It was a strange time. New Zealand was in flux. Me and my friends were drifting around between studying and the dole. Unemployment had peaked around 10%, student loans had just been introduced, Ruth Richardson was Minister of Finance, and there was a shell shocked mood in the country. Email and the internet were just over the horizon. Nirvana was popular, and Princess Diana was still alive.
At this time, the initial wave of so-called “Dunedin sound” groups from the 1980s was at its high tide mark, and a new generation of teenagers had emerged, naively aspiring to replicate this trajectory.
Age of Dog was a Dunedin group who played their first show on May Day 1992 at the Crown Hotel.
Age Of Dog was a Dunedin group who played their first show on May Day 1992 at the Crown Hotel, and finished up just on two years later, after two self-organised tours of New Zealand. Here is an account of the first one, taken from notes.
We leave Dunedin on Wednesday 11 August 1993, getting up at 5.30am in order to get to the airport early with what seems to be several hundred kilograms of heavy duty amplification, drum kits, sleeping bags etc. I have had four hours of sleep. Piers and I are driven out to the airport by a long suffering girlfriend. Tane is making his own way there. James the soundman is already in Auckland, via his hometown, Wanganui.
Six months of intensive planning have gone into this trip. Lack of contacts have complicated this autonomous effort. Huge, inexplicable toll bills have mounted up. I have only just grasped the concept of fax machines. Now we are driving around at 6am calling at peoples’ flats and cold practice rooms to collect sticks, covers, and other arcane utensils of the drummer’s craft. I have a twinging headache and prickly perspiration on a clammy forehead. We speed out across the Taieri Plains 25 minutes behind schedule. Dawn has arrived and a ghostly mist floats across the still fields.
Despite the anxiety, everyone has made it to the airport. We drag a small mountain of electronics onto the weighing machines. Amazingly, Ansett charge us no excess baggage. They even allow Tane to take his boxy Soviet style Sunn valve amplifier as hand luggage on the flight, much to the horror of the stewardesses, and spends the next few hours jammed uncomfortably under the seats.
This is the first time I've flown since 1983. I stare out at the clouds; Piers has demanded an aisle seat and turns pale. After stopping off at Christchurch for an hour, we arrive at Auckland by the late morning and taxi into the city through Mangere. First impression: colourful graffiti is everywhere, compared to the dull brick and concrete walls of the south with their occasional monochromatic squiggles. Despite our scratch budget and lack of local connections, we have one great advantage – far from roughing it, we have borrowed an empty house belonging to my girlfriend’s family for the length of our stay, in a quiet, middle class suburb.
After unloading our gear, we wander into town and scope the Pelican Bar, where we are playing on Saturday night. Tane and Piers circulate the pool tables, and clean up the locals. Late on Wednesday night we call into the bFM studio for an interview with Lisa Van Der Aarde on the Freak the Sheep NZ music show. Her relaxed approach is a relief after some of the cool receptions we have been getting elsewhere.
The following night we call by The Gluepot to meet our “promoter”, a loose arrangement that seems to be dissolving before our eyes. Things have been getting a little tense and there is an uneasy undercurrent. He has unilaterally cancelled our Hamilton gig, the reason given is that we were “going to lose money on it.”
But we are not entirely alone in the big smoke. Fellow Dunedin bands Gobble and Polyp are in Auckland as well, as part of their own tour, and they tell me they got 100 people through the door in Hamilton. The vibes are a little murky. More faces from the south are in town as well, with peripatetic poet Dave Merritt doing a reading at the Pelican to a small but appreciative crowd.
It’s time to branch out and the next night we end up wandering through bars in the vicinity of Vulcan Lane. There is a vague sense that we are no closer to what we were looking for than when we were in Dunedin. It’s bigger, it’s more expensive. But there is the nagging sense that we are provincial outsiders. There seems to be no centre to this town.
On Saturday we set up and sound check at the Pelican with Polyp and Gobble on the bill as well. The bar slowly fills. Gobble are up first, playing to a smallish crowd, their low-key, anti-rock setting a suitable atmosphere, with Super 8 film projections adding to the general air of relaxed bohemian culture. Polyp come on and kick up a racket, Paul yelping over the askew rhythm section of Shaun and Richard. It’s a relief to feel amongst friends.
