Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Cake and The Rain (St. Martins 2017) written by Jimmy Webb – Book Review.

June 4, 2017

 

 

 

 

Didn’t We came to Jimmy Webb while he was out driving. It was the only time a song came to him unbidden and fully formed. He rushed home, transcribed it and started shopping it around. Aging pop star Tony Martin expressed an interest and called him in for a meeting at a theatre. Webb was told to wait in the ‘Green Room’. He took a chair and sat quietly so as not to disturb the elderly man asleep on a sofa.

The old man opens and eye and looking at the portfolio Webb was cradling asked him what he had there? Webb handed it over and the man pulled out Didn’t We and after a quick read through began humming it. Then he took a trumpet from a case and played it through. Louis Armstrong to Webb, “You got a special gift kid”.

It was Sinatra who turned it into a standard. “So you’re the kid who writes them like they used to?” he said to a startled Webb at their first meeting. Webb was given granted regular access to the Chairman who would listen while Webb played. Sinatra wanted first dibs on anything special. Webb, “He didn’t say so but you knew when the meeting was over.”

 

 

 

 

Webb’s mum and dad had hauled the kids to California in search of ‘opportunity’ but after the sudden death of his wife, Webb senior lost heart and decided to return to Oklahoma. “Dad, I’m not going”. The 17 year old had decided to stay and write songs. Dad was unconvinced but gave him forty dollars, “It’s all I have.”

Webb was a musically literate grafter. He searched them out, wrote them down and knocked on doors. He got to know the right people and his songs were passed about. Glen Campbell was L.A’s busiest sideman and was ambitious for a bigger career. By the Time I get to Phoenix provided him with the breakout hit he needed.

A melancholic song about a restless love affair, By The Time I Get To Phoenix is astonishing for its emotional maturity (Webb was barely18 when he wrote it). Campbell worked it up with legendary session band The Wrecking Crew and the result is so perfectly complete that none of the dozens of versions that followed have come close to achieving Campbell’s clarity of vision.

“Write me a song with a name in it,” demanded Campbell, perhaps thinking that place names were going to be his thing. Wichita Lineman took a few days and was missing a third verse but Campbell was so convinced he took it as was and detuned his guitar in order to mimic the vocal. The third verse became the home to one of ‘Middle Music’s’ most revered guitar lines.

Webb pumped out one more place name for Campbell, anti-Vietnamese War song Galveston. It was a sensation and cemented Campbell into superstardom but it was their last major hit together. Next Webb/Campbell single Where’s The Playground Susie broke the place name rule and the result was middling.

 

 

 

 

At the end of Webb’s book is a list (partial) of the artists that have recorded his songs. It is 12 pages long and among them is the unlikely figure of Irish Actor Richard Harris.

“You got any songs for me Jimmywebb?” Webb played him a few and Harris hummed and hawed until Webb played him a new one that had been written on commission for, then rejected by The Association (Cherish, Along Comes Mary).

Harris demanded Webb play it over and over, 12 times to be precise. By this point Webb’s fingers were bleeding and Harris was weeping uncontrollably. “I’ll turn it into number one for ya Jimmywebb” he sobbed, “A bloody number one”. He did. A genuine all purpose international sensation, the kind that makes people very rich.

Webb was on the phone to Paul McCartney a few weeks later when he let slip that MacArthur Park’s unconventionally long length meant that he was receiving three times the standard airplay royalties.

McCartney drops the phone. “Paul, Paul, are you there?” but he was gone and on his way to Abbey Road where he sets about tweaking the length of new Beatles single ‘Hey Jude’ so it could be suitably hitched to this wondrous new gravy train.

It was Webb’s only number one, a feat it managed twice when Donna Summer’s version took down the international top spot in 1978.

 

 

 

 

Webb was a genuine all purpose Wunderkind who wrote the kind of songs that made stars of singers and paid for a ‘Jet Setting’ lifestyle – Up and Up and Away as he explains in his most famous song. Mansions, fast cars, cocaine and women, (the later being the source of the angst in his music) followed. A lot of it is outrageous and some of it is crazed. Buddies Harry Nilsson and John Lennon come out of this looking a little crazed. Webb less so, wide-eyed and hanging on for dear life is more to the point. He regrets none of it.

Of all his work, most underrated are the songs he wrote for vocal group The 5th Dimension. “They were Black but didn’t make ‘Black’ music. They were more show tune style and while they were open to suggestions you could only go so far as Producer. They were a team and knew what they were doing.”

The record company were unenthusiastic about Up Up Away and let it loose without any promo or backup. It caught on regardless and by mid-1967 was sitting at number 7 in the US pop charts. The money poured in and Webb could write his own ticket.

A month after the Beatles released their ‘album as art statement’ the ground breaking Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, The 5th Dimension released the Webb written and produced concept ‘art’ album The Magic Garden. And yes it has a sitar. And a Beatles song (Ticket To Ride as show tune) but as Webb explains, The Magic Garden is mostly inspired by Brian Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds (1966).

 

 

 

 

His words run swift and lean and his tales about 60s pop stardom fill out some lesser know details of a much mythologized time and place. There is no judgement, recrimination or agenda just an honest memoir about a first three decades of a man’s life. Webb is 70 and has lived a lot of whole lot of other life since then. Of that he says nothing.

One of the more significant songwriter, producer, arrangers of the 20th Century, Webb’s memoir is made of readable prose whose invention does not get in the way of a goodtime. Music and shenanigans aside, Webb comes across as a centred mid-western boy who has revelled in the fruits of his ambition.

 

 

 

*The Details in this review may not necessarily coincide with the timeline in Webb’s book. I had to return it to the library and left my notes in it and the dates on the Internet conflict so fuck it. I just wrote it as I remember reading.

** BMI – Broadcast Music, Inc. is one of three United States performing rights organizations, along with ASCAP, Global Music Rights and SESAC

 

 

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Graeme Downes and Mathew Bannister – Unsung Godfathers of the Modern New Zealand Music Scene.

April 12, 2017

In the early 1980s I was listening to The Verlaines, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Sneaky Feelings, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Split Enz, The Swingers and Mike Nesmith and while they all eventually drifted from the forefront of my musical palate I never forgot the joy of these formative music discovery years.

Those sparkling melodic memories are burned into my psyche and all that has required for them to reappear was the right set of circumstances. In the case of The Verlaines it was seeing a vinyl reissue of their first album 1985s Hallelujah All The Way Home on display in a record store in 2016.

 

With a cover that re-imagines the band in iconography from the Middle Ages this LP is especially beautiful in the way that CDs can never be and seeing it again bought back memories of its treasured place in my collection and over the next few weeks bits and pieces of tracks I hadn’t heard or thought of for years started popping into my mind from the mysterious ether, ear-worming me in the most delightful of ways.

For a while I was such a fan of The Verlaines that I even went to see them play live and I hate live gigs. It was at Mainstreet in Auckland and what I remember most was Graeme Downs breaking a series of guitar strings and slowing up proceedings as he stopped, sometimes mid-song, to thread a new one. I don’t know if he was having a bad day, nervous or playing true to form, but he was testing the limits of the guitar and the audience. I decided I needed to hear some actual Verlaines for real and discovered a nice cache of material at the Auckland Central Library. The album I selected was called Untimely Meditations (2012).

Almost three decades years after his professional debut, Verlaines muse and leader  Downes has mellowed not at all. Imagine a swath cut from the last 100 years of musical history referenced and archived in a twisted lucid dream. This is Untimely Meditations – an alchemical soup that defies easy categorisation but here is a hint a what I was I was hearing: The Who, Television, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Coltrane, Fela Kuti, Gil Scott Heron, the Brill Building, Beefheart, The Velvet Underground and Fripp.

Perceived influences aside, Downes is a true original. His melodic structures and arrangements are like nothing else under Kiwi sun, edgy and angular affairs that serve to challenge, confound and thrill the listener at any given moment. In the decades since the Verlaines debut album Hallelujah All The Way Home, Downes has added horns, organ and strings to the original mix of bass, guitars and drums and the result is intoxicating.

Age has not diminished Downe’s fire; it has improved it, taming the wildness, focusing it into rare heat. Once this fire melted iron ore, now it’s the kind of fire that makes glass, that delicate reflective substance with the ability to contain the world in its shifting light. The good news is that a new album is due to be released sometime in 2017.

 

The Verlaines ‘It Was Raining’ from Hallelujah All The Way Home (1985)

Sneaky Feelings: Coming True from Sentimental Education (1986)

 

This brings me around to The Verlaines long time associates and former Flying Nun stable mates Sneaky Feelings. The Sneaky’s and Verlaines were among the influential labels first signings and spent a lot of time together on the road and in the studio and though their sound and styles were very different, in their first recordings (The Dunedin Double EP), you can hear the two bands feeding off each other.

While the friendship between the acts remained strong, artistically they were destined for different paths and by the time of their respective debut albums, that difference was well apparent. The Verlaines were an alternative rock band with progressive overtones, The Sneaky’s were a classic pop and soul band with that drew from influences as diverse Motown, Gram Parsons, Burt Bacharach and The Beatles.

The bands 1986 album the Bacharachian Sentimental Education was a lush and melodic affair that appealed to my sensibilities so perfectly that I wore out my first copy. Playing it over and over on my cheap stereo, I was trying to graft something of what I was hearing into my own song writing style and listening back to my own recordings made around that time, I succeeded, but like everything I was drawing from back then, The Sneaky’s faded from view as new interests caught my attention.

The Weather: Aroha Ave from Aroha Ave (2008)

 

In 2012, the Sneaky’s, somewhat indistinct in my musical memory, came bursting back into my life in the most unexpected of ways. I was working behind the counter at a Hamilton DVD store called Auteur House, an oddball affair that catalogued its movies by director, when a customer bought an empty case up to the counter for retrieval. He was a shambling figure with greying hair and sporting a visibility jacket, one that made me wonder if he had spent the day operating a roadside stop/go sign, (he was in fact a safety conscious cyclist).

Processing his request into the computer I asked for his name as per standard procedure. “Matthew Bannister,” he replied, “The Matthew Bannister from Sneaky Feelings?” I asked, “Yes” he said. Then for whatever reason I said, “You got old,” a rather absurd statement bearing in mind that we were the same age. He looked back at me like a possum caught in headlights so I hastily took his money before attempting some kind of redemptive statement. I wanted to say how much I admired his music but it came out garbled and still looking like a possum caught in headlights he grabbed his movie and fled the shop.

I bumped into him again two years later at the home of a mutual friend. We were drinking beer, smoking pot and listening to music when in ambled Matthew who was in fine form. He spent the evening bouncing about the room while we swapped tracks and talked philosophy and music history. We parted friends and have been ever since.

Like Downes, Bannister has maintained an impressive output of music over the years demonstrating continued growth as a musician/songwriter. As a solo artist and a member of various bands, his songs reflect his fear, rage, disappointments and efforts to wrest happiness from life’s shifting tides. The result is music whose delicious melodies and playful arrangements belie their dark acerbic underbelly and impending sense of tragedy.

The good news for fans is that the Sneaky Feelings have reunited and have recording new material (due for release in 2017). Nice except that Bannister barely needs them. With albums like The Weather’s Aroha Ave – produced by the legendary Ed Cake, anything from the Dribbling Darts and his own solo efforts, the albums Moth and Evolver, (a gobsmackingly good reimagining of the Beatles Revolver album) and his current squeeze The Changing Same, Bannister’s post Sneaky’s career speaks for itself, describing a unique musical voice with a legacy any songwriter would be proud of.

Like Downes, Bannister has proven himself over and over to hardly anyone and the time is long overdue for both musicians to be honoured in some way by the local musical community for their efforts. Both are unique writers who must rank among the nations best if not among the best sellers and lets face it, if they were operating in a larger market, say France, Germany, Britain or the USA, they would probably be making a living from their craft.

This is tiny isolated NZ where their minority appeal means that they are mostly destined to work on the shop floor during the day, dreaming of the music they might make when get home as time, energy and hard won finances allow. I don’t know Downes except as a distant semi-mythological figure but I do know Bannister – a warm, caring and slightly eccentric character for whom I wish nothing but the best.

The Changing Same: Make Up My Mind (2014)

 

The Verlaines: AWCWD from Dunedin Spleen (2016)

Van Morrison, Mike Nesmith and the Road to Enlightenment.

April 11, 2017

 

 

From 1977 through to 1982 Van Morrison had a neat run of radio hits in New Zealand that included Wavelength, Cleaning Windows, Full Force Gale and Bright Side of the Road. I liked them all, especially the last one and decided to add some Van to my album collection. I was going through a heady Flying Nun thing at the time so musically this was quite a departure.

Before I go on I should acknowledge the apparent paucity of my Van choices. I became friends with an avid Morrison fan a few years back and said over a beer “Oh! I like Van too”. His interest piqued he asked what my favourites were and as I listed the aforementioned songs his falling expression said it all – I had it wrong. Very wrong. “What? No Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl, Astral Weeks, Gloria………..” (It was a long list).

He decided I needed educating and over the next weeks proceeded to play me some ‘proper’ Van. His pot was good and he had a fridge full of Mac’s Gold so who was I to complain. Did he change me? No, he had missed the point. The thing that had connected me to Van had less to do with music than with the message.

I look back on those years and a series of albums that include Beautiful Vision, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, A Sense of Wonder, Into the Mystic, Enlightenment and No Guru, No Method No Teacher and it’s all about the artist searching for meaning – something to explain himself to himself while exploring the overarching mystery of existence that was drawing me in.

