A new kind of teenage rock and roll
Like a naughty school trip, the bad boys are at the back. Everyone amped, fresh and sparkin’. Dressed in their best street clothes, they're slugging grog surreptitiously as mid-winter rushes by the bus windows. Only these are no school kids. This is the best part of Auckland’s emerging punk rock scene – The Scavengers, Suburban Reptiles, Idle Idols, The Assassins, Rooter, and The Stimulators.
It’s June 17, 1978, and they’re on their way south to Wellington to link with art rockers 52 for the New Wave Special 78 at the Wellington Town Hall (all except Rooter, who are just along for the ride). They’ve loaded in under the TV eye of prime time current affairs show Eyewitness. The jolly facade is wearing thin as the Auckland punks set about their drinks and head deep into the middle of New Zealand’s North Island.
They spill en masse from the bus at Taupo and besiege a crowded disco then reboard just as abruptly, leaving the club’s stunned patrons in their wake. As the booze dies deep in the night, so do the travellers. They’re still slumbering early the next morning as presenter Neil Roberts interviews a youth psychologist brought along to talk about the instincts behind punk.
At the centre, as always, are pioneer Auckland punks The Scavengers.
When they finally reach Wellington, the bus is alive again, awash with empties, mangled wrapped lunches and piss (both sorts). The bands split up and scatter around the Windy City before regrouping that night at the Town Hall. The room’s not full, nor is it empty. Publicity in Wellington newspapers and the city’s own awakening scene has ensured the curious and the committed are out for the Sunday night show.
One by one they take the stage. 52. Idle Idols playing 'Innocent Bitch', written for them by Jimmy Sex of The Assassins. The Stimulators, with original Scavengers’ bass player Marlon Hart up front, playing a muddy ‘Fire In The Western World’. Jamie Jetson in out-there space age chic, whining afterwards that they sucked, even though it sounded fine.
As the camera comes closer, The Assassins' guitarist Dave Burgess’s amp explodes, so he fakes a solo while drummer Spike Bastard spits at the cameraman to distract him. At the centre, as always, are pioneer Auckland punks The Scavengers. Johnny Volume wearing an Asian silk jacket. Ronnie Recent gruffing out their classic ‘True Love’. Des with the elastic beat. New Zealand’s first punk rock group, who began life 18 short months ago as The 1B Darlings.
Punk rock New Zealand style
The British punk explosion was still around the corner and the New York punk scene an underexposed oddity when The Scavengers formed in late 1975 at Auckland Technical Institute as The 1B Darlings. They shared a graphic design class – Marlon Hart (16), late teens Simon Monroe and Michael Simons, and mysterious 20-something, Ken Cooke – or as they will soon be known – Mal Licious, Des Truction, Mike Lesbian and Johnny Volume.
The 1B Darlings practised and argued through 1976, playing halls and parties, but something was amiss. Mal Licious: “We were looking for a new style and reggae was getting big, so we did some reggae songs. Then that summer, there was a programme about The Sex Pistols on TV that upset everybody. And Johnny got really excited about this punk thing. “This is what we gotta do,” he said.
New look. New sound. New name. One with suitable punk bite was found at a free afternoon concert in Albert Park (generally hippie affairs). After the show, Volume and Des Truction were scrounging around for discarded cigarettes. “You scavenger,” Volume huffed at Des Truction, and the Dollish IB Darlings became the punk-sounding Scavengers.
New Zealand’s rock and roll scene was ready for a fresh infusion of energy, creativity and musicians.
Hold that scene a second. It’s apt: The Scavengers sifting through the debris at a 1960s-style free concert. It fitted the myth of punk – the insolent outsiders in the junkyard of the 1960s. And while New Zealand wasn’t America or England, and there were precious few jaded 1960s rock stars in Auckland in the 1970s, New Zealand’s rock and roll scene was ready for a fresh infusion of energy, creativity and musicians. Teased by the cult of the teenager the 1960s threw up, reared on Glam, Bowie, Lou Reed, The Stooges and The New York Dolls – the tail end of the Kiwi Baby Boom were ready for their own teen rebellion.
It was mid-1977 before The Scavengers got a break. A demo tape of their live set, recorded at Harlequin Studios found the ears of nightclub owner Maurice Greer, former drummer with 1960s and early 1970s icons Human Instinct. In amongst the proto-punk of Richard Hell’s ‘You Gotta Lose’, The Damned’s ‘So Messed Up’ and Doctor Feelgood’s ‘All Through The City’ was a fiery version of The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’. Greer booked them as support act at his Moody Richards club in Airedale Street in inner city Auckland.
