LIVE AT CITY MALL notes
These songs were definitely recorded on a Friday night, the 19th, before the Saturday of the Band Rotunda Free Festival, whenever that was (May? June? July?), at City Mall in Cashel St, Christchurch, 1984 (that information unavailable at the times of THIS & that previous post). On Volume 1, the first four songs are the Axemen busking at one end of the Mall. Note that the version of “The Message” included here is about 6 minutes longer than that one posted previously, and “Untitled By Unknown” is a new mix. Notice Gary Scott noticing cops at the end of “Axemen, Dogs, Cops.” I noticed that – nice of you to notice – steve Hear Stu Kawowski briefly note the date & introduce The Connoisseurs (having discovered them after marching up the other end of the Mall) who play the next four songs accompanied by the Al Right-Gary Scott-Pete Hall Jones Horned Hornet Horns horn section. By the time the songs on Volume 2 were recorded, literally moments after those on Volume 1, the non-horn-toting members of the Axemen had “changed” their “minds” about rumbling with the country and western Connoisseurs for poaching their blowers, and instead passed around the coffee wine & joined in for 8 more fine examples of City Mall-style busking magic. ALL SONGS IN STEREO. The cover photo, almost certainly by Stu, shows Doug & Rent Hamilton playing pentatonic scales in a brave attempt to shield their sensitive nether regions from McCabe’s out-thrust disaster-finger.
Times New Viking is a lo-fiindie rock band from Columbus, Ohio. The line up consists of guitarist Jared Phillips, drummer Adam Elliott, and Beth Murphy on keyboards. Murphy and Elliott share vocal duties. They are currently signed to Matador Records and were formerly signed to Siltbreeze Records. They have released three records: 2005’s Dig Yourself, 2007’s Present the Paisley Reich, and 2008’s Rip It Off, which NME gave an 8/10. Rip it Off reached #17 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
SXSW ‘Siltbreeze’ Showcase 13 Mar 2008
TIMES NEW VIKING outside Sound on Sound Records SXSW ’07
Saturday, 3/17/07. Bleached out, sounds amazing. Penultimate song of the set, “Let Your Hair Grow Long.” We got sunburned.
Sounds like: Breath in: snuff a line speed, a half hour jump on your cheap amplifiers, salad yet once a half hour with you yet cheaper guitar against the wall. Write eleven popliedjes, lay the emphasis on cryptic and forget everything your song teacher you ever learned has. Seek your neighbor girl on and tell her that your musics will make. Lay her emphatically from that she must not try to sing. Stick, now that you it really are, also just your tongue between her lips till you certainly are that they that rather has not. Give her then you eleven popliedjes and (optioneel) a guitar. Question her these eleven popliedjes with you together to not to sing, expect of it surplus. Mess what with the buttons on the amplifier, let the hamster of your neighbor girl also once over the strings run, sign the head of the father of your neighbor girl on the skins of a Bears Smit drumstel, call her feather ten-year-old little brother and lay from that its father him really real hatred. Breath out: and voila, Yourself Summoned. Sounds good? Sounds in it really yet better. Blessed with a delicious dose ADHD-spontaneity and a fine nose for popmelodieën know Tim New Viking on Summoned Yourself a particular charming pot borrow-fi garagepop down to dump. A kind of contemporary version of The Shaggs, but then without the implicit family tie. More a neighbor boy-neighbor girl tie thus.
Yep, in conjuction w/Sleek Bott Indusries, Siltbreeze is PROUD to annouce no less than 3, count’em THREE, Axemen reissues to see the light of day in 2009. First up is a previously cassette only one entitled ‘Big Cheap Motel’ (originally released in 1983), followed by ‘Scary!’ (1989) & then a full-on repro of the cult classic ‘Three Virgins, Three Versions, Three Visions’ (1985). These will all be limited vinyl only runs, so stay tuned & feel free to email should you have any questions. The series begins in January & will continue through the whole of next yr. And who know, maybe even beyond!
For the uninformed, the Axemen have been the practioners of a unqiue brand of DIY they lovingly refer to as ‘Sigh-Fi’ rock for 30 yrs now. Not an easy band to pin down sonically, their catalog speaks for itself in much’ve the same way as those belonging to The Homosexuals or Sun City Girls. That is to say vast & beautiful. For a mindblowing glimpse into the world of Axemen (+ related friends & accomplice’s) check out; http://www.theaxemen.wordpress.com/ & be prepared to have copious block’s of time squandered trying to fathom the genius. Also, for those who perhaps can’t wait, Axemen have a site where you can purchase high quality cdr’s of previous cassette’s. Go to http://www.sleekbott.com/ & there you might get a jump on the rest of your not-quite-as-desperate brothers & sisters. Yeah, 2009 is looking to be quite an exciting yr for reissues. See y’all on the flipside!
Your story was not quite accurate — I know this because I initiated it, directed it, shot it, and edited it. Here for the first time, is the whole story which for some reason I just felt inspired to write — maybe it’s because I just found out that one of my favourite people of all time Johnny Cash has just passed away?
In fact I used to see the Skeptics whenever they played — the first time was in 1985 in Christchurch, and it wasn’t long before every Skeptics show started with A.F.F.C.O. — a song which still blows me away and cuts to the bone of NZ culture, ha. Well I was also lucky enough to play a gig with the Skeptics in Palmerston North at Snail Clamps in 1985 with my band The AXEMEN. We had just recorded an album “Derry Legend” at the Skeptics studio Writhe in Wellington with Nick Roughan from the band engineering and co-producing with the Axemen. Later, when it came to paying for the final mixing — we’d run out of money, and I’d just asked the Skeptics if I could make a video for A.F.F.C.O. — which they agreed to. So Don White suggested we just swap the video for the mixing costs. Beautiful!
Meantime I’d moved to Auckland and hooked up with some old buddies up there who agreed to try and sneak into the Westfield Freezing Company to shoot some footage for the vid. We drove out and checked at the office for permission to have a look around, figuring we’d case the joint and comeback later to shoot. Well there was a youg guy working in the office who was excited that we wanted to look around, and took us on a guided tour around the factory. Jesus, I saw guys wading around up to their waists in blood, a six foot stainless steel chainsaw which split a whole cattle beast in two down the middle. a one-armed skin-ripper man whose missing limb was ripped off by a chain wrapped around the cuff of a cattle skin as it accellerated vertically. He got compo, and his job back. Phew! Anyway I decided to film on the sheep floor, more iconically NZ, and easier to get around (less blood and water flowing across the floor where we needed to have electric cables for our lights).
We left and went away to Penrose for lunch — and found it difficult to eat, so my mates (one of whom was a vegetarian) said they’d only go back and do the shoot if I got them pissed on champagne first. This I was informed would help them deal with the mass destruction of innocent animals. So, I agreed, and purchased two bottles of the Australian champenoise, which were summarily swilled, I don’t remember joining in as I had a lot of work to do — but I might have had a swig or two).
So we returned to Westfield works and hooked up with our young friend from the office who took us in and looked after us while we moved slowly down the chain from the initial slaughtering being done by some Muslims who said they preferred to be here killing sheep — rather than having to fight Israel in the Middle East. They had a red line painted on the wall in the direction of Mecca, which although they were supposed to pray to every time they cut a throat, they smiled and said they never bothered.
