So recalls the Androidss’ Mark Wilson in a fond oral history video by Stuart Page, capturing the image of a band known more for its propensity for partying than its music – but whose sole recording testifies that the music should not be underrated either.
Like so many other bands of the era – Toy Love, The Gordons, The Bats and The Playthings among them – the Androidss trace back to The Basket Cases (aka the Detroit Hemroids), the band formed by English immigrant Olly Scott that helped shape much of Flying Nun Records’ Christchurch prehistory.
Wilson was part of a gang of friends living in a house on Lincoln Road in Addington who would go and watch The Basket Cases play at the infamous Gresham Hotel. The others kept coming and “being totally outrageous” after he joined the band.
“It was kind of an interesting scene, The Gresham,” Wilson recalls.
“After the Basket Cases split up in 1978, I went back to Lincoln Road and lived there and that’s how the Androidss formed.”
He started working on music with another Lincoln Road resident, Frank Steentjes, on bass. Other flatmates joined one by one. The first was British-born Eric Marsden, who had no musical experience, but wanted to play drums. Wilson showed him the basics and Eric graduated from cardboard boxes to a real drumkit, developing a manic, hard-hitting style as he did so.
Eric’s identical twin Steve Marsden was next to join, with a guitar he’d bought from Scott. Wilson’s school friend Neil “Nelly” Spence came in as a third guitarist, followed by his brother Mark, a classically trained pianist, on keyboards.
At some point, they settled on a name. After toying with The Lincoln Road Loonies and The Criminals, they became The Androids, because Eric had been reading Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?And before long – taking a cue from early posters that typically spelled the name with the stylised Armanen runes associated with Hitler’s personal guard the Schutzstaffel – The Androidss.
Their first performance was an all-instrumental set in support of Hello Sailor at the Dux De Lux. The first actual song the band wrote took shape when Dave Jarvis, who would become the band’s roadie and soundman, added some words to a tune Wilson had got together. That was ‘Getting Jumpy’, which would become one side of the band’s only record.
Although Wilson was now writing songs, they also worked up a collection of classic covers – including the Beatles’ ‘Drive My Car’, Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’, Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ and half a dozen Iggy Pop songs – that became a hallmark of the band. Mark’s boyfriend, hairdresser Arthur Manawatu (aka Portia), joined as a vocalist and a tall, dramatic figure on stage.
Jarvis helped make another crucial connection. He had been cellmates in prison with influential local promoter Jim Wilson, who says he “got right in behind the band” to help his mate.
“I put them in the Town Hall for a fundraising gig for the Salisbury Street Foundation (a residential support service for prison parolees). It was about their third gig. Toy Love also played and Sheerlux and Flight X7 – there’s a strange bill for you. I loved the party, fun ethos. Pretty early on, I deduced that some Gladstone and Hillsborough Tavern bands were taking themselves a bit seriously and the Androidss were my antidote to that. But they did develop further into a band rather than as a disease.”
Their first brush with fame was a notable one. When Iggy Pop visited Christchurch in 1979 as part of a now-notorious promotional tour, his record company publicist took him out to the British Hotel in Lyttelton, a seedy sailors’ pub where The Androidss were playing.
Manawatu asked Iggy if he’d like to join, but the star politely declined, observing that “it’s your band”.
“No one knew who he was – he was just this guy wandering around getting drinks from the bar,” Wilson recalls in Page’s video. “And I thought, what the heck? And I said to someone else, isn’t that Iggy Pop?”
The band had a whisky with him between sets, and then got back up play a second set while Iggy sat on the corner of the stage. The set included several Iggy songs, including the band’s much-loved version of ‘The Passenger’, and Manawatu asked Iggy if he’d like to join, but the star politely declined, observing that “it’s your band”.
The following day, the Christchurch Press quoted Iggy on the Androidss: “They’re tough as bitches, but they’re beautiful.”
Manawatu left (“He couldn’t deal with the whole thing. He much preferred to have his own peaceful little art thing,” says Wilson) and the rest of the band got on with playing supports for Auckland acts who came through town, including Th’ Dudes and The Swingers. After a support slot for Toy Love at the Brevet Club near Christchurch Airport, they decided to relocate to Auckland.
“At first when we got to Auckland, we still all had long hair and the skinheads and boot boys didn’t like us,” says Wilson. “They’d flick cigarette butts at us and act like we were these Christchurch boys on their patch. We all shaved our hair off and Steve and Eric sold them all sorts of sorts of drugs and bits and pieces – and the next thing they were all our buddies.”
The new fans weren’t always a benefit.
“I remember going to The Gluepot to try and get a gig for us, because I thought, ‘that’s the place to play’. And I went in and spoke to the manager and he said, oh, what did you say the same of your band was? And I said, Androidss – and he said ‘oh no, fuck that shit, I don’t want any of that shit round here. Go and look in my toilets’. And I went and looked in the toilets and someone had sprayed ‘Androidss Rule’ all over the walls’.”
