formative days; five songs strong, it shows that T.V.’s vision had indeed found the ideal conspirators: Gaye’s bass pounds through the opening “One Chord Wonders”; Driver’s drums sound like dustbins across “New Boys”; and all the while, Pickup’s tight, economical guitar is probing the edges of the songs, looking for a way out. One day, T.V. promised, he’d be allowed to play a guitar solo. Until then, he could just try and fit one in, somewhere between the thunderous rhythm and T.V.’s own breakneck delivery: “Bored Teenagers” and “We Who Wait” blast by in a blur of lyrical chaos; “Quickstep” is, contrarily, slower, but no less impassioned. The tape itself is of horrendous quality, but the Adverts’ fire blazes through regardless.
The Adverts made their live debut at the legendary Roxy Club on January 15, 1977, supporting Generation X. The headliners’ drummer, John Towe, worked in the same West End music store as Pickup and had promised to help the new band get gigs; meanwhile, T.V. and Pickup themselves had already booked The Adverts into the Roxy a few days hence, but still Towe’s offer saved them from encountering the music press on their first gig.
Reviewing Slaughter And The Dogs’ January 19 gig, the NME‘s Neil Spencer spared a thought for the support band. Not much of one, though. “The Adverts were chronic. There wasn’t a hookline or riff in earsight as the singer raged and ranted unhearable lyrics. The best thing about them was their female bass player.”
“Not bad for our first ever piece of press!” smiles T.V. today.
The early gigs did see them pick up a few supporters, though. Another NME scribe, Miles would go on to produce the Adverts’ third single, Brian James of the Damned promised the group both live shows and an introduction to his record label; and publishing magnate Michael Dempsey, lured down to The Roxy because “anything that the Daily Express hated so much must have had something going for it.” He would become the group’s manager.
Dempsey sadly passed away on December 6, 1981, following an accident at home. Few of the people whose lives he touched, however, are likely to forget him – he was truly unique. Musician and journalist Mick Farren remembers Dempsey as “a hard drinking Anglo-Irishman”; as a senior editor at Granada Publishing, he gave Farren his first start as a novelist by publishing the now legendary Texts Of Festival; Dempsey was also instrumental in JG Ballard’s controversial Crash seeing the light of day in Britain.
Farren laughs, “originally, he was a raving red and was voted onto the Greater London Council on a Socialist Workers Party ticket. The event of punk, however, revolutionized his revolution, and after visiting the Roxy Club in the early days, he totally fell in love with the idea and ethos. In addition to managing the Adverts, he also encouraged the careers of writers Jane Suck (at Sounds) and Mark P. (founder of Sniffin’ Glue).
“The fist fight he supposedly got into with a British journalist after the son of a bitch slagged off Gaye Advert was typical of his managerial style. The story went that [the writer] only attacked her in print because she refused to sleep with him.”
And Farren concludes, “the Adverts were the ideal band for Dempsey – chaotic, full of drugs, perpetually complaining, musically inept, and totally typical of the time.”
Talking in 1979, Dempsey himself recalled, “the first time I went to the Roxy I saw the Damned, the second time it was the Adverts. It could only have been their second or third gig ever, but I thought they were dynamic, especially Tim’s lyrics. I’ve always been nuts about talent, and Tim had talent. I saw that straight away.
“The thing with The Adverts, they were always being lumped in with the rest of the No Future brigade, but they were taking a far more realistic view of things. Tim might have believed in the ideals of the punk thing, but he also understood its limitations, which is something that very few people did, especially at that time. While everyone else was celebrating how ‘different’ they were, how outrageous, Tim was saying ‘so what?’; asking them what they were trying to prove. While they were challenging the establishment, he was challenging the challengers.
“Anyway, the band were totally broke; they didn’t have all their equipment paid for, so I lent them some cash and it just went from there.”
One of the first contracts to come under Dempsey’s scrutiny was the deal being offered by Stiff. True to his word, Brian James had put the company onto the band, and when Stiff supremo Jake Riviera went along to see them at The Roxy (where else?), he shared James’ enthusiasm.
“He came running up to us with a very thin contract, and said ‘sign here, I’ll make you broke’,” T.V. recalls. “We believed him and he did.
“But we went into it knowing that there wouldn’t be much money in it. It was an exposure deal really. The way Stiff worked was that Jake knew he was picking up on a lot of bands who would go onto other labels once their first record was out, and he modelled the contracts on that”.