Along we moved shooting 100′ rolls of 16mm film on a wind up Bolex camera, and lighting the scenes with a 2kW ‘blonde’ and an 800W ‘redhead’. The cables were swimming in a watery blood mixture but luckily we didn’t short out any circuits. Near the end of our short shoot, I became aware of a rippling of descent amongst some of the employees of the works. And in fact while we were shooting the final scenes, a union rep was trying to have us evicted. Our young friend (who must have been the manager’s son to wield this authority over the unionist) managed to hold them off and showed us the side exit. We literally ran to the waiting Morris Minor as the management were entering the front doors.
The scenes of the ‘meat packing’ were shot elsewhere at a factory called Kellax in Mt Wellington and the management were in fact told straight up that I was doing a music video for a song about meat packing. The boss let us in to the factory where frozen meat was band-sawed into pieces and shrink-wrapped before being packed into manila cartons. He was very friendly, and as I had agreed I sent him a copy of the video when it was finished, but no comment was received. I actually sent a copy of the video to Westfield also and asked them if they would make their staff aware of it in case they wished to see it as some had indicated while we were shooting. No feedback from them either.
It has been written that this video was “vegetarian” or “animal rights” inspired etc, which is actually incorrect also. Although neither the Skeptics or I have anything against such groups or ideologies, (in fact I applaud their efforts to manifest their feelings towards our animal friends), this song was written purely about some guys who “pack meat” and the video was made in that light — not wanting to cast any aspersions on the workers in the meat trade — but to document the “process” of a sheep’s life in contemporary NZ. I guess we got carried away wrapping David d’Ath the singer in glad wrap and baby oil and food colouring — but it was the natural result of a collaborative effort by those present at the shoot in an upstairs room at my Freemans Bay flat.
The video has been screened a few times on TV now — once on the last show of Radio With Pictures by Karyn Hay, and again on SPACE apparently. It has also been screened at various art exhibitions in NZ and film archive screenings in Wellington. It features on my Brilliant Films Music video compilationNOISYLAND released through Festival Records in NZ 1992.
Paul Bunyan (Axemen Theme)
— version #1 is from Hell Farm, August 1983, with Steve & Bob on guitars. This version was released on the rare AXE OF THE APOSTLES cassette later that month.
Paul Bunyan (Axemen Theme)
— version #2 adds Stu K. on drums, from the Jetty St “Equinox” gig in Dunedin, 24 September 1983. This version was never released, can’t think why, there’s even Lisa Preston saying a few words at the start!
Paul Bunyan (Axemen Theme)
— version #3 adds M. S. Agro on bass, from the Gladstone, 28 November 1983. Live mix by Hamish Kilgour. Never released.
Paul Bunyan (Axemen Theme)
— version #4 adds Artie Sheep on sax, from the Gladstone again on 10 December 1983, at the Flying Nun recording party otherwise known as the Flying Fuck. This appears to be the last time the Axemen theme would be played, though in the 1990s there was an eerily similar tune played at gigs supposedly entitled “Son Of Paul Bunyan” as yet unrecovered from the Axemen/Sleek Bott vaults (it’s spooky in there). This version was either never released, or else maybe it’s the version on side 4 of A SCAR IS BORN, but as no copy of that album is at hand, that’s impossible to ascertain at present.
Read more about Paul Bunyan, the giant tree-biter, here:
In 1986 Stu Kawowski succumbed to the magnetic attraction of “The North.” At first he thought it was the Wellington effect, so he ventured up there for a few months, and moved in with The Skeptics for a while, first at Nick’s pad in Brooklyn, and later crashed at Writhe Recording, their studio cnr Walter & Vivian Sts. About a block away was an upstairs flat at the end of (and simply known as) “Kensington Street.” Here could be found the talented Walker sisters, Jane & Jessica, Tracey Walsh, and some other guys, all of whom had been in bands, were in bands or hung out with bands. Jane had been in Toy Love, Tracey had a band called The Yellimin, and Jessica had been in a band called Shoes This High.
Flashback #1 to sometime around 1980/1981:
Kawowski was still a “band virgin” (unless you count his several years snare drumming for the Marlborough Boys’ College and Blenheim Municipal Brass Bands… hmmm I thought not) but he was into some cool music at that time: Can, The Fall, Pere Ubu, Joy Division, Swell Maps, Capt. Beefheart… So not long after, when he found himself wandering around Wellington in the Willis St area, he somehow recognised a beautiful distorted, energetic sound bouncing off the walls of the empty twilight city. After walking around a few corners he finally discovered its origin: There, in a dimly lit, near empty hall, were four skinny musicians frantically rehearsing some amazing music on stage. None of them objected to his presence, so he was able to stay and enjoy a private audience with one of New Zealand’s best bands of that era, Shoes This High.
Five years later, Kawowski was visiting Kensington St, he entered the house, was walking down the hall when suddenly a knife came whistling out of a side door a few metres ahead “THUNK!” and stuck into a life-size silhouette of a person painted on the wooden wall. “DONK!”, “WHAM!”, “THUNK!” as three more throwing knives landed in the figure’s heart, followed by “DING” as a Kung-Fu star split its forehead between the eyes. Satisfied that the barrage of sharpened circus cutlery was depleted, Kawowski bravely entered that door and came face-to-face with the martial arts expert: Jessica Walker, Shoes This High bass player.
In 1987, the Axemen convinced Flying Nun Records to do a second album. They cut a deal with The Skeptics, that allowed them to take advantage of their newly built 16-track studio Writhe Recording, the outcome being “Derry Legend”, the follow-up to their debut double vinyl “Three Virgins” (1985). The Axemen had already released several cassette albums on their own Sleek Bott label, but those vinyl releases effectively enjoyed the Flying Nun ‘stamp of approval’ in addition to their international marketing and distribution network.
“Mourning of Youth” (1987) – AXEMEN
(Steve’s ageless dirge reveals a prone McCabe at Chippendale Hall, Dunedin 1987, coins on shut eyelids, candles melting into offering hands, unattended cigarette smoking between his lips, 1957 Isle of Man Golden Jubilee TT races flicker across his corpse-like demeanour.)
For McCabe’s “Mourning of Youth” composition, he’d mentioned that a viola would sound good in there, so before you know it, the master knife-throwing, catgut stroking Jessica Walker was enlisted to lay down some wailing and plucking that, says Stu, “had all of the hairs sticking out on the back of my neck!” (This harrowing, haunting track was also selected by the late Kurt Cobain for one of his personal mix-cassettes track-listed in his posthumously published diaries.)
By the time the Axemen and Kevin Hawkins crossed swords paths in Auckland, while day-tripping there during their sojourn at the Whangarei Buskers Festival in December 1985, Shoes This High had disbanded, Fishschool was no more and Kev had metamorphosed into the proudly homosexual Screamin’ K. Hawkins, collaborating with various musicians credited as “& His Walk-In Lovers.” While “love at first sight” doesn’t exactly describe the relationship that existed between Kev and Bob Brannigan (though given Bob’s growing interest in psychic phenomena at the time, “love at second sight” is peculiarly apt), the older rocker charmed the pants off the repressed rebel and touched him in ways few men hitherto had, and none since.
Soon the gay guerrilla planted his seed in the young punk’s garden of earthly delights and romance blossomed. The pair pashed in public and back in Christchurch camped inside Kawowski’s Rolleston Ave foyer, staging a mini bed-in a la John & Yoko, only way gayer and with no international media attention. “We even had sex in the backseat of the Starliner,” boasts Bob, “en-route between Christchurch & South Dunedin. Thanks to Kevvy’s gift of love, at last I was able to laugh at the atmosphere of stultifying despondency that permeated NZ intercity bus-services in the mid-80s.”
