19 Sep 2017

Wellington's music scene in the '80s

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 2:20 pm on 19 September 2017
Jon Mcleary on guitar

Jon Mcleary on guitar Photo: www.audioculture.co.nz

New Zealand in the early 1980s was a very different place with wage and price freezes, carless days and high inflation.

 At the start of the decade, only 3.2 million of us were watching just two TV channels.

Yet amid the hubbub of Muldoonism and Rogernomics, our music scene was flourishing – particularly in the capital.

The Nambassa Festival 1978 poster

The Nambassa Festival 1978 poster Photo: Courtesy of Audioculture

In 1979, Jon Mcleary moved to Wellington from Hamilton and was at the forefront of a music revival in which a cornucopia of acts had a wide range of venues to play.

He and his girlfriend at the time, Louise, formed an acoustic guitar duo Negative Theatre, and were invited to play at the second ever Nambassa festival.

Playing to a crowd of 60,000 people on the main stage on opening day was their first ever gig.

"The first year here we split up and I formed The Spines. I came from kind of a hippy thing in Hamilton, you know country cottages. We sort of missed punk... well I did. Suddenly I'm thrust with long hair and an acoustic guitar into this burgeoning post-punk scene. I actually loved the energy of it."

There were venues galore in the capital at that time, he says.

"The Last Resort was a great venue, but it was unlicensed. There was a couple of those – Electric Ballroom, Billy d'Club.

"But the pubs were fantastic, too. The Cricketers Arms, Clyde Quay, The Cosgrove and 1860. And there was the Sunset Disco, now the San Francisco Bathhouse."

Jon Mcleary's post-punk picks:

The Spines - Lily and I

The Spines - 1984 gig poster

The Spines - 1984 gig poster Photo: Courtesy of Audioculture

"I went to the Molesworth Street riots. It turned into this bloodbath and I went home and I wrote the song."

Last month The Spines released their latest album, Epidural.

Read more about The Spines at Audioculture.


Beat Rhythm Fashion - Turn of the Century

The Birch brothers, Dan (bass, vocals) and Nino (guitar, vocals), emigrated from Hong Kong in the mid-1970s with their parents and a younger brother. They were the mainstays in the trio.

Their dreamy, trance-like songs touched the time and gathered a strong local myth.

"Guitar solos were out in this post-punk scene" – Jon Mcleary

Read more about Beat Rhythm Fashion at Audioculture.


Shoes this High - The Nose One

In June 1980, what some call Wellington's finest post-punk group, Shoes This High, captured 23 original songs on 2-track in the capital's punk club, Billy d'Club.

"I loved what they did. Four really talented individuals" – Jon Mcleary

Read more about Shoes This High at Audioculture.


The Hulamen - Start a Fashion

Teen soul band The Rodents faltered in 1981, members of the band were already jamming in the YMCA in Willis Street and became The Hulamen.

For their live shows, The Hulamen added female dancers The Hulettes and mover and shaker Ronny Pelicano (a.k.a Tim Robinson).

Read more about the Hulamen at Audioculture.


The Body Electric - Interior Exile

Out of the remnants of Wellington punk band The Steroids came New Zealand dance electronica pioneers The Body Electric.

In 1982, Alan Jansson and Andy Drey, who both programmed and produced, formed the band as a two-piece. They were later joined by actor Garry Smith on vocals and Wendy Calder.

"I used to hang around with them when they were The Steroids. I liked what they were doing. It was new, it was synth-pop" - Jon Mcleary

Read more about The Body Electric at Audioculture.


The Skeptics - Sensible Shoes album artwork

The Skeptics - Sensible Shoes album artwork Photo: RNZ

The Skeptics - Sensible Shoes

From the early 1980s, The Skeptics made music of rhythmic collisions and contortions and sometimes discordancy. They were early adopters of samplers.

By his sixth form year, Robin Gauld had created a group called X-IT by roping in his mates Don White on drums, David D'Ath on vocals, and Ian Reiddy on bass. None of them even knew how to tune a guitar so the band began its exercises in dissonance early on.

"They had this flat down the road from me. I was on The Terrace they were at the top of Ghuznee. They changed the scene in Wellington a bit, brought this new energy" - Jon Mcleary

Read more about The Skeptics at Audioculture.


Low Profile - Elefunk in My Soup

Low Profile were a 1980s alternative rock band formed by Phil Bowering and Steve Garden. Also among the lineup was the late Mike Farrell on guitar and vocals, Tom Ludvigson (the Jive Bombers), Stuart Pearce (Coconut Rough) and for a while Louise Loft.

"They came out of the blue. They did a really good Radio with Pictures video - I just loved the bassline, it just rocked" - Jon Mcleary.

Read more about Low Profile and watch the Elefunk video at NZ on Screen.

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