In the studio with former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis, the Adverts put down two of their strongest numbers, both vaguely autobiographical, “One Chord Wonders” and “Quickstep.” It was a convincing debut, a headlong rush of energy which Sounds made their Single of the Week, Melody Maker “recommended,” and the NME called “mundane rock music from New Wave flotsam and jetsam… almost unbelievably boring.” Oh well, you can’t win them all.
The single was in the shops in April, and the band were on the road, a thirty three date tour supporting The Damned, with Stiff forking out for full page ads in the music press to let everyone know that “The Damned can now play three chords, the Adverts can play one. Hear all four at….”
Two shows from this tour, Birmingham and (possibly) Nottingham, have since been released in the U.K., the first under the slightly misleading title of Live At The Roxy; the latter as Live And Loud. They are stunning documents, capturing the band in full flight, and running through a set which had few peers at the time. Indeed, they finished the tour teetering on what even the NME now acknowledged was “the edge of a great step forward.”
On April 25, the Adverts made their debut on BBC Radio 1 disc jockey John Peel’s nightly show, recording the five track session which would, a full decade later, become one of the flagship releases in Strange Fruit’s Peel Sessions series, and which has since been reprised on the Peel Sessions album. They laid down five songs: both sides of the single, of course, and both sides of what they intended would be their next one, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” and “Bored Teenagers,” plus “New Boys.” If anybody required evidence of just how far the band had progressed in the four months since their debut, this was it; and if they needed further proof, that was at hand too.
In June, EMI’s Harvest subsidiary released what they described as “a document of those halcyon days down at the Roxy,” the eight band live showcase Live At The Roxy, London WC2.
Colin Newman, whose band Wire were one of the more left-field contributors to the album, laughs aloud. “To repeat the oft-repeated, hoary old adage ‘If you can remember it, you can’t have been there!’ I know nothing!! “
Captured in what could, accurately if a little generously, be described as their natural environment, bands as diverse as Wire, X Ray Spex, the Buzzcocks and Johnny Moped slammed through a highlight or two of their live set, the ramshackle rattle of tinny amps and cheapo guitars, and as ramshackle and rattling as any of them, the Adverts closed side one with “Bored Teenagers.” It was recorded at their third ever show, and hit the streets just as the band prepared to start recording its second single.
In common with the times, several record companies had moved in for the Adverts’ signature – having initially despised Punk Rock, the British music industry couldn’t get enough, with every label head demanding his own safety-pinned signing. Polydor snagged the Jam, CBS got the Clash, UA had the Buzzcocks, Virgin landed the Pistols… the Adverts went to Anchor, the British arm of ABC, and a company small enough that unlike those others, they didn’t run the risk of being lost in the next boardroom shuffle.
The deal, of course, was the standard one single with options offering, but that suited the Adverts as much as it did the company accountants: Michael Dempsey had no doubts that a handful of hits was all it would take to push the band into the big league; they could worry about long term contracts later.
Neither was his faith misplaced. Retaining Larry Wallis as producer, the group got to work on “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes,” and a studio stab at “Bored Teenagers.”
Truly one of the most macabre subjects ever picked for a pop song, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” had been inspired by convicted American murderer Gilmore’s insistence that he be executed, and that his eyes be donated to medical science for transplant (“I don’t think the heart will be any good”). T.V. himself “read about it in a newspaper, and I wondered if the recipient of the eyes was reading it as well, not knowing whose eyes he was looking through.”
It was only ironic, then, that the whole time the single was on the British chart, “the BBC spelt Gilmore wrong, so there were all these people thinking that I was singing about a sportsman” – Gary Gilmour was one of the stars of the English cricket team!
“The sickest and cleverest record to come out of the New Wave: Single of the Week,” proclaimed Sounds; “idea of the week, if not the performance,” championed NME. And in the record stores, sales of the 45 leaped from a respectable 3,000 a day to a staggering 10,000 after Gaye spent her 21st birthday watching herself on Top Of The Pops. The day before, they recorded their second Peel session; four days later, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” burst into the chart. It finally peaked at #18 (with a bullet, haha), and remains of the classic songs from that classic year.
