Wonderful and thoroughly under-rated jangly Dunedin indie-pop group comprised of 5 talented women. In early 1983 Kathy Griffin (now known as Francesca Griffin) and Norma O’Malley were in a group named Permanent Tourists along with Chills drummer Martyn Bull (soon to be Griffin’s husband). The group played at a small Dunedin club called The Pitz alongside Lesley Paris and Denise Roughan’s group The Neanics (which also featured Rachel Phillips and Jane Dodd) and the four struck up an immediate kinship. O’Malley was a student at Otago University and recruited classics major Kath Webster as their 5th member – mostly because they knew she owned her own guitar.
As Look Blue Go Purple they would became a cornerstone of the Dunedin scene during the peak Flying Nun era – releasing 3 stellar EPs before going their seperate ways in late 1987. However, initially they were still just learning their instruments, and were reportedly very loose and varied. In fact they even got pegged as an ‘experimental’ group due to their fluid (the members swapping instruments regularly), and somewhat messy performances. Two otherwise unrecorded songs (‘I’ve been to Ena’s‘ and ‘Labor Pains‘) from an August 1983 live show are the sole documents of this era – included on Every Secret Thing‘s ‘Songs from the Lowlands‘ cassette compilation put together by The Bats‘ Robert Scott.
One of the key talking points when discussion Look Blue Go Purples history is that as an all-female band they faced a lot of chauvinistic attitudes and questioning, and occasionally downright offensive audience behaviour:
In the beginning we weren’t taken all that seriously. I remember the first review we played at Punakiki on the West Coast (our second gig) at Easter of 1983, and the review of that called us “Silly girls playing stupid pop songs”.Francesca Griffin (aka Kathy Bull), from Extended Play – LBGPEP2 (Radio New Zealand)
Over the next year they settled into their roles, practicing downstairs in the stockroom of the EMI record shop on George Street, and developed what would become their own unique sound; encompassing sweet, layered group vocals and snappy rhythms and chiming guitars.
As part of a welcoming Dunedin music community, they were soon playing alongside established popular contemporary acts like Flying Nun Records favourites The Bats, Doublehappys, The Verlaines and The Chills, as well as more challenging groups such as The Rip, Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Stereos, Say Yes to Apes and Fetus Productions.
Unfortunately the group continued to encounter some sexist, chauvinistic or even hostile audiences, but they didn’t let the attitudes they encountered change their approach or who they were:
We liked to dress up and be seen out together and things, we were kind of a gang really, we certainly didn’t put ourselves as weakling, we didn’t want anybody to see us that way but we were quite happy to be females.
We did one Orientation Tour and this one particular gig at Massey where we played at a Toga party and a couple of us ended up in tears. People were quite stupidly hurtful, I guess. They kind of sent us over the edge. We coped with it, and we certainly got used to it, so we learnt to fend it off.Denise Roughan on Musical Chairs (Radio New Zealand)
Francesca’s memory of the events is a little different:
Our last gig (of the Orientation tours) was at Lincoln, and it was a nightmare from beginning to end. We were playing a Toga party, we got their to set up and soundcheck at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and they were revolting, mostly boys and completely disgusting.
We had to barricade the stage so they couldn’t get at us. We got half way through the first song and somebody set off the fire alarm. So of course we had to stop playing, and the lights went on and the Christchurch Fire Department didn’t trust Lincoln students at all so they had to come out from Christchurch to turn the alarms off. That happened 3 times. So we gave up, we didn’t play. We just stopped because it was completely ridiculous.
The next tour we told the organisers we wouldn’t play at either Lincoln or Massey, the same sort of thing happened at Massey.Francesca Griffin (aka Kathy Bull), from Extended Play – LBGPEP2 (Radio New Zealand)
Despite these issues, over the course of late 1983 through 1984 the group played regularly and prepared for the debut EP – which they recorded in 2 nights with Terry Moore in February 1985 at the Jansen Audio factory in Auckland, with funding help from a QEII Arts grant.
