“A lot of people in town are saying that Saturday Night is dead,” writes Mark Phillips in this feature from November 1980. After a flurry of band activity in the past three years, the Auckland scene seemed a bit quiet – or was it? In 1980 Rip It Up published two issues of Rip It Up Extra which offered, for 75 cents, a similar tabloid newspaper but with longer features and larger photos. For the second and final issue of Extra a team of Rip It Up contributors went out on the weekend of November 14 and 15 to report on the state of the Auckland band scene.
With Extra 2 due, the editor asked himself, what will we do? Six pages on next weekend in Auckland seemed like a good idea.
The staff of one asked, “what’s special about next weekend?”
“Nuthin’,” said the editor.
But after a few phone calls it became clear that playing the inner-city venues were new bands – not new as in garage – Pop Mechanix and Techtones who have just released singles, Penknife Glides and Newmatics who both confidently strut new songs, their own. Also encountered were Blam Blam Blam, Furys (‘Auckland Fun’ 45 in January) and others.
Those who did put biro to pad were Mark Phillips (Techtones, Penknife Glides and Newmatics), Simon Grigg (The Reggae Club), Karen Stevens (Pop Mechanix) and Dave McLean (the Furys – well you couldn’t expect RIU to go to Waiuku, could you?). – Murray Cammick
The Reggae Club
About 11 on a weekend night, the pubs start to spill out (usually into the arms of our ever-efficient police force) and the clubs fill. Tonight is fairly typical. On our way to the Reggae Club, we pass the Victoria Hotel, where the Task Force are busy harassing and arresting.
Many of those who escape the long arm head 200 metres up Victoria St to the Reggae Club. The club is one of the city’s newest venues, and one of its most adventurous. It’s not an easy place to find, its entrance a small door leading to a flight of stairs policed by a couple of guys who definitely aren’t there for the music, and an ex-champion boxer. The place itself resembles the old Rock HQ in Upper Queen St, both in layout and in feel. A word of warning, beware of fleas in the couches.
The Newmatics are impossible to watch, through a combination of a very low stage and a crowded dance floor. That’s because they are the sort of band which seems to drag all and sundry onto the dance floor, including singer Mark Clare.
The Newmatics, I suspect, are a little drunk tonight (later confirmed by guitarist Sid), but that’s all right because their music has that sort of feel anyway. Despite the alcohol, the band’s experience is now showing and they are a lot tighter than they were a couple of months back.
God knows who looks after the club’s records, because every track played in the break (predictably, UB40 and Marley) sticks or jumps.
Unfortunately, the Newmatics’ crowd leaves after their set, and misses Blam Blam Blam. That’s their loss. Blam Blam Blam are one of the most proficient and original bands in Auckland, but are victims of ignorant snobbery, on the assumption that anything that is not first given the thumbs up by the English music press is not chic.
Blam Blam Blam’s music is very rhythmic and danceable, but you’d have problems if you wanted to pigeonhole it. Over all, I think they would benefit from a vocalist who doesn’t have to concentrate on playing what is rather complex music. – Simon Grigg
The Herco Pilots
After three hours of rather restless sleep, the electronic bleep of the alarm signals it is time for Saturday’s awakening. Bright and sunny (just the weather, not me) at 10am, trying to give the brain cells the message that it’s time to get going.
Into the office to discover that two cups of coffee make no impression. Several phone calls later, and in trots Mr $3 haircut, Harry Ratbag.
“We’re on our first tour. We just played Newmarket, and now we’re off to the Domain.” His band, the Herco Pilots, have hired a portable generator. Armed with a notebook and a Steinlager, I tag along.
Upon arrival it becomes clear that something is wrong, drummer Steve has not turned up. “Never mind,” say Harry and Chris, “Pete can play drums.”
Four scooter-loads of mods check things out, and the Herco Pilots do three numbers, stop, and announce that “Pete can’t really play the drums – he doesn’t know the songs.” So off they go in search of Steve, who soon arrives, pursued by the “grimmer twins”.
