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.
The Axemen performed three times in the weekend, writhing, inciting and typically incredulous they made no new friends and many shady enemies, their calloused hands bleeding and cutting and scarred from the tortuous anachronisms that are is their Wall of sound, their particular(ly) seedy breeding ground, a kind of William S. Burroughs of the NZ rock set, an oh-so-shallow silhouette of the festered world they infest and poke around in, no more here than there, no more there than here, giving nothing away but blind frenetics, shenanigans, bagels and festoons of fatty skin, hating every note more as they play it, yet pouring out their love even as gladly, as they rid themselves of their consciences and collective consciousness against a skeletally conceived backdrop of bizarre and feelingless, but yet feeling, love, love, love + hate.
So the law wins again, hah, the Axemen still lose and nothing never changes, don’t you forget it, even as the grass grows under your table and on your lawn, law’s long arm is ever reaching to pluck it.
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.
Several blocks north of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square (in itself a home for nutters, wizards, punks and winged rats), just before you reach Bealey Avenue, lies a rambling cacophony of flatlets and the home of quite a different variety of nutters, freaks and certified intelligentsia too. Probably a “Clifford flat” (most of those grand old mansions that were gutted, renovated and reduced to cabin-sized rat warrens were the cash cows of a tight old bastard known as “Clifford”), the house in question (see Artie Sheep’s Place located on Map 2a) was home to an eclectic analogue collective of jazzy, opiate-preferring jazzerati, some of whom were on the bunk from their Wellington lives, and all of whom were partial to an AXEMEN experience or two. (It seems that a 1/2 Japanese LP was receiving high rotation ratings on the premises and that the AXEMEN sound was close enough for them to dig it.)
A concerted effort to hijack the jazz guys’ studio began in earnest, early 1984. Firstly, McCabe moved into a shoe-box recently vacated by John Segovia (studio axe sessionist extraordinaire) aka Rent Hamilton (watch for a story about his Country Connoisseurs unit sometime in the future). Eventually the semi-paranoid permanently-opiated brass section in the bigger front flat were familiar with Stevie in close proximity. Bob’n’Stu cased the joint subliminally, then quickly ventured into the darkened bowels of the hallowed ether-dank hallways of Arthur Sheep’s free-form mausoleum up front. Within hours Sheep’s woolly plan to record with his Burroughsian tribe of squeakers had turned a full 180° and our heroes had taken command of the jazzbos’ prized Nakamichi cassette deck (together with a large room full of drums, percussion instruments, amps, mics, etc). . .
The “Shear the Sheep” Sessions delivered a unique and delightful flock of tracks, a foil to the usual behemoth AXEMEN metallic wall-o’-sound. Click here to hear the AXEMEN trio’s “Nab The Lamb” from those same sessions (also appears on the AXEMEN’s semenal A SCAR IS BORN release from 1984 – often described as an assault on “Sgt Pepper.”)
The design effectively simulates a chromic equivalent of the liver-crippling psychedelic effects experienced from guzzling one dose (500ml or 1 pint) of sweet, yeasty, speedy caffeine-infused Château de McCabe. Screen-printed at INK INC, sky blue on ƒluoro orange card c.1984.
Click below to see the quasi-instructional film “Drink For The Heart, Heart For The Road”, the soundtrack of which is the McCabe ditty of the same name. (This is probably the Fassbinderesque peak of Lawrence Lens’s celluloid involvement with AXEMEN).
The “how to” theme of 1985’s “Screen Printing” is carried over and combined with priceless historical reportage and hallucinatory fantasy scenes at McCabe’s unsanitary pad in Christchurch. His school-boy beginnings as a backyard brewer have by this stage guaranteed a constant supply of 1.5 litre (3 pint) “sleek botts” bulging with a murky form of liquid amphetamine (a.k.a. coffee wine).
Occasionally (due to fancy, budgetary constraints, or experimental urges), frozen free-flow carrots, peas and corn were also utilised. But it was the “Château de McCabe” coffee wine which jump-started the boys after a pre-gig snooze on the dance-floor during the previous act; the legendary slurry* powered them through many glorious gigs up and down the emerald isles.
*slurry |ˈslərē|noun ( pl. -ries) a semiliquid mixture, typically of fine particles of manure suspended in water. ORIGIN late Middle Southerish : related to dialect slur [liquid guano], of unknown origin.
The long association of The Axemen with the buses of Otago probably began with their featuring role in Wilma McCorkindale’s seminal book on the subject, Otago Road Services Ltd – A Brief History.
While researching the book McCorkindale became fascinated (some would say obsessed) with these ‘frequent flyers’ and would chat with them for virtually the entire journey between Christchurch and South Dunedin, which by 1983 was a regular occurrence.
The venerable 1968 Starliner coach which ferried the lads and served as tour bus, writing room, coffee wine drinking establishment and muse became the Axemen’s second (and in Bob’s case, first) home throughout the mid-80s, and was later featured in the Axemen’s short-lived New Zealand version of the long-running British TV Series “On the Buses.”
