In the early to mid 1990s, Christchurch was a city flush with guitar-driven groups marshalled on record by the short-lived Flat City Records and more comprehensively by Failsafe Records. Despite the flurry of live activity and some enduring recordings, few of the active groups transcended their spirited beginnings.
Fiery trio Loves Ugly Children, comprising Simon Maclaren (guitar, vocals), Angela “Floss” Leslie (bass, vocals) and Jason Young (drums, vocals), were the most prominent and enduring group on the rising scene.
The hard alt-rocking trio went on to release two powerful albums (Cakehole – 1995, Showered In Gold – 1997), several significant EPs and a handful of singles on Flying Nun Records. They toured New Zealand repeatedly and spend time in the United Kingdom before hitting the highway to hell in Australia and calling it a day in late 1998.
The first Loves Ugly Children was an altogether different outfit from the popular version of the 1990s. The fledgling act had future mainstays Leslie and Maclaren – as vocalist, sans guitar – present. But they were just two members of a group with Scott McArthur on guitar and Simon Crockett drumming, with a completely different set of songs.
The initial quartet’s life was short, taking in local live shows and the release of the five-song Stagger tape on Failsafe Records.
The initial quartet’s life was short, taking in local live shows and the release of the five-song Stagger tape on Failsafe Records in 1989.
When the first line-up split, Maclaren and Leslie retained the name and Maclaren picked up the guitar again (his instrument in previous band Blue Flesh Syndrome) and started writing songs. They soon found a talented drummer in Gregg Cairns, who left in July 1990 to join The Verlaines.
By May 1991, after nine months in abeyance, Maclaren and Leslie had Jason Young thumping the tubs. The new trio were a confident live group with a swelling set of new original songs. Listeners of student radio station RDU had already heard a hint of what was to come on the surging melodic, ‘I Think I Need Her’, an early recording with Cairns drumming.
One of their first shows was a huge affair at 22 St Asaph Street in the Chinese Cultural Centre with Swinemachine and Sex TrashAutomobile on May 31, which was closed down by the police.
On August 3, 1991 the trio lined up for a slot at the Subway in the old New Zealander on the corner of St Asaph and Madras Streets, with country parody outfit Royce T. Doister and the Dinosaur Jnr-loving Swine Machine (with whom Floss also played bass).
The typical Subway audience wasn’t your average rock crowd. They were often more interesting than the bands. But that night Christchurch’s eccentrics paled before Loves Ugly Children’s onslaught. As candles burned in bovine skulls set atop the PA speakers, they injected a shot of adrenalin in indie Christchurch’s main vein. A hard sounding three-piece with a massive guitar sound (cue Bob Mould), they were confident, had stage presence and obviously believed three chords made a great song. In their case it did.
Two days later student newspaper Canta caught up with Simon and Floss at their hideaway in The Old Mill on the second floor of an abandoned factory in Christchurch’s decaying industrial area of Addington. Simon Maclaren sat on the floor, musing on the lack of new band coverage in Christchurch:
“I wonder what it takes to get a review ... we (SexTrashAutomobile – one of three bands he is involved in) played a gig with Cease To Exist and Tony (STA frontman) was running around with a whip, in his underpants, in front of this strobe light. Cease To Exist got reviewed, but we didn’t get a mention.”
He shakes his head – partly in exasperation, partly to clear the fog of the previous night’s party then returns to talking about Loves Ugly Children. Maclaren is frustrated that the 8-track used to record ‘I Think I Love Her’ allowed no extra room to add more guitar and backing vocals. Their live performance gave a hint why – Loves Ugly Children were a band with a strong melodic vein running through many of their songs and all the band sing.
“I stick to melody and make up words that rhyme with that melody then simplify the guitar down to keep that sound. I also read a lot of William Burroughs – you know stream of consciousness and cut-up techniques – it gets you past that barricade of ‘I felt this’ – ‘You hurt me’ – ‘I hurt you’,” Maclaren said.
He cites ‘The Room’, one of their current live set, as an example – a song where he describes whatever room they are playing in at the time. Its part of a completely new set of songs arrived at from jamming over the foundation set by the previous band line-ups. The songs are at most, two months old and featured “open octaves and Z grade lead breaks”.
SexTrashAutomobile ventured as far south as Dunedin while Loves Ugly Children went on to win the Christchurch War of the Bands in late 1991, after touring the South Island with The Orchid Show using a grant from the Southern Regional Arts Council.
It was 1992 before Loves Ugly Children released more of their recorded output. They placed ‘Nothing Is True’ and ‘Good Thing’ on new indie Flat City Records’ Christchurch band compilation, Freak Scene. They’re in good company on a strong collection, which reflects the robust and rising Christchurch music scene.
