Fane Flaws is a visual artist, painter and video director who has made short films and TV commercials and video clips for a number of artists. His work has seen him inducted into both the Massey University Design Hall of Fame and the NZ Film Archive Music Video Wall of Fame.
Fane Michael Flaws is also a musician who has recorded and performed with the theatrical communal styled ’70s band BLERTA, then Spats, which later morphed into the pure pop outfit The Crocodiles. Their hit single Tears (co-written by Fane and Arthur Baysting) still gets ample radio play.
Fane later relocated to Australia, getting work as an in-house songwriter for Chappell Music which resulted in a publishing and recording contract with Mushroom Records. The resulting experimental Devo-esque album, ‘I Am Joe’s Music’, is reputedly Mushroom’s worst-ever selling album. Living these days in Napier, Fane Flaws still performs with his band No Engine, continues recording with colleagues Peter Dasent and Tony Backhouse, aka Bend, and creates art of all descriptions. His Youtube channel is a goldmine of creativity.
On tour promoting the first Blerta album, recorded in Sydney, it’s backstage, probably pre-gig, at the Wanganui Town Hall in 1975. One of many pics taken by Robin White, who travelled with Blerta as an all-round trouble-shooter, building props and sets, helping run the light show, print posters, set fire to the audience and record the mayhem on celluloid.
Dad played the banjo ukulele, he could do the George Formby strum, which I loved, and had a repertoire of about four songs which mum approved of. There were two records at home when I was young; the soundtrack to My Fair Lady and a Tawa College production of the Mikado –until I bought my first album, ‘The Surfaris Wipe Out’, which had a cool drum-break hook.
I wanted to be a drummer. I had the sticks and I was in the Wellington College Pipe Band! I would play my Who album, ‘My Generation’ (1965), and slam along with Keith Moon on a couple of exercise books and my bedside table. My father vetoed the drum kit so I bought an acoustic guitar with a pick-up and a 12-watt amp from an enterprising local for 25 pounds (which I got as a reward for passing school certificate) and learned to play You Really Got Me by the Kinks and Tin Soldier by The Small Faces. When I first heard Frank Zappa’‘s My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Momma I started writing my own tunes and I’ve never stopped.
My first experience of a live rock band was Max Merritt & The Meteors at a dance at the Kandallah Town Hall. It was a mind-blowing night; a hot professional R&B band with Billy Christian on bass and Bruno Lawrence on the drums. Bruno had his kit set up right on the front edge of the stage, drummed up a thunderstorm and stole the show. From that moment I was always going to play music. Little did I know how he would continue to influence my life.
I saw The Yardbirds at the Wellington Town Hall, and then The Small Faces and The Who. The headline act was Paul Jones (the ex-lead singer of Manfred Mann) and the backline was local – Billy and Bruno again – that’s where he learned to destroy his drum kit during a drum solo (which would happen if he was bored with the music) from watching Moon the Loon! Strangely, over the years Bruno often said me, “You should’ve been a drummer!”
During my three years at Design School I formed my first band with Johnsonville mates Patrick Bleakley (bass) with whom I ended up in Blerta, and Wayne Sampson (drums). We couldn’t agree on a name (due to some naive concession to democracy) so the band was given the working name Patrick. Later, Wayne sarcastically suggested we become Wayne & The Other Guys – so we did to rile him.
After Design School my parents gave up on trying to steer me into a sensible career and I was living a stoned existence writing songs in a flat in Roseneath when one night on my way downtown, the Blerta bus pulled up at the bus stop and offered me and my mate a ride to their concert. Bruno again.
It was such an amazing night of interactive film, theatre, music and the best after-party ever. I decided I somehow had to get on that bus. When we heard that Bruno was auditioning musicians for a new tour we fronted. Patrick Bleakley (bass) and Greg Taylor (horns) and I auditioned – and they both got in.
I figured I’d be left behind as I simply couldn’t play well enough, but I knew Blerta had a Kids’ Show, which they used to placate wary locals who didn’t like the idea of hippies in town, so I told Bruno I had a wizard’s act. He was lukewarm, but after a gig at the Victoria Union Hall, I approached him as they were packing the bus and he said, “Hop on.” I said, “Can I bring my guitar and amp?” and that was it – I was on the bus’ travelling with BLERTA, the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation Travelling Apparition!
