In 1988, Little Stevie McCabe and I spent most of May and part of June in the United States. The purpose of our trip was partly to perform, and partly to make and renew contacts on behalf of the record companies we represented (Sleek Bott and Onset Offset). We were both trying to get albums released by American companies, partly to overcome the problem of getting New Zealand records pressed, and also because the records of both of us attracted more interest in the U.S. than they did in New Zealand. Indeed, it always amazed me that I could get things reviewed in New York and Boston without difficulty, but not in New Zealand!
Before the trip, I had a number of expectations. For a start, I was under the impression that New Zealand music was currently sought after in a manner somewhat akin to the British Beat boom of the Sixties, although on a much smaller scale. I was surprised to find how much smaller a scale the interest was: most shops were as reluctant as the New Zealand ones to stock records released by small independent companies. The fact that New Zealand pressings were not sealed in cellophane didn’t help. One New Orleans, shop that had in the past exhibited enthusiasm for New Zealand music, had become disillusioned because it had not sold.
Few, however, gave the impression of having ever been remotely interested in any of it. The stock excuses were that the records had to be released through an American company, or that a shop could not buy records from anyone who did not have a vendor’s licence.
The latter had no apparent basis in law, as there were some shops that would buy stock from us, although sometimes they would take it only on a sale-or-return basis (“on consignment”) as in New Zealand. Onset Offset never received any money from such deals!
Onset Offset having received requests from American critics for records and tapes to review, I expected a greater interest from critics than one found in New Zealand, where a review copy sent to a publication occasionally resulted in a review, but was more likely to end up in the nearest second-hand shop. In this, I was not disappointed: my experience of American critics of independent records was that they generally turned out to be enthusiasts keen to build up their own collections in return for constructive and encouraging reviews in the magazines for which they wrote. Of particular note in this respect were Byron Coley of “Forced Exposure” and Fred Mills of “The Bob”.
As a performer, I expected the remuneration to be better than in New Zealand. While I was aware that New Zealand audiences were well known for their lack of response, I had no particular expectation of American audiences. As it happened, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which our performances were received. Americans, it seemed, understood what New Zealanders do not, i.e. that if a performer receives no encouragement in the early stages of a performance, it is almost impossible to build up any momentum, with the result that when the audience fails to indicate its approval or disapproval, the performance is likely to become more and more mechanical as it proceeds, leaving both the audience and the performer dissatisfied.
Whereas New Zealanders will sit like zombies waiting for the performer to win them over, Americans give one the benefit of the doubt and display enthusiasm from the start, which greatly affects the quality of the performance they get. As far as the money was concerned, however, it proved to be no better than in New Zealand. In San Francisco, where we performed and also worked for a promoter putting up posters, we were promised more for both than we actually received. Everyone in the music business there seemed to be perpetually insolvent, especially when it was time to pay performers.
My final expectation was that while there was likely to be more competition in America, there would also be more opportunities. What I found was that there was indeed infinitely more competition in the form of an unbelievable number of bands, most of which seemed incredibly well-rehearsed and displayed an energy that would probably have been frowned upon in New Zealand alternative music circles in those days. At the same time, however, each city seemed to have the same number of venues as a typical New Zealand city. While almost every band I encountered had a record out, there existed a similar situation to that in New Zealand where one could be revered by many who would do anything for you except buy your records.
Neither of us eventually found American companies to release our records, but we made valuable distribution deals, which at least ensured that our records would continue to be available in the United States.
As a performer, I am bound to say I would prefer to be in America than New Zealand. Nevertheless, in other ways I came to feel it was a nice place to visit, but an undesirable place to live. The ever-present beggars and hustlers were a nuisance, especially in New York, where one had to try to look intimidating to discourage as many of them as possible, and where any attempt at friendliness to a stranger was likely to be perceived as an attempt to get money from him/her. Also, despite being well armed at all times, I seldom felt very safe in the city centres, which seemed full of suspicious-looking characters.
On the credit side, I was frequently impressed by the friendliness of people of all races. Indeed, the racial problems we heard about were not as apparent as I expected. While I was there, I never wished I was back home, and my experience with Customs upon my return made me wish I had not bothered coming back: overzealous Customs officers seemed to think that anyone carrying a guitar case was a drug smuggler, and in a (fruitless) search for drugs they dismantled my guitar, went through my baggage and clothes, and took my souvenirs.
– Post by Ritchie Venus, Rock’n’Roll Idol, ruthless businessman, artefact collector, rnr analyst, film and popular culture historian, writer, singer, songwriter
The Axemen were supposed to play the Neon Picnic, back in ’88.
I was realy looking forward to playing at the legendary Sweet-waters site. I was not lucky enough to have been at any of those fore mentioned events.
The headline act was supposed to be The Big O (Roy Orbison) so you can imagine how much I was Looking forward to seeing him in person and perhaps even meeting him, but alas it was not to be.
I have no idea of how it failed nor do I care. It did fail and these peace loving hippies who clapped at this other peace loving hippy who chased me and beat me up must have thought that it was my fault it failed. All I did was in my hung over state, the following morning, walk in on them peace loving house-truking(mouse-f**king) dirty hippies and asked where the coffie was.
How was I to know they were having a meeting about their miserable failure, I mean they were not even saying anything, they were all just sitting around in silence.
