This article is written by Dave Thompson and was published in Goldmine on 12th September, 1997.
THE ADVERTS: BORED TEENAGERS
by Dave Thompson published September 12, 1997 in GOLDMINE #447
Anyone paying attention to the British music scene in recent
years cannot help but have noticed T.V. Smith. Across three
superlative albums, 1991's RIP: Everything Must Go, 1994's
March Of The Giants, and now The Immortal Rich, T.V. has
offered the current decade one of its most captivating musical
Yet anybody picking up on T.V. Smith on the strength of
those records has a considerable surprise awaiting them. In a
career which stretches back over two decades, and three seminal
bands, T.V. has conjured up a repertoire which might not be vast,
but is certainly remarkable.
His first solo album, Channel Five (Expulsion EXIT 4),
was released as long ago as 1983; his first American release came
at the helm of T.V. Smith's Explorers, two years before that (the
LP Last Words Of The Great Explorer Epic ARE 37432). Before
all of that, however, there was the Adverts, the punk rock band
which first brought him to attention; which propelled him into
the British Top 20; and whose legacy remains so bright today that
this year alone has seen three "new" albums by the band hit the
stores, a bonus packed remastering of their debut, the 14 track
Singles Collection, and a John Peel Sessions set which brings
together all four of the band's BBC Radio performances.
Add to this the two 1977-era live albums which appeared
earlier in the decade, and the veritable host of punk
compilations to which one or more Adverts classics have been
appended; add, also, T.V.'s barnstorming appearance at last
summer's Holidays In The Sun punk festival, and clearly, we are
confronted by a band whose reputation may have been huge, but
whose heritage is Brobdingnagian. Not bad for a band whose
entire recorded legacy, at the time of their break-up, could be
fit onto a single 90 minute cassette!
None of this was lost on Henry Rollins - himself a vintage
Adverts fan. It was he who ensured that The Immortal Rich,
T.V.'s third solo album overall, became the first to land an
American release (through Rollins own 2.13.61 label, THI 21306.2)
in July, 1996; that in turn opened the floodgates for the sudden
deluge of Adverts imports which has flooded the country in recent
months. Stores which might not have heard of T.V. Smith a year
ago now boast bulging racks of his albums, while American reviews
of the recently released Holidays In The Sun souvenir album
(Cleopatra CLP 99942) have been unanimous in seeking out T.V.'s
contribution as the highlight of the set.
The Immortal Rich, too, ran directly into a firestorm of
critical acclaim. "At a time when British pop has been
abbreviated back to the sound of cricket bats on Sunday and bone
china tea sets at dawn," enthused Alternative Press, "this most
quintessentially English of singer-songwriters has so firmly
nailed England's own slide in McColonialism that when Clinton
gets sick of Fleetwood Mac, he should try out "Immortal Rich" for
his campaign anthem."
The fact that he didn't doesn't detract from the sheer
brilliance of the record. Indeed, in a career whose origins
stretch back over two decades, and three crucial bands, T.V.
Smith has won more applause than virtually any other songwriter
of his generation... and the U.S. is still waiting for him to
follow up his American concert debut, a one-off gig at South By
Southwest, in 1994.
Ever since the demise of his last band, Cheap, the heads
down, no-nonsense, post-punk noisemakers whose entire career was
so uncompromising that they'd split up before their first album
(RIP) was released, T.V. has been criss-crossing Great Britain
and Europe, with a live show which has few peers.
Maybe Pink Floyd, at their inflatable pig flying peak,
put on a more spectacular visual performance; maybe Nirvana, with
Kurt's contorted intestines leeching pain through every movement,
offered more gut-wrenching vehemence. But still T.V. is utterly
captivating, and all the more so when you realize that his
full-blooded roar, and raw-nerve intensity, are the product of
voice and acoustic guitar alone.
"I just got bored playing with a band, having to write
songs that they would want to play, or be able to play," he
explains, before admitting that he fell into the solo routine
completely by chance. "It was Attila The Stockbroker who
suggested I do it, and got me a gig opening for him at a little
folk club in north London. I did three or four songs, and it
seemed to go down well, so I played some more shows, and when
Cheap broke up, I just carried on."
Since that time, T.V. has literally redesigned his
career, to the point where his appearance at Holidays In The Sun
was undertaken completely solo, and utterly unplugged. But even
he was amazed at how well acoustic renderings of "Bored
Teenagers," "One Chord Wonders" and the 1977 chart hit "Gary
Gilmore's Eyes" were received.
Unlike the shouters, ravers, and unrepentant punkers of
similar high volume fame, however, T.V. neither bellows nor
bullies his audience into submission. In less fashion conscious
times, The Immortal Rich, like its 1993 predecessor, March Of
The Giants (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD 047), would have been described
as Hardcore Folk, the rage of one and the delivery of the other
conspiring to create a whole new noise. Today, T.V. Smith's most
frequent comparisons are with the likes of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey,
and a purer, more purposeful Morrissey, musical mavericks lurking
on the far fringe of commercial, but closing the gap with every
Where T.V. has the edge is in his refusal to dilute his
reality with abstraction. Again, in earlier times, he could be
described as political, but it is easier now to call him
committed and concerned; he writes of injustice, despair and
decay, the end of a world or two before dinner, and the sheer
imponderability of living in a democracy where only the rich are
It's a message whose meaning seems even more tangible in
the wake of his continuing absence from the American stage,
leaving us with nothing more to look forward to than what we're
fed by MT.V.. He seems to be taking it in good spirits,
however. Indeed, mention MT.V. and he laughs out loud. "It's
funny you should say that because I just figured out what my name
is an anagram of."
"Yeah. It's 'MT.V. Shit.' I like that."
