The Bilders at Darkroom

Bill Direen
Bill Direen

Wow it certainly has been a long time since I’ve contributed to thebigcity – sorry about that. It’s been a pretty quiet holiday break in Christchurch, at least musically – however I’m really looking forward to Mount Eerie’s tour and of course the great annual trip to Camp A Low Hum – both in February.

 

Last week however I had the great privilege to catch the latest line-up of Bill Direen’s might group the Bilders. Direen’s back catalog of fantastic songs (‘Do the Alligator’, ‘Love in the Retail Trade’, ‘Sad But True’ etc) is truly immense and this sharp three piece pulled out all the pieces.

Mick Elborado and Stu Page
Mick Elborado and Stu Page

Word has it their drummer (and fantastic film-maker) Stuart Page was in a car accident earlier in the week and shouldn’t have been playing, but he soldiered on anyway. It was also fantastic to see Christchurch legend Mick Elborado back on stage, playing bass the way only Mick can play – he contorted and tore up that ‘Mickenbacker’ on the more excitable numbers. Direen himself was relaxed and demur up front, leading the fellas through-out the night.

Click here for all the photos from the night.

Six Impossible Things

One of obscure folk-legend Bill Direen‘s very first recorded projects.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Six Impossible Things Ep [1981 Sausage]

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Solomans Ball

An early release from Kiwi folk-legend anti-hero Bill Direen.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Solomans Ball EP [1982 Prototype Publications Pr1070]

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Soluble Fish

One of Bill Direen‘s more productive early 1980s outfits.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • High Thirties Piano EP [1982 Self-Released]
  • Dance Of Death EP [1982 Self-Released]
  • Sound Cues [1987 South Indies]

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Victor Dimisich Band

Stephen Cogle, Alan Meek, Tony O’Grady, Peter Stapleton and (for the later period) Mary Heney – most of whom also formed Scorched Earth Policy with Brian Crook (em>The Renderers, Bible Black, Bathysphere) and eventually made their mark with the legendary Terminals. The Victor Dimisich Band’s recordings (an original Flying Nun EP and the extremely lo-fi live document Mekong Delta Blues – a cassette only Xpressway release) are highly collectable and very hard to find (despite being reissued with bonus tracks in 1997 on the Medication label), and show Cogle and Stapleton just developing their dark and morbid style (after spending time with Bill Direen‘s many bands).

Contemporaries to Christchurch’s Pin Group and the early rattlings of Bill Direen‘s Bilders, in fitting with the “Christchurch sound” at the time they favored something of a denser and darker than their southern Dunedin neighbours, expressed through a bleak vision and Velvet Underground inspired abandon.
Dan Vallor: Taken from Popwatch #9

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Native Waiter 7″ EP [1982 Flying Nun]
  • Victor Dimisich Band 12″ Ep[1983 Flying Nun Fnvd001]
  • The Mekong Delta Blues Cassette [1988 Xpressway Xway08]
  • Native Waiter 7″ EP [Reissue Crawlspace Space005] Rn
  • My Name Is K [Compilation Medication Med002]

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Vacuum Blue Ladder

The Vacuum Blue Ladder formed when Bill Direen joined Stephen Cogle (Bass / Vocals) and Peter Stapleton (Drums / Lyrics), who were also making music as the duo Victor Dimisich Band – a group that would later release an EP on Flying Nun, and can be seen as the starting point for the more recognized Terminals, plus Stapleton and Cogle’s many variations. However – the Vacuum were quite different from these future groups, as Direen was an important creative force in the group who added his own color to their sound and songwriting.

The members took advantage of their connections to the album importing business, encompassing inspiration from the most obscure (in New Zealand’s mid 70s environment) corners with the likes of the Velvet Underground and West Coast U.S. psychedalic artists the 13th Floor Elevators (along with the staple Nuggets bands)… the very best in gritty, noisy and creative garage rock.