If I were to sum up the overall mood of this loose collection it would be ‘reaching for the transcendent’. Through these years Van was a seeking spiritual truth/enlightenment and his songs were asking to similar questions to the ones that were swirling about my psyche. While I liked Van’s tunefulness it was in his lyrics that struck a chord with me, a kid who was in the process of casting aside the Catholicism of his youth and embarking upon new adventures of the mind and spirit.

At this juncture I should pause for a moment to consider what it is I mean by enlightenment and after some thought I have settled on a series of words: perspective, knowledge, informed understanding, insight, clarity. In a classic spiritual sense, someone who is seeking ‘enlightenment’ is exploring the workings of the mind in order to better understand suffering and unhappiness.

The literature tells us that that desire, attachment to worldly things (including inherited tradition and possessions), expectation and ambition imprison and limit us. Enlightenment is the liberation of oneself from this psychological imprisonment. Once free of our cultural programming we are able to experience life in unique and exciting new ways.

I purchased No Guru, No Method, No Teacher on the title alone. It was ‘Guru’ that caught my attention. Except for some Beatle references as regard their passing flirtation with Indian spirituality I knew little else about the term but felt that there might be something worth exploring here. My first task was trying to figure what it was Van was trying to say with this title and this being pre-internet days it meant scouring whatever music magazines on offer at the library looking for information via reviews and interviews.

There wasn’t much but I did find a review that suggested Van was a Gnostic Christian though it didn’t elaborate. I learned that Gnosticism referred to a kind of Western esoteric mysticism that emphasised letting go of worldly preoccupations in order to achieve a ‘higher’ form of understanding about life, the universe and everything – yeah, just like Eastern Spirituality. I also learned that within the many wisdom schools (that exist in parallel with most every major world religion) there are numerous ways of seeking enlightenment that do not always include a method or guide.

The no guru, no method, no teacher approach is all about using a combination of self-reflective analysis and research to find your own peaceful accord with the mysteries but it is controversial approach and not popular with those who declare that enlightenment cannot be achieved without assistance. The cynical might suggest that lack of financial gain or institutional control may have a role to play with this perspective. One especially virulent Guru proponent declared, “This way is just anarchy. People require guidance – no ifs or buts about it”. As for Guru, it is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘master teacher’ as opposed to a ‘generalised teacher’.

Christian Gnostics did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, more an enlightened teacher. This put them swiftly offside with the early Christian church and they were literally rubbed out of existence. The survivors became secretive and hidden – they had to and this is a tradition that has endured to this day. These sects often shroud themselves in mystery and use arcane symbolic language to conceal their message. Check out the situation of the French Cathar’s in 1209 to get a more complete picture of the psychology at work.

Gnosticism is from the Greek word Gnostic meaning ‘knowledge’ and the emphasis is on intuitive knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge. European Gnosticism was probably influenced by ideas picked up from Merchant trains out of the East (Buddhism is another notable influence) and has been at large before the Greek gods were even a twinkle in the historical firmament. Later they grafted the Jesus into their belief system and evolved in new directions though older forms have persisted.

Gnosticism, as I discovered, is no different to other belief systems, fractured into a multitude of parts each claiming pre-eminence over the others. I got in deep for a year or so before waking up to the reality of the situation, that I had swapped one belief system for another and was exactly back where I did not want to be when I had left the Catholic faith of my youth.

But it wasn’t all a loss. The sect I found myself in taught me a few useful things like: “Tear down the mental constructs inside of you and rid yourself of everything you think you ‘know’ and here on the empty landscape of the mind discover your true self”. It has proven a useful method but one has to be very wary of erecting a whole new set of constructs in the place of the old. Otherwise the system of reflective self-analysis they taught has helped me to evolve as a person.

 

Van makes mention of numerous Western esoteric traditions in his music including metaphysical treatise The Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Movement ( Theosophy is mash up of spiritual ideas drawing from diverse sources). Well known spiritual philosopher Alan Watts gets a song, and esoteric Irish poet W.B Yeats is ticked off on the track Rave on John Donne (Inarticulate Speech of the Heart 1983) along with a host of other esoteric luminaries including Walt Whitman.

Then there is the more mundane and less exciting Christian orthodoxy (his ghastly 1989 Christian duet with Cliff Richards – May God Shine his Light was probably the nadir of this period). On his recommendation I explored them all (except for the Jesus love us stuff – had been there and done that) and found value as well as a whole lot of jiggery pokery.

But it wasn’t just Van who was teaching me stuff. In 1977 I wrote to former Monkee Mike Nesmith (remember fan mail) telling him how much I liked his song Rio, which had been a huge hit across Australasia. But more than the song itself was the title of the album it was off: From A Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. Now what was that all about I thought as my mind conjured up strange images of landscapes beyond the confines of space and time? Mike wrote back and with the letter came a box full of records he had made including one called The Prison (he explained nothing but seemed grateful some kid was taking notice).

A book with a soundtrack, The Prison was my first introduction to the album as a conceptual device and I loved it. It was the first vinyl record I wore out. The album opens with the words: ‘Life is the unsuspecting captive of a million dreams, chains of desire bind so vastly to the earth. Seeing the attachment born, of knowing all those things, being alone and at one with the joys of rebirth’ – Opening Theme: Life, the Unsuspecting Captive.

I had no idea what this all meant but it resonated with me and I sang it to myself over and over trying to get to grips with the ideas at play. Later Van led me to Gnosticism and Gnosticism to the Tao De Ching (our particular sect was very big on the Tao De Ching, a Chinese philosophical text dating back some three thousand years), which led me to the ideas outlined in The Prison. Nesmith was big on the Tao (or ‘the way’) and metaphors alluding to it abound throughout his music catalogue.

Tao is the essential, unnamable process of the universe and The Tao De Ching instructs us in the art of letting go and learning to roll with the nature of things and in the process discovering peace and fulfilment. Resistance it tells is not only futile, it is counterproductive. Nesmith’s potent 1972 contractual obligation album, the ironically titled And The Hit’s Just Keep On Coming even features a track called Roll With The Flow featuring a series of narratives linked by a refrain that goes – I roll with the flow wherever it goes and its rolling out of here. Otherwise filled out with lyrical flourishes like ‘he was a didactic minister’ ‘she was a lacklustre lover’, he also taught me a lot about lyric writing, wordplay and phrasing.

Beyond his pop superstardom, movie production (he was the brains behind classic cult film Repo Man) esoteric mysticism, car racing and business career (he is a successful entrepreneur as was his mother – she who invented Liquid Paper), Nesmith is a progressive thinker dedicated to all manner of causes like The Council of Ideas- a forum dedicated to solving the great problems of our times. He is interested in technology and his ‘Video Ranch’ is a pioneering online shopping and recreational site.

Much like Van, Nesmith has maintained a singular musical career and has been beholden to no one, including The Monkees, sidestepping most of the reunion tours and associated activities. “I am to busy” is his standard reply to questions on this subject. He also refuses to sign autographs. The Prison is an allegory about the cultural constructs that imprison our minds and blind us to the vast potential beyond perceived reality and I will be ever grateful to Nesmith for opening that particular door for me.

 

Eamon, a guy I know from Belfast – Van’s base and hometown, told me that he was selling natural gas for the home on the phone and the next name on the list was a Mr V. Morrison. “Can’t be I thought to myself but the feck it was.” he said. “So what did he say?” I asked. “Told me feck off then thought better of it and asked how much then signed up.” How many people can say they have sold natural gas to Van Morrison?

Another story concerns his father who was doing backstage security the night Belfast threw a big concert to celebrate Van’s 70th birthday back in 2015. “My Da said he was drinking before the show and being a difficult c**t but they got him on-stage in one piece and he was brilliant”. I took everything Eamon said with a pinch of salt because he had a fair share of the blarney about him. Still he was entertaining and played the consummate Irishman abroad well.

In his biography Testament Band guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson tells about rehearsing with Van for the concert film The Last Waltz. Nervous, anxious and prickly (and a little drunk) throughout Van turned up late on the night dressed in an Elvis one piece and armed with Elvis style karate style kicks proceeded to knock the roof off the show. Complex, unfathomable but when push comes to shove…….

He often alludes to the difficult aspects of his nature in song and has clearly struggled with life and living at times. But enlightenment, when you distil it down, is mostly about learning to ‘know’ yourself and coming to terms with who and what you are. I get the sense he found his peace with himself and has moved on from his restless searching. Grumpy and contrary are a better fit for the man than smiling over at Cliff Richards while singing about Jesus the lord and saviour.

We are what we are and for many of us the best we can do is recognise the worst about ourselves while keeping a firm eye on the good. So much of human life is bulldust. Eschew the crap, cast aside the clutter of ideas and learn the value of silence and everything will be as it should be. This is enlightenment according to Lao Tzu the composer of the Tao De Ching.

Flowing robes, a serene countenance, adoring devotes – yeah probably not so much. That’s more like cheap perfume. And as for music, sometimes it is nothing more than a catchy tune. Other times it can be a life altering experience. Whatever, as an art form it’s ability to influence should never be underestimated.

‘No guru, no method, no teacher, just you and I and nature, and the father in the garden’ – Van Morrison.

 

 

The Strange and Bizarre Saga of the Mobile Stud Unit: A Legendary Hamilton Band Who Was Anything But.

September 11, 2016

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Rohan Marx, Leader of the Mobile Stud Unit.

From the Waikato Times, Thursday, October 9, 2003:

‘Hamilton punk rock band MSU celebrate their aluminium anniversary with the “Monsta 10-year Break-up/Blowout Extravaganza Gig” next week. MSU have become something of an icon in the Hamilton music scene. They have released three albums, had four nationwide tours of NZ’s University Orientation circuit and six number one hits on student radio. Lead singer Rohan ‘Marxi’ Marx plans to reunite the four current and seven previous members for the anniversary performance. Marx: “MSU appeal to the more male audience, it’s not that we are misogynistic, but we do have a more male bend – it’s no more sinister than that. We write our stories and songs with a more male focus, creating for our own amusement with a self-effacing sense of humour, taking the piss and having a good time.”’

– Gail Ormsby

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A few years back I was hosting the breakfast show on Hamilton’s Free FM and once in a while it was my habit to bring in someone with strong opinions to review the events of the week. On this occasion it was local identity Dr Richard Swainson (or Dr Ezy as he was so named for the many years he managed the Hillcrest branch of Video Ezy) and he was asked, as was everyone, to bring along a song.

He duly arrived and passed over a CD and a slip of paper with the songs name written on it. I didn’t take to much notice as I slid the CD into the player and prepped it to go but I did notice the CDs cover which  featured a de-shelled mussel overwritten with the word ‘Flaps’. I thought briefly that the image possessed sexual overtones, but being otherwise occupied I put the observation away for later analysis.

The song itself was called ‘Wheel of Clitoris’ and still the penny remained firmly stuck in the slot even as the words rolled out live across a goodly proportion of the greater Waikato and Bay of Plenty. I was too busy chatting with my guest organising our next segment to take much notice and it was only the imposing figure of the station manager standing at the studio window making slashing motions across his throat that finally caused the penny to fall and the mental machinery to spring into motion.

The song ‘Wheel of Clitoris’, a rather clever and catchy little track, was an un-subtle exploration of the art of cunnilingus and judging by the parade of phone calls that followed it took a number of unwary listeners by surprise. It was also my first real introduction to a band I had hitherto only known by vague reputation.

Dr Swainson it turns out had been the bands ‘officially sanctioned’ photographer and number one fan and thought the whole episode hilarious, a smooth stunt well played. By some miracle I escaped another suspension and on the upside I had a nice little story to bandy about, one that precariously tied me into the broader tale of one of the cities most notorious musical episodes, the legendary Mobile Stud Unit. As for the song itself, this lyrical sample pretty much sums up the overall tone of the band:

 

Walking down the road minding my own business/ going down to the dairy to buy some smokes/you said I am woman hear me roar/so I licked your pussy till my mouth was raw.

 

The Mobile stud Unit, (MSU for short), cannot be described without the personage of Rohan Marx at fore and centre. A diminutive figure with thinning hair and prescription glasses, he was an unlikely figure found often as he was parading about town in his famous 1970s style lime green jump suit, the same one he wore for any number of MSU gigs around the city and later, the nation.

Marx, a small town boy from the South Waikato, (Otorohanga), was big trouble in a little package. After a youth of misappropriating bottles from the backs of Dairies and the towns one Supermarket and claiming refunds on them to feed his ‘Spacies’ addiction, he began his High School years as a boarder at Hamilton Boys High from where he was quickly dispatched after an incident or three with alcohol.

Eventually enrolled at Te Awamutu High (the next town up from Otorohanga) he discovered a mentor in the form of the schools music teacher George Brooks who helped give the young Marx direction and before long he was singing in the schools jazz choir where he discovered the joys of performance. Marx: “I learned the rudimentaries of stagecraft and discovered that I was not so much a musician as I was a performer, a conduit between the band and audience. After that all I wanted to do was play live music.” Which is exactly what happened in 1993 when Marx and a loose collective of friends from Otorohanga and Te Awamutu  met up in Hamilton at the University of Waikato and formed a band.

Initially called Herman and the Hymens they performed the entirety of Side A of the Violent Femmes self-titled debut album at the annual Contact FM Christmas Busking Contest. Victorious co- winner’s, they shared the cash prize with another local band The Romantic Andes while claiming the secondary prize of a support slot with The Muttonbirds at the following years University of Waikato Orientation festivities.

The fledging band decided to try out some originals at a gig that included a somewhat notorious incident with the man destined to become one of the nations leading singer/songwriters. A bet saw Marx body-slam Muttonbirds leader Don McGlashan hard onto the stage during the sound-check and causing some moderate injuries and a world of hard feelings.

