The initial line-up comprised Hawkins (guitar), Jessica Walker (bass), Andrew Strang (vocals) and a drummer named Wayne. The band’s new name came from Walker, just returned from Auckland and a stint with an early line-up of The Clean, as she recalled in an interview with this writer published in the July 1980 issue of Wellington’s In Touch magazine:
Walker: “These shopgirls on a bus hassled me, they abused me all the way to the Railway Station, calling me a punk and all that … ”
Hawkins: “And you said ‘They had plastic raincoats and shoes this high’, and … (laughs)”
Walker: “It was going to be called Stunted Broccoli, so we were lucky!”
Shoes This High played their first gig under the new name in Cuba Mall on Sunday 18 November, and it was a good performance. They were back there again on Sunday 9 December (the last gig of the three-month Cuba Mall scene), having undergone yet another personnel change: Andrew Strang was out, and Brent Hayward was now on vocals.
Hayward performed like a man possessed, and it was clear that Shoes This High were going to be the band to watch in the coming year.
They played two sets that day. The first was rather lacklustre, but the second set, which finished the afternoon, was a killer, one of those spine-tingling performances that leaves you with a sense that something really special is happening. Hayward performed like a man possessed, and it was clear that Shoes This High were going to be the band to watch in the coming year.
In the In Touch interview Hawkins related how Hayward came to join Shoes This High, which happened shortly after Jessica Walker’s return: “After about two weeks of practising with Andrew and Wayne, Jessica and I got really fucked off with Andrew fucking around, so I got really super-frustrated one night and jumped on a bus and went over to Brent’s place and running in his door, said ‘Brent, will you please sing for the band?’ and he said ‘Yes I will.’ ”
Joining the band may well have saved Hayward’s sanity, he told Andrew Schmidt in issue two of Mysterex. “I hadn’t done any music with Kevin since the Amps,” he said. “I was living out in Wellington’s suburbs. I was psycho. I was going off my tree.” Hayward found the first rehearsals therapeutic. “I just unleashed all this blood and guts. I thought ‘This is cool.’ ”
Shoes This High continued to practise following the last Cuba Mall gig. Then about two weeks later, Wayne (drums) announced that he was also leaving. “He wanted to do opera singing!” said Walker. A New Year’s Eve gig at Thistle Hall with several other bands was looming, so they were desperate for a drummer. It looked as though the band might fall apart again just as the players were starting to hit their stride. But they were saved just in time when Don Campbell joined, initially just for the Thistle Hall gig (an infamous and rather legendary night) but then full-time. Shoes This High’s prospects in the coming year looked good.
The band’s development during 1980 was rapid and spectacular. Their first gig of the new year was on 8 February, supporting Toy Love at the Last Resort café (the Spies supported on the previous night). They played so well they were called back for an encore. The management, of course, didn’t care for either band, according to the Spies’ Chris Plummer. “They kept saying, ‘When are you going to get off and when’s Toy Love going to get on?’ ” he recalled in an interview later in the year. This attitude was typical of established venues like the Last Resort or Rock Theatre, neither of whom, according to Kevin Hawkins, “… appeared to consider that any of us could actually play music of any kind at all. They just wouldn’t consider it.”
Although Shoes This High played an excellent set supporting Toy Love, the drummer Don Campbell wasn't working out. At the same time, things weren’t going well with the Spies, and Chris Plummer soon left that band. Perhaps inevitably, he joined Shoes This High, at Hawkins's invitation. Plummer proved to be the final missing ingredient in Shoes This High’s sound, and their music and performances would soon reach new levels of intensity.
Their first outing with Plummer on drums was on Friday 14 March at the Rock Theatre supporting the Whizz Kids, only days after their first practice together. Shoes This High played what to this writer seemed like a good set, but Plummer later described it as “diabolically bad”. They were better the next two nights, according to Hawkins.
On Wednesday 14 May, Billy The Club – the revamped Rock Theatre in Vivian St, under new management – officially opened its doors. It was a big night, with just about everyone who was anyone in Wellington in attendance. Christchurch band the Newz headlined the event.
Shoes This High’s set blew up the Newz’s PA system.
