It was generally there you heard the best records first, and hearing the best records first was very important, as anyone from that era will readily confirm. We were, of course, there for the drinking and the music, being sexually dysfunctional as most inhabitants of single-sex boys’ schools were. Indeed, over the years we received scant recognition globally for predating The Dead Kennedys by being Too Drunk To … I mean, how CAN you when you are lying face down in a pool of sick, paralytic in someone's garden?
It was at The Cavern too that I remember arguing bitterly with Alan Young, then working for the Otago Daily Times, on the merits of Herman's Hermits, recent visitors to the city, who Young maintained were an excellent rock and roll band. The very same Young who later went on to a wonderful career in blues purism. So yes, The Cavern, an exciting place under the ground, where serious music lovers, serious scene-makers and serious pleasure seekers could all thrive. Until they passed out.
I hadn't seen a live band before and I just couldn't believe how good they were.
I think it was that same year when two guys in my class at school, Chris Brett and Richard McArley, mentioned they were in a band and told me I should come down and watch them practise and tell them what I thought. It was in an old scout hall in Leith Street, Sunday afternoon, and I don't recall being excited at the prospect of what might be inside, coz I was a records man, and had been for some time. I didn't know about live music. Unlike my friends, I didn't crawl through the toilet window at the Dunedin Town Hall to see The Rolling Stones and The Beatles for free. But what was inside that Sunday afternoon was indeed exciting – every great Stones, Who, Animals or Pretty Things song peeled off one after another, right in front of my eyes. A classic First Rock n Roll Experience, loud as loud can be. I hadn't seen a live band before and I just couldn't believe how good they were. "Do you think we're ready to play in public?" they asked me. Fucking hell, I thought they were the new Rolling Stones.
Chris Brett played lead guitar – a Burns London, green and black – and he played it exceptionally well. He could play anything. Later, when Sabre Dance's 'Love Sculpture' came out and the English pop writers proclaimed it as good as guitar could get, Chris was deeply indignant and learned it very quickly to prove his point. A few years later I remember him taking me through Led Zeppelin II note for note, pointing out all Jimmy Page's mistakes. And Chris Brett is not a conceited man.
Richard McArley played rhythm, a Hofner, and also played harmonica and sang. He looked far more like a rock star than Chris, and inexplicably, he was also the halfback in the Otago Boys High School 1st XV. And a prefect! On Saturday nights he drove a yellow Holden, and usually there was a girl in there. Consequently, we felt Richard was extremely cool.
Chris' older brother Steve played bass and like Chris, sang a bit. He was at university with a dentistry degree soon to begin and looked suitably respectable. And Roger Nixon was the drummer, an outstanding drummer. And also the oldest of the four. I can't remember what Roger did. Maybe he was an entrepreneur.
George wore a silk scarf and smoked cigars. That's how we knew he was a manager.
Early on The Third Chapter even had a manager, George Econimedes. George wore a silk scarf and smoked cigars. That's how we knew he was a manager. He bought Chris his Burns guitar, and when he was later thrown out of the picture, he locked the Burns in a cupboard and some serious negotiation, possibly involving fists, had to be done to release the guitar for the gig that weekend.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. The Third Chapter was ready to play. As I remember it, Waikouaiti, not far from where the Brett family lived in Karitane – the next coastal town north – was their debut. They played in an old hall where the locals would show movies at the weekend, just as you came into town on the left. It was also the library one day a week. It’s not there any more. I don't think a whole lot of people came, but I do remember the band were amazing. Chris had this reverb unit in an old case and he would kick it across the stage during surfing numbers like 'War of the Worlds' and 'The Crusher' and it would make shatteringly loud noises. Chris' girlfriend Jeanette sang Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots Were Made For Walking' that night with the band, proudly showing off her new white boots. It was the big hit song of the time. She married Chris not long afterward.
Maybe Port Chalmers was next; it was certainly the next one I saw. A similar experience, a small crowd in an old hall and pounding, magnificent music. My driver drank a whole bottle of crème de menthe that night and I had to drive us both back to town along the harbour, in one gear, fifteen miles an hour. I had never driven a car before; I have never driven one since. The band was now ready to play in the city.
