Techtones was essentially a re-invention of very popular but rapidly disintegrating five-piece, Sheerlux. In early 1980, bassist Peter Solomon joined Sheerlux’s remaining members Steve Roach (guitar/vocals), Jimmy Juricevich (guitar/vocals) and Graeme Schnell (drums) for the band’s last gasp. A few weeks later Schnell had left, and Chris Burt was recruited from hard-working covers outfit Picture This. “I thought I was joining Sheerlux,” Burt recalls. “Picture This was also falling apart, so it seemed like a great offer.”
However, with Roach keen to tweak the band’s musical style to suit the mood of the day, a new name was due. Roach and his then-girlfriend, costume designer Ngila Dickson, came up with “Techtones”.
In the public’s mind it was not a tectonic shift. The band was consciously distancing themselves from Sheerlux by adopting a 1960s look, complete with geometric stage clothes created by future Oscar-winner Dickson, and stylish pop-art posters by Joe Wylie, but a few Sheerlux songs remained on Techtones’ early setlists and the legacy proved hard to shake.
The first Techtones gig was at Mainstreet on 26 April 1980 with The Features, The Spelling Mistakes and Th’ Dudes, who were calling it quits. There was a large crowd present to farewell Th’ Dudes, but Auckland Star reviewer Louise Chunn detected a changing of the guard, saying that the debutante Techtones had “the tightest, slickest sound of the evening”.
Techtones joined a host of post-punk bands on the hectic New Zealand pub and club circuit. Touring alongside them were established rock/pop bands such as Hello Sailor, Street Talk and The Crocodiles, creating a heady choice of sounds, styles and attitudes for the punters.
SUPPORTING KISS IN CONCERT, TECHTONES PERFORMed THEIR NEW SINGLE TO 50,000 PEOPLE.
Within three months of their debut, Techtones found themselves opening for both the B52s and the Ramones. NZ Herald reviewer Shona Martyn said of the B-52s gig, it was “probably Techtones’ best local performance to date” and that “they produced pop songs as spick and span as their matching shirts.” Managers Charley Gray and Mike Corless kept them busy around the country all year, playing major pubs and clubs plus a healthy smattering of school balls, university halls and promo parties. Sharing stages with Techtones were the aforementioned “name” bands and the younger up-and-comers – The Mockers, Spelling Mistakes, The Screaming Meemees, Pop Mechanix, The Furys, Rhythm Method, Newmatics and many others. The band also found time to drop in to Harlequin Studios and get a couple of songs down on tape.
Techtones’ first 7" was released on Simon Grigg’s nascent Propeller Records. Self-produced, the A-side was a Jimmy Juricevich composition, ‘That Girl’, a danceable, Beatle-esque track complete with jangly guitars and ooh-aah BVs. The flip side was ‘The Silencer’, a Steve Roach-written instrumental reminiscent of The Shadows. The band was certainly nailing its 1960s aspirations to the mast. The Auckland Star singled the disc out, calling Techtones “Auckland’s finest original pop band”.On 30 November 1980, Techtones played Wellington’s Athletic Park, opening for metal megastars Kiss. They repeated the performance a few days later at Western Springs in Auckland. Rather than being overawed by the occasion, the band saw it as an opportunity to showcase the results of their time in the studio. “We got to chat with Kiss, they were very witty,” a member of the band said at the time. “But more importantly, we got to play our brand-new single to 50,000 people.”
Meanwhile the shows went on … and on … into 1981, evidenced by notebooks Roach and Juricevich kept of their relentless gigging. In January alone, Techtones played three nights at The Windsor Castle, a casting party in Remuera, four nights at the Albion in Gisborne, a night at Napier YMCA, three at The Cabana, back to the Windsor for two, and three at New Plymouth’s Westown. And in between the latter two, an event which got them a number of good notices.