Despite growing health problems, Hawkins continued to use drugs on top of his prescribed withdrawal medication, frequently blacking-out and injuring himself; this behaviour frightened Bob and the couple parted acrimoniously. “I used to joke with him, saying If you die, I’ll fucking kill you! We had a falling-out and he went back up north, no contact for about a year, then he died. It was like a beautiful fairy story gone terribly wrong. But what a guy! A total magician.”
“Around the end of 1986,” Stu recalls, “I remember running into Croatian Axeman extraordinaire Dragan Stojanovic busking in Manners Mall just near McDonalds (one of his regular Wellington busking haunts). He told me that Kevin Hawkins had just died but that he’d seen him the previous week, and that Kev was over the moon ‘cos he’d fulfilled one of his lifetime dreams: Fucking someone in a cemetery. En route downhill from Victoria University after some event up there, he and his companion wandered through the remains of the desecrated old cemetery, and did the deed against a gravestone.”
(BTW if anybody knows where Dragan is can they please ask him to get in touch with AXEMEN – email or comment on the blog…)*
-Saki Tuskwow & Ann Gribabbon
*P.S. we found him shacked up with his sister Sonja in his brother’s house in the Hutt 🙂
This STEREO post, in STEREO, celebrates two great bassplayers who brought a whole lot of bottom to the Axemen sound (examples of which are included as mp3s below, in STEREO) and inspired the band totally and permanently…totally and permanently…totally and permanently…
Bass Face #1: M. S. Agro, the taxman in the Axemen
M. S. AGRO was Mick Elborado, who played in early 80s Christchurch group Drowning Is Easy and from 1982-6 was part of the incredible Scorched Earth Policy, a band about whom Stu, Steve & Bob soon made their own policy—never to miss them in action.
Stu: Buck from Scorched Earth Policy saw Axemen play at the Star & Garter and invited us to play with them. Stevie was impressed because he’d seen Buck before hanging around the pub laughing with a bunch of people and he commented, “Looks like we’re in with the gentry, now.” Bob of course totally mishears Steve and thinks SEP are Bobbie Gentry’s backing band.
Steve: Comes the gig with SEP, Brannigan is late, Stu & I are trying to calm down the audience going, “We’ll start when our buddy from South Dunedin gets here; must be having a rough time crossing the Rakaia bridge, etc.” Mick offered to fill in & so we started playing, Bob finally arrives & he’s got all these Bobbie Gentry LPs he brought up with him on the bus to see if he can get their autographs on. Mick played the whole set with us & Bob kept on trying to get him to play ‘Ode To Billie Joe,’ only Mick totally mishears & starts playing ‘Billie Jean.’ After that we saw his band play, they were spookily good & Bob had this weird puzzled look on his face. Mick played bass with us for a couple of months after that.
Bob: The first time I saw Scorched Earth Policy, I think I’d been drinking coffee wine & they just made complete sense, but in a really scary way. They were all these things that I thought it would take a band years to become, so fierce & focused, & really distinctly their own sound (& I think they’d only been together a short time by then), no Bobbie Gentry stuff at all. I was convinced they must all be psychotic. But when they weren’t playing they seemed like these really low-key relaxed people. Maybe they were allergic to their audience, like Superman & kryptonite, and SEP had to erect these sonic barriers simply to be able to stand there long enough to play some songs. Then by the time they finished playing they’d be sapped of their superpowers and just wander around chatting and drinking like nothing weird had gone on. Stevie & I dubbed this manner the Scorched Earth Policy “tic” or SEPtic, and devoted long hours (the 80-minute ones) to uncovering its secret. These sessions became known as the SEPtic Think-Tank. When their DUST TO DUST record came out, around 1984, we conducted numerous Vulcan mind-melt exercises using it as soundtrack and concluded that while we enjoyed coffee wine (the Think-Tank morphed into a Drink-Tank pretty fast), those Scorchers must’ve been drinking radioactive blood.
* * *
ON WITH THE MUSIC . . .
mouldie (leg story) excerpt (stereo)
— this is just under 2 minutes of a song that sometimes went on longer than 10 (see below). Luckily someone turned the tape on and got this much, as it’s a fine example of early axemenomena and Mick is playing bass all over it, in a hurry that is pure Agro, frantic but precise. Live from the Gladstone, Christchurch, New Year’s Eve 1983.
shirt-cuffed like a bladder (stereo)
— Mick pins this song down from the getgo and the way his riff melds with Stu’s propulsive chug is so Vulcan it has pointy ears and finds ordinary humans fascinating though illogical. Then the six million dollar man theme staggers out of Steve’s guitar. There’s a version of this on MICK’S DANCEFLOOR (MIX) but that’s a combined live/studio splice; this one is all live (it’s alive!) at the Star & Garter, the first time Mick played with the band, November 4, 1983, and quite likely the first time he ever heard this song.
The next two songs are live from the gig postered above, the Flying Nun Recording Party (affectionately known as the Flying Fuck) held at the Gladstone on 10 December 1983. That gig probably merits a post of its own (anyone?), but let’s stick with Mick for now. Earlier that same day he rehearsed with the Axemen and saxophone addict Arthur Sheep, ostensibly learning a batch of new songs but fortuitously stumbling upon oblique nongenre sci-psy-sigh-fi spacepunkjazz while they were at it (see & hear the ETHER BREATHER HABITAT post, currently available in mono but eventually to be rejigged in STEREO). Mick’s spirited playfulness in combination with the Sheep’s playful spiritedness excited the others so much that they deliberately didn’t practice a new song of Steve & Bob’s called “Pulp For The Masses” but played it at the gig anyway. The sheer amount of sound the band generated for their half-hour set that night had been equaled at some earlier freak-outs (and once at a love-in), but it had never been recorded before on anything bigger than a walkman. The other big part of the excitement about the gig was that each set would be recorded on an 8-track reel-to-reel, and for many if not all of the bands who performed, the prospect of getting their material down via such hi-tech wizardry was intoxicating enough, never mind the coffee wine, the ether, the codeine, the beer. Of the 9 songs Axemen played, 8 were caught on 8-track, and the last song, “The Yeasty Mayor,” turned up on the last side of the THREE VIRGINS 2LP released by Flying Nun 2.5 years later. Meanwhile back at the Flying Fuck, notice the atomic-blood-slurping Scorched Earth Policy were on the bill SO MICK PLAYED TWICE! Even the guy’s aura is in STEREO. . .
Fastforward about a month to a riotous gig at the Star & Garter on 7 January, 1984. Wellington punk stirrers the Barbaric Bunnies (notorious for their Shirley Bassey-inspired poke at mere males called “Hey Big Wanker!”) came to town and their shared show with Axemen was promoted in the local press as featuring “Two All-Women Bands.” On-stage that night, Bob quipped to the audience, “Obviously there was some sort of mistake in the newspaper ad; one would hardly describe the Barbaric Bunnies as women.”
the zit (stereo)
— this starts off sounding remarkably like “The Yeasty Mayor” but Mick’s bouncing 2-note drill, Stu’s falling-down-the-stairs dactylologisms, the Sheep’s sebum-drenched saxblowing, the eerie twin-guitars-as-dying-walrus element and Stevie’s indecipherable lyrics give it a distinct identity of its own.
