Dave Smith was born in 1949 and read music at Magdalene College, Cambridge. During the 1970s, he was a member of the London-based Scratch Orchestra and various composer-performer ensembles (principally with John Lewis, Michael Parsons, Howard Skempton, John White, Gavin Bryars and Ben Mason) and later was a founder member of the English Gamelan Orchestra and Liria, the first English groups to specialise in, respectively, Javanese classical and Albanian folk musics. He has been a member of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble since its inception and has been involved in many other professional performances as pianist, brass-player, percussionist or conductor including British or world premieres of works by Carla Bley, Harold Budd, Howard Burrell, Cornelius Cardew, Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass, Christopher Hobbs, Ladislav Kupkovic, Michael Nyman and Christian Wolff. His musical activities have led him to many different countries and types of venue ranging from Macclesfield shopping centre and the Hall of the North Korean Ministry of Railways to an Albanian taverna and a swimming pool in Brussels.
For 18 years he taught at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) and since 1997 has been a lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. He has worked for and supported COMA (Contemporary music-making for amateurs) for which he has written music for large and flexible ensembles such as Murdoch or Fred West - which is best? Reconsidered (2000) and the multi-movement Whiskies of Islay (2006). His compositions include a large body of piano music of over 100 pieces arranged into recital-length Piano Concerts of which nine have been completed. Other works have explored different compositional approaches: these have ranged from the "wall-of-sound" minimalism of Diabolus maximus (5 pianos - 1976) to the collage of Alban Lament (8 voices + 8 instruments - 1996/8) and, most recently, the quarter-tones of Natural selections (string quartet - 2009).