The Adverts - Biography
Along with The Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, The Clash, The Slits, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Subway Sect and The Damned; The Adverts were one of the original English punk bands that emerged in the space cleared by The Sex Pistols in 1976. Though The Adverts are not as well known as they should be in the United States, the band’s performances of T.V. Smith’s visionary songs are among the founding documents of punk rock.
Tim Smith and Gaye Balsden met at South Devon Technical College in Torquay in the mid-‘70s. Smith was a songwriter and guitarist who had led the local glam-influenced band Sleaze and Balsden was a fellow art student. Inspired by The Sex Pistols and The Stranglers, the couple moved to London in 1976 in order to start a punk band. Guitarist Howard Boak responded to Smith and Balsden’s ad in the back of Melody Maker and drummer Laurie Muscat just showed up. “He was totally untalented, so he was obviously the right person for the band,” Smith later told Dave Thompson in Goldmine.
The band started rehearsing late in 1976. They thought about calling themselves One Chord Wonders after one of their first songs but decided on The Adverts. “There was no strange reason for the name Adverts,” Smith says in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, “it seemed like something that everybody could relate to, that was ironic.” The four took punk names, becoming T.V. Smith, bassist Gaye Advert, guitarist Howard Pickup and drummer (ahem) Laurie Driver.
The Adverts played their first show January 15, 1977 at the archetypal English punk club, the Roxy, opening for Generation X. After their second show at the Roxy in February, they took on Michael Dempsey as manager and were approached by Jake Riviera on behalf of Stiff Records. In April, The Adverts released their first single, the classic “One Chord Wonders/Quick Step,” issued with a black-and-white close-up of Gaye Advert on the sleeve. They then went on tour with The Damned. Anchor Records picked up The Adverts and released the band’s next single, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes/Bored Teenagers.” The United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and the first person executed, in January 1977, was Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who had been sentenced to death in Utah. Extrapolating from news reports that Gilmore’s corneas were donated and transplanted, Smith wrote a science fiction punk song from the point of view of a patient who wakes up in a “private ward” and realizes with slowly dawning horror where his new corneas have come from. The single reached #18 in the British charts and The Adverts performed “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” on the British pop TV show Top of the Pops.
The Adverts opened for Iggy Pop on six dates of his UK tour in September 1977 and released another brilliant single, “Safety in Numbers / We Who Wait.” Responding to the marketing of punk and new wave as a youth craze, Smith challenges the band’s audience on “Safety in Numbers,” singing, “What are you gonna do with your new ways? / What are you gonna do with your new wave?” The Adverts moved to Anchor asset Bright Records for their next single, “No Time to be 21/New Day Dawning,” which reached #38 on the British chart, the same position at which their debut album Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts (1978 Bright) peaked. Named by early UK punk journalist Jane Suck, Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts is a classic recording that remains one of the strongest first-wave British punk albums.
Laurie Driver got sick with hepatitis when The Adverts were on tour in Ireland and he had to go home. Former Generation X drummer John Towe filled in for the remainder of the tour, including The Adverts’ appearance on British TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. Drummer Rod Latter joined the band by audition. The Adverts left Anchor in summer 1978, in part because Anchor’s parent company — ABC — would not release Crossing the Red Sea in the United States. The Adverts signed to RCA Victor and for producer made the unexpected choice of Tom Newman, the man who produced Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. The A-side of “Television’s Over/Back From The Dead” is a fuzzy stomp, the B-side a punk tune co-written by Smith and Doctors of Madness keyboardist/vocalist, Richard Strange. According to Dave Thompson’s Goldmine article, “Although it ranked amongst RCA's biggest selling singles of the season, ‘Television's Over’ did not come within sniffing distance of the chart; the peculiar system under which the British Top 75 was compiled at the time, polling a representative sampling of high street record stores, made no allowances whatsoever for the growing network of independent mom and pop type stores — which was where most punk bands’ core audience did their shopping.”
Richard Strange plays some synth on Cast of Thousands (1979 RCA Victor), but most of the atrocious keyboard playing on The Adverts’ second album is on the conscience of Mike Oldfield’s keyboardist, Tim Cross, who joined The Adverts for the tour that followed the recording of the album. Howard Pickup stopped showing up to rehearsals and shows in the summer of 1979, so Smith played guitar and sang at several shows until new guitarist Paul Martinez joined, mid-tour. The Adverts broke up later in the summer when Latter showed up to rehearsal and no one was there. They re-united long enough to make sure RCA Victor would release Cast of Thousands, now playing with Paul Martinez’s brother Rick on drums.
TV Smith has continued to record and tour, first with TV Smith’s Explorers, then under his own name and with TV Smith’s Cheap. Howard Pickup died of a brain tumor at his home in London in 1997. Smith and Advert still live together. Smith told wardance.net in 2006 that Gaye had not played the bass since The Adverts broke up, and that she is now “a manager in social services.” In 2007, TV Smith & the Bored Teenagers played all of Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts in England and Spain.