Tim Smith was born on April 5, 1956, in Romford, Essex;
he was eight when the family moved to the Dartmoor town of North
Tawton. At grammar school in Okehampton, with several national
poetry awards behind him,he put his first band together, to
perform the songs he had recently started writing. Slaby Witness
lasted throughout his sixth year at the school; on arrival at the
South Devon Technical College in nearby Torquay, in 1974, Tim and
Slaby's bassist Andy Benny put together Sleaze.
Sleaze swiftly became renowned for playing two hour gigs
around town (including supporting George Melly at the local
Tiffanys), and in 1975 the group cut a five track album to
distribute amongst friends and family. A limited edition of 50
copies means it is impossible to find today, but one track from
the set, at least, would live on: "Listen Don't Think," the
album's closer, would be reborn two years later as the Adverts'
It was during this period that Tim met Gaye Black at the
college (Gaye was studying for a diploma in graphics),and with
Tim teaching her bass, the two begin to hatch the idea of
forming a band together. With Sleaze breaking up during the late
summer of 1975, Tim and Gaye moved up to London the following
"The only reason we moved up was to form a band," Tim
acknowledged, "but we were both so broke that we had to take on a
few crappy day-jobs just to survive."
Evenings were spent going
over the songs Tim was writing for the new band.
"We went through
loads of names," he said; "we were the One Chord Wonders for a
while, then The Adverts came up in conversation one day, and we
At the same time, Tim rechristened himself, reasoning
that if Smith was the most common name in the country, then the
T.V. was most common household item. It also tied in quite
nicely with the band's name.
They also spent a lot of time going to gigs. They were
regulars at The Stranglers' London performances (Gaye was already
a devotee of Jean Jacques Burnel's bass playing), while the
Stranglers were also responsible for giving her a stage name.
Gaye's reluctance to tell anyone her surname meant that they had
to name her after her band - Gaye Advert was born.
Another regular outing was to see the Sex Pistols.
was just so great to see a band getting up and doing it, without
having the proven requirements," T.V. said. "I liked the
attitude of `like it or fuck off,' that was something that I
could actually identify with. It was just so completely
different... of course, then everyone started doing the same
thing and it all settled back into nice complacent role playing."
Constantly advertising in Melody Maker, the duo found a
guitarist when Howard Boak, a reformed folkie and (or so he
claimed to Melody Maker) a former brain surgeon at Kings
College, came in answer to T.V.'s plea for "special guitarist who
isn't special." His surname, Howard announced, was a quaint
Northern English colloquialism meaning "vomit"; it seems
inexplicable, then, that he should decide to change it to Pickup.
And then there were four. Laurie Muscat "stumbled into
rehearsals one day and pretended to play drums; he was totally
untalented, so he was obviously the right person for the band."
Rechristening himself Laurie Driver, the new boy defended
his lack of finesse thus: "it doesn't matter how good a drummer
you are. Technique doesn't really count for much these days;
it's songs and lyrics that matter,and we have got a very good
song and lyric writer. He's very imaginative. And we have also
got a female bass player."
"To all outward appearances,anyway," countered Gaye, "but
I really wish that I'd been born a boy; it's easy then cos you
don't have to keep trying to be one all the time. You can't
always trust people if you're a girl; people you think have been
your mates for ages. You suddenly find out that they've been
leching after you for all this time, and being in a band, people
always expect you to take advantage of being a girl; there was
one photographer who wanted me to pose with my jacket
And she wasn't alone in regretting her sex. Every time
there was an Adverts put-down to be done, it was usually the bass
player who got the stick.
"People seem to resent the fact
that I'm female," Gaye said; "they have totally the wrong
attitude towards me. They always go on about what I'm wearing,
how I present myself. All I'm trying to do is get a good sound,
and play right - I'm not one of Pan's People. I get furious when
someone tries to make me out to be some kind of sex symbol."
The punkette poster pin-up on a nation's bedroom walls,
she would spend much of the next three years being very furious
indeed. New Musical Express journalist Tony Parsons reckoned,
"The Adverts have got the majority of their press on account of
their bass player having superb squeakers," while even the daily
press got in on the act.
The Sun would describe her as "one of the saucy girl
singers who have taken over pop" (and that despite her not
actually singing more than a handful of backing vocals); the
Daily Express ascribed to her "the fragile beauty that made the
world and Mick Jagger fall in love with Marianne Faithful. Gaye
is beautiful, she is as dark as Marianne was fair, with black
hair and Castillian white skin. She wears black nail varnish to
match, and the black make up which encircles her eyes gives Gaye
a sort of morose panda look."
Or, as Sounds' Jane Suck said, "she's a dead ringer for
Joan Jett and she carries her clothes better than any punkette I
have ever seen. She could have the impact of five Runaways,
Patti Smith's armpit,and Blondie's split ends on Britain's vacant
female scene." And, of course, a good looking girl was always
ideal for a subeditor who wanted to pad out an article with
photographs. T.V. Smith, Suck mused in one interview, must be
utterly fed up with pictures of Gaye dominating the bands press?
"Must 1? I'm not sick of it at all. I knew it would
happen. People need something to latch onto. Bowie had to
paint himself to sell records."
An early rehearsal tape, dating from the tail end of 1976,
and appearing on bootleg three years later, captures the band in
these most formative days; five songs strong, it shows that
T.V.'s vision had indeed found the ideal conspirators: Gaye's
bass pounds through the opening "One Chord Wonders"; Driver's
drums sound like dustbins across "New Boys"; and all the while,
Pickup's tight, economical guitar is probing the edges of the
songs, looking for a way out. One day, T.V. promised, he'd be
allowed to play a guitar solo. Until then, he could just try and
fit one in, somewhere between the thunderous rhythm and T.V.'s
own breakneck delivery: "Bored Teenagers" and "We Who Wait" blast
by in a blur of lyrical chaos; "Quickstep" is, contrarily,
slower, but no less impassioned. The tape itself is of
horrendous quality, but the Adverts' fire blazes through
The Adverts made their live debut at the legendary Roxy
Club on January 15, 1977, supporting Generation X. The
headliners' drummer, John Towe, worked in the same West End music
store as Pickup and had promised to help the new band get gigs;
meanwhile, T.V. and Pickup themselves had already booked The
Adverts into the Roxy a few days hence, but still Towe's offer
saved them from encountering the music press on their first gig.