Certainly there has never been a shortage of compilations offering up yet another chance to own a copy, ranging from the most painstakingly pieced together a History Of Punk type offering, to one of the anonymous “today’s hits covered by total unknowns” type collections which once paid Elton John’s rent. In fact, T.V. himself retains a fondness for this particular performance which is utterly disproportionate with the actual record: unable to figure out what the actual lyrics were, the hapless session man assigned to cover the song was reduced to mumbling several key lyrics – a plight which, T.V. insists, was “much better. It would have been terrible if he’d got the words right.”
“Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” was not, of course, an unexpected hit. The past eight months had seen the Adverts gigging incessantly, setting the pattern for the remainder of their career, and establishing a reputation second to none throughout provincial England. Almost alone of the first division New Wave bands, the Adverts proved totally unafraid of forsaking the comforts of the London punk circuit for the rigors of perpetual touring.
But while few people would argue that the band hadn’t earned their first moment of fame, the knockers were having a field day regardless, nailing T.V. into defending his motives for writing such a “sick” song.
“I haven’t set out to shock people, I’ve set out to intrigue them… maybe. It’s as simple as that, but there’s a very thin line between what some people might regard as sick, and what others might call artistic. But I don’t want to pin anything down, like explaining a song; they’re there for people to misunderstand them, and I’m quite happy for that to happen. I’m not going to force anyone to understand because that’s their half of the work. I suppose we could start throwing lyric sheets to the audience during the final number and then test them afterwards; if you fail, go and see Bad Company. But it’s irrelevant to discuss what a song means, it’s like trying to explain a joke.”
Was there, then, any pressure on him to come up with another joke that good?
“Oh yeah, a hit single’s a real drag like that. But the point is to come up with another classic. If I felt that I couldn’t, then I don’t deserve to be doing what I’m doing. There’s no way you can do it if you don’t have faith in yourself. I intend to come up with more.”
A lot of people thought that he had come up with a fair few already. The Adverts live set was almost overflowing with titles that weren’t only among the most potent songs on (or off) the Punk scene, but had also become almost a part of the language for the so called Blank Generation of ’77: “Bored Teenagers,” “Great British Mistake,” “Bombsite Boy,” and most cutting of them all, “Safety In Numbers.”
One of four songs performed on the August Peel session (alongside “We Who Wait,” “New Church” and “Great British Mistake”), and already earmarked for the next single, in just three verses “Safety In Numbers” inflicted a far more grievous wound on the body of Punk than any number of barbed epistles in the press. Only it wasn’t “biting the hand that feeds,” as one reviewer claimed, but echoing the secret thoughts of all the people who might have been outwardly proclaiming that Punk could change the world, but who deep down knew that it was all just another media monster.
“The whole thing’s rotting, really”, said T.V., “but 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.”
At the beginning of September, 1977, a dream came true for Gaye when The Adverts were booked to open six shows for Iggy Pop, her long time hero (when Record Mirror asked for her Top Ten albums, lggy was responsible for five of them). His Lust For Life album was fresh on the racks, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” was still on the chart; if you could only afford to hit one tour that month, there was nothing to compete with this one.
Chris Brazier, writing in Melody Maker, offered one of the fairest summaries of the band’s performance: “it’s very disorientating seeing The Adverts onstage amidst so much room and light, and facing an audience sedately seated. Their subterranean tackiness is rooted in the sordid splendor of grotbox dives. Nevertheless, it was a typical Adverts set, with those fearlessly adventurous songs and that unbelievably raw sound.”
But it was left to Jane Suck to credit T.V. with doing what precious few other performers would have even dreamt of – stealing the show from Iggy two nights running (in Birmingham and Bristol). “There are an awful lot of Adverts fans about’, she wrote, “and they say horrible things like ‘they should have been headlining’.”
“I loved doing that tour”, Gaye recalls. “Iggy was really great. The first night, in Manchester, we were just sitting around in the dressing roam thinking that we wouldn’t even get to see him apart from onstage, when he just walked in and said ‘hi,I’m Jimmy’, and we (The Adverts) ended up spending the whole time with Iggy and his band. Iggy to me is what Elvis Presley is to some people.”
Coming off the Iggy tour, the Adverts immediately launched their own month long outing, taking them into the middle of November, and bookending the long awaited release of “Safety In Numbers.” It was an impressive outing, culminating in a headlining show at the London Roundhouse, where they were supported by Johnny Moped. Six months earlier, the bill was quite the other way around. Further indications of how the band had grown in stature were supplied by Rat Scabies, in his last interview before quitting The Damned. “Even the fucking Adverts are bigger than us now!.”, he exclaimed.