Shoes This High were supporting and they played well, but their set was mainly notable for the fact that they blew up the Newz’s PA system. “We had a soundcheck and the soundcheck sounded great,” Brent Hayward told Andrew Schmidt in Mysterex #2. “We played exceptionally loud at the soundcheck like everyone liked to. We were just gonna blow whoever the Newz were off the stage.”
Richard Sedger was doing the sound for Shoes This High at the gig, while I was roped in to do the lights (not that I had a clue what I was doing!). “Richard was in a Kevin Ayers frame of mind that night,” Hayward continued. “He took too much of something and he couldn’t get the sound loud enough (that was fine by us), and blew up the PA.”
Apparently Sedger had increased the volume setting, although he had been told not to. This particular PA was apparently not fitted with a limiter, which is why it blew, or so I was told. So perhaps the sound hire company was really at fault? Whatever the reason, much acrimony resulted, including threats to sue Shoes This High for the damage. “They wanted to confiscate the gear, and there was a big argument,” said Hayward. “No one would give us a gig after that. They didn't want to lend us amps.”
Regardless, their next gigs were four nights (22-25 May) supporting Auckland’s Spelling Mistakes at the Last Resort. They were pretty dull on the first night, but their Friday set was a total killer. They played very well on the final two nights as well.
The following weekend Billy The Club hosted a three-day “Queen’s Birthday Weekender”, featuring nearly a dozen local acts. Shoes This High played several times, and their Monday set was particularly intense. “Kevin had a good sound live,” said Brent Hayward in the Mysterex interview. “He could make his guitar sound [like] an electronic chook. Schreaking.”
Hayward himself was a confrontational frontman. “I was a smart little c---, cheeky as, probably the cheekiest person on stage,” he said. “I didn't have respect for too many people, and I just thought our band was the best.”
Shoes This High, along with other local bands such as Wallsockets, Unknown Wrecks and Life In The Fridge Exists, played at Billy The Club each weekend through June 1980. That month was, in hindsight, probably the high-water mark of the early Wellington punk/post-punk scene.
On the weekend of 20-22 June The Features hit town, playing three times at Billy The Club. Shoes This High supported on the Saturday night, and again the next day, along with several other local acts.
A good-quality tape exists of Shoes This High’s Saturday performance that weekend (which I attended, as my own band was also playing), and it shows them on top form. By this time they had nearly two dozen songs together, though “songs” is perhaps a misnomer: they tended to eschew conventional structures, and there was a fair amount of improvisation so that no song ever sounded quite the same from one performance to another. “There’s six different versions of each song,” Hawkins only half-jokingly stated in the In Touch interview. The songs were all originals: the only time I ever heard them play a cover was one night at the Last Resort, when they played a version of Public Image Ltd’s ‘Death Disco’ that would’ve put PiL themselves to shame.
Hawkins was a keen Captain Beefheart fan, and you could hear it in some of their songs. He described how their music came about:
“They start off as – maybe Jessica playing a bass riff or something, which we find things to do around. Most of the music we play at this stage is … Well, it’s not like a finished set, you know, verse-chorus-verse-chorus, this three times and finish. They're open to be longer or shorter.”
Jessica Walker noted there was one exception to this. “There is one song that’s got to be like that, though [‘Stuck’], which is really hard to do. It’s really good when it’s done properly.”
The lyrics to Shoes This High's music were often improvised on the spot by Brent Hayward. As Chris Plummer observed:
“He doesn’t write anything down. He changes the lyrics to songs. Every time we do a song the lyrics are different.
“Another way we’ve been getting new songs lately is by jamming, just everyone making lots and lots of noise. That way you get lots of interesting sounds (“It loosens you up a lot, too,” added Jessica). We’ve got quite a few new things. They’re not yet songs or anything, but they’re new pieces of music.”
Some of these new pieces had found their way into their set by the time Shoes This High took the stage on 21 June, a few weeks after the interview quoted above was conducted.
It was as if a barely controlled explosion was erupting on stage.
They opened with ‘Monodrone’, a slow, brooding Krautrock-tinged piece that grew in intensity as it progressed. ‘The Nose One’ came next, with slashing chords from Hawkins over which Hayward howled the nihilistic lyrics:
“I don’t see NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING!
