|Always had that je ne sais quoi
|Irritating little combo with no plans to reform
|The most fun you can have with your shoes on
|Click here to buy the SMIRKOLOGY album
IT'S CLEAR from the enthusiastic reception they received at the Marquee on Wednesday that The Smirks have already built up a strong and devoted following. It's easy to see why - they are a band with a lot going for them. Strong material, capable playing and a keen sense of humour make them more fun to see than almost any band around.
They play a fast-paced, energetic and usually varied set consisting mainly of their own excellent and tuneful original material. Musically, they draw many well-assimilate influences, resulting in their own distinctive brand of intelligent pop. Their lyrics cover a wide range of subjects with a sharp observation and with that is all too rare, well exemplified by their first single "OK UK", though they are not afraid of tackling more serious issues. One superb song, dealing with pay policies, shows them capable of handling political issues without lapsing into the tedious dogmatic sloganeering of most bands who try this kind of thing. Their stage presentation and humorous cross-talk between sons is often hilariously funny without diminishng the strength of their music. Their Smirks Against Travolta campaign provides much material for comedy, notably a send-up of "Night Fever" with some ridiculous dance sequences.
Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Simon Milner is a talented vocalist, with a strong and appealing stage presence. Neil Fitzpatrick plas inventive and economial lead guitar, and provides some fine harmony singing. Ian Morris on bass and Mike Doherty on drums complete the band. I've seen few rock bands in the last year which I have found co consistently entertaining. It's to be hoped that their forthcoming single "Rosemary" gives them the hit they deserve.
- Dave Ramsden
I feel quite sorry for the Smirks. Their recent "departure" from Beserkley has laft them with an album in the can and tied up in legal hassles. They are also in the inenviable position of having to convince another label that they're worth attention. Hence the styling of the current series of dates as the Seek Employment Tour.
On top of all this they found Barbarellas' Tuesday nigh gig virtually empty, and their lighting rig blew a fuse as soon as they stepped on stage, leaving them playing by matchsticks for the first couple of numbers.
After all that it seems almost sadistic to criticise them, but I couldn't find anthing to get too excited over. Visually they totally lack any sort of image, and while the boys-in-the-next-street look might indicate a disregard for the Biz, it doesn't hold the attention for more than a flicker on stage. In their defence I would say tha they do have the rudiments of a stage act, with some clever footwork routines, but I wish they's put as much effort into their music as they do their choreography.
Certainly they provide a minor sense of fun, and some of the songs do suggest potential, but there are problems. The melodies don't get anywhere and there's nothing to latch on to. Added to this, their vocals aren't sufficiently engaging to make for the lack of musical structures. When they get into the harmony side of things they sound more at ease, as "Penetration" and "Streets" indicate, but individually they just don't cut it.
There are one or two bright spots in the set, such as the neat Lancashire reggae of "Oop, Ay, Oop" and the EP title track, "American Patriots" but they're isolated incidents in a generally not unpleasant but formless set. I'd like to think it was a bad night; certainly the lack of response didn't urge the band to greater things, and when I last saw them on the Otway tour there did seem more verve to them.
- Mike Davies
Shock horror. Last year's most abstruse power pop formula has become this month's most deserving non-chart bound sound.
The choreography hasn't disappeared, rather it's been supplanted by equally ambitious fretboard dexterity and a quirky approach to songwriting wherein the parts make up so much more than the immediate sum.
"Shrink Case", for example, seems to be your average stomp, but the stretched falsetto parts - as delivered by Simon Milner, the Roy Orbison of today - turn out to be about a psychopath, while Neil Fitzpatrick's compact harmony riffs fuse with a neat elegance into the overall scenario.
The plot thickens with the familiar Smirkreggae, "Up Eh Up": "With our backs to the wall / Not a penny on the pay / Not a minute on the day / No more overtime". [ Webmaster: Shouldn't that be "not a penny off the pay" ? ]
But how can you obtain time and a half when you're still "seeking employment"? After "Pro Pro", played for high-action melodrama, Milner posed the audience the burning problem of our times. "What do the Bee Gees know about tragedy?" he wondered.
