Nothing At All! were a rough hewn 1990s rock and roll trio with punk bite, a precursor of the garage rock revival that bassist Dion Palmer helped ignite and take to the world with his next group, The D4.
By then, Nothing At All! guitarist and singer Tony Brockwell was gone, taken tragically by cancer aged 21, on April 14, 1998. When his many friends and fans farewelled him at an overflowing North Harbour chapel, his favourite songs played, including ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ by Kiss.
Tony, who was undergoing extensive chemotherapy before Nothing At All!’s final show at the Powerstation, Auckland, on June 28, 1997 – had continued with his music into his final days – drumming for both The Snitches (who toured with Gas Huffer) and Rainy Days.
Nothing At All! formed in 1990 after Tony Brockwell was expelled from Auckland Boys Grammar and attended Rosmini College on the North Shore. Rendered down to a trio of Brockwell, Palmer and Foster, they played extensively around the North Shore before hooking up with the Frisbee studio crowd in inner city Auckland in 1991.
They stuck to their side of the harbour until 1992, when they upped their inner city profile, bringing with them a good sized crowd of friends and followers from their popular North Shore hall shows. With John Baker as manager and mentor, they performed anywhere they could plug in their amps, including old punk haunt, the Occidental in Vulcan Lane.
The rock revival of the 1990s had many entry points. Grunge arrived and persisted. Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Nirvana, Shellac and Bob Mould brought the post-hardcore sound into greater prominence. Punk rock was massing for an unprecedented run of popularity and chart exposure. Green Day brought back the melody of early punk and Rancid revisited The Clash’s gathering of white and Afro-Caribbean dissent. And garage rock, a bundling of The Stooges, New York Dolls, and Black Sabbath with garage punk and raw rock and roll, started rattling the public’s cage.
Punk rock had endured in New Zealand since its arrival in the late 1970s, but it had never truly thrived. It survived as a core post-punk subculture throughout the 1980s, drawing initially on the British scene, then the American hardcore movement in the mid to late 1980s. But it remained too extreme and politically engaged, and too bound up by convention for potential fans who wanted their lives and needs reflected with less cant and more good humour and ready wit. So punk culture finally turned its attention and energy on the rock sounds it had too easily dismissed and in doing so it sated a rising appetite for loud, upbeat electric rock and roll.
Which is where Nothing at All! – Tony Brockwell (guitar, vocals), Dion Palmer (bass, vocals) and Paul Foster (drums) – came in. They were a young, accessible group, who toured their amped up punk-prodded rock and roll widely from 1992 to 1997, bringing to the surface the beginnings of the garage rock movement here.
That’s what they were doing out on the road in November 1994 on a short three city tour that started at Bar Bodega in Wellington – joining the dots and finding their place in the new era.
Arriving in the capital with only an hour to spare, they piled their amps onstage and checked the diminishing crowd, including punk promoter and former Flesh D-Vice vocalist Gerald Dwyer and members of Shihad.
Later at Dwyer’s place in Brooklyn, they eased back with a grainy Misfits video and slim chance of sleep. The next morning at 5am, after a round of pick-me-up bongs, they headed for the interisland ferry.
Nothing At All! played a short, furious set to the small crowd, pumping out their spiky rock and roll.
As manager John Baker’s Holden Belmont, its roof piled with Holden amps, eased up the vehicle ramp, a police car’s lights shone across the road. Tony and Dion spilled out of the car smiling and chatting freely and the cops soon let them go.
Clearing the ferry at Picton on the top of NZ’s South Island, the band pulled into the nearest gas station. Cop trouble again, only this time, he wasn’t so cool. He saw the punk clothes and grotty Holden laden with weary passengers, and said, “Get the fuck out of town, now!”
Chopping down into the low flat coastal streets of Nelson, early afternoon, Nothing At All! quickly located the run-down Metropolitan Hotel, the night’s venue. As Baker tracked down the hotel’s promoter, Nothing At All! disappeared into the street outside. Baker followed them out, red of face, an angry hunch to his shoulders, the only betrayal of his argument over the cost of the PA.
Inside, the promoter and PA hire guy, who doubled as the soundman (also not needed by Baker) angrily discussed cutting Nothing At All!'s fee. When told of this, Baker and the boys didn’t care. It wasn’t the first national tour for any of them. John Baker had been the lead singer of garage punk group The Psycho Daisies, who toured NZ extensively and Nothing at All! had already toured nationally with Dead Flowers. Since their first shows outside their North Shore stronghold in 1992, Baker had them playing constantly.
Nothing At All! played a short, furious set to the small crowd, pumping out their spiky rock and roll – ‘Grand Central’, ‘Nothing At All’, ‘TV Generation’ – with rumbling Sex Pistols bass lines under distorted 1977 punk guitar with Animal-like drumming from Paul "Fostex" Foster. One song stood out – ‘Busted’ – a neat in-your-face punker about being busted for dope that brought a very real anger (and humour).
