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The Verlaines


Formed in late 1980, The Verlaines is Graeme Downes’ long-standing song-writing vehicle, and one-hell of a brilliant, literate band at that. With the classic early 1980’s line-up of Downes on guitar and vocals, Alan Haig on drums and Jane Dodd on bass, the Verlaines released excellent singles such as ‘10 O’Clock In The Afternoon‘ from the EP of the same name, and of course their signature tune ‘Death And The Maiden‘, which stands as one of the true kiwi classics.

Over the course of the bands 40+ lifetime there’s been a revolving cast of supporting players, with only Downes the constant. Though the Verlaines had developed a reputation as a rough-round-the-edges loud and exciting live group, by the late 1980’s Downes had earned himself a classical music composition doctorate (on Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer Gustav Mahler), adding a layer of complexity and sophistication to The Verlaines sound.

Graeme writes all the Verlaines’ songs and he can toss them about for months, sometimes years, before bringing them to the band the usual stumbling block being getting a lyric he’s completely happy with. Sometimes there’ll be some leeway, things for the band to try out, but structurally complex songs like ‘Ballad of Harry Noryb’ come precisely mapped out.

The Gang of Three – The Verlaines interview, 1985 (Russell Brown – AudioCulture)

Intricate, visionary song-writing and dynamic, unusual instrumentation (Downes approached composition from a more angular classical perspective, yet their songs could still Rock), along with a high quality thresh-hold mean that pretty much all Verlaines releases have strong, discernible qualities and are well worth getting hold of.

The group were probably the group that most encapsulated the famed ‘Dunedin Sound’, a label Downes was always eager to define and discuss. In fact in 2011 he co-wrote (with Dan Bendrups) the book ‘Dunedin Soundings – Place and Performance’, noting the prevalence of similar sounds – “trebly, highly reverberant guitars and partial barre chords with jangling or droning open strings.” along with stylistic connections to groups The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, and their own connections to the classical music of Western and Asian origin that influenced such groups.

Downes has resurfaced every few years since the mid 90s, with new line-ups making regular appearances and albums on a variety of different labels.




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