Sweetwaters 1981 was held at Ngāruawāhia over three days in January. The festival was headlined by Roxy Music and Split Enz, with a host of Australian bands on the bill’s second tier but, as the Auckland Star noted, “local bands turned more than a few of the 50,000 heads”. Techtones landed the prime 8pm Saturday night slot and the Star’s Louise Chunn was gushing in her praise. “Watching Techtones support B-52s last year, it was hard to believe they could play any better. But they can, and did,” she said. Calling their songs some of the best written in this country, Chunn declared that the band belonged “in the upper echelons of Auckland rock society”. Stuart Coupe, of prominent Australian music magazine RAM, was equally impressed, writing that Techtones “provided my first real feelings of festival excitement.”
But there was no time for basking in Sweetwaters glory. February saw the boys at the Rumba Bar, then a sortie to Christchurch and Dunedin. March was a pile of school gigs in Auckland and Hamilton. All the major provinces got a visit or three from Techtones in the first half of 1981, as did Wellington’s Terminus and Last Resort.
Keeping the Techtones show on the road was tour manager Doug Hood, who had been sound engineer of The Enemy and Toy Love. “Doug did all the contact stuff at venues, as well as doing the sound, so he was a busy man on tour,” Burt remembers. Roach adds, “We should credit Doug as the fifth member of the band. His credibility in the music scene contributed hugely to ours. He held a lot of stuff together that could’ve fallen apart.”
“Doug Hood’s credibility in the music scene contributed hugely to ours” – Steve Roach
Also regularly behind the scenes was Bob Sutton, responsible for the lighting and general roadie duties. Sutton would later build up a considerable archive of band photos and film he shot around Auckland venues. The four Techtones agree that Hood’s sound engineering and Sutton’s lighting design were a key part of their show.
Doug Hood was also integral to the production of Techtones’ first – and only – album, TT23, released through Bryan Staff’s Ripper Records in October 1981.
Despite being offered a five-album recording deal by CBS who, earlier in 1981, released the single ‘State of Mind’, the group decided to go it alone. Most of TT23 was recorded by Hood and the band on the legendary Teac 4-track tape recorder belonging to Toy Love’s Chris Knox. The “studios” included a dilapidated Auckland hall where The Clean would later employ the same 4-track, and Hood, to record the revered Boodle Boodle Boodle EP.
Four of TT23’s 13 tracks were live gig recordings. The album was mixed and mastered by Dave Hurley at Mandrill. The majority of the songs were credited to Jimmy Juricevich, with Steve Roach contributing four and Doug Hood the opening, appropriately-titled track ‘Noises’. The Juricevich-penned title track ‘TT23’ was also released as a single.
Reviews of TT23 are hard to find, but writing for Wellington indie music magazine In Touch, “Rae Gunn” confessed he “hated [the band], with their matching shirts and derived sixties sound,” and that, based on their two earlier singles, he “expected a Techtones album to be an excruciating listening experience”.
“[But] it caught me off guard,” he said, before dissing most of the songs while praising the recording as making the band sound “human”. [The album is] “low key and unpretentious, a rare thing among ‘name’ New Zealand bands.” Chris Burt remembers a Colin Hogg review being “an unnecessary and cruel demolition,” but In Touch’s David Maclennan proclaimed ‘TT23’ “the best NZ pop single of 1981.”
The release of the ‘TT23’ album coincided with the demise of Techtones in October 1981.
The release of TT23 coincided with the demise of Techtones; their final gig was on 4 October 1981 at Mainstreet. The band members have varying recollections of what actually happened, but it’s likely they had simply run out of steam after a 17-month whirlwind existence. The poster for the TT23 tour read “Final Enzed Appearances,” but having a crack at rock-dominated Australia was really a half-hearted notion.
Only Jimmy Juricevich actually did move to Melbourne at the time and he remains there, “just playing for fun”. Chris Burt and Steve Roach performed as a duo, The Stridulators, and with Ramon York (Ragnarok) as Squirm. Latterly, Roach was a member of Bernie Griffen’s Grifters and Thin Men. Peter Solomon gigged with Chrome Safari and Grammar Boys and had a solo recording project, The Rapture. Burt has an audio-post studio in Auckland where he re-mastered TT23 from a rare remaining vinyl album, the original tapes being long gone.
During a Messenger group chat in 2020, Roach wrote to his former bandmates and said, “You know chaps, I think we’re very, very fortunate to have had a really great band experience that we can look back on and feel so good about. Thanks guys, it’s kind-of as big as family.”