Thing of the Day

A book about the hundred and one Cardiacs gigs of Mr Bell...

MAY 30th 2011

ABWH: A Little Man And A Hundred and One Cardiacs GigsAYLESBURY BOLTON WOLVERHAMPTON HOVE – A LITTLE MAN AND 101 CARDIACS GIGS -  Adrian Bell (Iron Bell) – A few years ago - ok, more than a few – your intrepid Organs set off on a journey northwards across the heart of England, with many fanzines in our rucksacks but not a lot of money in our pockets. The thing to do at that time was to hitch, so we headed straight for Brent Cross, where the North Circular Rd hits the M1 in a messy tangle of junctions. Straight away we were guided into the perfect thumb spot by cryptic messages, drawn onto lamp-posts and junction boxes with black marker (and interspersed with comments regarding the greatness of New Model Army etc). We soon sailed up the motorway courtesy of two nice complete strangers, until time came to get off the M1 and head for the west Midlands. We looked at our battered road map, got let off at a Birmingham-bound junction, and stuck out our thumbs. 

    Three hours later, we gave up and started plodding up an embankment trying to find a bus stop. And that’s where we found more of that graffiti, and it said things like: crap here want to go home… six hours in the rain…Crass Feeding of the 5000.. keep on clogging…

    Keep on clogging. Mr Adrian Bell must surely have fallen into such traps in his time, but he certainly kept on clogging (though it was only the New Model Army fans who actually wore clogs).  Adrian (who doesn't mind when they call him Belch) is already pretty well known for his thumb-driven journeying in pursuit of Sheffield United matches, to the extent that sightings of him in snow, hail etc are regularly discussed on Radio Five football phone-ins and he’s had an appearance in that notorious Sky TV doc about super-fans.  He’s even written a book, Fever Hitch, about his football-obsessive adventures – but football’s not Adrian’s only joy in life. There is music, particularly music of the open-minded progressive persuasion, and above all, that of Cardiacs.Cardiacs, Reading Festival 1986

    Ok, here’s one necessary quick paragraph on Cardiacs (deep breath): English band, formed some time 1976, released 14 studio albums and numerous singles, completely independent and never signed (save to Rough Trade very briefly), ignored by most of the UK music press and banned from the NME for years because the editor hated them, able to fill big capacity venues in London without any publicity. Unique, tuneful adventurous/ emotional, transcendent / manic/ gentle near impossible to describe music, but their moshpits would contain ridiculous cross sections of society -  metal, pop kids, music professors, ravers, prog heads, suits, punks, whatever you can imagine, a few you can't. You might be joined in the crowd by members of Napalm Death, Radiohead, Blur… The band helmed by guitarist/ singer/ composer Tim Smith, who is called by some ‘the English Zappa’ …a description which is actually kind of limiting. Phew.

       This isn’t really a book about Cardiacs – well, it is, of course, but it’s not about getting under the skin of Cardiacs in band biography style.  Adrian’s first book, Fever Hitch, was about his obsessive following of Sheffield United around the country, you didn’t really need to be a football fan to enjoy that first book and you really don’t need to be a Cardiacs fan to enjoy these adventures. This is a book about following bands, about the magical friendships that form and the families that grow around bands such as Cardiacs. A book about the oft-ridiculous adventures that arise as a result following bands; the stories of the hitching thumb saving the day, tales of friends with floors to the rescue, a book about both Adrian’s adventures and the stories he’s collected from friends he’s met along his journey of one hundred and one Cardiacs concerts. (Mr Bell has been at pains to point out that he’s not the only follower who has seen Cardiacs over 100 times). 

   The book is loosely based around the chronological order of Mr Bell’s concert-going, with various interludes and excursions, starting with his first encounter at the Reading Festival 1986. Adrian’s easy-going, self-deprecating manner seems to come over in his writing; it might be that this book will mean less to those who haven’t met him, or who all these characters are, and why on earth is the man going on about a pond?  Never mind, this unpretentious telling of tales is of great value – incredible value - to anyone of those thousands of people who made Cardiacs part of their lives during all the stages of their long, evolving career. 

      Aylesbury Bolton Wolverhampton Hove: A Little Man and 101 Cardiacs Gigs has something in common with that fine testament to that 80’s particular indie grebo scene, Martin Roach’s The Eight Legged Atomic Dustbin Will Eat Itself  - a rare, authentic snapshot of those music-spawned cultures that are all too ephemeral in a world swamped more than ever by big, efficient, noisy marketing.  If you were out there gig-going in any way, you’d enjoy having those memories jogged, and Adrian liberally smatters his Cardiacs-gig-going recollections with references to many other bands of the time.  The mass of music lovers and gig goers of the time did not have the full commercial and cultural acceptance you see today – pre-Nirvana, being into any kind of rock was unfashionable in a way many have forgotton.  It made for a real sense of outsidership and camaraderie and forced strangers make connections with each other. 

Cardiacs, by Belch (probably)   ABWH:ALM&101CG (what a preposterous acronym!) is part autobiography, part diary, but also a folk-history of an era in time beyond being a Cardiacs campfollower.  You won’t find much writing out there that truthfully records the ‘invisible underground’ of UK cult music and gigging in the late Eighties to mid Nineties, or how it evolved over time. There are few (if any) references to what some music press luminary had to say about this or that band, but plenty of references to and mini-histories of bands that meant something to more people than many that were being expensively hyped at the time. And by being honest, agenda-free and super-detailed about stuff that a ‘pro’ writer might have edited out, Adrian has caught several subtleties along the way, like the open-mindedness of rock fans to different music, the changes to life and music brought by the internet, and stuff that we hardly notice now but will feel very different in a few years time. It’s all delivered in an engaging, friendly, conversational style that treats the reader like a new friend, which is exactly how the affable Mr Bell goes through life. 

     There’s an importance to this writing now, that goes beyond your ordinary music-related book. In 2008, Cardiacs, after a long gap and no small brave struggle, were getting ready to finish their fifteenth studio album; just about to record the final vocals and mix a couple of new singles, buoyed up by the new waves of American and overseas fans astonished by their music. And then, in June of that year, Tim Smith had a devastating stroke, which has left him unable to most of the things we take for granted, and needing long term care.  Just the hardest, saddest blow in a series of setbacks that has tried to keep Cardiacs from reaching their full potential at every step of their career, as well as a personal tragedy.  The publication of 101 Cardiacs Gigs has come at a time when those people who have made Cardiacs a huge part of their life are in real distress; one of the strangest things about this strangest of bands is the way that the band members are regarded as friends by so many of their following – genuinely loved as people rather than idols.  Few people outside that experience are going to understand the anxiety and concern.  Adrian’s book helps to draw together the love and energy that formed (and continues to form) around Cardiacs’ beautiful, brave, exhilarating, uplifting music, reminding those that were there that they didn’t imagine those days, and cheerfully inviting those who weren’t there in to the story.

     The sometimes very funny, sometimes very emotional, always genuine, tales of a not so little man and his adventures following a very special band.

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