In 1980 and 1981, over 38 post-punk singles and EPs made the Top 50, the majority on small NZ indie labels. Not before or since have as many New Zealand groups been in the pop charts in a single year. That’s in addition to the smaller (but no less interesting) indie efforts that didn’t make the charts. Albums were still largely beyond small local label budgets.Propeller Records, the post-punk evolution and the NZ indie boom – 1980 – 1983 (AudioCulture)
Simon Griggs’ mighty fine Propeller Records – was (along with Ripper Records) the label that kicked off New Zealand’s independent record scene with an absolute hoard of excellent singles through the first few years of the 1980s.
Propeller was started by myself in early 1980 with a $400 loan from my flatmate, Nancy Tidball, initially to record her boyfriend James Pinker’s band, The Features, who had a massive live following but couldn’t get a record deal.
I’d toyed with the idea for a couple of years, and the first Suburban Reptiles single, ‘Megaton‘, was copyrighted to my semi-label, Partisan, but in those days New Zealand had virtually no indigenous indie record industry and a couple of major label owned pressing plants which showed little interest in pressing indie singles.Simon Grigg
Grigg took advantage of every opportunity that came his way – the label’s 2nd release was for Auckland punk group The Spelling Mistakes; a group managed by Grigg’s brother-in-law Larry Young who also happened to book for well-known venue The Windsor Castle:
[The Spelling Mistakes] just happened to win the battle of the bands competition he was running and got themselves a free day in Hugh Lynn’s Mascot Studio in Eden Terrace. I was also a judge (the others were radio DJ Barry Jenkin, John Dix, Bryan Staff, and John Doe, the last two being the compilers of Ak79).Simon Grigg
Grigg smartly formed connections with other labels; with the assistance of Ode Records‘ Terrence O’Neill-Joyce he was able to convince PolyGram Records (who at that time New Zealand’s sole pressing plant) to produce their vinyl singles. By mid 1980, Auckland’s live scene was booming with popular new-wave and post-punk groups. From the ‘Class of ’81‘ compilation release Propellers distribution switched from Ode to major label Festival Records; and Grigg formed Furtive Records to release material by The Newmatics; who had a contract with CBS.
Propeller was instrumental in the phenomenal success of the Screaming Meemees, securing the rarest of the rare; an independently released New Zealand number one single with ‘See Me Go’ in 1981 – paving the way for future success from the likes of Flying Nun Records. The 7″ sold 4000 copies in a week and was then promptly deleted; tumbling down the charts the following weeks. However the Meemees were just one of the Propeller groups that were racing up the charts:
Throughout ’81 and most of ’82 we seemed to do no wrong. At one stage in August ’81 we had four singles in the top 40 – numbers 1, 11, 23 and 40.
This was one more than RCA, and two more than RTC (Virgin)- both majors – had.Simon Grigg
Another important group in the bands roster was Blam Blam Blam – the Auckland trio were an immediate hit thanks to politically-charged toe-tapping singles ‘There is no depression in New Zealand‘ and ‘Don’t fight it Marsha (it’s bigger than the both of us)‘, both New Zealand classics.
We can claim to have released the two anthems to the Anti-Springbok tour movement (this and ‘Riot Squad’), which divided and rocked New Zealand in a way that is hard to comprehend all these years later.
However, I preferred the B side (about Arthur Alan Thomas, a famous case at the time of justice miscarriage with a guy being framed by the police for murders he had nothing to do with), although Don had to tone down the lyrics a bit for legal reasons. The original title was ‘Thomas Is Guilty‘, and it had hilarious lyrics such as “What about those hitchhikers too / I bet he did those too“.‘There is no depression in New Zealand’ 7″ single – Simon Grigg
The ‘Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow’ (a successful nation-wide triple headed tour) was completed with The Newmatics – a Christchurch group that had elements of reggae and dance in their sound; expanding the labels’ palette.
Both the Screaming Meemees and Blam Blam Blam ended up producing classic full albums of 1982; however they proved costly. Grigg tried to recover costs by releasing a few compilations, plus the label was the benefactor of benefit shows in 1983 – however the labels days were numbered. Since 1983 the label has occasionally resurfaced with a retrospective release (including the excellent ‘It’s bigger than the both of us‘ compilation of New Zealand singles and an expanded reissue of the legendary ‘AK79‘ compilation released in tandem with Flying Nun Records).
- The Birthday Party
- Blam Blam Blam
- The Body Electric
- The Dabs
- Don McGlashan
- Ivan Zagni
- Export Lamb
- The Garage Crawlers
- Jam This Record
- Marching Girls
- Miltown Stowaways
- The National Party
- No Tag
- Screaming Meemees
- Spelling Mistakes
- Suburban Reptiles
- These Wilding Ways
- The Class Of 81 (1981, REV201)
- Doobie Doo Disc (1982, REV206)
- We’ll Do Our Best (1983, REV209)
- Its Bigger Than The Both Of Us Double-LP (1988, 2REV210)
- Ak79 Reissue (1993, joint reissue venture with Flying Nun Records, REV503)
- Give It A Whirl Double-CD (2003, REV504)
- Propeller Records
- PO Box 6284
- Auckland 1036
- New Zealand [postal address]
- Simon Grigg [label head / email contact]
- Discogs Entry
- Propeller Records & Furtive Records – discography and history (Simon Griggs official website)
- Propeller Records, the post-punk evolution and the NZ indie boom – 1980 – 1983 (AudioCulture)