Jump back to 28 November 1983 and this sizzling set from the Gladstone. The live mix is by Hamish Kilgour, who can be heard at several points trying to identify the source of a raucous storm of feedback & radio noise, concluding correctly that it was Stevie’s FM-wave-transmitting guitar interfering with the p.a.
a wall of sound (stereo)
—another song that exists as a “studio” version on the MICK’S DANCEFLOOR (MIX) album, but this live take takes the cake, eats it, poops it out, bleaches the poop and folds it all back into the cake, only to repeat the process, totally & permanently. “One of Steve’s best songs ever, and Stu & Mick are complete monsters on it”—Bob.
mouldie (leg story) (stereo)
— this is a full-length version of the song fragment this post started with, recorded live at the Gladstone two nights later, on 2 January 1984. The performance is a mimetic enactment of the Axemen-with-M. S. Agro gestalt & this recording serves as its perfect snapshot for-all-time and a fine highlight to end this short introductory survey of one great bassplayer’s input into the band’s evolution-revolution. Mick’s bass climbs & climbs but never reaches the top, and his playing sounds just as energetic after 9 minutes as it does after 9 seconds. At a point about 8 mins 20 secs in, the weirdly processed guitars sound like a flock of angry birds attacking Artie’s laughing-clown sax. Stu drums like crisco (a cross between disco & Crass), cuing Stevie to start reciting “Nagasaki nightmare.” The whole thing seems to end about 2 mins before it actually does, and a lot of weirdness is generated by the mixers, the guys from Say Yes To Apes, who’d played an inspiring set earlier on that same night (future post idea! They Came From Even Further South Than South Dunedin – The Unbelievable Truth About Say Yes To Apes & The Invercargill Diaspora).
Early on in 1984 Scorched Earth Policy activity required Mick’s undivided attention and he would play bass live with the Axemen only a handful more times, such as at the Hagley Park Summer Festival Big M incident on January 14 that formed the basis of protest album BIG CHEAP MOTEL. He would also appear as a special guest on some of the tracks on THREE VIRGINS recorded the following year. His involvement in the Axemen was only a redhot splinter from the huge blazing log that is his musical career (see also Richie Venus & The Blue Beetles, The Terminals, Dadamah, Gas, Space Dust, etc), but it embedded itself in the group’s soft flesh, festered, and became a permanent cyst; stab it with your steely knives all you might, you will not kill the legend of M. S. Agro, the bass beast.
Bass Face #2: Gordo Baird, the mysterious Nodrog
As almost absolutely nothing is known about the mysterious Nodrog (the gentle giant sometimes called Gordo, claimed by some to be one Gordon Baird, possibly the offspring of painter Annie Baird, perhaps an old South Dunedin buddy of Bob Brannigan’s, hypothetically vegan, potentially linked to crucial South Dunedin sound groups such as (speculatively speaking, of course) Circadian Deregulation, Atomic Radio, White Noise, and The Earthlings, quite likely related to lead-guitarist B. B. Ryan, supposedly a teenage motorcyclist, conjecturally a long-distance hitchhiker, presumably present at the final ever gig at Snail Clamps in Palmerston North in 1985, enigmatically absent from the State Trinity Theatre THREE VIRGINS recording sessions earlier that same year, surmisably a participant in the Axemen-Nux Vomica tour of Nelson & the West Coast in 1986, postulatively a non-drinker, theoretically a victim of guitar-theft, putatively a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, maybe at present a music teacher at a prestigious school), little remains to be said.* He is definitely present on the following made-in-Christchurch recordings, all from August-September 1984, and he certainly plays bass throughout. If anybody reading this can locate the mysterious Nodrog, Gordo or Gordon Baird, the Axemen want to hear from him, totally & permanently. Now listen on. . .
*This article about a beloved fellow traveller with the Axemen is a nub. You can help Y2K by embigifying it. Please deposit relevant info via Leave a Comment below.
happy birthday bernadette (stereo) the key to happiness (stereo; some source damage but if that hinders your enjoyment you’re at the wrong site altogether that’s no lie) first few bars (i went into) (stereo)
— Recorded at Peterborough St again, 15 September 1984, in preparation for Bernadette Smith’s 21st birthday party (hence selection #1). Sounds like Gordo’s bumped up the volume on his amp this time, and the hearifiable presence of Al Right on high-flying sax urges the mysterious Nodrog on to some deep bottomdwelling profundity. This same session produced the cool song “The Mind,” but it’s time up now for the first BASS/OFF, so that shall wait for a future post.
Thanks to Mick & Gordo, all the best wherever you may be now.
Reprinted without permission FROM THE LISTENER ARCHIVE: ARTS & BOOKS August 23-29 2008 Vol 215 No 3563, but hey they might go under or get bought out by Fairfax or someone and now that it’s on here it’s as good as gold, safe as houses, and won’t go away…
The Puddle’s George D Henderson has an almost shamanic knack for neatly concise pop songs.
The Chills’ Doledrums (1984) is a much celebrated dole day anthem, with Martin Phillipps’ almost lifeless and deadpan refrain “the benefits arrive and life goes on …” But there was another Dunedin band and Flying Nun label mate of The Chills who turned out a much better ode to dole day. The Puddle’s Thursday (1993) is a joyous pop gem. “My sweet little Thursday/I wouldn’t swap you for the rest of the year …”
“Well, as a Chills fan, I was kind of disappointed by Doledrums. And as a beneficiary, I thought it was sort of ungrateful,” says George D Henderson, singer/guitarist/ founder of the Puddle.
“I guess I didn’t share Marty’s work ethic. For me and my friends, dole day was the only day of the week we really lived. So I was trying to express that devil may take tomorrow and live for today ambience that I saw around me on Thursday nights in Dunedin.”
Formed in 1984 with the stellar line up of Henderson, Leslie Paris, Norma O’Malley and Peter Gutteridge, the Puddle have contributed an almost mythical and romantic legacy to New Zealand music.
On a bad night, they were a shambolic and broken spectacle. But on a good night, the band would be like a majestic rush of lightning right up the nervous system. While the Puddle’s sound is steeped in muddy, psyched out, sci fi cod metal and narcotic cool, the bottom line is always gleaming pop.
Henderson has an almost shamanic knack of writing neatly concise pop songs that are riddled with hooks and melodies. Spindly guitars are punctuated with jabs of wonky, scrunched up organ, brittle flute interjections and savvy lyrics sung in a proud Kiwi accent. But the real magic lies in Henderson’s innate ability to write songs you think you’ve heard before. They just instantly click.
Henderson’s history includes heroin addiction, crime and jail. Diagnosed with debilitating hepatitis C in 1991, which he has learned to manage successfully, there were even rumours that he had died.
“I never heard those rumours! But, of course, I’d be the last to know,” he says with a laugh.
I can confirm Henderson is very much alive. When I saw his reformed Puddle perform recently in Auckland, he played such a long and ferocious set (including a thundering and blissfully irony free cover of Smoke on the Water) that I had to sit down. The man is unstoppable.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Henderson moved to Invercargill with his family when he was eight. Inspired by local band Watchdog, who played T Rex and David Bowie covers, he formed his own band with his younger brother, Ian, and Tweedsmuir Intermediate chum the late Lindsay Maitland.
“Did you ever see that television series Freaks and Geeks? That was us, man. We started as the geeks and grew into the freaks,” says Henderson, 50.
A bit of a rascal during his school years, he admits he would do anything for attention.
“One teacher said he didn’t know if I’d grow up to be a genius or a madman. For a long time I thought I’d have to choose.”
I first heard the Puddle via a dub of a dubbed cassette (minus track list, of course) of the Flying Nun classic Into the Moon (1992). I was 15. We listened to Slayer and Black Sabbath back then.
