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We Who Wait – TV Smith and the Adverts Documentary

If you don’t own the Rhino punk rock box set (titled No Thanks! The 70s Punk Rock Rebellion)or didn’t parade around with a spiked Mohawk and safety pins decorating your cheeks in 1977, you may not have any idea who Tim “TV” Smith or the Adverts are. A well produced 2012 BBC documentary on the lyrical Mr. Smith is now available for viewing on YouTube as is well worth an hour of your time. Writers and performers Mick Farren, Greil Marcus, Henry Rollins, John Robb, Dave Thompson, Richard Strange provide incisive critical analysis and accolades.

Smith’s background is the not entirely atypical British art college dropout turned rocker. Inspired by the poetry and theatricality of the alternative British scene (think Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Bowie, and the Velvet Underground), Smith moved to London just as the Sex Pistols were spearheading the nascent punk rock movement. Inspired by exciting yet technically challenged groups like the Buzzcocks, Undertones, and The Damned, the Adverts were non-musicians ready for stardom. In 1977, the group released their first single on Stiff Records, “One Chord Wonders.” A propulsive rocker that mocked their own limitations, the single mused, “Wonder how we'll answer when you say/’We don't like you – go away/Come back when you've learnt to play.’"

And they really couldn’t play very well, although Smith was and remains a gifted songwriter. Gaye Advert (nee Gaye Black) was Smith’s girlfriend. She was given a bass and put onstage. John Towe of Generation X gives a hysterical demonstration of unsuccessfully trying to teach Laurie Muscat (a.ka. Laurie Driver) a basic rock beat. Driver’s furious one dimensional drum technique would give The Adverts their breathless pace.

By September of 1977, the Adverts had their biggest hit. “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” remains the best song ever about receiving transplanted organs from a serial murderer. The jeepers creepers where did you get those peepers tune reached #18 on the U.K. pop charts. No less than an authority than Kim Fowley has said the song would have been a huge international hit, if not for the macabre subject matter. Laurie Driver on the song’s success,“By the time it did sink in that it was actually happening, it was all over.”

 

Fame proved to be a fickle mistress. Being in a relationship, Smith and Black weren’t equal partners with the rest of the band. Additionally, Black was a stunning looker – imagine an even edgier version of Joan Jett combined with Deborah Harry’s softer features. As Black became a focal point for the music press, jealousy grew among the other members of the band. Although not told with the melodrama of a VH-1 Behind the Music episode, the rest of the Adverts short lived career had the typical downfalls – artistic overreach, alcohol abuse, band members leaving, poor management, and bad relationships with the record label. By late 1979, the Adverts were out of business.
 
TV Smith went out to lead a few unsuccessful bands (TV Smith’s Explorers and Cheap) and released a solo album that nowhere in 1983. He later spent a decade “on the dole.” Throughout the documentary, Smith comes across as an honest, articulate, soft-spoken fellow, yet gives fiery passionate performances onstage. Starting in the early 1990s, Smith began performing as an acoustic/solo artist. He has released several albums and regularly tours throughout the U.K. and Europe. He has found an artistically satisfying niche doing what he loves. The film ends with Smith pouring his heart into the song “Expensive Being Poor” as though his life depended on it. Maybe it does.
 
Will one chord wonders never cease.

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