If playing a pivotal role in establishing Auckland dance clubs, and making ‘How Bizarre’ an international No.1 hit weren't achievements enough in the 80s and 90s, creating a online historical repository for New Zealand's popular music has ensured that the country's musical heritage will be remembered by generations.
The record stores Grigg managed in the late 1970s were Professor Longhair’s and the influential Taste, both in Parnell. The punk band he managed from its inception was the Suburban Reptiles; he also flatted with The Scavengers, regarded as our finest early punk rockers. Grigg went on to run the ground-breaking indie label Propeller (Blam Blam Blam, The Screaming Meemees, The Spelling Mistakes, The Features, No Tag, Tall Dwarfs’ debut).
During an OE in London the former punk/indie entrepreneur became a dance aficionado and returned to Auckland to spin records and open dance clubs (The Asylum, The Playground, Siren, Box, and Cause Celebre) before taking OMC and ‘How Bizarre’ to the world.
Grigg is not just involved in the music business, he is one of its natural chroniclers.
Unlike most who have included these sometimes disreputable earners on their CVs, Grigg is not just involved in the music business, he is one of its natural chroniclers. His love of pure pop – in whatever genre – comes with an understanding of context and connections. The entrepreneur in Grigg has enabled him to spot shifts in musical fashions and see them as opportunities, and enjoy the fun of making “the fast and furious business of pop picking” work at the turnstyle – and turntable. The chronicler in Grigg sees the need for this social and musical history to be recorded, on vinyl and in print. This is the side of him that led to his vision of giving New Zealand music a permanent home for its stories, and the launch in 2013 of AudioCulture.
To record the story of its founder, AudioCulture turns to Murray Cammick, the co-founder of Rip It Up. In 2000 he published a two-part interview with Grigg in his “Burning Up the Years” series in Real Groove, which AudioCulture now republishes. (Real Groove was then edited by John Russell, the last deputy editor of the Cammick-era Rip It Up.)
Grigg was an early contributor to Rip It Up while working at Taste Records, whose owner Dave Perkins was a mentor. When John Lennon was murdered in December 1980, Rip It Up was only a few hours away from printing the month’s issue. Cammick didn’t have to look far for an obituarist: he asked his friend and flatmate Grigg who, apart from everything else, remains a Lewisohn-level Beatles scholar. He quickly delivered a thoughtful tribute, just as – a few months earlier – he had compiled a “family tree” of the inner-city Auckland punk club Zwines for Rip It Up’s short-lived supplement, Xtra. The punk pioneer was also a natural historian.
The song that got Grigg started was ‘All I Got To Do’, off With The Beatles, in 1963. Grigg was eight years old at the time, at a scout camp in Silverstream, near Upper Hutt. One of his fellow scouts had a transistor, and Grigg was transfixed. “It was a moment, it felt like nothing was the same ever after,” he told Toby Manhire in a 2012 interview for Radio New Zealand. “It has pushed my life ever since. It summed up a cultural moment that affected all of us. The Beatles changed music in New Zealand.”
Grigg came from an Air Force family, growing in Singapore, Wellington and at Ohakea and Whenuapai air bases. It was a transient upbringing, each posting to a new place lasted only about two years. “You don’t develop strong bonds with people,” he recalled, “you find other things.”
At Ohakea, on the flat, windy Manawatu plains, Grigg’s father had access to the juke boxes, so would come home with the 45rpm singles which had worn out their welcome in the canteen. He was a dedicated listener to 2ZB’s Sunset Show, on which Pete Sinclair played songs from the hit parade each weeknight at dinner time. “You were addicted to it. You grabbed the information when you could.” By the age of 13, Grigg was buying the New Musical Express, receiving it like most New Zealand readers, by ship four months after its publication in London.
Unlike many involved in the music business, Grigg did not want to be a musician.
Unlike many involved in the music business, Grigg did not want to be a musician. “I was fascinated – fixated – with how it all worked. My guitar teacher said I was doing evil things to the guitar, he refused to teach me.” Instead he decided his contribution would be in the business side of music. In his mid-teens, by now based in Auckland, his mother took him to meet with Phil Warren. The promoter, record company owner, artist and nightclub manager – himself a teenage music biz prodigy in the 1950s – became Grigg’s first mentor. He emulated Warren’s approach of high-profile involvement in all aspects of the industry.
Grigg was working in a record store when punk emerged. The NME was by then only taking three months to arrive. In a small review in its back pages, he read a live review of a band called the Sex Pistols. “It sounded intriguing,” he recalled to Manhire. “I went to a friend who was a saxophonist and said, let’s form a band. We had no idea of what they sounded like. We liked the attitude: the middle finger in the air, the idea of ground zero … I was a drummer in the first rew rehearsals, I was completely hopeless …”
After nearly 30 years direct involvement in New Zealand’s music industry – including the exhausting experience of taking OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’ to the top of the world’s record charts – Grigg stepped back. In the mid 2000s he moved with his wife Brigid to Bali, and then Bangkok: she was developing an interior design business that now works across Asia and Europe.
While compiling albums and frequent flyer miles, Grigg began writing in earnest for his blog The Opinionated Diner. Some of the content was about “pan Asian” geopolitics, but most was about New Zealand music: anecdotes and memories about the first punk clubs, the Propeller years, the tumultuous Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow which toured New Zealand in its 1981 winter of discontent. There were also fastidious discographies, of important indie labels such as Zodiac and Pagan. A long piece about the trajectory of OMC led to Grigg’s first book, How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the song that stormed the world (Awa Press, 2015). All the while during this period, he was developing the idea for AudioCulture (the name came from Brigid) and began lobbying the industry for support.
Being based in Thailand has given Grigg “a nice distance from the New Zealand music business,” he said in 2012. “I can see its weaknesses and strengths. It seems very strong now, in a way that didn’t seem possible a few years ago.” He is impressed at its productivity, and that the important labels are in fact New Zealand-owned independents. The baton has been passed to another generation of entrepreneurs and risk-takers.