When Simon Grigg returned to New Zealand in 1985, his musical tastes had changed. He had been submerged in London club culture and even though he planned to be involved in releasing records again, the founder of Propeller Records had spoken to PWL (Peter Waterman’s pop/dance label) about licensing rights for New Zealand. We got used to these indignities; even Rip It Up writer and Flying Nun believer Russell Brown returned from London wearing shorts, a changed man, preaching the gospel of acid house. Punk was not to be the soundtrack for the new party people.
“I arrived back in New Zealand with 300 12” singles and went up to see Peter Urlich and Mark Phillips at the Six Month Club and they said, ‘Oh, great you’re back. You’re DJing’. All of a sudden I was a DJ.”
The Six Month Club was in Phil Warren’s Ace of Clubs nightclub, above the old Cook Street Markets and was named after the number of months before demolition to make way for the Aotea Centre. One of the hits at the club was ‘Say I’m Your Number One’ by Princess, and Grigg gained the New Zealand rights from PWL. It was a Number Two single on his new Stimulant label.
After the Six Month Club, in 1986 Urlich and Phillips, with Grigg, opened the Brat, in the former Foundry nightclub in Nelson Street. The soundtrack for the Brat was released on a funky dance compilation on the Stimulant label, Eight Arms To Hold You.
“Simon Le Bon virtually lived there for a while and hassled me continuously to play Duran Duran records which, of course, I didn’t. “
In June 1986, Grigg made a move with former soundman Tom Sampson to take over the Galaxy (later called the Powerstation) and run it as the Asylum. DJ Roger Perry joined them, fresh from Russell Crowe’s all-ages club, The Venue.
“Asylum had a mix of hip hop, soul, Def Jam, pop and this new sound that Roger and I became hooked on. It was called house music and the Asylum can claim to be the place where house started in New Zealand.”
Although Grigg is best known for starting the Beats Per Minute show on 95bFM, his first foray into radio was while at the Asylum.
“Roger and I started doing a radio show called Asylum FM. Everybody at bFM despised dance music in 1987, were totally down on it. We’d have various bFM people who became big on dance music later on, standing outside snarling at us as we played our dance tracks. The guys who owned the Galaxy started hassling Tom and I for a bigger cut, so when Mark Phillips offered us the old Brat space for a club it seemed smart to grab Roger and move.”
After a month of renovations the Playground opened. About a year later the business partner fell out with Urlich and Phillips, and then Grigg and Sampson, and “on the last weekend we had 1900 people there. It turns out they did need us, the 10 or so confused people who turned up the next weekend never returned. Tom and I went overseas and had big holidays.”
In 1988, Grigg and Sampson returned to New Zealand and “needed to find some income again”. In a brief partnership with promoter Chris Cole, they borrowed money and bought Club Mirage, opening the Siren [later Cause Celebre] in December 1988. “We revamped the club in a week, we had to open, we were broke.” The Box followed in March 1990 after an adjacent space was discovered.
“Tom and I were wandering around one day and we found a door, opened the door and there was this massive room next door and it was empty. It was the old RSA basement. Both of us had been to a club called Nells in New York, with jazz in one room and dance in another. We decided to echo that.”
What sort of crowd was it? You didn’t have high dress standards?
“We had a personality standard. We had the best doorman on the planet: Risetti Tanoi (known as Rose). He could look a person in the eye and decide whether they should be in there or not and it had nothing to do with what they were wearing or how they looked. It was whether they knew why they were coming in, that was our philosophy.”
Is it legal to have personality standards?
“I remember turning a guy away on the door, this guy was dressed up in his Warnocks suit and he’s absolutely confused, as people in jeans are walking past him, and I said, ‘You’ll never understand why you can’t come in’. For the best part of a decade, Cause Celebre and the Box was the club in Auckland and it was the origination of the dance club, the whole K Road scene came out of what we were doing down there. We used to have all the touring acts at the bar. Everybody from Public Enemy to Eric Clapton, John Lydon. Jimmy Barnes punched out one of the Stray Cats one night, which didn’t go down too well.
