The following story first appeared in Mysterex magazine No. 3, February 2004.
At the tail end of the seventies, The Enemy played at our school dance. Chris Knox was the evilest person I’d seen. From the start, I was dreading the moment he might come off the stage and, like, tap me on the shoulder. I thought I was punk but inside I was cowering. Thank God they only lasted two songs before school principal Dave Rathbone ran onto the stage and kicked them off.
This was the same Dave Rathbone who walked out two years running on Bored Games’ performances at the Kaikorai Valley High School talent quest. Something about it being too loud. The first quest was our debut. 1979. ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, and some originals like ‘I.H For Me’ (about mentally disabled workshops), ‘Frustration’ (about frustration) and ‘15’ cos all the punk bands had at least one song with numbers in it and that’s what we were. (“I might not be a kid and I might not be a man, but I’m not the little fool that you think that I am, I’m 15...”)
We formed a small core at our high school amidst a sea of KISS emblazoned satchels and fledging Marley-ites. KVHS drew on the working class suburbs of West Dunedin and I came from the worst of all, Brockville, up on the hill, all Mark Three Zephyrs, solo mums and their rampant snotty nosed kids – the smell of stew at four o’clock wafting across the neighbourhood – “a lower socio-economic area” according to our form teacher David Green after asking me where I was from.
Form 4K. The bright class apparently. Among my classmates were Jeff Harford, the son of a jazz pianist, Wayne Elsey, and Lesley Paris. Wayne and Lesley both lived at the bottom of my hill. They were also the only other kids in my class called to the guidance counsellor time after time throughout our first year.
Pubescent, alienated and a bit fucked up – we had all the makings of a band.
Pubescent, alienated and a bit fucked up – we had all the makings of a band. The conduit was the Pistols doing ‘Pretty Vacant’ on TV sometime in 1978. A blast of white light – so exotic, primitive and powerful – it blew me away. Lesley informed me her neighbour, Robin Siataga, had a tape of the entire Never Mind The Bollocks album and we’d pass it around amongst ourselves like this chalice of purest gold. I can still remember the cassette. White with thin gold stripes. At home, I’d listen to it on headphones, cranked up beyond distortion, the music like an avalanche in my ears. That’s when I began writing songs.
The earliest incarnation of Bored Games would debut at our end of year fourth form camp at Tautuku but at that point, we were five, a capella and had to make do with foaming toothpaste and throwing sausages at the audience. We had three early, unaccompanied songs. ‘Mentally Deranged’ (about society), ‘Rich Bitch’ (about the Queen) and ‘Here In The Workshop’ (continuing a running theme). The end of year school mag ran a small feature entitled Punk at KVHS and there we were underneath, all ratty shirts and suitably ‘mental’ punk expressions – I christened myself Peter Putrid but the moniker couldn’t last. By the time our fifth form year rolled around, we knew we had to get legit – we needed to play these songs.
Wayne lied and said he knew 23 chords. He also had a 10-watt amplifier and a heavy Sid Vicious fixation. He was going to be bassist. Jeff, pushed along by his musician father, actually owned a full-blown drum kit so there was never any doubt about where he’d be. Encouraged by my early songwriting forays and nursing an innate need for revenge after a lifetime of fear and beatings on the mean Brockville streets, I settled for singer. It seemed natural. My mother had sung cabaret around Dunedin for years. My Dad had played in rock bands throughout the sixties, and the cover of Are You Experienced covered the hole in our kitchen wall. I really thought I had something to say.
Guitar was hard. We didn’t know anybody with either the gear or expertise until we met Gavin, a heavy metal kid who had all of the first and none of the second. Our early practices in Wayne’s parents’ basement were dodgy affairs. Gavin couldn’t actually play. Well, none of us could, but Gavin would produce the horriblest noise and insist it was actually called something. F? D? Maybe it was Z. One day he actually fluked a note and the practice crashed to a halt as we rushed over to the tape recorder and sat around in utter amazement, playing that same chord over and over. I can honestly say that this was my first legitimate moment in rock.