Perhaps if I had ESP I could have figured it out. After the asshole beat me up it cheer up those horrible hippies and they all clapped as if they actualy achieved something. All they achived that morning was my eternal disgust at supposed ” live in harmony hippies?’
I guess everyone needs a scape-goat. What they needed was a bath and then perhaps people would have taken them seriously and not just hurried them on pretending to say yes just to get them out of sight (and smell). So the Neon Picnic will always be known as the Non Picnic.
Thelost in tyme site specialises in offering unavailable music to appreciative fans.
Here’s the manifesto:
Site Info & Archives
This is Lost-In-Tyme’s new site.
As it is a site and not just a blog, you can now enjoy our forum discussions, read lengthy articles about Lost In Tyme (but not forgotten) bands and artists, and of course visit our blog for a trip back in Time with some of the best (and rarest) music you can listen.
Once again we want to make clear that we post only records that are out of print and you can’t buy them at the record stores (physical or digital). The only way to find some of them is to pay a good deal of money for a used copy, and several you can’t find them at all. In the 21 months of Lost In Tyme first circle we received over 50 e-mails or comments from the artists themselves, saying thanks for posting their music. Someday we will post these comments (at least what we could rescued – because several were deleted along with Lost In Tyme).
So, if an artist/band don’t want his/her music posted here, or a label has re-released a record (and we’re not aware of this) or if someone of our visitors knows that something we’ve posted is still in print (and provide the link to prove it) just send an e-mail or make a comment about it. We will remove the link and we will replace it with the link pointing to the site where one can buy the record or the artist’s site. It’s that simple. We don’t want to harm anybody, especially the artists we love.
Remember that this site was made with just this in mind: the gathering of music lovers, the exchange of any knowledge we may have about this kind of music and the discovering of Lost In Tyme music.
We are waiting for your comments, suggestions etc. about this site, in the Guestbook page. You are very welcome to contribute if you like and of course to participate in Lost In Tyme’s forum, where we hope that out friends will find interesting threads.
Well it so happens they have been offering a download of Three Virgins, but they’ve been asked to cease and desist. According to their manifesto above that shouldn’t be a problem.
Axemen – Three Virgins, Three Versions, Three Visions (1986)
Early Swell Maps blues sessions? The Fall playing Kinks’ songs but they don’t know the lyrics?
There’s no other album in the entire New Zealand music so chaotic, so brilliantly cacophonous and so totally denying any label, music style or genre, like this double album from the Axemen, released by Flying Nun, in this great label’s absolute peak, in 1986.
Flying Nun was so great because, for several years, would release music by any, and I mean any, band that Roger Shepherd, Chris Knox andDoug Hood thought that had something interesting, no matter what musical style it had. This concept produced some of the best music of the 80s, not only because the three mentioned above have an excellent taste, but also because, 20 years before that period, there was something in New Zealand’s water, that caused the appearance of a continuous series of very talented artists – the more obscure of them can be heard in the 3 volumes of Rarer Than Radium compilations here, here and here.
But even for Flying Nun “Three Virgins…” was extreme and something that couldn’t get under the “Flying Nun sound” no matter how we expand the term – and here is the proof: There’s not a track from the Axemen in any of the several compilations that the label released though the years. Even in the non-exclusively Flying Nun based Rarer Than Radium series, I couldn’t fit them in.
So what is this all about? “Three Virgins, Three Versions, Three Visions“ is a double album, made by three 20-years old Kiwis(Bob Brannigan, Steve McCabe, Stu Kawowski)with the help of their friends. In the 22 tracks of this album they managed to include every musical style under the sun – from Mark Stewart’s mumblings to good-time tunes, from blues played with “big, huge pipe organ” to Krishna chants and from post-punk saxophone-based tracks to muddy guitar noise. The recording and production is totally (and deliberately) DIY and although the mixing was made in two different studios, the singer’s voice often seems to come from a different room that the rest of the band.
I’d say that the Axemen did a Kinks-style, ironic comment on music and life, passed it through Frank Zappa & Mothers lunacy and they paint it with the punk/DIY colours of the early 80s. Sharp, brilliant and full of references songs like “Chant Number Nine”, “The Yeasty Mayor” “Talk With God”, the full-of-ideas playing and the nerve to put out a 2LP set as their first release, prove once again that the hormones of youth are magical things.
If you search for the Axemen in the web, you’d be surprised from the many videos of them you’ll find – several of them in Stu Kawowski’s Axemen page on myspace (and his YouTube site -ed)
Here is the first part of Axemen’s story, as written by Steve McCabe (you can find the rest here – along with many releases (as a band or solo from the members) – I don’t know if these have been ever actually released or are simply existing in Steve’s archives.
A Brief History of The Axemen – The Early Years. In The Beginning (by Steve McCabe)
The Axemen began life as a seething mass of algae in a cess-pool located at the back of a disused factory somewhere in North Dunedin, New Zealand.
The exact location of the cess-pool has unfortunately been lost to the ravages of time, but the factory still stands – a disused, vacant shell with little hope of being restored to its former majesty.
Following a sudden meteor storm in 1983, the Axemen rapidly evolved, developed fully functional hands and ears (where before there had only been useless stumps) and metamorphosed rapidly into one of the most radical, chaotic and inspired rock bands of all time.