Like before we were in Vacuum we had a backyard band sort of thing. We used to play in this room down the back of my parents’ house. A woman called Theresa played guitar with us and we wrote songs. The ones we did with the Vacuum, most of the songs were written by Bill, which was a source of conflict eventually, and so we took our songs and did them with the Victor Dimisich Band
Peter Stapleton

Guitarist / Vocalist Theresa Mcquire joined and left in 1976, making way for Direen to front the band, and soon Peter Fryer had joined on violin. The combination of Direen and guitarist Allen Meek created a rift in the band, with Cogle and Stapleton restricted to the side-lines.

…They got pretty close. Peter and I would come along (to practise), and Bill and Allen would’ve spent a long time working things out. In the end, it sort of goes, that I got fired, by Bill. ‘Cause I didn’t mix with him. I remember.. Peter meeting me over the christmas period, we sort of had a christmas break, and he said oh, Bill wants me to tell you that you’re out (laughs). And I said oh, that’s fine, it suited me. And I was replaced by Segovia
Stephen Cogle: taken from Have You Checked The Children?

Jon ‘Segovia’ Markie (soon to make his name with the Axemen and later Shaft) joined Direen, Meek and drummer Malcolm Grant (the Bats) on bass to complete the final line-up of the Vacuum in 1979. The band eventually dissolved in the very early 1980s, but resurfaced with the short-lived Kaza Portico – Segovia in the mostly-covers outfit the Volkswagons, and later in Ritchie Venus‘s Blue Beetles.

Direen eventually took the shortened Vacuum as the name for his theater group, and continues to write, act and perform to this day.

Discography (picks in bold)

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Above Ground

One of Bill Direen‘s many groups from the early 1980s.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Gone Aiwa [1983 Prototype PublicationsPp013]

  • Above Ground [1983 Independently Released]

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The Bats [February 2006]

Over the last 20 years The Bats have garnished a label of dependability – and with good reason. Though now taking a little bit of time between releases (one might jump to the conclusion that ‘At The National Grid’ is more like a reunion album than simply their first in 11 years), The Bats continue to write, record and perform scores of catchy, poppy tunes – jangly, homely and folky tunes filled with images of Bob Scotts’ Central Otago past and propelled by one hell of a dynamic rhythm section.

One of the longest surviving Flying Nun groups still with their original line-up (the other would be the Tall Dwarfs), The Bats have continued to be a live fixture over the past decade, particularly in Christchurch; where the majority of the group now resides.

The story goes that when The Clean initially broke up in late 1982, Bob was flatting and jamming with Paul – who had been quite active with the great Toy Love, and various groups round Christchurch such as seminal pre-punk outfit The Detroit Hemroids and Jay Clarksons’ Playthings. Eventually Malcolm Grant (who had sat behind the kit for a later incarnation of Bill Direen’s The Vacuum and local popsters The World) was brought into the fold, with Kaye completing the line-up by 1983.

I met Bob at the clash concert in the Christchurch town hall in the early 80s, he had moved from Dunedin and was looking for a flat, and my flatmate was leaving so he introduced me to Bob. Then we both ended up moving in to longfellow street with Paul and Malcolm among others, they had drums and amps set up in the living room and that’s when we started playing as a band. I didn’t have many expectations of The Bats, i’m pretty sure I didn’t think ahead much at all in fact but i’ve always loved playing Bob’s songs and playing live in all kinds of places.
– Kaye Woodward

During the hey-days of Flying Nun The Bats could do no wrong, with catchy singles such as ‘Made Up In Blue’ and ‘Block Of Wood’ and the critically-lauded debut LP ‘Daddy’s Highway’ all being perennial underground favorites. However the group never really garnished any popularity – The Chills were a bit of a one-off in terms of stardom for New Zealand bands, and so groups such as The Bats settled for creating fine tunes – and often. In the decade to 1995 the group amassed a terrific body of work – some 5 albums and a handful of eps and singles. Of course the other side of the dice was their live show, an exhilarating experience full of catchy sing-a-long numbers, and some cracking instrumentation – Paul’s a bit of a hero of mine in terms of bass-playing (he’d perfected the chugga-chugga sound by 1985), and they’ve always exuded a homely friendliness that few bands seem to match.