In June, the local tabloids got finally around to checking out New Zealand’s version of the shock music cult that had enraged and inspired Great Britain. Sunday News tracked The Scavengers to Moody Richards, where Johnny was giving the audience as good as he got – in four letter words – as bass player Mal Licious paced the stage angrily, and singer Lesbian “confined his activities to writhing on the stage and ear splitting vocals".
The following month, Suburban Reptiles, the more flamboyant and image-conscious prong of the Auckland punk vanguard, played the Auckland University Cafe at a fundraiser for director David Blyth’s Angel Mine movie. Ex-Split Enz bassist Mike Chunn reviewed the show in Rip It Up: “I’m not talking about the potential of the groups, they have none, and I for one, would prefer them to have none.” Although he did suggest there was an audience out there for punk. He was right. The Scavengers and Suburban Reptiles headed to Wellington in search of it in late August 1977.
“They’re trying to kill us coz we’re the greatest”
Suburban Reptiles’ manager Simon Grigg had booked the bands onto the annual University Arts Festival bill in the capital for a meagre fee. No sooner had Mike Lesbian entered Wellington than his borrowed Austin Riley caught fire. The Dominion arrived quickly, snapping the smoking car and recording an irate (tongue in cheek) Lezbian proclaiming, “They’re trying to kill us, coz we’re the greatest.” Punk and patter appeared in the next morning’s issue under a curt Punks Putter To Fiery Halt headline.
On sighting the groups, the organisers cut their fees. This was early days and universities reacted to punk in the same way they did to the first surges of 1960s rock and roll, finding little of cultural or intellectual worth in the genre.
Universities reacted to punk in the same way they did to the first surges of 1960s rock and roll, finding little of cultural or intellectual worth in the genre.
Suburban Reptiles played the festival on Wednesday afternoon, sandwiched in between chronic hippies and Hare Krishna devotees Living Force and a forum event. Buster Stiggs, the Suburban Reptiles' drummer, made the front page of The Dominion after he threw his drumsticks into the evening crowd, hitting a girl and, so the press claimed, splitting open her head. The Scavengers got the blame.
The Scavengers had two more city shows to play – a pub and a nightclub. They cut from the pub after the first show, 10 feet tall and bulletproof. As they hit the street, a ragged chorus of insults flew their way. A battered and packed Ford Escort flew past and Mal Licious took off the down the road after them. The hoons got around the corner, and figured "Hey, there’s only two of them". When they returned, they had hockey sticks and baseball bats.
Mal’s girlfriend hurled abuse as he looked around for something to counter the sticks. He saw a heavy wire waste paper bin and grabbed it, when suddenly another car pulled up and out spilled four guys, also armed. A rival mob to the other guys, it turned out, as they started laying into them. Mal saw his chance, smashed the bin down on one joker’s knee and broke his leg. He started screaming, which made everyone stop, so Mal grabbed his girlfriend, they ducked down an alley and there they were at the nightclub.
Back in the Queen City, The Scavengers continued scrambling for shows. In late October, Lou Reed, punk godfather, the dark prince of rock and roll, stopped off in Auckland in the middle of a national tour. Johnny fronted up with the Gibson guitar Reed had sold to an Auckland music store on a previous visit and asked him to autograph it. Reed told him to fuck off.
With their reputation as New Zealand’s premier punks secure, and media profile high, The Scavengers set off on the overnight train to Wellington in late October 1977, where national Top 40 television rock and roll show Ready To Roll awaited them. They arrived minus Marlon Hart, who had signalled his intention to leave at the Arts Festival show. He had been replaced on bass by English immigrant Brendan Perry, AKA Ronnie Recent.
The Scavengers got shit-faced on whiskey on the long journey down, arriving fully tanked at Television New Zealand’s Avalon studio.
The Scavengers got shit-faced on whiskey on the long journey down, arriving fully tanked at Television New Zealand’s Avalon studio. By the time they settled into their dressing room, Johnny Volume was going over the top, abusing passing TV personalities. When Lesbian suggested he tone it down, Volume jammed a fork in the side of his head.
During filming, Volume was so out of it the cameraman kept him and the spangly star and glitter-covered acoustic guitar he was playing out of frame, while The Scavengers mimed and performed The Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’, and their own ‘I Hate You’, a Clash-influenced roll call of people they hated.
Next day, Mike and Johnny appeared on Nice One Stu, New Zealand’s premier kids programme, compered by hairy overgrown schoolkid (now sports producer) Stu Dennison. It didn’t start well when Johnny caught Stu smoking while wearing his schoolboy uniform, and grabbed the cigarette from Dennison’s mouth, telling him, “Schoolkids don’t smoke.”