The exact details are hazy now as I pen this tome from my Hotel room in Auckland, New Zealand, June 1997, but as I recall…
Bob [Brannigan] and myself were happily punting along the River Avon in Christchurch, New Zealand in January, 1983 – I distinctly remember the occasion as Bob was, for once, holding the punt-oar. The day was dreary – grey, overcast and drizzling with a fine mist which settled gently before condensing and trickling off the seven plastic beer flagons placed [for ballast] in the centre of the bright red punt.
From which direction the football came I do not directly recall, but come it did – striking Bob squarely on the forehead and causing him to swagger, try and get his balance back, then topple over backwards (I often wonder how much worse it could have been had he been standing at the time). Next thing you know, who should pop around the corner hollering “Can I have my ball back, please?” but Mr Stu Kawowski. I had not encountered this man before, but I can still vividly recall the moment; the cheeky grin, the Joe 90 “milk bottle” glasses (later to be replaced with the trademark John Lennon style spectacles), the wind rustling through the shaggy tresses of his russet-red hair.
Mopping the beads of sweat from his furrowed brow, Bob lurched up, hoarsely shrieked “I’ll give you your ****ing ball back allright and fair clocked him one with the aforementioned orb. The tense situation now somewhat diffused, Kawowski piped up, “Gizza ride in your punt, mate!”. I can’t quite recall whether it was Bob or myself who replied “Step aboard, Matey!” but next thing you know, there we were, the three of us, in the bright red punt, cruising at a rate of knots that particular punt had not previously thought itself capable of.
There was something about the rhythm of Kawowski’s deft strokes wit the punt-oar; something vital and overwhelming about the way he pushed that punt to its very limits. There was an unspoken, unfathomable feeling that this was perfection, this was bliss, this was the way of the future – Brannigan, Kawowski & McCabe – an untouchable, dynamic unit not to be messed with.
After formally voicing what we all knew we were feeling, that we should immediately form the most invincible and solid rock combo ever known to man, the pact was sealed with a flagon of beer apiece. The day ended with a solemn blood oath and a resolution that we would have our first rehearsal the very next day, but in order to maximise our potential, to ‘potentise the blend’, a pilgimage would be required to the famous “Seedy Dive” boondocks area of Dunedin. This area was well-known in the early eighties to have the highest ratio of musicians and artists to the square mile of any region in the country. Of course, the remnants of the thriving mime and clown scene from the seventies still lived in the area, but we had the feeling that in the searing Dunedin summer of ’83, the Dive was going to be the place to be. That year, Dunedin had the longest, hottest heatwave in recorded history.
Our man Kawowski has some clips on there, check them out:
The website says,
The Film Archive houses thousands of music videos in its collection. We’ve had fun selecting a representative 100 videos for you to watch right here. We’d like to find out which video is the most popular so please vote for your favourite(s). Just remember, you’re voting for your fave music video, not your favourite song.
We will announce the Peoples’ Choice during Music Month in May 2009. Every month until voting closes at the end of April 2009 one lucky voter will receive a mystery prize for their efforts so tell your friends.
Voting closes at the end of April 2009.
There is no limit to the amount of times you can vote, or the number of songs you can vote for. You can only vote for a particular video once per session and you must push play to be able to cast your vote. You are free to return and vote for the same video again if you wish.
To vote, simply select the number of stars out of 5 you think the video deserves.
1 star: Ka pai = Not bad
2 stars: Tino pai = Pretty choice
3 stars: Rawe! = Sweet as
4 stars: Tau Kē! = Totally awesome
5 stars: Tūmeke! = Out of it!
Please contact us if you can fill in any missing details. If you have a story to share, or if you have NZ music videos to deposit into the Archive we’d love to hear from you. Find out more about depositing at the Film Archive
In the bathroom of the Clifford flats in Colombo Street Christchurch, tiny but complete with actual bath, number 1000 and something and housing some of the most dynamic musicians and artists in the city at this time (around 1984) lies still to this day a faded and weary print, the last remaining remnant of the way Johnny Segovia would have looked had he not stopped looking his age when he turned 25.
In photo after photo since this time Segovia’s appearance in real life is virtually and spookily unchanged, an uncanny throwback to his 60s roots, still looking the same today as when he graced the stage with legends such as the new zealand elvis, Johnny Devlin, and the master himself, Ritchie Venus. The haunting print itself reveals a greyed, withered image, frail as a mountain goat on an alp pass, weak at the knees and trembling like a forty-year-older version of himself. This is the price to be paid for doing a deal with the devil and becoming the legend that is johnny segovia.
The print itself is now faded almost beyond recognition, each day the hair gets a little greyer, the wrinkles a little deeper, the horror of the image reflecting what might have been had the great one not pledged his troth to the king demon, diablos himself, the great wanderer, the king of the mix, monsieur el demono, il diablo, the five headed monster, the sulky beast, the kidder of all kidders, the goat with no head, the fleeceless lamb, the white nigger, the bleached blackman, the go with the flow te aro flow know what you know but take what you have to go to and fro, to and fro, hey ho let’s go!
Tables turned, as scary as it may be, no matter his fame and prowess in the bedroom, all the fame and adulation, it all comes down to the Markie spirit and the legend which will live on forever, the little kiwi battler who thinks he’s an Aussie, the nigger who thinks he’s white, the rocker who effortlessly plays country, the trailer trash who can’t pull a trailer… the guy we wish we all could be but most of us are too scared to try.
For those about to rock, we salute you.
