Bruce Russell on ‘Time To Go’ [Volcanic Tongue]

Of all the profound ways in which my life had changed in that epochal year (and since the preceding Christmas I’d become an enemy of the state, among other things), seeing the Clean was the biggest. I can still recall the certainty with which I knew then that they were at that moment the best fucking band in the world. I still don’t understand how I knew it, and in many ways I’ve spent a significant portion of the last three decades trying to disprove that hypothesis, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe the Fall were better that year. But the fact that the last sentence contains ‘the Fall’, and starts with ‘maybe’, should alert informed readers to the enormity of what I was experiencing. It was like falling in love.
– Bruce Russell – From Volcanic Tongue

Bruce Russell (The Dead C, Gate, A Handful Of Dust etc) has put together a short but witty (and mighty acerbic!) article on the Volcanic Tongue: Underground Music Mail Order and Shop website detailing the back-story to ‘Time to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86’ – a terrific compilation Bruce put together for Flying Nun capturing some of the lesser-heard treasures from New Zealand’s South Island in the early to mid 1980s. Have a read, it’s a nice little insight into how the compilation came about and the general enthusiasm Bruce has for music of the era.

It’s that kind of ‘it came from the sky’ vibe that frankly defies categorisation. You can smell the reality. These people were very literate in rock music terms, they were literate in literary terms too, and they took drugs. It was what we did to rebel. Listen to ‘Russian Rug’. You don’t produce that kind of whacked-out blending of Pierre Henri with ? Mark and the Mysterians, without engaging in the desperate ‘datura-to-San Pedro’ sub-sub-culture which characterised the South Island of New Zealand at that time: and we invented home-bake heroin, don’t forget.

– Bruce Russell – From Volcanic Tongue

And If you haven’t already; checkout/pick up the compilation itself. Contains some of my favourite tracks by the likes of Pin Group, The Gordons, Scorched Earth Policy and Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos – not a dud in the lot!

Campus A Low Hum 2011: Day 2, Part 1

Day 2 was EPIC.

Camping!
Camping!

Had the occasional brief encounters with the early bands – Melbourne duo Freddy Fudd-Pucker, Tantrums 2nd set, Karl Stevens other new band Heart Attack Alley, Dear Time’s Waste from Auckland, Great Earthquake once more and Orchestra of Spheres; but didn’t really settle in until Grayson Gilmour hit the main stage. Seems like he was playing a variety of new songs, based around his piano and emotive vocals – cool stuff; though the sun was definitely taking its toll on those of us braving the main stage.

Thankfully the FANTASTIC Old Loaves from Wellington were then playing in the Barn. Hot damn these guys are great. i described them at the time as kinda like the Gordons, but I guess maybe more straight forward and with a pretty brutal edge. Really really dug these guys, and they got a great crowd response from the fellow Christchurch lads in the crowd.Next up Wet Wings had a go at the full line-up, with Matt scobie joining Darian, Lucy and Jon in the Pool. there was even time for a little dancing this time around.

Wet Wings at Campus
Wet Wings at Campus

Saw a little of Mothers of Darkness – a pretty straight forward band; but headed off pretty early, I think this time around catching a renegade room double of No Aloha and new outfit Etiquette. Although No Aloha will be faimilar to Christchurch and Wellington audience (and features basically the Insurgents performing new songs). Etiquette are a brand new band with a few familiar faces; and I must admit I took a shine to this new band immediately. Mark turners a pretty great front-man, and with catchy call-and-response vocals I was an instant fan.

Teen Hygiene at Camous
Teen Hygiene at Camous

Teen Hygiene seem to have a gimmick – their drummer likes playing ‘high’; though not in the typicalsense; he’d stacked up a giant drum riser in the barn, and later better that by playing on the roof of the bike sheds (in scorching sunlight). Seem like a pretty straight ahead rock band out of Wellington.

