Ben Staples told AudioCulture how The Newmatics came to an end: “Paul [Rose, manager] wanted to leave. That was okay, but when Jeff [Smith, bassist] said he wanted to leave, the whole floor dropped out of it. We were completely stunned. Mark said he wanted to go to Britain and within 20 minutes everything had fallen apart. Our – mine, Syd and Kelly’s – reaction was let’s go and form another band.”
Miltown Stowaways recorded their debut EP, Hired Togs, for Propeller Records in October 1982. The EP was due for release that same year but was delayed when the tapes got mixed up in Australia. When it was pressed, one side contained the Stowaways, while the other had tunes intended for a Propeller compilation. It eventually arrived in April 1983.
Miltown Stowaways recorded their debut EP, ‘Hired Togs’, for Propeller in October 1982.
For the April 1983 issue of Rip It Up, Fiona Anderson told Duncan Campbell, “We’d been together for four weeks, we had four songs and we recorded them. It was a shame that it didn’t come out way back then, rather than now, when what we’re doing is a lot different.”
“We’ve nearly finished recording for our album,” says bassist Mark, “and the sound is just so different, compared to that EP.”
Fiona agrees. “The band itself is tighter and yet more diverse. That sounds strange, I know, but …”
“It’s like improvising within the three-minute pop thing,” says Ben. “Basically, probably, we’re a pop band, but we’re now giving ourselves more room to stretch out.”
Campbell described the EP’s sound as “a sort of loose-limbed jazz-funk, but that’s also rather glib and simplistic. Some of the ideas come close to James Blood Ulmer’s theories of harmolodics, especially in the rhythm guitar’s chord structures. But the sound is very tuneful and catchy and most certainly danceable.”
He noted that “As of about three weeks ago, the EP had sold exactly 194 copies. This provokes ironic laughter from [the band]. They’d originally been told it was 300.”
Campbell wrote: “The Stowaways are part of a loose association of musicians producing some stimulating and progressive music. The common link is the Auckland City Council’s PEP scheme music workshops. The central figure is guitarist/musical director Ivan Zagni. Miltown Stowaways’ guitarist Syd and saxist Kelly Rogers play in Big Sideways, the jazz-influenced 12-piece which emerged from the first scheme. Ben plays with Avant Garage, the new PEP group that includes ex-Blam Tim Mahon, ex-Blind Date Mike Caen and several members of the Auckland Regional Orchestra.”
Ben: “Ivan is such an amazing person to work with, because he’s so creative and so enthusiastic. He has a remarkable effect on the people he plays with.”
Fiona: “Those of us who weren’t on the PEP scheme have got a lot of benefit from those who were on it.”
The band began 1983 by appearing at Sweetwaters Festival at Pukekawa, south of Auckland.
Around this time Ben Staples was part of a collective who started their own label, Unsung Music, aimed at providing an outlet for music from Big Sideways, Avant Garage, and the Miltowns, among others, after the major labels showed no interest.
The band began 1983 by appearing at Sweetwaters Festival at Pukekawa, south of Auckland. Their Unsung Music labelmates Big Sideways were also on the bill.
Fiona Anderson’s experience of Sweetwaters wasn’t great: “I wore my artist’s pass outside my jumper, because I was sick of people asking me which band my boyfriend was in. I don’t think people take women musicians seriously in this country and there are some really tremendous women musicians.”
Mid-year they headed off for their first jaunt out of town, playing Wellington, New Plymouth Whanganui, Palmerston North, Hawera, Napier, Gisborne, and Mt Maunganui.
Following the EP, Anderson departed the band, and they started work on their next single, ‘Strong and True’, and their debut album, Tension Melee. Both came out on Unsung Music.
In mid-August they played at a benefit gig for Propeller, with Rip It Up’s Russell Brown noting: “I had big fears for the Miltown Stowaways after the loss of Fiona Anderson but with the switch to one lead vocalist there’s a cohesiveness that hasn’t been present before. There also seems to be a little more force behind their playing – even the silly ‘Forest Rangers’ demanded attention. ‘Strong and True’ still doesn’t sound like the best single choice, however. I think the Stowaways will be worth watching, if only for Ben Staples’ stand-up drumming.”
Rip It Up’s Mark Everton reviewed their debut album in October 1983: “Tension Melee is the most aptly titled album round for some time. A celebration with a conscience? It forces its way out of the speakers with city-wise energy of concrete and brass … The Miltowns’ first album is self-financed and features 10 original songs. The raw funk of the band live is lost a bit, of course, in the transition to vinyl but the cohesive power eventually makes up for any blunt edges … Working with tension is a dangerous game, leaving little room for variation. But the Miltowns fire from the groove with compulsive energy and record a positive step forward; Take the trip.”
