The players that remained from The Rodents were guitarist John McDougall (guitar, vocals), John Niland (keyboards), Andrew Cross (drums), Andrew Clouston (sax) and David Armstrong (trumpet).
HULAMEN GIGS WERE EVENTS: AT LEAST 10 MUSICIANS ON STAGE, PLUS THE HULETTES DANCE TROUPE.
The Hulamen would sometimes rehearse in the basement rumpus room of the Wadestown family home of drummer Andrew Cross, whose father Ian was a former NZ Listener editor, author of classic New Zealand novel The God Boy and, at the time, chairman of the BCNZ.
Early formative jams included Chris Green on sax but he left and Andrew Clouston took his place. With the former Rodents vocalist Peter Marshall living in Auckland, the Wellington Rumours column in Rip It Up (March 1982) speculated, “Will The Hulamen move to Auckland to join Peter Marshall or will he move to Wellington to join them?”
Hulamen gigs were events: there were at least 10 musicians on stage, with the spotlight shared between up to half-a-dozen singers. Plus, the Eelman website recalls, “percussionist-without-portfolio Ronny Pelicano (aka Tim Robinson) and his Fred-Astaire-on-acid dance routines. At the Terminus Tavern Steven McDougall, the group’s tireless tech, erected a platform above the stage where a pair of female dancers ‘the Hulettes’ would gyrate to the funk.
“At the Thorndon Hall guest vocalist Gerry Moran sang one of his showpieces, ‘Think I Should Be Locked Away and Helped’, swinging maniacally from the top of a lighting rig. And then there was the Eelman. A slimy cartoon character devised by Andrew Clouston, he was recreated in three dimensions by artist and mask-maker Debra Bustin. The Eelman’s arrival at a gig was a guaranteed showstopper.”
When it came time to record, the Hulamen laid down tracks at Radio New Zealand with Tony Burns, and added Peter Marshall as a guest vocalist on ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’ and ‘Bulls to Texas’. Marion Spencer sang lead on 'Underground’ (Burns was assisted in the production process by The Hulamen and their soundman Nigel Stone). The sessions produced three multi-track recordings and live-in-the-studio takes – ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’, ‘Working For A Living’ and ‘Underground’.
The band then went to Marmalade Studio where Ian Morris recorded (and produced with The Hulamen) ‘Start A Fashion’ and ‘Beer And Skittles’. John McDougall sang lead on these tracks and ‘Fry Up’ that was “recorded in a big room ...”
‘BEER AND SKITTLES’ WAS A DIVERSE AND LOVEABLE DOCUMENT, SAID ‘RIP IT UP’.
Looking back at the EP in 2020, Mark Cubey wrote,“The EP opener ‘Start a Fashion’, with McDougall on vocals, was a statement of intent; ‘Bulls To Texas’ was Peter Marshall’s most dynamic vocal with the band at its most driven. The live-take closing track ‘Fry Up’ provided the best insight into the anarchic live psyche of the group.”
The first pressing of the seven-track Beer and Skittles mini-album was distributed independently by John Niland on the Eelman label but for national distribution, Jayrem took over the manufacture and sales. Rip It Up (November 1982) gave the recording a very positive review but noted, “Pity The Hulamen have gone their separate ways.” Because of their early demise, the review (which I wrote) turned out to be the only substantial coverage the band received in Rip It Up:
“A diverse and loveable document from the Wellington aggregation with the fabulous RWP video clip. Many of the players featured in the Rodents who ventured north two years ago, as did Peter Marshall who guests on two songs: the standout, ‘Barking Up the Wrong Tree’ (exceptional vocal track) and ‘Bulls to Texas’. Though the regular Hulamen vocalists are weak in places, the platter succeeds by virtue of its soulful playing and sympathetic production: strident horns, keyboards and bass are cleanly on the vinyl. Pity Hulamen have gone their separate ways. Beer and Skittles is a must for fans and a pleasureable experience from afar.”
In 2009, Nick Bollinger included Beer and Skittles in his book 100 Essential New Zealand Albums. Although the disc was not an album, he said, it “packs more thrills than most discs twice its length.”
For Bollinger, the opening track ‘Start a Fashion’ summed up the album’s spirit, “as McDougall exhorts band and audience to follow their anarchic impulses – dance on restaurant tables, do their own thing at the disco – while horns, keyboards and voices swirl chaotically around an anchoring shuffle rhythm.” The strongest of the the four vocalists on the album, said Bollinger, was Peter Marshall on ‘Barking Up the Wrong Tree’: “with his creamy soulful croon [Marshall] invests it with aching conviction.” (Marshall, co-lead singer of the Holidaymakers’ hit single ‘Sweet Lovers’ (1988), would release a digital album, Peter and the Wolves on Eelman in 2014.)
David Armstrong - trumpet
Andrew Clouston - tenor sax, baritone sax
Andrew Cross - drums
Peter Famularo - tenor sax, alto sax, congas
Stephen Jessup - guitar
Paul "Mac" MacAllister - bass
Marion Spencer - vocals
John McDougall - guitar
John Niland - piano, organ, clavinet