T.V Smith was there at punk ground zero in 76’ – ’77 playing the Vortex and Roxy with his band, The Adverts, alongside other latterly more celebrated acts such as the Pistols, the Clash, et al. A string of brilliant singles, “Looking through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, “One Chord Wonders”, “No Time to be 21”, “Bored Teenagers” led to a great debut, “Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts”. Unfairly neglected in comparison to his contemporaries, as a songwriter Smith was without a doubt equal to the best of them, penning anthems to the nowhere generation. Dorfdisco caught up with T.V Smith just before his Berlin Gig at Kato.
Dorfdisco: There seems to be a never ending supply of punk product in the shops. Last year Wolfgang Puak’s Punk in London was given a makeover and there are lots of videos on YouTube, how do you feel about looking back?
T.V : Well it’s great that it’s getting out there really. I mean there are more ways that you can distribute stuff now. You can get stuff up on YouTube. You can get DVDs out. They are comparatively cheap to make so a lot of this stuff that had disappeared for a while and you couldn’t get hold of is turning up again. In the end it’s public demand, you know, that’s why it’s all turning up. You don’t get products turning up unless people don’t want them. I mean Big Business can perhaps force people to want them but the thing is that people really are interested and they want to look into it and research it. Particularly people who were too young.
There are whole generations now that are alive that weren’t then, when Punk happened and they want to find out what it was all about. I think people see it as a genuine time in music, which it was and that is what is missing now. So those people want to look back to a time when it was possible to have something real going on.
Dorfdisco: Watching footage of the Adverts on YouTube it does seem a very long time ago.
T.V : It’s a huge gap ago but I still remember doing it as if it was yesterday. I am still proud of it and still proud we did it and I’m pleased that I was able to do other stuff and move on. That’s why I like it. I’m not stuck in it. I feel like I have taken the best from it and moved on and as I’ve got older, refined it in a way that makes sense to a fifty two year old.
Dorfdisco: There was a time, with The Explorer’s and Cheap, when you seemed to be consciously distancing yourself from the Adverts material but those songs now feature in your set.
T.V: There was a time when I didn’t play them. I think I first played them again in ‘92 or ‘93 so it was fifteen years. Moving on to the Explorers, the thing was that it was a whole new band. The material was absolutely designed for that band and only that band could play it. It wasn’t some swap around band, only those people could make that music.
The whole character of the songs develops from the qualities and relationships with the other members of the band. With The Explorers it was a whole separate thing, not just the songs but the whole nature of the way it sounded and I felt the same afterwards, I didn’t play Explorer’s songs with Cheap, or any Adverts’ Songs either.
It was only when I started playing solo I finally realised that I could go out and play them the way they were originally written, stripped back to the acoustic guitar. In a way it was really great because suddenly all my back catalogue was back and available to me. I didn’t distance myself from them because I didn’t like it. I distanced myself because I didn’t think it was right to do them with the other bands.
Dorfdisco: The acoustic set does seem to throw the emphasis back on the song writing.
T.V :Well that’s always what I was about. That’s what I do, that’s what it’s always been about. Everything was always written on an acoustic guitar.
Dorfdisco: Listening to Crossing the Red Sea , The Advert’s first album, I was struck by the strength of the songs but I was wondering what it feels like to play them now?
T.V : I think it was just lucky, it wasn’t that specific to ’77. It was inward looking in a way, so it still has a resonance with people now.
Dorfdisco: Listening to something like “No time to be 21” there is nothing in the lyric that fixes it to a specific time….
T.V : I thought the same thing. I didn’t know how it would feel to be singing songs like “Bored Teenagers” or “No time to be 21” but the feeling behind the lyrics are exactly the same. I still feel those things as a fifty two year old. I don’t feel any different and the questions that those songs are addressing they still haven’t been resolved.
Dorfdisco: ….. and I guess it’s still no time to be 21.
Dorfdisco: Listening to “One Chord Wonders” I was struck by the way it outlined a defiant outsiderism and a lot of your lyrics return to the theme of struggle. Does the price of refusing to compromise get higher as you get older?