Following the album release, they set off in November around the country, venturing south, playing Hamilton, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, and Dunedin.
The ‘Invitation’ EP marked the first time the band felt they had created a quality finished recording.
The band played three nights at The Windsor Castle in early February 1984, before heading off in early March for a farewell tour. They had a new EP, Invitation, to promote, recorded for the Hit Singles label run by John Doe. They were released on three different labels in the space of a year.
The EP marked the first time the band felt they had created a quality finished recording. Mark Dansey recalls, “Some of the spirit and energy of onstage was captured in recordings of some songs. The trouble with most of the recordings – with the exception of the last EP – were, I believe, poorly recorded, mixed and mastered. So, the sound is inferior, which is disappointing. The passion that the band had was not transferred to the finished product. In addition, the masters were lost, so there is no way to tidy things up.”
The Invitation tour kicked off at The Gluepot, to be followed by four weeks of touring coinciding with University Orientation, before some band members shifted to London. They spent the previous 18 months working hard, touring frequently, and building up a fierce live show.
Fiona Rae reviewed their Wellington show at Victoria University for Rip It Up: “This must be the most demanding, insistent band (on limbs and head) you’ve ever seen. There is no way you can ignore the curving and weaving, ducking and diving of their music, and of course, the damned energy.
“No review of the Stowaways is complete without a mention of percussionist Ben Staples bashing an old copper water cylinder, must be fun, and the biggest biscuit tin in the world makes good noise. The Miltown Stowaways are Gone Cats and you had to be there to see their designer clothes.”
Rip It Up’s Mark Everton went south to meet up with the band in Christchurch. By that stage they had played 13 shows on the tour and were two weeks in. He met up with their crew at The Gladstone: “The band is stuck with engine trouble five hours up the road. Four hours later, and right on show time, the band bursts out of the van, onto the stage. The early minutes are filmed by a Kaleidoscope [TV] crew then the rapt crowd is wrapped in another unique Miltown’s performance.”
The band headed to Dunedin for a run of shows at The Oriental Tavern, then played a Radio One concert at Otago University. They smashed out two energetic shows at the Oriental on the Thursday and Friday. Then a soccer game the next day went badly wrong.
Dansey recalls, “We had an impromptu soccer match with the Netherworld Dancing Toys ... I collided with Malcolm Black, and I ended up with a broken leg. That night’s gig was cancelled and so was my remaining participation.”
During an impromptu soccer game, Mark Dansey broke his leg. The rest of the tour was canned.
Netherworld Dancing Toys’ Nick Sampson asked John Dodd to sub in on bass for the next night at the university and they scraped together a set. The band went home two weeks early; the rest of the tour was canned. Back in Auckland they pulled Newmatics colleague Jeff Smith in on bass for the final shows.
Dansey says: “We did our final gig at the Gluepot, at the end of March, with Jeff playing bass, and I played for a song or two, and that was it for the band. End of story. The full line-up never played again, and we’ve never played any Stowaways songs together since.
“In the band Kelly, Syd and Benny as well as our soundman Mike Nielsen [Lava Lava] had all booked tickets to London. They had been itching to go, and so everything the Stowaways were doing was on the proviso that they would leave at some stage.”
Ben Staples told Rip It Up: “We’re not going to London to be pop stars, we’re going to learn. I want to learn where there’s many more millions of people around.”
Syd Pasley: “If people don’t hear from us in six months they shouldn’t think we’ve gone down the tubes.”
Staples: “We haven’t been happy with our studio work up till now. We always run out of time before exploring all the changes. Our first strategy with this band has been to write songs and then put them down on tape so we’ve got them. We wanted to avoid the situation we had with the Newmatics where we wrote about 30 songs and now there’s only nine on vinyl.”
Mark Dansey recalls: “We didn’t have any concrete plans to get together and play music over in England, only talk and a vague notion. I eventually got there in May 1985. In retrospect we were individuals that went on an OE, who also happened to be mutually connected by music.
“Having said that, Kelly and Ben played together in The Subterraneans with writer Nick Kent. Kelly had a horn thing going for a while with Geoff Blythe, who played sax with Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Benny joined The Woodentops and they did very well through the mid to late 80s.
“Me, Kelly, Ben, and Syd, as well as Mike (Nielsen), Mark Clare (Newmatics), and Jeff Smith were all very close friends in London and remain so to this day. Syd has a place in Hunua and hosts a party each January. Most of us meet up and have a jam, which is really nice.”