Johnny Segovia, the scapegoat for which there is no equal except for the umbilical scapegoat of Mephistopheles (depicted at right) – Holy Saints I can’t believe that’s not yak’s butter!
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.
In 2007 Jeff and Steve McCabe decided to reform their family two-piece and do a tour of the hotspots of Beijing, long a stronghold of their Asia-Pacific fan-base.
At the same time Steve, a long time poster aficionado, wanted to study and practice the art of the communist propaganda poster, the better for indoctrinating the uninitiated back home in Godzone.
We were met at the airport (pre-Olympics, a barn-style affair populated mainly by peasants with their hopeful blackboards “Mr Smith” , “Ms Jones” etc., the more ambitious of them adding “China world tours” or “Trans Europe Express” to add credibility to their cause) by Mao’s former mistress Mao Gon Get Sum (her by-line: “Oh yeh another thing, I just luv klaftwerk, can you get me on the next tlain to eulopa?”)
Hearing her voice reminded me of my failures in the past, especially the way they accented themselves whenever an emotional/important bit came up – i dunno how it does it but it do. now thats just getting tacky, fool.
Anyway, Mao Gon took us the very next day to the aaaaal right honky tonk women market in downtown beijing (simply ‘southside’ to locals)
The (definitive article) Axemen (an mnemoir), or the slight return of M S Agro.
I remember the Axemen, the Axemen, the name (anag) passed over in the monumental and indefinitive Shute tome apart from a hemi-semi-demi-paragraph on page 340
noting in part that they were a notorious 90’s group, as well as that Bob was a leaden songwriter, and omitting the hard-won honorific ‘Little’ from McCabe’s name.
Like Calling Sir Cumference, Cumference [that would be an editorial cumference call – ed] but that’s the trouble with harry) — as the title of the book is (if the spine is to be trusted) ‘NZ Rock 1987-2007’ a group supposedly from the 90’s (I’ve added an apostrophe to allow fair use of Shute quotes) would seem to fall into the slightly left of middle of that bi-decade, and as the Axemen were both the beginning and the NZ, the
hardplace and the rock, the a-fore 1987 and the a-hind 2007, we need to examine all that’s left to find out if he’s right in leaving them somewhere out. There.
The Psychotic; Reactions; Hand-carburettors; Dung: The psychotic is almost certainly the, equal parts psychic dance-‘all, Stu, my first meeting with him when I was being psychically screened for what was euphemistically termed ‘session-work’ was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve yet, or in the
Stu screamed at me, blue neck veins standing out like drumsticks in Gracelands, ‘Just play the fucking E, string, nothing else, don’t fucking watch the others, if you do you’re dead. Otters have died’ As I was
auditioning for drums the instructions were difficult to follow. He threw me off the kit, and started drumming ‘in constipated fashion’ to show me what he envisag’d that the otters would want.
‘Hey!’ said one voice, that I would later find out was Bob, ‘that’s it, the missing link’. I thought he was referring to my admittedly simian visage, but looking up I percieved that he was looking up and looking up also, the quiet one, McCabe.
They stopped playing their guitars, but the noise from the amplifiers sounded exactly the same. Like fuzztoned whales. Being chased by Japanese scientists for their own good. Through a wah-wah.
Can you play bass. can. you. Play. bass? McCabe asked Bob. Brannigan said to Steve ‘Stuart can’ McCabe walked over to Page who hinted to Cardy that Kowawski was unable toplay.
How many of them were there. I pulled out my fingers and counted.
Still three, but the fastest moving three that I ever saw. A pre-blur blur.
‘We need an unthinking person to play ploddy lines and not ask questions about structural niceties’ McCabe mused. I put up my hand, actually for persimmon to leave the room, but they garbed the wrong end of the schtick. ‘You’ll do’ said
the psychotic, psychotically. ‘I will?’ said I. ‘It’s I do. Do it’ said Bob and thus I was initiated. The last two words being the mot secret tattooed on me. A fact later regretted when I served time. It could have been worse, I
might have been trying to join the scouts, or the salvation army.
Reactions: I was never a catalyst, accelerant, oxidiser, or agent of reduction, purely the litmus paper that turned bluish if there was enough bass. The notes
didn’t come easily. ‘0 – 0 – 5 – 7 – 0 – 3’ yelled McCabe over Brannigan’s bagpipes. I played ‘0 – 0 0 – 0 – 0 – 0’. ‘Stay away from the A string, it’s dangerous, McCabe mentored. ‘And D and whatever the little one is’ Bob added.
I was gradually twomentored into submission. Rather than learn to avoid strings I sellotaped everything but the big one to the neck of my double-bass. Then I found it was easier just to ‘break’ them before, or immediately during, playing. Soon I was ‘0 – 12 – 0 – 12 – 23 – 2 – 5”ing with the others. But far less erotically, far more eratically.
We played, people left, we stopped, they came back, we played the second set, they left again but when we stopped they didn’t come back. Bob started incorporating sudden stops into songs, hoping that if there was a pause the not-quite-audience would get whether they were coming or going confused and
head the wrong way and hear us when they were trying not to. This became a nightmare. ‘You’re quite a good reggae bass player’ Roger Sheppard said once. ‘I like the way that you never actually play with the drums or guitars but are always a step ahead of, or behind them, and the way the bass carries on when all else is silent’ I hung my head, a good luck charm given to me by McCabe.