It was an idyllic epoch for me, we travelled the country as a big hippie family – parents, kids, performers and mates, playing local halls and maraes, sleeping on beaches, in motor camps and at the pads of friendly locals, putting on an extravaganza of surreal psychedelic entertainment which included rock music, jazz, comedy, theatre (where actors on-stage would re-appear in projected films as the band played live soundtracks) and an amazing light show. This chaos was received rapturously by audiences wherever we went and the hippies all came out of the hills and partied – we were stoned for years.
Bruno taught the novices how to listen and play (which often involved being hit by a flying drumstick if you were off-beam), and when I finally got to play him some of my compositions his eyes lit up. He said to Chas Burke Kennedy (guitar), “What do you think?” Chas replied, “He should write them – we should play them!” I was now a songwriter.
I also was able to bring my skills as a designer to the party and became resident poster artist. When he discovered my given name was actually Fane he said, “Fane Flaws! That’s a much better name!” and began to call me by it. Everyone else followed suit and that changed me profoundly. I realised I had been using the wrong name all my life – I was named Fane after my uncle, but my mother didn’t like it so she called me Michael. I am not Michael.
Blerta was a great showband’ and would’ve been the perfect pub band. Strangely there was no music in pubs in backward mid-’70s NZ, and by the time that did begin to happen the band was nearing it’s end. What is remarkable is how a motley collection of stoned, creative souls under the watchful eye and unseen hand of Veronica Lawrence (Bruno’s missus), who kept the chaos together, managed to create its own system of survival in the entertainment industry’ without having anything to do with it. We were never paid in coin, but always fed and always had somewhere to sleep – and it was a blissful existence, not ever thinking further ahead that the next song and the next gig.
Bruno was essentially a seasoned performer and an amazing drummer who could play anything from hard bop to rock’n’roll. I saw him play once (pre-Blerta) at a small club with Littlejohn, which featured a wired and remarkable Corben Simpson on guitar and vox, Tony Littlejohn on bass and keyboard genius Chris Seresin.
The energy generated by Bruno and Chris was absolutely phenomenal and it was the first time I had experienced a band changing gear’ and lifting off into another plane; this was something that happened regularly with Blerta and has always been an unspoken goal with all the bands I have had since. It is the cosmic moment on the magical night where everyone clicks, the music takes over and we fly. It is the reason musicians play for fuck all,’ and it is better than sex. Bruno taught me that. He also taught me how to lead a band, the importance of dynamics, how to listen and how to takes risks –– which you must be prepared to do if you want the magic.
He was also a great actor. His early collaborations with Geoff Murphy, John Charles and Allun Bollinger making the experimental films which were part of the Blerta show, were part of the beginnings of the NZ film industry. They had a jazz band called The Acme Sausage Co., then made films under the same name in which they did everything; wrote, directed, acted, shot, cut and did the music. It was pure Kiwi ingenuity –when they needed a crane shot they built a crane. This attitude was what morphed into Blerta. They just packed it up put it on a bus and hit the road.
Bruno was a brilliant and beautiful man, who was both a good influence and a bad one. He always struck me as fearless, at least until he was struck down with cancer.
I remember the two of us heading off together in a Holden station wagon with a boot full of posters and a bucket of paste, to poster the North Island for an upcoming tour. It was a very intimate 10 days on the road. Very stoned in Rotorua late one night, the car crapped out and a cop arrived flashing his torch wanting to know what we were up to. My approach to the law was always to be very polite and avoid potential aggravation, so I explained we were postering for our band and showed him the evidence.
Bruno on the other hand looked him up and down and went into Percy the Policeman’ mode –– “Ello, ello, ello officer. What ‘ave we ‘ere then?” and began hitting the constable on the helmet with a rolled up poster raving about police brutality. I was appalled and thought, “Uh oh! Here we go down the station –stoned and headed for the cells.”‘ But by the time Bruno had finished his wind up, we were in the wagon and the hapless, mesmerised cop was pushing us down the road getting up speed to jump-start the car. Bruno had that sort of charisma and he knew it.
Another time playing at Canberra Uni, we were the band for the Gay & Lesbian Ball. It so happened, that as a capping stunt, the students had recently raided the neighbouring army base, and had stolen their mascot, which was at the top of the university flagpole. The army chose this night to take their revenge. The band was playing with our backs to a set of glass doors at one end of the hall and unbeknown to us, the soldiers opened the doors and turned a fire hose on the proceedings – –an extremely dangerous idea with the electric instruments.
