Back in the day, I was a co-founder and contributing editor for a local fanzine called Blast!, We were essentially a small group of University of Melbourne students with some (emerging) Quark Xpress and Photoshop skills, who threw together a publication about culture, music, art and so forth. I pretty much concerned myself with the music articles, interviewing (mainly) Australian bands and reviewing (free!) CDs. I also organised launch and benefit gigs to help to fund our shoestring operation.
Issue number four, happened to coincide with a trip to New Zealand. Ostensibly, a trip to the ski fields of the South Island, it also provided me with the opportunity to harass Paul McKessar, at Flying Nun Records HQ, which at the time was in Auckland, to give me the contact details of some of his charges who lived in Dunedin, the spiritual home of the label. As I said in my editorial for that issue:
From New Zealand with love…As regular readers would know, I love to promote the local scene and Australian artists; just look at…the back issues of Blast! However this edition has interviews with Robert Scott of Magick Heads, The Bats and the Clean fame; David Mitchell and Denise Roughan of the 3Ds; Alf Danielson and Norma O’Malley from Chug; and David Kilgour of The Clean and Stephen.
November 2011, is the 30th anniversary of Flying Nun records. So in recognition of that, I have iPhone OCR’d my article from August/September 1995 and grabbed some photos from my photo album. Reading the article now, I realise I didn’t actually describe what the music sounded like. This is probably why my music journalism career didn’t take off. So I’ve added some 2011 notes and embedded some examples of songs, along with some minor copy edits.
For an overview of Flying Nun Records, here is their Wikipedia entry.
Here is a 2009 article from The Guardian about the label.
Here is an Oz/NZ playlist I have on Youtube which has a Flying Nun Records documentary on it.
Finally, here is FN’s “Greatest Bits” compilation. 30 years, 40 tracks, 20 NZ dollars!
I give you “A Pilgrimage to Aotearoa”. You can read it “after the jump”
A PILGRIMAGE TO AOTEAROA
by Ed Wong
For a New Zealand music fan, a trip to Dunedin could be seen to be somewhat akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca. It might not reach the same religious intensity, but to view the town as some kind of spiritual place was not difficult for me to do. Considering the quality of music that had emerged from New Zealand’s deep south since the beginning of the ’80s and how much it meant to me (The Chills, The Bats and Straitjacket Fits probably got me through high school), and added to this, the fact that I am a “secret Kiwi” and hadn’t been back ‘home’ since I’d left in 1981, then this trip could truly be viewed as a pilgrimage. Read on…
My music weekend in Dunedin began on a fine, yet bitterly cold winter Saturday. It has been the chilliest winter in New Zealand for years and I’m really glad that that I brought a scarf. New South Wales is playing Otago in Rugby and because of this, I’m having a diabolical time getting a taxi to Robert Scott’s house in North East Valley. When I finally arrive, I find his house framed by a backdrop of snow covered hills and clear blue skies. Before I know it, I’m in the kitchen of one of the legends of New Zealand music. With a pedigree that includes The Clean, The Bats and recently, The Magick Heads, he has a pretty formidable musical CV.
I started writing in ’78, when I got my first band together, Electric Blood. That was with my brother and a couple of other guys that lived nearby. Moved to Dunedin (from Mosgiel) in 1980 and met David from the Clean, I was flatting with his girlfriend. He was starting to play again because the Clean had moved to Auckland in ’78 or ’79 and then broken up. He moved back down and started to play again. We just clicked straight away in terms of playing. I did that till late ’82 and started the Bats soon after that. I stayed in Christchurch till late ’84 then moved back to Dunedin. Had a few bands as well when I came back. The Bats would play every so often, but there was time for other bands. Had a band with Bruce from Trash, Michael from Dead C and Denise from 3Ds called Pink Plastic Gods and made a few tapes. That sort of turned into the Weeds with Michael, Shayne Carter and John Collie from Straitjacket Fits. We did one single.
So it seems that everyone knows everyone in such a small place?
Yeah, pretty much. I used to play soccer with Shayne, and Graeme from the Verlaines. I’ve still got an indoor team in the summer. Pretty unfit, but still play. It’s fun. I do a bit of painting too. Had an exhibition a couple of months ago. That’s another thing in terms of when I get sick of playing live, I’ve hopefully got something to fall back on. I went to art school and met David Kilgour there in 1980. Quite a few people met at art school, like Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate with the Enemy and Bruce from Trash and Alpaca Brothers was in our year.
Is this the reason why so much music has come out of Dunedin?
Well, it’s a college town with people from around the country, a good mix. It’s sort of a chance thing though. There’s a history of it, Athens, Liverpool et cetera. Certain things happen at certain times in certain places.
With three bands on the go at the moment, Bob must be a pretty busy fellow?
