The Adverts

TrackAlbum / Single
One Chord WondersStiff Records BUY 13
Gary Gilmore's EyesThe Wonders Don't Care
We Who WaitAnchor Records ANC 1047 B-side
Cast Of ThousandsCast Of Thousands
The AdvertsCast Of Thousands
No Time To Be 21Bright Records BR 1
On WheelsCrossing The Red Sea With The Adverts
Safety In NumbersAnchor Records ANC 1047 A-side
New ChurchLive From The Roxy
Love SongsCast Of Thousands

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Contributor: Neil Waite

Gary don’t need his eyes to see, Gary and his eyes have parted company …” This was one of the best lyrics from one of the most underrated Punk bands of the late 70s. I’m not sure how the Adverts never secured punk ‘A lister’ status. With two amazing (though very different) studio albums they still remain in the bottom half of many published lists of prominent bands of their genre. Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts was the product of a year’s hard gigging and contained some of the best punk songs ever. They had the image, they had the following, they had a gorgeous and mysterious aesthetic in the form of Gaye Advert – and their humorous stage names. They were the whole package and yet failed to reach the success they deserved.

Their story started when Tim Smith and Gaye Black relocated from Bideford in Devon to London and formed a band with guitarist Howard Boak (Howard Pickup) and drummer Laurie Muscat (Laurie Driver). The Adverts were regulars at the newly formed Roxy Club and established themselves as a vibrant and forceful act. Their live release Live At The Roxy (recorded not at the Roxy but in Nottingham) captures their pure live energy. I’m going to include New Church from this brilliant release though I could have chosen any track here. As you listen you feel the vibe of the gig as band and crowd are clearly pumped up and enjoying a great night.

The Adverts photo

TV Smith, Gaye Advert, Laurie Driver and Howard Pickup outside Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly, London

 
The first single release One Chord Wonders remains my favourite Adverts song. I originally bought the single before hearing it – something I did too many times in my early teens and which led to disappointments, but not this time. The black and white image of Gaye Advert was mesmerizing, and I was far from disappointed when I played the single as soon as I got home. I love the way TV Smith spits out the words “The Wonders don’t care, We don’t give a damn”.

The Adverts never bettered this masterpiece although their classic was Gary Gilmore’s Eyes, released three and a half months later, famously telling the story of a patient who realises that the eyes donated for his transplant are actually from the executed murderer Gary Gilmore. The song was meant to appear on the debut album Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts but was dropped at the last minute, to the band’s annoyance.

I remember, aged 11, in the lounge with my parents, watching them perform Gary Gilmore’s Eyes on Top Of The Pops. I was mesmerized. Laurie Driver on drums looked bored, while the almost over-enthusiastic Howard Pickup pranced around like a stick insect in a torn shirt, with Gaye Advert looking sultry while concentrating so hard on playing the right notes on her bass (even though it was mimed). TV Smith was incredible, twisting about and giving his all and wearing weird yellow-framed sunglasses with little horns at the top corners which wouldn’t have looked out of place on Dame Edna Everage. I turned to my dad and said I wanted a pair of glasses like that. He gave me a ‘for goodness sake’ look and returned to the paper. I scoured the shops in Southampton the next week with no luck – and this saved me from looking a complete idiot.

Gary Gilmore’s Eyes was a great song but I was always slightly disappointed at the flat production on the single. The opening drumbeat sounds as if it’s recorded on a tape recorder at home. For this toppermost I’ve included the version that appears on the LP The Wonders Don’t Care: The Complete Radio Recordings, which is far better.

Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts was released in early 1978, and was mind-blowing. Every song could have been a single. It remains a punk classic and yet gets little recognition. The other two releases were Safety In Numbers and No Time To Be 21, both of toppermost standard. They had equally good B-sides in We Who Wait and New Day Dawning. I always saw We Who Wait as superior to the A-side with its fiery opening guitar riff like something from the Feelies album Crazy Rhythms which emerged a couple of years later. The best track is On Wheels, starting with a slow gothic bass riff. TV Smith’s haunting vocal shows him at his best as he chants the title lyric.

After Crossing The Red Sea I was expecting more of the same brilliance but as so often when you wait for a new release things don’t turn out as you expect. In Cast Of Thousands drummer Laurie Driver was replaced by Rod Latter but the biggest change was the introduction of keyboards, with Richard Strange from Doctors of Madness playing on the brilliant title track. Tom Cross was then recruited on keyboards for all but two of the tracks. This departure from the punk rawness of Red Sea must have alienated many fans before they’d had time to become loyal followers. It didn’t help that the album sleeve was appalling, with the band staring like rabbits transfixed in a car’s headlights. Initially I was disappointed with the album but in time I saw it as a standalone document, not Crossing The Red Sea Mk2. The title track, Cast Of Thousands, is the best one, with simple Buzzcocks-style guitar solos and interesting harmonic vocal backing as Smith sings “When you read the papers”. The song builds up and a fevered TV Smith starts bellowing out news items over almost operatic backing vocals. The track closest to their debut style is Love Songs, with a guitar-based punky feel. The Adverts is another great track. A strumming Wilko-esque guitar riff kicks off a rocking tune as TV Smith sings “thinking like the Adverts, living like the Adverts” with his characteristic vehemence. Cast Of Thousands is maybe a better album in retrospect and that could be why the band split up as soon as it hit the shops, often to remain there.

TV Smith was a brilliant songwriter, penning all of the Adverts’ songs on both albums. After the split he went on to form TV Smith’s Explorers and Cheap and then to a solo career. If you’re lucky you may catch him performing at a club near you. Like the Sex Pistols, the Adverts came and went in a blink of an eye. I believe the legacy that they left was also similar but unfortunately history rates them more modestly.

TV Smith website

The Adverts biography (iTunes)

You’ll find Neil Waite’s other topper-posts on 70s UK punk bands elsewhere on this site (see Chronology) including … The Undertones, The Clash, Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks

TopperPost #367

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Oct 19, 2014

    “Gary Gilmore”s eyes” is an amazing song. From a period of time when bands went for true outrage: not long after the Boomtown Rats would record “I never loved Eva Braun”. Imagine a band writing a song about the last few minutes of Osama bin laden, or being a prisoner of the U.S. government. I’ll be checking out the tracks I haven’t heard.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Oct 20, 2014

    Neil – thanks for this great list and ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ is a classic song, which should have prompted me to check out the Adverts further. Will now rectify that omission… And, David, Steve Earle’s ‘John Walker’s Blues’ is one song I know about ‘being a prisoner of the U.S. government’ …

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