The Christchurch musician and songwriter's art and sound was at the core of one of the most sustained bodies of quality New Zealand indie music in the early to mid-1980s. A prolific composer, Direen's intellect and energy took in and spun out poetry, film, theatre and literature.
A folk singer who studied sound under electronic sound pioneer Douglas Lilburn, he edited and published small-run publications and went electric with pre-punk pioneers Vacuum, who performed on the same night (albeit in a different hall) as Suburban Reptiles at the University Arts Festival held at Wellington’s Victoria University in 1977.
Vacuum were regulars at Christchurch’s punk friendly Mollet Street venue in 1977 and 1978 before splitting into Victor Dimisich Band and eventually The Builders. Early recording attempts failed to satisfy, but by 1980, Direen released the four song 7-inch EP Six Impossible Things through Wellington’s Sausage Records.
Back home in Christchurch, he used the same format for the self-released Soloman’s Ball, Schwimmen In Der See (on Flying Nun Records), High Thirties Piano and Feast Of Frogs in 1981, 1982 and 1983. Records that barely dented the stack of Velvet Underground, garage punk and Television-influenced songs Direen had in his catalogue. He kept busy playing Christchurch’s The British, Gladstone Hotel and the Star and Garter Tavern with an ever-changing line-up of supporting musicians.
Direen’s masterpiece, Beatin Hearts (1983), was recorded in Auckland’s Progressive studios with prize money from the 1982 Battle of the Bands.
Direen’s masterpiece, Beatin Hearts (1983), was recorded in Auckland’s Progressive studios with prize money from the 1982 Battle of the Bands in Christchurch. The album is chock-full of smoky beat musings; deftly soundtracked Denis Glover poetry; vital re-readings of Direen’s spooked ballad ‘Alien’ with Toy Love’s Chris Knox on organ and Mike Dooley playing drums; the sublime ‘Dirty and Disgusting’ and ‘Moderation’; and gritty, literate Velvets-influenced rockers ‘Kicks’, ‘Outer Date World’ and ‘Bedrock Bay’. The core group – called Urbs while playing in Wellington and Auckland and supporting The Fall in mid-1982 – was Direen, Campbell McLay (bass) and Malcolm Grant (drums).
The equally strong Split Seconds collected up early Vacuum recordings with more recent efforts. It was followed in 1985 by the musically diverse C0NCH3, featuring the popular ‘Alligator Song’ and Let’s Play (on Direen’s South Indies imprint in 1985), playfully described by Direen as his “disco album". He toured New Zealand in 1984 and 1985.
Theatre, always part of the picture, soon became central on moving to Wellington in the late 1980s. South Indies revisited his catalogue, and released new work by associated groups. Direen’s sound became jazzier and more experimental.
After a productive period in 1990s Wellington, during which he toured Europe and the United States and had his work compiled over four CDs by Flying Nun Records, he chose to reside in Berlin.
Bill Direen lived in Paris and was a frequent visitor to New Zealand to teach, perform, publish novels, plays and poetry and release music through Powertool Records. He has recently returned to New Zealand to live in 2014 and is as active as ever.
His 2013 album (as Bill Direen And The Hat) The Flavour of The Meat is a collaboration with Hamish Kilgour, Miggy Littleton and David Watson. The recent the utopians are just out boozin’ extended single from 2014, features three Bilders lineups, one each for Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Parallel movements to punk, a short essay by Bill Direen, is here.
Bill Direen - vocals, guitar, keyboards
Stephen Cogle - bass
Peter Stapleton - drums
Peter Fryer - keyboards
Allen Meek - organ
John Markie - bass
Malcolm Grant - drums
Campbell McLay - bass
Greig Bainbridge - bass, percussion
Karl Holdorf - tombone
Stuart Page - drums
Maryrose Crook - vocals
Jean Brown - vocals
John McDermott - drums
Barry Stockley - bass, vocals
Mike Dooley - drums
Alec Bathgate - guitar
Richard Anderton - vocals
Derek Champion - drums
Steve Cournane - drums
Bill Direen was, for a short time, a Radio New Zealand DJ in Blenheim called Bill Diamond.
He has published four novels and edited Landfall’s music issue in 2010.
His first four EPs have been reissued as 12-inch EPs on German imprint, Unwucht Records, whose 2011 Krypton Ten compilation of Onset Offset Records acts, featured Direen recordings.