It soon became clear that Gavin wasn’t going to make it. He actually pre-empted us by leaving on his own accord, muttering something about “musical differences” and wanting to try “new directions”. Unfazed, we placed an ad in the music section of the Otago Daily Times. “Wanted 15-16 year old guitarist for original new wave band.” The next day we get a call from this kid from Opoho, a middle-class area on another hill on the opposite side of the city. Fraser Batts. He was a fourth former. He said he played guitar and that his older brother was the singer in The Same, a similarly inclined mob from Logan Park High School. We’d barely heard of them, but we arranged a meeting for the next day anyway.
I suppose it was almost historic. Various members of The Same floated around the Batts’ parents’ living room asking us about music we’d never heard of. The Stooges? The New York Dolls? They were amazed at the safety pins in my jeans, and we were equally amazed that there was this whole other pocket of kids on exactly the same trip. We jammed and Fraser’s mastery of the bar chord seemed positively virtuosic after Gavin’s tuneless f(l)ailings. Only problem was he’d promised his mate Jonathon from across the road that he’d form a band with him. So Fraser joined Bored Games on the condition that Jonathon came as well. The latter possessed a similar mastery of the bar chord, as well as his own amp, so there never was any problem – it made our sound bigger.
He was a quiet lad that Jonathon Moore, all soft-spoken and sensible – a low-key counterpoint to the Batts boy’s outgoingness and confidence. But he slotted in straight away and would always hold his own.
That was the beginning really. Two tribes from opposite sides of the city interlocked, bringing together the 20 or so kids who made up the town’s original young punk scene. By this point, The Enemy had left for Auckland – along with the original Clean – and assumed a shape of mythic proportions.
Meantime we virtually married into The Same’s scene, attending each other’s practices, stealing each other’s girlfriends, sharing cheap liquor in the town’s churchyards or silly midnight dashes through the Northern Cemetery – graffiti-ing our band names on dairy walls…
The next couple of years were fraught with danger: several of us endured beatings down dark alleyways.
By this stage, we’d also attracted the attentions of the city’s bogans and carboys who now had fresh targets after years of their more traditional scarfie bashing. The next couple of years were fraught with danger and several of us endured beatings down dark alleyways, or, less surreptitiously, in broad daylight on the central city streets. It got out of hand. Grown men would form gauntlets outside our dances and clock people as they came out. Some of the main offenders would emerge a few years later as boot boys and skins representing a whole new punk scene with a completely different ethic. But that’s another story.
With the band line-up complete, I really got into the songwriting. I’d found a one-string guitar and bashed away for hours in my room. Really it represented some kid of respite for my parents who had endured years of a horse racing game that involved flicking steels balls, loudly, through a plastic slot – the whole house asunder with this ceaseless clatter. Anything even vaguely musical must have been a relief.
Bored Games began building a set. Lesley would attend our practices and fiddle with the drums in-between the songs. She also became our number one supporter and made up earrings with the Bored Games logo, a safety pin through a dice. By the time of our debut, we had the makings of a good band. We were extremely young and had all the collective fuckyouness a bunch of 15-year-olds could possibly muster. Plus we played our own songs. Punk was the perfect form because all we had was the bar chord, two or three notes to choose from, and an attitude that took care of the rest. Jeff was a fine drummer and we became good and tight. By this stage, our musical influences had spread to include The Buzzcocks, The Saints, The Stooges, The Ramones, The Damned and the Pistols. AK79 came out and we loved The Scavengers’ tracks and would later cover Proud Scum’s ‘I Am A Rabbit’ (tho’ the latter’s finest moment remains ‘Suicide 2’ – the drum sound!). ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’ by Suburban Reptiles – that’s still a classic. We’d cover The Damned’s ‘New Rose’, and we’d always do ‘Mysterex’ at practice. It was one of the first riffs I learnt. We must’ve had a dozen and a half originals.