‘Watch the head, if it’s swinging we’re playing’ he wrote down for me. He was right. not Al Right, but the advice helped. Some. But not me.
We played on a balcony at a party at someone’s parent’s house with Scab Union in the middle of the afternoon, a small suburb within a suburb. One of the people listening offered me a cup of warm lemon juice. Success at last. In earlier days there’d have been a quick shout of Gardy-Loo, rather than this kind of
shout. I felt we were progressing. ‘We’re not progressive’ Stu muttered [to be fair, he’d spent the morning listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and was in a particularly bad mood – ed].
I’d forgotten International Stu’s telepathic powers and the fact that his deafness carried over to them. ‘You’re thinking you’ve forgotten my telepathic towels’ he taunted. There was no escape. The neighbouring residents, still anonymous, but probably influenced by the sonic vibes reverberating their unknown bones,
When I was plunking the E I thought back to my first encounter with McCabe, sneaking into EMI on Colombo Street, to put his cassettes into the album bins.
“You’ll really like the Gorillas’ Robyn assured me, as McCabe sneakily sneaked around in his sneakers, squeakily shreiking, and sheepishly bleating.
‘Grillers?’ I asked. Robyne pulled the recording tape out of the album racks, Little Stevie had finally worked it out, put the tapes in covers too big for anything but the record bins, and because the integrity of the other records required they be kept flat the tape had to be at the front. ‘Boy eats girl’ I read. There was a beautifully and simply draw diagram of a boy and girl together, the girl however had been covered in dotted lines of the type used in cookbooks to indicate cuts of meat. ‘The music’s a bit like that’ Robyne said.
I looked dubiously at the cover and the other Gorilla releases in the shop, a rare Pete and the Pigeons tape nestled up to SPC Eh?, and I guess in Dunedin similar scenes were taking place with regard to Glyph Richard. Where similar beauteous shop assistants assisted prospective record purchasers.
‘Can I hear a bit of this here Gorilla band’ I asked. McCabe, still in sneakers, winced, many a sale had been lost at this point. ” ‘Bertie Germ can’t die’ is probably the best introduction” said McCabe’s confederate and so I heard McCabe for the first time.
‘It’s not much like the Stranglers’ I commented. ‘Sssshhhh!’ they both said. I haven’t spoken since. I left penniless, but Penny never really liked me anyway. I ws clutching a limited release extra cassette by Salli Rog and the Tokin’Blacks. Shrubbery Dub. This as well as anything Robyne had been passed by Steve in the last month. McCabe left rubbing his hands, off to buy coffee beans, and climb the winestalk.
In the same omniverse…
Brannigan, now there’s a name to conjure with, half braggart, half harridan, half Finnegan, but always awake. An astronomer to the stars by trade. As most do I first encountered him playing guitar. ‘Can you nae put a small token of your appreciation into my well worn hat?’ he asked as he played everything Van Morrison had written to that date in a rapid unmuddled medley.
I nodded dumbly and dropped a duplicate copy of Shrubbery dub into his hat. ‘Money, none of that damned plastic, and I don’t take EFTPos or play chess’ he said sternly. I ran, as a flock of seagulls descended on the white haired fellow in the square. He ran after me, breaking windows as he struggled to catch up. There was to be no gain without breaking panes. Suddenly The Police rescued me. It was a Sting operation. I never saw Brannigan after that until the initiation. He was led off in cuffs, a collar, and the top hat. Otherwise naked, but stylish.
All this time Kowawski was in his own underground band, Above-Ground, determinedly subteranean in their refusal to sink to the level of most other bands in Christchurch. (notabene: A quick glance at Youtube will show you that the other important bands in this period in Christchurch were Maiden China and the White Boys, both of whom went on to be household names). The Above-Ground story and the’Gone Aiwa’ cassette are freely available on ebay, although freely in this case means you’ll be parting with $100 or so. That’s enough to get you into 20 Axemin gigs at 1980 prices. And at 2008 prices.
Then there was the second gig, but that’s another story, as was my sudden expulsion from the band because I had no sense of humour and started playing the A string rather than the ever increasing 24’s, the subsequent formations, the inclusion of women in the front line, the Peace Aotearoa gig which resulted
in riots and war, but always the same number of people in the audience, the faces constantly changing, although those of us who returned again and again to watch swore we could never let anything like this happen again.
Damn, no matter what I took I could nae work hand-carburettors or dung into this, although both feature prominently in other Axemen History which never repeats, only ripples. That must be the required 250 words, which are worth at least a quart or a pitcher. Can I stop now? Is anyone there? Is this the
real life or just fantasy? I can’t go on, I’ll go on Ill, The Horror, The Horror. Ice cream in cones across this guy. A way a lone a last a love a long A xemin.
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.
(some stuff about my band) This has been kind of my main band for, uh, lemme think, 6 or 7 years or something…since ’93 actually, jeez it’s been a while. It’s been going along pretty slowly for the last couple of those years due to personnel redistribution – new people join – nobody ever exactly leaves tho’ – but anyway, all the members live in different towns at the moment. In fact 2 of the members of the last “working” lineup aren’t even in this country anymore (Cameron Bain’s in London [London England that is] & nobody knows where Sean O’Reilly is. Possibly somewhere in South America)(actually he’s been back in NZ for ages – DZ, 15-11-01). I don’t think we’ve played in front of an audience since the Hawkwind support slot in Auckland early last year (can’t even remember) – the last band activity was recording a couple songs for Gillian Ashurst’s movie “Snakeskin” which I think you oughta be able to see soon. Anyway, the band still does technically exist, if anyone was wondering.