Set Two begins, this time blessed with in-time drumming, and an audience starring Andrew Snoid, Karel von Bergen and Sid from the Newmatics.
Several songs and Steinies later, the editor shows up. It’s 3.30, and time for the Techtones interview. I head for the office, and the Herco Pilots move on to gig number three in Shore Road.
This weekend, the Techtones are playing at the Reverb Room, once known as Liberty Stage. A long history of trouble caused permanent closure, and the night of the Features farewell gig, the prospects of it ever reopening seemed pretty slim.
Chris Parr to the rescue.
The Penknife Glides’ manager somehow talked the management into letting him reopen the place. Propeller Records artists the Techtones are the second act to play there. I am speaking to Steve Roach and Jimmy Juricevich about their news, views, blues and venues.
How is it, playing at the Reverb Room?
“Enjoyable,” says Jimmy. “It’s got a good atmosphere, although the wallpaper’s not the best. We got a good reaction. On a crowd rating from shit to shit hot, they were the latter.”
“There’s no beer on tap,” comments Steve.
The question that has to be asked is, do they think it has shrugged off the problems that plagued Liberty Stage?
“Not yet,” says Steve, “almost, but it’s not trendy yet like the Rumba Bar. Because we opened the Rumba Bar, it has a home-type feeling, the Reverb Room isn’t so intimate.” Both agree that the Rumba Bar is where the Techtones like playing most.
Just recently released by Propeller is a Techtones single, ‘That Girl’. It was recorded at Harlequin Studios on their now superseded 8-track equipment. Nevertheless, it has a surprisingly meaty sound. Jimmy, the song’s composer, seems happy with the production. “There are always things you could have done, but we got it down as well as we had hoped. You can go on forever, remixing, but it would really only be a waste of money.”
On the flip is a Steve Roach instrumental, ‘The Silencer’. It’s extremely catchy and comparisons have been made with the Shadows. “I’ve got to acknowledge the influence,” says Steve, “but I don’t think it’s blatant. It’s really just the sound, not the overall structure.”
Jimmy thinks I’m maybe a bit unfair. “A lot of bands deliberately tailor their sound to suit a particular scene. I think we are one of the most original bands in town.”
The Techtones’ sound could perhaps be summarised as sharp, melodic pop with a hint of sixties feel.
“It’s quite different live,” says Jimmy, “we tend to get more energy across, making the music more intense.”
The band doesn’t have much time for those who see the Auckland scene as dead. “I think there are a lot of good bands around,” says Jim. “There’s plenty of variation too,” he adds.
Steve considers the local scene to be totally different from Sydney. “Over there, you have lots of venues in the suburbs. The bands have to vary their act according to where they play. It usually has to be toned down when they play outside of the central city.”
“Here, there are so many new bands. It’s good to see the dinosaurs dying.”
Perhaps because of the sixties feel, the Techtones’ audience is quite diverse. “A real cross-section,” comments Steve, “from teenagers to people in their thirties. I think it’s because people like to dance, and we are basically a dance band. The last thing we want to be is a cult.”
The Way We See It
Time for a quick sandwich, and then off to XS, where Penknife Glides are running through a soundcheck.
Obvious first step is a photo session, so we glide across the road with the four Penknives to a nearby carpark. Vocalist Steven Gravelle decides he has a good idea for a visual effect and hangs upside down from a railing with his head swinging six feet from the ground. Jules Mahony, Stefan Morris and Steven’s brother Cliff manage to dissuade him and the session proceeds.
Next step is back to the club for the interview. Somehow we find ourselves seated around a table with the words “Glides – F--ked Mods” scratched into it. A quick burst of laughter and the interview begins.
For all the amusement, though, mod is not a tag they welcome. Steven defends himself from the charge by saying, “I dress in suits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a mod. Elvis Costello wears suits and ties, and he isn’t a mod.”
“You’re too old to be a mod,” jokes Cliff.
Jules is less jovial. “It’s all just stupid labels. A couple of years ago, if you wore sandshoes, straight jeans and had a short haircut, you got labelled punk.”
