Skip to main content

Tim smith benefit: live review

The Cardiacs frontman is honoured by friends and devotees alike

It’s been said many times: there are no fans quite like Cardiacs fans.

The group have been dormant since mainman Tim Smith suffered a major heart attack and stroke in 2008, rendering him wheelchair-bound and unable to perform his quintessentially idiosyncratic music, but their cult truly lives on. Cardiacs’ studious devotees seem intrinsically aligned with the group, so it’s little surprise they rally around Smith whenever benefit events for his continuing care are held in his honour. The latest, presented by the band’s mystical label The Alphabet Business Concern and attracting fans from as far away as Japan, is a jam-packed celebration of Cardiacs, their past collaborators and those inspired by the group’s off-kilter pronk dynamics.

First up, at tea time in the church-turned-plush-arts-centre, are Dangerous Girls, who were supported by Cardiacs back in the early 80s, and their jagged punk hues are especially sprightly considering they nonchalantly let slip that it’s their last ever gig. Heavy Lamb and Ham Legion inject youthful vitality – with the former enlisting singer Jo Spratley to run through Vine, a tune she recorded in the late 90s with Smith in Spratleys Japs – while the latter dip toes into the darkside with distortion and power-trio gusto. Former Cardiacs drummer Mark Cawthra is next with Redbus Noface, the multi-instrumentalist at one point returning to the kit alongside fellow Cardiacs alumni Christian Hayes and the recurring Spratley for a cover of Smith’s solo song Ocean Shipwreck.

Sibling duo Stars In Battledress only get a couple of tunes to show off their distinctively atmospheric guitar/piano compositions, then Cardiacs keyboard dynamo William D Drake and his multi-faceted ensemble of musicians and backing vocalists follow with an endearing, intoxicating amalgamation of melody and jaunty musicianship; the playful Mastodon, for instance, excels. After a break in play for a raffle – the rare vinyl prize, unfortunately, does not go home with Prog – are headliners Knifeworld. They’re a fitting bill-topper, with frontman Kavus Torabi – another of Cardiacs crewmen – exuding springy-haired star quality. Knifeworld’s songs are journeys within themselves, and Don’t Land On Me employs plunging riffs and off-timings aplenty as their wind and brass section rarely catch a breath. “Let’s make a mosh-pit we can see from space!” Torabi proclaims mid-set, and despite the audience’s feet staying put as they remain transfixed by the melee of notes and rhythms, there’s an undeniable crackle of collective energy.

Before DJ Max Tundra’s fluorescent Cardiacs-themed set starts up –snakecharming giddy ‘pondies’ into jiving on the dance floor until closing time – there’s a mass a cappella rendition of the national anthem-esque Cardiacs track Home of Fadeless Splendour. Crowd members and musicians from all acts tonight conjoin in adoration, clutching hymn sheets as they bellow the lyrics. Emotional stuff, but the music now seems something of a sideshow to when Mr Smith himself appeared in front row of the audience earlier, minders at his wheelchair’s side. The 53-year-old, was, of course, wearing his own band’s T-shirt with

a ruddy great big print of his face on it. “We love you Tim!” cried a gig-goer as he was escorted through the crowd, bodies respectfully moving aside.

Amid the outpouring of tunes, brotherly kinship and typically oddball humour, you remember that tonight is about a man whose legacy refuses to dissipate.

A writer for Prog magazine since 2014, armed with a particular taste for the darker side of rock. The dayjob is local news, so writing about the music on the side keeps things exciting - especially when Chris is based in the wild norths of Scotland. Previous bylines include national newspapers and magazines.