The defining release of the thriving Auckland punk scene of the late 70s, AK79, compiled by Auckland broadcasters Bryan Staff and John Doe, found only limited release in the year of its title, with wider availability not coming until early 1980.
As such AK79 was invaluable, both as a great record of bands that were largely otherwise unrecorded and as a document of a scene that had largely passed. Many of the bands that appeared on the album had either split or stylistically moved on by the time it was released, with the Auckland scene evolving into post-punk as the decade rolled over.
1993 saw a CD reissue of the original 12-track album expanded to 25 tracks, creating an audio document of an important – and now increasingly distant – explosion of bands and creativity in Auckland’s musical past.
The radical musical rupture and cultural reworking that went with it, which hit the Northern Hemisphere in 1976, filtered rather slowly down to New Zealand, through the fog of the country's state enforced isolation and the conservatism of the mainstream media. Television’s musical diet consisted of largely unwatchable family variety shows, the often embarrassingly (even then) dated Grunt Machine (which broadcast in 1975 and 1976) and chart show, Ready To Roll, which often featured the same stars found on the variety shows singing versions of the chart hits. The recording industry was moribund thanks to a fatal mix of a 40% sales tax on music, a brewery-controlled live circuit that demanded covers bands and few media outlets for music, with even the once cutting-edge Radio Hauraki no longer taking risks. Student radio was still stuck broadcasting in the campuses and, anyway, its diet of mid-70s prog rock was more or less New Zealand artist free.
Punk blew much of this out of the water, at least in inner city Auckland, where by mid-1978 dozens of bands, made up of kids flocking in from the grey sprawl, had formed to play to each other in whatever venue could be found.
Initially almost all these bands played covers – UK and US punk and pre-punk, and a mix of 60s garage and pop, all performed to the best of the often limited abilities of young musicians who just wanted to play.
By the end of 1978 this had started to change – bands were writing their own songs (it was no longer acceptable to stand on a stage and speed-copy The Ramones or The Damned). Enter AK79.
The original release
The album's history began in 1978 when Bryan Staff, a DJ on an Auckland commercial station, 1ZM, first started to show an interest in the new bands playing around the Auckland area.
The bands were, by mid-1978, centred on a new Auckland venue, Zwines, housed in a 120-year-old stone building off Auckland's Durham Lane. The building had a quite a history. It was – so the story went – Auckland's first jail, and in the 60s and early 70s, under a variety of names, it was a nightclub where some of the more legendary bands in Auckland's rock and roll history played (plus The Rolling Stones on tour). In the mid-1970s it was two clubs, Grandpa’s & Granny's, owned by – among others – Tommy Adderley.
However, by the end of 1977 it was largely derelict. In the early months of 1978 the upstairs room was – and the word should be applied very loosely – refurbished as Zwines, and it became Auckland's second dedicated punk venue (the first, Hugh Lynn's Diamond Dogs in Queen Street, was short lived).
Zwines became a focal point for the thriving scene, with The Scavengers playing there regularly and residencies being given to the first of the second generation punk bands, such as Rooter (soon to be The Terrorways).
In their wake there were countless bands formed – names like Get Smart, The Aliens, The Idle Idols, The Mucky Pups, The Rednecks, The Stimulators and so on. Some mutated into others, all crossbred with each other and the scene grew hugely. The fans were also the other bands.
Staff and Doe came up with the idea of asking bands to bring in tapes to the station they were working at – encouraging a few of these punk acts to record.
From there they took the concept one step further. They decided to compile an album of some of these acts, using whatever funds they could scrape together. Some acts provided their own recordings (such as The Swingers), some worked on Radio NZ downtime, some at Mascot Studios after Staff worked out a cheap rate there. The idea was that whatever return came from the album would go towards singles by the bands, and other acts in the scene.
To this end, Bryan Staff and John Doe formed a label, Ripper Records. However, Doe was soon posted to Christchurch by the NZBC, leaving the label and the album with Staff.
Over the next few months the album came together and a name – AK79 – and a sleeve, designed by Terence Hogan, was applied to it, with the now legendary image (of one of The Terrorways, Dean Martelli).
The only band who really didn't fit were The Swingers, led by Phil Judd, who made it on to the vinyl by virtue of the fact that they were now about to signed to Ripper, Staff having a long history with Phil Judd.
The stumbling block was, however, pressing and finding the funds to pay for 250 copies, now being requested by Terrence O’Neill-Joyce’s indie Ode Records, who had arranged the manufacture on Ripper’s behalf. Enter Auckland retailer Record Warehouse, whose co-owner Roger King agreed to take all 250 and pay Staff in advance for them. That payment allowed Staff to, if not cover all his costs, at least get the records in the store.
And so as the new decade turned, AK79 hit the shelves of Record Warehouse in Durham Lane, some 50 metres from Zwines.
And left the shelves – within a few days they were all gone. Two hundred and fifty more were pressed in early 1980 and sold to stores other than Record Warehouse, followed by another similar run a month or two later.