Fortunately our roadie, Ian Miles, saw it coming and cut the power. By the time I turned around, an angry Bruno had accosted the half-dozen soldiers and attacked them with his drum stool, screaming like a demon and chasing them down the drive and into the night. They just ran away, they weren’t having a bar of unarmed combat with that maniac.
Unfortunately Bruno never knew when to stop. We loved each other and also fought as intensely with rarely a hard feeling carried over to the next adventure. He hated the idea of going to sleep in case he missed some action that might be happening down the road, around the corner. I left him on many occasions in the middle of the night when I’d had enough fun –– to see him just turn around and go looking for something more. In the end it killed him… he just wore himself out.
One thing I loved about Blerta was the scope of musical and theatrical material it would encompass. We were rock musicians, but when master saxophonist Bernie McGann came on tour, the band started playing some very high quality jazz, which Bruno, Chris Seresin, John Charles and Patrick Bleakley were all capable of. When Beaver came on tour she would bring gorgeous ballads to the party and when Rick Bryant joined, the soul classics and Stones’‘ songs became part of the act. My contribution was always my own songs which flirted with any genre that seemed relevant to the current theatrical thread we were working with.
The film-making slowed down when we went to Australia. Cameraman Ian Paul was on the bus but he and Bruno had a difficult relationship and not a lot of new films were made, The ensuing successful film careers that Geoff, Allun, John, Ian and Bruno all enjoyed post-Blerta were no surprise to me. They were all multi-talented people who would succeed in any direction they could stick at.
The last ditch effort was the Blerta TV series, which I was not directly involved in, but I do know that a large part of the budget was wheedled away and spent on making the feature film Wild Man. A typically ambitious approach; get the money for a TV series, do it on the cheap and make a feature film at the same time.
I did not join Blerta until the second tour, so missed out on Dance All Around The World‘ and the Corben Simpson heyday. By the time I did join Corben had left; he did come back but had a tricky relationship with Bruno and he certainly did not appreciate the new members, myself in particular, whom he perceived as an inferior talent. Fortunately for me Bruno did not concur and when we crossed the Tasman Corben stayed home.
Recording was a rare and weird procedure with just a couple of sessions for me at EMI Wellington with Frank Douglas, who was a jazz man and loved Bruno. I remember recording the single Joy Joy, and the album in Sydney. My fondest memory was the session where Ian Watkin and Geoff Murphy’s wonderful song This Is The Life was put down. The band had learned it and John Charles taught it to Renee Geyer who we had hired to sing for the day.
As the tape was about to roll, Bernie McGann walked in and Bruno said, “Bernie, take a solo on this man!” He whipped out his alto and proceeded to blow the most amazing notes on a tune which changed key and he had never heard. It was incredible to observe. Renee’s vocal was also remarkable and the original recording (now lost) is an amazing track.
Sadly when we came back to NZ to tour and promote the record, there wasn’t one. We did not know that Renee was contracted to Mushroom Records, who demanded that she be removed from the record, so Beaver was hauled in to replace all of her vocals. Now Beaver was a great singer but not a soul singer, and in a tragedy for NZ music This Is The Life lost much of its magic. The beautiful cover that I designed for the record (initially titled Organism) was also trashed without any consultation (possibly due to the name change), and EMI decided to have it redrawn in-house – poorly in my opinion. I hate that people think I did that cover.
We did play at the 1973 Ngaruawahia Festival, which I remember as a sea of stoned, naked hippies, the highlight of which was not Black Sabbath and their lame burning cross, but Corben’s solo performance during which he shed his kit and played an amazing set stark naked. This was of course was received rapturously and is now legendary. I was amazed at the size of his flaccid cock. Maybe it was the mushrooms.
I’ve already outlined how Bruno kept bumping into my life from the age of 14, with me ending up in his band. After he fired me from Blerta I pursued my own songs using a small inheritance to record 18 songs I’d written that we hadn’t played in the band.