A rather upset McGlashan called the band “a bunch of pissed wankers,” a phrase that provided them with a suitable slogan which was oft used on posters and other promotional material for a long time thereafter. The fledgling MSU was a shambolic unit of seven that performed a series of songs Marx describes as “ridiculous shit juxtaposed together.” “We were a cacophony that could barley play in tune but it was a lot of fun.” Perhaps not for McGlashan, but it was a beginning.

 

 

The name Mobile Stud Unit came via Gareth Robb the bands first drummer. It was name his sister had been using to describe the hot guys at Te Awamutu College and it seemed to sit well and without irony considering that the band would never come anywhere to close being sex gods. This was a boy’s band playing lads music and as Marx notes during our interview, only once during their career did a female audience member pick up a member of the band for sexual gratification fulfilling for one lad at least a rock and roll fantasy that would remain forever but a dream for the rest of the collective.

The lucky lad was guitarist Dave O ‘Shea who was ‘had’ on the steps of the Dunedin Post Office at 4am in the morning after a gig at the University of Otago a year or so later. The young lady in question thought she was shagging a member of the 3D’s (who MSU has opened for earlier in the evening) and was somewhat upset if not sickened when she learned the truth of the encounter.

By the end of 1993 the band had improved markedly and capped off the year opening for The Able Tasmans at a University gig. Marx: “It was first time we played with a full sound kit and engineer it went off. I remember thinking just how far we had come. We played in time and we had a set list of properly constructed songs. We had turned from a fun shambolic mess into a finely tuned outfit.” But it was not to last.

The original band members were quietly falling away and through the next year the line-up remained volatile as new and old members came and went. Despite the uncertainties the band managed to produce their first album – 1994s ‘My Pyjamas Smell Acidicky’ – which featured the bands first notable student radio hit ‘Bob’. A song about a breakup, ‘Bob’ was personal tragedy made comic.

The cassette (recoded in guitarist Jamie Stones flat on a four track driven by Dave Whitehead latterly of sound design company White Noise Limited who created the sound art for films like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies among others) featured a hand stitched flannelette cover, made from old Pyjamas, with cordial split over the fabric to make it look like the pyjamas had been ‘pissed in’.

 

 

A Waikato Times article from March 23 1994 describes the band as ‘being out to save the Young White Male ethic from extinction’. Marx: “A lot of young white males are unsure of their identity. They’ve been pecked at by just about everybody. Everything they’ve grown up to believe in is wrong. That’s why we have to redefine the young white males identity – it’s in danger of slipping from the culture.”

Marx goes onto describe the bands modus operandi, “We usually don’t tune up for gigs because it sounds more interesting that way,” while offering some insight into the bands broader musical philosophy: “We try to keep the songs simple enough for the average person to grasp. We are not like some artsy-fartsy French movie, there is really only one level (too many Hamilton bands take themselves too seriously and we offer some light relief) and people seem to like it.”

The bands typically non-PC attitude, a trait well explored in song and more notably in band posters, often saw them in conflict with various Feminist groups on campus as well as the LGBT community, hipsters, hippies, rock stars – besides The Muttonbirds they fell offside with Head Like A Hole with the satirical ‘Head Up Yer Hole’ – and pretty much anyone else easily offended (usually by accident rather than intent – MSU were many things but malicious they were not).

Often the source of official complaints to various University authorities, all this but served to firm up the bands mythology drawing more of the ever curious to gigs of ever increasing size. Marx: “We were a reaction against the P.C. fashion that was defining Waikato University scene at the time, that and the shoegazer bands that were playing to audiences of 3 or 4 people around the city.”

 

 

By 1995 the original Mobile Stud Unit (Jamie Stone, Jude Richards, Dave O’Shea, Gareth Robb and Jock Ellis) had moved on leaving Rohan to his own devices. A chance meeting with drummer, songwriter and broadcaster (Contact FM and later UFM) Dean Ballinger found Marx with a suitable creative partner and a chance to rebuild the band. Hamilton alt-scene stalwart Chris Paki took over guitar duties and ‘Stormtrooper’ Huw O’Connor the bass. Marx: “In a matter of months we went from folksy vaudeville to British inspired punk.”

The band is prominently featured on the cover of the August 25, 1997 edition of The Waikato Times. It is a photo from their performance at the Contact FM ‘Battle of the Bands’ at the Wailing Bongo with Rohan Marx to the fore in all his lime green glory. Despite losing to The Nerve (composed of former MSU members Jude Richards, Jamie Stone and Joko Ellis) the 2nd incarnation of MSU managed to steal the glory if not the main prize.

Later in1997 the band released their second album ‘Blood Spew’. Named for an incident on Hood Street in Central Hamilton when Rohan was out on a bender and started vomiting blood (turned out to be the first symptom of an oncoming hiatus hernia) it was recorded by local sound icon Dan Howard and mixed by Scott Newth (who was destined to find his fortune as the Datsuns soundman). Marx: “It’s my favourite because the energy and enthusiasm comes through and the rawness and proficiency are all there in just the right amounts.”

1997 was also the year that saw compulsory student unionism come to an end at Waikato University and with it most of the vibrant music scene the fees paid for including student radio station Contact FM and student venue The Wailing Bongo. To close off the Bongo MSU headlined 6 bands for $3.00. 600 people turned up and to make the occasion all the more memorable Marx decided to set himself on fire.

Wearing a homemade fire suit (wet jeans, wet jersey and welding gloves on top of wet surgical bandages) he was doused in two litres of petrol and lit with a cigarette. “I went up like a human fireball and started to boil under all the wet gear. Helpful lads from the audience tried to douse the flames with beer to no effect. Sadly the whole stunt was poorly timed and only 70 people witnessed it.” (The fire was eventually extinguished and Marx emerged from under all the gear with only superficial burns to his head and nose).

 

 

In 2004 the band teamed up with Datsuns guitarist Christian Livingstone and recorded ‘Flaps’ in The Datsuns makeshift studio in a room above the Cambridge Town Hall. The success of ‘Flaps’ caught everyone by surprise and the small run of 400 copies (burned on a home computer) sold out almost immediately.

The albums combined yielded a number of student radio hits including ‘Tony Tourettes’ (from ‘Flaps’) – a song about a bloke who gets stabbed in the head and develops Tourettes Syndrome and is later cured by a hit on the head. The chorus says it all –

Fucken fucken fucken fuck fuckity shit fuckity fuck cunt cock shit piss you fucking wank you fucking bitch’.

‘Beef Curtains’ (from ‘Blood Spew’) – is an ode to vaginas and is played out through an extended visual metaphor about a man living inside a vagina.

And then there is ‘Stu’s Pie Cart’ (from ‘Blood Spew’). The straightest song the band ever did turned also turned out to be its most enduring and popular.

Marx: “Stu owned the River City Diner, a mobile food cart that he set up near Steele Park off Grey Street in Hamilton East every Wednesday night through Sunday morning feeding pissed students on their way home from town. The band got to know him and we roped him into voicing our adverts and cook sausages at gigs.

I wrote a song about him after I heard he had died. It works because it a heart felt ode to a friend who hadn’t died, the council had just shut him down on hygiene grounds. It is probably the best MSU song because it embodies all the stages of the band and was something other than depraved. It was a proper serious song that was still fun.”

Stu Nicholls actually died in 2015. “He was a fucking character and he loved the song and he said quite often, ‘play that at my funeral’. One of my favourite memories of band is hearing song being played at the funeral at the Newstead crematorium. The place was fucking packed.”

The song ‘Gonna Bash’ (from ‘Flaps’) appears on the soundtrack to Waikato made and NZ Film Commission funded supernatural thriller ‘The Locals’ courtesy of director Greg Page, a long time friend and supporter and in 2008 the band released ‘Roadkill’, a compilation CD featuring the entirety of the MSU catalogue. On November 14, 2008, at Ward Lane in Central Hamilton the band said their final goodbyes at the ‘Roadkill’ release gig………. or so everyone thought.

 

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The band have since reformed twice to play Paul Martin’s (Blackjack, Devilskin) annual Gemini Party (most recently in 2015) and though offers still come in for gigs (notably from Palmerston North where in their heyday the band were virtual superstars) there is no great enthusiasm for anymore reunions. Marx: “We would need a whole bunch of new songs for me to consider doing it again. Frankly, a lot of the earlier stuff doesn’t gel with me as a middle aged man.”

 

The MSU Experience:
Marx: “For the audience it was a rollicking good time, like an Oompah band without the Oompah. The second version was a great fun band with lots of laughs and great disgusting lyrics. As we good older, lazier and fatter, the punk element dropped out and we became a good Kiwi rock band. That last stage  was the third and final version of the band. Terry Edwards replaced Dean Ballinger on drums in 2004 investing the outfit with a new feel and overall it was the most musically literate.

One of things I loved the most about being in MSU was looking out into the audience and seeing two thirds dancing and singing along and the other third listening to the lyrics and laughing. These latter types were usually always newbie’s to the MSU experience.”

 

Afterword:

When writing the story of a band with as long a history as MSU it is often as much about as what you leave out as what you have put in and believe me, I have left out plenty. Alongside the sexual depravity that fills out the songs there are the stage costumes made from toilet paper, the naked but for the sock thing, the fake breasts, pigs head football, the incident of the bass guitar and an unappreciative audience member not to forget the various national tours and the litany of misadventures that filled out the spaces between the gigs. MSU was the Rock and Roll dream ‘lad’ style and if it wasn’t for the total lack of female groupies, it would have been perfect.

 

 

Where Are They Now?

Chris Paki (Guitar) is driving a milk tanker for Fonterra and playing in four different bands.

Terry Edwards (Drums) is the manager of Credit Union Hamilton and plays in two cover bands.

Aaron Watkinson (Bass) is copywriter and sound engineer with MadiaWorks in Auckland.

Dean Ballinger (Drummer and Lyricist) is a tutor at the Screen and Media Department at Waikato University and an authority on Conspiracy Theory (the subject of his Masters thesis).

Jamie Stone (guitarist) teaches guitar on Waiheke Island.

Gareth ‘Griff’ Robb (Drummer) is a Sonographer in Wellington.

Jocko Ellis (Percussion, Vocals) is an Intermediate Schoolteacher in Te Awamutu.

Dave O’Shea (Guitar) is a Legal Executive in Hamilton.

Jude Richards (Bassist) is a subversive garage musician in Australia.

SS Stormtrooper (Huw O’Connor – Bass) teaches marketing at the University of Waikato School of Business.

Rohan Marx (Vocals) graduated Waikato University with a Degree in Film and English. After selling space in the Yellow Pages for a couple or three years he took on the thankless task of trying to keep the Universities Static Television afloat. Later he found a job with car/campervan rental company Online Republic in Auckland and is now General Manager.

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This is Zed Brookes (Hamilton Music Legend)

June 15, 2016

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Zed Brookes behind the counter at Tandy’s Te Awamutu sometime in the early 1980’s

Between 1985-95, Zed Brookes was an essential part of the greater Waikato music scene. During his ten years behind the desk, first at Tandy’s then The Zoo Recording studios, he recorded hundreds of demos, EPs, albums and singles in a variety of musical styles from alt-rock to metal, country, pop, experimental, folk ……..well you name it and he did it always with a smile, a quick and wit and unflappable efficiency. Zed, a calm perfectionist, was the master at getting it done right and sounding good, but that is only part of the story. Outside of the studio, Zed has led a number of successful bands including Step Chant Unit and Schrödinger’s Cat and sat in on several others including MOoFish and Silken Blue. Zed Brookes is no household name, not by a long chalk, but his influence on a generation of Waikato music makers, as a mentor/educator, engineer and musician is one that is long overdue for acknowledgement.

Mark Brooks was born July 1960 in Lanark Scotland. He was 5 years old when the family emigrated to NZ, settling first on Auckland’s North Shore before moving to Mt Roskill and then back to Scotland. “I was 7 years old when we returned to Scotland and by then I had lost my Scottish brogue. The kids at school mocked my Kiwi accent mercilessly, calling me Frenchie while throwing stones at me.” Fortunately for the oddly accented Mark, this Scottish sojourn was temporary and a year later the family were back in Mt Roskill.

Zed recalls always being into music and remembers with particular fondness sitting in front of the families radiogram aged around 7, exploring his fathers “curious” record collection which included a number of Hank Williams records and classics like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, a juxtaposition of sounds which informed the proto-musician in ways that would emerge many years later.

By the time his teenage years rolled around, his tastes, in part due to the influence of his father’s record collection were by comparison with his peers at Green Bay High somewhat unusual and included Eno, (here he cites Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as especially influential), The B-52s Devo, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. “I was a teenage music radical,” laughs Zed, “always on the lookout for something out of the box.”

It was Devo who steered Zed toward his first instrument, the bass guitar. The bass guitar is not often the first port of call for a young ‘wannabe’ musician, but Brookes was drawn to both its sound, “I liked the low frequencies,” and in the case of Devo, “it’s looks”. Devo’s bassist Gerald Casale played a custom made bass of unusual design, one that the teenage Brookes found rather fascinating, enough so that he decided to make a replica. At this stage he had an after school job assembling bunk beds in a joinery factory. Using the factories equipment and an old second bass he has as a template, he cut a guitar shape similar to Casale’s then designed and built a preamp and using the pickups from the old bass, assembled his first instrument.

Brookes is a natural when it comes to technical matters, perhaps a proclivity inherited from his father who was a marine engineer, and thought the sciences were going to be the place where he could apply his skills and make a living, so after leaving school in 1978 he took up a trainee position as Lab technician with Scion, a Crown Research Institute based in Rotorua. Scion specialized in forestry research but aside from a project that turned wood pulp into alcohol he found the work boring.