By this stage, we’d also started frequenting Roy Colbert’s 2nd hand record store in Stuart Street. Little and bespectacled, he was like some kind of musical guru who, impressively, counted The Enemy as personal friends. This was crucial compensation for his thoroughly unpunk beard. Roy would give me tapes of The Enemy playing live at the Beneficiaries Hall, which I’d listen to religiously, over and over. One of the tapes got chewed up and played backwards but I’d still run through it pilfering chords and vocal ideas. Their songs sounded even heavier and more alien that way. We began covering ‘Pull Down The Shades’, and would perform it later, supporting Toy Love, announcing the song as our own and totally whipping their arse with a version far slower and much more like how The Enemy played it in all its original 10 verse glory. (Years later Chris Knox would cover one of my tracks for the Under The Influence compilation, and claim it as payback!)
Our debut at the talent quest. We played five songs and mostly confused the auditorium chockablock with mums and dads. I ripped up my sister’s teddy bear (in best older brother fashion) and David Rathbone walked out. My mum came along tho’, and thought it really rocked. Our performance stirred up some kind of controversy and there were letters to the school newspaper complaining about Rathbone’s attitude as well as the more predictable tirades against punks and their awful music.
Our second gig was the aforementioned Toy Love support at the Concert Chambers. They thought we were hilarious and congratulated us for being cynics while barely out of nappies. But it was still a buzz supporting our heroes.
We became aware of other young high school bands around the town mining similar territory. There was The Drones from Logan Park who weren’t that good but their guitarist was rumoured to be Gene Pitney’s illegitimate son, and would later find some semblance of local fame in heavy metal band Stormbringer. Then there was Static from Otago Boys High School. They were slick and mainly played covers so I was right up for it when I eventually stumbled across their singer at some nighttime Telethon event at our high school. Carey Hibbert. He would make his nose bleed when performing and was smart and funny. I thought he was okay even though we couldn’t stand the idea of their Kinks covers. The sixties were so hippy and in our world, out of bounds.
We began organising our own gigs. Suburban community halls – 200 or 300 people would turn out. Real young kids – somehow they’d cottoned on. There was violence. You'd see the dancefloor spin into chaos as some fuckwit came wading in. Sometimes we’d stay on stage way after the lights had come on to avoid the bodgies hovering by the door.
We began rehearsing in the basement of a flat in London Street where some older kids lived. It became punk HQ. The tenants ran a clothing store upstairs and they all wished they were English. Once The Gordons turned up and played in their backyard. That’s the place where we’d practise and party and make out. That’s where I first met The Clean. They’d just arrived back from Auckland and Peter Gutteridge had the coolest stars and stripes belt you ever did see.
We didn’t bother telling Lip Service we weren’t turning up because they were from Auckland and besides, they looked old.
Eventually, we’d start doing shows with them at the Coronation Hall in Māori Hill. Still, getting gigs stayed a problem. We were too young to play the pubs, and besides, Fraser’s Dad wouldn’t allow it. Once we were offered a pub support with Lip Service but Mr Batts said no.
We didn’t bother telling Lip Service we weren’t turning up because they were from Auckland and besides, they looked old. We thought they were probably fakes. The Knobz came and played a lunchtime concert at school. They covered The Members’ ‘Solitary Confinement’ and dedicated it to Bored Games but we were unmoved. We thought The Knobz were fakez as well.
Afterwards my next-door neighbour, Paul Starling, would plaster “Knobz wank Dogz” posters all over the city.
Getting paid was a problem as well. In our two and a half years together Bored Games played 24 gigs and got paid maybe three times. People took advantage. Our third highest pay day was two dollars each and a half dozen bottles of beer from the hippies at the State Theatre. Three or four hundred people had been at the gig. Never trust a hippy.