But were they as big as they should have been? Media interest from “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” was enough to push the new single to the edge of the Top 75, but absolutely inexplicably, a few weeks of hopeful Bubbling Under gave way to oblivion.
A similar fate awaited what remains one of the band’s finest television performances, a guest spot on director Mike Mansfield’s projected Punk extravaganza, Impact. Filmed late in 1977, the hour long show offered a showcase to both Generation X and the Damned, alongside the Adverts, and their two songs, an abrupt “Bored Teenagers” and a chaotic “Great British Mistake,” offered once again evidence for the group’s pre-eminence. Unfortunately, Impact would never make the screen (it has since turned up on well circulated video bootleg), which meant the next opportunity to hear those songs in your own home would be with the release of the Adverts’ debut album.
At the beginning of September, T.V. told Jane Suck, “the album’s all in the can except that it hasn’t been recorded yet.” In November, the Adverts set to work putting that situation to rights, at the same time fulfilling his promise that “everything we do onstage will go down on record in some form.” And while the band worked away, sequestered within Abbey Road studios with producer John Leckie, the year end accolades began pouring in for “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes.”
It featured in all the U.K. music paper critics polls, while it was surely the main reason for the band being nominated in the Daily Mirror newspaper’s annual Rock and Pop awards’ “Best New Wave” category. They didn’t win, but as T.V. complained at the time, “we’re not a New Wave band. There aren’t any categories, they ought to stop calling it Punk or New Wave or whatever, and just let it go back to being music again.”
The Adverts figured high in the appropriate sections in all the annual readers polls; they figured high in a few inappropriate ones as well, as NME readers thumbed through their back issues of The Sun and elected Gaye into the Top Ten Female Vocalists. The lady herself took the honor with a pinch of salt.
“That sort of award is nice, but it’s meaningless, because people don’t go on skill. They have other criteria.”
On January 20, 1978, the Adverts’ fourth single debuted Bright Records, a newly formed offshoot of Anchor. “No Time To Be 21” also marked the debut of that long promised Howard Pickup solo, and the guitarist repaid the compliment with a savage burst of sound, one of his finest ever moments on vinyl.
“It’s a great song, I really enjoy playing it,” he acknowledged. But even he could not deny that “No Time To Be 21” was simply a taster for the main feast, the February 3 release of Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts. (“This means we can call the next one Crossing The Road With The Adverts,” Pickup beamed delightedly. T.V. opted for I Was A Teenage Cucumber.”)
It was a devastating debut, even if more than a quarter of its weight was taken up with previously released (albeit newly rerecorded) material: a revised “One Chord Wonders” opened the set; “Bored Teenagers” and “Safety In Numbers” were both revisited amidships, and of course “No Time To Be 21” was in there as well.
“When we recorded the album, we also intended including ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’,” T.V. told Goldmine‘s Jo-Ann Greene. “A new version was recorded, but at the last minute we were told there wasn’t enough room on the album for all the songs we wanted, so figuring that everyone who wanted the song had already bought the single, we dropped it.”
Over the years, several reissues of the album have attempted to restore “Gilmore” to the disc; unfortunately, the unreleased version remained under wraps, as did its intended placement on the LP.
“So they just put the single version on the end,” recalls T.V., “which was completely wrong. The album was meant to end with ‘Great British Mistake.’ Simply sticking other songs on after it completely ruined the continuity.”
(The original cassette release of the album made a similar mistake, completely rearranging the latter halves of both sides, and closing the album with “Bombsite Boy.”)
The missing version of “Gilmore” was eventually released as a single in 1983, when it bruised the U.K. Top 100; it remained absent from CD, however, until January, 1997, when it appeared on T.V.’s own remastered reissue of the album, towards the end of side one, cross faded between “New Boys” and “Bombsite Boy.” “I’d forgotten how well it worked there,” laughs T.V., adding that he’d also taken the opportunity to add a second song discarded from the original running order, “New Day Dawning.”
