Sunday, August 30, 2020

Obituary - Tim Smith

On Tuesday 21 July 2020, Tim Smith, best known as vocalist, front man and main writer of CARDIACS passed away. He was aged 59. The cause of death was a heart attack. 
Born Timothy Charles Smith on 3 July 1961 in Carshalton, Surrey, England, he had formed his first band by 1975 with some school friends while 1977 saw the formation of THE FILTH with his brother Jim. 
By 1979, he had formed CARDIAC ARREST releasing its first single, ‘A Bus For A Bus On A Bus’, before taking over vocals the following year for the ‘The Obvious Identity’ cassette album. In 1981, the band had morphed into CARDIACS for the release of the cassette album, ‘Toy World’.
In 1983, Smith married Sarah Cutts, who had joined the band three years prior. 
Smith created the Alphabet Business Concern in 1984, a carefully constructed myth of an exploitative organisation that dictated CARDIACS activities and held them to account. It debuted with ‘Archive Cardiacs’ that compiled the two previous cassette only releases. All future CARDIACS material, bar a rare exception or two, was released on Alphabet Business Concern. 
CARDIACS was a unique band and virtually unparalleled in a live setting. Fusing the abrasiveness of Punk and the musical exploration of Prog Rock, the band created a truly original sound be it on the minor hit single, ‘Is This The Life’ (minor as in reaching #80), through the majestic ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’ album (which opened with symphonic ‘The Alphabet Business Concern {Home Of Fadeless Splendour}’) through to the epic double album ‘Sing To God’.
Smith had a few side projects also, including the solo album ‘Tim Smith’s Extra Special OceanLandWorld’ which was recorded between 1989 and 1991 and saw release in 1995, while THE SEA NYMPHS was a side project that featured his ex-wife Sarah and William D. Drake (both of whom had been in CARDIACS), and played a gentler, lighter sound featuring greater emphasis on keyboards, vocal rhythms and brass. 
Two lesser known roles included performing with Jo Spratley in SPRATLEY’S JAPS in 1995, playing on and producing the band’s 1999 album ‘Pony’, and touring solo in support of GINGER AND THE SONIC CIRCUS in March 2006.
Outside performing, he also owned the recording studio, Apollo 8 in Wiltshire, producing several artists including LEVITATION, EAT, OCEANSIZE, SIDI BOU SAID and former WILDHEARTS frontman Ginger. 
He was also recognised as a video editor, working with bands as disparate as SEPULTURA and THE FRANK AND WALTERS, along with CARDIACS. 2008 saw the film, ‘The Wildhearts Live In The Studio: A Film By Tim Smith’ which featured THE WILDHEARTS performing their self-titled album along with some surreal intervals.   
A final CARDIACS album, ‘LSD’, remains unfinished. 
Tragedy struck on 25 June 2008 when Smith suffered a heart attack and stroke (after a MY BLOODY VALENTINE concert) and underwent a long period of rehabilitation, which included a second stroke in hospital. He experienced a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with dystonia, which causes muscles to contract uncontrollably. To aid his on-going recovery, three events named The Alphabet Business Convention were staged in 2013, 2015 and 2017 while in 2016 a one-off gig in Preston named The Whole World Window was staged. 
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.” Just the year before, Smith is quoted as saying of 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.”
On 25 October 2018, Smith received the degree Doctor Of Music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which brother Jim accepted on his behalf. 
Smith’s passing was announced by his brother Jim and bandmate Kavus Torabi stating Smith had “passed away peacefully at around 10.30pm”. 

My memories of CARDIACS go back to seeing them on Channel Four’s The Tube in 1987, when the programme aired the ‘Tarred And Feathered’ video. I didn’t have a clue what it was, whether I liked it or hated it. The Tube, from memory, played more CARDIACS stuff - and I got a taste for them. 
I finally got to see the band when they played Ipswich Caribbean Club in March 1992. The Caribbean had a reputation for bad sound but CARDIACS made the place sound awesome - the only band I ever saw that managed it.  I caught them again at Colchester Arts Centre around 1996 on the ‘Sing To God’ tour and a final time at the, I think Highbury Garage (although it might’ve been the Camden Falcon - I know it was cold though!) in early 1999.  
CARDIACS gigs were joyous, distinctly British (as in fusing hymns and music hall into their sound), chaotic, celebratory and frequently laden with make-believe cruelty (witness Tim’s goading and near bullying of his bassist brother, Jim). But never once was I not impressed, or even amazed that such complex songs could be played so efficiently and when the jarring, fractured sounds exploded into a joyous, heavenly symphony of sound, it was a truly beautiful thing.  
Where Smith’s muse came from, I cannot begin to imagine but I feel intensely fortunate that it touched me deeply and I got to experience The Leader Of The Starry Skies in all of his fadeless splendour.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Obituary - Ken Chinn