And that was it for a time, until Staff moved his label's distribution to CBS in late 1980. They repressed the album early in 1981, and even did a now very rare cassette edition. You can tell the CBS pressings by the copyright line at the bottom of the label – the first 750 didn't have it.
By the end of 1983, Ripper was no longer operating and the album was no longer available. Total sales were under 2000 copies.
Over the next few years AK79 became harder and harder to get, and the album gained an almost mythical status, selling for big bucks around the world.
The original AK79 was bracketed by two moments of raw brilliance that perfectly summed up the path punk had taken in Auckland since its first germ in 1977. The Scavengers, the Auckland punk pioneers, open with ‘Mysterex’, was a lyrically strident few minutes of vitriol aimed at the band’s former singer, Mike Lesbian, rushed off in a moment of anger by Johnny Volume when Lesbian left the band suddenly in the lurch on the brink of a recording contract in early 1978. Opening with a deceptive rhythmic patter, it quickly erupts into the bands’ trademark power-pop wall of guitar, ‘Mysterex’ both viciously waved goodbye to the former singer and welcomed the 17 year old bassist Ronnie Recent as his more than capable replacement. Decades on, it’s still an extraordinary work that has lost none of it brutal “fuck you”.
At the other end of the album sat the band that changed all the rules in the Auckland, and eventually, New Zealand punk and post-punk landscape. Where ‘Mysterex’ was melodically brutal, Toy Love's ‘Toy Love Song’ was taut and paced. It was deftly melodic, almost funky, driven by bursts of staccato guitar from Alec Bathgate that would not have been out of place in a Pere Ubu epic.
In between the pace of the album hardly falters, with The Terrorways and Proud Scum evoking the rock and roll irreverence and humour that was as much a part of the Queen City’s punk scene as was the omnipresent violence. And the violence – or at least a reaction to the threat – can be found in The Primmers’ ‘You’re Gonna Get Done’, with lyrics that sounded threatening and defiant but were penned by perhaps the least aggressive musical grouping in a scene where most of the musicians were rather more concerned with making music than getting into brawls. Perhaps more importantly, ‘You’re Gonna Get Done’ marked the first time reggae infused rock found its way onto record in New Zealand. Indeed, it may be the very first reggae influenced track by anyone recorded in the country.
That leaves The Swingers and it’s fair to say that much of the original market was perplexed by their inclusion and even now, many years on, they sound out of place, with their angular power pop perhaps a mainstream step too far away from the band they grew out of, the Suburban Reptiles.
However, for all that The Swingers added to the almost perfect pacing of AK79, something that made the album work as a body – as an album in its own right – and something we tried to maintain in the reissue.
The first reissue
About 1990, Bryan Staff passed all the Ripper masters to Flying Nun, but little was done with any of them immediately. Bryan also transferred on the rights to the album and the artwork to myself around the same time.
In 1992 I approached Roger Shepherd and suggested that perhaps we should look at a CD reissue of AK79, my concept being that we should use the opportunity to expand it – to turn one of the few releases from the NZ punk scene into a document of the time.
There was a little duplication with my Bigger Than Both of Us collection, but that too was out of print at the time. Unreleased tracks, plus some singles such as the Suburban Reptiles' debut ‘Megaton’, had never made it to LP or CD before. I spent the next few months tracking down masters and photos before we finalised a track listing.
I remastered the compilation (and mixed an unreleased Suburban Reptiles track, and that debut single, which now existed only on an unmixed 4-track) at Airforce Studios in 1993.
The whole thing was repackaged, around Terry's original artwork, by Andrew B White at Revolver, with extensive new liner notes from myself, Kerry Buchanan (the original drummer from Rooter), and Bryan Staff.
It was released in either late 1993 or early 1994 (I'm unsure which) and, as arguably the definitive work of the Auckland punk scene from 1977 to 1980, it has remained available since.
Musically quite brilliant in (many) places and truly iconic, AK79 is a tribute, not only to the often extraordinary and inspiring bands who played in the scene but also to the vision of Bryan Staff, without whom much of this music and history would have been lost.
The 1993 tracklisting
The Suburban Reptiles: ‘Megaton’ (original release Partisan Politik/ Vertigo 12" 6036 920, January 1978)
The first punk single released in NZ and the first 12-inch single released in NZ. Recorded September 1977 at the original Harlequin Studios, Mt Eden Rd. Produced by Doug Rogers (credited as Doug Harlequin) and Suburban Reptiles. Mixed for CD by Simon Grigg (the mixed master is missing).
This album was reissued digitally in 2015.
The Suburban Reptiles: ‘Coup D'Etat’ (previously unreleased)
Recorded September 1977 as a demo at Harlequin Studios, Auckland with Doug Rogers and Tim Finn, previously unreleased. Mixed in 1992 by Simon Grigg.