The band arrived in Christchurch with barely enough time to pause at the pad of the NORML president, a hippie with paranoid eyes. They were playing the last show of the mini-tour at a performing arts venue just off Cathedral Square as a NORML fundraiser, but being November, pot was in short supply. Despite that, the event was packed and large groups of Christchurch youth were circulating, enjoying the hard rock, reggae and punk sounds on display.
The Auckland trio played a hard set, closer to US hardcore in sound. Thrashing to a close, they were greeted side of stage by the hippie promoter with a handful of fine weed wrapped up in liquorice papers. Retreating outside to the chilly street, they found Baker selling copies of Nothing At All!’s first release, the four song Loophole tape from early 1994. After attending a NORML demonstration in Cathedral Square, the next morning, Nothing At All! flew home to Auckland. It’d been a busy year with a national tour in June with Dead Flowers and shows in Tauranga and a support for Shihad at Auckland’s Powerstation on November 25.
By the end of 1995, Nothing at All! had amassed a live date list in the hundreds, including outings with new North Shore hardcore act Balance at Auckland’s Frisbee Leisure Lounge on March 4, 1995. That was followed two days later by a support for touring US gay hardcore group, Pansy Division, at Squid with Chris Knox. In early August, NAA! headed south for Palmerston North’s Wild Horse saloon with Semi Lemon Kola.
The trio released their first enduring song, ‘Busted’, on the CD-EP of the same name. Packed with humour and insight, the hard coiled rocker found the beat of its time easily. And on it, the tight trio finally found their sound.
Tony Brockwell: “We never decided to play punk music. We did not decide, 'Hey, we are going to be a punk band.' I find it weird because a lot of the music we’re doing is far from punk, its just rock and roll. I listen to what they call punk music but I wouldn’t call us that.”
With their popular North Shore shows drawing police and city council attention, they cut back on Auckland performances. That didn’t stop them venturing south on yet another national tour. The two-part excursion had Nothing At All! touring both islands in November, playing 14 shows that began and ended at North Shore’s Netball Centre, followed by 22 more national shows in December, which took in all manner of performance spaces, including skate parks, records shops and Westport’s Boer War Memorial clock tower.
If you were a new music fan in the New Zealand provinces in the 1990s, you got to see a bewildering array of overseas and local rock and roll. While touring acts increasingly stuck to the main centres, mostly just visiting Auckland and Wellington, promoters such as Baker and New Plymouth’s Brian Wafer brought all sorts of punk-related bands and rock hybrids to provincial centres and towns in the 1990s.
Nothing At All!’s debut album was released on Baker’s Zerophonic Records.
Nothing At All!’s self-titled debut album (called Nothing At All) was released on Baker’s Zerophonic Records in October 1995, bringing together their Busted EP with live favourites such as ‘TV Generation’, ‘Super Bullet’, and the proto-garage classic, ‘Get Some’. A suitably caper-ish video was filmed by Andrew Moore for ‘Get Some’, near Auckland’s inner city waterfront.
When ‘Busted’ appeared on Wildside Records’ Raw 1 (1995) compilation, it placed Nothing At All! in a broad collection of rock bands that was reflective of the busy time.
You could never call Nothing At All! quiet or static, but 1996 must have surely been one of their busiest and most successful years. They were onstage at the Big Day Out in January and the bFM Summer Series in February.
Later that month the Auckland trio joined Shihad and Loves Ugly Children for university orientation shows in the North and South Island before heading to Hamilton in support of Dead Moon on March 4. Ten days later Nothing At All! returned to the river city for a night at The Exchange with Ape Management.
Nothing At All! then partnered up with Wildside acts Muckhole and Future Stupid for an all ages show at Auckland’s Powerstation on May 4 before hitting to the popular venue again on June 14 in support of Australians’ TISM.
Out on the road again in July, an out of control Range Rover skidded on ice and hit their touring van head on in Lindis Pass in the central South Island. The sturdy van prevented major injury. An Auckland Schools Lunchtime Tour sponsored by bFM also furthered the trio’s popularity.
There was more of the same in 1997. In January Nothing at All! fronted up with fellow Frisbee studio groups Psycho Daisies, The Snitches (with Tony and Dion) and Mary at The Frisbee Lounge, an old ASB bank building on Symonds Street in Auckland, in a final gathering of the clan. They called it a day in June, after opening for touring US hardcore groups NoFX and Snuff for two nights at The Powerstation and playing several more dates: a mid-month date at Devonport’s Masonic Tavern, a show at inner city club Squid and an all-ages outing at the same venue a week later, before their final performance at The Powerstation later that same evening.
Dion Palmer - bass, vocals
Tony Brockwell - guitar, vocals
Paul Foster - drums
Dion Palmer went on to co-found The D4 with Jimmy Christmas, sharing lead vocal and guitar duties. Now calling himself Dion Lunadon, Palmer moved to New York City and played in The True Lovers before joining noise-rock band A Place To Bury Strangers.
The band's nicknames were Space Possum (Tony), Otter (Dion) and Shottie (Paul).