In those days, you sometimes took your life into your hands just by going to your own gig. The Newmatics saw a few scary moments in their touring history – an all-out battle on the dance floor at Victoria University playing with the Blams and the Meemees, where local punks were out to prove they were as stanch as their cousins up north, springs to mind. But by far and away the most disturbing incident the band was witness to was at an early evening gig at Bryan Staff’s XS Cafe in Airedale Street in the early summer of 1980.
We had only played XS once before supporting The Features so we were bloody nervous and not too sure of our reception from the gathering crowd. We launched into our set of largely untried material and it was going well – the crowd seemed to be enjoying it – and even the staunchest of skinheads seemed to be in a relaxed mood. That was all to soon change however, when the room suddenly filled with blue uniforms that lined the walls.
"An all-out brawl quickly ensued while we stared at each other mid-song onstage, not believing what was happening directly in front of us."
Live music fans were well used to the police presence at gigs. They were largely looking to nab underage drinkers and make their presence felt – but there was something a little different about this. Standing singing on stage I could see what was coming through the doors. A double file of helmeted and long battened riot police made their way into the middle of the room from where they began to randomly harass anyone unfortunate enough to be in their way.
An all-out brawl quickly ensued while we stared at each other mid-song onstage, not believing what was happening directly in front of us. This was the first time any of us had seen a long baton and what a devastating weapon it was, especially being wielded by enthusiastic new recruits training for what was to be a much more serious battle in the year to come. If this was a training exercise on easy targets then it was very successful. Apparently someone had thrown a bottle outside at some Ds cruising by who took exception and called in the artillery. But whatever the reason, it was completely over the top and everyone was a bit shocked.
The 1981 Springbok Tour was looming, some six months away and tensions in the country were strained to say the least. At the next couple of band rehearsals we jammed and wrote ‘Riot Squad’ – probably the quickest and easiest song we wrote. By the time we had it recorded and released, the games were underway and we were on tour. The band was to find itself facing the Blue Shadow once again, this time at the infamous battle of Molesworth Street in Wellington.
Just off the ferry and knackered after six weeks all crammed into a Bedford van we were commandeered by our mate Jeff Void from Riot 111 (a marshal in the protest movement), who we spied running down Willis Street at breakneck speed. Before long we found ourselves with arms linked, facing the Red Squad and that long baton once more, this time for real, amidst the turmoil of a divided country.