‘Pop Song’ wasn't really, of course. It sounded like it could almost have been a Toy Love song, in fact, and was (for this band) relatively conventionally structured. Then it was into the fast and jagged ‘Mental Wiff’, one of their most demented pieces, where Hawkins just shreds. It was as if a barely controlled explosion was erupting on stage: there was a physical force to Shoes This High in full flight that I have seen in few other bands.
‘Tic-Toc’ slowed the pace down again, its clock-like rhythm accentuating Hayward’s lyrics about suburban conformity. On this number Hawkins did his “electronic chook” sound referred to earlier. The first set closed with a raging ‘Ain’t Half Right’, with the whole band again going hard-out.
After a break the second set also opened with a slower number, ‘Fatman’, another Hayward diatribe against conservatives and people in suits. This track was very rhythmic, with a great bassline from Walker propelling it along. Hawkins then broke a string, something which tended to happen quite frequently at Shoes This High gigs. While he changed strings, Hayward traded insults with various audience members, trying to wind them up.
The band launched into a new piece featuring some amazing interaction between the rhythm section of Plummer and Walker, then it was straight into a killer version of ‘Stuck’ (my favourite Shoes number). Again, the interplay between Plummer and Walker was incredibly tight: they were probably the best post-punk rhythm section in the country at that time.
‘Christian Song’ followed, alternating slower, jerkier sections with fast, tight choruses. Hawkins’s playing was very intense, almost manic. The intensity stayed high for the next number, ‘Menace’, with all four members tightly locked in with each other, then it was into the thrashing ‘Tunnel Vision’, the closest Shoes this High ever came to playing conventional punk rock. Hayward really screamed his head off on this one:
"I DON'T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT ANYTHING!
TUNNEL VISION OH YEAH OH YEAH!"
Another string-changing/audience-baiting interlude followed, then they were back into it with the almost-funky ‘You Sold Out’, the subject of which is probably self-explanatory, followed by ‘For Too Long’, a typical Shoes number with Hawkins thrashing away on guitar over an angular, insistent beat.
Hayward’s lyric attacked the bootboys, skinheads and Nazi-punks who went around in packs beating people up.
An improvisation came next, which began quietly and built in intensity and speed to a white-hot conclusion. While the band whipped up a maelstrom of sound, Hayward attacked the complacency of the audience, screaming:
“You’re all shit!
Boring old shit!
I don’t know why you come when all you do is sit around!”
The almost countryish riff of ‘Scab’ was almost light relief after that, but as soon as the audience (and band) caught their breath it was back into high gear with ‘Catshit’, with Hayward once again attacking rich businessmen in suits. He turned his attention to bootboys, whose presence was already beginning to be felt in Wellington by June 1980, on the following number ‘Bull Fight’, which opened with a nice Spanish-sounding chord progression from Hawkins. Hayward’s lyric attacked the bootboys, skinheads and Nazi-punks who went around in packs beating people up.
‘Cretin Time’ came next, another fast, tight number with some savage guitar from Hawkins and a lyric worthy of the Ramones:
“I, I don’t like you
I, I don’t like you
This is the cretin time.”
The last three songs on the tape may come from a different gig, as there is a marked drop in sound quality (which is otherwise very good), and there are no titles given on the tape cover. All three are fast-paced, with the last one having an almost ska-like rhythm, while on the second, which may be called ‘Are You Happy?’, Hayward again turns a questioning gaze onto suburban conformity:
“You’ve got your wife,
You’ve got your life,
But are you happy?
You do the same thing every day.”
“We couldn’t do any more in Wellington, and it was getting so small,” said Hayward in the Mysterex interview. “Everybody knew everyone at the parties. After a while it became a bit passé.”
Encouraged by members of The Features, whom they had befriended during their recent Wellington visit, Shoes This High decided to make the move to Auckland. Before they left, however, they held a farewell party at Billy The Club on Friday 5 July, featuring several local bands and the much-anticipated Wellington debut of Christchurch band The Gordons. The advance buzz for them had been considerable, so their performance was eagerly awaited and they did not disappoint, despite wrestling with sound problems (as did all the acts that evening).
Shoes This High themselves began the evening’s entertainment with a good set, and the audience responded with enthusiasm. They also finished the main part of the evening, but the second set was a bit shambolic (they were, like most everyone else, pretty out of it by then).