It started in 1993 when I moved back to Christchurch from Auckland & I had this plan to do a new band with Mick Elborado & Brother Love. Both of ’em had been in the last band I’d been in before I left Chch a couple years earlier – that band was Cease To Exist – the plan (mine anyway – not necess. anyone else’s) was that this band was gonna continue somewhat along the same sorta lines, i.e. sloppy “psychedelic” rock – & my sister Violet was going to be the singer. She’d never been in any kind of band before but she could sing & we’d vaguely planned to do this for maybe a couple years.OK so me & Mick & the Brother started payig together – add John Chrisstoffels on bass before Violet started turning up to practices – & we’re off to the races. That’s the 1st lineup of the band, as featured on the 1st couple of record releases – subsequent lineup changes are a Pete Frame nightmare as we meet more & more people that we’d invite to be in our band, Mick starts to hate everybody else in the band & eventually left (although we got him back in the band a couple times)(*)…anyway the full story (+ discography, lyrics, poster artwork, etc etc) is SOON TO FOLLOW. According to Hamish Noonan it all started to go downhill after Mick quit, & he’s an impartial outside observer & I’m not, so it’s probably the truth.
* 1st guy to join us after Mick left was Matt Alien on gtr. Then Matt Middleton on clarinet (added overdubs to stuff by lineup #1 for the “BEATLE!” [18 Wheeler] & “1st to the Future” [Carburetor] LPs). Then Annabel (from the Chch band Hawaii 5-0) (can’t remember her last name) started playing organ with us so there was a couple times we played with a 7-person lineup (see track on the Dirtlove compilation cassette “Say Something Funny” – a live in Timaru version of “Love is Mean”) . Then we went to America & the lineup over there was Violet, the Brother, me, Doug Pearson on synthesiser & violin, & John Allen on bass. (Same lineup minus Violet doubled as the Brother Love band). Then the next person to play with us when we got back I guess was Lisa Preston played organ with us, Bill Fosby played gtr one time at party, also John Segovia (slide gtr) & Rock Hardman guested on 1 or 2 recordings (that mighta been a bit earlier actually).
Then Violet moved to Auckland so the next incarnation of the band was when I went up there & we started to play with Roddy & Cameron (Constant Pain) – they both played gtr, but later Violet kicked Roddy out…& Sean O’Reilly started playing bass, also gtr & synth & other stuff…the Brother was living in Wellington by this time & he started to come up more often so he was on most of the shows & recordings (none officially released) of this period. That’s 16 people there…Simon Cumings played homemade electronic instruments at the Hawkwind show & Chris Heazlewood played gtr & bass on some recordings we did in Auckland, oh yeah & once Rich Mixture played drums for a few songs because I was passed out drunk (impressive fact – they were the 1st few songs of the set, not the last ones…I got up & started playing even tho’ I felt sick) (I woke up in the back of the place & Heazlewood was shouting in my face, Wake up, your band’s on the stage! & I went Whuh? who’s playing drums? & he went, Your dad. I just wanted to go back to sleep but he made me get up).
P.S. Hamish Noonan never even saw the Auckland Space Dust with Cameron & Sean so the worth of his opinion now that I think of it is somewhat compromised…the person who saw the most Space Dust shows (Chch, American & AK lineups) is Saskia Leek, ask her.
P.P.S. – this just in –
From: Hamish Noonan firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: space dust
Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 14:44:24 +1200 (NZST)
Bullshit i saw that band (or something similiar) at this stupid white wall gallery in K’ rd and they were a fucking terrible free noise band that even Bruce Russell would be ashamed of. I took photographic evidence that you are welcome to.
po box 6283, dunedin, new zealand
OK, sure, all true, he was there & it was pretty rude. In our defence tho I gotta say that it was the very 1st attempt at putting together the AK. version of the band & in fact I had just arrived in that town that day so we hadn’t practiced together or anything, we just hooked up with Roddy & Cameron & went, OK, turn up & turn on. With predictable results. I’d like to see those photographs tho’.
P.P.P.S. – (Re: “BEATLE!” -) It was supposed to be our 1st album (although all recorded around the same time as “1st to the Future”) but it’s still unavailable to the world at large…We got our share of the copies (about 75 of ’em, don’t ask me for one ’cause they’re all long gone) to bring home with us from America in 1996 but then we never heard from the guy again. We were getting real bugged about it, but then we found out from John Allen last year that his wife got cancer so doing a record label was understandably way down on his list of priorities. Last I heard his wife was better & it was back on, but I dunno. I still haven’t heard from him (Tom Scharpling) & now the only other person I know that might know where he is, John Allen, he’s kind of slipped off the radar screen too. If you know where he is tell him to write me ok.