Steve and Eric’s boundless access to drugs – most notably mysterious psychedelics – would play an inadvertent role in the creation of Flying Nun’s first iconic single, The Clean’s ‘Tally Ho!’. David Kilgour revealed in 2015 that the song was about the two terrible, confusing days he spent after taking a dose of a drug called DMA proffered by one of the Marsdens. (The Androidss themselves had a song called ‘DMA’ which described a similar experience.)
While officially remaining resident in Auckland, the band embarked on a “tour” south which had them living and playing in Christchurch for several weeks. This time, Jim Wilson booked them as headliners, playing three nights in a row at The Gladstone. On one night at The Gladstone, up against The Swingers across town at The Hillsborough, their fans set a bar take record that was never bettered.
“Their guest list was always about 200 people,” Jim Wilson recalls “One time the manager of the Gladstone, Ray Newman, said to me that someone was having sex up near the stage during one of their gigs. I said, ‘Shit I’m sorry Ray’ and he said ‘No, no – but can you book them in here again?’.”
The single peaked at No.19 in the local chart, making the Androidss Ripper’s second most successful act, behind only The Swingers.
They would make three of these long southern sojourns, with each visit treated as a party season by the locals. Just before the third, they made their only record – the double A-side ‘Getting Jumpy’/’Auckland Tonight’, which was recorded by Doug Hood and Steve Kennedy in a midnight-to-dawn session at Harlequin Studios and released on Bryan Staff’s Ripper Records.
The single peaked at No.19 in the local chart, making the Androidss Ripper’s second most successful act, behind only The Swingers. Its success was the upshot of a loyal following in Auckland and Christchurch – and also of the video for ‘Auckland Tonight’.
Staff says TVNZ’s Andrew Shaw suggested he write a treatment for a video for Shaw to direct for the music TV show Dropa Kulcha.
“And I said, why don’t we put each of the band in a select location and we’ll drive between each one and pick them up? We collected them, one from a strip show, one from the police station, one from the Windsor Castle. All these people were most obliging – I just waltzed in and said ‘could we film?’ and they said, sure.
“After the police station we went over to one of Rainton Hastie’s strip joints, where we had Judith Baragwanath come on as the stripper – and Rainton offered her a job on the spot! And she said yeah, sure, honey…
“It’s quite a timepiece, that video – the toll booths were still on the harbour bridge. It was such a simple video to make. It was Auckland, tonight, in 1981.”
The release party for the single, at the Parnell office of Ripper’s distributor CBS, was pure Androidss.
“One of the people at CBS came up to me outraged because one of the Androidss had pissed in the sink in the kitchen,” Staff recalls. “They were out to lunch – it was all ‘how many sample records can you get under your jacket before we get kicked out?’.”
“Steve and I were in the bathroom snorting something up and the rest of the guys ended up having a food fight and crawling around under the tables,” Wilson recalls in his interview with Page.
“It was chaos, and CBS sort of grudgingly loved it,” says Staff. “Here was a real punk band who didn’t give a shit, trashing their office. “But they were never evil thieves or anything – they were just good-luck chancers.”
Mark Wilson admits that he had ambitions for the band to travel to Australia and even Europe. But keeping half a dozen wild boys in line (it was hard enough to get Eric to turn up for a photoshoot) was too great a challenge.
The Androidss’ reputation tended to overshadow their music – ‘Getting Jumpy’ in particular is a twitching, pulsing song that defies comparison with anything else going on at the time.
“They were highly intelligent guys, they just didn’t trade on that,” says Jim Wilson. “And they developed as they went along.”
The Androidss disintegrated in 1982, although occasional reunions took place over the years, in 1987 and again in 2008. Their full-steam lifestyles began to tell, with Steve Marsden passing in 2009, his brother Eric in 2011, Neil Spence in December 2014 and Frank Stenjees in July 2015. Mark Spence has lived in London for many years, Portia Manawatu lives in Christchurch and Mark Wilson continues to live and play music in Christchurch.
Steve Marsden - guitar, vocals
Eric Marsden - drums
Mark Spence - keyboards
Neil Spence - guitar
Frankie Steentjes - bass
Mark Wilson - guitar
Formed as Lincoln Road Loonies.
The Androidss were named after Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
Auckland Tonight was retitled Christchurch Tonight for hometown shows.
Eric and Steve Marsden were twins. Steve died in 2009 and Eric in 2011.
Iggy Pop watched The Androidss at the seedy British Hotel in port town Lyttelton one night – they played him their famous extended version of The Passenger as Pop sat to the side of the stage.
The version of ‘Auckland Tonight’ released on record is only two minutes long, but it was extended by a minute for the song’s video. This extended version now appears on some compilations.