‘Save My Life’, the sparkling 1996 lead off single for his new trio Bike, with long time friend Tristan Mason on bass and Karl Buckley on drums, sits comfortably amongst the Dunedin songwriter’s best recordings and was a finalist at that year’s APRA Silver Scrolls. Bike garnered a further nomination as most promising new band at the New Zealand Music Awards the following year.
Brough had lived in hometown Dunedin in the years immediately after his split from Straitjacket Fits. After six months of “going out drinking and wallowing and copping shit from people for failing” he found writing songs again to be therapeutic. When he’d accumulated enough for a set, he assembled Tumble, who soon became Bike. The new group debuted with The Verlaines in Dunedin in October 1992.
The new group debuted with The Verlaines in Dunedin in October 1992.
“It was a case of going back to Dunedin and sorting out what was going on in my head and what to do, and working on songs that I had started in Straitjacket Fits. I thought they were good songs and needed to be heard, so it was establishing the best way to go about getting them heard. I realised at the beginning of 1992 that the only way to do it was to get a band together and get out there playing,” Brough said to Real Groove in October 1997.
“I hadn’t fulfilled the vision I always had in my 20s. I always wanted to make beautiful music, which had a lot of feeling: beautiful music, with soaring vocals and guitars. That’s always a vision I’ve adhered to,” he told Pavement magazine.
As early as mid-1993, Brough had a deal on the table with Flying Nun to record an album. The label was clearly keen to have the successful songwriter back.
The Bike line-up consolidated around Mason and Buckley. By mid-August 1994 the new trio were in Auckland playing Squid with Chris Knox in support. Two months on, they toured New Zealand with fellow Dunedin act, Funhouse.
In December 1995 Bike recorded ‘Save My Life’ backed with ‘Old and Blue’, a song reflecting on Brough’s time in Straitjacket Fits, with Malcolm Welsford at York Street Studios. Their only available song at that point was a take on ABBA’s ‘My Love My Life’ (from 1976’s Arrival) for the Flying Nun tribute album, Abbasalutely.
A NZ Musician magazine story in April/ May 1996 about Flying Nun’s Nunfest celebration featured Andrew Brough on the cover alongside David Kilgour and Graeme Downes. The plan was for Bike to record three albums and tour the USA at least once, Brough told the magazine.
Seven months later, Brough sat down again with NZ Musician over coffee and cigarettes in Flying Nun Records’ Auckland office on Queen Street. The Bike guitarist and singer was late, having taken a drive out west beforehand to still his nerves. He was living in Auckland and in the throes of recording his first and only album with Welsford at York Street, an album that Brough described as “a slick pop record unlike the EP (of ‘Save My Life’, which included two non album tracks’ ‘Undone’ and ‘Don’t Cry’).
Brough, who was enjoying the pressure of having to write lots of songs after composing only a few in Straitjacket Fits, went on to describe Bike’s distinctive guitar sound. Using two amps simultaneously – his Music Man Quad and Roland 60 with its great overdrive and sustain – he was able to create “harmonics, different notes and a swirl of sound” with his Gibson Dot Special 335 guitar.
Talk moved to the new single ‘Save My Life’ and its unusual beat. “A lot of my favourite songs use that beat – and bands like The Byrds – it has a good emotional impact and I just love it – big jangly guitars and really well sung original melodies. It’s just fucking uplifting pop music.”
Classical music was an influence as well. “I like the dynamic – the soft/ loud thing where the orchestra will come crashing in after a quiet section. I try to project that into pop music.” He’d had eight years classical piano tuition as a youngster.
He was seeing quite a bit of his old Straitjacket Fits band mates in Auckland.
Tellingly, Brough believed that selling enough records with Bike would enable him to live off the songwriting royalties.
He was seeing quite a bit of his old Straitjacket Fits band mates in Auckland. Shayne Carter went out with Brough’s flatmate and drummer John Collie was a regular companion. The famous band’s split had been awkward. Originally a group who balanced adventurous indie rock elements with Brough’s guitar pop ballads, the success of Brough’s glistening ‘Down In Splendour’ had skewed Straitjacket Fits’ internal dynamic. When the quartet’s Australian record company reached back in 1990 to yet another shimmering Brough original ‘Sparkle That Shines’ from the 1987 EP Life In One Chord, the discord hardened.
“I had a lot of faith in Shayne. I was always quite a big fan. I thought the Double Happys (Carter’s trio with Collie and Wayne Elsey) were an awesome live band, their live performances rocked,” Brough recalled. “Shayne was an icon around Dunedin and I was chuffed to play with him. But that feeling dwindled after about three years.” Surprisingly, Carter appeared as a traffic cop in the Jonathan King directed video for ‘Welcome To My World’ from Bike’s only album.
There was a North Island tour in August taking in Auckland (twice), Wellington and Gisborne. The trio ventured out again in support of new LP Take In The Sun in October, entertaining fans at Wellington’s Bar Bodega, Gisborne’s Number Nine, Auckland’s @Luna and Wanganui’s Red Eye. Come November and Bike were in Dunedin at the Loaded Goblin and Arc Café and in Christchurch at Dux De Lux, before heading north again for 95bFM’s Private Function at the Old City Markets.
The album itself was a mixed bag. Marty Duda in Real Groove found “That classic sound is still intact, the blessed out guitars, the shimmering melodies and the warm familiar vocals” but ultimately Take In The Sun was a frustrating and inconsistent collection.
The upbeat and rocking single ‘Circus Kids’ was a noisier and more muscular track than ‘Save My Life’. Despite being singled out in live reviews its impact was limited.
The sublime ‘Sunrise’ sounded like an epic ballad from a modern stage musical. Brough, who attended Dunedin’s rock and roll high school, Logan Park, had sung lead in many of the school’s musicals including Annie, Get Your Gun and My Fair Lady.
“My type of music (these days) is more classically orientated. The drama and dynamics of classical music far surpasses pop. The way it evokes emotional response. I’m trying to put a bit of that into pop music: a bit of drama and dynamics. To get the full dynamic, I want a hundred guitars instead of one hundred violins,” Brough reflected.
Having made the covers of Pavement and Real Groove, Brough’s natural reticence poked its head up again. “I’m worried I’ll be recognised in the street,” he said after a Sunday newspaper printed a large photo of him.
In late February 1998 Bike were at Canterbury University with The Stereo Bus, followed by a support slot in front of Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses/ The Breeders/ Belly) at The Powerstation in Auckland on March 6, 1998. During Bike’s set, Brough leant forward and hit out at a noisy punter. “Stop talking shit, you fucking moron!” he shot, taking a page out of his old band mate Carter’s book.
Not long after, Brough abruptly ended his music career. Two of his songs soon appeared in the Dunedin movie Scarfies in 1999. Bike’s best moment, ‘Save My Life’ plays as one of the main characters enters the southern city, a swooning, eyes wide open fanfare to unfolding possibilities with a melancholic undertow.
Brough contributed a James K. Baxter poem (‘Andy Dandy’) set to music to the Baxter compilation CD in 2000, but that was pretty much it. The songwriter, guitarist and singer still lives in Dunedin.
Several songs off Take In The Sun were used on TV show soundtracks in Australia and word has it that Andrew Brough purchased a house from Home And Away royalties
Take In The Sun was released in the USA on March Records in 1997.
Andrew Brough - guitar, vocals
Tristan Mason - bass
Karl Buckley - drums
Jay Foulkes - drums