So, comparatively, the Puddle were like music from another planet. Produced by Alastair Galbraith, Into the Moon sounded like it had been recorded in the bottom of a tin can. Dusty and sprawling, there was still a heaviness about it that appealed. As did the thrillingly dangerous and volatile nature of Henderson’s songs, courtesy of the metallic edged and drugged up psychedelia.
Starting with opiated pot at 17, Henderson moved on to heroin (or as he says in Junk, the devil’s petrol) at 20, tripping on LSD in between.
“The drugs I took were historical counter culture landmarks. But it quickly got seedy: cough mixture, painkillers, diet pills and benzos. But opium was always the drug of choice because it was a romantic thing,” he says.
Henderson’s drug addiction contributed to a flirtation with crime. In 1990, he snuck into the science department of the University of Otago to steal ether. Though he cunningly wore a white lab coat, he was caught.
“Just before they grabbed me, I tipped the ether all over my clothes. That way, they couldn’t stop me getting off. The police took a picture of me wearing the lab coat, and it was posted all over the university.”
Because he was already on probation for a chemist burglary, Henderson was sent to Invercargill Prison in 1991 for three months. He says his time in prison blew away any remnants of his liberal youth.
“I decided to take the music seriously when I got out. To get the girls and so forth.”
Musically, the Puddle had more in common with post punk/soul popsters Orange Juice than the spikiness of The Fall, who were a favourite with sexless, stand back and impress me, black jersey bands in 1980s Dunedin. Henderson reckons that with your music you’ve got to get them between the legs as well as the ears.
“It sounds obvious now, not to mention crass. But I was never into the po faced thing of the Dunedin Sound. I wanted to shake people up. A lot of people came to our shows to dance, to hook up and to have fun.”
So, are the Puddle sexy music, then?
“Most rock music is kind of pre sexual, kind of ‘I wanna’, and it’s more meaningful to me to write about the consequences of getting your heart’s desire, or not,” says Henderson.
There’s a certain kind of knowing voodoo that runs through Henderson’s songs. He’s got spunk. He knows that the way women and men regard each other is one of life’s great mysteries, and that the pop song is the ideal vehicle to explore this.
“Well, that voodoo thing you mentioned is such a pleasure to play. You can be sure it’s that voodoo, not blood transfusions, keeping Keith Richards alive.”
The Puddle’s latest offering, No Love No Hate (Powertool), clearly shows Henderson still has that fire within him. Lyrical, garage rock, his songs are smart, sharp, and while there’s still that blissed out psychedelia, they’re more lucid than ever.
“Well, I’m not as filthy with drugs as I once was, put it that way. I have no idea how much longer I’ve got. I’m already old for a rock musician. Many of my peers are dead or out of action. But now life is fascinating and exciting without being too intimidating.”
As requested, here are the tracks from the flipside of The Perfect Strangers: Not To Be Taken cassette, labelled as And Band: Outhern. Being that the track titles are in Kawowski’s inimitable handwriting, let’s assume that the cassette is a dub he made from an original compilation by Lindsay Maitland, that came into Stu’s possession c.1984.
The Outhern tracks were recorded in 1981 at Bealey Ave, Christchurch, after Richard Sedger had left, though he may play on some.
The bonus track (March of the Stronghold) was recorded in 1981 at the High St practice room that Perfect Strangers ‘Not to be Taken’ was recorded at.
Some ‘Outhern’ tracks were recorded there too, at least pretty sure ‘March of the Stronghold’ was.
EFS is a reference to Can’s ethnological forgery series. A series of tracks on Can albums, known as “Ethnological Forgery Series”, abbreviated to “E.F.S”, demonstrated the band’s ability to successfully recreate ethnic-sounding Music:. – Wiki.
Tracklist details updated 3 May 2017, after consultation with G.D.H.
This is a postcard-size reproduction of the large (A0) classroom poster prepared in the early 1990s by Axemen for use in NZ schools. Stevie was barely out of school himself when the band’s first few gigs took place in Dunedin in 1983, but when he moved into gainful employment later that year as a screenprinter, there was a younger-still McCabe within spitting-distance, clutching his drumsticks and singing up a storm, waiting for the call to step up onto the world’s stage and join the Axemen in their utopian South Dunedin of the mind . . .
Introducing Little Stevie McCabe’s little brother, Even Littler Jeffy McCabe
Jeff played alongside 15-year-old Steve in the Spiderwebs, based in the Hell Farm Party Shed, where they made up songs, rehearsed and recorded. They supported Steve’s band with Pete Rees, the Gorillas, when Virg and Bernie Smith and Lisa Preston attended a live gig at the shed in the summer of 1982. The team here at Y2K hasn’t yet uncovered any Spiderwebs tapes from the various vaults and stashes at their disposal, but plans to undertake a careful search that may involve a bus trip in the near future.
Jeff next joined Steve & Bob’s pre-Stu proto-Axemen when they recorded the SCENES LIKE BEADS cassette at Hell Farm early in September of 1983. He sings his own lyrics on the following songs from that set. . .
I ran through the flames
We weren’t playing games
I ran through the burning forest
All day long
—Jeff’s vocals are on fire; Bob & Steve play along on guitar & trumpet.
jack the ripper
Jack the ripper took off his slipper
He pushed me from the back and I shouted, “Look at that”
—Jeff profiles the infamous Victorian killer to an incongruously jaunty South Dunedin reggae rhythm supplied by Steve & Bob. It must be getting late in the day at Hell Farm, since the TV is on and Fawlty Towers can be heard in the background.
The next three songs all come from a session recorded at Hell Farm on October 22, 1983, featuring Jeff-Steve-Bob calling themselves The Dugong Stones. They recorded 7 songs. Two days later the Axemen with Stu on drums and drum-machine played their single live gig at Hell Farm (the band was about to get its first taste of the Christchurch pub scene, from which it would barely return alive), sharing the Party Shed’s concrete floor with The Dugong Stones as they played their one & only show. Jeff mostly drummed for the Dugongs, as he does on the next two tracks, but he returns to sing his own lyrics on the third. . .
Jeff returned as a guest on the MICK’S DANCEFLOOR (MIX) album, playing a recorder & singing another of his own lyrics, “In A Forest,” recorded again at Hell Farm in early November. This time Stu drums while Bob & Steve add guitars to Jeff’s typically spooky tale of what befell him and his greyhound dog in a tree-filled space. in a forest
In January of 1984 Jeff’s political sensibilities were awakened as he took part in the Axemen’s BIG CHEAP MOTEL protest album project, joining the band onstage at Hagley Park to add his inimitable drumming to the instruments & voices raised in defiant opposition to a blatant display of soulless big-money sexism. Not yet 10 years old, he rocked the complacent anti-consciousness of Chri$tchurch corp(se)orate capitali$m like he was 10 feet tall.
Jeff continued to appear infrequently with the Axemen throughout 1984, for instance at the England St and Carlyle St hall gigs, a series of Saturday & Sunday shows at unlicensed venues which became something of a focal point for the many underage innercity punks with often diverging concerns, briefly united in the cause of celebrating the marriage of noise, humour & multiple viewpoints which the gigs embodied at their best. The “something for everyone” quality of the hall shows is evident in the following roll-call of bands & performers who took part: Scorched Earth Policy, All Fall Down, Gillmen, McGoohans, Connossieurs, Octopus Ink, Toerag and others (apologies to those not named; Y2K will update this list when further information arrives).