T.V :No. The rewards get higher. Certainly in my experience, particularly in the last ten years. I have had so much fantastic feedback from other people who are outsiders as well and it’s nice to gather and realise that we still have our own society outside, where the values are actually true. I would hate to be dragged inside where there is all this false stuff going on. I’m not interested in it. I’m not interested in their crap T.V, media, marketing, big business, Capitalist world. I’m not interested in it and I don’t want to be part of it. You can say that I’m an outsider but if you look around there are all these other people outside as well.
Dorfdisco: There are times though that it feels like there is nowhere other than inside.
T.V :Yeah, breaking out to the outside. You don’t know where it is until you try because you are brought up in society, you absorb the values that you see around you, your parents and where you live and how you live and you don’t know. You don’t know that you can break out. I think that’s what the whole teenage angst thing is about. It’s that process of breaking out. You are coddled into believing that you have to stay here in the warm, where everything is nice and cosy and it’s bad to be out on the edge. That’s a bad thing, you don’t want to do that – but then you find out that is where it’s all going on.
Dorfdisco: By definition freedom lies outside of conformity but it can be difficult to accept the consequences. Simply declaring that you are not interested is interpreted as a threat.
T.V : By definition yes but society is not designed to make it comfortable or pleasurable because it IS a threat. You are supposed to obey the rules and be a slave.
Dorfdisco: In recent years you have been playing with quite an international group of people and I was wondering how you got together with Die Toten Hosen?
T.V : They were making the Learning English album and they got Arthur (Arturo Basic) from the Lurkers to round up all the old English punks because the album featured all these English punk songs. So he rang me up and told me about it and I was a bit suspicious because I hadn’t heard of the band and it sounded like another cheap cash in but he took me up to meet them at the studio and they had already laid down a backing track, a really great version and they were obviously real, genuine punk fans. They explained to me their thoughts behind doing the album, why they were doing it and I thought it was all totally alright so I sang on the track and we became friends. They offered me a lot of help and support, if I wanted to get an album out and I did some translation for the record and helped with the words for “Pushed Again”.
At some point when I was on tour in Germany they said that what they really missed about my records was that, (a) you couldn’t get them and (b) they all sound very different because they were recorded in different circumstances, different studios and often done cheaply. They wanted to bring it together. It was their idea to record a best of in a good studio ( “ Useless, the best of T.V Smith ” Jkp/Warner 2001) with a good band and a kind of consistency of sound to it so that of course was a brilliant opportunity.
Dorfdisco: The performances on YouTube sound very disparate.
T.V : Well this was a great opportunity to present the songs to a German audience a nice way to round up what I had done before but I would never actually full time want to record records that all sound the same. I enjoy making everything sound different.
Dorfdisco: So what do we have to expect from In the arms of my enemy?
T.V : It’s not quite as rock, as straightforward rock as Misinformation Overload. I’m really happy with the collection of songs but I wanted to open up the arrangements a bit. It’s a little bit back toward the March of the Giants sound where there was a bit more interesting instrumentation on it. So there is a lot more acoustic than electric guitar. I’ve got Tim Renwick back playing acoustic guitar and I’ve laid off the electric because I didn’t want it to be so much of a punch in the face, not full-on electric all the way through. I wanted it to be able to have a bit of room and breath a little bit more . There’s lots of interesting things like little Indian bells and harmonica and percussive things all within a basic rock format with Rob playing drums. In a way it’s the best of all the ones I’ve done in the past. In a way it’s my best of sound with a great bunch of new songs.
Dorfdisco: Well that sounds like a good place to be. Let’s wrap this up now – any advice for young musicians?
T.V : Well you can’t really give advice. If people are good if enough and they believe in themselves enough they will just do it. I mean my career has not exactly been a conventional success curve….. so I think anyone that listened to my advice would be an idiot.
Dorfdisco: Well you are still doing it …….
T.V: I’m still doing it because I love what I do and I believe in what I do. I do think I have a talent for what I do but I don’t think that’s really advice you can transfer to someone else. They have got to find it, they have got to believe in it and I know that the people that have really got it, they don’t need any advice. They are just going to do it anyway. It’s never from somebody else. It comes from you.