Of more interest was the bass guitar and his downtime was spent practicing in his room at the forestry workers hostel he called home, fielding complaints about “the bloody racket”. His first band was a 3-piece proto-synth band called ‘Zena and the Diodes’, a name he choose because it echoed his burgeoning interest in electronics. Zena, a kind of diode, was also the source of the nickname by which he has forever since been know. “I had three friends called Mark and it was kind of confusing and people started calling me Big Z, after the Z in the bands title, and after a while that became plain Z.”

 

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Brookes at work in his Home based 8-Track Cassette Recording Studio somewhere in early 1980’s.

Zena and the Diodes started off as a covers band whose music was all about “what we could play rather than what we wanted to play and whatever it was that could get us through a gig, usually a mix of blues (which appealed to the local pub audience and some Devo for ourselves).” As the band became more adept it evolved into more of an alt-band and as the line-up stabilized, focused more and more on original material.

In 1981, the band, feeling somewhat frustrated by the small Rotorua scene, relocated to the bright lights of Hamilton City in search of opportunity, the move also bringing an end to any notions Zed has about being a scientist. The band at this time is described by Zed as a proto-synth band with an ever-evolving catalogue of technology that did not include a guitar. “It’s not that we didn’t want a guitar, it’s just that we had failed to find someone who was the right fit.” The lack of a guitarist becoming something of a marketing hook and being as they were at the forefront of a new fashion for synth orientated bands they managed to draw reasonable crowds of the curious every time every time they played the Hilly (Hillcrest Tavern).

With his attention turning ever more to matters musical Zed cashed in his life insurance and purchased a Tascam Porta-Studio 242 (a 4-track cassette recording system) and taught him self the basics of recording while demoing the bands songs. Itching for some extra sound colour, Zed made the switch to guitar when they discovered a compatible bassist in Dean Carter. With a guitar in the lineup and with a new drummer (Neville Sergent) the band decided that along with a change in sound, a new name was in order.

Names were put into a hat and the result was Step Chant Unit. The bands first release, the 1983 cassette EP ‘I.C Dreams’, was recorded on the Tascam but the song that was to make their name was recorded at Mandrill in Auckland for the princely sum of $2500. Zed: “Painting Pictures was an expensive song to record and the time spent making and paying for it basically equaled the lifespan of the band.”

 

The song was picked up by Wellington label Jayrem and was released in 1985. Painting Pictures peaked at 26 on the national singles charts and suddenly the band found them selves in demand. They were flown down to TVNZ’s Avalon studios in Wellington to film a clip for Radio with Pictures and with the national exposure were able to tour the North Island to reasonably sized audiences and score support slots with some of the bigger touring acts bands like Peking Man. Step Chant Unit ceased operating in 1985 when Zed went to work full time as a studio engineer at Tandy’s recording Studio.

 

 

Through the 1980s and 90s you could find a Tandy’s Record Store on the main street of just about every town throughout the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and King Country and it was via drummer Neville Sergent who worked behind the counter at a branch of Tandy’s that Zed met the chains owner Neil Nooyen, a meeting which opened the door to the next phase of his professional career. At this stage Zed was working at a glass factory in Hamilton, (he notes here with some irony that his specialty was cutting soundproof glass, a product he would soon be buying) and had just recently sliced the tips of four fingers on one hand and almost lost a finger. He remember playing four nights in row at the Hillcrest Tavern in considerable pain and leapt at the opportunity to move to a less dangerous job and one more in tune with his inclinations.

Nooyen owned a small lifestyle block on Morrinsville Road at the cities southeastern edge and finding themselves at ease in each other company hatched a plan to convert the hay barn into a recording studio. Zed was tasked with the design and fit out and in 1985 the studio opened for business. Zed: “We started out with my Tascam Portastudio and recorded bands and artists live to cassette until we met Rex Wade who had was running a 4-Track Reel to Reel recorder in a small studio near Pirongia.” Rex joined the team and the studio upgraded with the 4-track being replaced by a 16 track when Rex left. While working at Tandy’s, Zed met former Three Men Missing keyboardist Sue Brown. They married, produced 2 sons and an EP under the name Silken Blue. They eventually parted ways.

In 1993 Zed met Grant Hislop who had recently moved to Hamilton to start two radio stations, (The Rock and The Buzzard re: The Edge). With the radio projects providing a steady cash flow, Grant’s next plan was to finance a record label (Hark, specializing in regional NZ music) and recording studio whose primary focus would be to record music for the label. Local rockers Blackjack approached Hislop and asked him to playlist a track off their album ‘Deal’ which had been recorded and produced by Brookes at Tandy’s in 1992.

Hislop was impressed with the quality of the recording and approached Zed with an offer. With a huge budget at his disposal, Zed was invited to design, build and fit out a state of the art recording facility. He accepted and a few months later The Zoo opened for business on the main street of Hamilton, a 24/7 commercial production facility that served The Rock and The Edge, feed Hark Records and made a little money on the side as the regions first school of audio engineering.

 

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Zed Brookes begins work on the Zoo recording Studio, North End Victoria Street Hamilton 1993.

When The Zoo went into liquidation in 1997, (Hislop’s eventually sold his shares in the radio network he had been building to maintain both The Zoo and Hark’s expansion, but with cash flow expectations not keeping up with Hislop’s ambitions, the whole thing eventually collapsed), the Waikato Polytechnic (now WINTEC) purchased much of the equipment for their burgeoning School of Media Arts and contracted Zed to install it. It turned out to be an agreeable association and Zed stayed on as a tutor and returned to making music.

 

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Zed Brookes in Sydney working on the mix for the Narc’s ‘Push The Boat Out’ 1996.

Schrödinger’s Cat (later renamed Wonderbug before morphing into St. Lucy) operated from1997- 2000. The 2000 EP ‘Joes Brain’ sold out at the release gig at the legendary Hamilton Venue J.B.C (Jazz Blues Concept Bar) and a track ‘Don’t Matter’ appeared on the TV series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

 

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Brookes with Schrödinger’s Cat and life partner Susie Warwick.

In 1999 Zed worked with Chris and Rhonda (Hoffmans) Johnson (formerly Three Men Missing) on their MOoFish project. A resulting album, ‘MOoFishin’, was released in the USA after the track ‘Dark Side of A Man’s Mind’ received substantial airplay on through the American College Radio network. The album spent several weeks on CMJ College Music Charts.

While working at The Waikato Polytechnic Zed completed a Graduate Certificate in Music and Film Sound through Queensland’s Griffith’s University and in the early 2000s moved to Auckland. After a time working in production at Mai FM he returned to teaching Audio Engineering, this time at MAINZ. Besides his work as an educator, Zed runs a Sound Production Facility from his home on Auckland’s North Shore, makes music as a solo artists Bemuzed and Mr Zeberdee and continues to participate in various band projects, the more recent include DMZ and outfit he formed with former Step Chant Unit bassist Dean Carter. They released one album in 2007 called Ampersand. Zed’s long awaited debut solo-album ‘Oh Cacophony’ is on its way and should be available sometime in late 2016.

 

Brookes alter-ego Mr Zeberdee with his song Zombies from 2014

Brookes the Educator from his tutorial series Logic Pro for Smarties.

Production, tracking, mixing, or mastering work includes;

Midge Marsden and Bullfrog Rata/The Datsuns/Malevolence/Backyard Burial/ Katchafire – Revival album/The Babysitters Circus – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – Single,/Maitreya – Aio album/Nina McSweeney/Alan Brown Trio/The Twitch/Ritchie Pickett – All Strung Out in an Bunch album/ Dead Flowers/Hoola Troupe/Goon/Trillion/Liam Ryan/The Narcs – Push the Boat Out album/Matthew Bannister/The Drongos/Rattler/Knightshade/Blackjack – Deal and Kicasso d’Muse albums/Moofish/Book of Martyrs – Purified 7x album/The Boogadagas/John Michaelz & The Stone Babies/Rumpus Room/Kokomo Blues/Scooter/Tweeter/Love and Violence/Tim Armstrong/Bad Jelly/King Biscuit/Tetnus/Calamari Bushmen/Exploding Poppies/Bilge Festival/Davey Beige/Andrew Johnstone-Wallflower album/Silken Blue/Jacqui Keelan/Merenia–Maiden Voyage album/Step Chant Unit/Neil Nooyen/Road to Amber/DMZ/Schrodinger’s Cat/Wonderbug/Adult Mayflys/PD Corp/Jim ‘an’ Joe/Broken English/Pretty Belinda/Second Helping/Te Tapu/Zooper/Enshrine/Dead Pan Rangers/Daisy Chain Halo/5 Girls/Bitumus/Bruce Dennis/Brendan Dugan/Cygnet Committee/Datura/Desperate Chaps/Henderwood/Inchworm/J Harry Long/Joe 90/Leithe/Loose New Romans/No Thrills/Pieces of Cod/Pregnant Hippies/Psyclops/Somersault/St Lucy/Step Chant Unit/Subliminal Warfare/The Crawfords/Three Men Missing/Valhalla/Whisperscream.

 

 Love Injection from ‘The Wallflower’ by A. Johnstone Recorded and Produced Zed Brookes at Tandy’s and The Zoo Recording Studios Hamilton NZ 1990-93

 

Bands and Discography:

Rotorua:

Zena and the Diodes

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

Drums: Malcolm Lowfroth (aka Flat Beer), Roy Morris, Paul Morgan

Guitar: Andy Bangs, Graeme Durham

Keyboards: Sue Toms.

The First (1981)

Drums: Steve Tarr

Guitar and Vocals: Paul Hetet

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

Keyboards: Sue Toms

The Lemmings 1982-83

Drums and Vocals: Malcolm Lofroth

Keyboards: Sue Toms

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

 

Hamilton:

Step Chant Unit 1983-88

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes, Dean Carter

Keyboards: Sue Toms, Stephen Giles

Drums: Neville Sergent

Guitar: Roy Forlong, Mark Wilson, Brian Brighting

I.C Dreams 1993 Cassette EP

1.I.C. Dream

2.Planet Zero

3.Into the Storm

4.Rainy Day

 

Painting Pictures 12” 1985 Jayrem

Side A: Painting Pictures

Side B: The Game/Painting Pictures Alternative remix

 

Silken Blue 1991:

Keyboards: Sooz Brown, Grant Brodie

Bass: Zed Brookes

Guitar: Dave Hickling

Silken Blue EP 1991

 

MOoFish 1999:

Guitar, Keyboards: Chris Johnson

Vocals, Guitar: Rhonda Hoffmans Johnson

Programming, Keyboards, Bass: Zed Brookes

Album: MOoFishin

 

Schrodinger’s Cat 1997-2000:

Guitar, vocals: Zed Brookes

Drums: Natalie McKelvie

Guitar, Vocals: Mark Tupuhi

Bass: Aaron Watkinson, Dave Terris

EP Joe’s Brain 2000

1.Don’t Matter

2.Joe’s Brain

3.Perfect Wave

4.Shades of Grey

 

Wonderbug 2000-2002:

Guitar, Vocals: Zed Brookes

Guitar, Vocals: Mark Tupuhi

Drums: Natalie McKelvey

 

Auckland:

DMZ 2003 >

Guitar: Zed Brookes

Bass: Dean Carter

Drums: Mark Griffiths

Album: Ampersand 2007

 

Darkelle 2012:

Guitar, Keyboards and Vocals: Zed Brookes, Julz Taylor-Reid

Bass, Keyboards and Vocals: Aaron Watkinson

 

‘Oh Cacophony’ 2016

Solo album featuring Jan Hellriegel.

Zed Brookes: Producer/Engineer/Instruments/Vocals.

All songs by Zed Brooks.

Film Review: The Wrecking Crew, A Documentary Film (2008). 5/5 Stars.

April 4, 2016

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Wrecking Crew regular Carol Kaye front and centre.

Through ten years from the early 60s to the early 70s a loose collective of musicians known as the Wrecking Crew dominated the L.A recording scene playing on several thousand recordings including singles, albums, jingles, TV themes and films scores. These were not touring musicians, these were studio specialists, folk who could turn up to a session listen to a song, throw in some ideas rough up the arrangement and then play it, all in a couple or three hours.

They famously sat in for The Monkees, The Beach Boys and The Byrds among others and the big question of why so many bands did not play on their own records is addressed with the most interesting response coming from Crew regular Glen Campbell who toured with the Beach Boys while the bands leader, bassist and songwriter Brian Wilson stayed at home to work with the rest of the Wrecking Crew on the bands magnum opus ‘Pet Sounds’. “Regardless of whether they were up to playing on the record or not I can see why Brain might not want them around in the studio because all those boys did was argue and bicker. It was tiresome.”

The Byrd’s Roger McGuinn describes the band as being very disappointed when the record company excluded them from their first recording sessions but muses that their first No1 was recorded by the Crew in a couple of hours and their second No1 recorded by the actual band took some 75 takes proving the record company’s initial decision was probably the more financially prudent given the cost of studio time.

We sit in with Brian Wilson, discuss Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ and learn how legendary licks for iconic tunes like The Mission Impossible Theme and Wichita Linesman were constructed. We talk with master songwriter Jimmy Webb and learn about craft of the session player from Glen Campbell. There are conversations with the likes of Cher (Sonny and Cher), Herb Alpert (The Tijuana Brass), Mickey Dolenz (Monkees) and of course a number of lively and telling interviews with various Wrecking Crew members including the amazing Carol Kaye (guitarist, bassist) and the doyen of the Wrecking Crew, guitarist Tommy Tedesco.

By the time I was halfway through this film I realised that so much of what I loved about pop music of that era was as much about the style of these players as it was about the song. The theme from MASH, The Pink Panther Theme, The Age of Aquarius, Something Stupid, These Boots, Up Up and Away and a dozen other tunes that have informed my inner musical world were laid out in front of me offering me a new insights about my own relationship with music.