Solid gold Scavengers
The Scavengers had yet to release a record. They’d been offered a deal by budget label K-Tel to record collections of new wave hits, but declined. They had their own tunes, and by February 1978, had the abrasive Heartbreakers-kicked and Clash-inspired ‘Supported By The State’ and ‘Routine’ in the can at Mandrill Studios in Parnell, ready for release on Polydor Records. When Mike Lesbian decided on an advertising career, the single was scrapped. It would be another full year before The Scavengers finally hit vinyl.
Operating as a three-piece, The Scavengers put out feelers to Tony Peake, late of Christchurch’s Vandals and Aliens to fill the vocalist slot. Peake decided against it, going beyond punk with The Newtones instead. The initially reticent Recent became the new vocalist. He took over singing on the sessions taped at radio station 1ZM which captured the best part of The Scavengers original songs – ‘Mysterex’, ‘True Love’, ‘Born To Bullshit’, ‘Routine’ (new version), ‘Supported By The State’ (new version), ‘Twenty-one’, ‘Money In The Bank’, ‘Brick In The Wall’ and ‘Violence’, recorded along with a cover of Dave Clark Five’s ‘Glad All Over’.
Auckland punk finally found a home in late February 1978, when Zwines opened in an old stone block building up the end of a dingy Victorian alley off Durham Lane. The venue had once housed the Top Twenty, Platterack, 1480 Village, Grannys and Granpa’s – teenage rock and roll clubs and nightclubs that rose and faded with the rock tides. It sat up above Babes Disco, a favourite hangout of gangs including the Headhunters, the Stormtroopers and the King Cobras. Punk, the new teenage rock craze, had arrived at one of the spiritual homes of Auckland rock and roll.
The Scavengers set about decorating the new venue with spray-painted graffiti, Nazi images, clippings from NME and huge gay bondage pictures. Downstairs they had a pinball machine while upstairs on the rickety balcony, a jukebox jammed with punk favourites rested. Neither would last long.
Cue early ad: “Zwines – New wave night club where all the indifferent people gather to pogo the night into sweating torment with resident band, The Scavengers, Auckland’s top punkers at their dirty best. Unusual place for people who feel they belong at Zwines. Become a punk. Get there tonight.”
The Scavengers settled into a three month residency, supported by the pick of the rising punk wave.
The Scavengers settled into a three month residency, supported by the pick of the rising punk wave – Europe, The Assassins, Idle Idols and The Stimulators. The whole shebang had been jacked up by their hip 30-ish manager; Dave Schofield, a North Shore businessman who fancied himself as a would-be Brian Epstein, and having assumed the role was well on his way to wrecking a successful career in TV hire. He quickly assimilated the punk attitude.
“It’s music from the guts – anti-establishment – our music is a reaction to what life has become – a bore,” he told the shock! horror! hungry Sunday News one evening at Zwines, as a gaggle of punks grappled violently to the sound of the band on stage. Others stood swigging from hip flasks, glaring balefully at cops making their half-hourly visit.
One night they turned up to collect an overdosed junkie who’d lain on the floor for hours before anyone noticed. Thanks to the Mr Asia syndicate, smack was cheap and plentiful in the city. And it was cool to those who worshipped junkie punk icons Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders.
As they consolidated their punk following at Zwines, The Scavengers stepped out more often, appearing at Parnell’s Windsor Castle with The Stimulators and Europe, and at the Globe Tavern in late April and early May.
Punk on the road
The Scavengers were back in Wellington in June for the New Wave Special 78 punk show at the Town Hall with The Assassins, The Stimulators, Idle Idols, Suburban Reptiles and Wellington art rockers 52. Television current affairs show Eyewitness hitched a ride with Neil Roberts (now deceased) in the reporter’s seat.
The punks performed on cue and the resulting show added to the growing mystique and appeal of the still-growing punk movement. The documentary was shown on the same night as a Radio With Pictures punk special featuring the Auckland punks and The Vandals from Christchurch.
The Scavengers stayed on in the capital to play three nights at Slack Alice’s, a fading Wellington rock nightclub. Next day, The Scavengers flew south to Christchurch to play punk friendly club, Mollett Street. A mini tour of North Island followed taking in Napier, Palmerston North, New Plymouth and Kawerau.
In Auckland, punk was growing fast. Punk acts were playing at the HQ Rock Cafe, The Occidental in Vulcan Lane, The Windsor Castle and Zwines. New arrivals The Enemy from Dunedin debuted with The Scavengers, Sheerlux and The Rednecks on September 22 at the Auckland University Cafe.
The Scavengers’ set now included covers of The Dave Clark Five’s ‘Glad All Over’ and The Electric Prunes’ ‘Get Me To The World On Time’ and featured Buster Stiggs from Suburban Reptiles on second guitar.
It was a violent show. A fight between a group of punks and disco kids turned tragic when a 16 year old fell 13 metres from a gangway outside the dance and was crippled with severe neck injuries. A passer-by was smashed in the eyes with a chain.
