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.
M. S. ‘Mick’ Aggro