Wellington Music Month 4: Gettin’ Serious
For a time in the late sixties The Avengers were one of the highest profile rock bands on the New Zealand scene. Their song Waterpipe is one of the greatest songs to ever glorify the joys of using water in your bong. The 1968 debut LP Electric Recording has possibly my favourite album cover art ever — look how cool they are — as well as being a damn good record. They went to try their luck in Australia and broke up in ’69.
Look — we have to let Christchurch have The Gordons, and The Skeptics were undoubtedly from Palmerston North, but I’m going to have to insist despite them beginning in Christchurch and ending up in New York, that Wellington be allowed to claim shoe-gazey atmospheric noise rockers Bailter Space as its own. They were an incredible live band, known for being one of the loudest of their era. Their gigs were few and far between, and many people still speak in hushed, reverential tones about the week in 1993 when there were TWO Bailter Space gigs. And their albums still stand up as being some of the best music to ever come out of New Zealand.
Birchville Cat Motel
a.k.a. Campbell Kneale. As Wikipedia sez,
although largely unknown in his home country, Kneale has toured many times throughout Asia, America, Europe, and Australia.
Daft name, and yet this one-man trancendental drone/noise act is surely the closest thing Wellington and New Zealand has ever had to a global music superstar.
I’m not kidding, this avant-rock trio are/were one of the greatest live things I’ve ever seen…
The Elephantmen are no ordinary band. They out there in the hinterland… lurking roun’ the fringes of rock and jazz; and they def’nittly gone a bit feral.
And their new album Let You Entertain Me is pretty damn sharp, too.
The Garbage and the Flowers
In terms of greatness vs. obscurity The Garbage and the Flowers have to be Wellington’s — nay New Zealand’s – very own Velvet Underground. Named from a line in a Leonard Cohen song, and irrevocably entangled in 90s contemporaries Entlag and Dress, among others — their druggy extendo mantra-rock drew as much from minimalist composer Terry Riley as much as it did any rock touchstones. They went to try their luck in Australia and broke up; and reformed; and probably broke up and reformed at least once more.
Not sure if I should be allowed to count these guys and their oddly effective collision between 21st century beats and loops and 1920s good-times party bands, as it’s as much of an occasional side-project as an actual band. But their live shows (they once supported Tortoise and frankly, mopped the stage with them) were wonderful and their album Acid and Alkaline is really great, as well. Members: David Long was a Mutton Bird and, along with fellow Labcoats Steve Roche, David Donaldson and Anthony Donaldson, part of Six Volts, who first poured jazz, exotica and absurdism into the same test-tube back in the 80s. From more recent generations come trumpeter Toby Laing (Fat FreddyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Drop) and percussionist and sampler Ricki Gooch (Trinity Roots).
Warren Maxwell (Trinity Roots, Fat Freddy Toots, etc.) got together a new band and a new sound — which is sorta what you’d get if you crossed Lamp of the Universe with Comets on Fire; or Shuggie Otis and Al Green jamming with Human Instinct. Their self-released The Onus of Sand is contemporary yet instantly-classic sounding – its funky roots-soul-psych-rock is tempered with soaring vocals and extended instrumental wig-outs. I can’t stop playing it. Members of the band include an Elephantman — Rick Cranson — and Wellington jazz legends the Callwood brothers, Joe and Tom.
The Phoenix Foundation
I’ve been telling as many people as would listen — for as long as I can remember — to watch these guys because they were going to be great. I’m glad to report that they haven’t let me down. One of the most soured, cynical music follower I have ever met turned to me at a gig at Bodega in — it must have been 2002? — and just said “It should be illegal to be this good”. Indeed.
Primitive Art Group
Legendary free-jazz group and best Welly jazz band ever (if you’ll allow me to discount The Ecstasy Trio) consisting of (Wellington music scene stalwart, future 4/6 Volt, future Labcoat) David Donaldson, (globe-tripping itinerant single-handedly responsible for introducing the bagpipes into serious music) David Watson, (well-known painter and future member of The Garbage and the Flowers) Stuart Porter, (another Wellington music scene stalwart, future 4/6 Volt, future Labcoat, and brother of David) Anthony Donaldson, and Neill Duncan. Their albums Five Tread Drop Down and Future Jaw Clap, as well as that of offshoot band The Black Sheep, are now collector’s items.
My turn for some Bevan Smith worship. Signer is utterly gorgeous minimalist drone-techno and third album Low Light Dreams is a masterpiece. I noticed the other day that — according to Last.fm — I appeared to be Signer’s biggest fan in the whole wide world. ‘Nuff said?
You can keep yer Fat Freddys and yer Bongmaster and yer Black Seeds and yer Fly My Freakin Pretties and so on — and keep them as far away from me as you possibly can — but for me Trinity Roots were the real deal. Unafraid to cast off the tedious crutches of dance music for the heart-wrenching expressionism of true roots music, they were, and for that I and thousands of others loved them. I was inconsolable when I learned that they had disbanded.