The programme, though critically regarded as a Pinteresque masterpiece, became yet another casualty of Rogernomics, New Zealand’s pathetic but ruthless imitation of Thatchernomics and Reaganomics—this type of sycophantic replication of dumb-ass overseas trends continues to this day unfortunately, reaching a possible new low recently with New Zealand versions of “Wheel of Fortune,” “The Weakest Link” and “American Idol” (brilliantly re-packaged as “New Zealand Idol”).
To say these programmes are a crock is doing a harsh disservice to crocks everywhere, and perhaps the Axemen’s brief glimmer in the spotlight as TV stars was its only redeeming feature; but I digress.
The demise of the show did have one lasting benefit – it gave the lads much more time to concentrate on honing their songwriting, performing, spray-painting, screen-printing and self-promotion skills, and forced them to extend their minds further.
Through experimentation with early blends of coffee wine (brewed by Steve and locally known as ‘Co-Wi’ [pronounced ‘Kowhai’ like the native New Zealand flower], which McCabe was always trying to perfect), alongside other powerful psychoactive agents, the songs really began to flow at this time, and the legendary banter and verbal interactions which were the staple of the show now became the Axemen’s trademark—many a club manager or promoter remember ruefully being on the sharp end of one of the lads’ papercut-on-the-eyeball retorts.
By January 1984, McCabe and Brannigan share a house in Peterborough St, inner-city Christchurch, with Steve’s then-girlfriend Virg, her sister Bernie, and Lisa Preston. Notice how said house is positioned: almost on a straight line almost equidistant from two pubs, the Gladstone and the Star & Garter, where the Axemen will play repeatedly over the next 6 months (with or without instruments).
Kowalski lives downtown in an upstairs pad (no lily-pad, but surprisingly sanitary) on Colombo St, next door to a brothel; he also keeps a workshop, by day an anonymous triangular lockup on the 13th floor of an unassuming tower block on High St, by night the location for hours of screenprinting (posters, stickers, t-shirts, album covers), tape-testing (after recording sessions at members’ homes and live performances), breezeshooting, pisstaking and all-round byyourwitsliving. It is INK INC HQ. Central Christchurch is soon plastered with Axemen posters, stickers, etc., as well as attention-grabbing graffiti, large & small, stencilled & freehand.
That summer the band plays at a festival in Hagley Park, the infamous Big M gig which leads to the recording of their protest album BIG CHEAP MOTEL. (That story will be milked in the future. It’s one any protest album fan would do well to get abreast of.)
The next couple months are devoted to gigging around Chch, adding members here and there, making forays into the Carlisle St-England St ‘Hall Circuit’ popular with punks (see Map 2b),
going to Wellington to play anarchic Rewa House gig (popular with anarchopunks), defining & refining the Axemen sound, and building up an arsenal of tracks to be issued on the next album, the scary 2-hour long A SCAR IS BORN.
Map 2b: Location of Carlyle St Hall & England St Hall
Today’s post features tracks recorded at the same time as the Scar sessions, around Feb-March-April 84, assigned to a cassette called DIRT GAME MIX but never issued until now.
neverending circus (lisa preston-axemen)
–features Lisa P. on vocals. She also sang the first track on side 1 of A SCAR IS BORN (“Untitled”) and co-wrote with Steve & Bob the instrumental “Paté-On-Raisin Bar-Mitzvah” later on the same side. And lived at 212 Peterborough St. Axemen salute her!
–undated, probably from Christchurch practises late 1984. Presence of saxophone and graphic equalizer are big time-clues, plus references to beer & god, plus the other side of the tape features the song “the panther of the suburbs” whose lyrics Steve channeled in trance-state following A SCAR IS BORN sessions, mid-84.
–live at Christchurch City Mall, c.1984. Sounds like there’s a clarinet on this too so likely features members of the Axemen marching band who did stuff up and down Colombo Street. While marching. In a band. More from Live at City Mall
Just been listening to this old cassette. It’s an ICI C-90 manufactured in Hong Kong. Says on the label, in Steve’s writing, “CITY MALL CONNOISSEURS AVEC AVEC AXEMEN” (though it was in a case with, in Stu’s writing, “PERF. CAFE SUN/MON 6/7 JAN” and “PULSE: SAT 12 JAN 85” –early trips to Auckland & Wellington I remember well). The first few seconds are indeed the C’n’W-SEWERS, some nice Hamilton brothers pickin’ and playin’, then there’s some technical palaver about jacks going in or out and someone plugging in a wah-wah. Then it goes straight into this song, which is clearly the famous Duke Bootee/Mel Melle composition “The Message.” There’s saxes, so I’m guessing they’re Al Rite and Arthur Sheep. Stu’s whacking out that street beat and I’m the one on the wah-wah. Steve’s playing chords on an unplugged electric guitar. I figure it’s 1984 because it’s Christchurch and I remember we all went to see that movie Beat Street one night and then couldn’t stop playing the great hip-hop licks we kept hearing from that day on. It has a great Egyptian feel to it, too, probably from those jazzniks listening to Sun Ra and Salah Ragab. Good one. Posted by Bob. More from Live at City Mall