It was a wondrous time of invention and Denny Tedesco’s (son of Tommy) delightful film captures the moment just as the sun begins to set on living memory. For musicians and music geeks, record collectors, musical archivists, historians and lovers of fine pop music, this is a documentary experience to savour and treasure.

 

This Is Andrew McLennan

February 21, 2016

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At the age of ten, Andrew McLennan (born 1960) bumped the dial on the family radio and was shocked to hear music coming out. “I thought that the radio was all about horse racing and had no idea there was music.” The song was The Doobie Brothers ‘Black Water’ and the beginning of a love affair with music that would take Andrew all the way to the top of the local industry. By the age of 22 Andrew McLennan was just about as ‘pop star’ as it is possible to be in New Zealand. At the age of 30, somewhat disenchanted with where he was with his career he gave the music away and embarked on a new course of life, one that would take him a fortune before almost destroying him.

Andrew was 14 when his father on his way out to the pub pushed open the bedroom door to say goodbye and Andrew caught unawares hastily hid the magazine he was reading behind his back. Naturally his father thought it was some kind of pornographic mag and demanded to see it. It was just a music magazine, the kind that Andrew had been buying and pouring over every chance he got, soaking up stories of bands and songs and dreaming of fame and fortune. It was at this moment that he gave his father the news that he was going to be a singer in a band. “Yeah Yeah,” was the reply.

For a kid whose ambitions were to sing in a band, Dunedin born McLennan found himself exactly at the right place and time living as he was just down the road from Westlake Boys High on Auckland’s North Shore, a school where a serendipitous meeting of like minds was about to take place.

His wider circle of schoolmates included Richard Von Sturmer, Don McGlashan (“I was so in awe of his musical gifts that I felt very shy around him”), Mark Bell, Ian Gilroy, Peter Warren, Rob Guy and Tim Mahon. Bell, Gilroy and McLennan formed a band called Titusucanbe which they later renamed The Whizz Kids. The Whizz Kids were a Petri dish, a nurturing ground that mentored a group of young musicians who later contributed to some of that generation’s most exciting music- Blam Blam Blam, The Crocodiles, The Plague, Pop Mechanix, Lip service, Coconut Rough and The Swingers.

For Andrew it was straight out of school and straight into fulltime music. Between 1978 and 1980 he fronted both The Whizz Kids and The Plague, played some keyboards and wrote some of the songs. The Whiz Kids were power pop; The Plague was art rock theatre anarchy. The Plague seems a strange contrast to Andrew’s mainstream pop ambitions, but Andrew explains it was because of school-mate (poet and screen writer) Richard Von Strummer. “Being involved with anything he had a hand in was always something special.” (Everyone in The Plague were known by the surname Snoid, explaining why Andrew McLennan is sometimes referred to as Andrew Snoid).

In 1980 Andrew joined one of the nations top touring acts the Australia bound Pop Mechanix, replacing their long time vocalist and founding member Dick Driver. Playing support slots for Spilt Enz, The Stray Cats, Joe Cocker and Eric Burden the band were building a solid reputation and playing to ever increasing crowds when Armageddon hit. A Sydney outfit called Popular Mechanics claimed a conflict of interest and approached the bands label CBS Records and asked for $5000 in return for relinquishing all rights to the name. The record company refused and a protracted court case flowed severely denting the bands momentum. The judge ruled in favour of Popular Mechanics and Pop Mechanix lost the right to use their name in all territories except in New Zealand, Canberra and the Northern Territory.

Andrew: “CBS could have paid the cash but didn’t, they were not going to be pushed around by a small time band that had only released one independent single. It was all about the labels arrogance and it fucked us.” (Tim Murdoch of Warners NZ later reclaimed the rights to the name and gave them back to McLennan). The band soldiered on as NZ Pop then The Zoo eventually returning to NZ to continue as The Pop Mechanix but for Andrew it was all over, (temporarily as it turned out). Feeling somewhat disenchanted by the experience he accepted an offer to join The Swingers.

Andrew had played with the Swingers a year earlier at the XS Café in Auckland taking on vocals for a cover of The Suburban Reptiles track ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’. “When Phil Judd called me a year later and asked me to join the band the chance to work with him was too appealing but I did feel like a rat jumping a sinking ship as far the Mechanix were concerned.”

The Swingers were faltering under the weight of their mega-hit ‘Counting The Beat’, a song that had become so all consuming it had stopped the band from moving forward and Judd’s solution to this dilemma was to recreate the band. In 1992 Andrew took over lead vocal duties from Judd, taking some of the weight of his shoulders and allowing him to concentrate on the guitar but it was to no avail. Andrew: “The Australian audience didn’t get The Swingers and ‘Counting The Beat’ was all they wanted to hear. It was soul-destroying.”

Despite everyone’s best efforts the band was playing to ever diminishing crowds and losing money. Finally Judd pulled the plug but it wasn’t all a loss as Andrew explains: “Working with Phil was an accelerated learning curve. I got to work with a musical genius who taught me simple things like routine and discipline. His attitude was awe-inspiring. He would start off every day with writing then we would learn new songs and when the rehearsals were done we would spend the rest of the day doing bonding stuff like playing baseball. Phil taught me how to run and manage a band and apply a workman like attitude to the creative process.”

 

The Swingers with Andrew McLennan (Mushroom Evolution Concert 1982)

 

With the end of The Swingers Andrew returned to NZ in 1993 and taking what he had learned from Judd applied it to his next project Coconut Rough. He sat down and wrote 22 songs some of which were demoed at Mandrill and then shopped them around.

The response was positive, especially so as regards a track called ‘Sierra Leone’. After working through a few offers the band signed with Mushroom. Andrew remembers taking a call from Mushroom boss Michael Gudinski who expressed his feelings on ‘Sierra Leone’ with a hearty “Maaaaaate!!”

 

Coconut Rough- Magic Hour (shot in an abandoned cement factory in Warkworth in 1984)

 

Shazam: Coconut Rough making of Sierra Leonie Part 1

 

The song was released and went top 5 in NZ and top 50 in Australia. “The irony of it was that the one hit wonder thing that effected The Swingers so badly became our yolk to bear as well. ‘Sierra Leone’ became the only song from our repertoire that people wanted to hear and no matter what we did we couldn’t follow it up.

I was 22 years old and that song was everywhere. It sure as hell gave me my seventeen and a half minutes of fame but it also became this albatross I couldn’t get past and for a long time I struggled with it. I don’t feel that way now because it’s grown beyond me and I am really grateful for the royalty checks, they never ceases to amaze me.”

Coconut Rough eventually imploded, partly due to the weight of ‘Sierra Leone’ and in 1986 Andrew rejoined Pop Mechanix for “3 years of productive and well-paid work” but when the band decided to relocate to Christchurch to take up a long-term residency Andrew didn’t want to make that journey and bowed out. Instead he took up an offer from Tim Murdoch of Warners NZ who paid him to go Los Angeles and write songs with producer John Boylen (Sharon O’Neil, The Little River Band, Boston).

 

POP MECHANIX – Pale Sun (1987 Friday Night Live)

 

1990-91 was spent living at Boylen’s Laurel Canyon home/studio, “I wrote and recorded all day most days but I was not confident about what I was doing and on top of that I was missing home. I was a bit despondent and escaped as much as I could and explored the city by car. I discovered these specialist vintage toyshops and started buying up bits and pieces and I began to think this is something I could do.” Packing up the toys he had collected, he returned home and in 1993 opened a shop on Parnell Road called ‘The Old Tin Toy Shop’, a retail and Internet operation that became a money making machine and paid for a heady lifestyle that included plenty of partying. Between 1985 and 2000 Andrew kept his musical hand warm, performing on and off with A cappella group The John Does, (Peter Elliot, Jay Legia and Nathaniel Lees).

It all started coming apart in late 2005 when Andrew purchased a noted collection of Disney memorabilia in San Diego. The purchase required a hefty bank loan and when he realised the collection was not going to be as easy to sell as he thought and with numerous other deals to maintain he began to feel the pinch and increasingly stressed he started losing his grip. In 2007 he walked away from the business narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.

“I was a workaholic who was abusing alcohol and drugs. I had been living a dishonest life and it cost me my business and the woman I loved.” Suffering burnout and clinical depression he lapsed into in a state of morbid paralysis that friends worried might cost him his life. With prompting he sought assistance at specialist clinic where he met meet Kevin Findlater (Bulldogs All-Star Goodtime Band, Hogsnort Rupert, Dave and the Dominoes) who had gone through something similar and was now mentoring patients working their way back to recovery. Andrew; “Kevin urged me to start writing music again saying that it would be the key to my recovery and that through music I would find myself again. I don’t like admitting it, but he was right!”

 

Andrew McLennan’s Telling Tales: Hiding In Public

In 2010, three years after the fall, he picked up the guitar and wrote ‘Cabin Fever’ the first of 25 new songs, 12 of which have been recorded at Kevin Findlater’s home studio for Andrew’s debut solo album ‘Hiding In Public’. Between writing and recording he has been keeping himself busy with live work and while the venues are smaller than the ones he played in his hey-day they are always full and the audiences enthusiastic.

Andrew McLennan is intelligent, thoughtful and no longer ambitious in the way he once was. These days it’s all about the craft and enjoying the moment. Reflecting on the new album, Andrew looks up and fixing me with that intense stare of his matter of factly states that “I have been away so long that it is not a comeback, it is a beginning.”

Epilogue:

Andrew picks up an acoustic and belts out a couple of songs, ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘Hiding In Public’, both reflective pieces that examine aspects of the dark years still only freshly out to bed. These are catchy, relevant and honest songs replete with a depth of character that can only forged through the school of hard knocks. But these songs don’t feel sorry for themselves; Andrew is too clever and self-aware for that. These songs are like old friends, the kind of friends who know you intimately and they are like the man himself, memorable and interesting to be around.

 

On Depression:

“A friend once told me that that there was a process to these things, a beginning middle and an end I would come through it and be ok, I remember feeling that was ‘mumbo jumbo touchy feely’ nonsense that offered no consolation. He was right though. I had to do a lot of work and make big changes to my lifestyle and attitude. I am good these days, really good. I watch for signs of the ‘black dog’ and if I sense it lurking in the shadows I actively do something about it. I fear it in a healthy way. I don’t ever want to go back and I’ll do my best to never let it catch me again.”

 

On Phil Judd:

He can just go places most people can’t. He is a bandleader not a member. May not necessarily mix well with others. He is complex, both aloof and genial, he isolates and suffers. He is intense and hilariously funny, sometimes dark and unfathomable – he can be a right prick as well as utterly charming. I know he has had his demons, perhaps its a price the gifted pay, I don’t know, but somehow he keeps on producing Juddesquely brilliant music. I remain a fan and I’m still in awe of his talent. He is unique.

 

Andrew McLennan’s Telling Tales: Jumping Out A Window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Man Bannister – The Matthew Bannister Story 

February 21, 2016

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Matthew Bannister (born 1962) arrived in Dunedin with an itch. His head was filled with dreams of The Beatles, The Kinks and Fairport Convention and a vague notion of making music like they did, big bold albums defined by great playing and lofty musical experiments, songs drenched with harmony sitting atop soaring melodies and chorus’s that hooked and wouldn’t let go. Fortunately for Matthew he was at exactly the right place and time because a musical revolution was about to sweep over Dunedin that would make that kind of dream possible for those so inclined.

Scotsman Bannister is 17 years old and swimming the unfamiliar cultural waters of Otago Boys High. On his way to join the schools guitar club he walks into David Pine. Pine points to Bannister’s guitar case and they start talking music. Inspired they are spurred into action decide to form a band but first Pine needs to learn the guitar so while that is happening Bannister joins an established covers band called Feedback. While the music is not exactly Bannister’s thing, he finds in bands leader Gavin Keen something of a mentor and in the band a suitable education.

A little while later Bannister and Pine, now studying at Otago University, put together a band called itself Sneaky Feelings. On a trip to Christchurch they come to the attention of Roger Sheppard who invites them to record for his fledgling Flying Nun label. They contribute to the labels legendary 1982 Dunedin Double E.P (alongside The Clean, The Verlaines and The Stones) and over the following 6 years record and release 6 singles and 3 albums of original material. Of the three albums it is 1986’s ‘Sentimental Education’ that gives us the best portrait of Bannister as the young artist, songwriter/arranger.

The bands first LP 1983’s ‘Send You’ had been driven by David Pine and was a great success both commercially and critically. For album number two Pine stepped back and Bannister up. Contributing half the songs, drafting the arrangements and directing recording process, this was Bannister’s baby.

Drawing deeply from his love of sophisticated pop music, this album was less Beatles (Bannister’s musical touchstone) and more Burt Bacharach, a composer Bannister had long admired and whose style had coloured Bannister’s musical palette as much as anything he had taken to heart. The Bacharachian influence abounds throughout ‘Sentimental Education’, an affair filled out with strings, brass, lush harmonies and Hammond organ, it was more Brill Building than Flying Nun and in that context went down like a lead balloon with many of the labels inner circle who had nothing but contempt for The Sneaky’s thoughtful and ‘wet’ approach to music.

Chris Knox (the labels conscience and spiritual leader) famously said to the band of the album as it was being prepared for release “I’ve heard your album and it sucks.” This statement combined with poor sales and middling reviews (from the local press, the British and European press were more enthusiastic) stalked Bannister for a long time after reinforcing his doubts and uncertainties and confirming his belief that the audience preferred Pines words and melodies to his own. Bannister took it hard.