On Thursday 16 July 2020, Ken Chinn (also known as Mr Chi Pig), best known as the frontman of Canadian Punk band, SNFU passed away. He was aged 57. No official cause of death has been announced. 
Born Kendall Stephen Chinn in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on 19 October 1962, he was the son of a German mother and Chinese father and the second youngest of 12 children. His childhood was traumatic, much of it related to an unstable family life and which would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia. According to Chinn’s early-teen friend, Cameron Noyes, who lived with Chinn at the infamous down-town Edmonton house, Nosedive, they were also the last family in Edmonton to have no running water. 
In 1981, along with brothers Marc and Brent Belke, he formed a band called LIVE SEX SHOWS. This was a short-lived band, but the trio would soon form the band that has become synonymous with Chinn, SOCIETY’S NO FUCKING USE - better known as the acronym SNFU.
Chinn was renowned for high-octane, enigmatic, rather mischievous and frequently airborne performances which often included masks, puppets, outfits and other props and this helped lead the band to release its first records on YOUTH BRIGADE’s BYO label before a splitting in 1989 due to exhaustion and in-fighting. 
Chinn moved to Vancouver, Canada and fronted another short-lived band in THE WONGS which released a solitary EP in 1990 and then split the following year. An even more short-lived band in LITTLE JOE soon followed. Vancouver also provided Chinn’s gateway to a long battle with a number of hard drugs and his coming out as homosexual. 
Late 1991 saw SNFU reform and sign to Epitaph Records in 1993 - producing what was the band’s highest-profile period. However, the label didn’t renew the band’s contract in 1997 and by 2001, there was another hiatus. 
As before, Chinn formed another short-lived project in SLAVECO before SNFU returned to action in 2003 before another split in 2005. This time, Chinn had a down-turn with periods of depression, poverty, addiction and homelessness leading to a complete mental breakdown at the time his mum passed away. Somehow, he also managed to work on an as-yet unreleased solo album. 
2007 saw SNFU reform again and generally stay active from that point on. 
In March 2010, Chinn was the subject of a biographical film in Open Your Mouth And Say... Mr Chi Pig (review here).  The following year Chinn suffered extreme pneumonia along with bouts of cachexia, a wasting syndrome related to chronic alcoholism and malnutrition. The band also became the subject of a book - Chris Walter’s ...What No One Else Wanted To Say - which is pretty much the defining, in-depth analysis of the band and Chinn as a person. 
2013 saw Chinn perform some solo shows as DNFU (Distortion’s No Fucking Use). 
Most recently, Chinn inspired the Edmonton event, Mile Zero Dance Society’s Second-hand Dances for the Crude, Crude City in January - an exploration of what it means be to Punk or alternative in today’s world. In the work, choreographer/dancer Gerry Morita channelled the frustration, violence and catharsis of the early Punk scene.
Outside of the band, he often held court at Vancouver’s Pub 340 or perhaps The Cambie Pub, liked steak tartare, loved to travel, and had read chef Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential repeatedly.
It was reported in November 2019 that Chinn had been medically diagnosed as having only one month to live.  
In the wake of Chinn’s passing, childhood friend Noyes is part of a small Edmontonian group (which includes local venue the Starlite Room) that is working on a pitch to the city to have a mural painted and a statue erected in honour of Chinn, and also to organize an online memorial for him.

I got to see SNFU twice - both crackers - one with a younger Chi, the other with an older version of the same man.  First time was down in Brighton at, I think, the Richmond back around 93/94. It was December, cold and I missed the band’s gig at the George Robey (with SNUFF...). I’d long had at least the first two of those three classic debut albums - it was a time the band was already on Epitaph if I recall. Chi was stunning - energised is one word but not sufficient.
The second was way more memorable - in the band’s home town of Vancouver, Canada during a visit in 2016.  I saw a flyer in a local record shop, got directions (and it was a ten minute walk from where I was staying!) so off I went.  I recall it was an awesome venue with typical Canadian hospitality.  The band blazed, but Chi looked old, damaged but still enthralling.  On the merchandise stand was that biography mentioned above.  Given I was on holiday, I bought it and the seller suggested that, if I hang around after the gig, Chi might sign it - “no promises... Depends on his mood.”  I’m not really an autograph seeker but, SNFU in their hometown and only a ten minute walk home? OK... I waited.
Chi finally appeared and the seller on the merchandise stand (who had retained my book during the gig), pointed me out and gave Chi a pen.  A big signature was scrawled (and on the flipside of the page, so was Chris Walter’s). Chi suddenly grabbed my head, kissed (a bit too noisily) my ear, drawled “thanks man,” and off he went.  It was quite a moment (Good? Bad? You decide!) - both touching, engaging and surprising - just wish I had got a photo somehow!!
Mr Chi Pig - a legend in every circle of Punk Rock and one that set the bar high while succumbing to just about every low imaginable.