The Sea Nymphs

Sea Nymphs
‘On Dry Land’
Alphabet Business Concern

sea_nymphs_dry_coverFrom the ground and in the air…everything is easy.

Well not exactly. Some things are downright tricky, and it’s fair to say that Sea Nymphs’ second album has made its way into existence via a somewhat tortuous but nonetheless rewarding route.

Sea Nymphs were/are an offshoot of the wondrous and sometimes baffling punk/pop/prog/kitchen-sink band Cardiacs. The world of Cardiacs can, to the outsider, seem a little daunting. The in-joke chanting at gigs, the symbolism, the ever so slightly intimidating stage presence; it can all be like being presented with a cult to the uninitiated. Then, there’s the music. First impressions can lead to the conclusion that it barely makes sense. There are ridiculous time changes and key changes, wonky little fiddly bits and heaps of ungodly noise. After a little time and immersion something will click and everything becomes blindingly clear or a strong antipathy will arise. It’s a love/hate thing, there is no middle ground.

Except, maybe there is, the works of Tim Smith were not merely confined to Cardiacs output. There was his wonderful solo album Oceanlandworld, and then there was The Sea Nymphs, a project with Cardiacs cohorts William D Drake and Sarah Smith. Whilst there could be some delightfully gentle and beautiful moments in Cardiacs songs, they’d usually be surrounded by carefully crafted chaos (if such a thing can actually exist). Sea Nymphs comes from a different place altogether. The Big Ship might have been sailing on the high seas where the wind and rains is cold, but under the surface, in the depths, there was something far more quaint occurring.

The original Sea Nymphs album appeared back in 1992 and the trio created a series of creaky yet catchy shanties that were far more delicate than perhaps might have been expected. For those put off by Cardiacs’ usual output, Sea Nymphs offered a new way into their world. Drawing on folk and pastoral classical music, Sea Nymphs were still a strange proposition, but they were dreamy, sprite like and utterly charming.

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Their second album had been recorded around the same time as the first, but for some reason best known to themselves it has taken until now to see the light of day. Its appearance now is worthy of celebration. Firstly, it is always a pleasure to hear new material from any Cardiacs related project. Secondly, it sees the return of Tim Smith to the creative arena since becoming unwell in 2008. Over the last year he has taken to the studio in order to add the finishing touches to the album, and the notion of his return to music in any form is something to be cherished.

As might be expected, this album occupies a similar sonic space to its predecessor. Whilst the title suggests that the band is resting their seafaring legs for a while, the call of the sea is strong and there is still that strange sense of oceanic depth and mystery that pervades almost every song.
The opening seconds of After set the tone for what is to come. Sarah’s altered vocals hang spirit like, fading in and out over delicate tinkling chimes. It’s almost impossible to grasp such is its barely there nature. Eating A Heart Out is a little easier to grasp, but retains a soft-focus feel. Like a naïve nursery rhyme, there’s a beguiling innocence to it that would break the heart of even the sturdiest (which would make it easier to eat). Big River, effectively an acoustic guitar and vocal performance from Tim is more straightforward, it’s a stark reminder of his ability to draw emotion from even the sparsest arrangements. Sea Snake Beware meanwhile finds William D Drake taking the lead with his piano and vocals and it sounds very much like his own solo work: dainty, precise, and surprisingly complex by the close.

The first four songs might represent the individuals and their nuances, but Sea Nymphs most definitely operate as a band within the band as can be seen on the likes of the jaunty folk of Cut Yourself Kidding or the sci-fi tinged meanderings of Bye Bye Spirit. It’s on The Black Blooded Clam that things really come together however. Its chaotic structure, classical motifs, and slanted whimsy are absolutely perfect. Sounding like a scuttling mouse trapped within a wicker man, there’s a slightly sinister side to it.

As the album draws to a close, there are a couple of songs that might have found their way onto a Cardiacs album. That’s not to say that they don’t fit into the Sea Nymphs’ ethereal oeuvre, but it’s possible to imagine The Sea Ritual finding its way onto On Land In The Sea as elements of it sound not unlike The Everso Closely Guarded Line. Similarly,Liberated And Handsome’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interjection could easily have nestled in the behemoth that was Sing To God.

This then is a welcome return to the vaults and an absolute gem of a record whose depths and delights deserve to be heard. It is encouraging to see the wheels turning in the Cardiacs camp again.

Sam Shepherd

A visit to ‘The Seaside’ again with Cardiacs

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I was once a Little Man aged 11 looking out of my Little House through my parents Whole World Window. It was a beautifully innocent time hanging out in the burbs of Surrey, riding my BMX after homework through wet leaves and spiky conkers, not giving a hoot about anything. The stereo in my bedroom played 7″ records from Adam Ant, The Jam, The Specials and Madness, slabs of vinyl bought on a Saturday afternoon in the little independent record shop in our hometown of Sutton. Chick-a-Boom, was owned by an overweight biker who sat behind the counter with a huge beard. Aside from his overwhelming presence I loved the smell of the vinyl there, as opposed to the big store on the high street they called Woolworth’s, where my Mum preferred visiting for her records. Collecting music weekly became something special but as you know, the Whole World Window is a very special and endless space – where discovery, is everything.