More trouble was to come. It’s midday on a weekday, and to the delight of the surrounding crowd, the orange-haired punks who tried to rob a Swanson Street bank with a pistol are getting their just desserts. The four culprits are being bundled into squad cars by detectives and the Armed Offenders Squad, heading for a grilling at the Auckland Central Police Station.
For once, it wasn’t a stunt. It was the city’s top punk act, The Scavengers, just pissing around. Doug Elephant, road manager and mate of Scavengers’ bass player Ronnie Recent, had frog-marched drummer Des Hefner out of a restaurant at gunpoint. The police were called and when the Auckland punks double parked outside Direction Records in Swanson Street, near a bank, they thought some heavy duty crime was about to go down. Manager Dave Schofield was just about to dash inside to change a cheque book over. The pistol turned out to be a slug gun they were taking to their Cotter Ave base to shoot possums.
With punk turning ugly for real, The Scavengers prepared to say goodbye to New Zealand. They set their sights on England and settled for Sydney. Following farewell shows with The Enemy and Suburban Reptiles at the State Theatre, and Rooter and The Rednecks at Zwines on Saturday, October 28, New Zealand’s most notorious punk act crossed the ditch.
The Scavengers were strip searched on arrival at Sydney Airport, then settled into a motel in McLay Street. Johnny (reverting to his real surname, Cooke), who’d lived in Sydney in 1974 and 1975, stayed across the harbour at Bondi Beach.
The fertile Melbourne punk scene was at its peak when the group – now called Marching Girls – arrived.
The fertile Melbourne punk scene was at its peak when the group – now called Marching Girls – arrived. Johnny and Des lived with one of the members of The Ears, the band on which the Richard Lowenstein movie Dogs In Space was based. Marching Girls made the soundtrack with a version of their classic ‘True Love’. They also found time to record ‘Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’ with Derek Hamby on harp and vocals – the theme song to a movie of the same name – and to write some songs of their own. Classy pop-rock songs, like the low-slung ‘First In Line’ and ‘The Answer’.
Australian rock writer Clinton Walker described the group as “very English, 1960s influenced pop-punk.” They still sat idle for four months before Terry Rogers, an ex-pat friend, got them work at the Venue and the Manhattan. Then they scored a residency at the seedy Champion in Fitzroy in the upstairs punk bar, regularly supporting touring bands such as Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, and NZ band The Tourists.
Rumours of discord filtered back to New Zealand, including an incident involving a girl, a glass, and 13 stitches, which nearly caused a band split. Still, they were playing, and their notices had improved. Adrian Ryan in Juke: “The Marching Girls give new substance to the term ‘minimal’. They’ve taken the stripped down stance of The Police and the original Talking Heads, made it simpler, and injected a heart-felt energy.”
Whatever ailed the band in Australia, it didn’t stop the Marching Girls returning home triumphant in late December 1979. They found Auckland ablaze with second and third generation punk bands and a burgeoning new wave scene. Toy Love ruled the city’s live scene. 1ZM’s Bryan Staff’s Kiwi Korner quarter hour of punk acts was stretched to half an hour and at least five venues were providing a home to the new rock and roll, although Zwines wasn’t one of them – having been firebombed in July 1979.
AK79, the first recorded evidence of the fertile Auckland scene, emerged in January 1980 on DJ Bryan Staff’s Ripper Records, and featured two instant punk classics in ‘True Love’ and ‘Mysterex’ from The Scavengers.
Marching Girls played through January 1980 at the Liberty Stage, Gluepot, Windsor Castle, Mainstreet and Island of Real with the city’s top punk groups Toy Love, The Spelling Mistakes, Proud Scum and SOBS.
RipItUp found a broken limbed Des Hefner with an arm in plaster, unimpressed with the scene they helped birth, noting only Proud Scum and The Spelling Mistakes as groups they liked. After two weeks home, Volume was bored with Auckland and keen to head back to Melbourne.
In June 1980, the Marching Girls unleashed a masterful single on the cool Au Go Go Records label – the nagging hook-laden ‘First In Line’, a low-slung piece of bare 1960s strum, backed with a cleaner, distortion-phobic version of ‘True Love’. Hot Scottish label Pop Aural Records picked it up for release in Great Britain, where John Peel played it on his influential radio show and Melody Maker called it, “sub sub sub Buzzcocks".
A phantom echo: Ronnie Recent (back to real surname Perry) quit the group to work with his girlfriend Liza Gerard. The pair would later form the successful 4AD Records act Dead Can Dance. Johnny went to live in Talbot near Ballarat and the group folded, although it would reform without Perry later in the decade, releasing singles in 1983, 1985 and 1987.