I missed Alphabethead, though I believe I did later see him (along with James Dansey of the Sneaks) clean up in the 3-on-3 b-ball competition. Next band I didn’t catch were Lowtide – and Aussie shoegazey outfit notable for their use of twin bassists. Good stuff; with cool twin vocals too.

Low Tide at Campus

After a painfully sunny day though, the beast was to come once the sun came down…

The Gordons – 1st Album And Future Shock EP [Reissue]

Flying Nun [2003 Reissue]

As part of Flying Nun’s initial installment of classic album reissues (celebrating the labels 21st birthday), The Gordons first album had otherwise been selling for astronomical figures in its rare original vinyl issue. The reissue brings together the original 1980 Future Shock EP, along with their classic 1st album – the bands full-length debut. Eventually mutating into Bailter Space, this trio of Alister Parker, John Halvorsen and Brent Mclachlan that was forged from the same Christchurch, New Zealand scene that spawned the Clean, are probably most famous for their incredible sonic extremes.

They play loud. Very loud. Guitar-Wolf on a particularly noisy day loud.

Needless to say the first recordings were an attempt to recreate their powerful, ear-destroying live performance on tape, and although a recording could never represent the true fury of an over the top live performance, it’s a pretty damn good effort. Guitars ring out of key in a churning, aggressive fashion, falling like shards of ice to create a disjointed, messy and thoroughly ‘rock’ sound. Like their countrymen the Clean, they succeed at every opportunity in turning simple, churning guitar riffs and primal fury into the most cerebral of rock music. Opener ‘Spik And Span’ has a slacker delight recalling the Fall’s most caustic performances with parker performing the most devastating vocal snarl possible.

But the Gordon’s didn’t follow anyone else’s lead, they were true originals, ahead of their time. Over the years Bailter Space managed to clean up their sound, bringing on a more ‘indie’ sound to their paranoid, delusional tales, but it was the Gordon’s first album that sees the band in their most raw, effective state. The songs are presented with beautiful clarity (a godsend for those of us trying to maintain an aging Flying Nun vinyl collection), carrying every nuance and gritty sonic texture from the original recordings.

Halvorsen and Parker manage to create some of the most unusual sounds a bass and guitar have ever combined to make. ‘Right on time’ features some utterly bizarre bass from Halvorsen, popping and rolling while Parker lays out explosive, convulsing guitar. ‘Coalminers Song’ posseses a lethargic, pulsing intro hints at all manner of destruction on the rise, but when Halvorsen finally chimes in with his vocals it all seems perfectly unified. That’s what the Gordon’s do best, they unleash vehement sonic noise, ready to explode – and yet somehow contain it all within effective, catchy song structures. It’s hard not to sing along to the simple chorus of ‘Spik And Span’ or the Future Shock EP closer ‘Adults And Children’ in all their demented glee.

‘Growing Up’, in particular, opens with such a menacing, downbeat guitar it’s a wonder the album hadn’t been reissued earlier – it’s such a vital, authoritative representation of the early Flying Nun sound. Parker’s vocals have a charm all their own – he seems to invoke a paranoid, dysfunctional existence in a mumbling, sing-shout approach that leaves you wondering what he’s on about, but humming along anyway.

Thankfully the Future Shock EP shows all the same qualities of the later debut, with a slightly more lo-fi recording. The title track shows the bands original punk leanings, flying through a churning guitar and bass driven number at considerable speed with Parker’s nonsense lyrics punctuating the aggressive attack of the song. The closer, ‘Adults And Children’, is something of a kiwi punk classic. Pummeling guitar and bass riffs immediately allow parker to scream maniacally over top. It makes for one hell of a great, gleeful pop number, on line with the Clean’s own ‘Tally Ho’.

Though Bailter Space have gone on to considerable success with their future albums, they never did it better than their original debut as the Gordon’s, which stands out as an absolute classic from the early Flying Nun years. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better and more eagerly awaited re-issue this year – i’d suggest picking it up immediately.

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.