There were few venues in Dunedin for a band like The Third Chapter, who were still on their way up and hardly likely to get work with Joe Brown at the Town Hall, hardly likely to shake The Countdowns down from the top of the Dunedin rock tree. So drummer Nixon set about finding a place they could play regularly, a club.
As the oldest band member, Nixon was predictably the materialistic one – Dunedin’s Frank Greer (manager of The Human Instinct) if you like – and definitely the most organised. He soon had tribes of helpers digging out a basement in Manse Street below a hair salon to meet rigid council height regulations. I was one of that tribe and I don't think I have ever worked so hard in my life. And even when we finally finished we were then told we had to go down deeper, so it all began again, the digging, the carrying of earth back up the stairs into the daylight. But it was finally ready to open, floor concreted, stark pillars, a rickety staircase up to the toilets at the back, a tiny room up there for nefarious activity, wall murals by Tony Friel, all of it dark, underground and exciting. A bit like The Cavern in Queen Street, only public now, and much bigger.
Local record buyers revered The Pretty Things in the same way Dunedin's early 1980s punters revered the Velvet Underground.
Opening night was utterly packed and it stayed that way for weeks. The Fire Service protested often as the Cellar Club mocked the legal crowd limits, generally doubling the allowed maximum. It was definitely the cool place to be. You went there to listen to the best music – the local record buyers revered The Pretty Things in the same way Dunedin's early 1980s punters revered the Velvet Underground. You also went to the Cellar Club to show off your clothes.
I reviewed The Third Chapter for the Neil Collins page in the Dunedin Star Sports, the first piece on rock music I ever wrote. Neil was the big man in town. He sang 'King Of The Road' with Roger Miller on stage, and pretended to be a Beatle when The Beatles used decoys to get out of their hotel without being torn to pieces by howling fans. I sneaked my Third Chapter piece in without Neil knowing as I was already writing for the paper and knew the editor, and the following week Neil ran a petulant line that read "the item on the Third Chapter on this page last Saturday was a contributed article". Fair enough. If all those Roger Miller fans had gone down to the Cellar Club the whole thing would have turned to custard.
The Pretty Things were The Third Chapter's specialty. They probably did the entire first album as well as sundry singles and B-sides and EP tracks – I always liked 'Midnight To Six Man' the most, but 'Roadrunner' was the calling card. 'Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut' sometimes caught the band out in the middle when they had trouble coming out of the break, but this was always a highlight too. The primal R&B rhythms of 'Big City' and 'Judgment Day' became the heartbeat of the Cellar Club; you shook to these rhythms even when the band wasn't playing.
Nixon had his moment on The Animals, 'I'm Crying', where he delivered a stunning drum display that made you tired just watching, and during either that or The Who's 'My Generation', my friend Neil and I behind the stage would be squirting fire extinguishers out at the incredulous audience while the band usually managed to smash something up on stage. Often a guitar.
I think they had a strobe for a time too, and I think the mechanism inside it was pinched from one of those yellow flashing lights the Council used to stop people falling into holes during road works. The Third Chapter did 'Gloria' of course, The Pleazers' version, everyone did, and we (us people who imported records regularly to stay one step ahead) even got them to do Love's 'Seven And Seven Is', which virtually nobody in Dunedin knew.
Yes, we all read Record Mirror, we knew about The Who. One wonders what those who didn't know about The Who thought of the Third Chapter smashing a guitar. Richard finally blew his semi-acoustic Hofner up when he poured lighter fluid on it and it exploded. We must have been reading about Jimi Hendrix by then. In fact it was around this time I actually WROTE to Record Mirror, in the style of their back-page Face column, noting amongst other things, that "Chris Brett was Australasia's hottest guitarist." Another classmate, Ian Fraser, who later became head of TVNZ, read this incredulously and told me I was pathetic. He was probably right. I also remember telling Roger not to admit he was married because it was bad for the band's image. That was definitely pathetic. But I was only sixteen …
My memories are pretty vague after those early nights. There was a gig out in Green Island, Teen Town, where the PA was so shitty the band had to drink ginger ale because of the state of their throats after all the shouting. Richard peed into an empty ginger ale bottle after one break and Chris drank it in one gulp after the next break, thinking it was ginger ale. You don't get rock and roll stories like that any more, it’s all heavy drugs and filthy shagging now.