This series of shows took place over the top of the south island and the west coast during Jan 1986 and involved a decrepit and terrifyingly brakeless commer van, copious quantities of opium tarbrew and ether …
Nux Vomica and the Axemen on tour together …Were we all in the one van? I cant exactly recall .. Nux Vom at that time was Lawrence Lens guitar and vox (also demented super8 documentarian of the Axemen phenomenon), myself (intrepid sole female chauffeur and yamaha electone player) Philip Alron Hubbard on bass and Chris Smallfry on drums and that guy Pete [Gorman] from EOE on 2nd guitar .. and Mr Al Right sax player extraordinaire .. And the Axemen Steve, Bob, Stu and Gordy B and Mr Al Right sharing sax duties with both bands … plus a PA and all the gear for both bands . All squashed into one not very big van …We played to approx 8 drunken bogans in Richmond after we werent allowed to play in the public bar as arranged …. We played in Takaka after a horrifying ordeal involving brake failure coming down the Takaka Hill ( thanks Dad for that driving lesson that included the stuff about handbrakes and low gears when experiencing braking issues) . In Takaka the hotel owners missus asked me “Are you doing some dry cleaning dear?” when she ventured upstairs to tell us that our dinner was ready and the scent of ether was wafting out from several of the rooms some of us were staying in. “Yes Ma’am” I remember replying , “I’m just cleaning the boys’ jackets for tonight’s gig.”
We played in Greymouth which was a blast and the aftermatch function was even better.
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.”
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).
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).
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).
[reprinted with the permission of author, George D Henderson]
Memoirs of a Metamusician:
the Story of the Spies
1978 – 1980
I arrived in Wellington at the start of ’78, newly punked up after seeing Dylan Tate’s epochal “Radio With Pictures” punk special and Sex Pistols interview (outside Buck House) at the end of ’77. Meanwhile I had, in Dn in ’77, bought a copy of Damned Damned Damned from mr Knox and jammed with Bathgate and Dooley with my best friend Lindsay Maitland (who – get this – had nothing ever to do with the Clean and couldn’t play drums – even Clean style, which is to say Mo Tucker style – to save himself. How DO these things start?!?) My amp died and got left at their flat in the (now) shop on corner of Arthur/Russel st. Loved Dooley’s drumming even then: reminded me of Drumbo ((Beefheart’s main collaborator John French, all rolling toms)) – as vital as Knox to the excitement that was the Toy Love sound.
On arrival in Wellington I crashed at Ex-Invercargill (hometown of Knox and I) proto-punk guru Bob Sutton’s house (more on him – a very influential non-musician – later, hopefully). I courted Susan Ellis by mail, got into smack with Dick Sedger, and auditioned for Bill Direen (then a smarmy commercial radio DJ called Bill Diamond) after selling him one of our packets of H (when they were still good), who also auditioned for me. I played him the song that became “Mamelons D’Amadou”, but was then called Sodomy (Sodomie, tout est permis, je penetre le peluche penumbre, indocile codentu – very Genet). Dunno (don’t care) what he played but remember thinking his guitar and voice even reedier than mine and nothing to write home about. He never got back – wanted musos not rival writers, quite rightly, I assume. (His songs and mine would eventually get much better.)
Just as well because soon after we sold some H to Kevin Hawkins and – as I had a Farfisa Organ – was invited into his existing band The Amps, a (mostly) punk covers band with Kev (gat) Chris Plummer (drums) Mike someone (bass) and Brent Hayward (vocals). Vietnamese Baby, Johnny Too Bad, Police and Thieves, See Emily Play, a few derivative originals including City Girl “High heel shoes – baby can you walk? Pills and booze – Baby can you talk? City girl, its a sunny night, City girl come and play with me tonight” that became The Lollipop Man for The And Band later. Richard Sedger picked up a young girl working in a record store (he was always doing that – it was he that scored Sam Swan for the scene later), Jessica Walker (Jane’s sister, from Dunedin – she introduced us to the kids that became Clean-Chills-Snapper) and she learned bass and after a split the Amps became The Jellyfish (she replaced me on bass so I could play farfisa and guitar): this was me & kevin sharing vocals, chris and Jessica. On a good night I think we were pretty seminal – the Syd Barret, Lee Perry & Beefheart influence seeping into the Punk/ new wave (Elvis Costello this year’s model big influence esp on my keyboard playing/writing then) matrix.
Now it gets complex. I wanted to follow my Syd Barret/steve naive-jonah lewie/Lee Perry/Kevin Ayers – and especially Slapp Happy c. Desperate Straights inclinations, while Kevin and Jessica (now a couple, like me and Susan) were into PIL, Beefheart, and wanted to get – uglier where I wanted to be pretty, Freeform where I wanted structure and vice versa – Chris was a fence sitter who liked both but after a spell with us went with the better organised Kevin and Jessica- who took back Brent Hayward as a singer and became the defiant, abrasive, negative Shoes This High, who, like the Gordons, attracted an ugly violent bootboy following (slumming rich kids on DMA) that beat up and scared off most other fans – then they moved to Auckland and without Brent (who became smelly feet and Fats White) became the mostly instrumental, Dave Mitchellesque Fishschool.
Meanwhile there was The Spies – Me, Susan, Richard (bass) and Chris. We are well covered in George/Wade Churton’s classic “Have You Checked The Children” book on the post-punk NZ scene. Chris was (mostly) replaced with Mark Thomas, a renegade “street kid” with both the natural Maori talent for guitar and melody and a psychedelic craving much like mine. Before he died, Mark performed the best Iggy Pop cover (Dirt) I have ever heard – an even better voice than Shayne Carter, which is saying a lot. Another genius wasted.