I enlisted the help of two amazing rhythm sections; Patrick Bleakley and Chris Fox, and Mark Hornibrook with the young Kerry Jacobson, who later became famous drumming with Dragon. Chris Seresin played wonderful keys and Tony Backhouse, whom I had admired in Mammal, arranged the vocals. These recordings which were captured at Delbrook Studios, a four-track in a Tawa basement, are remarkable to me to this day, and seminal in that I proved to myself that I could organise my own music to happen on my own bat. I was a band leader waiting to happen.
I was now married with a child and living at Paekakariki when I was invited to play guitar with The Andy Anderson Express, a blues and boogie band formed to play covers of the fabulous Andy Anderson’s favourite songs. At the first rehearsal I found a strange long-haired bearded man, with glasses and a greatcoat with the collar turned up, sitting behind the piano. He was so hairy he was out of focus and so shy he barely spoke, but when Andy kicked into the first song, The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, he began to play the most wonderful boogie-woogie piano I’d ever heard. It was Peter Dasent.
After a couple of gigs with the band I said to Peter, “Mate, I love Andy but I don’t want to play 12 bars all night. I’ve got so many songs of my own – do you want to hear them?” He came out to my place and after an hour of me playing him the Delbrook demos and raving about the music we liked, we realised we were musical soulmates and he was ready to join forces and form a new band to play the songs.
Tony Backhouse was in Hired Help who had a residency at Ali Babas, so I rang him every morning at seven o’clock and told him it was fate and he had to join the band. After two weeks he acquiesced, screaming down the phone, “OK, I’ll join if you promise to stop waking me up every morning you deluxe cunt!” I roped in Patrick and Bruno and Les Hots –– soon to become Spats was born. At some point Bruno left to work on a film and we ended up with Mike Knapp on the drums and Tony’s new girlfriend Julie Needham on BVs.
We developed a kind of Blerta-influenced show where we would play a stack of original songs, largely by me and Tony. In three sets we would appear as three different bands where we took on character and costume changes. We came on first as Les Hots & The Carbonettes, in punked tuxedos, and played a mad set of ’40s swing. Then as The Dukanes – a ’50s style doo-wop group featuring songs from Zappa’s Reuben & The Jets’, and finally a new-wave set as The Crocodiles.
Our finest moment was as the house-band on a tour with Robman’s Roadshow. The Prime Minister Rob Muldoon was on the road with Rob’s Roadshow touring the country, trying to convince the nation to vote his fascist regime back into power for another term.
Ian Watkin and Derek Payne had a satirical daily spot on Radio Hauraki called Robman & Brian, which mercilessly took the piss out of Rob Muldoon and his sidekick Brian Talboys. When Muldoon’s roadshow hit the road Ian, (an old Blerta colleague who loved Spats) approached us with the idea of putting Robman’s Roadshow together and following the PM’s campaign around the country.
We got Neville Purvis (Arthur Baysting) to be the compere, Bruno as a guest saxophonist and actor, and Limbs Dance Company on board, and hit the road. It was an outrageous show with Spats providing its usual mayhem, Robman’s comedy skits interspersed throughout and Limbs performing their avant-garde modern-dance scenarios for the first time ever with live music played by us. It had everything, with the evening ending with Spats rocking out and the full houses up dancing. One night Mike Knapp was so stoned he played the Limbs finale (a long, high energy piece) at such breakneck speed we nearly killed the dancers.
After performing the show to a packed Cabana in Napier we headed to the Blerta home base in Waimarama for the weekend. While we were there Geoff Murphy, Albol ,Ian Paul and assorted helpers shot the first independent band-made music clip for our song New Wave Goodbye at the homestead where the set of the classic Crunchie commercial, which Geoff Murphy had directed, was still standing in the field. You can see this on my Youtube channel.
As usual for us, business and art did not gel, as we now had a clip which featured on Radio With Pictures, but no record deal, and consequently no single ever released. So much for entering the industry.
Spats had pretty much worn itself out. I had a young family and had moved back to Paekakariki. Tony joined Rough Justice and Peter signed up for the Wellington Council-funded Arts Programme and began writing a musical with Garth Frost called Stiff Bix Cabaret.
Legendary American producer Kim Fowley came to NZ on his honeymoon and his wife left him after three days. He went to the Windsor Castle, heard Street Talk, and had them in Mandrill Studio the next day recording their wonderful first album. At some point over that week the word went out that he was looking for bands with original songs. I think Arthur got him a tape of Spats and he said, “I want these guys up here.