 

Sneaky Feeling: Husband House

 

History has been much kinder to ‘Sentimental Education’ and for other Bannister penned Sneaky’s songs notably ‘Husband House’ which the subject of a loving article written by Canvas Magazines deputy editor Greg Dixon. The album has been written about a number of times over the years by a variety of people who had fallen in love with it when it was released and had never quite gotten over it.

I was one of those and in 2015 tracked Bannister down and recorded an Audio Documentary with him that explored the album’s creation and aftermath. After we had finished the documentary I asked Matthew what he had been doing since The Sneaky’s parked the van up in 1989. He pulled out his i-Pod and over a few beers dazzled me with tracks from his post-Sneaky’s catalogue.

The Sneaky’s last hurrah was a rather desultory 1989 European adventure that left Bannister washed up in Rennes France, broke, bereft and alone. He limped back to NZ and got a job at the Auckland University Library where he met multi-instrumentalist Alice Bulmer and found a new lease on life.

Alice replaced David Pine as Matthew’s main muse and together with Alan Gregg they formed The Dribbling Darts of Love, later shortened to the Dribbling Darts (Bannister, a Shakespearian scholar, lifted the name from the great mans play ‘Measure for Measure’). Between 1989 and 1993 The Darts released two albums, 2 E.Ps (through Flying Nun) and scored a minor chart hit with their 1999 single ‘Hey Judith’.

 

The Dribbling Darts Of Love: Hey Judith

 

The Dribbling Darts faded and music generally took a backseat as Bannister and Bulmer focused their attention on raising and supporting a family. Over the next few years Bannister worked as a journalist/music reviewer, checked the accuracy of crossword puzzles for the Women’s Weekly and sub-edited at Rip It Up, scrapping together a living however and wherever he could.

In the mid-1990’s Bannister decided to write a book about the Sneaky’s and get some stuff of his chest while setting the record straight. “I felt we were being written out of the label’s history and indeed out of indie history, for example our non-appearance in various articles about Flying Nun, in indie discographies, in local rock polls and worst of all, our exclusion from 1991 Flying Nun 10 year retrospective Getting Older”.

‘Positively George Street’ was published and released in 1999 to rave reviews. Part musical autobiography part historical account it examines place and time with irony, humour and at times a measured but withering acerbic fire that is squarely aimed at Bannister’s critics within Flying Nun, notably Chris Knox. There is a strong case for marking ‘Positively George Street’ as one of NZ’s best musical biographies, but whatever that case, for Bannister the writing was an exorcism that put to rest the ghosts of the past.

Suitably set free Bannister returned to University to study for his PhD (in media) graduating in 2003. His thesis later appeared as his second published book ‘White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Guitar Rock’. He otherwise filled out the decade playing lead guitar for The Mutton Birds (1999).

13 years after the last Dribbling Darts last release Bannister, Bulmer and their new band The Weather went into the studio with producer Ed Cake. The result was ‘Aroha Ave’, a labour of love whose long gestation came close to being financially ruinous. (Bannister describes working with the obsessive Cake both as joyous and as an exasperation he would not ever care to repeat). The album was completed in 2006 did not see the light of day until 2008 by which time the Bannister’s had moved to Hamilton where Matthew had secured a job as a Thesis Supervisor at WINTEC’s Media Arts School.

With a small financial grant in hand, he had the album mastered at the WINTEC recording studio by Zed Brooks who also polished up a home made solo album called Moth (released under the moniker One Man Bannister). Both albums received startlingly good reviews and while they did not exactly reignite his career, they certainly lifted his profile.

 

The Weather: Aroha Ave

 

By this stage the various members of The Weather had dispersed about the world so Bannister set to work on a new project called The Changing Same who released their self-titled debut album in 2011. One of Bannister’s ongoing musical themes concerns ‘place’ (a theme that is partially informed by his fear of being alone and rootless) heard in tracks like the Sneaky’s ‘Husband House’, The Weathers ‘Aroha Ave’ and most recently with The Changing Same’s ‘Hillcrest’, a descriptive song of the Hamilton suburb where Bannister lives and a song that has become something of minor city anthem alongside Chris Thompson’s ‘Hamilton’ but unlike Thompson who states ‘Greatest little town in New Zealand/But I’d do any thing to get away,’ Bannister has discovered a convivial and easy going city that suits both his needs and temperament. *(Hamilton has produced two musicians named Chris Thompson. The one mentioned here is a folk singer, not the one who became vocalist for Manfred Mann).

 

The Changing Same: Make Up My Mind

 

In 2013 Bannister watched with interest as his students tackled a recording project where they were assigned classic albums and asked to re-record them. One of the albums was The Beatles ‘Revolver’ which proved too difficult for those concerned and was abandoned but not before it had set Bannister’s creative mind into motion.

He decided to have a crack at it himself and the result was released later that year on Powertool Records to universal acclaim. Peaking at number 16 on the national album charts, One Man Bannister’s ‘Evolver’ became his most successful post Sneaky’s endeavour, both critically and commercially.

Bannister: “You release something original and the response is ‘Ho Hum’ but then you say ‘I have reinterpreted the Beatles’ and everyone is interested.” The irony has not escaped an artist who has long struggled for recognition but there was an upside. On the back of that success he was approached by boutique German cassette label Thokei Tapes who released the third One Man Bannister album ‘Birds and Bees’ in 2015.

 

One Man Bannister: Tomorrow Never Knows (Evolver)

 

Bannister played ‘Evolver’ in its entirety at the 2104 Hamilton Gardens Festival accompanied by a band and a 12-piece string section. I was a little late arriving for the performance but as I walked up the hill toward the outdoor show I was struck by the lush rich sound drifting through the warm Hamilton night.

By the time I arrived on the scene the audience was lapping up the magic Bannister was conjuring. He was mesmerising, a towering figure belting out the tunes of his youth, the very songs that had set him his musical course so many decades before and you might say he had come full circle, but he hadn’t, not quite. The full circle came with the news that Sneaky Feeling had reunited and recorded an album of new material (due for release sometime in late 2016 alongside a planned re-issue of Sentimental Education).

 

One Man Bannister: A Boy And A Girl (The Birds and Bees)

 

 

The Amazing Musical Adventures of Darryn Patterson Harkness.

February 21, 2016

 

20Darryn2015 copy

Darryn Harkness is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer, video-maker, Zine publisher and installation artist. He makes a little money here and there as a jobbing musician and teacher otherwise paying for home and hearth working as a caregiver 2 days a week. Between gigs Darryn is to be found making music at his recording studio on Upper Queen St in Auckland, the home of his bands The New Telepathics and Loud Ghost. It’s where videos are planned, songs are archived and where a diverse range of artists and performers meet to create and rehearse. The Darryn Harkness story includes stints with renowned percussion ensemble From Scratch, time with The Dead Flowers, Fagan and the People, The Hallelujah Picasso’s and a stint in London that included two John Peel session and few heady years with Serafin, a British band that came within a heartbeat of the really big time. In between all this falls one of his most lucrative projects, a long and ongoing relationship with the classic silent film, Nosferatu.

Darryn Patterson Harkness was born May 3 1972 in the South Island town of Gore to parents Ian and Carolyn Harkness who met in 1970 while performing with Palmerston North cabaret act The Flairs Showband.

It was a childhood of cabaret, musical theatre, sing-along parties around the piano and travelling with his parents to gigs. Ian and Carolyn performed as a duo, providing background music for restaurants and hotels. Darryn describes it as being all very Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Girl from Ipanema and describes his father as a “fantastic pianist” and his mother as “an amazing singer.”

Darryn: “We have always made music as a family and share a collective talent for improvising and creating original music. The first of our branch of the Harkness family to arrived in NZ in1842 and played violin and accordion for his fellow travellers without respite during the voyage from Scotland. When he ran out of known tunes, he improvised; it’s all in the ships logbooks, apparently the ships captain was quite taken by the music. Music is important to the family, it is our heartbeat.”

By age 12 Darryn was already a handy pianist but was bored with the instrument and was teaching himself drums, looking for a certain ‘musical something’ he could not quite put his finger on. Everything changed when he got to know Ross, Ian’s younger brother. “There was no rock music in our record collection, my Dad didn’t get it so I missed out on Hendrix and The Who. Fortunately that all changed with Ross.” Ross Harkness lived in Palmerston North and played in Foisemarker, a band Darryn describes “as a dirty Palmy low-fi punk sludge band.”

“Ross sat me down when I was 12 and played me music like Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, Can’s Tago Mago, Ornette Coleman and The Cramps. This music blew my mind and filled the empty musical space in my psyche. Ross introduced me to pot, beer, punk and most importantly Sun Ra (Darryn’s most important an enduring influence).” So close were uncle and nephew that they started making music whenever they got together. They named their ongoing project ‘Dwellers of the Temple Headlands’ and have so far made 2 CDs of their recordings, music which Darryn counts among his favourite creative endeavours.

By the mid-1980s the family were living on North Shore Auckland’s (after sojourns in Timaru, Gore and Christchurch) and Darryn found himself at Westlake Boy’s, a school with a remarkable musical alumni that includes Andrew McLennan, Peter Warren and Don McGlashan, and where he became involved in his first band, Fourpeace. Heavily influenced by Dinosaur Jr, the band made the finals of the very first ‘91FM High-School Battle of the Bands’, in 1988.

“My parents were really great, and while they did not ‘get’ the music I was making, they lets us practice at home and never begrudged the noise or the beer. The only thing they had to say about it was ‘never do it for a living,’” advice Darryn was never going to take. He left school aged 18 with one ambition, to make music. He enrolled to study Sound Engineering with S.A.E on the institutes opening day in 1990. Institutions, he quickly realised, were not for him and he left after a year. “On reflection, I would have been better off using the money I spent to study at S.A.E buying some equipment and teaching myself while making music.” The music in question was Darryn’s first post-school band, Braintree.

“Braintree was a good time and my first really good band. Loose, big and bold and not afraid to experiment, the band was as hotbed of creative activity that included three ultra experimental sub-bands, The Mysterons, Carefree-Stayfree and Space Suit, all made up of various combinations of Braintree members. The early 1990’s were an excellent time to be a musician. Getting on the dole was easy and I spent all my time making music which suited me perfectly.”

In 1993 with $5000 grant from The Arts Council, Braintree recorded and released an EP on Wildside called ‘Minds Alive’. It “didn’t sell very well” and in 1995 “the band fell apart as bands do.”

 

Braintree: Reprisemas – 1993

 

With the demise of his beloved Braintree, Darryn started going to Palmy to hang with Ross and discovered The Stomach, an 8-Track recording studio that charged beneficiaries $10 an hour under a local arts scheme. The Stomach became his second home and it was here that Stayfree-Carefree recorded the ‘Telepathic Junkie’ LP, a limited edition vinyl release, and where Darryn, under the moniker DHarkness recorded his first solo project, an EP called ‘Time Machine’.

Back in Auckland, Braintree sub-band Space Suit was gaining some momentum and the members decided to turn it into a fulltime project. In 1997 the band released its debut album, the self-titled ‘Space Suit’ on CD.

“Space Suit pushed the boundaries as much as our skills would allow us and though we were pretty ‘out there’ a lot people really latched onto our scene at the Kurtz Longue on upper Symons Street where we became something of a phenomenon, packing out the place every time we played.”

 

Spacesuit: Orange – 1997

 

It was fellow Space Suit member Gabriel White who pointed Darryn in the direction of legendary percussion ensemble From Scratch who were auditioning for a new member in preparation for a European tour. Darryn was dubious but went along anyway and to his surprise was offered the position, one that he held from 1996 until 2000. The rehearsals for the tour took 6 months and in 1998 he headed offshore for the first time. It was a gruelling tour that included the recording of the album ‘Global Hockets’, and in order to keep everyone fresh, the band took 3-month break halfway through their schedule giving Darryn an opportunity to visit London.

 

From Scratch: Global Hockets Parts I and 2 – 1999

 

 

He was there barely a week when he met musician Ben Smith at a party. Ben was the leader of a rising pop/rock band called Stony Sleep and Ben, liking what he saw in Darryn, invited him to jam with the band the next day. “We jammed on 4 songs and Ben said that in a couple of days they were going to play these songs on a John Peel session and would I like to come along and sit in? I didn’t get to met John Peel but playing in a BBC studio was an amazing experience.”

There was some talk of Darryn joining Stony Sleep but with From Scratch reconvening in Germany in a couple of months the timing wasn’t right and in the meantime Darryn was scheduled to return to New Zealand to play bass on the third Dead Flowers album. While he was home, he took the opportunity to record a track under the name The New Telepathics, a solo project that he describes as “A mixture of Jazz, electronica and soul.” The track, ‘All About The Eye’, appeared on Mikey Havoc’s 1999 Sony compilation, ‘Havoc’s Magic Set’.

With the Dead Flowers assignment complete, he headed back to Europe, finished the From Scratch tour and headed back to London to meet up with Ben Smith who was at a loose end, Stony Sleep having fallen apart while Darryn was in NZ. The pair started jamming and a new band was born, the Brit-Rock orientated Serafin. The buzz was immediate and in early 2000 Serafin won the NME ‘Peoples Sound Competition’. The prize was a spot at the V-Festival opening for Joe Strummer and a two-page feature spread in the magazine.

With another feature in Q Magazine pushing things along, they signed a licensing with Taste Media whose portfolio included Muse. They played the Brixton Academy with Muse in 2001 and in 2002 released two EPs, EP 1 and EP 2. The video for a single, ‘Things Fall Apart’, became a huge hit on MTV Britain and following an appearance at the SBSW festival in Austin Texas later that year, they were signed by Electra America and advanced $300,000 and set to work recording an album with Dave Sardy (Marilyn Manson, Oasis, Red Hot Chilli Peppers) in LA.