Richard Susan Chris and Mark, with me and Bill Vosburgh as decoys, stole a revox tape deck, 8 channel mixing desk, and some good amps and speakers from shops: an amazing operation I can take no credit for. We recorded several reels – and got busted with everything.The cops eventually gave us back the tapes, which still exist : they’re reviewed and discussed in that highly readable work “Have You Checked The Children?” by Wade Churton.
Bill Vosburgh was the child prodigy from Christchurch who originally taught the Gordons the Detroit sound and how to write snappy riff-based songs. So we followed him to Chch, without Chris – The And Band.
The Tall Dwarfs thread on ILM is fascinating – love, hate, or both him Chris Knox is a Monolith of this scene and you have to deal with him or his legacy at some stage. I went to Ak in 1978 to see the Enemy at Zwines (and Susan Ellis in West Auckland somewhere) and they blew me away. Chris did all kinds of crazy shit, but the songs were stronger than punk, and the sound was so professional – yet – spontaneous sounding. To me the late Enemy and early-to-prime Toy Love were the same thing exactly with keyboards added and poppy hooks in the new songs (the Troggs and Bubblegum – TL used to do yummy yummy yummy – a big influence on the difference between the 2. They also did a searing Positively 4th street). The Spies opened for them twice. And contrary to Mr Dix in “Stranded in Paradise”, the Cuba Mall free sunday gigs (outdoors, central downtown Wellington) were organised (c. 1979) by Mark Thomas and Chris Plummer (Spies) and Marty et al. (Wallsockets) and started by both bands. The Ambitious Vegetables came along 6 months later and got the credit from Dix. Our high point was getting Toy Love to play. That was so sweet. Downhill from there – I played on Datura once. 7 beats to the bar, then 61/2, then 4, then 5; dried up my voice and made me forget to sing and play. Made me think I was singing and playing when actually not. That would have been a better scene with better drugs. It was all STP/DMA and bad pills, datura and cactus.
If history is the record of the crimes and follys of mankind, we sure made history back then.
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.
George Henderson’s move to Wellington was notable for many reasons, including the formation of the band THE SPIES, sharing Chris Plummer with the legendary Shoes This High.
The full lineup of the Spies consisted of:
George Henderson– Guitar, Voice, Organ
Susan Ellis – Organ, Piano, Voice, Guitar
Chris Plummer – Drums
Richard Sedger – Bass, Clarinet
Mark Thomas – Drums, guitar, additional folly (special guest)
Note the tradition of folly artist has been a kiwi tradition beginning with (notably for rock bands that is) BLERTA and SPLIT ENZ, the ENZ’s Noel Crombie being effectively a non-participating (spoons and tambourine solos excepted) musician but an intense and integral part of the band, being hugely influential on their ‘look and feel’ and the concept (long before it was widely fashionable) of having a specific ‘image’ for the band. Note this had been done in a general sense with bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits, but this was on a much more general level, promoting ‘good boy’ / ‘bad boy’ imagery in a more or less generic way, ie suits = good, leather jackets = bad. Crombie’s whacky haircuts and stylish, well-constructed yet quirky suits gave the band their own dignity, their own character / look and feel, over and above any intrinsically ‘kiwi’ characteristics the band may otherwise have exerted had Crombie not have been a part of the mix during this period.
The addition of a clownish entity to be an integral part of the live show was widely accepted amongst the band community in New Zealand at this time, and The Spies (and the Axemen in later days, taking on Brent Hayward (STH, Smelly Feet) and Davey G (Gestalt, Marty Source and the Source, EOE) as interpretive dancers in the 90-92 period) were no exception; Mark Thomas making the move to Wellington specifically to fulfill the role, horns and all.
To this day it is saddening to me that such a talent was taken from us too soon, as is of course the case with Screamin K Hawkins, gone forever but in no way forgotten. I can still hear him raspilly singing “I want My Pension” right into my ear, his scraggly beard rubbing against my cheek and the occasional relic of spit clicking on my eardrum…. take me back to Africa…
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).
Found these on a Christchurch City Council Libraries website of all places . . .
The first is from late 82 or early 83, advertising a gig at the infamous Empire Tavern in Dunedin. This poster was scrapped together from old posters and other art by Stu and whacked out in a night at the notorious Ink Inc. studio at 2/222 High St, Christchurch. Above Ground was the band Stu was in with Bill Direen, Carol Woodward and Maryrose Wilkinson (now M. Crook in The Renderers), while the Gorillas were 16-year-old Stevie’s high-school group whose other half was comix-maestro-to-be Pete Rees. They travelled down from Christchurch for the gig. The Cartilage Family was Peter Gutteridge, Shayne Carter & Christine Voice’s then-band, locals we’d befriended over the years.
Stevie said to me afterwards, as he sipped his post-set lemonade and we watched Above Ground, “Darn it, but I wish we could find a drummer like that old geezer.” “Aye laddie, he’s no Ringo Starr, but he just might be that John Lennon’s love-child.”
The second is maybe months later, from Christchurch, this time promoting an Above Ground gig and the release of their home-made tape GONE AIWA. This is vintage (nay, prehistoric!) Stu. Note particularly the cassette-as-icon, bio-diverse animal imagery (2 mammals, 2 birds), totemic nouns (Aztec, Leadbelly) & recycled typography. On view then are 3 key elements of the art/craft livelihood practised by the evolving Homo Axemenus (self-released product + cassette format + grand poster style) in nascent form. [BB, paleoaxeologist]