Skank Attack were stalwarts of the new zealand music scene in the late 1980’s, becoming known for high energy live performances, and their tireless support of local musicians.
The group formed in the winter of 1985, when Phil ‘Scrub’ Simpson and Jeff Eden were bored and freezing in a drafty wellington flat. There was nothing good on telly, so they began messing about with guitars, as much to be distracted from the wind chill factor in their bedrooms, as from any defined musical aspirations. To their own surprise, they had soon written a handful of songs and become so excited about the idea of forming a band, that they immediately recruited drummer steve cochrane and skank attack was formed.
Within weeks they played their first gig, a private party, where they appeared alongside the Primates. Dave Nendick made his debut on vocals, but upon his departure soon after, Simpson took over and the band continued as a three piece, quickly gaining a reputation for the energy and enthusiasm of their live shows.
Simpson and Eden remained the creative engine of the band, constantly writing new material (they steadfastly refused to play anything but originals). Meanwhile Cochrane exhibited a flair for promotion and set the group a punishing schedule of gigs, which meant that they evolved quickly into a tight unit. Inspired greatly by certain UK bands of the day, they set out to create a sound that relied on a driving, propulsive beat, overlaid with a rhythmic dynamic between the instruments and their intelligent, socially aware vocals. A review of a show they played with the Bats said, ‘the songs were built up layer by layer, until it was almost difficult to believe that only three people were responsible for such an overpowering aural assault’.
Skank Attack were always interested in creating an element of visual interest to their performances and public image and they became known for projecting abstract visuals over the stage, while eden’s developing involvement in graphic design led to some striking poster designs.
Although they quickly developed a loyal following, their music was ultimately too intense to appeal to mainstream audiences and too ‘arty’ to be accepted by many in the post-punk, concrete bunker era wellington music scene. Their time came however, when they began embarking upon the first of several national tours, trolling around the country in a huge ford impala, affectionately known as ‘the skankmobile’. Bfm were supportive in airing their demos whenever they arrived in auckland and camaraderie developed with fellow musicians in the city, like Fish For Life, the Warners and Cicada.
In the spirit of self reliance that was so much a part of the time, the group released an ep under the banner of ‘Skank Records’, which received positive reviews from influential figures like Colin Hogg, but ultimately failed to capture the fullness of their sound. Skank Attack were always about supporting other musicians and while Phil Simpson championed local music on his weekly NZ music show on radioactive, Steve Cochrane released a compilation of wellington bands entitled ‘Where The Wind Blows’, on the Skank label. The two date release party organised by the group (this time operating under the tongue in cheek moniker ‘Skank Undertakings’) broke attendance records at the cricketers and was a huge success.
Skeptics Nick Roughan became important in shaping the group’s sound and a love-hate relationship developed, based on his incessant demands for ‘Skank Beer’ and the groups irritating perfectionism. The acrimonious banter that resulted, livened up many a tour journey in the skankmobile.
Incidents that the band recall most vividly, include playing to a bunch of immobile, monged-out mushroom heads at a New Plymouth pub, run by hairy local motorcycle gang ‘The Magogs’. The total silence between songs was the most unnerving thing they had ever experienced-even the unflappable Roughan got fidgety. The lads were traumatized further, after a Dunedin gig with David Kilgour. He kindly offered to let them crash on the floor at the venue, but failed to remove the local mad person before he shut them in for the night. She proceeded to ride her bicycle in circles around the dance floor for the remainder of the evening, muttering darkly about murder. Then there was the time the back of Phil Simpson’s trousers and underwear began to dissolve on stage in front of a full house. Realising (as his naked butt became totally exposed) that he had sat in battery acid at a car repair yard on the way to the gig, he had to brazen it out as if it was all part of the show. The crowd loved it.
Always game for a laugh, the band once infamously set up at 9am in the morning (with power from a generator) outside the NZ music convention and played a raucous set in support of a New Zealand music quota on radio. By a typically Wellington coincidence, the office of the councils’ noise control officer was directly opposite and said official wasted no time in summoning the police and swiftly writing out a noise control order. The resulting photographs finally got the band some press attention and while the event itself was witnessed by only a few bemused passers by, influential figures like Karen Hay and Mike Moore were among them.
By 1988 the group had evolved into a tight professional outfit and the highlight of their live performances came when doug hood booked them to play support for Hunters And Collectors at the Union Hall, Wellington in 1988. The group relished the opportunity to play through a kick-arse sound system to an audience of thousands rather than hundreds and despite initial heckling they won the crowd over with a totally committed performance. It was one of the last times the band played together.
Before going their separate ways, the group determined to record an album. A number of sessions took place at ‘Writhe Recordings Studios’, with Bailter Space‘S Brent Mclachlan and Roughan doing the business on the controls. The bands sound was finally captured in a way that did it justice. Local filmmaker Grant Lahood shot a promotional video for the track ‘Limbs Akimbo’, but sadly the group’s momentum and cash had run out (Roughan now had it all) and while the video was screened on radio with pictures, the record it was intended to promote was never released.
For the past ten years Jeff Eden and Phil Simpson have lived in london. Eden is a graphic designer and has recently been making short films and soundtracks. Simpson works as a photographer and has shot many musicians including John Cale, Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers and Super Furry Animals. They remain unclear about what became of their former drummer. Steve Cochrane-where are you now?
Discography (picks in bold)
- Glass And Skank Attack Live! [Live Recording W/ The Glass 1986 Skank Skank001]
- Skank Attack Ep [1987 Skank Skank002]