Electra decided against an American release for “No Push Collide” but set it loose in Europe in 2003 to rave reviews. Sales were healthy but nowhere more so than in France where the band, championed by the French music press, became a major touring act. Darryn: “I remember the first time we played Paris. The tour bus pulled up outside the venue, a 2000 seater, and there was huge crowd of people milling around. We wondered what was going on? It turns out they were there to greet us. We were surprised to say the least.” By the time of their second French tour, they band were so popular they could easily fill any number of 10,000 seat venues.

The next two years saw the band busy headlining on the European festival circuit culminating with consecutive spots at the Reading and Leeds festivals and support slots touring with Frank Black, Muse and Breeder. They were heady times but sadly, they didn’t last. Problems arose when their label Taste Media was sold to Warner Music in 2004. The band, as many do in this situation, found itself in contractual limbo and unable to operate as a going concern. Visa difficulties for Darryn added further weight to the bands problems and despite one more album, 2007s ‘To The Teeth’, the moment was lost.

 

Serafin: Things Fall Apart – 2003

 

 

Serafin: News – 2007

 

With Serafin in hiatus, Darryn focused on his New Telepathics project and began gigging around London quietly building an audience. Visa requirements meant he had to leave the country every three months, so he regularly disembarked to Germany were he kept a flat and operated a slightly different version of The New Telepathics. “I was living and playing in the district around the Bauhaus, a revelatory experience in design but the music scene was very ordinary and the locals had never seen anything like The New Telepathics before. Every time we played clubs in the area the crowds were so large they would spill out on the street. It was crazy.” The New Telepathics opened doors in Berlin for Darryn and he was given the opportunity to fulfil another of his ambitions, to exhibit as an installation artist. Combining sculptural art, music and Zines, the shows drew solid crowds further enhancing his stature within the cities art and music scene.

 

The New Telepathics: Remember Fela – 2004

 

Between 2004 and 2010 The New Telepathics released 11 albums (variously on CD, vinyl and cassette) but Darryn’s biggest success during his post-Serafin years was with F.W Murnau’s Nosferatu.

“When I wasn’t in Berlin I was living in a squat in Brixton and often played the Brixton Cinema Café with The New Telepathics. One day I approached them with this idea I had about live scoring F.W Murnau’s silent vampire film Nosferatu.

They agreed and I did the gig with a keyboard and a bowed guitar in the main theatre. Over 300 people turned up and my share of the door was one thousand, three hundred pounds. It was so well received that they invited me to do it again.” With the help of The Future Cinema Club of the UK, the word spread and in 2007 Darryn undertook a 16-date tour of UK cinemas culminating with a spot at the Edinburgh Festival in front of an audience of 900. In 2009 he bought his Nosferatu to Auckland Festival of the Arts, bringing an end to his European sojourn.

In 2009 he signed to Mushroom Publishing who placed New Telepathic tunes on the TV shows ‘Home and Away’ and ‘Outrageous Fortune’. That same year he was invited to join Fagan and the People and played on their album ‘Admiral of The Narrow Seas’. In 2011 he joined The Hallelujah Picassos and featured on the bands 2012 EP, “The Bullet That Breaks The Key”.

In 2013 he released a New Telepathics album called ‘Clapping with Rockets’. Reviewer Graham Reid suggested that it should have been two EPs, one rock orientated and the other jazz. This set Darryn to thinking and a year later Loud Ghost was born, a separate entity to The New Telepathics, one dedicated to his rock orientated inclinations.

The first Loud Ghost album was released in 2015 to rave reviews and the project looks set to become a permanent fixture on Darryn’s calendar. With new projects from The New Telepathics and The Hallelujah Picassos underway and a bevy of video and Zine productions in the works, the Darryn Harkness story rolls on in its own inimitable way.

 

Loud Ghost: Fire Up – 2015

 

Darryn: “I am both a pop songwriter and avant-garde musician, an artist who enjoys the idea of bringing those two incongruent ends of the universe together. People tend to pigeonhole me as a ‘left of centre’ musician. I don’t see myself that way at all. I consider myself to be a pop musician and I like the idea of a good pop song, I just do it differently to most other people.”

Darryn is married to musician/academic Immy Patterson and his son Melvin, Immy’s stepson, who at 6 years of age is already an accomplished drummer and prodigious songwriter, looks set to carry on in the long established Harkness family tradition of creating and making music.

 

The New Telepathics: My First Shotgun – 2009

 

The New Telepathics: River Call Me Now – 2010

 

The New Telepathics: Change of an Astronaut – 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter ‘Rooda’ Warren, A Drummers Story

December 4, 2015

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Whatever happened to Pete Warren? The question came up one day while a friend and I were revisiting some of the Kiwi music of our youth. Pete, or ‘Rooda’ as he was know, came to the attention of the nation as the drummer of DD Smash who in the early 1980s were the biggest rock band on the local scene. We were playing the DD Smash song ‘Repetition’, a track from the bands triumphant 1982 album Cool Bananas, (the first kiwi album to debut at number one on the NZ charts), and reminiscing about Warren who in band photos of the time standing beside Dave Dobbyn (his long time partner in crime), golden curly locks cascading about his head and wearing a signature uniform that included split colour Lycra pants, looked every bit the rock star.

He was easier to find than I expected, thankyou Facebook, and replied to my request for an interview almost straight away. So what ever did happen to Pete ‘Rooda’ Warren? Quite a lot as it turns out, but first, ”Why Rooda?”

“That name was coined by a guy called The Future who was with me in a band called Lip Service. He called me Rooda because I was rude, as in not shy about saying whatever was on my mind. It was not a sexual reference as everyone thinks.”

A native of Auckland’s North Shore, Pete Warren burst into this world back in 1958 and from the start he was as he would always be, a restless and energetic soul. What we would describe these days as O.C.D, ‘Lord Bloody Go Fast’ (as he was nicknamed by his paternal grandparents) responded to the challenge “I betcha can’t?” with a firm and definitive “I betcha I can.”

Pete: “I lived life at 1000 miles per hour from the very start and could always go harder and faster than everyone else which meant when I got older, drinking more and being able to take more drugs than anyone else.”

Mum was hard on me, she always said she loved me the most, and worried that I might kill myself, she often locked me down.” By Pete’s own admission, it was pretty tough for his mum (Marie Josephine) struggling to keep 4 precocious boys in order through the long months his father was away at sea.

Warren senior (John), a master mariner out of Middlesex in England, was like his son, something of a trickster/jokester who ran away to work the merchant navy aged 15. His first two positions ended up on the wrong end of U-Boat torpedoes, but a few days at sea in a lifeboat were nothing for this hardy kid who, despite the dangers, couldn’t wait to get back onto a working ship. When he eventually retired he tracked down the Captains of the U-Boats concerned and befriended them. Not one to hold a grudge, he was a mischievous, tough and hard working man, beloved by Pete who considered him more like a brother, than a father.

Pete was a drummer from the start, “I was a tapper and tapped everything in within reach”. The endless tapping became something of a contest of wills between father and son, the father tired of telling the son to desist at the dinner table, would wait patiently for the right moment then flick him hard across the right ear, an act that was carried out so frequently that Pete’s hearing in that ear remains somewhat lacking to this day. However, it was through all this ceaseless tapping that Pete taught himself the rudiments of the art of drumming.

He was 10 years old when he finally obtained his first drum kit, a 1935 Olympic Vaudeville Kit, with pig skin vellums and zildjian cymbals. He found it in the classifieds of the local paper and his mother agreed to pay half the $90 asking price. It was a big moment for the young Warren who has been working toward this for 3 years delivering NZ Herald’s in the morning and Auckland Stars at night. “It was a very rare model, similar to what Levon Helm played in The Band, and if I had of kept it would be worth a fortune today but hey, I was a kid and I had my sights set on eventually getting something new and sparkly which I did when I was 13.”

The drum kit became Pete’s life. He set up in the washing room and started up playing at 6:30am every morning then it was off to school and then straight home and back to the washing room. “The ceaseless noise and the endless complaints from neighbours drove Mum insane but she never let me know about any of it until many years later. She wanted me to get on and do my thing without having to worry plus having a drum kit downstairs kept me under control, which meant she had one less thing to worry about.

My early influences were Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson Trio, Bill Cobham, Weather Report, Tower of Power, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Al De Miola, Herbie Hancock, Chase, Buddy Rich Big band, Ellington, Zappa, George Duke, and Dr Tree. A wonderful lady named Dianne Hargreaves, who lived at the bottom of my street, introduced me to this music at age 12.

My mate lived next door to her and when hanging out at his place, I would hear this mad piano-playing coming from her place. I remember going up to her door (which was always open) and peering inside. Her whole house was filled with records, posters and memorabilia and at centre stage was an upright piano. From that moment on I was a fixture in her living room. Dianne forgot I was there and played her records and the piano, always chain-smoking. Except for the smoking, Dianne was a massive influence on me because she took off my blinkers and opened my mind to the possibilities of music.”

At around the same time Pete met Frank Gibson Snr, a man he came to call his ‘second father’. “When I turned 12, mum decided that I was old enough to bus into town (Central Auckland) on my own and I would head off in search of music. I was in Lewis Eady’s music store one day when I heard this drumming coming from the stairwell. I went up to have a look and discovered Frank Gibson Seniors Drum Shop on the top floor.

After that I spent so much time there that I started to refer to Frank as my second dad. He was a mentor, a friend and the first person to really believe in me as a musician.” At this point in the interview Pete chokes up a little, overwhelmed by the memories before going onto describe the many different ways that Frank helped find his feet as a drummer. “One year Frank gave me his own personal Be-Bop Jazz Kit as a birthday gift, a possession I treasure to this day. I was touring Europe with Disciplin A Kitschme when I got a letter from my brother telling me that he had died. Now, I am a bit of a hard man, but Frank’s death really caught me off guard and I wept openly for days.”

By the time Pete was 14 the family had added a rumpus room to the house. It turned out to be the perfect rehearsal space for his first band. Ethos was a kind of psychedelic rock band that featured fellow Westlake Boys High student Don McGlashan. Of course the addition of electric guitars and a bass to the drum noise gave the neighbours even more grief, a burden Pete’s parents continued to carry in stoic silence.

“Ethos was Don McGlashan (lead vocal/keyboards), Scott Calhoun (vocals/bass), Brian O’Donnell (vocals/guitar) and me on lead vocal/drums. At about the collective age of 14 we were playing 3 nights a week at Bob Sell’s ‘KNIGHTCLUB’ (the first real nightclub on the Shore, located on the roof of `Shore City`). The Song set was stuff like Hendrix, Deep Purple, Yes, Steely Dan, Stones, Steppenwolf, 10cc, Rory Gallagher, Queen, Cream, Blind Faith, Elton John, Grand Funk Railroad, Chicago Transit Authority, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Van Morrison, Neutral Smith, Mamas & Papas, Beatles and CSNY. We were also writing our own stuff as well.”

The band members, with the assistance of Mary Warren, had all secured special permits that allowed them to play on licensed premises, (back then the legal drinking age was 20), and for Pete it was a passport to the world and allowed him to say “yes” to every gig he was offered, gigs which included a 6 month stint with Prince Tui Teka when he was 16. “The Prince heard I was a handy drummer and wanted to interview me over dinner which turned out to be fish and chips on the bonnet of his Ford Falcon. We played Glenfield’s Thunderbird Valley Inn for six weeks then The Flying Jug in Panmure before heading down country to play The Trees in Tokoroa.

After that I did a season with Tom Sharplin at the Mandalay in Newmarket. I played for anyone who needed a drummer. I wasn’t fussy and I didn’t care about the money, I just wanted to play.”

Lip Service 1977-1980

Pete was 18 when he formed Lip service with Dave Marshall (formerly of Waves) and an old mate from Westlake Boys Rob Guy, (a guitarist know as the ‘The Revox’). “We were basically a bunch of long haired hippies who arrived on the scene just as punk was exploding and while we were influenced by punk, we weren’t considered punk because we played too well. The punks despised us despite the fact we could play harder and faster than them, and feeling at bit out of place the only thing we could to do to bring us up to date was to cut off our hair“.

The band, with a rock sound that could be described from today’s perspective as new wave, immediately hit the road. We would arrive at a venue, set up our stage, (a complex affair of white polythene and air conditioning vents that required nearly three hours to assemble), sleep for an hour and then play for 3 to 4 hours, sometimes to just person. Often all we could afford to eat after the show were chips and a burger, then we would party, sleep and in the morning we would be up again at 8am and packing down before hitting the road again.”

Through constant gigging the band built up a big enough following for the guys to make a living but it was via manager Charley Grey and the summer touring circuit that the band found its biggest paydays. The Summer Tours were very lucrative and basically paid for us to be a touring band for the rest of the year.”

Their manager Charley Grey also handled The Dudes, who were by this stage of the game the biggest band in the country and Lip Service often found themselves on the same bill, usually in the support lot. “This is how I got to know Dave (Dobbyn, the Dudes songwriter/guitarist). We shared a similar sense of humour and got on really well,” but before the famous relationship blossomed, Lip Service had one more mission to complete.

They came to the attention Joel McCready, then head of the local arm of CBS Records who signed them up to 4-album deal. “We only ever actually made one album, the self titled ‘Lip Service’ record. We recorded it at Glyn Tucker Jr’s Mandrill Studios with producer Graeme Myhre. It was released in 1979 and went straight to the bargain bins.”

I tell Pete that I actually purchased this album based on the cover picture, which features the band posing with mannequins, a surreal sort of image that appealed to my sensibilities. Pete laughs and tells me that he hated the image with passion and blames it for the albums poor sales, nevertheless he is still fond of the record as am I and listening back to it now with its angular guitar melodies, wailing lead vocal and pop/rock sensibilities you are offered a glimpse of what was to come with DD Smash. One track in particular stands out, a sharp piece of social commentary called Playschool, a terrifically hardy number, it would have sat easily beside The Swingers and the Spelling Mistakes on the classic punk compilation AK-79.