At a rehearsal for the Carlyle St Hall gig in September, Jeff’s next two songs were recorded. Stu K was in Absentia, the mystical Mexican village. Jeff, Stevie & Bob are joined on both tracks by Gordo Nodrog Baird, bass, & Al Rite, sax.
i don’t have the energy
—Jeff’s awareness remains strong; his lyrics combine canny punk nay-saying with a self-deprecating shrug at the #1 pitfall injuring punks of all stripes, apathy.
—Long before notions of lo-fi & no-fi became ideological hobbyhorses, Axemen adopted the preferred homonyms sci-fi, psy-fi & sigh-fi to telegraph (1) their enthusiasm for science-fictional alternatives to the moribund hegemony, (2) their faith in the telepathic potential of musical communication, and (3) their willingness to inhabit a sound-continuum conducive to expressing the pleasures & pains (sigh!) inherent in all life-choice interactions. Jeff’s unsophisticated nod to the alien constitutes a “welcome, come on in” to the once-feared “other” and deftly fuses the diverse elements at play in the Axemen collective sci-psy-sigh-psyche.
So thanks again for the music to Jeff McCabe; he may have been the littlest of the Axemen, but his contribution was huge.
Reprinted by permission of the author
First published Friday, February 02, 2007
The art and magick of The Perfect Strangers, Chch 1980-1982
If The Perfect Strangers were only the blues-jam outfit implied elsewhere, I’d not be writing this story. The thing is, that Bill Vosburgh and Mark Thomas were two songwriting naturals; Mark, as an instinctive “singing fool”, Bill, as a precocious master of all techniques. More than that, the core trio of Vosburgh, Richard Uti (drums) and Helm Ruifrok (bass) were artists, from art school (while The And Band were all language and philosophy rejects), and Bill Vosburgh (William Wallace Vosburgh III) in particular soon came to see his music and painting as part of a larger “great work” in the Magickal tradition.
It was from Bill that I first learned how to write a song around a corny, clichéd phrase or a simple riff. He first brought the vernacular to my attention; a relaxed wit and self-deprecating honesty in love songs, with a simultaneous awareness of the larger, metaphysical picture, was his forte. As in this example, Self Interest:
I’d like to tell you ’bout a girl that I knew
But I can’t remember much about her
I just remember what I wanted from her
And how it broke my heart when I couldn’t get it,
Which was written in 1981 long before I’d written anything comparable. His style, and this song in particular (which The Puddle played often in the early years), opened my eyes to what was possible in a song. Nor do I know where it came from; his major influences seemed to be The Stooges and the MC5. The Smiths were only beginning their career, and Orange Juice were years away from New Zealand.
It was 1980 and I living in Wellington, playing in The Spies and living in a squat in Bosworth Terrace with Susan Ellis, who later became my wife and the mother of my child, when Bill Vosburgh came to stay; he was a friend of Peter Hall-Jones, who was a friend of my brother and myself and a guest at this party. Bill charmed Susan and I as soon as he arrived. Borrowing Susan’s pastels and drawing hundreds of short curved lines in different colours all over the page in no apparent pattern, he eventually created a vivid landscape with donkey (my memory says it was a representation of Sancho Panza, but I may be deluded) in a pointillist style. That he was an artist and, at 17, a prodigy, was obvious. Bill was roped into our equipment-stealing exploit and helped us carry the Revox home, but fortunately, by the time we were arrested he was back in Christchurch and his part escaped notice.
When the Wellington scene lost its appeal, and Chris Plummer left The Spies for Shoes This High, Mark Thomas went to Christchurch to stay with Bill, and soon Susan and I followed, together with Richard Sedger.
This move would involve me in a scene that university life in Dunedin and punk rock squatting in Wellington had not prepared me for. Living near the centre of the city, there was nonetheless something commune-like about the way our increasingly intoxicated lives focussed on our art. One of the first things I did was to buy a second-hand reel-to-reel tape recorder (which came with tapes of born-again Christian sermons, to be taped over piecemeal as we created). Bill had only just formed The Perfect Strangers; his first bass player had been John Halvorsen, who left to form The Gordons along the same Detroit-punk lines that Bill preached; to me The Gordon’s earliest songs (on the Adults and Children E.P.) show clear signs of Bill’s influence. The art students that formed his band were drummer Richard Uti, a Polynesian prince, and Helm Ruifrok, a mild mannered Dutchman, senior to the others, whose highly, but subtly sexualized landscapes hang in cafés throughout the South Island. Bill and Helm’s exotic art student girlfriends Ita and Besa were also a revelation; Besa, Turkish with a piercing singing voice, would soon go to Cairo and become a Moslem fundamentalist ahead of her time; Ita was dark, mysterious and quiet. She seemed moody, but who wouldn’t be with Bill as a partner and me as a houseguest? The opposite of Susan in every way except child-like beauty, Ita attracted me in a way I dared not think about and thus terrorised me greatly for some time.
The internet articles on The Perfect Strangers/And Band axis tend to suggest that the latter were the more disciplined, but in fact The Perfect Strangers were the tighter band. Bill’s many songs in their first set included A Haunting Refrain (“The lover did his dreadful deed and vanished out the door”) with its gorgeous riff of descending suspended 4th arpeggios, Life Goes On, with its catchy 2 note chorus and obvious similarities to early Gordons (this was the first song I watched being written), the Peter Gunn twelve bar Man (“You know that God created him, and he’s alright”), which had been written early one morning, inspired by the sight of a long-haired league player jogging past the window on a training run, the faux-disco/punk crossover rave-up Dance You Fuckers Dance, the Lovecraftian Curses, and the intricate The Man Who Knew Too Much. This early set’s piece de resistance was Robbie. Taking the melody of The Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond as its bass line, Robbie (chorus: “Robbie, och aye och!”) was a reggae song hailing the mythical return of the Scottish diaspora “We’ll never have to borrow money again/ when we return to Highland Zion evergreen”, with Robert the Bruce in place of Haile Selassie. Even the musical mechanics of songwriting was something Bill attacked more confidently and knowledgably than I did.
As Bill’s facile approach to songwriting influenced me, so our experimental and literary approach to music influenced him. The first example of this to be recorded was probably The Dunwich Horror. Bill took for lyrics a monologue from the H. P. Lovecraft story, the part that begins “They’s prints in the rud, mis’ Corey – great raound prints as big as barrelheads, all sunk daown deep like an elephant had been along, only they’s a sight more nor four feet could make!” That last phrase made the chorus; “They’s a sight more nor four feet could make!” The song turned on a loping bass riff, the kind of simple but compellingly syncopated figure that became Helm’s trademark, with Richard Uti’s drumming for the first time evoking his Pacific island heritage, evoking tribal drumming and a nocturnal bacchanal around a bonfire, while Bill’s fuzz guitar snarled, squealed and bit.
The Dunwich Horror and the later Self Interest were, tho only lo-fi demos, proof that The Perfect Strangers could have made a fascinating and original pop record if they were ever allowed to. But no sooner did they hit on the formula for success than things began to go wrong. Success on the terms available in Christchurch, 1980 just wasn’t what Bill wanted in any case. The Narcs, later The Great Divide, were an example of what the city really wanted, and the arrogant, immature and opinionated Perfect Strangers secured a support slot, only to fall out with The Narcs’ management and be sacked before the second night. As there were only a few rock venues in Christchurch at the time, all managed by the same promoters, who were supportive of local music but very protective of their hard-won niche in the business, this behaviour was commercial – and artistic – suicide.