We play well and get a decent response. We talk to audience members afterwards and have a few drinks. With 150 through the door and some good sounds, it has been a decent night.
But last minute “expenses” materialise, like a mysterious $160 poster run. The bar manager tells us we have to load all our gear out there and then. James starts to become agitated and has to be quietly calmed in a dark corner. Eventually we jam everything into the station wagon and the bands go their separate ways.
Sunday arrives and we sift around back at the house. We are at a loose end and pull the curtains against the sun, batch watching Lawnmower Man, Near Dark and Jacob’s Ladder on videotape. I have bad dreams all night in which giant drug-fed chimpanzees pursue my car over Otago Peninsula.
On Monday, after a visit to Real Groovy, we admit to ourselves we are more tourists than underground rock legends and catch an elevator to the top of the BNZ building and stare down at the rooftop gardens, swimming pools, reactors, helipads ... in the end we spend our last night in the big city doing what we have done most other nights, drinking Snakebites and playing pool and pinball. Tane scores 214 million on Jurassic Park.
We flee Auckland on the motorway south early on Wednesday morning in a Budget hire van.
We flee Auckland on the motorway south early on Wednesday morning in a Budget hire van: Victor (tour manager, bass), Piers (tour freeloader, drums, sullen withdrawal), Tane (tour heavy, guitars), James (underpaid soundman, obnoxious comments) and Stephen – a well-mannered tourist along for the ride.
After a long drive we arrive at Napier and find the Shakespeare Hotel. Jim the manager is a friendly middle-aged guy with an unfeasible interest in local bands. He takes us for a tour of the establishment, which has a raucous public bar, a deserted lounge bar, and the Cabana, a large band bar with a big PA and even a small dressing room.
That night we play to a small crowd of about 30 people. However, it’s a fun show and we even have a customised shooter created for us – the Age Of Dog Rabies Shot (1/3 vodka, 1/3 Cointreau, 1/3 Black Sambuca). The bar staff probably do the same one for each band, and give it a different name, but it’s a nice gesture. After our low-key gig we end up heading out to a high school after formal party in Hastings, after meeting up with Dino, a local who dwells occasionally in Dunedin and plays with his band Eskimo Chain.
At the hall we meet the illustriously named Soft Cock Giraffes, Napier legends who feature two basses, a drummer and singer Pouro, who plies us with beer, obviously unconcerned with another music group crashing his gig. They play a strange amalgam of metal funk and afterwards we set up quickly and bash out a few tunes. The night ends in a blurry and confused state.
We travel on through the agricultural heartland of the north to Palmerston North where we are playing the next night at The Stomach.
When we arrive and park up in the gravel yard out front, the venue is already decked out with a variety of long-haired high school metallers and curious onlookers drifting around at five in the afternoon. The bunker-like Stomach is several large concrete rooms which comprise a venue, recording studio and offices. Dave White has been running the place with help from volunteers and has gained some support from the city council. His band Lung have just got a record deal with an LA company and are about to leave for the USA, and the venue is going to be looked after by Claire Pannell, editor of VALVEzine, and member of Froithead.
The Stomach has a classic anarchist co-op atmosphere and regularly features local bands as well as heavier acts from out of town. To be honest, it feels a lot more like home than downtown Auckland. We end up going out for a drink with Dave and Claire, plus Phil, who until recently played bass in Lung. He explains he was getting sick of touring, and then two weeks after he left the band scored their record deal. He is resigned to the situation and is soon heading out to sea on a fishing boat as a MAF scientific observer with soundman Graeme Galyer taking over on bass duties.
That night at the Stomach features a multi band line-up of obscure Palmerston North and Wellington denizens.
