The Adverts/Anthology TV Smith Talks.
The Adverts Anthology has finally arrived the definitive Adverts collection is now available on CD for the first time. Jean Encoule caught up with a busy but tired TV Smith to pick his brains on the compilation every true old skool punk is currently clutching close to their heart.
trakMARX - Devil's Own Jukebox have made a smashing job of both "Crossing The Red Sea" & "The Adverts Anthology" - are there any plans for them to release any further Adverts material (A re-master of "Cast Of Thousands?, for example)?
TV - I would like to get "Cast Of Thousands" out in a definitive version, with as much care behind it as has been put into the "Red Sea" and "Anthology" packages. That would really complete the job of getting all the Adverts material out in versions I can be proud of.
trakMARX - Ray Stevenson's "Anthology" images are really fantastic - we'd not seen many of them before - were any left unused & will we be able to see them ever?
TV - It was great of Ray to let us use his photographs for the booklet, he's one of my favourite photographers of the era. I asked him if he had anything that hadn't been used before and he let me look through all the negatives of us he could find from the period. I was thrilled to see that apart from the two or three well-known pics you see all the time in the press he had a treasure trove of unseen images. Of course there were lots of photos that we didn't have room for, and there are also a lot of photos he couldn't find, particularly from the later period of the band. He was in the middle of moving house and had to put a lot of his stuff in storage so I'm sure he has a lot more somewhere.
trakMARX - When compiling "Anthology" you trawled through every available recording of each Adverts song to make sure you'd included every definitive take - how long did the process take & were any other ex-Adverts involved in the process?
TV - The idea was to make the ultimate compilation by using a mix of the singles, two official albums and the John Peel sessions. The actual choosing of the tracks didn't take too long because I was already really familiar with what was available. One of my aims was to show that the difference between the direction of "Red Sea" and "Cast Of Thousands" wasn't a sudden jump - it was a process. Using some of the Peel versions of the songs and the singles helps bridge the gap between the two albums, you can hear how the sound of the band was evolving.
trakMARX - "Anthology" was assembled in chronological order - is that chronologically according to when the songs were recorded or when they were written?
TV - It's according to when they were recorded. It would be difficult to do it any other way because I can't really put a date stamp on when a song's written. Often they lie around for a while and I think they're finished, then I go back to them later.
trakMARX - What led you to name the band The Adverts instead of One Chord Wonders?
TV - We spent a long time in late '76 trying to settle on a name. One Chord Wonders made us laugh, but we felt that the joke of calling ourselves after one of our own songs would have worn thin after a while. Also we didn't want to get tagged as a novelty band, we had something to say. The name "Adverts" put us in a different place out on our own, commentating on what we saw going on in the world, which was much more what the band was about.
trakMARX - Do you remember much about the night Brian James recruited you for Stiff Records?
TV - We were playing at the Roxy - it was only about our second gig - and Brian turned up with Jake Riviera from Stiff and Nick Lowe. Brian had told them there was this band he liked, and Stiff were really interested in what was going on - they'd already signed the Damned and they were one of the few record companies that really had their ear to the ground. Jake came up after the gig and told us he wanted to record a single. A couple of days later we went over to see him and Dave Robinson at the Stiff offices and signed a contract there and then.
trakMARX - When you 1st hit Pathway did you ever imagine such a small studio could be responsible for such a large number of great records in such a short space of time?
TV - We didn't really have any experience of recording, so we had nothing to compare it with, but even so we were pretty surprised at how small and shabby it was. But we knew the Damned and Elvis Costello had already recorded there, so it had to be OK! The important thing was it had a great sound - you could tell it from the first take. In some studios everything comes out sounding flat and dead, but Pathway had the magic.
trakMARX - Allegedly, Stiff were keen to exploit Gaye's appeal - how did Gaye (& the band) feel about that?
TV - The only real issue we had with Stiff about that was when we saw the completed cover of "One Chord Wonders" and it was just a photograph of Gaye. We'd done a photo session for the cover on the site of a knocked down building just opposite Pathway studios and had assumed they'd use one of those photos for the cover. We felt we were a band of four equals, and Gaye certainly didn't want to be featured above the rest of us. It's a brilliant cover, iconic, and I'm really glad now that it happened, but it did upset the balance in the band a little bit because the more people tried to push Gaye into the spotlight, the more she'd try and step back out of it. She even ended up refusing to have her photo on "Safety In Numbers." But the real exploitation of Gaye came from the way the media reacted to her, not from the way we were treated by Stiff.
trakMARX - After leaving Stiff, how did you hook up with Anchor Records?
TV - Soon after we signed with Stiff we met a book publisher called Michael Dempsey down at the Roxy and he was very keen to advise us about what we should do next. He didn't have any experience in the record business, but he was used to developing new writers in the literary world and protecting them from the sharks in the publishing industry, so he kind of knew how things worked. He started searching around for a label that could give us the kind of backing that would push us above just being a cult band, which was what
was happening on Stiff - good reviews but not very many copies sold. He was also very keen that we should have a doorway into America because he thought the UK punk scene was going to be huge over there, and Anchor was a subsidiary of ABC so they seemed ideal. We were suspicious of major labels, but this way we could work with the small, personal team at Anchor and still have the backing of a major. Unfortunately, ABC didn't understand punk at all and pulled the plugs on Anchor before we'd even got our album out.
trakMARX - After the success of "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" did it feel like The Adverts had arrived?
