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The Gordons


The Gordons appeared out of (almost) nowhere in March 1980 to take the mantel of Christchurch’s (and soon New Zealand’s) loudest band; however they were more than just loud. It’s the songs they created during their initial year and a half run that have fuelled the legend of the Gordons. Through blistering feedback and propulsive bass come visions of a dystopian future, and anti-regime anthems.

Guitarist John Halvorsen (who had spent a brief period in Bill Vosburgh’s Perfect Strangers) has described how the band came together a couple of times; though on occasion the details can seem a little sketchy:

1980, I didn’t really have any songs to speak of and I was given a booking by Jim Wilson. I think he assumed I had a band and it was in 4 days time so that very day I wrote ‘Identity‘, ‘Quality Control‘, ‘Photo Eye‘, ‘Adults and Children‘ and couple others.”

John Halvorsen – in an interview with James Wood of Beast Wars

The booking was supporting Auckland trio The Whizz Kids (soon to morph into Blam Blam Blam) at the Hillsborough Tavern – a huge venue (capacity 472) that Wilson had started booking in the late 1970’s.

…The next day I was at a practice room and my flatmate Dave had a band and he was running around looking for some equipment and he came to the studio with Brent because Brent had a drum kit. Wow, there he was.

Initially Rob Mayes from Failsafe Records came along with his bass and it was us three and that was pretty good. It would’ve been interesting to know how that would’ve turned out but then two hours later when I was about to head home an old friend Dave Peterson who became my soundman arrived with Alister and his gear. I was looking for a bass player and he had guitar gear. He played some guitar and like wow! pretty good, and he really liked what I was doing. It was exciting: that was The Gordons right there.

John Halvorsen talks to Richard Langston (Phantom Billstickers blog)

Alistair Parker was 19 and had spent some time as bassist for local pub rock / early punk group The Basket Cases), McLachlan was either 18 or 19 and had scant experience; whilst Mayes was only 15 and is a little dubious on this sequence of events – “My memory isn’t that great and this was a long time ago and I couldn’t remember it happening at all” (Rob Mayes).

The group took it upon themselves to stand out from other bands – Halvorsen and Parker were adept at switching between guitar and bass (depending on who’s song was being sung) and they saw being able to play at top volume as their particular selling point. After maxing out the capacity of local PA systems they ended up hiring their own high capacity speakers:

The Gordons had managed to hire a Cerwin-Vega sound system, which at that time in NZ was unheard-of for an underground bunch of punks from Christchurch. They were simply incredible to witness. I’ve never heard anything since which combined the overdriven guitar textures with minimalistic post punk songs in quite the same way.

Gary Steel on The Gordons

The group had this fully independent, DIY approach right from the start. With Halvorsen working in the printing and promotion game he developed their own graphic character (a black and white image of some form of robotic diver, melded to an electric guitar) to go with their dense sonic assault and produced distinctive screen-printed posters and artwork that would later turn up on the band’s album artwork:

In a sci-fi way, a futurist vision. I knew I wanted it to be black and white. I did the artwork quickly; I think it was the day of our first practice when David came around with Brent and Alister and we were a band. We needed to put some posters up, so they came around to my place and I did the artwork right before their eyes. I did it about the size of a cigarette packet, it was partly collage partly a thumb print. You could tell by the time it got blown up large it was quite organic looking. Half an hour after I made it we were at the bromide bureau where I blew it up extremely large and there it was. It was printed that day.

John Halvorsen talks to Richard Langston (Phantom Billstickers blog)

After quickly developing a large following in Christchurch the group thrust themselves into touring, though an early venture North proved to be a cursed excursion:

The van broke down in Wellington, they couldn’t afford to get it fixed and found themselves stuck there for six weeks. Rather than slowing down or giving up, they recorded their infamously lost ‘Sausage Tapes’ at Wellington’s Sausage Studios, only to have the masters (accidentally?) erased. 

AudioCulture profile of The Gordons

After that false start, debut single ‘Future Shock’ was recorded in a cheap overnight session at Harlequin Studios in Auckland during a 2nd venture North. This time, the results were astounding. Released in December 1980 on the bands own label in a 500 copy pressing, they sold enough copies that they were able to press a 2nd run of 500 with upstart label Propeller Records assisting with distribution.

The group followed up the single with another North in October 1981, recording the 7-song debut LP in a 22hr session at Harlequin Studios. This time the then-fledgling upstart Christchurch independent label Flying Nun Records assisted with distribution. Latter reissues would be handled entirely by the label (and distributed by Rough Trade Records in Europe).

Things soon took a dramatic turn as Alistair Parker announced he was leaving the band. He’d found Jesus and decided he could no longer continue making music with The Gordons unless they were ready to embrace his message:

Alister’s not here, and he was a very big third of The Gordons. We really miss him. He’ll be playing with us again, possibly. Us three, we’re The Gordons at the moment, but if Alister wants to play with us, we’ll be a four-piece. He’s still right into The Gordons. He’s just gotta be sure that we’re all Christians too. Like he wants the album to be called Alister Parker and the Christian Gordons, if we do some recording with him.

Gary Steel interviews John Halvorsen in 1983

There was a 2 year break between Gordons MK I and MK II. When they finally resurfaced (with former Proud Scum guitarist Vince Pinker) the group had lost a lot of momentum. Halvorsen was now the sole focus of the group, and under his direction they took on a more industrial / less punky sound.

When it came to record their 2nd album things didn’t quite go to plan with only 2nd track ‘Reactor‘ standing up to the earlier recordings, the remaining songs either sound too clean (probably as a result of McLachlan’s switch to electronic drums) or just generally uninteresting. As a result ‘Vol. 2’ disappeared without trace and with the band’s break-up, both Halvorsen and McLachlan moved to Wellington.

McLachlan turned his hand to music production, building Writhe Studios with the Skeptics Nick Roughan. Halvorsen would end up joining the Skeptics on guitar. Eventually Parker returned to music in 1987, forming Nelsh Bailter Space with The Clean‘s Hamish Kilgour. After a couple of singles with Glenda Bills on keyboards and Ross Humphries on Bass, Halvorsen joined the new group in time to record the debut album ‘Tanker‘ with McLachlan producing. Kilgour opted to stay in New York City after a US tour, and on returning to New Zealand McLachlan took over Kilgours position on drums – re-uniting the original Gordons line-up, by then under the shortened name Bailter Space.

Beast Wars bassist James Wood interviews John Halvorsen




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