From now on, both The Perfect Strangers and The And Band (the two bands were not easily separated in practice) could only play together in the daytime, at a few unlicensed venues; twice at the Christchurch Arts Centre, once in the Band Rotunda by the Avon, and once at the controversial Four Avenues alternative school. The second Arts Centre gig was disastrous; an intoxicated Richard Uti clambering over the equipment in front of a silent audience of Pacific Island elders, sent there because of concerns that their future king was losing the plot. He was packed off back to the islands to dry out – and he was one of the lucky ones, like Besa, who got out in time to recover the pattern of their original lives.
All of us (I think) drank to excess at times, and when we could afford it we bought pot from The Gordons. We also found San Pedro cactuses and tripped from time to time (it was on such a trip that I wrote Interstellar Gothic* and recorded the And Band songs on the E.P.). In the summer we stole and bled poppies, which indirectly led to my hospitalisation and introduced me to a drug called Doloxene (dextropopoxyphene), a mild (but very toxic) opiate which had an amphetamine-like effect in small doses. Others became addicted to codeine products, and from time to time we drank antihistamine cough syrups. Mark Thomas, who replaced Richard on drums, drumming for both bands and fronting the later Perfect Strangers line-up, was especially prone to excess and was the first of us to go on methadone, an experience that he turned into songs. If Bill showed me how to write songs, Mark encouraged me to create them out of the minutiae of everyday experience, including relationship dramas and drug taking, and to be brutally honest in the name of humour. *(from a cassette called “AND BAND – against the odds.”)- Stu Kawowski.
The extent to which I was imposing on people I hardly knew amazes me today. “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” Were it not for Susan, who always found us flats, food and money, I must surely have died long before. My unawareness or suppression of unwelcome truths was surely at an all time high in those days.
A typical morning at Bealey Ave. might go like this; I awake to find Bill or Helm making coffee, and turn on the tape deck to listen to the last night’s recordings. Deciding what to keep (most things), I turn on Bill’s amp and plug in the guitar that Susan and I bought on HP, and which I still have today. Soon I have a pattern I like, and play it to Bill who sits down at the Farfisa and taps out a few notes, or suggests a lyrical theme with a few clever lines. Helm comes and sits by the drums, Mark walks in and takes the microphone, and I start the tape rolling. Before breakfast, while the girls are still showering. Later in the day we’ll add overdubs and I’ll talk Susan into dubbing more organ, or let Richard S. play his clarinet.
Every flat we lived in had its own vibe, its own particular sort of creativity associated with it. Worcester Street is where Susan and I, with Mark and Richard made super 8 films. The flat near the Police Station is where we wrote, with Bill and Lindsay, the surrealist and parodic stories that became the MKULTRA collection, published on Susan’s Gestetner press. The old warehouse in town, The Perfect Strangers’ practice room, our last stop before leaving altogether for Dunedin, is where we sniffed ether, mixed with the homeless and mentally ill riff-raff of the City, and stopped feeling special and invulnerable. This was where the music first began to sound like noise to me. Almonds and Crocodiles, the only real collaboration between the members of the then And Band, Mark, Susan and I, was written there, but could only be turned into a real song later, in Dunedin with The Puddle. But this is not a story about The And Band.
The road trip that Bill, Ita, Susan, Mark and I took to Able Tasman National Park in the Morris 1800 that Bill got from his parents is forever etched in my memory. We left Christchurch drunk and hung over from cough mixture. On the busy motorway north, Bill, driving wildly, clipped a Holden Monaro while overtaking. When the irate gorilla driving the big V8 pursued us, he drove up onto the grassy centre plot in a reckless overtaking manoeuvre, then cut across all four lanes to make a surprise exit down a country back road. It was like a car chase from a movie, our little car dicing with the traffic; exhilarating. Safe from our pursuer on the gravelled country road, Bill had an asthma attack; without medication, the girls talked him down in the back seat while Mark took over. This was a mistake; Mark, always macho, had envied Bill his turn at the wheel during the chase, and now he was determined to see how fast the little 1800 could go. I can remember him reading the miles-per-hour from the speedo; “80!” “90!” “A hundred!” and then the car lost control in the gravel, spun round once or twice, and, missing a power pole by inches, smashed backwards into a fence post. We had whiplash problems for some time to come, but we all knew we were lucky to be alive. The post had driven the car’s body into the back wheel so that we couldn’t drive away, but a farmer drove up in a tractor and fixed it with a crowbar. He told us that the night before two drunken motorists had stopped for a swim in the irrigation ditch and one had drowned. We figured that, if we were still alive, it was because death had already been satisfied on that road. We drove more soberly to Takaka, and camped on a beach in the park. In the morning we saw a pod of whales enter the bay. The water was clear and warm, and little octopuses scuttled over the kina-encrusted rocks. We stood on a rock, threw in a baited hook and, in seconds, pulled out a flat silver fish six inches long. The hooks didn’t even need bait; we pulled in several of these fish using only hook and line, and cooked them in tinfoil over our fire. They were delicious.
The Perfect Strangers soon lost the pop focus that I admired so much and went off in search of something more authentic, organic and bluesy. Bill Vosburgh had always wanted to be Ron Asheton from The Stooges, and he pulled this off with his later band Christchurch. He often seemed to take his painting (and his magick) more seriously than his songwriting. I remember him painting one large canvas, mixing menstrual blood and semen with his paints, and praying quabbalistic prayers for inspiration. He would psych himself into altered states and, especially when the wrong drugs were added to the mix, the resulting mania could be terrifying (or, more often, annoying). Sidelined for frequent repairs, Bill’s psyche has had to calm down considerably since those days. His superb jazz piano playing is always a pleasure to hear. He had a profitable business at one time playing high-end cabaret as Celia Pavlova’s accompanist, and one of my ambitions is to record a set of my songs as arranged by Bill. Bill still plays with Helm occasionally. The other day I watched a video of Charlie Parker; while the other guy took his solo, you could see Charlie’s face as he fingered his sax; I was amazed to see that the sly little movements of his eyes and lips were pure Bill. Bill, who has long played sax, idolised Bird, but I don’t think he had ever seen a video of him to copy, and, though I have seen the video, I know that I couldn’t copy those facial expressions to save myself. Spooky. Mark Thomas went to Australia and became a communist. He recorded two songs with The Puddle during the sessions for the Into The Moon CD, Peter’s Plague and Abo Hunt. In Nelson he became Sharkface and fronted a rock band that I can remember playing a superlative cover of Iggy’s Dirt when they supported The Puddle in 1993. Mark died a few weeks later [1996 – S. S.] of a drug overdose. He had a classic baritone rock voice, lived life to the full, had an irresponsible and violent side that concerned his friends; he was truly self-destructive and infuriatingly perverse, yet he was the most naturally creative of songwriters and the best male singer I have ever known.
In this picture of The Perfect Strangers, taken by Stuart Page at the Christchurch band rotunda, Bill Vosburgh Plays guitar at left; that is probably me adjusting the P.A. with my back to the camera; Richard Uti is behind the drums; Helm plays bass behind the Farfisa, and Mark Thomas is on the right. Mark sports a small pair of horns. These latex horns were made for him by Helm, and wearing them necessitated constant shaving of his scalp and reattachment. He wore them for many years. They served to accentuate his natural faun-like features, and to warn all-comers of his Panic character. Later in life, he grew dreadlocks and became much more obviously Maori.
(Click here for a Perfect Strangers track off “Thunder at the Rotunda” cassette and more recordings & photos of The Perfect Strangershere.) –A Kit Wok Wuss
There are no digital copies of The Perfect Strangers’ music extant. Live cassettes of poor quality exist, and the original reel-to-reel tapes of mixed And Band and Perfect Strangers recordings, which exist among a scattered collection of reels many of which, re-recorded onto second hand tape in the first place, have deteriorated beyond salvation, will be a major project to search and transcribe. The very rare And Band/ Perfect Strangers EP will be transcribed from vinyl to MP3 one day soon.