Our sole appearance in a hotel came in a heat of the Battle of the Bands. The Shoreline in South Dunedin. We were up against some pub rock band and the event was decided on audience vote. We won and the other band couldn’t believe they’d been upstaged by these little shits who could hardly even play. Their guitarist wanted to beat me up. He said he was a professional musician and had played in the North Island. Even though we won our heat we weren’t invited back – something about a weird quirk in the voting system.
By 1980, we had about 20 songs. There were ill-fated recording attempts. It felt weird all the music being separated like that. One session this blind guy brought up his 4-track to record us at the Batts house. Mr Batts came in and asked the guy if he needed more light. The recordings weren’t a success. There were demos done at the folk club in Carroll St. but I can’t remember what happened to them. Maybe we did them for Mike Chunn. He was running a label for CBS in Auckland and wanted to sign a young band. He asked us for a demo but never bothered replying after we sent him the tape. He ended up signing Dance Exponents instead.
By 1980/ 81, the music around us was changing. We played gigs with The Clean and they were taking their sound somewhere else altogether – more psychedelic and sprawling. David Kilgour’s guitar in shards around cavernous wooden halls. The Same had split up and Martin Phillipps began playing with Peter Gutteridge. The Chills. They were different too. Songwriterly. Sixties, but still with an edge.
Wayne was getting tired of Bored Games’ more traditional power pop. He told me he wanted to do something like The Clean and left to form The Stones with Jeff Batts and Graham Anderson, his next-door neighbour (we all played with our neighbours). Their records aren’t that great but ask anyone who was there and they’ll tell you The Stones were one of the best live bands you could see.
We brought in Terry Moore to play bass. At 19, he was definitely the old man of the band. He was an excellent player and probably made us more... erm... professional. He debuted with us at our second triumphant appearance at the KVHS talent quest. Dave Rathbone walked out, but we still won and got a hundred dollars. One of the judges was my English teacher and I’m sure she accredited me cos she liked the words to ‘Happy Endings’.
By this stage, we were doing the tunes that would eventually end up on our posthumous EP. ‘Joe 90’ was inspired by this kid in the year behind us at school. He looked just like Joe 90. We’d always say “Gidday Joe” or “yes Dad” when we walked past him in the schoolyard, but he’d just laugh.
The Who Killed Colonel Mustard EP was recorded a year after we broke up. Flying Nun Records had just started and there hadn’t been anything like that when we’d been around. It’s good to have the document but I always thought the record was slicker and more new wave than Bored Games had really been. It was produced by this guy who’d been a transvestite. A week out from an operation to have the chop, he reneged, turned to God and got married. He was pretty Christian by the time he got to us but he liked the tunes and we made the record in a matter of hours.
1981, however, and Bored Games were pretty much on their last legs. Washed up at 17. Like I say – the music was changing. I suppose it was the beginning of the – shudder – Dunedin Sound. The thing was there were all these kids still in their teens who’d been writing their own songs for three or four years. The punk ethos meant anyone could do it and a lot of people did. We were in a world unto ourselves and the scene just fermented and intensified within itself. First everyone wanted to be The Enemy or Toy Love. Now they wanted to be The Clean.
1982. The back cover of the Who Killed Colonel Mustard EP has some allusion to Martin Phillipps weaseling his way into band affairs. That’s pretty much what happened. Bored Games fell to bits when Terry and Fraser were recruited as The Chills’ bassist and keyboardist respectively. I couldn’t blame them. There was something new happening. I’d retire to my bedroom and start learning guitar on an Alron 35 watt amp with the best sustain. I think I practised feedback for six months before I got onto any actual chords. Eventually, Wayne and I would go full circle and form The Doublehappys.
Still there was time for Bored Games final gig. The Roxy Roller skating rink – us playing in the middle as skaters fell about all around us. My eight-year-old sister sung the chorus to ‘Pull Down The Shades’ with me. We were given two hundred dollars. It was our biggest ever payday.