Cliff feels that dress is not important and the music is the deciding factor. “We get lots of kids who are into being mod coming to our gigs. They identify with us because of the way we are. We aren’t about to say to them, ‘We’re not mods, so f--k off!’”
Penknife Glides are one of the few local bands that don’t deal through an agency but still manage to get gigs. Has it been difficult?
“Yes,” says Jules. “Our attitude was that, if you go to an agency, they will throw you in as a support band somewhere down the line. So we decided to get our audience by doing things ourselves and letting the audiences come to us.”
Cliff adds, “Charley Gray is now offering us the Rumba Bar whenever we want it. When we first went to him and played him our tapes, he didn’t want to know.”
For all that, things are still not easy, and the band are glad they have all got part-time jobs. “If it wasn’t for that, says Stefan, “we wouldn’t be able to eat.”
When the band began, the intention was to perform solely original material, and they have stuck to this. Is it that much harder to do it this way?
“Definitely,” says Steve. “But only at the start. Once they have heard the songs a few times they become more receptive. We are getting to the stage now where people yell out requests for certain tunes. It’s nice to know we’re not living on somebody else’s fame.”
Stefan has his own theory on the order of things. “That old New Zealand myth of playing covers then gradually slotting in the originals may work sometimes, but it has serious drawbacks. By the time you’re actually playing all originals, you’re usually burnt out.”
The lyrics in Penknife Glides’ songs have social and sometimes political content. Steven says, “If you’ve got something to say, why not say it yourself, instead of through someone else’s songs? Our songs are the world the way we see it.”
Currently under negotiation at Mascot is a deal that the band hope will give them a chance to record a single before Christmas. Eight tracks have been demoed, but the choice of a song is taking time. “We’d like to get a song out that’s representative of the band, rather than one that’s simply catchy,” says Cliff. “At the moment the two most likely are ‘Laugh and Cry’ and ‘Taking the Weight Off’.”
The dinner-time Big Mac doesn’t turn out to be such a good idea, and in desperate search of a drink, I head for the Rumba Bar. Main band for the evening is the Pop Mx, but I’m here for a glimpse of support band, the Newmatics.
As they take the stage, the boot girls begin their usual round of heckling. Newmatics’ vocalist Mark Clare hands it right back.
Earlier in the day, Stefan Morris from Penknife Glides had said something about how unfairly Joe Public judges new bands. “After all,” he said, “most of those bands don’t have the benefit of sound mixing.” Tonight, the Newmatics have the services of the Pop Mx desk and mixing person, and what a difference it makes.
Two skinheads dance to the strangest version of ‘Get It On’. I look at my watch – quarter to nine, time to go to the Reverb Room.
Stay-at-home Reverb Room
Jimmy had said it was like boarding an aircraft carrier, and he was right. To get to the room you have to walk up a flight of stairs in full view of the public bar. As usual, my timing is way out. Who Slapped John are just in the process of leaving the stage, and another chance to see this new trio is lost.
A quick can of Four X, and the Techtones launch into their first set. The sound is loud and beaty, and the dance floor quickly fills. Though the crowd is small, the bar lacks nothing in atmosphere. Jimmy was right about the wallpaper, however – very bland.
During the break, Peter and I discuss how good the band is looking and sounding. “Wait until we turn our laser on,” he laughs, walking back to the stage.
The second set surpasses the first. By the time ‘That Girl’ finishes the evening, ninety per cent of the audience are bopping about, including the barmen. Being one of those unfortunates without a car, I put my feet into top, and race down to XS.
I’m ready for the usual sardine crush, but I’m a little disappointed. Although the place is by no means empty, the stand-on-one-spot rule is not in force this evening.
Penknife Glides are going through their paces. Looking extremely sharp, they are out-dressed only by a handful of young mods posing by the stage. By now, the pubs are well and truly closed, and trickles of the skinhead fraternity are appearing in the corners. The band play on, and the booted ones join in the dance.