Loves Ugly Children stepped out earlier that year at University of Canterbury’s Orientation festival with Fatal Jelly Space, a show that was stopped by a fire alarm. Their first Auckland show followed on June 29, 1992 at The Boardwalk Bar in Newton’s Dog and Trumpet with Figure 60, Zither and Lester Bangs in support. A break to write new songs and have a baby followed. Then there was the two-week recording of the five song Purge CDEP at K.A.T.S studio in Christchurch, funded by a QEII Arts Council Grant.
Purge finally arrived in 1993 and listeners finally heard what fans had been witnessing at live shows.
Purge finally arrived in 1993 and listeners finally heard what fans had been witnessing at live shows. “Purge is a lot raunchier, a lot grittier, the guitars are more sonic, it’s more like what we are trying to achieve,” Jason Young told DUN fanzine. “Purge is a mixture of pop and sonic hedonism,” Maclaren added.
Standout tracks included the irresistible ‘You Take Me There’, and ‘Flesh Hooks’, which reflected the group’s vegetarianism. “I always wanted to write a song about those issues as I think AFFCO by Skeptics and ‘Meat Is Murder’ by The Smiths are really noble brilliant songs and they affected and converted people. It is as close to having a political slant as our songs get,” Maclaren recalled.
Purge’s Christchurch release party attracted over 600 fans who spent a cold and uncomfortable early morning stretch outside the venue Warners after a fire alarm was tripped again.
1993 had already seen the release of Failsafe Records scene-sampling compilation, Avalanche, which featured three Loves Ugly Children songs (‘Nothing More’, ‘Citizen’s Advice’, ‘Bleed’) recorded in December 1992.
Loves Ugly Children were in good musical company there as well, joined by Supertanker, 147 Swordfish, Pumpkinhead and Lurch, just a few of the new groups then establishing themselves in Christchurch.
“From March 1993 to August 1994, Christchurch was on quite a high, lots of bands, lots of venues,” Maclaren told RipItUp in March 1995. “Christchurch is a really conservative city, culturally, but it’s anti-culture has a really strong element. It doesn’t really matter of Auckland is sitting up and noticing what Christchurch is doing as long as Christchurch notices itself. It was hung up in the English indie sound for quite a while. That was pretty boring, so the more flavours the more fun. Christchurch had finally caught up.”
On the live front, Loves Ugly Children had been to Wellington, performing at The Carpark with Christchurch’s Throw and Naked Lunch on January 23, 1993. In April, the trio toured the South Island with The Verlaines to help promote Juvenilia, getting as far south as Invercargill. A national tour followed in July to promote Purge, which was released in June 1993.
In 1994 Loves Ugly Children, having already established themselves as one of Christchurch’s biggest drawing groups (the Avalanche release party on April 26, 1993 attracted over 1,000 fans), signed to Flying Nun Records. Their first release for their new label was the Cold Water Surf CD EP from which ‘Senseless’ was extracted for a single and a video made.
It was a busy year on the live scene for the group with shows at Big Day Out in Auckland in late January, after having played The Nile River Festival on the West Coast of the South Island the day before. They were back in Auckland at bFM’s Private Function in late July. Loves Ugly Children were regulars at Warners in Christchurch throughout the year while also venturing south to Queenstown and Dunedin. In November and December they toured the North Island.
In December Loves Ugly Children found themselves on an open-minded bill, with Hallelujah Picassos and rappers Urban Disturbance at Antipodes Bar in Wellington on December 15, 1994, and at Bob Bar in Auckland’s High Street on December 17.
They returned to Dunedin in April 1995 to record debut album Cakehole in Fish Street Studios with Tex Houston.
On January 20, the day after supporting Ministry at The Powerstation in Auckland, the group played the 1995 Big Day Out (they returned in 1996). Then it was back to Christchurch and Dunedin.
They went to Dunedin in April 1995 to record debut album Cakehole in Fish Street Studios with Tex Houston. “It’s a punk rock record,” Maclaren would later say. “I’m getting my attitudes from reality, from having a normal life. Having some punk rock element to our music is keeping our feet on the ground, staying down to earth.”
“Cakehole was all personal politics, which was the kind of music I was listening to at the time, records that were naked, but honest. It was quite a difficult album to tour because it would put me into black moods doing the gigs.
“I’d end up getting off stage thinking ‘What is this catharsis trip? What am I screaming about?' Something that happened two years ago, an event, I can’t even remember.”
In 1995, Loves Ugly Children featured on the Failsafe Records collection Good Things, which took its name from the group’s contribution – the previously available ‘Good Thing’.
In mid-1995, Loves Ugly Children crossed the Tasman for The Sound Is Out There Australian tour with Garageland and King Loser. The three Flying Nun Records acts took in Brisbane and Adelaide, also checking into Melbourne and Sydney on the tour.