Yeah, did the new Bats album (Couchmaster) at Nightshift in Christchurch, where we did our first album. Did a Clean tour at the start of the year and working on a new Clean album. Recently did a ABBA song with Magick Heads and one with David Kilgour and that’s pretty much it recently. I like to keep the three bands as separate as possible. I get different things out of the bands.
What’s the final thing that people should know about Bob Scott?
I just concentrate on trying to make good music and if it connects with people and you get feedback, that makes it worthwhile. If you didn’t have feedback and were creating in a vacuum, I probably still wouldn’t be doing it. It is very important because you lay yourself open, you put your heart and soul in it, your life on the line basically, when you play live or on record. When you get someone saying it means something to them or they enjoy it, then that’s a really important part of it.
2011 note — As mentioned in the article, he’s been in a fair few bands. You can hear an example of the Magick Heads, later on. Here, I’ve chosen to embed the first single from The Clean. “Tally Ho” was an unexpected hit in 1981, reaching #19 on the NZ charts
Alf Danielson and Norma O’Malley from Chug have just taken over the running of the Empire pub in town and it is here that I arrange to meet and chat about their music. By now, my traveling companions and I are used to the beer glass varieties (oh for the simplicity of a humble ‘pot’) and order a few 12′s of Speight’s Gold Medal Ale, It’s 8:30 pm and the two are busily preparing for the night’s business. However, they manage to spare some time for a quick yarn. Norma, the softly spoken vocalist, guitarist, and organist does most of the talking while Alf, Chug’s bassist and sometime vocalist chips in from the next room occasionally.
We did a single called ‘Flowers’ in ’91 and an EP called ‘Kisser’ the next year. Sassafras was our first album. Since then, we’ve done bits and pieces of recording. An ABBA song for the Flying Nun compilation (ABBAsalutely) and a song for local label IMD for their compilation. We’ve written lots of new songs because we’ve got David Mitchell (3Ds) as a guitarist at the moment.
Formerly, Sean O’Reilly sometime King Loser member, had been in Chug. Alf had been playing in the Goblin Mix with David Kilgour. I had been in Look Blue Go Purple with Lesley who runs Flying Nun. Denise 3D. Kathy Bull and Kath Webster. I was in that and I was also in The Puddle with Lesley, concurrently with LBGP. Then I didn’t play for a while. In ‘91 I started playing again in Chug. We played live here at the Empire a couple of weeks back. We hadn’t actually played live since the Big Day Out in Auckland because we were busy writing songs. We’re more of a recording band…although we played a bit last year, about once a month. It made me feel more comfortable because I’d really gotten sick of it after playing five years in LBGP and got a bit of stage fright. But I’ve conquered that, I like playing live now.
Do they have any plans to tour?
Oh yes. Alf hasn’t been out of New Zealand..We definitely want to. It’s actually not that expensive to go to Australia and play, price wise it’s comparable to flying to Auckland. We’ll probably go to America too, because with our Alias Records contract we have to go with every album.
At this stage, the even more softly spoken Alf emerges from the next room.
What’s Chug about Alf?
“Playing music and having a good time really. There’s no real big philosophy behind it. Just enjoying music, playing with people we enjoy playing with.”
Fair enough. Got a last word?
“Come and see us if we come to Australia.” says Norma. “Come to the Empire and say hi.” adds Alf.
2011 note — Here is the Chug song that I like the most. Evel Knieval from Sassafras (1994)
MAGICK HEADS LIVE
From the Empire, we trot over to The Crown which is next to the Speight’s brewery and where the Magick Heads are playing. The Crown’s band room reminds me of The Club in Melbourne in that the stage is at one end of a rather long, thin room. It is extremely cold outside which would explain why there are only about 70 people in the crowd. Those that are there are very enthusiastic though and the Magick Heads play a good selection of tunes from their album, Before We Go Under, plus some new tunes. ‘Pet’ stands out in my mind. Robert says it’s inspired by Coronation Street, “I’ve fallen behind in it, but I trust it is as riveting as usual”. They decline to do their ABBA cover, ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’, “We don’t know the ABBA song anymore.” They are joined on stage by Alan Starrett, who was one of the Pop Art Toasters which also included David Kilgour and Martin Phillipps (The Chills), playing the viola.
I leave the pub feeling lucky to have seen the Magick Heads.
2011 note — The Magick Heads had a distinctly untrendy, jangly folk sound. The clear and lovely vocals provided by Jane Sinnott led the way, with violin, keyboards and guitars backing her up. Bob Scott sang lead vocals on some of the tracks. They released 3 charming albums on Flying Nun, Before We Go Under (1995), Woody (1997) and Transvection (1999). The song ‘Pet’ appeared on Transvection. Here is “The Back of Her Hand” from Before We Go Under. I don’t think this is an official video. It feels more like a fan created one, although the description on Youtube doesn’t indicate, either way.