This track, too, has been appended to past rereleases; it also made it out as the b-side to “No Time To Be 21.” The remastered edition, however, inserts it midway through side two, and once again, the reasoning is superb. Yet we cannot truly complain that it has taken almost exactly twenty years for this most enduring of all Punk era albums to be presented in its original form; rather, the situation is simply analogous with the discovery and restoration of a couple of songs dropped from, say, Sgt Pepper or Pet Sounds. The album was already magnificent; now it’s simply more so.
T.V. had remained true to his promise that all of the band’s live set would appear on record; anyone looking for surprises in the shape of new songs would have been disappointed. Even “On Wheels,” the most recent addition to the songbook was a hoary old standard, while “New Boys” had, of course, been around since 1975, when as “Listen Don’t Think,” it closed the Sleaze album at twice the length and half the speed of its 1977 incarnation.
It had been a stage favorite then, as well, and it was faintly ironic that a song which threw even the most contemporary, fashion conscious audience into paroxysms of delight had been doing the same for their dinosaur counterparts a few years before. And the irony was only compounded when Melody Maker‘s review singled the track out as being “particularly adventurous”!
The album, as with the live set, closed with “Great British Mistake,” a genuine tour de force and, even today, one of T.V.’s most dynamic creations. Lyrically, it looked at the nation’s need to find a scapegoat for everything; musically, it set a jarring, staccato pace which refused to let up for a moment. When NME critic Charles Shaar Murray questioned whether the Adverts could ever become as “ramshackle and unmusical in as exciting a manner as the Velvet Underground,” this was his answer, a soaring feedback extravaganza pinned down by bass and drums which brought the song to its conclusion, and the audience to its knees.
In years to come, Crossing The Red Sea was to be spoken of in the terms of hushed reverence elsewhere reserved for the greatest debut albums of our time, Roxy Music and Patti Smith, the classics which only the cloth-eared can dispute. In 1978, however, even with the full weight of the music press and another sell out British tour behind it, the album sank almost without trace. It spent just one week in the Top 40, trailing in the slipstream of “No Time To Be 21″‘s Top 50 success, then fell away.
The Adverts were on the road constantly through the beginning of 1978, a colossal outing which would keep them occupied until March, with another Roundhouse headliner midway through. It was to prove an eventful excursion.
Early into the Irish leg of the tour, Laurie Driver succumbed to hepatitis; two live shows were cancelled (although a roadie stood in for the band’s RTE television debut), and the Adverts returned to London with just five days to find a replacement. They opted for John Towe, the ex-Gen X drummer whose own latest band, Rage, supported The Adverts through much of their November, 1977, tour; he, in turn, would quit in March, at the end of the tour, but not before firing the band through a truly memorable Old Grey Whistle Test television appearance.
“I wasn’t happy musically,” Towe reflects on his time with the Adverts. “I felt that Tim was capable of doing far more than he was, and I was getting fed up with the Punk thing anyway.”
He went off to join teenybop hopes Shooter, and later appeared in ex-Bay City Roller Ian Mitchell’s new band. He was replaced in the Adverts by Rod Latter, one of two musicians who braved a London blizzard to attend the audition.
“The other guy had long hair and a beard,” Latter recalled. “He was every bit as good as me; I think I got through on image.”
Latter had spent the best part of the decade in various bands with the then-current Brian James Brains’ frontman, Alan Lee Shaw, most notably the Rings (with ex-Pink Fairy Twink), and those darlings of the Vortex club, the Maniacs. Most recently he was a member of The Monotones, but played just one gig with them before heeding the call of The Adverts. And thus began a new era of non-stop gigging, this time with an emphasis on the continent, a virgin territory so far as the band were concerned.
Another beckoning pasture was America; Michael Dempsey was telling everyone that his band were going to be bigger than Beatlemania in the States, although he would probably have settled simply for a record deal.
Red Sea was one of the stars of the import scene through early 1978, but the besuited hordes at ABC didn’t pay it an iota of attention. Decrying the importance of the Punk upheaval on the British scene as just that, an isolated upheaval in a market whose day had come and gone, ABC pronounced that Punk would never impact on American tastes, and refused outright to even consider giving Red Sea a Stateside release. By the early summer of 1978, the Adverts had quit Anchor.
Rumors flew concerning a short season at CBGBs; recording sessions with what Dempsey described as “a heavyweight American producer” were also mooted. Ultimately, however, both plans were quietly forgotten, and the Adverts instead began diligently rehearsing a new set, to be unleashed at two London Marquee gigs in August. Indeed, by the time the Adverts went to Germany in early September, almost half the set comprised fresh songs.
