OCCULT FIGURES – MEETING THE PERFECT STRANGERS

[reprinted with kind permission of the auteur, Duane Zarakov, from his extant blog, http://www.geocities.com/duane_zarakov/]

OCCULT FIGURES – MEETING THE PERFECT STRANGERS

Perfect Stangers
Perfect Strangers

For my last year of high school I had to go to a private boarding school in Christchurch where pretty much the only music the other boys ever listened to was Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Stones, & Pink Floyd. (This was in 1980, 21 years ago as I write this, but I bet if you went back to the same place today you’d hear the exact same shit echoing down the same halls, played by the sons of the same guys). I hated all those bands then, ’cause they just seemed to stand for all the stuff I figured rock’n’roll was supposed to be opposed to – conservatism, conformity, stuff like that.

By this stage of my life rock’n’roll music was about the only thing I cared much about, so the heavy teen alienation vibe of being at a new school (when I didn’t much even want to be at school at all) was double ’cause of being surrounded by other “rock fans” who if they heard me listening to the kind of stuff I liked (the Stooges, the Saints, the Ramones, whatever residual British punk rock still seemed good by that time, whatever stuff I could find that seemed weird, some ‘60s rock… I can’t remember what else exactly) they’d go “What’s this shit?”, & it’d seem like the criterion for stuff being “shit” was mainly “I didn’t get told this was good by my creepo big brother with the expensive stereo” or something. You know, “We can’t like this ’cause it isn’t part of the accepted canon of rock’n’roll” sorta shit. Yeah well I loved rock’n’roll too, but I was looking for something as far away from this kind of fossilised shit as I could get.

Anyway – one Sunday, wandered into the Arts Centre – that was just down the rd. from the school so if you know yr way round Christchurch you know which school I’m talking about : Christ’s College – & I heard the disjointed, discordant strains of a kind of music I didn’t exactly know already but had maybe been waiting to know – oo-ee-oo, spooky! – coming from the Centre Gallery – OK, in I went. The scene in the hall confused me somewhat, though – there were a few spectators, but the band at the far end of the gallery didn’t act like they were giving any kind of public performance – not that I’d’ve known for sure what that was supposed to be like, I’d never really seen any rock shows in my life (see footnote) – but it kind of looked to me like I’d wandered in on a band just dicking around with a few of their friends hanging out. I went outside again & listened from out there for a while. Anyway, that was my 1st sighting of the Perfect Strangers, a group & a sound that was to have a profound effect on my subsequent life. I can’t remember too many specifics of that 1st encounter other than that it was a heavy flash (like, Shit, I wanna be in a band like this), but simultaneously completely unsurprising ( i.e. I immediately knew that I had been looking for something like this & expecting to find it pretty soon).

img_4131-mick_abps_poster_800
Poster for "the gig", Records Records, Dunedin (photo: Mick Elborado)

There were 2 bands playing, although members of each seemed to wander in on each others’ performances at random. Neither sounded anything like any kind of Punk Rock that I was familiar with, apart from in terms of abrasiveness – the trio that had been playing when I 1st went into the place were the Perfect Strangers, who played some kind of disjointed primitive blues (with loud guitar – meet Bill Vosburgh); the other group, The And Band, were more, I dunno, psychedelic. I don’t remember what all my reference points were back then (I was 17, I was from Timaru. I’d heard more arcane sounds than probably any other 17 year old from Timaru in 1980, but still we can safely assume I didn’t know shit as far as things to compare this to went), but I know I thought , OK , early Pink Floyd.(& was right). (Bands that I hadn’t heard yet but soon would & I’d go, “Hey , it’s the And Band!” – The Fall, Alternative TV, Red Crayola, Faust, Slapp Happy, Can [actually I mighta heard them already, can’t recall exactly.])

A big deal thing about seeing these bands was, I realised, that accidentally wandering in on ’em like that was the only way I could’ve found out about ’em. I don’t think they were ever even mentioned in RIP IT UP or the local papers, they were apparently banned from all the pubs that bands played at then (not that I, as a boarder at a private school, had much opportunity to attend pub gigs) (that was supposedly the derivation of their name – Abused And Banned, which is what happened to ’em when they did get to play at a pub) – they only played free shows, mostly unpublicised – as underground as it gets. But as it happened, another Sunday a few weeks later I was walking by the river in Oxford Tce when I recognised the And Band there on the old band rotunda – Mark Thomas ([now] deceased) was wearing plastic devil horns attached to his forehead & spouting bile at the straggling “audience” – the only ones who stuck around were me & a couple of boys who looked about 13 & were obviously drunk as shit. (& that was the 1st time I ever saw Stevie McCabe).

Little Stevie McCabe - The hottest thing on four legs
Little Stevie McCabe - The hottest thing on four legs

Once again both the And Band & the Perfect Strangers played, & once again it was sometimes difficult to tell where one ended & the other began – Mark Thomas was in both, playing drums & sometimes singing with the And Band & also augmenting the Perfect Strangers trio as vocalist & crowd-stirrer (not that there was a crowd) – I couldn’t tell if he was meant to be in the band or whether he’d just gotten carried away & couldn’t leave the stage when the And Band set finished.

None of the other members were anything like as extroverted as him, but in their if-you-don’t-like-it-fuck-off demeanour all manifested righteous sullen cool. I’d definitely located the, I dunno, something like the Sex Pistols of my scene (‘cept of course I didn’t even have a “scene”). I only got to see the A.B./P.S. double-bill again 1 more time that year (at the Centre Gallery again, I found out about it from a flyer in the Public Library, but over the next few years this music would keep sort of turning up as a mysterious link to people & things that would loom majorly in my life & I’d find out more about the mysterious AND BAND & PERFECT STRANGERS. Not much more tho’, they’re still pretty mysterious. Part #2 soon & I’ll tell you more (their record, people I met later that knew them, how I met Bill Fosby & played in his band[s], stuff like that).

Perfect Strangers at their seminal Band Rotunda gig. L-R Bill Vosbergh, Richard Uti,Helm Ruifrock, Mark Thomas
Perfect Strangers at their seminal Band Rotunda gig (1980). L-R Bill Vosburgh, Richard Uti, Helm Ruifrock, Mark Thomas. (Photo by Stuart Page).

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