Formed in 1982, the Wizards were known for their zany humour, razor-sharp satirical lyrics, and a sound that one columnist described as “the most lunatic R&B you’ll ever hear” (Helen Collett, “Band Stand”, TOM, 22 June 1984).
Originally a four-piece, the band was formed in rural Taupaki, West Auckland, where the parents of Landy and John Brockie (guitar and bass) ran a farm that doubled as a foster home. The two brothers, sons of political cartoonist Bob Brockie, hailed from Wellington, as did Paddy Neville (vocals) and John Lowe (drums), also known as Jim Steel and Lois Flange respectively. (Hence the James Bond-influenced intro to the Wizards’ version of ‘Muleskinner Blues’: “My name’s Steel … Jim Steel”.)
I subsequently joined on harmonica, followed by Joanna Clouston on backing vocals. In later years the line-up was augmented at different times by Katie Brockie, Leisa Matthews and Buzz Worley, who sang lead vocals as well as BVs.
The band’s early songs were thrashed out in a converted pig shed, but before long they were venturing out into the then-thriving Auckland pub circuit. Rick Bryant, a friend and mentor from Wellington, offered the Wizards numerous support gigs with his bands The Neighbours and later The Jive Bombers, including two tours of Northland. In their early years, the Wizards also supported Daggy and the Dickheads (as featured on Country Calendar), Big Sideways, and the Dynamic Hepnotics, an Australian soul band.
The Wizards’ music defied pigeon-holing. “Surf-punk-blues-fun” was one attempt.
The Wizards’ music defied pigeon-holing. “Surf-punk-blues-fun” was one attempt at a label, but this left out country and western, tongue-in-cheek crooning, and even a bit of early rapping. Influences were many and various: hardcore punks might be pogoing along to a New York Dolls or Buzzcocks cover, only to be sideswiped by ‘Long Tall Texan’ or a Hot Chocolate/Lou Reed mashup. This was perhaps one reason why the band never made the big time: some punters couldn’t cope with their wanton genre-hopping, though their diehard fans loved them for it. (Another reason may have been their fondness for what they referred to in ‘Short Arms & Long Pockets’ as “liquid thrills”.)
The band travelled to Wellington several times to play with The Pelicans, old mates whose friendship might have been tested by Ken Weir’s review of their joint gig at Cosgroves. This devoted most of its column inches to the limelight-stealing Aucklanders, describing their lead singer as a “demented … holiday camp master of ceremonies” and concluding: “They’re not slick – far from it – but deliver a joyously raw and raucous dose of cool, rocking music.”
Other reviewers also succumbed to Jim Steel’s undeniable charisma, and who could blame them? For Duncan Campbell, he was “a mean, bequiffed rockabilly rebel [who] sweats so hard. A workingman’s dude” (Rip It Up, January 1985), while Ken Double thought he resembled a Frankenstein-created cross between Tom Waits and Dr Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux. Helen Collett was less gothic in her praise: “Ebullient frontman Jim Steel is as audience captivating as the band is musically talented.”
Having graduated from support gigs, the Wizards headlined at the Cricketers and the Pulse in Wellington, The Gluepot, The Windsor Castle, and the Globe in Auckland, the Waihi Beach Hotel, and numerous country halls. They played at all the North Island universities in an orientation week tour, and in 1984 were runners-up in Radio Active’s Band of the Year competition at Victoria University, resulting in the aforementioned prime-ministerial conflagration.
As far as subject matter was concerned, nothing and no one was sacred. The Pope, Miss Universe, property developer Bob Jones, racist politicians, fundamental Christians, the woman who sold her babies for two bottles of beer, the entire US of A – all were grist to their mill.
Starve the Lizards ... It’s the Economic Wizards, the band’s first EP, was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public in 1984 on the Wellington-based Eelman label, distributed by Jim Moss’s Jayrem Records. Produced by Alastair Dougal and Steve Buckland, it included four tracks: ‘Pakuranga Girl’, ‘The World is Beautiful’, ‘Short Arms & Long Pockets’, ‘If Anyone Can the Vatican Can’.