Arthur called me in Waimarama and I hitch-hiked to Auckland. Tony flew up. We went into Mandrill, I think it was a Sunday night. Fowley, Glyn Tucker and Street Talk were all in a little office. He was on the phone calling Bruce Springsteen. It was the middle of the night in the US and a sleepy, irritated Springsteen answered the phone. “Hey Bruce, it’s Kim Fowley. I’m in NZ. I’ve just recorded this great band, listen to this…” (In my mind he put the needle onto vinyl and held the phone to the speaker, though this may be a romantic embellishment.) However he played a track and them said, “What do you think Bruce?” A half-awake Springsteen replied… “Yeah sounds great Kim – I’m going back to bed.”
The next issue of Rip It Up had a full page ad with Fowley and the band under a heading, ‘Bruce Springsteen says new Street Talk album sounds great!’ It was an eye-opener to the world of LA hype. We spent time the next day with him, he wanted to hear all our songs. We made Peter fly up and played him 32 songs, from which he selected an album’s worth. If he didn’t like a song he would just say, “Next,” halfway through it. Or, “Billie Holliday would not sing this song if she was alive today.”
He also gave us some lyrics which we didn’t particularly relate to – it was implicit that if Kim organised a record contract he expected some songs on the album. Ribbons of Steel made it by default. There was a lesbian one called Martha & Mary And The Buried Treasure and another I can’t recall – we wrote three uninspired songs with him.
The best thing was a day where he talked for about 12 hours non-stop telling us about all the great people he’d recorded or hung out with. He loved John Lennon and thought McCartney was a cunt. He told us how the American music industry worked, went through all the record companies, the mafia at CBS, the poofs at Capital, the Jews at A&M etc etc. How payola worked, the whole deal, the pitfalls to watch for etc. etc. It was a great intense day. He told us how he had killed a guy who attacked him in a bar. “These hands are registered lethal weapons!” He told me Howard Hughes was his father, that his mother had had an affair with him. I thought, “He’s so full of shit’,” then years later I saw a doco’ about Hughes and this image of Hughes came on the screen, and fuck me, it looked completely identical to Fowley! He told us we had to change our name cos there was a disco band in the States called Spats. He wanted to call us Insect. We told him we already had a couple of alter egos one if which was The Crocodiles and we liked that. (He always called us Crocodile.)
He told us he had to leave the country but that he would get us a deal with a NZ company before he left. I asked him how and he said, “I will put on my $1200 Armani suit. Walk into John McCready’s office at CBS and say, Kim Fowley –– 52 Gold, 12 Platinum, at your service –’ and he will offer to sign your band.”
He did that but McCready didn’t bite. He did organise a deal with RCA and organised Glyn Tucker to produce the album. He also introduced us to Wally Ransom who encouraged us to sign a terrible publishing deal with Southern Music, which I believe he had a slice in. We were so ignorant we signed a 50/50 deal with Southern Australasia. When the record came out in Europe Southern Music Worldwide took 50%, then Southern Music Australasia took 50% of the remainder, so Arthur and I basically ended up with 12.5 % each for Tears. A pitfall he failed to mention. I liked the guy.
We went back to Wellington, stole Jenny Morris and Tina Mathews from The Wide Mouthed Frogs, grabbed Bruno as usual, and The Crocodiles were born. Arthur and I had a song writing session on the West Coast and wrote a bunch of new songs for Jenny to sing, including Tears, and we were away.
We asked Mike Chunn to be our manager, blindly assuming he would have a clue cos he was in Split Enz, and worked our arses off for maybe two years. It was a typical cock up. Tears was a Top 20 hit, but took three months to get there and due to naive disorganisation, by the time it was on the radio in Dunedin it was over in Auckland. It never happened all at once and the important second single chaos was a debacle.
The question was what to follow it up with? Hauraki were playing the re-recorded New Wave Goodbye and told us it was a hit and had to be the next single. So we ignored that advice cos Jenny wasn’t singing it, made a clip for Any Day Of The Week which would still have been a great single, then released Whatcha Gonna Do? with no clip – which of course bombed. Don’t ask me how or why we were so stupid. I blame Chunn (love you Michael x). With a bit of basic logic, I believe the band could have continued and enjoyed some considerable success.