Ah, questions, questions. The new material just blew them all away. "Angry With Myself", the U-rated track on the new EP, featured a melodic break which would be the envy of Buzzcocks in their return-to-minimalism phase (except that the Smirks have remembered to write some lyrics, too).
"To You", as yet unrecirded, featured spot-on harmonies and a wonderous ascending chord hum along;
With the superb rhythm section of Mike Doherty and Mog Morris laying down the most heavyweight of foundations, and Fitzpatrick poviding the kind of searing lead breaks one would have scarcely believed him capable of a few months back, Simon Milner railed and screamed against Americanese self-indulgence.
Close your eyes and it could be Joe Strummer.
If I were running Job Creation I could safely pass over this bunch. By whatever means, The Smirks are going to create a future for themselves.
On the same bill that night at the Apollo were the Smirks. Because they weren't the "headliners", mention of them must take second place to the Skids, but suffice to say they are, in my opinion, the best new band ... anywhere, and from Manchester too! Smirks, I loved you, even if not all the audience that night did.
SATURDAY evening. Now the Morris dancers have gone, families wait for the climax of the festival ... real live rock 'n' roll. The MC, Gordon the Moron, draws the first raffle and announces first band as Umbilical And The Last Chord, a special guest band a.k.a. C.P. Lee and A Bunch Of Blokes From The Railway Humouring Another Ageing Hippy.
And humorous, they are, too: from the C and W parody to the disco, shot by both sides! The band, which includes a brace of Albertos, a Smirk, a rabid guitarist and an anonymous violinist, proved that rock 'n' roll fun is far superior to the dour New Muzik ramblings of the intellectuals.
Smirking in the Poly 13-10-79
I don't know about you, but the Smirksplit news seemed to me a disaster on a par with Pearl Harbour, the Kennedy assassination or the 1970 World Cup. We turned up for the "Farewell to all that" gig about 9.30, expeciting queues down to the Beeb studios, and what did we find? Ghost Town '79, that's what.
Anyway, we sat in th bar putting spiders in Coke bottles, buying City Fun (correctly wired plug), laughing at the mods (= people in hats), and generally trying to ignore the Turgidbeats as support (if this is support, give me the opposition), while the place slowly filled up.
The lads wandered through to the stage about 11 and, Jesus Christ, it's John Dowie doing his greasy compere bit again, without the kangaroo suit this time. Not a patch on Bernard.
Seems there was a bit of a cock-up on the plugging-in-guitars front, so the first number was 30 second instrumenmtal - the Smirks going minimalist?? However Si came up to the mike in his ludicrous military gear to apologise for the new arrangement and introduced 'Rosemary'. Immediately, it's like the end of the world has set in with unnatural severity - people doing the Silly Silly Smirk, running in to pillars, picking bodies off the floor and, like that. Something along the lines of a 20-a-side football match in a darkened iron foundry, but not much; if you can't dance to the Smirks, rigor mortis must be pretty advanced.
They did all the old favourites and some new ones, including the stuff they're keeping under the counter for when the multi-million dollar recording contract arrives (how much longer, oh Lord?) - 'OK-UK', 'To You', 'Let It Drop', 'Island Sea', 'Barbara-Ann', great songs about real people.
Listen, The Smirks are only the third group I ever loved - they can play teenage pop and cool reggae without the 'How much is that doggie in a Babylon' embarrassment of The Police, and they can make you laugh simply by telling the truth. Where was I? They encored with a fab dub version of 'Up Eh Up' (we shouted for 'Ya Ya', but what can a poor boy do?), complete with brass section and guesting Alberto, and left behind a steaming pile of starry-eyed fans. If you've seen them before they were at least twice as good as that: if you haven't, you ought to be bloody ashamed of yourself. You can fill in your own superlatives, because as far as I'm concerned, they can do no wrong, and if lack of support makes them give up, I may decide to become a monk.
I never saw The Beatles or the Rolling Stones either, but if The Smirks can manage to keep going, who cares?
March of the Slobs
THE CHARLIE PARKAS and THE SMIRKS
"Take it away boys, and don't bring it back"!