Sanctum and Porn Orchard are youthful metallers who spend hours running around at soundcheck. Zenith Street Cleaners are firmly in the industrial–gothic camp thing with a drum machine and a guy on an Apple Mac making strange sounds. Things reach a true zenith when a large man in a leather Jacket leaps out of the crowd and starts bellowing into the mike. Fat Mannequin are a grunge outfit from Wellington, and since it is getting late, Dave rather undiplomatically switches off the PA towards the end of their encore. They storm off dramatically, the singer snarling at me as I presumably have been implicated in the conspiracy.
We play last and finishing the night in good spirits, we head off back to Dave’s place, where I sample Kava for the first and only time. Apparently I “made strange noises and went outside after turning white as a sheet” – at least so I am told the following day, because I have absolutely no recollection of the rest of the night.
On the way out of town the next morning we call by the indie record store Pretty on the Inside before continuing to Wellington where we have not been able to set up any shows but have to stay for a couple of nights. James stays in Palmerston, Stephen the hitch-hiker is still with us, and we are joined by Phil who needs a ride to Wellington and regales us with tales of life on the road with Lung in Europe.
Meanwhile we are having our own van hassles, arriving at Budget Rentals as a staff member is locking up for the night. She sees us approach and accelerates off, no doubt not wishing to have 10 minutes of her Saturday night wasted with trash-filled vans and weird stories about faulty petrol gauges. We are left trying to find an overnight park.
Piers is dropped off at his sister’s house, while me and Tane turn up at Andrea and Steve’s warehouse in the central city area, two old Dunedin mates. We end up getting tickets to the Private Function which is being held at the aircraft hangar sized Shed 6 on the waterfront. We see Steak, Pumpkinhead, Hallelujah Picassos, Shihad and Headless Chickens. There are thousands of people. This is the rock dream writ large, bearing as much resemblance to our experience as Jupiter does to a slowly orbiting space pebble.
We end up meeting up with fellow Dunedinites Tin Soldiers (Tane’s old band) who have been touring around as well, promoting their album. We have been criss crossing paths with them, playing the night before or the night after them everywhere we go. We finally cross paths at the Bodega, where we catch up with them and Otago student president and music fan Grant Robertson.
The time has come to head south. There is a moment of panic at the airport when I run to a ATM machine to get some cash out. Will there be anything there? Yes: a crisp, lifesaving $20 bill. Again there are no excess baggage costs, and we are running at this stage on pure chance as any extra charges would result in us leaving a pile of instruments on the terminal floor. Mid-morning we are stuck in Christchurch Airport at the Cheers Bar, along with two huge life sized dolls of Norm and Cliff, and a TV set playing nothing but endless Cheers re-runs.
As the plane sails over the hills towards Dunedin, despite everything, in the optimism of youth, I am already thinking about the next tour.
Age Of Dog returned safely from the August 1993 tour, several hundreds of dollars down on our investment.
Piers Graham left the band shortly afterwards, citing musical differences, although continuing to play with Tane and Victor in proto-industrial group Swarm with Andrew Dickson and Craig Monk, releasing an album on the IMD label in 1995.
Age Of Dog continued with a new drummer, Dale Cotton, recording at Broken Ear Studios in Carroll Street, Dunedin, operated by Dale and James Woods.
The group did another tour the following year in May of 1994, but dissolved later that year.
Gobble kept going for a while, and Polyp called it a day with the release of a posthumous cassette Where Is Richard?.
Richard from Polyp came along for the second AOD tour in 1994 as soundman.
John and Mark from the Tin Soldiers later joined up with Victor in Alpha Plan.
Constantine (Dino) Karlis in Napier became the drummer in HDU.
Lung went to America.
We left Stephen the hitch-hiker in Wellington.
Victor Billot - vocals, guitar
Tane Griffin - vocals, guitar
Piers Graham - drums
Dale Cotton - drums
Piers Graham later played drums in pub rock legends Deja Voodoo.
Dale Cotton later engineered and produced a large number of music groups including HDU, Dimmer, The Subliminals, Cloudboy, Sola Rosa, Mestar and many others.
Soundman and engineer James Woods now plays bass in Beast Wars.
Tane’s first band, the Tin Soldiers, was a high school Rockquest winner in 1991.