Reviewing Slaughter And The Dogs' January 19 gig, the
NME's Neil Spencer spared a thought for the support band. Not
much of one, though. "The Adverts were chronic. There wasn't a
hookline or riff in earsight as the singer raged and ranted
unhearable lyrics. The best thing about them was their female
"Not bad for our first ever piece of press!" smiles T.V.
The early gigs did see them pick up a few supporters,
though. Another NME scribe, Miles would go on to produce the
Adverts' third single, Brian James of the Damned promised the
group both live shows and an introduction to his record label;
and publishing magnate Michael Dempsey, lured down to The Roxy
because "anything that the Daily Express hated so much must
have had something going for it." He would become the group's
Dempsey sadly passed away on December 6, 1981, following
an accident at home. Few of the people whose lives he touched,
however, are likely to forget him - he was truly unique.
Musician and journalist Mick Farren remembers Dempsey as "a hard
drinking Anglo-Irishman"; as a senior editor at Granada
Publishing, he gave Farren his first start as a novelist by
publishing the now legendary Texts Of Festival; Dempsey was
also instrumental in JG Ballard's controversial Crash seeing
the light of day in Britain.
Farren laughs, "originally, he was a raving red and was
voted onto the Greater London Council on a Socialist Workers
Party ticket. The event of punk, however, revolutionized his
revolution, and after visiting the Roxy Club in the early days,
he totally fell in love with the idea and ethos. In addition to
managing the Adverts, he also encouraged the careers of writers
Jane Suck (at Sounds) and Mark P. (founder of Sniffin' Glue).
"The fist fight he supposedly got into with a British
journalist after the son of a bitch slagged off Gaye Advert was
typical of his managerial style. The story went that [the
writer] only attacked her in print because she refused to sleep
And Farren concludes, "the Adverts were the ideal
band for Dempsey - chaotic, full of drugs, perpetually
complaining, musically inept, and totally typical of the time."
Talking in 1979, Dempsey himself recalled, "the first time
I went to the Roxy I saw the Damned, the second time it was the
Adverts. It could only have been their second or third gig ever,
but I thought they were dynamic, especially Tim's lyrics. I've
always been nuts about talent, and Tim had talent. I saw that
"The thing with The Adverts, they were always being
lumped in with the rest of the No Future brigade, but they were
taking a far more realistic view of things. Tim might have
believed in the ideals of the punk thing, but he also understood
its limitations, which is something that very few people did,
especially at that time. While everyone else was celebrating how
'different' they were, how outrageous, Tim was saying `so what?';
asking them what they were trying to prove. While they were
challenging the establishment, he was challenging the
"Anyway, the band were totally broke; they didn't have all
their equipment paid for, so I lent them some cash and it just
went from there."
One of the first contracts to come under
Dempsey's scrutiny was the deal being offered by Stiff. True to
his word, Brian James had put the company onto the band, and when
Stiff supremo Jake Riviera went along to see them at The Roxy
(where else?), he shared James' enthusiasm.
"He came running up to us with a very thin contract, and
said `sign here, I'll make you broke'," T.V. recalls. "We
believed him and he did.
"But we went into it knowing that there wouldn't be much
money in it. It was an exposure deal really. The way Stiff
worked was that Jake knew he was picking up on a lot of bands who
would go onto other labels once their first record was out, and
he modelled the contracts on that".
In the studio with former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry
Wallis, the Adverts put down two of their strongest numbers, both
vaguely autobiographical, "One Chord Wonders" and "Quickstep."
It was a convincing debut, a headlong rush of energy which
Sounds made their Single of the Week, Melody Maker
"recommended," and the NME called "mundane rock music from
New Wave flotsam and jetsam... almost unbelievably boring." Oh
well, you can't win them all.
The single was in the shops in April, and the band were on
the road, a thirty three date tour supporting The Damned, with
Stiff forking out for full page ads in the music press to let
everyone know that "The Damned can now play three chords, the
Adverts can play one. Hear all four at...."
Two shows from this tour, Birmingham and (possibly)
Nottingham, have since been released in the U.K., the first under
the slightly misleading title of Live At The Roxy; the latter
as Live And Loud. They are stunning documents, capturing the
band in full flight, and running through a set which had few
peers at the time. Indeed, they finished the tour teetering on
what even the NME now acknowledged was "the edge of a great
On April 25, the Adverts made their debut on BBC Radio 1
disc jockey John Peel's nightly show, recording the five track
session which would, a full decade later, become one of the
flagship releases in Strange Fruit's Peel Sessions series, and
which has since been reprised on the Peel Sessions album. They
laid down five songs: both sides of the single, of course, and
both sides of what they intended would be their next one, "Gary
Gilmore's Eyes" and "Bored Teenagers," plus "New Boys." If
anybody required evidence of just how far the band had progressed
in the four months since their debut, this was it; and if they
needed further proof, that was at hand too.
In June, EMI's Harvest subsidiary released what they
described as "a document of those halcyon days down at the Roxy,"
the eight band live showcase Live At The Roxy, London WC2.