‘Bewitched’ is a brilliant debut – especially 2nd song ‘Circumspect Penelope‘ which contains a great stuttering grove from Lesley Paris, shimmering jangly guitar from Webster and Roughan and rich, layered vocal harmonies. The song was chosen as the single, with a video produced by celebrated Australian photographer Pat O’Neill and filmed at various locations around Dunedin and the Otago countryside. The song itself is about Odysseus and Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey – the first of several songs in their catalogue that reference classical literature – thanks to Kath Websters’ reading habits as a Classical Studies student at Otago University.
The EP was released in August 1985, quickly selling out the initial run of 750 (in 10 days) and reaching number 21 on the New Zealand pop chart, staying in the top 50 for 8 weeks.
By 1986 Lesley Paris and Norma O’Malley (who at one point was living in Wellington) were side-lining in both an early line-up of The Puddle and occasionally with Alpaca Brothers, but the group continued to play shows up and down the country. By July 1986 the group were back in Auckland with Terry Moore recording their follow-up LBGEP2 – this time in the relatively modern surrounds of Progressive Studios. They took a different approach to the debut (which was mostly a live recording); instead layering up sounds and playing around with affects – the group credit Terry Moore for some of the more inventive touches.
This 2nd EP was released in January 1987 and is highlighted by Denise Roughan’s groovy (thanks to Kathy Bull’s magnificent bass line), poppy and infectious single ‘Cactus Cat‘ – written about Roughan’s black Burmese cat Yossa and featuring a slick backwards guitar section. A 2nd quirky video was shot with Pat O’Neill, this time with squiggly layered graphics from Roger Gillespie:
An interesting footnote to LBGPEP2 is that during the recording sessions an Auckland contingent that included the groups Bird Nest Roys, Battling Strings and Goblin Mix would often be around the studio – friends with the group since previously touring down to Dunedin in their own right. These connections sowed the seeds that eventually led to Dave Mitchell, Dave Saunders and Dominic Stone all moving down to Dunedin, and subsequently forming The 3Ds with Denise Roughan.
The group carried on through the next year, though the groups 3rd EP ‘This is this’ would end up their swan-song, and was released posthumously – Roughan remarked that the group had merely ‘run its course’ and petered out – hastened by the impending birth of Kathy Bull’s first child, and Lesley Paris supposedly moving to Sydney (though this never eventuated).
Over the the 4 year history of the group they wrote and recorded just 22 songs, compiled in the excellent ‘Still Bewitched’ retrospective in 2017 – they were never a prolific group, but Look Blue Go Purple made some of the finest pop songs in New Zealand music history.
- Lesley Paris (The Neanics, Craven A’s, Olla, The Puddle, The Cartilage Family, Alpaca Brothers, Buster, drums, 1983 – 1987)
- Denise Roughan (The Neanics, Pink Plastic Gods, The 3Ds, Ghost Club, Marineville, The Renderers, Lishka, guitar / vocals, 1983 – 1987)
- Kathy Bull (nee Kathy Griffin aka Francisca Griffin, Permanent Tourists, Cyclops, The Cartilage Family, bass, 1983 – 1987)
- Norma O’Malley (Permanent Tourists, The Puddle, Alpaca Brothers, keyboards / flute / vocals, 1983 – 1987)
- Kath Webster (guitar / vocals, 1983 – 1987)
- Bewitched 12″ EP (1985, Flying Nun Records, FNLBGP001)
- LBGEP2 12″ EP (1986, Flying Nun Records, FNLBGP002)
- LBGPEPs cassette compilation (1986, Flying Nun Records, FNLBGP003)
- This Is This EP (1989, Flying Nun Records, FN117)
- Compilation (1991, Flying Nun Records, FN171)
- Still Bewitched compilation (2017, Flying Nun Records, FN572CD)