We probably went to the Cellar Club every weekend, but try as I might I can't remember too much. I do remember Chants R&B in Christchurch were The Pretty Things flag wavers in Christchurch and The Unknown Blues were that in Invercargill, but only The Unknown Blues came to the Cellar Club to play (a friend told me before they came that they were "the ugliest band you will ever see" which was high praise, for the Pretty Things, after all, had faces like welders' benches). The Unknown Blues were good – loose and rough and raw.
When The Third Chapter came on the next night they were MUCH more animated. They had obviously had A Talk. Or maybe some speed.
And I remember after a while at the Cellar when The Third Chapter were probably getting a bit rote-like, a visitor from Christchurch in black leather, shades, no facial movement, standing in front of the stage shouting at them, telling them they had weren't putting anything into it, that they had no feeling. He was relatively small, but brick-shit-house-built and when the band let him up on the stage to see what he was made of, he hammered out 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' like his life depended on it. Someone told me he was on speed and I whispered that to the girls by the stage just so they would think I was cool. I didn't know what speed was. Then.
When The Third Chapter came on the next night they were MUCH more animated. They had obviously had A Talk. Or maybe some speed.
Other people later came into The Third Chapter and I'm not sure who they all were. One rang me when I was helping put together The Sound of Dunedin exhibition in 1996 and I had never heard of him. There was even a completely different band called The Third Chapter in Dunedin in the early 1970s, which is pretty weird.
Chris Brett remained an important Dunedin band member for some years. Fantasy looked like they were really going to do something – Human Instinct bassist Michael Brown and Craig Scott on lead vocals – but that never happened and Chris moved on to university campus favourites Pussyfoot and Stash, seminal bands in the days when drugs arrived in the city and courtyard parties abounded. After a spell in Australia and Tauranga, during which he took his body to the very edge and hauled it back again, he moved back to Dunedin in 1999.
Richard McArley was involved in the embryonic Hello Sailor as a friend of Graham Brazier and Dave McArtney. Once in Auckland, he took me round to a house and played me a tape of about 30 songs, which were Hello Sailor's early demos, mostly acoustic. Richard played slide guitar and harmonica. It was a terrific tape that I'd love to hear again – Richard lost his copy out of his truck on the Desert Road some years later. When I spoke to him recently he assured me with a smile he was the finest fibrous plasterer in Auckland and still plays a bit around the house. And he has become an extremely keen golfer.
Steve Brett is a dentist in Wanaka, still married to Fiona, his childhood sweetheart from Waikouaiti. I ran into him at the 1996 Gold Guitars in Gore where he was playing bass for a country rock band called Highway 89. He still looked exactly the same, young and impossibly bright-eyed. The night before his band told me Steve had been so drunk he sang 'Get Off My Cloud' at a rugby club do. Steve didn't remember a thing about it. Steve now plays around once a month in Highway 89 Revisited, the new members being Dunedin rock luminaries Norman Bresanello and the late Ali McDougal.
Roger Nixon, I never kept up with. He turned up in the Sunday Times in a feature once, having made a zillion dollars from something to do with computers. That was in Christchurch, I think.
The band came back together in Easter 1993 at the Stash reunion in Dunedin with Dave Kirkland on drums. He had originally replaced Nixon in the band. McArley and Brett borrowed a tape of the first Pretty Things album off me, had a quick practice and everything fell into place. They played great all weekend – a fine version of 'Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut' is on the Yellow Eye Records Dunedin triple CD compilation, But I Can Write Songs Okay.
That was as close as The Third Chapter ever came to recording. They did make a tape in the McArley family garage in 1966 with the aforementioned Ian Fraser on vocals. They did two Rolling Stones songs, 'Get Off My Cloud' and 'Time Is On My Side'. Fraser recalled it as a very drunken experience. He thought he might know where the tape was and I turned his father loose on the case accordingly, but nothing turned up. Shame.
Were The Third Chapter a good band? I think so, though I was young and silly and had very little to compare them with. But I know one thing, they played fucking great songs, and they made every weekend one to look forward to. You can't ask for more than that when you're sixteen years old.
Richard McArley - guitar, harmonica, vocals
Chris Brett - guitar, vocals
Steve Brett - bass, vocals
Roger Nixon - drums