Christchurch is home to a number of bands, Into The Void, by way of example, which apparently aspire to little more than a good local reputation and the luxury of longevity. Bergerac is the mould-fitting duo of drummer/multi-instrumentalist Simon Nunn and keyboard player Mike Boulden, for whom a sense of humour takes precedence over any kind of music business. Margaret Gordon well knows the shtick but still couldn’t help herself.
The 1900s central city villa is cracked and mouldy. Its six rooms are packed full of musical instruments, recording equipment, computers, books, games and god knows what else. To be honest it’s quite a mess, but the whole place costs under $200 a week so no one’s complaining. This is ‘Crimefront Kilmore’ home and HQ to Christchurch ‘Bad-dad rock’ duo Bergerac, aka Simon Nunn and Mike Boulden.
As they explain, “It’s not in that the music is bad, but the dad himself is bad. He’s a bad dad. It’s a bad dad’s music.”
These two joke around constantly and it’s clear that they take very little seriously. Bergerac’s debut album ‘Freezing’ was released on Bandcamp in December. Not easily compared to, you can hear strains of bands like Ween, Regurgitator and even at times, Joy Division.
In fact Bergerac isn’t really dad rock at all; it’s an eclectic mix of funk, psychedelic, world, folk, rock’n’roll and more. There’s plenty going on. Vocals range from choral to growling, and organs such as Yamaha, Hammond and Lowrey are a big part of the Bergerac sound. The album opener, Footworkers, features duelling Casiotones. Plus there’s samples, funky drumming and the occasional wailing guitar solo. Overall the sound is surprisingly cohesive, and the creative choices pay off, giving it a real musical depth.
The duo started out by recording covers, and to date have produced about 50, one of the first being Mamy Blue, a roomy version of the 1971 hit written by French songwriter Hubert Girau. This track has made it onto the album, along with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Gallows Pole.
“We use their arrangement and I try to mimic Robert Plant’s singing of the sound,” Simon tells me.
Mike quickly jumps in. “And you end up sounding like Ozzy Osbourne… in a good way.”
“Ah well, yeah, I’m a fan of both those men.”
Originally from Whanganui, Simon Nunn has been a stalwart of the Christchurch music scene for nearly 20 years, playing in bands such as SFRQ ’94 winners Kate and the Lemon Tree, The Steffan van Soest Hit Machine, The Undercurrents and the High Tone Destroyers to name a few. These days he plays drums for corporate gigs to earn a living. He plays almost all the instruments on ‘Freezing’, or as he has it; “I’m reclining in a toga, eating grapes, occasionally flicking a drum or something,” – a classic Bergerac understatement.
Mike Boulden is a relative newcomer. He plays keyboards and is a self-taught sound engineer, learning on the job. It took a lot of skill to make this album but these two seem almost worried that people might find out. Bergerac have been working on ‘Freezing’ since they formed in 2009.
“Life throws you a lot of curve balls and you’ve gotta deal with them,” Simon explains of the delay. “You might have a baby. You might lose a leg. You’ve gotta just man up and take it.”
I point out that neither of them has lost a leg, or had a baby, and they even live in the same house.
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Mike dryly responds.
Indeed. Nonetheless, they recently finished the last song for the album and decided the time was right to release it, and since then have received a positive response extending as far as bFM. Bergerac has a tried and true formula for writing songs.
“You jam, then you listen back to it, get a mix that you’re happy with, take a few loops that you like, build a verse out of the loops, chorus out of the loops and the other bit,” explains Simon.
“Then you put it all together, loop ’em all up. Then you get a bit drunk maybe, and sort of just sing gibberish over the top, and then go back and attribute words to all the gibberish, and then re-record the vocals that you made from the gibberish… voila!”
The Bergerac name will be familiar to some as it is taken from the ’80s British TV crime show about a detective (Jim Bergerac) who lives on the island of Jersey.
“[We chose the name] because the show is about the good feelings that come with ’70s, and early ’80s British programming. It just makes you feel good. It’s amazing. Bergerac is the epitome of that,” explains Simon.
“You’ve got Cyrano De Bergerac, you’ve got the psychedelic, the tripped out old guy – people can read whatever they want. But then you look at the logo and it’s obviously ripped straight from the show,” Mike elaborates.
Being a production band, playing live could prove to be a problem, but they have a solution in mind.
“We need to employ a rhythm section and we’ve got a few people shortlisted,” says Simon.
“They don’t know who they are,” admits Mike.
“I know who they are,” Simon insists.
“They don’t know who they are…”
There are also plans to make a video, as Mike has worked in television post-production for the past 16 years. It will involve filming in their back garden where there once was a mighty stone-fronted building belonging to the Christchurch Theosophical Society.
“Oh man there are some great weeds out the back,” cracks Simon. “It looks like a mini adventure land. Like Siberia out there. A mini Siberia.”
But like all things to do with Bergerac, it might take a while.
“Well cricket is a lot more important. If we’re in the backyard we’re playing cricket. We’re not looking at the fuckin’ weeds.”
Bergerac have big aspirations for their first northern gig.
“We want to play in Auckland at that place with the snow.”
“Yeah, in the bar there.”
Again, they’re not serious, but it’s something I’d like to see. In the end the Bergerac philosophy is about good times, as Simon sums up.
“Yeah, I just think everybody should just chill out a bit and enjoy life. Because we live in a beautiful country, one of the best countries in the world, and you can have a lot of fun. So do that.”