PKG’s songs are gaining strength with every gig. ‘Anticipation’, ‘Money to Burn’ and ‘Taking the Weight Off’ all leave lasting impressions in my now slightly dazed head.
A lot of people in town are saying that Saturday Night is dead. A city is only as dead as the people who live in it, and plenty of Aucklanders have already lain down and died. So, next weekend when you are watching Buck Rogers on your 26” colour telly, why not think about going to see a band?
You never know – you might enjoy it. – Mark Phillips
Pop Mechanix at the Rumba Bar
The Rumba Bar in recent weeks has become one of Auckland’s top venues and one of Auckland’s top bands, Pop Mechanix, celebrated the release of their second single by breaking the door record there on Friday night. The following night three members, frontman Andrew Snoid, guitarist Paul Mason and bass player Paul Scott gave a pre-gig interview at Rip It Up.
Obvious first question, how is the new line-up working out? Paul Scott is enthusiastic: “Brilliantly, we’ve established a direction.” Andrew agrees: “A change as drastic as a new frontman could either break the whole thing apart or get everyone to pull together, and this is what we’ve tried to do.”
Paul feels that the songwriting has improved with the new line up, “Whereas previously it was basically myself, Paul Mason and Chris Moore who were responsible for writing songs, now Andrew is like a second link in the chain, mostly he changes the words, but a lot of things get refined, it’s more suited to Andrew’s singing because he’s taking the words and making them his own.”
Andrew explains, “I think that it’s the singer’s responsibility to make sure he’s happy with what he’s singing, otherwise you can’t commit yourself to it. When I first joined, Paul and I got together every morning and compared notes, but now we’re gigging, obviously that has had to change.”
Discussing the new single ‘Ritz’, Andrew says “Mike [manager Mike Chunn] produced it, Ian Morris engineered it and we originally recorded at Stebbings, then we took it to Mandrill, where it was remixed.”
Pop Mechanix are now based in Auckland but immediate plans include a trip to Christchurch for ‘Heatrave’, Sweetwaters, and a one-week “gig-a-nite” North Island tour with The Crocodiles, commencing on December 14.
Having one overseas support under their belt already, Pop Mechanix found themselves supporting the Motels. Paul Scott describes it as “A very pleasant experience.”
It was better for you than Magazine then?
Paul Mason answers, “Yeah, well everyone has to stand up at Logan Campbell which gave us a much better start.”
Paul Scott describes the concert atmosphere, “It’s so big, and because of all the pressure and organisation you go out there, take a deep breath and go, and you don’t get a chance to think about anything until about the fifth song and then you realise you’re going down really well.”
Andrew adds, “We came out of it delighted that people had enjoyed it so much. We had a hell of a good time, which is why you first want to be in a band. To have that happen is really wonderful.”
Things have been going well then?
“Last night was fantastic, Thursday at the Station was good too. We’ve been working six days a week, so we’re going to have a break of three or four days to get some new songs together and practice. I’d really like the chance to see another band. It’s so difficult for young bands to get gigs now. The Newmatics and Screaming Meemees are prime examples, I can’t see any reason why they aren’t headlining their own gigs. It’s great to have them supporting us but they shouldn’t have to.”
Pop Mechanix don’t see themselves as following any particular style. Paul Scott feels that they take what they like out of any style; Paul Mason adds, “We don’t care who comes to our gigs – as long as they have a good time.”
Andrew sums up: “We’re just Pop Mechanix – this is it.”
It’s time to leave for the Rumba Bar. This is Pop Mechanix’s fourth weekend there, and it’s packed. Boots, mods, punks, trendies, it seems like everybody’s there. The temperature resembles a sauna – maybe they sell more drinks that way.
Pop Mechanix give us their all as usual. In fact, Andrew becomes so engrossed in his leap, step, kick routine that he kicks the lead out from Paul’s bass, bringing the first set to an untimely end.
Pop Mechanix are lucky with their frontman Andrew Snoid, who retains that touch of credibility that is essential if they are to remain at the height of popularity for any length of time. Without him they would be walking a very thin line.
