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 🙂
Steve, Bob and Stu were jogging round the band rotunda as usual on a chilly but glorious crisp Christchurch day, tossing around a genuine cowskin rugby ball red and black of course being the Canterbury colors, with a faded PineTree Meads signature on it indicating it had been around, dropping it to the foot on more than one occasion to give it a solid punt.
Waving to George who had moved into the rotunda for the season, (“Its warmer in here in midwinter than Jetty Street in a high Dunedin summer! – Och Aye!” he jested, sniffing his singlet and grinning approvingly). Pulling out a razor from his pocket, he half-heartedly gave his icy beard a good hard scrape.
“Never works!” he chortled, tossing the razor onto the tidy pile of used needles to his right. “I’ll clean that up later” he thought as the pack of stray dogs rifled through the stack, one of them grazing his nose and running off with a hapless yelp, leaving a tiny trail of blood as it ran.
Punting the orb deftly to Stu, inadvertantly over his head to be collected by the always toned Brannigan in his one good hand, Steve squeaked (in his best meek Steve McCabe squeaky voice) “How long has it been since we really tested our mettle, boys? Seriously?!”
“How about that great tea tasting gig when we tried all those varieties of green teas?” piped up Kawowski.
Effortlessly hurtling the ball to McCabe in a rainbow-like arc, Brannigan replied, “Nah , that was when we tested our nettle!”
“And the time we brought those four Liverpool lads over in 1964 for that nationwide music quiz and put them up on stage with a quizmaster and grilled them on Guiness Records?”
Brannigan, heading the egg-shaped ball as if it were a balloon while shaking his head like a stern schoolmaster noted “No, no, no, that was when we tested the Beatles – don’t you remember anything??”
“Not even when we pulled off all the colorful fleshy parts of a flower and subjected them to drops of iodine to see if they would change colour?”
“For goodness sake, that was when we tested our pet…”
Just then, the Punt instructor stepped up to the lads and said “Party of Three? The X Men? Basic punting skills? Booked for 3:15 PM?” pausing and then snootily looking down and winding his watch.
Dropping his shoulder in acknowledgement he winked and said ” ‘Op in the old dragon and moat, chums you’re up for a right ol’ time fox and hunting up the ol’ blackbird and raven kidneys ‘n’ liver! Stone the thorns and rose, I bet you don’t even know what the tower and bell I’m lamb and porking about!”
Scratching their heads, the lads climbed into the punt.
“Wish I could come up with a better cockney rhyming slang for this contraption” mumbled the punt-master, shaking his head as he insterted his huge pole into the murky Avon depths, thrusting the fullness of his weight into propelling the logjammer faster, faster into the now-stirring current.
McCabe reclined and brushed aside his wispy shoulder-length hair – he hadn’t had it that long for a while but kept growing it as the girls loved it. It didn’t even really need mussing up at this point yet he did it anyway just to rouse his buddies and invoke the memory of their legendary cohort, Dragan Stojanovic.
“Whose mettle is being tested here?” mused McCabe to himself. The thought naturally drifted across to his fraternal time-twin Brannigan who tossed back the thought rejoinder “Whose mettle is it anyway?” to which McCabe had no immediate comeback, much to Brannigan’s delight.
Glowering in the mid-afternoon Christchurch sun, at once chilling in its traversion of the ozone-starved atmosphere which hovered over the flat city known locally as the plains (reminiscent of the ill fated and way too early deceased Tattoo character Herve Villechaize – his nemesis mr Rourke was much favoured for being knocked off in the later years of the series but this was not talked about in open conversation – Villechaize’s battle cry ‘The Plane! The Plane!’ would be a constant reminder of the utopian flatlands in the axemen’s later days – the pesky git – curse him and his catchy catch-cry these things have a habit of catching on in their own catch-as-cats-can way -)
(Can someone Please go add some detail to this reference to Catch as Cats Can: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039253/)
An emaciated canary, singing like Frank Sinatra, is getting on the nerves of a pipe-puffing parrot…
Amusing action with funny spoof characters
–undated, probably from Christchurch practises late 1984. Presence of saxophone and graphic equalizer are big time-clues, plus references to beer & god, plus the other side of the tape features the song “the panther of the suburbs” whose lyrics Steve channeled in trance-state following A SCAR IS BORN sessions, mid-84.
–live at Christchurch City Mall, c.1984. Sounds like there’s a clarinet on this too so likely features members of the Axemen marching band who did stuff up and down Colombo Street. While marching. In a band. More from Live at City Mall
This is from a gig with no location or date. The tape just says AXEMEN “THE 42 STEPS” in Steve’s writing. He overdubbed some vocals on it so it must be after he got his 4-track cassette recorder, early 1986. Awesome drums!