In recent years the garden city trio of Kaye Woodward, Paul Keen and Malcolm Grant has built The Bats side-project Minisnap up from the ground, performing a whole new collection of catchy, wistful pop tunes – with Kaye leading the way as vocalist. Meanwhile Dunedinite Bob Scott took a few years to reunite with his buddies in the clean whilst formulating new tunes for the stellar new LP – and of course everyone in the group has the odd day job, too.

We had been talking about doing a new Bats album for 2 or 3 years before actually doing it. Everything takes ages now of course because of everyone’s jobs and children. Bob came up from Dunedin for the main session at the national grid (which is John Kelcher’s 8 track studio in Cashel Street) over Easter 2003, the view was across to all the mannequins in Ballantyne’s lingerie department but the people/mall action down below was quite entertaining.
– Kaye Woodward

Although the studio experience with John Kelcher was a friendly and natural one, with an opportunity to jam and flesh out ideas, Bob described a handful of the new tunes as ‘complex’ to write, which combined with an unfortunate incident only compelled the delay in the albums development:

After that session Paul got busy over the winter digitizing, loading and eq’ing the tracks at home; but in August our computer (and a whole lot of other stuff) got stolen. We had to go back and re-digitize the 8 track, but were too busy and couldn’t really get into it until after summer. We did a final over dub/mixing session at home with Bob in Oct 2004. More mixing, the artwork and mastering was done and labels pinned down over the next 6 months, then we did preparation building up to a New Zealand and U.S. Release in October 2005.
– Kaye Woodward

Eventually the album was released in late 2005, with critical acclaim spreading across from the States, along with reports of brilliant college radio support – after a matter of weeks CMJ (a chain of radio stations across the USA) had reported ‘At The National Grid’ as one of the top ‘adds’ across the country – rising up the charts in nearly all of cmj’s 200 stations. The group plan to bolster this support by playing the famed South By South-West festival in Austin Texas, then a quick tour around the main centers.

The plan is to go for 2 weeks and try and play to as many people as possible and give the album a boost. We are doing some in-stores too and they are great for getting through to people. The album seems to be going really well so doing these shows should help a lot. It will be interesting to see the mix of old and new fans. Emails have proved to be a great way of keeping in touch with and making contact with new fans.
– Bob Scott

With an impending european and UK release through Little Teddy and Egg Records, the group are looking forward to a successful 2006, though they’ve got a relaxed approach to touring these days after their previous overseas experiences:

We could have perpetuated our career overseas by touring a lot more and our labels would have liked that but I hated the tour bus style touring we did in Europe and the US In 93. Up till then we had always driven in vans or flown and stayed in hotels or with friends. We did some dates with Radiohead on that 93 tour, they were a big successful band but even they were traveling round in tour buses so I thought that if success meant spending months every year in a tour bus I didn’t really fancy it.
– Kaye Woodward

Christchurch in the 80s [By David Swift]

The Christchurch scene of 1980-82 is pretty legendary, and rightly so. This was most fertile period of rock’n’roll in the city since the beat-boom days of Chants RnB circa 1966.
There were some very good Christchurch punk bands (notably the Vauxhalls) in 1978/79 and a picky audience of 200 or so original-school three-chords hipsters, but it was only as the punk phenomenon flowered into postpunk that the number and quality of bands blossomed.

Think of it as the difference between The Enemy and Toy Love. It was cooler to say you had seen The Enemy in a small crowd, but Toy Love were a better band packing out 800-capacity bars.
Christchurch was second to Auckland in 1980 for the passion of its punk/new wave crowds. Toy Love, the Swingers, the Features would travel down and regularly pull 500-800 people at the DB Gladstone or the Hillsborough Tavern. Occasionally the Aranui Tavern on Brighton road [edit: Pages Road, on the way to Brighton – eventually became a family restaurant and is as of this writing a backpackers pub] would also host these kind of bands.