The second set begins with an instrumental, ‘Cowboys’ (to set the mood?), followed by ‘Now’ which instantly packs the dance floor. Technical gremlins strike again towards the end when the monitor system gives up totally, but this causes more hassles for the band than the audience. The side of their first single, ‘Radio Song’, was to finish this set but a stomping demanding audience brings them back for an encore. – Karen Stevens
How do you detail another loser day in the loser life of an itinerant rock’n’roll band? The weekend of 14/15 November begins with the usual hassles: no microphones for hire, the soundman in New Plymouth, and not expected up this weekend, the bass player sick in bed and not sure he’ll be able to play out the night. But everything seems to be going according to plan until we start off down the motorway at 3.30pm and discover that the truck (hired) will only just manage a walking pace.
“This’ll be cutting it fine,” says the guitar player, with typical genius and perception.
“Yeah,” says I (more booze-befuddled-mutterings). “I don’t think we’ll be able to pick up the bass bins for the PA and get to Pukekohe in time to play.”
“So it’s decision time again, is it? “, says Rob (the guitar player).
“Yep. Do we go out and pick up the bass bins and not play, or do we leave the bins, carry on out, and hope for the best?”
The debate rages for what seems like hours, and it is only the fact that, by the time we arrive at a solution, we are off the motorway, and headed for the DB Paerata.
“Well,” says Rob, about 90 minutes later, “this appears to be the place.”
“Well done, mate”, I quip. “You seem to have a talent for finding places on the main road, with signs that are no more than 10 feet high …”
When I’ve finished unloading the gear single-handed, ’cos Rob’s not talking to me, and Steve, the drummer, who has travelled all the way in the back, just happens to be buried under the last piece of equipment that I unpack, it’s time to look for somewhere to hang the lights. Rob’s job, and damn well he does it, too. There’s only the small matter of replacing half of the pub’s roof – and, at 7.30, we’re all set up and ready to go. 7.45, and Simon, the infamous sickly bass player, crawls in and informs us that if we place him onstage, on a bar stool, he should just about manage to last the night. So it’s 8.00, and we’re off!
The crowd, whilst not huge, are, in the main, enjoying themselves, drinking with a vengeance, dancing from the second set, and even buying the band an occasional beer (well, I got one, anyway). The night ends on a typical note, for the Furys: the bass player spends half an hour in the toilet, being sick. If it’s not one of us, it’s another …
Saturday finds Rob, Simon – who’s feeling much better after the old Jewish mother’s remedy of chicken soup – and I heading off to the Westward Ho! to indulge in a spot of “audience participation”: drinking. The weather’s reasonable, the beer’s good, and the audience bloody grand, but after a small meal (I had wine), it’s back in the truck, and “Set the controls for potato country, driver, and don’t spare the horses.”
“Bloody place is packed,” Simon screams, when we arrive at 7.15.
“Great!”, we all yell (we were in high spirits).
Imagine our surprise when we discover that all the patrons in the bar have been there since time immemorial (well, early that afternoon anyway), and that the management is in the process of kicking them all out, in the hope that they won’t take affront, and refuse to pay their money to come back in. Of course, by the time the bar is cleaned up, and the band tuned up, most of them have found solace in drink in the public bar, and quite bloody right, too. You can’t expect a man to wait forever for another beer. So (singing) “It’s Saturday night, and we ain’t got nobody” (with thanks to Sam Cooke) it’s time to pack the gear in the truck, pick up the money, laugh like hell about how we’re gonna survive through the next week, and go our separate ways – Steve off to some mysterious rendezvous, Rob to one of his weird parties, Simon off to bed (very mysterious!), and me off to my own version of oblivion.
And that, kiddies, is a weekend at the DB Paerata. It’s only later that we discover another happening in Auckland’s ever-fun rock’n’roll world that weekend: John No-One, of Terrorways’ fame, getting senselessly bashed over the back of the head with a hunk of 4 x 2. No wonder he didn’t make it out to the pub to watch us play.