“The new material has always been there,” T.V. revealed. “It’s just that we’ve been under so much pressure from outside to carry on with the old stuff that we’ve had to keep doing it. We’ve got gigs on the strength of ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes,’ we’ve been living off that song for the past year.”
Five of the new songs were included in the band’s next John Peel session, on September 11, 1978: “Fate Of Criminals,” “Television’s Over,” “Love Songs,” “Back From The Dead” and “I Surrender”; three would also make it onto the big screen, when the Adverts were booked to star in the German television movie Brennende Langeweile (Burning Boredom) .
Directed by Wolfgang Buld, who had already worked with the band on the previous year’s seminal documentary Punk In London (they contributed live excerpts from “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” and “One Chord Wonders”), Brennende Langeweile was essentially a fans meet band type film, enlivened by some hysterical exchanges between Gaye and sundry German journalists. “How many strings has your guitar?” asks one. “Three and a half,” she replies.
There was also some devastating live footage: the band performed six songs, “New Church,” “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” and “Great British Mistake” from their 1977 repertoire; “Love Songs,” “Television’s Over” and “I Surrender” from the new crop. Still a favorite on late night German T.V., the movie is little more than a curio in the world of rock’n’roll celluloid; there was no soundtrack album released, and no English language version.
Returning home, the Adverts signed the worldwide deal they had been hankering after, pledging themselves to RCA – who immediately sacked the person responsible, and sent the band into the studio to see what they could come up with. They responded with one of their strongest singles yet, and their first in ten months, “Television’s Over.” It was produced, to the astonishment of everyone who read the credits, by Tom Newman, of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells shaped fame, and backed by “Back From The Dead,” the earliest of a clutch of songs cowritten by T.V. and Richard Strange, of the Doctors Of Madness.
“Tim first introduced himself as a fan, he and gaye used to come and see the Doctors every time we played in the West Country,” Strange remembers. “We got to know each other, and when they moved up to London with the Adverts, I used to go along, socially at first, then I started to really enjoy Tim’s writing, and from there we got into writing together.”
Strange was even more effusive in the press. “T.V. is the only New Wave songwriter who can string together two sentences and still remember what the first one was… apart from me, of course,” proclaimed the man who considered only Bob Dylan and John Lennon could rival him in the “Greatest Writer Of The Twentieth Century” stakes.
Around fifteen songs were born of this union, but only “Back From The Dead” ever made it onto vinyl, first on the Doctors’ own third album, Sons Of Survival (Polydor 2383 472), and now on the Adverts’ b-side.
However, two others, “Making Machines” and “Last Human Being In The World” received an airing when T.V. came on stage during the last ever Doctors gig, at the Music Machine on October 26, 1978, while the Doctors also recorded the duo’s “Don’t Panic England,” for a projected final single. Featuring the Damned’s Dave Vanian on vocals, the release would eventually be shelved, and has never seen the light of day even on bootleg.
“It was,” says bassist Stoner, “horrible.”
Although it ranked amongst RCA’s biggest selling singles of the season, “Television’s Over” did not come within sniffing distance of the chart; the peculiar system under which the British Top 75 was compiled at the time, polling a representative sampling of high street record stores, made no allowances whatsoever for the growing network of independent mom and pop type stores – which was where most punk bands’ core audience did their shopping. Still its performance was sufficient to convince RCA they’d made a wise signing after all, and early in 1979, the band was despatched to the palatial Manor Studios with Newman again in tow, to begin work on their second album. From there, with four tracks in the can, the proceedings shifted to the Barge, a floating studio on London’s Regents Canal.
Cast Of Thousands never threatened to be just another Punk album. Although the group’s live performance remained as fiery as ever, T.V. was opening the band’s sound to all manner of influences, including augmenting the line-up with keyboards: Richard Strange handled synth on what would become the new album’s title track, before Newman brought in another Mike Oldfield sideman, Tim Cross.
“I think it’s hilarious getting Mike Oldfield’s keyboard player and producer,” T.V. enthused, at the same time acknowledging the difference that Cross’ arrival had made to the band. “Before Tim joined, we were like a three piece band, and it only needed one person to fall down for it to be total chaos.”
“I never did, did I?” interrupts Gaye.
“I said fall down, music wise. You did, you know you did,” said T.V.
