That Eddie Smith is a genius is uncontested by those lucky enough to witness him in his magnificent pomp fronting The Gargoyles, Hull’s best night out for much of the 80’s and early 90’s. The Gargoyles were the band Paul Heaton raided for original Housemartin members Ted Key and Hugh Whitaker. They played frantic punky/rockabilly tinged pop songs about Jehovah’s Witnesses, campsite decapitations and the joys of Space Hopper travel. Their riotous gigs would frequently climax in imaginary crime scene reenactments, on-stage séances and the occasional spot of nudity. They were a kind of Humberside version of Half Man Half Biscuit but with ten times the energy and showmanship. When I first saw Vic Reeve’s Big Night Out in the early nineties I realized The Gargoyles had done it all five years previously. They were a superb rock n roll band, but it was Eddie, comic visionary, who elevated them to the status of legend.
Since The Gargoyles demise Eddie moved to London and then Birmingham, continuing to shape his singularly sideways world-view into verse. But apart from the occasional foray into open mic nights or impromptu pub performances, these skewed epigrams existed only inside Eddie’s head and a succession of plastic carrier bags until destiny led him back to Hull and the doorstep of ex Red Guitar John Rowley and virtuoso musician John Senior. The two Johns had been collaborating for years on countless clips, jams, grooves and sonic adventures, looking for that certain lyrical magic to glue them all together. It arrived in the form of Humberside’s returning prodigal son, and together they pieced together “On The Beach”, a wonderful and strangely poignant marriage of down to earth verse and avant-garde soundscapes. It draws together a bizarre and unlikely cast of characters including holidaying AA Men, dead bodies on Withernsea beach, wandering Scottish Pipers, a condom machine that comes to life and the “massive midget” Jeremy Clarkson. “On The Beach” is hilarious and direct and touching; poetry for people who don’t like poetry.
I met up with Eddie on the eve of a rare hometown gig at The Hull Adelphi, and asked him about the new album, life, love, death, AA Men, and everything in between.
“I packed in smoking and two months later the doctor told me I had cancer. Mind you, he did give me six months off work, so that cheered me up.”
“I was living in London and I saw an advert asking for people to train as psychiatric nurses. I loved it. I related to the people, the mad ideas they’d come out with. I think we live in a very power driven society where there’s massive pressure to conform, to get a job, to be popular and some people just can’t cope with that. It’s hard to fit into a society that’s driven by economic success rather than kindness or compassion.”
“I find it sad that Jeremy Clarkson is a top selling author and his show is one of the most popular on telly, because he’s the opposite of good. His views are shit. But you can either get angry or take the piss. He’s just a show off, and his head’s too long. I hate driving as well. It’s far too tempting to swerve into oncoming traffic.”
“I liked Monty Python. Me Dad got me into that. And Charles Dickens, even though he took fifteen pages to describe a room. One of the first people I saw live that blew me away was John Otway. Him and Wild Willy Barret. Brilliant. And The Damned, they were funny. Theatrical. Then I got into Crass and Conflict. I liked the politics of it. They looked ace, all the banners and the tellies. As for modern stuff, I like Public Service Broadcasting. Information films about Mount Everest set to electronic backing. Ace.”
“I had a book of Beatles lyrics when I was young and I really loved the simplicity and the beauty of the words. To me, there’s not much difference between a poem and a song. I like RS Thomas as well, a Welsh vicar who did all these short little verses about the landscape and God and all the mad characters in his village. He hated the influence of the English as well. Good bloke.”
“We started off at school. We did a lunchtime concert. It was unrehearsed chaotic nonsense. I loved the wildness of it all. It was just a chance to show off and act mad. When The Housemartins got big we used to get A&R men coming to see us expecting to see something similar. Then they were confronted with me throwing meself about and howling like a lunatic. They ran away with fear in their eyes. We got banned from one place because I took all my clothes off. But I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. They all stripped off in Hair The Musical, didn’t they?”
“I’ve never been ambitious. I have an innate inability to take meself seriously. I prefer amateurs and beginners to experts. Amateurs are more alive to possibilities. They don’t recognize boundaries so they tend to create more interesting stuff. Experts are fenced in by their own rules.”
“Hull’s great because it’s isolated. Philip Larkin got it right in his poem, “Here.” You can just get on with stuff. And the Adelphi Club is brilliant cos you get psychopaths sat next to hippies. If I was in charge of Hull’s bid for City of Culture I’d fill the Humber full of trawlers, all hooting their horns like it’s New Years Day. Then I’d set Princes Quay on fire for a grand finale. And I’d have my mate Gary on all the posters with close ups of his tattoos.”
“I like the idea of taking the piss out of relatively harmless institutions. I wanted to get hold of one their fluorescent jackets for the album cover so I was gonna pretend to break down on the M62, phone them up and tempt them into an ambush.”
“I believe in a universal life force for good. A positive compassionate energy. That feeling you get when you look at an amazing sunset or a beautiful animal. Nature is perfect. There’s no need to spoil it all with roads and cars and concrete. And Jeremy Clarkson.”
Buy “On The Beach” from Mollusc Records here.