In a review entitled “Witty Wizards”, Mike Fallow described the EP as “a notable arrival on the record shelves” that “deserves to sell a tonne”. ‘Pakuranga Girl’, an angst-ridden doo-wop ballad that gently lampooned beauty pageants, was the standout track and remains the best-known Wizards song to this day. Who can forget the immortal line (even if they want to): “I almost wet my trou when you showed them Kiwi girls are the grousest!”
Starve the Lizards reached No.1 in the Radio B Top Ten, appeared on the 1ZM playlist, and soon sold out.
‘Pakuranga Girl’, a doo-wop lampoon of beauty pageants, remains the best-known Wizards song.
The Wizards’ next EP, aptly named The Second Coming, was released in 1986, having been funded by their Band of the Year prize money. Produced by Sam Ford, it was engineered by Steve Buckland, who was also the band’s manager at that time. Buckland worked tirelessly to promote the disorganised and somewhat anarchic Wizards, as acknowledged by Jim Steel in his liner notes: “Special thanks to Steve Buckland for patience and service beyond the call of nature”.
With a tighter, raunchier sound than its predecessor, this record also had four tracks: ‘The Floor (Haemorrhage All Over)’, ‘Septicaemia’, ‘Fundamental Baby’, and ‘Muleskinner Blues’.
Chris Bourke wrote an enthusiastic review in Rip It Up (August 1986): “The Economic Wizards have always been great fun, and they can hang a song together too … Excellent vocals from Jim Steel to classic Chuck Berry riffing and a mean and obscene harp player. In a world dominated by pretension, the true rock and roll spirit of the Wizards is refreshing. Melodies, one-liners and messages too: ‘Jesus Christ in blue suede shoes / Leading the dance of the chosen few / Someone tell me what can an atheist do?’ (‘Fundamental Baby’, the best song here). Funnier than the Johnnys — and more musical too!”
Although Jim Steel wrote most of the Economic Wizards’ lyrics, other band members and friends made memorable contributions, notably Lois Flange (‘Pakuranga Girl’), Katie Brockie (‘Short Arms & Long Pockets’) and Matthew Clouston (‘If Anyone Can the Vatican Can’, undoubtedly the best R&B song ever written about the Pope!).
Guitarist and open-tuning maestro Landy Brockie also played a major role in creating melodies and riffs, while his brother John could wield a pencil as well as a plectrum. Not content with “pumping out a throbbing beat”, he had a keen eye for caricature, as evidenced in several of the band’s posters.
Over time, as band members focused more on raising children than raising hell, gigs became less frequent, but there were still some memorable occasions. One such was the epically debauched New Year’s Eve party on Great Barrier Island in 1998, when half the audience ended up dancing drunkenly on stage and the gravel road out was lined with unconscious partygoers the next morning, as if they had simply dropped in their tracks as they staggered home. In a rare rock-and-roll-royalty moment, band members were ferried off the island the next day in a Piper Cherokee piloted by The Rev’s brother, Greg.
THE WIZARDS NEVER REALLY BROKE UP – IT JUST BECAME TOO HARD TO GET TOGETHER.
As the Muldoon era faded from public consciousness, the Economic Wizards’ name became less relevant, and they decided to change it. Several options were considered, including “The Sausages”, “The Love Handles” (my personal favourite) and “The Rank Outsiders”. The latter was eventually chosen, despite the discovery of an LGBTQ military association with the same name.
It was under this name that the band’s final album was recorded in 1996. This took place in South Head Hall, 50km north of Auckland, where they decamped for several days. Producer and engineer John Kempt converted the hall into a temporary recording studio, with different instruments isolated in different rooms, including the men’s bathroom. Ten tracks were successfully completed, but despite the high quality of both songs and production, the album has yet to be released.
The Economic Wizards never really broke up. There were no Beatles-like dramas or musical incompatibilities. No one found God or felt the need to work on a solo project. When half the band moved to the South Island, it just became too hard to get together. And then Jim Steel – Paddy to his friends – received a head injury after being hit by a bus. His health went into a decline, and he passed away in 2019. The last time the band played together was at Paddy’s farewell.
Paddy Neville - vocals
Landy Brockie - guitar
John Brockie - bass
John Lowe - drums
Andrew Campbell - harmonica
Joanna Clouston - vocals
Katie Brockie - vocals
Leisa Matthews - vocals
Buzz Worley - vocals