Bruno got bored playing pop music and things became difficult between him and Jenny. As the band leader, I was given the job of firing him, which I did not enjoy, but it did have some strange feeling of the full circle being completed, as he had fired me from Blerta. Chunn worked us to death, sometimes three gigs a day, and eventually I burned out and left the band before the second album.
I spent a couple of months exhausted, recuperating on Waiheke where I began painting, which is something I have never stopped doing and has earned me a living over the last 15 years. Once I felt better I went to town and recorded a couple of songs – The Way You Get Your Way and Sex War, with the Pop Mechanics‘ rhythm section, with Peter on keys and Tony and Rick Bryant on bv’s. I headed to Sydney with my new recordings under my arm to hook up with Arthur Baysting, who had previously baled after his nasty experience with TVNZ and The Neville Purvis Family Show.
In Sydney Arthur and I began an intense period of writing and even had a brief stint as house songwriters for Chapel Music (which gave us access to a small 2-track Revox demo studio). It wasn’t long before Chapel realised that their idea of pop music and ours were not in the same neighbourhood.
I was headhunted by Michael Gudinski, the owner of Mushroom Records, who wanted to publish my songs, which gave me the leverage to get a record deal. So I signed with Mushroom. I was then able to get Peter (who was bored with the Crocs to join me in Sydney and The Way You Get Your Way was released as the first single for I Am Joe’s Music. We were on the 200th episode of Countdown with Buster Stiggs as our stand-in drummer. I also made my first Australian film clip for this song with the help of a local filmmaker Salik Silverstein.
The Aussie rock legend’ Lobby Loyde was given the job of producing our album, which was a blessing and a nightmare. Apparently Mushroom gave him fuck-all budget for the task, but he fell in love with us and paid for much of it himself. This was great but it took two years, fitting us in between other paid projects. Lobby was a beautiful human being and the funniest, wittiest man I have ever known, but so loose he would often say, “I’ll see you at the studio,” and not turn up. Or when he did turn up it would be nine at night and he would spend the next two hours scoring some coke then raving about his year’s roadying for Zeppelin and the Stones etc., until four in the morning. We’d end up in the Cross at Sweethearts having “a couple of breakfasts”, with no recording achieved.
I remember completing the song Life In Asia and Peter and I jumping up and down saying, “Yeah, it’s a Top 10 hit!” Lobby looked at us, shook his head and calmly pronounced – “If Life In Asia goes Top 10, I’ll fuck you both up the bum and give Gudinski head!” He knew how conservative Australian radio music programming was.
Our thinking was that I Am Joe’s Music would be a recording band as I had a young family and we were both sick of the road and playing live music for nothing. We modelled ourselves on The Residents and I made strange cardboard heads (Joe heads) which we wore for publicity. The idea being that no one would know who we were. This was too confusing for Mushroom, who hated the name (having rejected my initial suggestion I Am Joe’s Bladder) and wanted me to simply be Fane Flaws.
The outcome was that instead of making a great pop album as the record company expected (which I had the songs to do), we made a weird album which one reviewer described as sounding like Frank Zappa arguing with Talking Heads in a Wellington pub!
Eventually, we released Mushroom’s worst-selling album ever. The reps never got it out of their bags so it couldn’t be found even at Didgeridoo, Sydney’s most eclectic record shop, and the videos were played once or twice in the middle of the night. It was the usual strategic cock-up, but I was so bloody-minded I probably wouldn’t have listened to any words of wisdom had they been offered!
While I was waiting for the I Am Joe’s Music album to grind to completion I had to stay alive. I did lights for Tony’s band The Blue Tongues, drove a cake delivery truck and then lucked out. There was a very positive response to the video of The Way You Get Your Way so I decided to form I Am Joe’s Films and try and get work making vids for other bands.
My first job was for The Drop Bears, which our old drummer Mike Knapp was in and I made a lovely clip for Johnny Batchelor’s song Proud. Jane Campion told me it was her fave music clip of the year. This was well received and I began a period of directing which as well as another Drop Bears and more I Am Joe’s Music clips, included work for the now solo Jenny Morris, The Johnnies, Matt Finish, The Narcs and The Machinations.