Colin Newman, whose band Wire were one of the more
left-field contributors to the album, laughs aloud. "To repeat
the oft-repeated, hoary old adage 'If you can remember it, you
can't have been there!' I know nothing!! "
Captured in what could, accurately if a little generously,
be described as their natural environment, bands as diverse as
Wire, X Ray Spex, the Buzzcocks and Johnny Moped slammed through
a highlight or two of their live set, the ramshackle rattle of
tinny amps and cheapo guitars, and as ramshackle and rattling as
any of them, the Adverts closed side one with "Bored Teenagers."
It was recorded at their third ever show, and hit the streets
just as the band prepared to start recording its second single.
In common with the times, several record companies had
moved in for the Adverts' signature - having initially despised
Punk Rock, the British music industry couldn't get enough, with
every label head demanding his own safety-pinned signing.
Polydor snagged the Jam, CBS got the Clash, UA had the Buzzcocks,
Virgin landed the Pistols... the Adverts went to Anchor, the
British arm of ABC, and a company small enough that unlike those
others, they didn't run the risk of being lost in the next
The deal, of course, was the standard one single with
options offering, but that suited the Adverts as much as it did
the company accountants: Michael Dempsey had no doubts that a
handful of hits was all it would take to push the band into the
big league; they could worry about long term contracts later.
Neither was his faith misplaced. Retaining Larry Wallis
as producer, the group got to work on "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," and
a studio stab at "Bored Teenagers."
Truly one of the most macabre subjects ever picked for a
pop song, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" had been inspired by convicted
American murderer Gilmore's insistence that he be executed, and
that his eyes be donated to medical science for transplant ("I
don't think the heart will be any good"). T.V. himself "read
about it in a newspaper, and I wondered if the recipient of the
eyes was reading it as well, not knowing whose eyes he was
It was only ironic, then, that the whole time
the single was on the British chart, "the BBC spelt Gilmore
wrong, so there were all these people thinking that I was singing
about a sportsman" - Gary Gilmour was one of the stars of the
English cricket team!
"The sickest and cleverest record to come out of the New
Wave: Single of the Week," proclaimed Sounds "idea of the
week, if not the performance," championed NME. And in the
record stores, sales of the 45 leaped from a respectable 3,000 a
day to a staggering 10,000 after Gaye spent her 21st birthday
watching herself on Top Of The Pops. The day before, they
recorded their second Peel session; four days later, "Gary
Gilmore's Eyes" burst into the chart. It finally peaked at #18
(with a bullet, haha), and remains of the classic songs from that
Certainly there has never been a shortage of compilations
offering up yet another chance to own a copy, ranging from the
most painstakingly pieced together History Of Punk type
offering, to one of the anonymous "today's hits covered by total
unknowns" type collections which once paid Elton John's rent. In
fact, T.V. himself retains a fondness for this particular
performance which is utterly disproportionate with the actual
record: unable to figure out what the actual lyrics were, the
hapless session man assigned to cover the song was reduced to
mumbling several key lyrics - a plight which, T.V. insists, was
"much better. It would have been terrible if he'd got the words
"Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was not, of course, an unexpected
hit. The past eight months had seen the Adverts gigging
incessantly, setting the pattern for the remainder of their
career, and establishing a reputation second to none throughout
provincial England. Almost alone of the first division New Wave
bands, the Adverts proved totally unafraid of forsaking the
comforts of the London punk circuit for the rigors of perpetual
But while few people would argue that the band hadn't
earned their first moment of fame, the knockers were having a
field day regardless, nailing T.V. into defending his motives for
writing such a "sick" song.
"I haven't set out to shock people, I've set out to
intrigue them... maybe. It's as simple as that, but there's a
very thin line between what some people might regard as sick, and
what others might call artistic. But I don't want to pin
anything down, like explaining a song; they're there for people
to misunderstand them, and I'm quite happy for that to happen.
I'm not going to force anyone to understand because that's their
half of the work. I suppose we could start throwing lyric sheets
to the audience during the final number and then test them
afterwards; if you fail, go and see Bad Company. But it's
irrelevant to discuss what a song means, it's like trying to
explain a joke."
Was there, then, any pressure on him to come up with
another joke that good?
"Oh yeah, a hit single's a real drag like that. But the
point is to come up with another classic. If I felt that I
couldn't, then I don't deserve to be doing what I'm doing.
There's no way you can do it if you don't have faith in yourself.
I intend to come up with more."
A lot of people thought that he had come up with a fair
few already. The Adverts live set was almost overflowing with
titles that weren't only among the most potent songs on (or off)
the Punk scene, but had also become almost a part of the language
for the so called Blank Generation of '77: "Bored Teenagers,"
"Great British Mistake," "Bombsite Boy," and most cutting of them
all, "Safety In Numbers."
One of four songs performed on the August Peel session
(alongside "We Who Wait," "New Church" and "Great British
Mistake"), and already earmarked for the next single, in just
three verses "Safety In Numbers" inflicted a far more grievous
wound on the body of Punk than any number of barbed epistles in
the press. Only it wasn't "biting the hand that feeds," as one
reviewer claimed, but echoing the secret thoughts of all the
people who might have been outwardly proclaiming that Punk could
change the world, but who deep down knew that it was all just
another media monster.
"The whole thing's rotting, really", said T.V., "but I
don't mind. I think it's good that it rots, there's plenty of
room for rot. Most of it's so lousy because everyone's doing the
At the beginning of September, 1977, a dream came true for
Gaye when The Adverts were booked to open six shows for Iggy Pop,
her long time hero (when Record Mirror asked for her Top Ten
albums, lggy was responsible for five of them). His Lust For
Life album was fresh on the racks, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was
still on the chart; if you could only afford to hit one tour that
month, there was nothing to compete with this one.