Auckland Fun: Don’t try to reason or figure it out. – Dave McLean
On Sunday the Newmatics are hard at work in their practice rooms. Nothing unusual in that, you could say, except for the fact that the band has just played five gigs in two days. We drop in for some audiovisuals and, later in the week, some extra soundtrack.
It has only been a matter of months since the Newmatics first started pumping life into a tired Auckland. How did the band begin?
“Well,” says Mark Clare, the band’s vocalist, “in the beginning, there was just Sid and myself. We wrote some songs and starting toying with the idea of a band. The biggest problem at that stage was getting the right people. It wasn’t just a question of compatibility, we wanted guys with plenty of drive. By the time we were up to a four-piece, we were practising four or five times a week. Then we played our first gig at Elam Art School. After that we added Simon on sax, and Ben came in on drums.”
After seeing the Newmatics a few times, it becomes evident that saxophonist Simon doesn’t play on every song. I asked Mark why this was.
“We still play some of our early songs. They were written before the addition of the sax, and they have a different feel. The introduction of the saxophone has given us something new to work with on the writing. It has helped give us new directions that previously we couldn’t have pursued.”
Many of the new bands in Britain contain seven or eight members. Do the Newmatics have plans to bolster their numbers?
“We have talked about a keyboard player. If we could find someone suitable, it’s a definite possibility. It’s always nice to have new sounds to play with when you’re writing.”
If there is one area of music that local groups have come to grips with in the last year, it’s songwriting. The Newmatics are among the most prolific. “We go through spates of writing. It’s sometimes hard because we all have fulltime jobs. Occasionally, we will write three or four songs in a week, but then go through three weeks of none at all. At the moment, we have about 20 that we use. Most of them start with Sid presenting us with a riff that we all build on. I usually come up with the words.”
It isn’t easy to get the Newmatics to talk about their influences. Mark is no exception, when the subject arises, he is brief and to the point. “Every song is different. There is some rock and roll in there, but it’s all definitely our own work. I couldn’t really begin to define it because we cover so many areas.”
Probably because of their day jobs, the Newmatics are in no hurry to tour. “Originally, we thought we’d like to tour in January, but since then, we have decided to stay in Auckland. Hopefully, we will build up a following. Our audience is reasonably young, which in a way is good because these people lack inhibition. It also means that we will continue to play XS and Reggae Club as well as doing pubs. We would like to do a single soon. If we do, we may go on tour after that.”
As the Newmatics continue to change, so does the growing local band scene. I have always been one to stick my neck out, but this time I’m taking no risks in saying that by this time next year, the Newmatics will be the biggest thing since those buggers with the funny hair-cuts put Te Awamutu on the map.
Youth & Science
Sunday is demo day at Harlequin, with two bands racing to complete tapes for this year’s crop of compilation albums.
First onto the shag-pile are new group, Youth For A Price, adding vocals and effects and mixing down their eight-track tape. Before the first note, three rhythm tracks from last week’s six-song session are rejected, and work begins on the rest.
Perhaps because of a desire to get on with it, or perhaps because everything is going well, most of the recording is on first or second takes and after little more than an hour and a half, the mixing begins.
Everyone who doubts the stories about the boredom and frustrations of recording studios ought to watch this. It takes four hours to mix three songs with no big hitches or disagreements – just a lot of fiddling about. At the end, Youth For A Price has three demos, and a track on Propeller’s Class Of 81. The bills are paid and the band goes home with one cassette to show for all the work.
Next up are Top Scientists, already established, and aiming for a slot on Haruaki’s Home Grown album. Their song is already chosen, but they want to have one last go at it.
Vocalist Rick Bryant takes the vocal again for ‘Third World War’, over a backing track put down months before. Once this has been agreed on, they, too, settle down to a long stint of mixing. The band have been listening to the original version of the song for months, and still the fine adjustments take the best part of a couple of hours of false starts, dry runs and “one more time”.
Once again, the session finishes with a slightly hollow feeling as the Scientists leave the studio around midnight. Hauraki want the song, everyone feels a little more sick of it, and a bit more confident about it. – Mark Phillips