The primo local groups in 1980-1982 were the Pin Group (because leader Roy Montgomery – now a lo-fi legend in the USA – was an essential cog in the city’s cool – he was manager of the EMI shop on Colombo St that was totally given over to NME-approved sounds….the company wasn’t that keen, but it was just about the most profitable EMI shop in NZ as a result), The Gordons, The Newtones, The Androidss, Scorched Earth Policy, Victor Dimisich Band, The Playthings, Kaza Portico / The Builders (Bill Direen’s bands), The Volkswagens, 25c, Yeah, Mainly Spaniards were a bit popular too. I may have missed a few out….(at the same time there were kids in punk covers bands, pub rock bands, etc). But the above names were the central musical identities in a community fired by the Velvets/Stooges/Jonathan Richman/1960s USA Garage Punk/Pere Ubu/Wire – yet compelled to make their own music.

Roger began Flying Nun in early 1981 (i was the first journalist to write about the label, in the Press) because it seemed to him that if no one recorded these groups they would be lost to history.

At the same time, bands from Dunedin began forays to Christchurch where they knew that their original music would go down well with a knowing crowd that held no truck with punk covers bands. The Clean’s first big gigs were at the Gladstone and their reputation sprang from there by word of mouth. Roger was so blown away by them he instantly marked them down for a 45 – Tally Ho.
The Verlaines, The Stones, The Chills and Sneaky Feelings also ploughed that furrow. At the time no one in Christchurch was in thrall to any ‘Dunedin scene’; in fact there wasn’t one as such. As far as we knew, there was just a few really good bands down there who had been blown away by The Enemy /Toy Love and wanted to make their own contribution. And to have it recognised in Christchurch as there wasn’t enough support for their originality down there.

Some ChCh bands quickly carved out a reputation in Auckland too. The Gordons are probably the best example. I saw their first ever gig at the Hillsborough Tavern in early 1980 (supporting Toy Love, or was it the Swingers, can’t recall exactly) and they had only been together a week and only had five songs but played them twice to rapturous acclaim from 600 people.
The Gordons did it different – offering a discordant wall-of-noise with some melodies years before Sonic Youth. Years later, in fact, SY professed huge admiration for the three, two of whom i went to school with at Ashburton College. I remember the Gordons doing three sell-out nights at the Gladstone in 1983 and just being excited at the sheer size of the Marshall stacks they had shoehorned onto and around the stage in that tiny pub. It was incredible the passions that a local band playing original music inspired – one of the great legacies of punk.

At the other end of the scale, Bill Direen was a huge talent, playing the rawest nuggets flavours in his bands The Vacuum / Kaza Portico / The Bilders yet he never made any commercial headway. The Bilders’ Schwimmin In Der See EP (Flying Nun 1982) remains one of the label’s very best discs and the retrospective ‘Max Quitz Vol 1’ (1994 Flying Nun CD) is pretty essential to understand all that was good about garden city garage rock in the early 1980s.

In january 1986 i made my first trip back home after 18 months in the UK and was delighted to see that Sneaky Feelings were to play the Gladstone on a saturday night while i was home. But unlike four years earlier, the pub wasn’t full and i only knew three people in there. Sneakies were still great, but that was the end of the era for me.

Minus Two

As the name implies, the Terminals Stephen Cogle (Vocals / Acoustic Guitar), Mick Elborado (Organ) and John Christoffels (Bass) formed Minus Two as a side-project excluding Peter Stapleton and Brian Crook. Apparently most of the songs on their self-recorded and exceedingly rare CD-r Beat Goes Off are Stapleton songs from the vaults (even dating back to pre-Direen Vacuum) that Crook wasn’t keen on playing (apparently their ‘too poppy’), so this abridged combo convened in the late 1990s and released this document, with Crawlspace providing some distribution.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • The Beat Goes Off Cd-R []

See-Also