Formed in 1978 by David Kilgour (gat/vox) and Peter Gutteridge (bass / vox), and eventually settled on Hamish Kilgour (drums / vox) as the permanent 3rd member after an assortment on configurations came and went (Doug Hood enjoyed a short tenure as vocalist, before leaving town as Toy Love‘s sound man, and Lindsay Maitland featured in several configurations). Gutteridge was a major force in the band until artistic differences saw him leave (later forming Snapper), to be replaced by Rob Scott in 1980. They were at their prime when touring in the early 80s, and the compendium of these years (entitled Compilation) documents this period beautifully.
The Clean developed what was dubbed the Dunedin Sound. A somewhat dark take on noise rock that incorporated elements of classic pop, driving rock’n’roll. Sardonic and almost creepy take on lyrics, with vocals to match. David Kilgour employed open guitar tunings and Rob Scott produced rhythmic, repetitive bass lines, that Hamish Kilgour would compliment with pummeling, primal drum rhythms (though role changes were common, all 3 members sung and played guitar) – all tinted by the Kilgour brothers penchant for psychedelic and scratchy lo-fi.
Over the course of the next 20 years, the band would go on long breaks and split a number of times for the members to form their own bands (most notably Rob Scotts’ the Bats and David Kilgour‘s solo outfits). After original single Tally Ho shot up the New Zealand chart in 1981 – simultaneously establishing The Clean and the Flying Nun label that had formed around them, The Clean released the pinnacle of their recorded out – the hugely influential Boodle Boodle Boodle ep. The EP managed to actually better the singles success, eventually reaching number 5 in the New Zealand singles chart (astounding for an independent release in the early 80s) and remaining in the charts for a full 6 months, easily reaching gold status.
The follow up EP ‘Great sounds great, Good sounds good..’ was another success, but by now the band were tiring of their new found fame, and worried about the effect success would have on their music. Needless to say The Clean disbanded at the top of their game in 1982 with the release of the momentous Getting Older single (a genuine perfect pop song). It wasn’t long though before the original clean line-up (with a returning peter gutteridge) reformed as the Great Unwashed – a poppier and more acoustically based approach than their early recordings. The Great Unwashed never quite reached the peaks of The Clean and again they disbanded (after a mere 2 EP’s yet again), with each member going back to their subsequent side-projects.
Thankfully, throughout the later 80s and into the 90s, The Clean never really stayed apart for too long, and after a while the (now cemented) trio of Kilgour, Kilgour and Scott were back to a more permanent existence (or at least productive between variable lengthed hiatus). Their first album proper Vehicle was a well rounded example for the band, if lacking a bit of the spark from their early eps. After establishing a reputation on the us college scene in the early 90s – yet another reunion album was planned. Modern Rock came out in 1994, and was a fairly wild departure from The Clean’s signature sound, being somewhat fragmented and often unfocused. It did however show that The Clean were capable of a wider scope, with strong pop elements and less heavy-handed lyrics than its predecessor’s.
Unknown Country – which could probably be considered their first comeback album seems to divide their fans more than any of the other albums. Its poppy where their previous albums were rocky, and quirky where they had been driving and somewhat chilling. I like the change in direction, but i know a lot of other people see the album as a band caught in two minds (usually attributed to their on again / off again history).
In 1996 Flying Nun started work on a tribute album to The Clean as part of their own 15th anniversary celebrations, gathering together a number of the musicians that define the New Zealand music scene, as well as those that have been influenced by The Clean with their own work. Overseas artists Pavement, Guided by Voices and Barbara Manning added their own tributes along side those from not only Flying Nun acts, but also the likes of a number of current electronic acts and other significant kiwi artists and bands. The album (titled God Save The Clean) was a success, and the release culminated in a gigantic gig in Auckland where The Clean were joined by a great deal of the artists who paid tribute – making a great night all round, and putting The Clean back into the limelight on the New Zealand scene.
This rekindled interest may have been a wake-up call to the boys, as they quickly became a semi-regularly touring band, and eventually began focused recording again. The result – Getaway is something of a triumph, a successful reformation by all counts and an excellent taster of The Clean’s current sound, check out the full review for more detail. The trio followed up their positive press in the United States (The Clean’s releases are now tied to David Kilgour’s US home – Merge Records) with Anthology, another document highlighting The Clean’s seminal earlier material on the first disc, but now accompanied by a well-constructed summary of their subsequent release on a 2nd disc.
Currently the band still remain mostly in hiatus. Hamish firmly resident in New York (with the Mad Scene and his own solo career), David seems to be forever gaining in stature as a solo musician in Dunedin – the nashville recorded Frozen Orange album being a particular success. Rob Scott has always been a bedroom musician back in Dunedin (outside of the mostly-Christchurch based The Bats), though its taken Powertool Records till just recently to finally put one of his home releases out in to the market, with Tudor Gates arriving in 2004.
Discography (picks in bold)
- ‘Tally Ho!’/That Platypus’ 7″ Single [1981 Flying Nun Fn002 / Ying One]
- Boodle Boodle Boodle 12″ Ep [1981 Flying Nun Fn003]
- Great Sounds Great, Good Sounds Good.. 12″ Ep [1982 Flying Nun Fn Good001]
- ‘Getting Older’/’Scrap Music/Whatever I Do It’S Right/Wrong’ 7″ Single [1982 Flying Nun Last1]
- Odditties [1985 / 1995 Flying Nun / Cleano Productions Fn Odd One / Fn223]
- Live Dead Clean 12″ Ep [1985 Flying Nun Fn Ldc 001]
- Odditties 2 [1987 W/ The Great Unwashed Flying Nun / Cleano Productions Fn Odd 2]
- Compilation [1988/1990 Flying Nun Fn Comp001 / Fn154 / Fne03 / Fnuk03]
- In A Live 12″ Ep [1990 Flying Nun Fne29]
- Vehicle [1990 Flying Nun Fn147]
- Modern Rock [1994 Flying Nun Fn292]
- ‘Trapped In Amber’/’Ludwig’ 7″ Flex-Disc [1994 Bonus With Fn292 Flying Nun Fn311]
- Unknown Country [1996 Flying Nun Fn349]
- Getaway [2001 Flying Nun Fn459]
- Anthology Double-Cd [2002 Flying Nun Fn468]
- Cracks In The Sidewalk Ep [2002 Arc Life Arclife015]
- Syd’S Pink Wiring System [2003 Cleano Cleano0001]