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Music / Cardiacs

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L-R: Timmy, Bill, Sarah, JIM, Dom. At the back; Tim Q

"Cardiacs is the one soldier during the first world war who sees death as a mischievous friend to play games with and thinks he can win. Cardiacs is also that death which dances around and slips but never falls down."

You want a band that complains about Suburban Life? Come to Cardiacs. You want a band that combines Progressive Rock and Post-Punk? Come to Cardiacs. You want a band that preempted the Emo genre by about 10 years? Come to Cardiacs.

Cardiacs are that perfect band you've been looking for all your life but couldn't find because they're so damn obscure. Frontman Tim Smith is pretty much the only songwriter of the band. However, older brother Jim Smith is as much of a key character as Tim, bassist, batter-head, bully-bait, he's been "there" since Tim was a baby. Then there's Sarah, Tim's wife, saxophonist, pre-Seaside synth player, skirt wearer supreme, she's been "there" too.

The lineup went through a series of changes, but through all of it Tim and Jim Smith remained. In 2008, Tim Smith had a stroke and cardiac arrest, which led to the band's dissolution. Smith survived, but was left with brain damage and spent the last decade in recovery. Tim Smith said in 2018 that he had hoped to one day be well enough to reform the band, but sadly passed away in July 2020.

Despite a polarising reaction from the contemporary music press and rather limited commercial sales, Cardiacs have had a fairly significant impact on other musical acts, being cited as an influence by acts as diverse as Radiohead, Faith No More, and Blur. Cardiacs were noted for remaining ferociously independent throughout their career, releasing their music through their own label, The Alphabet Business Concern.

They've had a rather large number of releases, although some were not released in large quantities and have never been re-released. Aside from The Seaside, which was their last cassette-only release and first under Alphabet, some discographies leave out all the recordings before A Little Man and a House. You can find most of their stuff at their Bandcamp, along with material from several related projects.

In 2021, the Alphabet Business Concern unveiled the entire Cardiacs discography onto streaming services, only to withdraw a year later in light of recent controversies involving Spotify.

The Cardiac Arrest Lineup

  • Mick Pugh: Vox
  • Tim Smith: Guitar
  • Jim Smith: Bass
  • Colvin Mayers: Keyboards
  • Peter Tagg: Drums

The "Classic 6-Piece"

  • Tim Smith: Vox, Guitar,
  • Jim Smith: Bass
  • Sarah Smith: Sax
  • William D. Drake: Keyboards
  • Dominic Luckman: Drums
  • Tim Quy: Percussion + Bass Synth

The "Power Quartet" Lineup

  • Tim Smith: Vox, Guitar
  • Jon Poole: Guitar
  • Jim Smith: Bass
  • Bob Leith: Drums

Selected Discography

  • 1980 - The Obvious Identity (as Cardiac Arrest; released on cassette in extremely limited quantities; never re-released)
  • 1981 - Toy World (released on cassette in extremely limited quantities; incredibly piss-poor in sound quality but contains early versions of beloved Cardiacs songs; never re-released)
  • 1984 - The Seaside (another cassette album, but the first to be released through Alphabet and was also made available on CD and vinyl)
  • 1986 - Big Ship (EP; later re-released as part of Songs for Ships and Irons)
  • 1988 - A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window (considered their official studio debut)
  • 1989 - Cardiacs Live
  • 1989 - On Land and in the Sea
  • 1989 - Archive Cardiacs (compilation that collects some, but nowhere near all, tracks from the band's first two albums; also contains several exclusive demo tracks)
  • 1990 - All That Glitters Is a Mares Nest (live)
  • 1991 - Songs for Ships and Irons (compilation of mostly 1986-1987 material)
  • 1992 - Heaven Born and Ever Bright
  • 1995 - Sing to God
  • 1999 - Guns
  • 2005 - The Special Garage Concerts Vol. I
  • 2005 - The Special Garage Concerts Vol. II


