Through 1981 and 1982 they placed a string of vibrant indie EPs and singles in the New Zealand Top 20. The keyboard-driven classic ‘Beatnik’ from their second EP Great Sounds Great... rose as high as No.4, aided by heavy touring and a witty video set in a bohemian coffee bar.
Hamish and David Kilgour, The Clean’s constants, had been playing and writing music together in Dunedin since 1978, building up a fat songbook of primitive punk, minimalist pop, infectious folk rock and adventurous psychedelic instrumentals. Their sound was built around David Kilgour’s off-centre, 1960s-influenced guitar, Hamish’s motorik drumming and melodic driving bass, first from Peter Gutteridge then Robert Scott.
After a thin scattering of South Island shows, The Clean followed The Enemy to Auckland in 1979, a stay beset by unsettled line-ups. Back in Dunedin in late 1980, the Kilgours picked up Robert Scott on bass, completing the group’s classic line-up. Having gained a good national following in 1981, they recorded ‘Tally Ho’, their first Top 20 hit for Flying Nun Records and toured constantly until their breakup in late 1982.
Even with the group in abeyance (possibly permanently), releases stuffed with infectious songs kept coming. The Odditties compilation tape of unreleased material appeared in July 1983, followed by a live EP Live Dead Clean in 1986, and a greatest hits collection called Compilation and second Odditties tape in 1988.
The group reformed for live shows in London the same year, prompting an album deal with distinguished British indie Rough Trade Records.
It was the first of many successful reunion tours through New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Great Britain and North America.
The Clean toured New Zealand and the United States in 1989, and Great Britain and Europe the following year, to promote their new album Vehicle. It was the first of many successful reunion tours through New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Great Britain and North America. Studio and live albums followed in the 1990s and 2000s.
Fresh interest awakened in the United States in 2003 on the back of the double CD compilation Anthology for prominent indie Merge Records, building on an international reputation enhanced with respect given by prominent 1990s indie groups including Pavement and Yo La Tengo. The Clean continue to release records (Mister Pop in 2009) on American and New Zealand labels and they toured the USA as recently as 2012 and 2014.
Part One of the extended The Clean story (1978-88) can be found here.
Part Two of the extended The Clean story (1989-2014) can be found here.
Hamish Kilgour has a group called The Mad Scene with his wife Lisa Seigel in New York. They have released several albums.
Robert Scott is a key member and songwriter for the long-lived South Island folk rock group The Bats.