7 Jan 2024

Simon Grigg's picks from 50 years of New Zealand music

From The Weekend , 11:06 am on 7 January 2024

Simon Grigg has been a key figure in Aotearoa's music industry for the last 50 years. He's most well-known as the man whose record label Huh! brought the world the OMC mega hit ‘How Bizarre’, but his story stretches far beyond that.

In the early 1970s, Grigg formed New Zealand's first punk band, Suburban Reptiles.

Later returning after a stint working in London clubs, he opened seminal Auckland clubs Box and Cause Celebre, and produced Aotearoa's first house record. 

Alan Jansson, Simon Grigg, Paulie Fuemana

Alan Jansson, Simon Grigg, Paulie Fuemana Photo: supplied

Suburban Reptiles came about when a friend steered him away from a plan to form a jazz band, he says.

“A friend of mine, David Blyth, the film director, turned up at my flat one day and he said, 'this whole jazz thing you’re going to do is a waste of time, because you've got to be good at what you're doing to play jazz.

“But look, have you read about this punk thing that's happening in the UK?' So, I thought this was a great idea.

“I went around saw my friend Jimmy, who I was going to form the jazz band with, and said 'let's form a punk band'. I said, 'I will be the manager,' because I couldn't play anything.

Simon Grigg

Simon Grigg Photo: Photo by Stuart Page

“I always liked the management side of things. I've always been fascinated with people like Brian Epstein, and [although] I didn't know this at the time, there was Malcolm McLaren side as well.”

By the late '70s Grigg was dipping his toes in the record business.

“In late 1979 my friend James [Pinker] was trying to get a record released by his band [The Features], and I said, 'I'll do it' because all the record companies had said no. So I set up a record label.

“And in mid-1980, I released two records. And they both went into the charts, which is amazing.”

Feels So Good - The Spelling Mistakes

“I'm so proud of having released that record. And it went to number 29 on the charts. In those days, our singles charts were a big deal and there were no New Zealand records going into the charts.

“So, I was thrilled when it charted. And I was working in a record shop in High St, Taste Records. We had boxes of these 45s on the counter and we were selling 50 at a time bang, bang, bang, people coming in one after the other and buying both the 45s.”

Don't Fight It Marsha, It's Bigger Than Both Of Us - Blam Blam Blam

Blam Blam Blam

Blam Blam Blam Photo: Blam Blam Blam

“The beginning of 1981, the Whizz Kids came into the into my record shop and said, 'we've got some bad news, we've broken up, the Whizz Kids no longer exist, we’re now a three-piece band, and we've got a new guy who's going to be playing drums and he can sing as well, his name's Don McGlashan.'”

Jam This Record - Jam This Record

Grigg returned from London to Auckland in the late 1980s full of enthusiasm for the club scene in the UK and established The Asylum.

“We started introducing house music into New Zealand and we were the first club I think to play house music in Australasia.

“We played a lot of hip hop as well and also played a bit of New Zealand music which fitted in there and I kind of wanted to make New Zealand music that was like that as well, because it wasn't really being made.”

Bomb the Bass, 'Beat Dis' and 'Pump up the Volume' were big international records at the time so he and his friend Allan Jansson decided to do something similar.

‘Jam This Record’ released in 1988, was New Zealand's first house record.

His Auckland clubs, Box & Cause Celebre were hugely popular. One Pauly Fuemana was a regular.

Pauly Fuemana - OMC

Pauly Fuemana - OMC Photo: © Simon Grigg

“So Allan [Jansson] rang me up one day and he said, 'I've got this guy called Pauly Fuemana and we're making a record' and I said, 'whatever it is, I'm in', and he said, 'but I need some money'. So, I found some money for him, took them down some cash and sort of bought into ‘How Bizarre’ - really unheard of."

Land Of Plenty – OMC

“Pauly was such an extraordinary talent, he had this like emotional tie to his roots. He came from a Māori and Niuean background.

“His father had come from Niuea in the late 50s, early 60s, I think he used to say to Pauly all the time, 'you know, we came to the land of plenty' and talk about how much New Zealand had given to him.

“It's an immigrant song and it's such a beautiful, beautiful song. It's probably my favourite song from Aotearoa, maybe my favourite song ever.”

Highly Medicated - Mara TK

“I fell in love with the Mara TK album which came out in 2021. Just wonderful.”

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Photo: Luke McPake / RNZ


Feels So Good - The Spelling Mistakes
Don't Fight It Marsha, It's Bigger Than Both Of Us - Blam Blam Blam
Jam This Record - Jam This Record
Land Of Plenty - OMC
Highly Medicated - Mara TK
Bones - The Circling Sun

Amongst his many projects, Simon is also the founder of New Zealand online music archive AudioCulture