Chris Brazier, writing in Melody Maker, offered one of
the fairest summaries of the band's performance: "it's very
disorientating seeing The Adverts onstage amidst so much room and
light, and facing an audience sedately seated. Their
subterranean tackiness is rooted in the sordid splendor of
grotbox dives. Nevertheless, it was a typical Adverts set, with
those fearlessly adventurous songs and that unbelievably raw
But it was left to Jane Suck to credit T.V. with doing
what precious few other performers would have even dreamt of -
stealing the show from Iggy two nights running (in Birmingham and
Bristol). "There are an awful lot of Adverts fans about', she
wrote, "and they say horrible things like `they should have been
"I loved doing that tour",Gaye recalls. "Iggy was really
great. The first night, in Manchester, we were just sitting
around in the dressing roam thinking that we wouldn't even get to
see him apart from onstage, when he just walked in and said
`hi,I'm Jimmy', and we (The Adverts) ended up spending the whole
time with Iggy and his band. Iggy to me is what Elvis Presley is
to some people."
Coming off the Iggy tour, the Adverts immediately launched
their own month long outing, taking them into the middle of
November, and bookending the long awaited release of "Safety In
Numbers." It was an impressive outing, culminating in a
headlining show at the London Roundhouse, where they were
supported by Johnny Moped. Six months earlier, the bill was
quite the other way around.
Further indications of how the band had grown in stature were
supplied by Rat Scabies, in his last interview before quitting
The Damned. "Even the fucking Adverts are bigger than us now!.", he exclaimed.
But were they as big as they should have been? Media
interest from "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was enough to push the new
single to the edge of the Top 75, but absolutely inexplicably, a
few weeks of hopeful Bubbling Under gave way to oblivion.
A similar fate awaited what remains one of the band's
finest television performances, a guest spot on director Mike
Mansfield's projected Punk extravaganza, Impact. Filmed late
in 1977, the hour long show offered a showcase to both
Generation X and the Damned, alongside the Adverts, and their two
songs, an abrupt "Bored Teenagers" and a chaotic "Great British
Mistake," offered once again evidence for the group's
pre-eminence. Unfortunately, Impact would never make the
screen (it has since turned up on well circulated video bootleg),
which meant the next opportunity to hear those songs in your own
home would be with the release of the Adverts' debut album.
At the beginning of September, T.V. told Jane Suck, "the
album's all in the can except that it hasn't been recorded yet."
In November, the Adverts set to work putting that situation to
rights, at the same time fulfilling his promise that "everything
we do onstage will go down on record in some form." And while
the band worked away, sequestered within Abbey Road studios with
producer John Leckie, the year end accolades began pouring in
for "Gary Gilmore's Eyes."
It featured in all the U.K. music paper critics polls,
while it was surely the main reason for the band being nominated
in the Daily Mirror newspaper's annual Rock and Pop awards'
"Best New Wave" category. They didn't win, but as T.V.
complained at the time, "we're not a New Wave band. There aren't
any categories, they ought to stop calling it Punk or New Wave or
whatever, and just let it go back to being music again."
The Adverts figured high in the appropriate sections in
all the annual readers polls; they figured high in a few
inappropriate ones as well, as NME readers thumbed through
their back issues of The Sun and elected Gaye into the Top Ten
Female Vocalists. The lady herself took the honor with a pinch
"That sort of award is nice, but it's meaningless,
because people don't go on skill. They have other criteria."
On January 20, 1978, the Adverts' fourth single debuted
Bright Records, a newly formed offshoot of Anchor. "No Time To
Be 21" also marked the debut of that long promised Howard Pickup
solo, and the guitarist repaid the compliment with a savage burst
of sound, one of his finest ever moments on vinyl.
"It's a great
song, I really enjoy playing it," he acknowledged. But even he
could not deny that "No Time To Be 21" was simply a taster for
the main feast, the February 3 release of Crossing The Red Sea
With The Adverts." ("This means we can call the next one
Crossing The Road With The Adverts," Pickup beamed delightedly.
T.V. opted for I Was A Teenage Cucumber.")
It was a devastating debut, even if more than a quarter of
its weight was taken up with previously released (albeit newly
rerecorded) material: a revised "One Chord Wonders" opened the
set; "Bored Teenagers" and "Safety In Numbers" were both
revisited amidships, and of course "No Time To Be 21" was in
there as well.
"When we recorded the album, we also intended including
'Gary Gilmore's Eyes'," T.V. told Goldmine's Jo-Ann Greene. "A
new version was recorded, but at the last minute we were told
there wasn't enough room on the album for all the songs we
wanted, so figuring that everyone who wanted the song had already
bought the single, we dropped it."
Over the years, several reissues of the album have
attempted to restore "Gilmore" to the disc; unfortunately, the
unreleased version remained under wraps, as did its intended
placement on the LP.
"So they just put the single version on the
end," recalls T.V., "which was completely wrong. The album was
meant to end with 'Great British Mistake.' Simply sticking other
songs on after it completely ruined the continuity."
original cassette release of the album made a similar mistake,
completely rearranging the latter halves of both sides, and
closing the album with "Bombsite Boy.")
The missing version of "Gilmore" was eventually released
as a single in 1983, when it bruised the U.K. Top 100; it
remained absent from CD, however, until January, 1997, when it
appeared on T.V.'s own remastered reissue of the album, towards
the end of side one, cross faded between "New Boys" and "Bombsite
Boy." "I'd forgotten how well it worked there," laughs T.V.,
adding that he'd also taken the opportunity to add a second song
discarded from the original running order, "New Day Dawning."
This track, too, has been appended to past rereleases; it
also made it out as the b-side to "No Time To Be 21." The
remastered edition, however, inserts it midway through side two,
and once again, the reasoning is superb. Yet we cannot truly
complain that it has taken almost exactly twenty years for this
most enduring of all Punk era albums to be presented in its
original form; rather, the situation is simply analogous with the
discovery and restoration of a couple of songs dropped from, say,
Sgt Pepper or Pet Sounds. The album was already magnificent;
now it's simply more so.