“But I never actually fell over. That gig at Penzance, I stood on my feet the whole time,” Gaye responded.
Cross, who T.V. claimed “always refers to the Adverts as his hobby,” didn’t meet the rest of the band until he started rehearsing for the next tour; his contributions to the album were made late at night when, T.V. apart, all good little Adverts should have been tucked up in bed. He overdubbed onto all the songs, with the exception of two: “Cast Of Thousands,” and the acoustic flavored “My Place,” the latter of which was lifted by RCA as a stopgap single that summer. It was received cautiously, and sold even more cautiously, and that despite the live in Germany b-side, “New Church.”
On June 23, 1979, the Adverts made their first London appearance in six months, and only their second anywhere of the year (following Leicester the previous month), taking the stage of the Music Machine to unveil not only the ten new songs which would make up the new album, but also Tim Cross, parked unobtrusively away stage left.
Depending on where you stood, the new boy either “took up his role as illustrator of the melody, infusing the warmth and shape that Adverts’ stuff has lacked in the past” (Sounds) or merely sounded “trashily pompous, ponderous rather than instinctive, and too flashily pedestrian to infuse the Adverts’ sound with height or breadth (NME).
From there, the Adverts launched into a series of occasional summer gigs intended to keep them ticking over until a full tour planned for the fall autumn; ticking over, however, is one thing, finding a new guitarist is quite another. Howard Pickup had disappeared.
“He’d been getting rather vague,” T.V. remembers. “As soon as a gig or a rehearsal was over, he’d just go off immediately, then one day he didn’t even turn up and we never saw or heard of him again. I think basically, he was pissed off with never having any money – we never got any. RCA wouldn’t let us have a thing, they didn’t even like the band. They figured how could they back a band that may or may not do a good gig, or make a good record. They just buried us long before we were dead”.
With the tour looming ever closer, the Adverts were faced with two options: blow out the gigs, or strap a guitar onto T.V. and hope for the best. They took the latter course, and Liverpool and Sheffield were amongst the handful of cities to be treated to a first hand display of T.V.’s hitherto unsuspected guitar virtuosity before he was relieved of the unwieldy implement by the arrival of Paul Martinez, one day before he made his live debut, at Dingwalls.
You win some, you lose some – Paul’s first gig was Rod’s last. Latter, who subsequently reunited with the Maniacs’ Alan Shaw, and Damned guitarist Brian James in the immortally named Severed Dwarves, looks back on his tenure with the Adverts with fondness.
“Those were some of the best times I’ve had in rock’n’roll. There were a few bad times, but when we got onstage, I wouldn’t have missed that for anything.”
His only real regret is the manner of his departure.
“I turned up for a rehearsal, and no-one else was there, so I rang Dempsey, and he said that the band had broken up. The next thing I know, they’re doing another tour.”
In fact, the group had broken up. However, sundry contractual obligations deemed it wise for the Adverts to at least fulfill their remaining bookings (it would also ensure RCA went ahead with the album release), and with Latter seeming to have followed Howard Pickup underground, Paul Martinez suggested his kid brother Ricky step into the void. This final line up debuted at the Electric Ballroom in October, 1979, and the stage was set for the release of Cast Of Thousands.
It was not an album that was to win the Adverts many friends, but it probably wasn’t meant to. A flagrant departure from even the most extreme expectations, Cast Of Thousands would not only cast the band adrift from the New Wave mainstream, it would also alienate all but the most adaptable of the band’s following. Even before recording began, T.V. himself was well aware that the Adverts were on their last legs; Cast Of Thousands was the album with which he would make the final, public, break with his musical past.
Live, the new songs had blended effortlessly into their surroundings, adapting so many of the characteristics of the older numbers that one could almost believe they were seeking defensive camouflage. Once in the studio, however, the Adverts dispensed with every last vestige of familiarity, treating each song as if it were a completely new piece, and not, as in the case of “Male Assault,” the oldest song in sight, something which they’d dragged along to every gig they’d done for the past eighteen months.
Just as they had reworked those early singles for Crossing The Red Sea, so they approached the Cast Of Thousands material from an entirely new angle. But whereas in the past, they contented themselves merely with providing a different viewpoint to the same picture, now they were starting afresh, on a brand new canvas. Three years of remorselessly honing their vision coupled with a sense of calculating contrariness until the album seemed less a vehicle for the songs, as one which could transport The Adverts into a whole new sphere of influence.