One Thursday afternoon I am reading the N.M.E. (at five bob a throw, yet) and it strikes me that the whole kit and caboodle consists these days of lousy Damon Runyon ripoffs, with occasionally a side order of Kurt Vonnegut, and it furthermore strikes me that a guy can as easy write as fall off a log, and maybe easier.
Be that as it may, a few weeks later I am taking the air, and also the petrol fumes, along Piccadilly with a character by the name of Billinge Bert, thinking of practically nothing at all, when what do I see but a poster which implies that The Charlie Parkas and The Smirks will be playing at the Poly the very next night. Now I am such a guy as has plenty of time for the Smirks, and I see them every chance I get, which is very frequently, at that. In fact, a guy would have to go around with his head in a bag to avoid seeing them, especially in Withington, and there are not many who wish to do this.
Well, nothing will do but I must go along to the Poly the next night, and so I sit at the bar soaking up a few beers with the Video Kid, and among those present are also many of the Withington Mafia who are not exactly known for their unreasoning hatred of alcohol: so much so that when the Smirks climb up onto the stage it is even money who will fall over first. As far as this goes, I personally am offering 7 to 5 it will be then guy with the video camera who is balanced precariously on a nearby radiator, filming all that is proceeding.
The Smirks are all dressed in suits and ties, with new haircuts, with saxophones and such like scattered among them, so that it is obvious to the meanest intelligence that they change quite some when they are down in the smoke, and at first I suspect that they bring in a ringer for Ian Morris, at least, since it is well known in this town that it will require large amounts of cash money to get him to put on a necktie, and maybe heavy machinery.
However, all doubts vanish like Tony Wilson's hair as soon as they commence to play, and it is indeed the Smirks we know and love, with perhaps a flavour of two-tone, making them even more danceable, which is very danceable indeed. In fact the Smirks themselves are now dancing onstage again, and while there is less speculation these days as to whether they will all wind up trussed up in their guitar leads like the inside of golf balls, it is still quite a sight to see. The way I see it, if a bunch of hasbeens-who-never-were, like the Freshies can put out a video cassette, the Smirks can do it on their heads, metaphorically speaking, and maybe literally.
They play several songs, as might be expected, some old and some new, apologising to us that they never played them before, and while I cannot recollect what the new songs are called, I can tell you what they are about: some are about 3 minutes and the others are about 4 minutes.
Well, by and by they see no more percentage in playing any more songs and they do not know any anyway, so they haul off and leave the stage, and after a little judicious applause and so forth there is an uncomfortable pause while they try to prise C.P.Lee off the bar. This accomplished, they wander back in again and draw straws to see who will play in C.P.'s latest bid for obscurity, and it seems that Ian and Mike draw the short straws, for they are soon involved in Heavy Metal versions of 'Ruby don't take your love to town' and disco versions of 'Shot by Both Sides' and reggae versions of "The Ballad of Robin Hood" and so on, causing general amusement. In fact, I personally laugh more than somewhat at C.P. singing "Just Like A Woman" to a Sooty puppet which hits him with a hammer...But some people say I have a strange sense of humour, at that.
Singles Of The Week (phew)
Rosemary(Beserkley BZZ 23) Another great pop record, it has a rowdy inventiveness and disrespectful sparkle that is finally missing in the contenders from the Yachts and the Rezillos. Not only will it get those Doc Martens moving, but it also pokes fun at all sorts of pop clichés, undercutting and revitalising them at the same time. A smart one, fellas.
SMIRKS: Rosemary (Beserkley)
I get a feeling that this is playing too fast and an impression that they are getting by releasing weak material hoping to get by with an off-beat reputation. I mean, 'taint that bad but I believe every recoding studio should have a huge sign permanently on display. It should read You are asking people to pay 90 pence so watch it!!
Whacky Mancunian offbeat combo dragged to prominence via the vacuous early 1978 Powerpop hype, but survived to become the second UK signing to the American Beserkley label. The novel OK UK debut single is pretty typical with strong melody and some silly humour in the patriotic lyrics. Watch for Smirkdance.
American Patriots EP
...they've hurriedly got together their own three track EP. It's easy to see why the Californians thought they were getting English eccentrics in the first place; note the brain-damaged lead vocal. Equally, it's not too hard to detect why they got cold feet; unmemorable songs.