Cakehole arrived in September with a new EP, and single, Personal World. Personal World and ‘Senseless’ were both released in the United Kingdom, as Cold Water Surf had been before them. There was also a take on ABBA’s ‘Honey Honey’ for the Abbasalutely compilation, which shared a single with Headless Chickens’ interpretation of ‘Super Trouper’.
A national tour in September kicked off that month at Kurtz Lounge, Auckland on the 8th, before heading down to the Empire in Dunedin on the 14th, Warners in Christchurch on the 15th, Nelson (16th), Antipodes in Wellington (22nd), Wild Horse Saloon in Palmerston North on the 23rd and Christchurch again on the 30th.
In October 1995, Loves Ugly Children headed to England to promote Cakehole and record a new EP (Suck), staying there into December. They played regularly. Notices in the British music media were favourable and the trio enjoyed their stint.
Back in Auckland in February 1996, Loves Ugly Children shared a Powerstation bill with Headless Chickens, Garageland and The 3Ds. They returned to the venue in March with Garageland, Superette and King Loser for Nunfest and yet again in early July with O and Garageland.
S.P.U.D. and Solid Gold Hell’s Matthew Heine was behind the desk when Loves Ugly Children got down the best part of their second album, Showered In Gold, at York Street Studios in Auckland. Heine contributed slide guitar to ‘Junkfood’ and guitar to ‘Don’t Need A Reason’.
“Mid-year, Loves Ugly Children finally shifted north to Auckland, Floss’s home city. Years earlier, as a young punk rocker, she featured in an Auckland newspaper alongside her brother as examples of the city’s punk followers.
The trio’s only release that year was the Suck CD EP, which had been captured in England by A’s Jason Perry, and Graham Pilgrim.
1997 was to be Loves Ugly Children’s biggest year yet. They were on the bill yet again at Big Day Out in January, followed shortly afterwards by Burning In The Light at Hagley Park, Christchurch on February 1, 1997.
RipItUp described Showered In Gold as, “a feast of furies, where heavenly melodies inhabit massive power-chord driven songs."
Then it was back to Auckland to support Rocket From The Crypt and Regurgitator at the Powerstation the following night. In June, the trio supported American punks NoFX in Christchurch midway through a May/ June New Zealand tour to promote Showered In Gold.
RipItUp described Showered In Gold as, “a feast of furies, where heavenly melodies inhabit massive power-chord driven songs which alternately drift like enormous abandoned spaceships or rock like fission-powered missiles.” As for the album title? “Showered in Gold can mean showered in praise, pissed on from a great height or it could be a reference to a sexual act,” Maclaren explained.
The LP took its time arriving. Album track ‘Voodoo Girl’ was going to be remixed in London for free, then the price went up to two thousand pounds a day, so Loves Ugly Children had to wait to get the recordings back. When one of the album DATs was stolen from the producer’s car, the trio and producer had to re-record the lost songs (at York Street A, unlike the earlier sessions which were in the B Studio), taking the opportunity to also record new songs 'Six Pack', 'Motorcycle Girl', and 'Voodoo Girl', which took until after Christmas 1996. Then Roger Shepherd quit Flying Nun Records and Mushroom Records dropped Festival as New Zealand distributor. It all added up to a year’s delay.
Jason Young had had enough by then and decamped to play bass in Future Stupid. Young was replaced by Paul Reid (who went on to form Rubicon and then took on an acting role in Shortland Street) for a short Australian tour, starting in Adelaide on August 29, 1997. The eight show tour took in the Punter’s Club in Melbourne on September 3 and a live performance on ABC TV’s Recovery.
Loves Ugly Children rounded out the year with a Super Session at New Plymouth’s The Mill with Sticky Filth, Nefarious, 1080 and Peter Jefferies on October 26, 1997, a Powerstation show with rap groups on November 16, 1997 and a New Year’s Eve slot at Pakiri Surf & Rock Festival with Chris Knox, Sticky Filth and Ape Management.
1998 saw Loves Ugly Children Rock in the line-up for the touring punk festival Vans Warped Tour at Rosebank Domain in January, supporting Foo Fighters in late February (mixed by Jason Young), and also at the University of Auckland on March 7. They unwrapped their “free noise” set at 95bFM’s Private Function. “The screeching scrawling chaotic mess suited Floss as she grinned non-stop for the duration,” RipItUp reported.
By September 1998, it was all over for Loves Ugly Children. Floss and Simon parted ways. What a long, strange decade it had been. Floss opened The Killing Room practice facility in Auckland while Maclaren moved on to The Subliminals, Sleepers Union and more recently, Psychic Maps.
Simon Maclaren - guitar, vocals
Angela Leslie - bass
Gregg Cairns - drums
Jason Young - drums
Paul Reid - drums
Paul Reid was later a cast member on Shortland Street