FEATURE: Tim Smith: Mind and Body: Raising Awareness of Musicians’ Health Issues



Tim Smith: Mind and Body



Raising Awareness of Musicians’ Health Issues


A lot has been discussed…



concerning the psychological well-being of musicians – and whether enough is being done to preserve their mental-health (and ensure they are okay). It is an oversight that needs a lot more focus and compassionate research this year. I am concerned by the growing number of seriously distressed, depressed and anxious musicians whose health is being compromised by the nature of the business – how demanding it is - and (how) isolating social media can be. It is a tricky and time-consuming crusade we have before us. Curing someone’s mental-health problems takes more time, effort and patience than, say, a physical malady. I have been compelled to write because of a certain Tim Smith. Maybe there is a cruel irony that a productive musician/writer/producer who led a band called Cardiacs should be waylaid and incapacitated because of health issues. In Smith’s case; he suffered a catastrophic brain injury that has, sadly, seen him sidelined from the music industry and unable to create. It is heartbreaking seeing a legendary figure in such ill health; suffering so much and not contributing to the world of music. I will come to a fundraising campaign that has been launched – where you can contribute and help get treatment for Smith – but, since two strokes and (two) heart attacks in 2008 – fans have been rallying and supporting their idol. Back in 2005, when talking about the Cardiacs; Smith professed the meaning and relevance of the band:

Cardiacs is our life and everything we do, and everything we have ever done since we were tiny. We play a kind of music that we are very, very proud of and love more than life. A kind of music that apparently makes people hate us with a terrifying vengeance, or love us so dearly and passionately that it becomes a worry. No in-betweens . But to us it’s just tunes. Lovely tunes. Tunes are important in life.”

Smith’s passion for music began as early as the mid-1970s when the fourteen-year-old schoolboy procured a copy of The Who’s Tommy songbook. Teaching himself to read and write music; Smith wanted to play music loudly to, as he claimed, make his brother Jim look foolish! Bass guitar-playing Jim and his brother played together in The Cardiacs – it was shortened to ‘Cardiacs’ soon after. There was a sense of retribution and retroactive game-settling regarding the music. Tim Smith saw the band as an opportunity to exact vengeance on a brother who caused unkindness as a youngster – all loving and with no malice but, even from the first days, there was a sense of rivalry and strange ambition. This fervour led to a series of acclaimed studio albums and brilliantly-attended gigs. From their 1980 debut L.P., The Obvious Identity, to the tragedies that occurred in 2008 – the band have been on hiatus. Many count the band’s 1996 album, Sing to God, as one of the finest of the decade – there was high-hopes the group would continue to record music to this day. Before I highlight why it is important to back Tim Smith’s medical treatment – and highlight why musicians’ physical health needs to be highlighted – a statement from Smith himself:

Most of you are now familiar with the ins and outs of what happened all that time ago during the summer of 2008. But for the sake of clarity, which here and there has drifted a little, let me just state it here for the record.

Tim was indeed felled by a full cardiac arrest (which differs from a heart attack in that the heart stops beating completely) which in turn led to hypoxic brain damage to the parts of his brain that are largely associated with the starting and stopping of all movement. It left him with a little known about condition called dystonia. That’s it. There were no further heart attacks or strokes it turns out and there is no true paralysis



Hypoxia simply means a lack of oxygen to the brain. It causes the cells to die or be damaged in the affected area just as any form of stroke does, be it a bleed or a blockage. Deprived of blood flow, or too much of it and in the wrong places, the result is the same.

It’s pretty rare to end up with this particular condition as a result of hypoxic brain injury. We know of maybe two other cases worldwide. If there are more, it’s still, in all likelihood, a very small number. But you might say that’s just typical of Tim: it’s in his nature to do things others don’t and to do them properly!

As we know, this condition has affected Tim’s movement as a whole, his dexterity, his ability to speak and it has added painful muscle tone and spasms that are a permanent feature of his life these days. These also hamper movement generally. Obviously all medical and surgical options to ease some of his suffering have been, and continue to be, investigated”.

I realise musicians suffer poor physical health but the fact such an iconic and prolific musician suffered a series of strokes and heart attacks seems especially vicious and unfair. I will conclude this piece by looking at another high-profile musician, Solange (Knowles), and a condition that affects her. Regarding Tim Smith; one can help fund vital medical treatment and (help hit) a £100,000 target-figure. The fundraising is strong but, as we read those brave words from Smith; the desire to see him recover and back in the studio is strong.