The Line-Up:

Brian O’Donnell: Bass, Vocals

Rob Guy: Guitar

Dave Marshall: Guitar, Vocals Drums,

Peter Warren: Drums, vocals

 

 

DD Smash

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Pete: “By 1981 Dave had had enough of The Dudes and approached me and Rob (The Revox) about starting a new band. We joined Dave and Lisle Kinney (Hello Sailor) and did 6 weeks of secret rehearsals at the Rhumba Bar in central Auckland before heading off to Hamilton and our first ‘test gig’ at the Hillcrest Tavern. The place was packed; people were hanging from the rafters and going crazy and we realised that we were onto something pretty special.”

I ask Pete about the name DD Smash and he recalls: “It was the usual struggle band have with names. We tried all kinds of things then Dave’s manager suggested Dave Dobbyn’s Divers. We were running out of time with our first gig coming up fast but there was no way I was going to be one of Dave’s divers so I suggested DD (Dave Dobbyn) Smash (Pete was an infamously loud drummer whom Dave had previously nicknamed Smash).”

Pete and Dave were together for 8 years, a near decade that included three huge selling DD Smash albums, Cool Bananas (1982), Live: Deep In The Heart Of Taxes (1983) and The Optimist (1984), a sojourn that included Dave’s big solo breakthrough with his work on The Footrot Flats soundtrack (1986).

DD Smash had been in Australia for several years prior to the career defining success of Footrot Flats, a time Pete describes as hard, hard slog. Signed to Mushroom Australia they were gigging hard trying to build an audience and besides solo gigs, they scored prominent support slots on tours with some on the biggest names on the Aussie touring circuit, (Midnight Oil, Misex and Dragon). Pete: “We were playing as many as 9 shows a week and mostly losing money. To compete properly on the scene, we needed trucks worth of sound and lighting gear and a 2-3-man road crew and it all costs. Basically the support slots on the big tours subsidised our solo shows.” Despite all of this, bands records failed to sell.

Dave’s 1986 breakthrough solo hit from the Footrot Flats movie soundtrack ‘Slice of Heaven’ (No1 in Australian for 4 weeks) changed it all. Crowds improved, as did the bands quality of life but as Pete explains, “The writing was on the wall for me and I failed to see it.” It was clear by now that Dave’s future was as a solo artist and it was during the first sessions for The Loyal album (1988) that Pete was taken aside by Dave’s manager and given his marching orders. “Why?” I ask. “The drugs,” replies Pete matter of factly.

Pete had been a heavy opiate user for many years and concedes that the drug was getting in the way of the relationship. “Dave hated confrontation and it had become my job to organise the band and make sure they knew and understood the song arrangements, on top of this I took care of all the hard personal stuff that goes on between band members and looked after Dave who suffered terrible stage fright. It was my job to care for him and coax him out onto the stage. This was the tough part of band life and I soaked it all up. “ The abrupt end came as something shock to the drummer who had stayed true to Dobbyn throughout the difficult times, line-up changes and excesses of the rock and roll scene and it caused him some degree of grief but he concedes that the breakup was mostly his own fault. The famous relationship had come to an end and it was time to move on.

Between Dobbyn gigs, Pete spent the 1980s as a drummer for hire and did a stint on the Australian cabaret circuit with Marsha Hines, (“It was all very glamorous and a step up from the grimy rock scene but it wasn’t for me.”) and did some work for The Divinyls, (this was before they hit the big time with ‘I Touch Myself’). Back in NZ he played sessions for advertising jingle king Murray Grindlay, The Netherworld Dancing Toys, Shona Laing, played on Graham Brazier’s classic ‘Inside Out’ album, and filled out the drum stool for Satellite Spies in 1986 when they supported Dire Straights on the Kiwi leg of their massive ‘Brothers In Arms’ Tour, all the while leading his own band Rooda.

In between all this he got to share a joint with Bob Marley and play football with Rod Stewart both of whom he met while working as ‘road crew’. Later he joined Midge Marsden on his 1991 tour of Australia, Britain and America.

“I had a reputation as a ‘trouble shooter’ drummer because I could play reliably to a click track in the studio and deliver a decent beat, often in one take. And if for some reason a drummer couldn’t make a gig, I would get the call and sit in and pick it up as I went along. I didn’t need to know the songs.”

 

The UK, The Led Zeppelin Audition, Farwell to the Dragon, Two-Car Sex and the Big Time in Eastern Europe.

In 1993 came the sort of opportunity that every ‘drummer for hire’ dreams of, an invitation to audition for Led Zeppelin. The band was preparing for their 25th anniversary and a big tour was on the cards. Unbeknownst to Pete his name had been put forward by friend, Auckland based British musician Malcolm Foster (The Pretenders/Simple Minds), and after a 4am phone call from Zeppelin’s management enquiring about his availability, he found himself flying out to the UK to play an audition that never happened.

He turned up to the rehearsal studio at the appointed time but Zeppelin never showed, they were elsewhere arguing up a storm. Needless to say, the 25th anniversary celebrations of one of the world’s biggest ever bands failed to eventuate but the excursion turned out to be a positive thing for Pete. Away from the Kiwi drug scene, he decided to clean up. He went cold turkey approaching the three weeks of sweats, pain and sleeplessness with his usual stoicism. “I did this to myself and had to take care of it myself.” This was the end of Pete’s long relationship with ‘the dragon’ and the needle.

Clean, he teamed up with Malcolm Foster, who was on a break from Simple Minds, and formed a Led Zeppelin tribute band. “We were building a big reputation and word got out to Robert Plant who came along to see us. He was so impressed that he gave us his endorsement and that opened doors for us right across Europe. We got to play all the big cities but the singer, who could do Robert Plant so convincingly that people actually thought he was Robert Plant, struggled with stage nerves and eventually packed it in and that was the end of that.”

Next up was Two Car Sex. “I answered an advert in the New Musical Express for a rock band seeking a vocalist and got the job,” (Pete had long provided back vocals as part of his ‘drummer for hire’ package and can sing up a storm. Managed by Rod Smallwood, (Iron Maiden) the band built up a solid reputation on the London pub circuit and just as things were starting to look like the band might be headed for the bigger time, Smallwood decided to divest himself on much of his management portfolio and concentrate on Maiden and the momentum was lost. Regardless, the biggest success of Pete’s career was just around the corner.

 

Disciplin A Kitschme 1995-98

groupimageDisciplin A Kitschme is a Serbian band, a spin-off of the seminal Yugoslav New Wave bands Šarlo Akrobata, and Ekatarina Velika. Formed in 1982, Disciplin is centred on the talents of Dušan Kojić “Koja (Black Tooth) and has had several incarnations in style ranging from punk to funk, jazz-fusion, Motown and jungle, all with a good dose of Jimi Hendrix inspired rock thrown in for good measure. The band is still going today and has taken on a blues inspired sound in its current manifestation.

The Pete Warren era Disciplin A Kitschme recorded two albums.

‘I Think I See Myself on CCTV’ (1996) was recorded at Iron Maiden’s Fortress.

‘Heavy Bass Blues’ (1998) was recorded at Adrian Sherwood’s ON-U-Studios.

The Line-up:

Black Tooth – Bass (Serbia)

Gofie Bebe – Vocals and percussion (Grenada)

Pete ‘The Beat’ Warren – Drums. (After Disciplin first appearance on John Peel’s iconic BBC Radio show, Peel amazed at the intensity of Pete’s drumming thereafter referred to him as ‘The Beat’).

“We were the first true ‘drum and bass’ band in London and were championed by the likes of John Peel, Fatboy Slim, and Adrian Sherwood. The real deep clubbers loved us but our records never sold well in Britain. In Eastern Europe it was a different story. We had three number one singles across Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania and our albums sold around 150,000 units apiece but there was no royalty gathering system in these territories back then and the only money we made was from gigs. We were playing sold out arenas and if we had of based ourselves in Serbia we could have lived like kings but our base was London and once we changed the currency into sterling it was worth bugger all.”

It was Pete’s relationship with Rosie, the mother of his two British children Genie aged 14 (a gymnast) and Caleb-Tobias aged 16 (an actor) that caused Pete to leave the band. “I was away touring a lot and it was putting a big strain on my relationship with Rosie and I thought if I left the band and became more available it would help.” It didn’t, “In the end my drugs, partying and general bad behaviour were more than she could cope with. A t-shirt Rosie gave me for my 40th birthday sums up best how I was back then. It read: I AM 5.”

 

Surrey, Shark Attack, Love, Home and Silt Control.

His relationship in tatters, Pete, emotionally spent and on the ‘bones his arse’ left London and found a home at Pound Farm in the rural heart of Surrey, first in a horse van and then in a broken down VW Kombi. It was at the local pub, The Black Swan, that Pete met the players that were to become Shark Attack. Again taking on lead vocal duties, Pete, tanked up on tequila (“I was not a natural frontman and needed a few drinks to loosen up”) led the band through their regular Sunday night slots. They became a favourite of the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels who got them a slot on the Bulldog Bash, the gang’s annual national gathering. It was a lucrative gig and caught up with Angel’s as they were, the drugs were cheap and on tap and Pete found himself spiralling once again into the world of partying and drugs, (this time cocaine).

It was during this time that Pete met Pavla, a young Czech woman who was over in the UK improving her English. “She was half my age and I just thought she was just a beautiful young woman playing with an older man for a bit, but she stuck around. I had ruined every relationship I had ever been in through my partying ways and I thought if we are going to do this, it was time for me to ‘man up’ and face my demons.”

With Pavla’s encouragement, Pete sorted himself out and with the relationship blossoming, the couple set off for the Czech Republic to meet her parents. “I was about the same age as them and a bit rough and ready and they were not pleased at all and after a coupe of weeks insisted I go. I headed back to NZ, got a job, set up a home and a few months later Pavla arrived and we have been together now for 15 beautiful years. Basically she saved me and helped me to become a better man.”

By this stage Pete had a labouring job with a construction company that specialised in big projects like shopping centres and road construction. “I surprised myself because I really loved the work,” and his enthusiasm and reliability saw him being offered ever more responsibility. He found his second calling in Environmental Management specialising in Silt and Erosion Control.

His job was to make sure that silt and soil did not escape construction zones and pollute natural waterways and his ideas and innovations saw him becoming an increasingly in-demand speaker at conferences and exhibitions. “I didn’t wear a suit just my muddy work clothes and spoke passionately from my heart about doing the right thing for the environment and it was, I think, for these reasons that the people I was speaking to related to what I was saying.” Pete was having the time of his life, and then bad luck struck.

“I got trapped beneath a 220kg roll of anti-erosion fibre the crew and I were carrying up a bank. The pain was excruciating but I got up on with the job. As the days passed the pain became unbearable. I was taken to hospital and scans revealed major back damage.” After four years on the construction site, it was over and the next three years were spent recuperating. With the healing underway Pete found himself making music again and with the encouragement of one of his brothers, decided to go teaching and pass on his knowledge.

He placed an advert in the local paper, The Rodney Times, and got a response straight away. “It was a light bulb moment for me because I realised that I absolutely loved teaching. Most drum teachers say you can’t teach the art until kids are 8 but I teach from 5 years on. It’s a great age to start drumming and the kids are like sponges, they just soak it all up.” Rather than teaching a prescribed formula, Pete’s methods are intuitive and he approaches each pupil in a unique way, a method that keeps his services in demand at schools and homes across the North Shore. “I’ll teach anyone who wants to learn, I just love it.”

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The Final Word

As a writer of other people’s stories, it is important to cover all the details but sometimes one has to proceed with caution regarding certain subjects bearing in mind that not everyone is open minded and accepting as myself in regard to the vices, troubles and indiscretions of others. That said, I cannot complete this story without examining some details of Pete’s former life as a drug user, being a big apart of his life as it was for as long as it was.

He got his first taste of ‘the dragon’ when he was 15 and his last just prior to heading for Britain in 1993 and while he was, by in large, a man who managed his habit and was able to function normally in the wider world, there were periods of excess and danger including several close calls after overdosing and some reckless needle sharing which resulted in Pete contracting Hepatitis A, B and C. He discovered this not long after arriving in Britain and was fortunate enough to find himself one of the first patients prescribed Interferon Alfa. The outcome was positive and once again ‘Lord Bloody Go Fast’ escaped a near miss.

While he never returned to the needle he found other ways of getting high, notably via cocaine, which he consumed excessively for a number of years. As mentioned earlier, it was Pavla who proved to be a positive and moderating influence and on that note I will leave the final word to the man himself:

“I am not only grateful to be alive but grateful that I met a woman who made me feel grateful to be alive and I am grateful that she puts up with me because at heart, I am still just a lad. I am also grateful for my children. Leyla Anne is 9 years old and she’s a singer. Sebastian Charles is aged 7 years and he’s a drummer. He has his own kit in his room and I have never given him a lesson, he’s a natural who has picked it up on his own. I can only hope that the example of my life lessons will help make their journey through life a little easier.”

*For this writer, these stories always end on a wistful note. One has had the privilege of being invited into another’s heart and soul and the interview subject always ends up becoming a friend, a person you have bonded with in a unique and particular way and Pete Warren has been no different. If you want to know more about the man himself and hear some of the music he has made over the decades, listen in to the podcast. Otherwise you might find him playing at a pub on Auckland’s North Shore with his mate Lee Grey. If you do, don’t forget to bowl on up and say hello. He’d love that. He’s that kind of guy.