TV - Arrived where?! We had a hit single and went on Top Of The Pops and all that, but we were a working, gigging band...we'd seen the interest building in the audiences in the few months we'd been around so it wasn't as if there was a sudden jump and suddenly we were...somewhere else. We just felt good that lots of people were coming to gigs and enjoying what we did. There was certainly no difference in our lifestyles...we were all still scraping by with no money, living in one room flats.
trakMARX - Did you have any specific targets in mind when you fired off "Safety In Numbers"?
TV - I'd started to see the punk movement - which was supposed to be about non-conformity - becoming a movement of conformists, everyone copying what was already there. The idea of people hearing about punk rock and saying, "How do I become a punk?" and then trying to imitate other so-called punks was absurd. The correct question to ask is, "How do I express myself?" If you do that right, you're a punk whether you mean to be or not.
trakMARX - "No Time To Be 21" - do you still feel like an outsider today?
I'm happy to be an outsider. I'm staying on the outside deliberately. You can breathe out here.
trakMARX - The Damned/The Adverts tour of 78 was said my many to be the greatest punk show on earth. Did you enjoy that particular jaunt?
TV - One of my favourite tours of all time. The Damned never let up, they were never boring to be with onstage or off. All the venues were packed and the audiences really enthusiastic. Both bands were out to blow each other offstage and it led to some great concerts, it was a really high energy tour.
trakMARX - Was "Great British Mistake" the best Adverts 45 that never was?
TV - I'd make that "Bored Teenagers" which for some idiotic reason I put out on a B-side.
trakMARX - How did you split from Anchor & what made you chose RCA?
TV - Really, we signed to RCA for the same reasons we initially signed to Anchor. ABC had closed down Anchor and we ended up putting the album out on a label started up by Anchor's in-house publisher. It ended up in the charts for just one week then pretty much sank without a trace...something had to change. Michael started talking to some labels and found someone working for RCA who was very enthusiastic about the band. It was enough to sway us from our anti-major-label stance and risk it. Unfortunately the guy who signed us was rapidly sacked and we were left stranded on a label that had no interest in us at all, just at the moment when we were writing and recording our most 'difficult' material to date and really needed support.
trakMARX - You describe "Cast Of Thousands" as a new direction in your sleeve notes - what musical influences shaped this change of direction?
TV - The main thing was the desire not to repeat ourselves. "Red Sea" just seemed to close the door on that version of the band - we'd said what we wanted to say, recorded it, there it was on vinyl, job done...now, what next?
trakMARX - You also mention a "flux" & a side project with Richard Strange - would you care to elaborate on this?
TV - Well, for one thing I didn't know where the limits were as far as song writing went. I was writing stuff that was almost impossible for the band to play. I couldn't play it myself. So I was looking around, really, wondering how far I could push the band and how far I could push myself. At the same time we were having some personality problems in the band, we'd been cooped up together for too long, travelling together, living out of each others' pockets, and the cracks were starting to show. I started working with Richard because I got on with him and respected him as a writer and we found we could write and record demos and actually enjoy doing it without any pressure of expectation from either record company or audience.
trakMARX - "Cast Of Thousands" still raises the hairs on the back of the neck today - was this The Adverts finest recorded moment?
The whole "Cast Of Thousands" issue is very curious. It was completely slaughtered in the press, it seemed they were trying to squeeze it into the the 'punk' pigeonhole - or what was being defined as punk by 1980 - and it just wouldn't fit. It's only in the last few years that I've been finally getting consistently good feedback about the album. Interestingly I hear from a lot of younger people who missed out on "Red Sea" and heard "Cast" as their first taste of the Adverts, and they prefer it. No-one could say that the sound of the album isn't a little, er, strange but the songs run very deep - there's a lot to find in that record.
trakMARX - "I Surrender" has got to be one of The Adverts most haunting songs - to learn that it's about the death of the band only increases the pain. Was that what it was actually like - surrendering? Hoisting the white flag & saying: "Let me walk away from this"?
TV - It wasn't supposed to be negative. What I was trying to say was that I didn't want to be part of something that couldn't move forward. It felt like we were being blocked by the music industry and the expectations of the punk audience that we should sound like all the other punk bands. But "Birds of a feather drop dead together, and that's all."
trakMARX - What was the final nail in the coffin - the straw that broke The Adverts back?
No one thing in particular, it had been becoming pretty clear throughout the last few months of the band that we weren't going to be able to carry on...but I suppose when RCA told us they weren't going to renew our contract it was clear that the mountain in front of us was going to be impossible to climb.
trakMARX - Although you've never stopped gigging, writing & recording since (including plenty of Adverts material), would you ever consider getting The Adverts back together for one last hurrah?
TV - I'm afraid it would be more of a 'boo' than a 'hurrah.'
trakMARX - Are you content with The Adverts legacy?
TV - Now that I have the definitive version of "Red Sea" and the definitive anthology out, I finally feel that we're on the way to being fairly represented on CD. All that's left is to get the definitive "Cast Of Thousands" released and the job will be complete.
trakMARX - And finally, what has TV Smith got planned for the rest of 2003?
TV - As always, constant touring. Up to Xmas I'm planning dates in the UK, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, America and Germany. Most importantly I'm organising an independent release for my new album "Not A Bad Day," which if all goes according to plan will be available from my website by late Summer, also of course I'll be selling it at gigs and I may try and find some small distributor to put it into some shops. I'm not intending to get involved with the musik-business anytime soon, so the only way to find out about what's happening with me will be through the website.
New TV Smith LP: New Album - "Not A Bad Day" - due Summer 2003!