The Cardiacs’ lead is fighting bravely and ensuring his health problems do not get him down. It is good to raise awareness of a musician’s health concerns because, unless it is very serious, we do not often hear about it. Not only can raising awareness give encouragement and guidance to those similarly-affected: we get to see the human side and show true support. Music, today, seems to be mostly about electronic purchases and a certain amount of detachment. Unless you go and see a band/artist; how often do you connect and relate to them? Even in the live setting; we do not get to know about an artist and what makes them tick. I am not suggesting Tim Smith’s health problems are a positive thing: it does bring us closer to the legend and creates a deeper feeling. I am determined to see Smith back in the studio because Cardiacs have always been a love-hate type of band. Back in the Britpop age (around 1994-1997-ish) they were seen as the outsiders – much like Radiohead but not as revered and respected. That might have something to do with their music: an assortment of unhinged sounds, nursery rhymes and off-kilter angles. It is hard to categorise them (Prog-Punk?!) because there is, and will never be, anyone quite like them. If celebrity fans like Blur and Mark Radcliffe have helped raise the profile of the band: the projectiles and abuse they were afforded during some of their concerts.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Especially in the 1990s, when Britpop and a certain musical sound was king; the guys were an oddity and isotope of rebellion – their stage mannerism and presence hardly helped when it came to assimilating and normalising. The band would play a traditional set-closer at the start; they would subvert expectation and change the rules. The tension and rivalry between the two Smiths – some saw it as bullying regarding Tim’s treatment towards Jim – and some controversial requests (the band would try and get the crowd kissing one another) certainly put them in the public imagination. Times are such where we have few ‘memorable’ bands like Cardiacs. In terms of innovation and sound-experimentation; how many artists like them are around?! Aside from a few left-of-centre bands like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard; there are not many bands who have such a strange and alluring sound. Some have accused modern music of lacking inspiration and any real development. I am not suggesting a Cardiacs return would get music’s heartbeat strong and in-time: it would provide an influential and established group the chance to keep recording – or Tim Smith recording some solo material. I am confident Smith’s campaign will hit its six-figure target – thus ensuring he can get that all-important treatment and be on the road to rehabilitation and recovery.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Another artist, and before I finish, who has publically spoken about their health issues is Solange. The musician posted the below on her Instagram account (last year):

Wrote, deleted and re wrote this like 5 times... Still not sure what exactly or how much I want to share... However it’s so important to me for the people in South Africa, a place that has tremendous meaning to me and that has given me SO SO MUCH, to know why I won’t be performing at Afro Punk this NYE. The past five months I have been quietly treating, and working through an Autonomic Disorder. It been a journey that hasn’t been easy on me... Sometimes I feel cool, and other times not so cool at all. It’s a complicated diagnoses , and I’m still learning so much myself, but right now, my doctors are not clearing me for such an extended lengthy flight, and doing a rigorous show right after. I can’t put into words how saddened and sorry I am that I am unable to perform for you guys this NYE, there is simply no other place I wanted to be than there with my family to bring in 2018 with you.......but I give you my ABSOLUTE WORD I will come back with AfroPunk and deliver this performance.....


 IN THIS PHOTO: Solange/PHOTO CREDIT@solangeknowles

…as it is so extremely important to me to connect with the people who have so closely inspired me in so many ways. I can’t thank Afro Punk enough for their support, and to all of the other festivals this past summer/fall who have known about my health, kept it confidential, and gone out of their way to make me feel supported while doing these shows. As a part of the self care that I’ve tried to encourage this past year, it needs to start with myself, and I’m looking forward to doing a better job of this 2018. This past year has been one of the most fulfilling of my life... Performing this record and experiencing the energy exchange with you guys has been astounding, and I’m so excited about continuing to do the work I feel so absolutely humbled and appreciative to be doing next year. It gives me life”.

Not only did Solange cancel her Afropunk headline set; she has helped raise awareness of autonomic disorders and put it into the spotlight. She has not revealed which specific type she has but, by speaking about it so openly; it will make other artists more confident about sharing their health problem with the public. Both artists have spoken out for different issues but we often digest music without thinking about the artist – relating on a human-level and actually connecting. It might sound like an odd way to connect but, as is the case with Tim Smith; people are coming together (from various generations and nations) and helping support a great musician. Solange’s fans have shown their support and love and, fellow autoimmune disorder suffers have a high-profile spokesperson. This year has only just begun but I can feel a need for change and togetherness. I worry we disassociate and disconnect from musicians - and never really consider the person behind the music. I am keen, especially, for people to get behind Tim Smith’s fundraising and get the master back into the studio – and help fund some life-changing medical treatment. If that can happen, and an amazing target can be hit; it means we can ensure a fantastic musician has the change to put…


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

MORE music out to the people.