And overall, it worked, although the Adverts themselves would not stick around to reap its rewards. On October 16, the new look band recorded the Adverts’ fourth peel session, turning in versions of “Cast Of Thousands,” “I Will Walk You Home” (both sides of the band’s latest, final, single), “I Looked At The Sun” and “The Adverts.” Then came another burst of gigs, three in Scotland, Hull, Cardiff, and two at London’s Marquee, but so much activity led up to led to just one conclusion, the Adverts’ last ever show, at Slough College on October 27, 1979.
“There are advantages in going out with a whimper when everyone looks upon you as being really shit,” T.V. reflected, “although I’d have loved to go out with a really big tour. It all came down to money, though, and RCA’s lack of giving us any.
“If I look back on the last few years, now I can see it as a two or three year thing. The Adverts were continually standing on the outside, and seeing what they could do. But while it was still going, everything was perfect as far as I was concerned. People were really insulting about Gaye’s playing, but on the second album and the last tour, she was playing really well. I mean, it’s pointless to compare her with Jack Bruce, but she was right for the Adverts, and for what we were doing.”
Now they weren’t doing anything at all. Gaye, after briefly contemplating a solo career, ultimately decided to quit the music industry altogether; today, she works in local government. Howard Pickup, Laurie Driver, John Towe and Rod Latter, too, seem to have fled the field, while Tim Cross returned to session work. Only T.V. himself has continued pursuing the vision which the Adverts nurtured, with the Explorers and Cheap, and now, solo.
But although there has been no shortage of offers, T.V. has never even contemplated reforming the Adverts; indeed, it was not until some way into his solo career that he even began revisiting their catalog.
“The problem with the older songs was that they were always so firmly identified with the Adverts that if I’d tried doing them in the past, with either the Explorers or Cheap, it would have looked corny. Now they’re just songs, and the old pressures aren’t there any longer.”
That veteran of a hundred punk compilations, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes,” was the first oldie to appear. In 1991, T.V. joined German superstars Die Toten Hosen, to record a version of the song for their Punk tribute album Learning English Lesson One (Virgin 91823); a year or so later, the song reappeared in T.V.’s own concert repertoire, prefaced by a short and very amusing “Punk Rock Poem.” 1995 even saw a live version appear on his “Thin Green Line” CD single (Humbug HUM 8). “One Chord Wonders” and even “Bored Teenagers” have resurfaced sporadically since then, and of course, the Holidays In The Sun gig saw him recreate the entire Red Sea era set list – on acoustic guitar!
In an on-line interview published via 2.13.61’s website, T.V. explained, “the image of punk as portrayed in the media was a very negative one of foul-mouth yobs, spitting and getting drunk. In fact it was a very creative time, politically aware and expressive. The negative aspects overwhelmed it and the movement burned out quite quickly because it was so intense. But the positive elements go underground and resurface in other ways… I haven’t changed my attitude at all. There’s no point if you’re going to sell out. You might as well stop even pretending to be creative.”
The remastering of Red Sea offered T.V. another chance to reappraise his past, first with the recreation of the original track listing, then via the exhumation of the remainder of the Adverts’ Anchor/Bright repertoire, included on the new album as hidden bonus tracks. He also included, for the very first time, a lyric sheet; hitherto, the most literate lyrics in Punk had been available only through the T.V. Times fanzine, which chronicled T.V.’s career over 40+ issues through the early 1980s.
The appearance, a few months later, of The Peel Sessions and The Singles Collection albums added to the sense of deja vu which occupied T.V. through much of 1996, while only RCA’s apparent reluctance to admit they ever signed the Adverts has stymied attempts to give Cast Of Thousands the success it so richly deserves. The group will never reform, but T.V. Smith remains a devoted guardian; maybe that is the reason why they’ll never reform.
“It could never be as good as it was the first time, so what is the point?”
His fondness, of course, is tinged by a little regret.
“When we started out, we had this great free gift that we were going to give away to everyone; within a few months, we’d got it all wrapped up in this nice wrapping paper, but then, when we came to open it, we couldn’t find the gift.
“But I don’t think we made any real mistakes, and if I had to go through it all again, I’d be quite happy. The Adverts are very dear to my heart.”
© Dave Thompson, Goldmine, September 1997