The band left for Auckland a couple of weeks later. The Gordons and local band Eat This Grenade (the renamed Unknown Wrecks, featuring ex-Shoes drummer Don Campbell) followed them within weeks. The three bands would share a house in Parnell (the infamous 18 Bath St), as Brent Hayward related to Wade Churton in his 1999 book Have You Checked The Children:
“It was a four-bedroom house, but we had about 15 people staying … and we had three bands; that was Shoes This High, the Gordons, and Eat This Grenade, all under the same roof. And we had a lot of shit and strife … at that time the councils were not very sympathetic at all towards young people’s music. It was very hard to get halls and things for gigs; like, you had to lie … Often you had to get girls to sort of … get the halls for you, because that way there’d be less suspicion. Because if you just had short hair, or you had some colour in your hair or something like that … you were bad, and you were a punk and you were gonna wreck the hall.”
While in Auckland Shoes This High managed to get some gigs – including one at XS Café that a recording exists of – and recorded an EP.
Shoes This High and the Gordons returned to Wellington in November. They played a surprise set at The Club in Herbert St (now Victoria St) on 13 November on a bill that included the Wallsockets and ska-punks The Preservatives. It was quite a rage, with a big turnout of punters. Shoes This High were sounding really good – their time in Auckland had tightened up their music even more.
Shoes This High and The Gordons then played an unforgettable show the following night at the Brooklyn Community Hall, which I reviewed for In Touch. Both bands were great, and it was the best I’d seen the Gordons play so far. There were a fair number of bootboys there, but they were not causing any trouble inside. However, at one point there was a bit of a rumble outside involving some locals, and seemingly from nowhere a number of the boots produced baseball bats and went outside to deal to them. Where they had these bats secreted is a mystery – they couldn’t have hidden them down their tight jeans, that’s for sure!
Shoes This High played an afternoon show on 23 November at the Last Resort (now under new management that was more punk/post-punk-friendly), along with Naked Spots Dance and Wallsockets. This was a great show, with just about everyone from the scene there. Shoes This High were back there on 4 December supporting popular Auckland band The Screaming Meemees, a seemingly odd combination.
The following night Shoes This High, Naked Spots Dance and Condemned Sector played a self-promoted event at the St. John’s Hall in Vivian St, one of the memorable gigs of the period. It was very loud due to the concrete walls of the venue. Each band played well, and there was no aggro for a change.
Shoes This High were back at the Last Resort on 6 December with The Screaming Meemees again, plus The Mockers. It was a long night: Shoes were on last, at 1am, and played well. Things didn’t finish until 2.30am. The same bands played the following night, but there was a smaller audience and it was rather subdued all round.
It was the last time they would play in Wellington.
The band then headed back to Auckland, where they recorded their 4-track EP on 21 December during downtime at Harlequin Studios.
Shoes This High quietly called it a day around March 1981, soon after the release of their 4-track EP, recorded the previous December (re-released in a limited coloured vinyl edition by Raw Power Records in 2002), though in 1982 some of the band regrouped in the improvisational, all-instrumental Fishschool.
More recently the US label Siltbreeze released a Shoes This High album, Straight To Hell, comprising live and studio recordings (but, frustratingly, no information on where or when they were recorded, though some of the live tracks are from the Billy The Club recording referred to earlier).
Following Shoes This High’s demise, Jessica Walker moved to Christchurch to join Alister Parker of The Gordons, and more recently has been based in the central North Island. Brent Hayward went out on his own under the name Smelly Feet, releasing a couple of good EPs and a cassette tape album over the next year or so. He then teamed up with Julie Cooper to form The Kiwi Animal, and today is making art and music under the name Fats White. Chris Plummer is now a film editor in the US, while Kevin Hawkins died in 1987.
Shoes This High EP was reissued in 2002 by Auckland's Raw Power Records with sleeve notes by Gary Steel.
Chris Plummer is now a film editor, with credits on Boy and In My Father’s Den.
Brent Hayward repeatedly reinvented himself over the years as Smelly Feet, Kiwi Animal, and, currently Fats White, splitting his time between New Zealand and Germany.
Kevin Hawkins died on December 17, 1987 in Masterton.
Jessica Walker is sister to Toy Love's Jane Walker.
Don Campbell - drums
Kevin Hawkins - guitar
Brent Hayward - vocals
Chris Plummer - drums
Jessica Walker - bass