Tim Smith of the Cardiacs


Timothy Charles Smith (3 July 1961 – 21 July 2020) was an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and music video director, best known as the frontman of the cult English band Cardiacs

Tim Smith of the Cardiacs
Brigitte Engl/Redferns

Tim Smith of the Cardiacs performs on Nov. 16, 2007.


Tim Smith, the lead singer and guitarist of cult British rock band The Cardiacs, died on Tuesday (July 22) at age 59.

Smith’s passing was confirmed by brother and bandmate Jim Smith, who wrote, “I’m sorry, on such a glorious day, to tell you the news that my dearest brother Tim passed away suddenly last night. Sorry it’s a brief message but I don’t have it in me to speak at length just now. Love to you all. Be safe.”

At press time no further information was available on the cause of Smith’s death, though according to NME he had been ill since suffering a heart attack in 2008, which led to his developing the rare neurological condition dystonia.

The group — which formed as Cardiac Arrest in 1977 with Smith as the guitarist and primary lyricist — quickly established a reputation for their wild, whip-saw style, which folded in art rock, jazz, psychedelia, metal, prog and punk into a roiling musical stew topped by Smith’s anarchic vocals and hard-to-decipher lyrics.

The group’s mission was amplified by their theatrical performance style, which often incorporated off-putting makeup, costumes, video displays and seeming on-stage confrontations.

In a 2015 profile of Smith, a writer for The Guardian suggested that those who could not understand the group’s approach might see it as, “a ghastly dungheap of quirky self-indulgence and forced weirdness,” while those, like him, who delighted in the oddities love them, “with a fervour that makes Southern Baptists in the throes of worship seem like uninterested wallflowers.”

Describing their music, the writer said, “Cardiacs sound unhinged, the sound of a manic brain firing off jarring time changes and baffling words. Songs sometimes sound like the players involved are trying to catch each other out, only to suddenly blossom into rapturous, pristine melody. The band reject the most common tag attached to them, that of ‘prog punk,’ but there’s a certain truth in it, as they deliver jarring, wonky arrangements with thrashy intensity. But then you have to throw in elements like nursery rhymes, sea shanties, sweet psychedelia, vast hymnal shout-alongs and the occasional, incongruously straightforward rock anthem.”

Beloved by younger fellow experimental bands such as Radiohead and Faith No More/Mr. Bungle, the group released eight albums during their three-decade run, beginning with 1980’s The Obvious Identity (as Cardiac Arrest) through their final full-length, 1999’s Guns.

Like fellow progressive art pranksters The Residents’ Cryptic Corporation, the Cardiacs established a record label and purported omniscient management company with an ominous name, The Alphabet Business Concern, which they claimed sought to unfairly harness their creative ambitions and which often seemed to be at odds with their own artists.

Smith was born in Surrey, England, in 1961 and originally formed the group with his brother Jim, as well as vocalist Michael Pugh and drummer Peter Tagg; more than a dozen keyboardist, percussionists, vocalists and saxophone players cycled through the group over the years.

Check out some of the Cardiacs music and a few tributes to Smith below.


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One Response to Tim Smith of the Cardiacs

    1. Absolutely loved the Cardiacs back in the late 80s and into the 90s. One of the best live bands to see, who never really got any recognition outside of a cult following. Saw them a lot, including the Bullingdon pub on the Cowley Road in Oxford.

      An appeal to Boris Johnson – you and your crew were in Oxford round that era, and you were a Bullingdon boy, albeit from the other end of the class spectrum.

      So much music has had its beginnings in venues like this, all across this land, turning it into a billion pound industry and export over the last five decades. Putting Britain on the map with hundreds of world class bands.
      These places are now struggling, with many going out of business.
      So come on Boris! Show some gratitude to small independent music venues, where so much of it came from, and help get it all going again.

      Comment by claire on 27 July, 2020 at 5:12 pm

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