Well the Cardiacs were the masters.
Brash, in your face and often damn right creepy and weird, the early part of the Cardiacs' career produced some wonderful and uniquely bizarre music.
Listening to these tracks is comparable to being spiked with hallucinogens and strapped in to some crazy fairground ride; you want to get off, but at the same time you never want it to end.
So herewith a cluster of Cardiacs' e.p.s, from their early peak-period.
Initially known as Cardiac Arrest, after a couple of years of constant touring, in 1979 the band released a three-track e.p. on Tortch Records entitled A Bus for a Bus on the Bus.
Now a coveted rarity, it did nothing on release; forcing the band to rethink and rebrand.
Hence the birth of the Cardiacs: a new name, a new line-up, and a far more exciting and innovative sound.
Listening to this early recording now, there is certainly a lot to suggest where the sound could go, but it's just too reserved, and the vocals (by Peter Boker, aka Michael Pugh) lack the exuberance and dynamism they demanded and cried out for.
Tim Smith, original member and guitarist, decided to take over the vocal reigns; his brother Jim remained on bass, but the rest of the band was made up of new members: Tim Quy, percussion and synths; William Drake, keyboards; Dominic Luckman, drums; and Sarah Cutts on saxophone (Tim and Sarah soon married and Sarah took the name Smith [!]).
This was the classic line up, and the band responsible for the rest of the excellent material available here.
After a couple of very limited releases, the band formed their own label: Alphabet Business Concern, and it was this autonomy that gave them the confidence to form and mould their own distinctive noise.
Pronk was often the term banded at the Cardiacs, but that label seemed to be banded around a lot at that time, directed at any artists who didn't sit easily within the confines of a a genre category.
Their first great, now classic, release was undoubtedly the e.p. Seaside Treats.
It sounded like nothing else.
Thrash-beats, progy solos, unpredictable stops and starts, and frantic pitch and time changes that can unsettle the most ardent of avant listeners.
Just how many times can a time signature change during a single track, before it becomes a different track?
From what sounds like steam-driven instruments making music to machine-like rhythms and thrashy guitars; this was the perfect springboard for what was going to become a successful few years for the band.
With their new sound and adopted new look (kind of gothic clowns, dressed and prepared by schizophrenics), the Cardiacs became the darlings of the London underground, and were selling out the best London venues on a what seemed like monthly basis.
Their stage shows took on a theatrical flavour, and all sorts of shenanigans would go on; mainly centering around the bullying of Jim, the bass player.
Tim would pinch him, or give him a Chinese burn, and the others, often spurred-on by Sarah, (who adopted one of the most vacant and disturbing of visages I think I have ever seen a woman sport. Check her out on the Big Ship cover) would join in, until poor Jim would break down in floods of tears.
Okay, so it wasn't the Alice Cooper Show, but in its own little way, it was very dramatic and totally compelling; its alienating surrealism forcing the audience to feel somewhat awkward; voyeuristic even.
Comparable to what it must have been like to gaze down at the lunatics in Bedlam: entertaining, sure; but sometimes you have to wonder whether an audience is really the best thing for these people. Are we only encouraging them?
But the music was wonderful. Tight as you like. They never missed a beat.
Which is something when you listen to the complexities of their sound.
Even the studio recordings sound like the band are on the edge of pandemonium; but it was obviously a very well controlled and orchestrated madness.
Teetering on the edge of the abyss, but with feet nailed firmly to the floor.
Next came Big Ship, (1986) which was a real tour de force.
Fantastic production, with a grand dynamic sound, capturing the now big, rich noise they had perfected during their continued touring regime.
The track 'Tarred and Feathered', always a firm favourite with audiences, features a highly infectious chorus, reminiscent of good drinking songs.
And if one had to define the intoxicant that seems to sum up the band, it would definitely be beer.
I watched Tim Smith one night in the Marquee bar, loading-up before taking to the stage; he drank four pints in around twenty minutes!
The release of the e.p. There's Too Many Irons in the Fire, in 1987, to my mind, was the last of their best and most creative work.
I know that is a little controversial, as I do not consider their big album release, A Little Man and a House and a Whole World Window, as being any good.
The band were exhausted; they'd blown themselves out. They were double-dipping; much of their originality had passed, and the album represented a tired and burnt out band - well, at least that's the way I viewed it.
But the e.p. did manage to catch the band at the end of their fluid and highly creative run.
'Too Many Irons in the Fire' is as frantic and urgent as so many of their songs, but the highlight of the e.p. is the track 'Loosefish Scapegrace'.
With it's sinister gothic beginning it soon morphs into a choppy, paired down kind of early Genesis sound [!], then segueing into a driving punk rhythm and ending dramatically with a prog-like flourish.
They don't make 'em like that anymore!
Ah, it brings back so many memories;
all those memories of trying to dance to the Cardiacs.
I hope you enjoy these little Cardiacs' gems.
All, except Seaside Treats, are ripped from vinyl @320kbs;
Seaside Treats is ripped from cassette @256kbs.
Cardiac Arrest - A Bus for a Bus on the Bus
A Bus for a Bus on the Bus
A Cake for Bertie's Party
Food on the Wall
Get it here
Cardiacs - Seaside Treats
A Little Man and a House
To Go Off and Things
Get it here
Cardiacs - Big Ship
Tarred and Feathered
Burn Your House Brown
Plane Plane Against the Grain
Get it here
Cardiacs - There's Too Many Irons in the Fire
There's Too Many Irons in the Fire
Get it here