The thermometer where I was staying indicated a minimum temperature of -8°C overnight. I marvel that we had walked back to our lodgings from town up the very steep and ice covered Kaikorai Valley Road.
David is quite a tall man, a bit of a contrast to the more diminutive Bob Scott, and is kind of harder to get through to, interview wise. Not that he isn’t friendly, it’s just that he seems a bit less chirpy than his Clean band mate. Also it seems that everything that David has done in the last few months has been covered by Bob or mentioned by Alf.
The standard question. “What have you been doing lately?”
Well, I’ve been working on the new Clean album with Robert and earlier in the year when my brother Hamish was over, we did a Clean tour. Apart from that, not much really.
What do you do then in your spare time?
“In the summer I do a bit of surfing, but mostly I play a bit of music, that sort of thing.” David has a very modulated voice and over a couple of fine, strong coffees we shoot the breeze.
“Yeah, my last solo album Sugar Mouth came out at the end of last year and I did a bit of touring around in support of that. That was before the Clean tour. I got quite a bit of good feedback from that, although it probably didn’t sell in bucketloads.” The one thing that I really wanted to ask him was whether he knew that they were playing his song ‘No, No, No’ from Sugar Mouth in the diner on Home and Away for a while, but I forgot. Damn!
2011 note — Here is the video for David’s song “Beached” from Sugar Mouth (1994). Haunting, lonely, beautiful and desolate are adjectives I would use to describe this song.
…and here is a TV interview from 1994. I seem to remember that my tape recorder stuffed up during this interview, hence the brevity of the copy in the fanzine. So here is what he’s like in an interview situation, although it being a Sunday morning we only really hit our straps after the caffeine had kicked in. Unfortunately, the tape had probably stopped rolling by then! I’m also uncertain as to whether I took a photo. I think I did, however I can’t find it in my archive.
DAVID MITCHELL & DENISE ROUGHAN (& OSCAR)
The centre of town in Dunedin is called The Octagon, kinda like a hub on a wheel, with roads as the spokes. On one side of The Octagon lies the cinema complex and it is here that David and Denise of the 3Ds have said that they will meet me. The trip is not just a musical pilgrimage, but also a pinball discovery tour, and I’ve just discovered ‘Dirty Harry’ in the foyer of the cinema. David and Denise arrive with David’s seven year old son, Oscar. After I’ve finished my dalliance with Harry we go to a little cafe around the corner for coffee, hot chocolate and a pizza for Oscar.
Denise admits, “There’s not much to report on what we’ve been doing since Caterwauling (EP)”
“After the Big Day Out we just sorta came home.” adds David.
About three weeks after we got back, we did an university orientation tour. Things just start to go flat, you just get a bit worn out with what you’re doing, especially if you’re doing it at any great length. When we got back from Australia, we just needed a rest from each other and playing music. The BDO thing was hectic.
And not very beneficial for the type of music That we play. I don’t really feel comfortable standing around at 11 o’clock in the morning in a blazing furnace of a hall.
We’ve been doing a bit of hibernating lately, because the weather has shut down and snow’s come, so we’ve locked ourselves inside with the fire going. But we’ve written about half an album’s worth and we got that together and we get on a roll, we could keep going and throw things together in our usual fashion and we should be able to come up with enough to make another album.
“I’ve been trying to learn how to paint” says David. “Normally I draw, but I really only had an idea a couple of weeks ago for a drawing, the first I’ve had in a long time. I just tinker around and play music. We’re quite busy with Denise playing with the Renderers and Denise and I playing with Alistair Galbraith in a band called Human Soup and I’ve got Chug things as well. We’re pretty busy. Then we’ve got to look after a lunatic seven year old.”
He may be “lunatic”, but he is also very precocious and intelligent. Oscar Mitchell, from a previous relationship of David’s has his dad’s curly brown hair. You may have seen him in the 3Ds’ “Outer Space” video.
“I played Battleships with my dad!”
“He’s pretty good at it. He beats many adults.”
“I’ve won Battleships against my Dad. Chinese Checkers, I beat him in it and her (Denise). And Scrabble.”
So what are the other D’s. David Saunders and Dominic Stones, doing?
“Oh they’ve both got their hands on high powered computers and are busy landing ships on Mars and stuff like that.” replies David.
Perhaps when they can drag themselves away from their computers, then we’ll see more 3Ds records coming out.
I look forward to it.
2011 note — The 3Ds were a demented but beautiful, loud guitar band. Some say New Zealand’s version of Sonic Youth (although Bailter Space might have more claim to that title) or perhaps Pavement. Indeed, I saw them play at the ATP Festival in 201 which was curated by Pavement. Bizarrely, U2 specifically asked for The 3Ds to support them on a NZ tour.
Here’s the part of the Flying Nun documentary that speaks about the 3Ds and includes a part of their “no expense spent” video for their (great) song, “Outer Space”. See if you can spot Oscar.