T.V. had remained true to his promise that all of the
band's live set would appear on record; anyone looking for
surprises in the shape of new songs would have been disappointed.
Even "On Wheels," the most recent addition to the songbook was a
hoary old standard, while "New Boys" had, of course, been around
since 1975, when as "Listen Don't Think," it closed the Sleaze
album at twice the length and half the speed of its 1977
It had been a stage favorite then, as well, and it was
faintly ironic that a song which threw even the most
contemporary, fashion conscious audience into paroxysms of
delight had been doing the same for their dinosaur counterparts a
few years before. And the irony was only compounded when Melody
Maker's review singled the track out as being "particularly
The album, as with the live set, closed with "Great
British Mistake," a genuine tour de force and, even today, one of
T.V.'s most dynamic creations. Lyrically, it looked at the
nation's need to find a scapegoat for everything; musically, it
set a jarring, staccato pace which refused to let up for a
moment. When NME critic Charles Shaar Murray questioned
whether the Adverts could ever become as "ramshackle and
unmusical in as exciting a manner as the Velvet Underground,"
this was his answer, a soaring feedback extravaganza pinned down
by bass and drums which brought the song to its conclusion, and
the audience to its knees.
In years to come, Crossing The Red Sea was to be spoken
of in the terms of hushed reverence elsewhere reserved for the
greatest debut albums of our time, Roxy Music and Patti Smith,
the classics which only the cloth-eared can dispute. In 1978,
however, even with the full weight of the music press and
another sell out British tour behind it, the album sank almost
without trace. It spent just one week in the Top 40, trailing in
the slipstream of "No Time To Be 21"'s Top 50 success, then fell
The Adverts were on the road constantly through the
beginning of 1978, a colossal outing which would keep them
occupied until March, with another Roundhouse headliner midway
through. It was to prove an eventful excursion.
Early into the Irish leg of the tour, Laurie Driver
succumbed to hepatitis; two live shows were cancelled (although a
roadie stood in for the band's RTE television debut), and the
Adverts returned to London with just five days to find a
replacement. They opted for John Towe, the ex-Gen X drummer
whose own latest band, Rage, supported The Adverts through much
of their November, 1977, tour; he, in turn, would quit in March,
at the end of the tour, but not before firing the band through a
truly memorable Old Grey Whistle test television appearance.
"I wasn't happy musically," Towe reflects on his time with
the Adverts. "I felt that Tim was capable of doing far more than
he was, and I was getting fed up with the Punk thing anyway."
He went off to join teenybop hopes Shooter, and later appeared in
ex-Bay City Roller Ian Mitchell's new band. He was replaced in
the Adverts by Rod Latter, one of two musicians who braved a
London blizzard to attend the audition.
"The other guy had long
hair and a beard," Latter recalled. "He was every bit as good as
me; I think I got through on image."
Latter had spent the best part of the decade in various
bands with the then-current Brian James Brains' frontman, Alan
Lee Shaw, most notably the Rings (with ex-Pink Fairy Twink), and
those darlings of the Vortex club, the Maniacs. Most recently he
was a member of The Monotones, but played just one gig with them
before heeding the call of The Adverts. And thus began a new era
of non-stop gigging, this time with an emphasis on the continent,
a virgin territory so far as the band were concerned.
Another beckoning pasture was America; Michael Dempsey was
telling everyone that his band were going to be bigger than
Beatlemania in the States, although he would probably have
settled simply for a record deal.
Red Sea was one of the stars of the import scene through
early 1978, but the besuited hordes at ABC didn't pay it an iota
of attention. Decrying the importance of the Punk upheaval on
the British scene as just that, an isolated upheaval in a market
whose day had come and gone, ABC pronounced that Punk would never
impact on American tastes, and refused outright to even consider
giving Red Sea a Stateside release. By the early summer of
1978, the Adverts had quit Anchor.
Rumors flew concerning a short season at CBGBs; recording
sessions with what Dempsey described as "a heavyweight American
producer" were also mooted. Ultimately, however, both plans were
quietly forgotten, and the Adverts instead began diligently
rehearsing a new set, to be unleashed at two London Marquee gigs
in August. Indeed, by the time the Adverts went to Germany in
early September, almost half the set comprised fresh songs.
"The new material has always been there," T.V. revealed.
"It's just that we've been under so much pressure from outside to
carry on with the old stuff that we've had to keep doing it.
We've got gigs on the strength of `Gary Gilmore's Eyes,' we've
been living off that song for the past year."
Five of the new songs were included in the band's next
John Peel session, on September 11, 1978: "Fate Of Criminals,"
"Television's Over," "Love Songs," "Back From The Dead" and "I
Surrender"; three would also make it onto the big screen, when
the Adverts were booked to star in the German television movie
Brennende Langeweile (Burning Boredom).
Directed by Wolfgang Buld, who had already worked with the
band on the previous year's seminal documentary Punk In London
(they contributed live excerpts from "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" and
"One Chord Wonders"), Brennende Langeweile was essentially a
fans meet band type film, enlivened by some hysterical exchanges
between Gaye and sundry German journalists. "How many strings
has your guitar?" asks one. "Three and a half," she replies.
There was also some devastating live footage: the band
performed six songs, "New Church," "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" and
"Great British Mistake" from their 1977 repertoire; "Love Songs,"
"Television's Over" and "I Surrender" from the new crop. Still a
favorite on late night German T.V., the movie is little more than
a curio in the world of rock'n'roll celluloid; there was no
soundtrack album released, and no English language version.