Here’s a live recording of The Gordons playing “Adults and Children” from a cassette of Roger Fogorelli’s (probably recorded at “Billy The Club” or “Last Resort” in Wellington around 1980).
Several blocks north of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square (in itself a home for nutters, wizards, punks and winged rats), just before you reach Bealey Avenue, lies a rambling cacophony of flatlets and the home of quite a different variety of nutters, freaks and certified intelligentsia too. Probably a “Clifford flat” (most of those grand old mansions that were gutted, renovated and reduced to cabin-sized rat warrens were the cash cows of a tight old bastard known as “Clifford”), the house in question (see Artie Sheep’s Place located on Map 2a) was home to an eclectic analogue collective of jazzy, opiate-preferring jazzerati, some of whom were on the bunk from their Wellington lives, and all of whom were partial to an AXEMEN experience or two. (It seems that a 1/2 Japanese LP was receiving high rotation ratings on the premises and that the AXEMEN sound was close enough for them to dig it.)
A concerted effort to hijack the jazz guys’ studio began in earnest, early 1984. Firstly, McCabe moved into a shoe-box recently vacated by John Segovia (studio axe sessionist extraordinaire) aka Rent Hamilton (watch for a story about his Country Connoisseurs unit sometime in the future). Eventually the semi-paranoid permanently-opiated brass section in the bigger front flat were familiar with Stevie in close proximity. Bob’n’Stu cased the joint subliminally, then quickly ventured into the darkened bowels of the hallowed ether-dank hallways of Arthur Sheep’s free-form mausoleum up front. Within hours Sheep’s woolly plan to record with his Burroughsian tribe of squeakers had turned a full 180° and our heroes had taken command of the jazzbos’ prized Nakamichi cassette deck (together with a large room full of drums, percussion instruments, amps, mics, etc). . .
The “Shear the Sheep” Sessions delivered a unique and delightful flock of tracks, a foil to the usual behemoth AXEMEN metallic wall-o’-sound. Click here to hear the AXEMEN trio’s “Nab The Lamb” from those same sessions (also appears on the AXEMEN’s semenal A SCAR IS BORN release from 1984 – often described as an assault on “Sgt Pepper.”)
By January 1984, McCabe and Brannigan share a house in Peterborough St, inner-city Christchurch, with Steve’s then-girlfriend Virg, her sister Bernie, and Lisa Preston. Notice how said house is positioned: almost on a straight line almost equidistant from two pubs, the Gladstone and the Star & Garter, where the Axemen will play repeatedly over the next 6 months (with or without instruments).
Kowalski lives downtown in an upstairs pad (no lily-pad, but surprisingly sanitary) on Colombo St, next door to a brothel; he also keeps a workshop, by day an anonymous triangular lockup on the 13th floor of an unassuming tower block on High St, by night the location for hours of screenprinting (posters, stickers, t-shirts, album covers), tape-testing (after recording sessions at members’ homes and live performances), breezeshooting, pisstaking and all-round byyourwitsliving. It is INK INC HQ. Central Christchurch is soon plastered with Axemen posters, stickers, etc., as well as attention-grabbing graffiti, large & small, stencilled & freehand.
That summer the band plays at a festival in Hagley Park, the infamous Big M gig which leads to the recording of their protest album BIG CHEAP MOTEL. (That story will be milked in the future. It’s one any protest album fan would do well to get abreast of.)
The next couple months are devoted to gigging around Chch, adding members here and there, making forays into the Carlisle St-England St ‘Hall Circuit’ popular with punks (see Map 2b),
going to Wellington to play anarchic Rewa House gig (popular with anarchopunks), defining & refining the Axemen sound, and building up an arsenal of tracks to be issued on the next album, the scary 2-hour long A SCAR IS BORN.
Map 2b: Location of Carlyle St Hall & England St Hall
Today’s post features tracks recorded at the same time as the Scar sessions, around Feb-March-April 84, assigned to a cassette called DIRT GAME MIX but never issued until now.
neverending circus (lisa preston-axemen)
–features Lisa P. on vocals. She also sang the first track on side 1 of A SCAR IS BORN (“Untitled”) and co-wrote with Steve & Bob the instrumental “Paté-On-Raisin Bar-Mitzvah” later on the same side. And lived at 212 Peterborough St. Axemen salute her!
steve mccabe, dragan stojanovic – guitars; bob brannigan – bass; stu kowalski – drums
purple haze recorded live at the rising sun, auckland, june 1989
third stone from the sun recorded live at siren, auckland, 18-6-89
–undated, probably from Christchurch practises late 1984. Presence of saxophone and graphic equalizer are big time-clues, plus references to beer & god, plus the other side of the tape features the song “the panther of the suburbs” whose lyrics Steve channeled in trance-state following A SCAR IS BORN sessions, mid-84.
–live at Christchurch City Mall, c.1984. Sounds like there’s a clarinet on this too so likely features members of the Axemen marching band who did stuff up and down Colombo Street. While marching. In a band. More from Live at City Mall
This is from a gig with no location or date. The tape just says AXEMEN “THE 42 STEPS” in Steve’s writing. He overdubbed some vocals on it so it must be after he got his 4-track cassette recorder, early 1986. Awesome drums!
This is from a cassette recorded in an arcade in Whangarei… There were tons of us up there for the first national busker’s convention. Stu has a couple great photos from then, hope he’ll post ’em up! Steve’s on lead vocals and it sounds like maybe 3 or 4 percussionists. Great reverb enhances the faux-tardis effect on this famous tune composed by Ron Grainger. dr. who theme
This is probably the first ever gig we did with M. S. Agro (“Mick”) on bass. I was still living in Dunedin. I bussed up to Christchurch and arrived at the pub minutes before we went on. Steve and I had square lights gaffer-taped to the top of our heads. I didn’t know half the songs but Steve yelled out the chords, only instead of names like EEG he used numbers like 003 etc. Stu recorded this on his walkman. There’s a version of this on the MICK’S DANCEFLOOR (MIX) album, but that was recorded at Hell Farm–this is the real live deal. We would return to the S&G many times over the next couple years. . . [BB] fickle red book
Just been listening to this old cassette. It’s an ICI C-90 manufactured in Hong Kong. Says on the label, in Steve’s writing, “CITY MALL CONNOISSEURS AVEC AVEC AXEMEN” (though it was in a case with, in Stu’s writing, “PERF. CAFE SUN/MON 6/7 JAN” and “PULSE: SAT 12 JAN 85” –early trips to Auckland & Wellington I remember well). The first few seconds are indeed the C’n’W-SEWERS, some nice Hamilton brothers pickin’ and playin’, then there’s some technical palaver about jacks going in or out and someone plugging in a wah-wah. Then it goes straight into this song, which is clearly the famous Duke Bootee/Mel Melle composition “The Message.” There’s saxes, so I’m guessing they’re Al Rite and Arthur Sheep. Stu’s whacking out that street beat and I’m the one on the wah-wah. Steve’s playing chords on an unplugged electric guitar. I figure it’s 1984 because it’s Christchurch and I remember we all went to see that movie Beat Street one night and then couldn’t stop playing the great hip-hop licks we kept hearing from that day on. It has a great Egyptian feel to it, too, probably from those jazzniks listening to Sun Ra and Salah Ragab. Good one. Posted by Bob. More from Live at City Mall