  • Bohemian Parody: The cover of Sing to God has the band's faces arranged in a way set up to evoke the video for "Bohemian Rhapsody".
  • Brother–Sister Incest. Double Subverted Tim and Sarah were set up by the band's manager as an incestuous brother and sister item, the desired outcome being publicity. Their onstage antics didn't exactly help this and many people actually believed it, with Kingston police 'investigating it'. The story got into a British tabloid and Ex-Cardiacs to this day still push it as the truth, although with tongue firmly in cheek.
  • Damsel in Distress. Jim Smith who looks particularly sad on most album covers/promo pictures.
  • The Eeyore: Dom is known to look completely distressed in promo videos.
  • Epic Rocking: Several of their songs get quite long. The longest is probably the Sing to God version of "Nurses Whispering Verses", which runs for 9:54.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "Dirty Boy", which ends on a high note that lasts a little more than two minutes.
  • Insistent Terminology: Tim Smith isn't terribly fond of the punk and progressive rock labels being applied to his music, insisting Cardiacs are simply a pop band. Given the eccentricity and complexity of their music, some listeners may interpret this as a Suspiciously Specific Denial. The only other descriptor he's particularly open to is psychedelic.
  • Ironic Echo: In a case of cruel irony, Tim Smith passed away after a cardiac arrest, the original name of the band.
  • Jump Scare: "Spinney", from the Manhoo single. To a lesser extent, the 'fuck off' in "A Horse's Tail" from Sing To God, helpfully placed in the calmest section of the song which also has some muffled chatter in the background, making you want to listen closer.
  • Loudness War: Most of their material was released before this trope really began to take hold, but Sing to God and Guns are affected by this, as are at least some reissues of The Seaside. Strangely (and coming as a relief), the 2005 Garage Concerts are very dynamic by modern standards, with most tracks coming in at around DR10.
  • Manchild. Tim Smith plays this for laughs and would often be really immature on stage and make commentary that someone 20 years his junior would have felt uncomfortable.
  • Miniscule Rocking: Quite a bit of this, too. "Billion" runs for 0:42, for instance. Many of these can be taken more as introductions to other songs than as songs in their own right.
  • Non-Appearing Title. "Bus for a Bus on the Bus", "The Obvious Identity", "As Cold As Can Be In An English Sea", "Is This The Life" to name but a few...
    • Invoked with "Hello Mr. Minnow", which doesn't appear in the song; the original title of the track as used live was "The Music Goes Round And Round", which does.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome. Most of Cardiacs' early material (As Cardiac Arrest) was either not recorded or recorded poorly (and to make matters worse only released once and in extremely limited quantities).
    • Somewhat rectified by the special garage concerts, when live versions of their pre-1984 songs were played and recorded, with the end result being a double album featuring much, although not all, of the previously lost material.
  • Re-release the Song/Rearrange the Song: They've recorded a lot of their songs several times, early material in particular. Arrangements often differ substantially between recordings; for instance, "Nurses Whispering Verses" gained almost four minutes of running time between the 1984 Seaside version and the 1995 Sing to God version.
  • Shout-Out. Cardiacs were far from adverse to this:
    • During Gloomy News Colvin Mayers would often play a short part of the Enter the Gladiators riff. Colvin appears to like Shout-Out since Rock Around the Clock (itself being a pun on the Bill Haley & His Comets song) was often introduced as "Real Rock and Roll!"
    • 2:50 into Dive a choral section starts. The lyrics? "Oh the grand old duke of York he had ten thousand men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again". Some of you may recognise that nursery rhyme...
    • Half way into Pip As Uncle Dick But Peter Spoilt It there's a pretty big Spider-Man Shout-Out.
    • The song title "Nurses Whispering Verses" is a line from the song "In the Sickbay" by the avant-garde rock bands Henry Cow and Slapp Happy.
    • The song title "A Bus for a Bus on the Bus" is probably a reference to the Frank Zappa instrumental "A Pound for a Brown on the Bus".
    • "Insect Hoofs On Lassie", alongside the title, is about an... unhealthy obsession with Lassie.
    • "A Time For Rejoicing"'s final section is directly lifted from Peter Ivers' "In Heaven", which appeared in Eraserhead.
    • The main melody from "Wireless" is lifted from the Faust song "Psalter"/"Lauft... Heisst Das Es Lauft Oder Es Kommt Bald... Lauft".
  • The Smurfette Principle: Sarah was the only woman in some lineups. However, at times this trope has been averted either because there weren't any women in the lineup, or there were more than one. The current lineup on That Other Wiki lists Cathy Harabaras and Melanie Woods as part of the band.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Tim Smith's thickly accented voice, heavily influenced by English punk rock, contrasts with the ethereal, more conventional vocals their various female singers have provided over the years.
  • Stealth Pun: Dog-Like Sparky, which is about a dog ma dogma.
  • Suburbia: The source material of many of Tim's lyrics. See also Real Life Writes the Plot although less evident.
  • Tim is the Band Inverted with Jim being a punchbag on stage and music videos. Not to mention being in the band as long as Tim and standing next to him on stage.
  • Uncommon Time: Often, such as on the intro to Will Bleed Amen, which is in 13/8.