Tim Smith, frontman of cult band Cardiacs, dies aged 59

Smith, who fronted unique prog-punk group, had long-term health difficulties after a heart attack and stroke in 2008

Tim Smith, frontman with cult British band Cardiacs, has died aged 59.

The news was confirmed by his bandmate Kavus Torabi. Another band representative said Smith had “passed away peacefully [Tuesday] night around 10.30pm”.

Mary Wren, from Cardiacs’ label Alphabet Business Concern, said in a statement: “Despite the struggles Tim faced over the last 12 years, we all somehow felt he would never leave us. This is, in part, because he looked at death square in the face, with his good and true eye, so many times and won … At this time, we are comforted by the fact that he left us quietly, albeit suddenly.”

In 2008, Smith suffered a heart attack and stroke and underwent a long period of rehabilitation. He experienced a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with dystonia, which causes muscles to contract uncontrollably. A fundraiser set up for his care in 2018 read: “This condition has affected Tim’s movement, his dexterity, his ability to speak, and it has added painful muscle tone and spasms that are a permanent feature of his life these days.”

In 2017, Smith described his condition: “Imagine if you were wearing a skintight bodysuit made of fishnet all around you, with electrical pulses going all the time. This is what my body feels like unless I fall asleep.”

Smith formed an early version of Cardiacs in 1977 with his brother Jim, called the Filth, who soon changed their name to Cardiac Arrest. Their debut single, A Bus for a Bus on the Bus, was released in 1979. The band’s complex songcraft drew equally from punk and prog – often thought by many fans of each style to be mutually exclusive – and delivered surreal, theatrical performances.

They released eight studio albums between 1980 and 1999, never achieving commercial success. Their most famous song remains 1988’s Is This the Life?, which reached No 80 in the UK charts. But they were loved by prog artists including Marillion and Steven Wilson, and leading rock acts such as Biffy Clyro, Faith No More and Blur. The Cardiacs supported the latter at their Mile End Stadium concert in London in 1995.

In 1983, Smith married Sarah Cutts, who had joined the band as a multi-instrumentalist three years earlier. As well as Smith, 23 musicians have passed through the band’s ranks over the years. They toured until 2007; a final album, LSD, remains unfinished.

Wren’s statement concludes: “His fans adored him. He changed people for the better. He saved lives. His music was a refuge for those in need and he never locked his door or turned anyone away. I feel as if church bells across the land should be ringing out his name.”


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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