Returning home, the Adverts signed the worldwide deal they
had been hankering after, pledging themselves to RCA - who
immediately sacked the person responsible, and sent the band into
the studio to see what they could come up with. They responded
with one of their strongest singles yet, and their first in ten
months, "Television's Over." It was produced, to the
astonishment of everyone who read the credits, by Tom Newman, of
Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells shaped fame, and backed by "Back
From The Dead," the earliest of a clutch of songs cowritten by
T.V. and Richard Strange, of the Doctors Of Madness.
"Tim first introduced himself as a fan, he and gaye used
to come and see the Doctors every time we played in the West
Country," Strange remembers. "We got to know each other, and
when they moved up to London with the Adverts, I used to go
along, socially at first, then I started to really enjoy Tim's
writing, and from there we got into writing together."
Strange was even more effusive in the press. "T.V. is the only
New Wave songwriter who can string together two sentences and
still remember what the first one was... apart from me, of
course," proclaimed the man who considered only Bob Dylan and
John Lennon could rival him in the "Greatest Writer Of The
Twentieth Century" stakes.
Around fifteen songs were born of this union, but only
"Back From The Dead" ever made it onto vinyl, first on the
Doctors' own third album, Sons Of Survival (Polydor 2383 472),
and now on the Adverts' b-side.
However, two others, "Making Machines" and "Last Human
Being In The World" received an airing when T.V. came on stage
during the last ever Doctors gig, at the Music Machine on October
26, 1978, while the Doctors also recorded the duo's "Don't Panic
England," for a projected final single. Featuring the Damned's
Dave Vanian on vocals, the release would eventually be shelved,
and has never seen the light of day even on bootleg.
says bassist Stoner, "horrible."
Although it ranked amongst RCA's biggest selling singles
of the season, "Television's Over" did not come within sniffing
distance of the chart; the peculiar system under which the
British Top 75 was compiled at the time, polling a
representative sampling of high street record stores, made no
allowances whatsoever for the growing network of independent mom
and pop type stores - which was where most punk bands' core
audience did their shopping. Still its performance was
sufficient to convince RCA they'd made a wise signing after all,
and early in 1979, the band was despatched to the palatial Manor
Studios with Newman again in tow, to begin work on their second
album. From there, with four tracks in the can, the proceedings
shifted to the Barge, a floating studio on London's Regents
Cast Of Thousands never threatened to be just another
Punk album. Although the group's live performance remained as
fiery as ever, T.V. was opening the band's sound to all manner of
influences, including augmenting the line-up with keyboards:
Richard Strange handled synth on what would become the new
album's title track, before Newman brought in another Mike
Oldfield sideman, Tim Cross.
"I think it's hilarious getting Mike Oldfield's keyboard
player and producer," T.V. enthused, at the same time
acknowledging the difference that Cross' arrival had made to the
band. "Before Tim joined, we were like a three piece band, and
it only needed one person to fall down for it to be total chaos."
"I never did, did I?" interrupts Gaye.
"I said fall down, music wise. You did, you know you did," said T.V.
"But I never actually fell over. That gig at Penzance, I
stood on my feet the whole time," Gaye responded.
Cross, who T.V. claimed "always refers to the Adverts as
his hobby," didn't meet the rest of the band until he started
rehearsing for the next tour; his contributions to the album were
made late at night when, T.V. apart, all good little Adverts
should have been tucked up in bed. He overdubbed onto all the
songs, with the exception of two: "Cast Of Thousands," and the
acoustic flavored "My Place," the latter of which was lifted by
RCA as a stopgap single that summer. It was received cautiously,
and sold even more cautiously, and that despite the live in
Germany b-side, "New Church."
On June 23, 1979, the Adverts made their first London
appearance in six months, and only their second anywhere of the
year (following Leicester the previous month), taking the stage
of the Music Machine to unveil not only the ten new songs which
would make up the new album, but also Tim Cross, parked
unobtrusively away stage left.
Depending on where you stood, the new boy either "took up
his role as illustrator of the melody, infusing the warmth and
shape that Adverts' stuff has lacked in the past" (Sounds) or
merely sounded "trashily pompous, ponderous rather than
instinctive, and too flashily pedestrian to infuse the Adverts'
sound with height or breadth (NME).
From there, the Adverts launched into a series of
occasional summer gigs intended to keep them ticking over until a
full tour planned for the fall autumn; ticking over, however, is
one thing, finding a new guitarist is quite another. Howard
Pickup had disappeared.
"He'd been getting rather vague," T.V. remembers. "As
soon as a gig or a rehearsal was over, he'd just go off
immediately, then one day he didn't even turn up and we never saw
or heard of him again. I think basically, he was pissed off with
never having any money - we never got any. RCA wouldn't let us
have a thing, they didn't even like the band. They figured how
could they back a band that may or may not do a good gig, or make
a good record. They just buried us long before we were dead".
With the tour looming ever closer, the Adverts were faced
with two options: blow out the gigs, or strap a guitar onto T.V.
and hope for the best. They took the latter course, and
Liverpool and Sheffield were amongst the handful of cities to be
treated to a first hand display of T.V.'s hitherto unsuspected
guitar virtuosity before he was relieved of the unwieldy
implement by the arrival of Paul Martinez, one day before he made
his live debut, at Dingwalls.
You win some, you lose some - Paul's first gig was Rod's
last. Latter, who subsequently reunited with the Maniacs' Alan
Shaw, and Damned guitarist Brian James in the immortally named
Severed Dwarves, looks back on his tenure with the Adverts with
"Those were some of the best times I've had in
rock'n'roll. There were a few bad times, but when we got
onstage, I wouldn't have missed that for anything."
real regret is the manner of his departure.
"I turned up for a
rehearsal, and no-one else was there, so I rang Dempsey, and he
said that the band had broken up. The next thing I know, they're
doing another tour."