The Scavengers: ‘Routine’ (previously unreleased)
Recorded as a single with Mike Lesbian on vocals, January 1978. It was planned for issue on a Polydor 45 but never released.
The Scavengers: ‘Mysterex’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded at Mascot Studios, Auckland, mid-1978. Produced by the band.
The Terrorways: ‘Never Been To Borstal’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded at Mascot Studios, Auckland, early 1979. Produced by the band.
Proud Scum: ‘I Am A Rabbit’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded at Harlequin Studios, Auckland, late 1979. Produced by the band. The CD credit is incorrect. Alistair (Rabbit) Duguid wrote this, not Jonathan Jamrag.
The Scavengers: ‘True Love’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded as with ‘Mysterex’. It features drummer Des Truction on the talking bit.
Proud Scum: ‘Suicide’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded as with 'I Am A Rabbit', but written by John "Atrocity" Jenkins.
The Terrorways: ‘She's A Mod’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
The old Ray Columbus tune of course. A big stage favourite for the band. Recording details as ‘Never Been To Borstal’.
The Swingers: ‘Certain Sound’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Produced by Phil Judd and recorded mid 1979 at Mascot Studios.
The Primmers: ‘Funny Story’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded by the band at Harlequin Studios, April 1979.
Toy Love: ‘Squeeze’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Produced by the band at Mascot Studios, mid 1979.
The Swingers: ‘Baby’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recording as with ‘Certain Sound’.
The Primmers: ‘You're Gonna Get Done’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recording as with ‘Funny Story’. A story of Auckland street violence and of its time.
Toy Love: ‘The Toy Love Song’ (original release on AK79 vinyl, Ripper RPR1, December 1979)
Recorded at the same sessions as ‘Squeeze’.
Suburban Reptiles: ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’ (original release Vertigo 7" 6036 924, September 1978)
Their second single, recorded at Mandrill Studios, April/June 78. Produced by Phil Judd.
Proud Scum: ‘Suicide 2’ (original release on Ripper 7" RIP2, April 1980)
Produced at Mascot Studios late 1979 by Bryan Staff & Mike Chunn.
The Terrorways: ‘Short Haired Rock'n'roll’ (original release on Ripper 7" RIP2, April 1980)
Produced at Mascot Studios mid-1979 by Bryan Staff & the band.
The Features: ‘City Scenes’ (original release Propeller 7" REV 1, June 1980)
Produced April 1980 at Mascot Studios, by the band, Simon Alexander (uncredited on the single sleeve) and Steve Crane.
The Spelling Mistakes: ‘Feel So Good’ (original release Propeller 7" REV 2, June 1980)
Produced at Mascot, May 1980 by Fane Flaws.
Marching Girls: ‘First In Line’ (original NZ release on Propeller 7" REV4, August 1980)
The CD says this had UK release on Postcard – not true, it was the POP:AURAL label. Produced in Melbourne late 79 by the band.
Toy Love: ‘Frogs’ (previously unreleased in NZ)
Recorded at the same sessions as the above Toy Love tracks. The only prior release was on a US Bomp Records collection in 1980.
The Features: ‘Victim’ (original release Propeller 12" REV 6, December 1980)
Off their second single, recorded at the new Harlequin Studios, Albert Street, by the band with Simon Alexander.
The Spelling Mistakes: ‘Hate Me, Hate Me’ (original release Propeller 7" REV 2, June 1980)
Produced in May 1980 at Mascot Studios, by Barry Jenkin and The Spelling Mistakes.
Marching Girls: ‘True Love’ (original NZ release on Propeller 7" REV4, August 1980)
The 2008 reissue
To tie in with the 2008 Auckland Zwines reunion shows held in the same building that hosted the original club, organiser John Baker created a very limited edition double vinyl album of AK79, with 300 or so copies pressed.
This edition had the original 1979 album on disc one and added the following to disc two:
Suburban Reptiles: ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’ (the 1978 single)
The Scavengers: ‘Born To Bullshit’ (1978 demo)
The Spelling Mistakes: ‘Stingy’ (1979 demo)
The Spelling Mistakes: ‘Hate Me, Hate Me’ (1980 B-side)
Toy Love: ‘Sheep’ (1979 demo)
Proud Scum: ‘Suicide 2’ (the 1980 single, recorded in 1979)
Terrorways: ‘Short Haired Rock'n'Roll’ (the 1980 single, recorded in 1979)
Rooter: ‘Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight’ (1978, previously unreleased)
The Scavengers: ‘Mysterex’ (1978 demo)
The Enemy: ‘Pull Down The Shades’ (1978, previously unreleased)
The Primmers: ‘Police Wheels’ (1979, previously unreleased)
The Superettes: ‘Stage’ (1979 demo)
Toy Love: ‘1978’ (1979 demo)
Marching Girls: ‘First In Line’ (the 1980 single)
The Features: ‘Toilet’ (1980 album sessions, previously unreleased)
The Features: ‘Party’ (1980 single B-side)