Somewhere hidden in the suburbs of the same county in 1984, Cardiacs were preparing the release of their original cassette of The Seaside. They were only a few miles down the road. Their off-the-wall, psychedelic punk rock was being distributed to the ears of the chosen few throughout Kingston Uni and the suburban alternative pubs like The Mill and in other small towns nearby in Surbiton, Teddington and beyond. Little did I know that a few years later just one sniff of Cardiacs’ musical drug would change my entire life, forever.

Trying to explain Cardiacs’ sound to those who have never heard them before was always difficult. Like Victorian funfair music in a knife fight with John Carpenter; an horrific, terrifyingly exciting sound that should be used for torture purposes, they said. It wasn’t for everyone, but I wasn’t everyone, I fell in love on first play and made it the soundtrack to my life. We had a crew of us at school who worshipped the band but most people thought we were weirdos. This was a local band, one that our brothers had past down the line to us and we totally enjoyed being those weirdos. It was an honour to wear that badge…with the flower on it.

Cardiacs’ live shows were like anti-theatrical minefields that detonated every single explosive part of your brain. They left you in tiny pieces, excelling you to the verge of heart attack with excitement whilst every breath of air around you (and a huge fan) pushed tiny pieces of confetti into the air creating a dream-like scenario – kinda like the best acid trip of all time but without the strychnine come-down. And so it began, my Cardiacs virginity was taken at NESCOT college on February 10th, 1989 and it left me turned completely inside out. I remember leaving that room feeling like a lost dog, confused, horny and wreckless, with my lipstick hanging out. Only Cardiacs fans are going to read these words so you know exactly what I’m talking about. The question is: Where did you lose yours? Tell us in the comments at the end of this waffle.

Ph: Steve Payne

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William D. Drake’s keyboard prowess, Dominic’s incredible precision drumming, percussionist Tim Quy’s vital inclusion, Sarah’s huge smile and her mighty presence on sax all made the shows shine like nothing else. Jim Smith’s bass playing, down trodden persona and incessant bullying, dished out by brother Tim, made the show the most unnerving experience I’d ever seen. Tim’s ranting, swinging of his guitar and insane facial expressions was pure madness, but oh so controlled and delivered like a pro. All other bands playing live at that time in Ewell seemed boring and pointless, so finally I had found Armageddon in music form and it became an instant obsession. I hit the road to as many Cardiacs shows that I could get to with my new driving license and crappy brown Ford Fiesta. It made for a decent bed after the gigs finished too.

The biggest problem with my new found addiction was that their Seaside album, released on cassette, seemed to be some sort of myth. Kind of like what Animal Chin was for skateboarders; you couldn’t find it anywhere but it left inspiration with everyone who came in contact with it. The internet and mobile phones didn’t exist of course – just fanzines, the fan club and record fairs, so I searched far and wide for The Seaside (The Obvious Identity and Toy World) until a friend’s friend of a friend came good with a blank TDK D60 copy. All I ever wanted were the originals though and to this day they still evade me. The CD re-issue in 1995 (and 1990) were must-haves but a few of my favourite tracks from the live shows didn’t make the pressings.

Hearing ‘Dinner Time’ on the new re-issue today made me bounce off the walls. It was like discovering Cardiacs for the very first time again. Similarly, the mesmerising riff of ‘Nurses Whispering Verses’ was always a favourite live (alongside the chaotic punk rock assault of To Go Off and Things). These were rare gems in between the epic singles, ‘Is This the Life?’ and ‘A Little Man and a House’ – both legendary works from the amazing songwriting and production skills of Tim Smith. It’s very rare to find talent like this man was blessed with. Tim created another planet through his own World Window that we could all see, feel and touch – like nothing we had ever discovered before, or have been close to discovering since.

It breaks my heart to be reminiscing all of this right now knowing that Tim is unwell and has suffered through illness. Even though Cardiacs’ music is played weekly in these parts it always leaves me praying for his health – and I’m no religious man. He changed people’s lives forever and we are here right now to give it all back. I doff my hat to Tim Smith. Sir, you are a true musical legend.

Ph: Sarah Maher

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These words were written ten minutes after the album finished from hitting my email account today. The fingers did not stop, the memories came too fast and I just had to spit everything out. The re-issued record will be coming out via the Alphabet Business Concern on November 30th this year with those 4 tracks mentioned above and the original running order on CD, double gate-fold vinyl – both cut from the original 1984 1/4″ master reel. There’s also a tasty boxset coming, with the inclusion of replica newsletters, (YOUsletters) a cassette, poster, Walker prints, lyric booklet and a beautiful photo book containing previously unseen photography.

Prepare space in your wonderful record collection next month to re-own some magical musical history and enjoy listening to ‘Dinner Time’ from this release that we have been lucky enough to unleash for you today. It’s a marvellous tune that has been missing from the Cardiacs catalogue since the cassette release of The Seaside. Pre-order the box set here.

Big love to all Cardiacs followers worldwide.

Zac