In fact, the group had broken up. However, sundry
contractual obligations deemed it wise for the Adverts to at
least fulfill their remaining bookings (it would also ensure RCA
went ahead with the album release), and with Latter seeming to
have followed Howard Pickup underground, Paul Martinez suggested
his kid brother Ricky step into the void. This final line up
debuted at the Electric Ballroom in October, 1979, and the stage
was set for the release of Cast Of Thousands.
It was not an album that was to win the Adverts many
friends, but it probably wasn't meant to. A flagrant departure
from even the most extreme expectations, Cast Of Thousands
would not only cast the band adrift from the New Wave mainstream,
it would also alienate all but the most adaptable of the band's
following. Even before recording began, T.V. himself was well
aware that the Adverts were on their last legs; Cast Of
Thousands was the album with which he would make the final,
public, break with his musical past.
Live, the new songs had blended effortlessly into their
surroundings, adapting so many of the characteristics of the
older numbers that one could almost believe they were seeking
defensive camouflage. Once in the studio, however, the Adverts
dispensed with every last vestige of familiarity, treating each
song as if it were a completely new piece, and not, as in the
case of "Male Assault," the oldest song in sight, something which
they'd dragged along to every gig they'd done for the past
Just as they had reworked those early singles for
Crossing The Red Sea, so they approached the Cast Of
Thousands material from an entirely new angle. But whereas in
the past, they contented themselves merely with providing a
different viewpoint to the same picture, now they were starting
afresh, on a brand new canvas. Three years of remorselessly
honing their vision coupled with a sense of calculating
contrariness until the album seemed less a vehicle for the songs,
as one which could transport The Adverts into a whole new sphere
And overall, it worked, although the Adverts themselves
would not stick around to reap its rewards. On October 16, the
new look band recorded the Adverts' fourth peel session, turning
in versions of "Cast Of Thousands," "I Will Walk You Home" (both
sides of the band's latest, final, single), "I Looked At The Sun"
and "The Adverts." Then came another burst of gigs, three in
Scotland, Hull, Cardiff, and two at London's Marquee, but so much
activity led up to led to just one conclusion, the Adverts' last
ever show, at Slough College on October 27, 1979.
"There are advantages in going out with a whimper when
everyone looks upon you as being really shit," T.V. reflected,
"although I'd have loved to go out with a really big tour. It
all came down to money, though, and RCA's lack of giving us any.
"If I look back on the last few years, now I can see it as
a two or three year thing. The Adverts were continually standing
on the outside, and seeing what they could do. But while it was
still going, everything was perfect as far as I was concerned.
People were really insulting about Gaye's playing, but on the
second album and the last tour, she was playing really well. I
mean, it's pointless to compare her with Jack Bruce, but she was
right for the Adverts, and for what we were doing."
Now they weren't doing anything at all. Gaye, after
briefly contemplating a solo career, ultimately decided to quit
the music industry altogether; today, she works in local
government. Howard Pickup, Laurie Driver, John Towe and Rod
Latter, too, seem to have fled the field, while Tim Cross
returned to session work. Only T.V. himself has continued
pursuing the vision which the Adverts nurtured, with the
Explorers and Cheap, and now, solo.
But although there has been no shortage of offers, T.V.
has never even contemplated reforming the Adverts; indeed, it was
not until some way into his solo career that he even began
revisiting their catalog.
"The problem with the older songs was
that they were always so firmly identified with the Adverts that
if I'd tried doing them in the past, with either the Explorers or
Cheap, it would have looked corny. Now they're just songs, and
the old pressures aren't there any longer."
That veteran of a hundred punk compilations, "Gary
Gilmore's Eyes," was the first oldie to appear. In 1991, T.V.
joined German superstars Die Toten Hosen, to record a version of
the song for their Punk tribute album Learning English Lesson
One (Virgin 91823); a year or so later, the song reappeared in
T.V.'s own concert repertoire, prefaced by a short and very
amusing "Punk Rock Poem." 1995 even saw a live version appear on
his "Thin Green Line" CD single (Humbug HUM 8). "One Chord
Wonders" and even "Bored Teenagers" have resurfaced sporadically
since then, and of course, the Holidays In The Sun gig saw him
recreate the entire Red Sea era set list - on acoustic guitar!
In an on-line interview published via 2.13.61's website,
T.V. explained, "the image of punk as portrayed in the media was
a very negative one of foul-mouth yobs, spitting and getting
drunk. In fact it was a very creative time, politically aware
and expressive. The negative aspects overwhelmed it and the
movement burned out quite quickly because it was so intense. But
the positive elements go underground and resurface in other
ways... I haven't changed my attitude at all. There's no point if
you're going to sell out. You might as well stop even pretending
to be creative."
The remastering of Red Sea offered T.V. another chance
to reappraise his past, first with the recreation of the original
track listing, then via the exhumation of the remainder of the
Adverts' Anchor/Bright repertoire, included on the new album as
hidden bonus tracks. He also included, for the very first time,
a lyric sheet; hitherto, the most literate lyrics in Punk had
been available only through the T.V. Times fanzine, which
chronicled T.V.'s career over 40+ issues through the early 1980s.
The appearance, a few months later, of The Peel Sessions
and The Singles Collection albums added to the sense of deja vu
which occupied T.V. through much of 1996, while only RCA's
apparent reluctance to admit they ever signed the Adverts has
stymied attempts to give Cast Of Thousands it so richly
deserves. The group will never reform, but T.V. Smith remains a
devoted guardian; maybe that is the reason why they'll never
"It could never be as good as it was the first time, so
what is the point?"
His fondness, of course, is tinged by a little regret.
"When we started out, we had this great free gift that we were
going to give away to everyone; within a few months, we'd got it
all wrapped up in this nice wrapping paper, but then, when we
came to open it, we couldn't find the gift.
"But I don't think we made any real mistakes, and if I had
to go through it all again, I'd be quite happy. The Adverts are
very dear to my heart."