American Patriots EP
THE SMIRKS....."AMERICAN PATRIOTS"
Three-track single (SMIRKSONG)
TERR-RIFFIC..........A great dance record from the "World's greatest dance band". How anyone can NOT like the SMIRKS is beyone me.
Three tracks on this one, the title "AMERICAN PATRIOTS", all about the kind of nationalistic red-necked shithouses that the lurkers met in the Southern States who make life miserable for everyone.
The other tracks: "PENETRATION" - typical Smirks guitar stuff.
Jon the Postman once said that the SMIRKS were the only band to inspire him to wear one of their badges. Fair comment...
ANOTHER THING... This is the first of the band's "go it alone efforts" since the hassles with BESERKLEY. With the support they deserve, with YOUR support, they won't have to go it alone much longer. This record will set them well on their way.
To You (Smirksongs/Virgin)
The Smirks come to us! At last it's easy to fall for The Smirks, who've made the new pop single of the week if not the month. Both sides of this record do imaginative things with guitars, pace and harmonies that add whole new layers of delight to the brisk Buzzcocks motion manner. No wonder The Smirks have stubbornly carried on even though they were dumped by Beserkley and no one seemed to love them, if this is what they're capable of. Why haven't you shown us before, Smirklads? This will be a hit, and The Smirks will smile properly, not just bravely.
The Island Sea
Captain Mog & Private Sigh: The Island Sea (Governor)
Beware, for behind this whimsical piece of Bounty bar calypso tropical nonsense lie Manchester's infamous Smirks, in pseudonymous disguise. My considered advice to The Smirks is that they make it up with Father Abraham and go back to promoting petrol.
This was the first concert review I received. Fortunately, it's not the only one any more. This one really is rather disappointing.
JOHN COOPER CLARKE / SMIRKS The Venue, London
BIT OF a depressing one this. The Smirks have been around a while and have never really got above the rest of the flotsom (sic) floating about. They'll probably always survive but they're not going to do much more than that. Nothing wrong with their musc. In fact, they were really good at times but how long can they go on playing smaller clubs and support spots?
I hope I got the right date for the concert. Reviews like this make me wonder if the reviewer even turned up for the concert. No detail, nothing about the music. And I bet the JCC fans were even more thrilled about the details he wrote.
On SATURDAY 16th June  a Benefit Concert for New Planet City, Youth Centre will take place at the Planet (just past Lancaster Bus Station on the A6). It is hoped that, as all the bands are playing for expenses, some money will be raised for the centre, which depends totally on charity for its existence. The bands who have offered their services are:
THE SMIRKS Four piece Manchester pop band who received accolades from the rock press in January '78 after an appearance at one of 'Eric's' (Liverpool) silly talent contests. They subsequently signed to Beserkley where they released 2 singles, 'O.K. U.K.' and 'Rosemary'. Since then they have left Beserkley and have released 2 singles on their own DHSS label -- 'American Patriots' an E.P. and the new single 'To You' (June 8th). The lads are famous for their quirky dance routines and the 'Rock Against Travolta' movement (really!) that they instigated. Also long term supporters of RAR, a guaranteed good time.
Concert staged in conjunction with Lancaster Multi Cultural Festival. You get 4 great bands, good sound system, late bar with real ale all for £1.25.
Unfortunately, New Planet City is no longer with us: it was shut down to make way for Sainsbury's. However, I can offer you a picture of Juginder Lamba's mural at the venue.
If you have half a mind to see The Smirks don't worry....half a mind is all you need!!!
The Smirks New Year's Revolution.
Skirmishes at LSE, Kensington, Fulham, Camden Town, Dartford, Victoria, High Wycombe, University, Covent Garden, Clapham...More gigs to follow!
Nag's Head, London Road, High Wycombe
Some interesting rock events at the Nag's Head, The Smirks (Rock Against Travolta) tread the boards on Thursday 7th Feb  . admission £1.00
Rock Garden, Covent Garden
Sat Feb 9  - "Unpredictable but unbeatable entertainment with bright pop material and sparkling live act." N.M.E.
Back to main page
Page last updated by Ian on 23 September 2007