“I remember Tom Jones at the bar surrounded by girls, drinking champagne and holding court. There were some cool people we used to have down there, David Soul – having ‘Hutch’ there, that was cool. I served Harvey Keitel a few times. We had the wrap party for The Piano. Ice T played down there with Neil Young watching him and Joe Walsh staggering around. One of the great nights was when U2 hired Celebre for their end-of-tour party and Paul Oakenfold was DJing in the Box. We got Paul Oakenfold for $250 because his mate from the UK was in town and asked on our behalf. We had all the Big Audio Dynamite guys wandering around in the club, so basically we had half the Clash walking around in the club. I had to ring up and authorise the credit card, it was Paul McGuinness’s [U2’s manager] credit card and there was a huge amount of money spent on it, thousands upon thousands of dollars. I rang up and started reading the number out and the woman on the end of the phone said, ‘Mr McGuinness’s card will be fine’.”
In 1997, Grigg and Sampson moved on from Cause Celebre. Sampson formed Lightspeed with Chris O’Donoghue and Grigg worked on his label Huh! He had an unfinished Nathan Haines album he took to Alan Jansson at Uptown Studio.
“The thing needed fixing, Pauly Fuemana was hanging around. I knew Pauly, he used to hang around in my club all the time and run up bar tabs down there. He used to hang out at the bar and we used to argue about his bar tabs every couple of weeks. He was a nice guy.
It wasn’t the first time Grigg had worked with Jansson. In 1988, Jansson, Grigg, Car Crash Set's David Bulog and James Pinker [ex-Features] had produced the Bomb the Bass/‘Pump Up the Volume’ inspired ‘Jam This Record’ for Propeller. Grigg knew of Jansson’s work with local rappers Total Effect and Chain Gang and the Proud compilation.
“When I first heard Proud I thought it was a monumental record and still think it was an important record, like AK79 but the Polynesian version. A defining moment.”
It is bizarre that many of the people who were involved with Grigg on Propeller became part of the OMC story. Victor Stent, who was general manager of PolyGram (distributor of Huh!) in Auckland, had been promotions manager at Festival Records in the Propeller days. Adam Holt, who hung out with the Screaming Meemees, was now Polydor GM in Australia, while nightclubber Mark Phillips was also at Polydor’s Sydney office.
How did ‘How Bizarre’ evolve?
“Alan started playing around with a song called ‘Duff It Up’ that Pauly had come up with a little stuff for. Pauly had come up with the acoustic guitar at the beginning and a few lines and Alan put the chorus in there, building stuff around it. The song became ‘Big Top’ after that. Alan and Pauly rewrote it and rewrote it. The song ‘Duff It Up’ was performed at the Big Day Out in January 1995 and ‘How Bizarre’ was released to radio in November. About mid-1995, Alan had the rough demo of ‘How Bizarre’ and he played it to me. We hopped on a plane and went and saw PolyGram Australia – Paul Dickson, Adam Holt and Mark Phillips. Driving in from the airport we thought, ‘We’re mad or this is going to be huge. Either it’s crap or it’s huge’. We played it to PolyGram and they went absolutely gaga.”
Was ‘How Bizarre’ an unstoppable hit or just very carefully worked throughout the world?
“It was an unstoppable hit I think, but the Australians worked very, very hard on it. Paul, Adam and Mark decided they were going to make it a hit come hell or high water. Once it went to No.1 in Australia for six weeks … once you have that you have international interest. You could be No.1 for six months in New Zealand and nobody outside Papatoetoe pays any attention to you.”
What was the hardest territory to break?
“It went out in Britain and radio started doing nothing at all and they thought, ‘It’s not going to work here’. Then Virgin Radio’s Chris Evans – one of the big DJs – started playing it and there was one girl at Polydor in the UK who loved the record as well. [Evans] started playing it and his station picked up on it. So one DJ picked up on it and one person in the record company believed in it. From then on it started going ballistic in Britain.”
The theory in the UK is that a single comes “in high and out” but ‘How Bizarre’ had a steady climb up the chart. After flying back to New Zealand after a Top of the Pops appearance, the single moved up the chart again and Fuemana and Grigg had to get straight back on a plane to London.
