Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Spell With A Shell

At the close of 2010 SILVERY contributed a track to the two disc 'The Leader Of The Starry Skies' - an album of covers of songs by Cardiacs to raise funds for their main man Tim Smith who is quite ill at the moment. I thought I should write something here about it. My first exposure to the band was when I first heard 'Manhoo' on the Marc Radcliffe show on Radio 1 in May / June 1996 and loved it straight away - in keeping with my tastes of the day, it could've been the Spiders From Mars doing a Blur song. I remember I scribbled down Cardiacs - 'Yarhoo' on my homework as I misheard the title (Radcliffe was a great source for finding new bands pre-internet - I still fondly listen to Big White Stairs via finding them the same way).

Shortly after that, I accidentally heard them on the same show playing a live session. I recall one song being about a dog called Sparky or something? A couple of weeks later I picked up a copy of the 'Manhoo' single (pictured is the follow up 'Odd Even', featuring Timmy's face) in my local record shop and played it to death. I had a bizarre flashback. I was sure my older brother had a CD by Cardiacs (I had previously exhausted his collection in failed attempts to get into Bauhaus, Babes In Toyland and The Pixies - what can I say, Blur hadn't got good yet) - and sure enough he did. 'The Seaside' from 1984. Crumbs, that's like 12 years old? I put it on and the sound was totally at odds with the bouncy, glammed up, dare I say Britpop of 'Manhoo' - but I persevered (in between stopping 'Jibber & Twitch' on the CD thinking that the phone was ringing). I later learned that my brother used to play 'R.E.S.' to me when I was very little because I found it funny. I cobbled together a tape of the collected 12 tracks I now owned in order of preference. That accompanied me on holiday to Spain that summer. I made a point of getting into them after that - first up was the album that 'Manhoo' and 'Dog-Like Sparky' (oh Dog-LIKE Sparky) were taken from - 'Sing To God'. A double album. Takes a deep breath. Needless to say it became the soundtrack to the rest of my 1996 and 1997. I have fond memories of 'Billion' twinkling through my head as I woke up in a pile of leaves in South Kensington once. I went to see them for the first time after that with my brother acting as counsel and explaining what the fuck was going on. Our trip to The Joiner's Arms in Southampton is remembered in Adrian Bell's commendably ultra-mad Cardiacs book 'Aylesbury Bolton Wolverhampton Hove'
The album 'Leader Of The Starry Skies' is tremendous. Mainly featuring Cardiacs family bands, but also contributions from the likes of Ultrasound, The Magic Numbers, and XTC's Andy Partridge, most seem to settle on strangely countrified, reflective readings of the songs, but my favorites are Panixphere fucking demolishing 'To Go Off & Things' and Local Girls wobbly and muscular 'Odd Even'. My contribution was 'Spell With A Shell' from the 1999 album 'Guns' - an overlooked gem that I favoured for it's simplicity (predictable gist: it isn't simple). The video was made during downtime on the set of 1902's Le Voyage Dans La Lune, directed by Georges Méliès. The juxtaposition of the man in the moon looking down and the child looking into the pot containing the little beetle he's found blah blah blah.

As I write this I'm also reminded of Tiny from Ultrasound giving me a ring to double check the words on the quiet bit of their contribution 'Big Ship'. Our mutual recordist Kev told them that I'd know, and sure enough I drank up, rushed home and pulled my vinyl out and compared the two original Cardiacs studio versions with the lyric sheet. I don't know what they were on about. That I became a Cardiacs go-to-guy is testament enough to my love of this band, and I hope my wishes for Tim Smith to heal and for him to know he is loved are heard.

Another little memory - bizarrely on Mark Radcliffe's former co-host Marc Riley's 6Music show, some 12 years after that first airing of 'Manhoo': Cardiacs are in session and play a version of their super unreleased song 'Sparkly Silvery Sky'. Unfortunately it would be in the very same room a couple of months later we dedicate a live 'Action Force' to Tim's recovery.