“Pauly appeared on Top of the Pops three times. The second time was a replay of the first time. We were in London five weeks, flying back to Australia to do Hey Hey It’s Saturday. In the UK ‘How Bizarre’ kept on going up and up and up every week. It got to four eventually.”
How did it break in the US?
“A similar pattern happened in America. Initially not a lot happened, then a station in Buffalo picked it up, they’d been playing it and all of a sudden their phones started going. The Americans by this stage had said it wasn’t going to happen. The station in Buffalo was affiliated with Z100 in New York, one of the biggest stations in the world, and Z100 picked up on it and it started going crazy in New York. It went to radio in the US in February 1997 and the album was released a month later. In October 1997 we got our million airplays award and it’s over two million airplays to date. It went to No.1 on the airplay chart for three weeks, but the single was never physically released in America.”
Can we have some stories of Pauly’s PR coups in America?
“He punched a [record company] guy in San Francisco. He asked Pauly if he’d do a version of ‘How Bizarre’ for a radio station and change the lyrics a bit, and Pauly – tired at the end of a tour said, ‘Nah, I’m not doing it’. The guy called Pauly an asshole so Pauly punched him. Unfortunately, about the same time, the record company was about to do a big dump of albums into record shops which would have given a real big boost. That didn’t happen and even though at the time we were guaranteed there was no effect from that, you can see now, that was when the album stopped in America. You can’t go punching people from the record company. If artists want to be successful recording artists in terms of sales, they can’t piss the record company off because they can kill you dead.”
When did you cease to manage Pauly?
“I never managed Pauly, I was his record label and I was his acting manager. After the record was a hit in Europe, we spoke to Grant Thomas [Crowded House, Dave Dobbyn] and suggested he come on board about December 1996.
Was he brought in to work America?
“More or less. There were a lot of mistakes made along the way. The ‘I Love L.A.’ thing should not have happened. The Americans wanted to do it; the management decided it was a good idea. It was so obviously not a good idea doing a parody version of a Randy Newman song. I wrote a letter to the record company in America and Australia saying, ‘Don’t do this’.” Adam Holt was against doing it. If it had worked – a ‘How Bizarre’ version of ‘I Love L.A.’ – Pauly would be stuck as a novelty artist. And if it didn’t work he would be a flop artist, a one-hit wonder. It was a shame. And Alan and Pauly had fallen out and it had got all legal. They fell out before the ‘I Love L.A.’ thing and it was settled after. It was settled at arbitration. It never got to court, it was very messy but it got sorted out. The down-shot of the whole thing was that Pauly and Alan will never work together, which means to date there hasn’t been another OMC record.”
What monetary figure came back in to New Zealand from Pauly’s hit?
“It’s very hard to say. It’s in excess of $10 million.”
Is Pauly still on your Huh! label?
“Pauly was signed directly to Universal. Technically speaking any record he has, has to have the Huh! Logo on it and I get paid an over-ride.”
Earlier this year  Grigg announced his intention to launch a new label.
What are your plans with Joy?
“We’ve got two labels now, Huh! And Joy. Huh! Is dance orientated, a little bit in limbo, we’re doing a few compilations right now but the primary focus is Joy, a label owned by Alan and myself and it’s licensed through Mushroom Australia. We own the copyright jointly with Mushroom. It’s pure pop. We’ve got three artists signed initially. We’ve got a girl called Bobby Joe White with a single ‘Uptown (Middle of Downtown)’, it’s all finished now. I think it could be another ‘How Bizarre’. It’s an R&B pop/hip hop thing. We’ve got Carly [Binding, TrueBliss] and we’re releasing something before the end of the year. We’ve got a third signing, I haven’t signed the contract yet so I don’t really want to say who it is.”
What music are you listening to now?
“A lot of 12” singles, the Stevie Wonder reissues, the mastering is phenomenal. Brian Wilson …”
In July 2023, Tony Stamp of RNZ produced an oral history of the Auckland club scene of the 1990s, concentrating on The Box and Cause Celebre. It can be listened to below, or read at RNZ.
Originally published in Real Groove, October 2000