It was a kind of breakthrough. I was still working in the music industry but I was being paid by record companies for the very first time –– something that never happened to me as a musician. I was now a director. I found that during my years in Blerta on the fringes of the film making I had instinctively picked up a feel for the form. As a graphic designer, I had a good eye and understood composition and being a movie nut, found that putting images to music was instinctive and something I loved. Of course, the first efforts had clunky moments, but like anything the more you do it the better you get at it.
Eventually, with four kids I felt the need for a home base and returned to NZ to settle down. The only problem was I had no money and needed a house. Old Design School friend Joe Bleakley was an art director in the film industry and suggested I might get work directing TV commercials, so I took my showreel around and ended up doing just that.
I spent the next 12 years working for the dark side, which was great for the mortgage and gave me the chance to use the film crews I employed to help me make music clips for bands. A wonderful tradition in NZ, as we had experienced as Spats, is that film techs have always worked for nothing or fuck all, to help local bands get their music promos on TV and now of course the net.
I made clips for The Holidaymakers, Tim Finn and Herbs, Dave Dobbyn, Neil Finn, The Front Lawn and many for The Mutton Birds. We usually received $5000 from NZ On Air, with the deal being that the record company would put in the same amount. I can recall that only ever happened twice, so we made the clips for whatever money we had.
The first time I was ever paid for a clip was on Giant Friend, when at the end of the shoot Don McGlashan, who knew how things worked came up to me, and slipped roll of $500 cash into my pocket and whispered, “That’s for you mate.” I got home late that night and delightedly announced that I had actually been paid. I put my hand into my coat pocket and it was empty – I’d left the money in the back seat of the cab never to be seen again!
During this period I also made a very silly short film, Rodney & Juliet, which won Best First Film at Clermont Ferrand festival. It starred Tony Backhouse, Truda Chadwick and Annie Crummer (all musicians). The music was by Peter Dasent. It was the best fun and can also be seen on my Youtube channel.
Well, I guess Bruno would be the biggest influence, which is obvious from my preceding raves –– but to this day I am still working on recordings with two musicians I began Spats with, who are my best friends and are both musical wunderkinds.
Peter Dasent is a walking musical encyclopaedia and understands Willie The Lion Smith, Booker T and Jimmy Smith, Monk, Bud Powell, Nino Rota, David Bowie, XTC, ELP, The Beatles, The Band, Poulenc etc.,… how to write for string quartets and score an orchestra for a film, and can improvise an amazing original tune any time he sits down at a piano or sits in with a band. His own band The Umbrellas has produced a series of remarkable albums that unfortunately few people have ever heard.
We wrote ‘The Underwatermelon Man’ together, which to this day is the music I have released so far that I am most proud of. Our partner in crime, Tony Backhouse, also continues to blow my mind on a weekly basis. He plays wonderful bass and guitar with my current band No Engine, is a great singer and songwriter and one of the most respected vocal arrangers in the world. His knowledge of the black gospel tradition is second to none and his unreleased songbook will amaze everyone that finally gets to hear it.
Like Peter his musical knowledge is immense and stretches from James Brown and Aretha, through Tamla Motown, gospel quartets, Bowie, The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, XTC, Steely Dan, Little Feat, The Band etc. And of course, the history of a cappella, about which he has written several books.
As Bend we have a trilogy of albums in the pipeline, the first, ‘We Disappear’ began in 1987 with Bruno and Johnathan Zwartz. Yes, it has been an appallingly slow process, but watch this space. I promise the music we will be releasing (if finished before we die) is well worth waiting for.
Creating the quadruple best selling children’s book and triple platinum CD ‘The Underwatermelon Man & Other Unreasonable Crimes‘, self-publishing, printing 20,000 in China, mixing in London, and finding that even after selling 18,000 copies I would still lose my house.
For a start the myth that I am special because I do lots of different things is a nonsense – in fact graphic art, music and film-making all pose very similar conundrums, and are easy to switch between with the right viewpoint.
They all involve arranging elements to create an emotional response. In painting you make compositions with shapes, colour and texture, in music you do the exactly the same thing with sound, and in film-making, you do the same thing with light and the editing of a moving image. The soundtrack is also important and dynamics play a part in everything. There are technical issues to deal with in each medium just as there are in carpentry, computer programming or plumbing – it’s not rocket science.
Over the last 13 years, I have been living in Napier and making art full-time. I love this and it has kept me alive, but it is hand to mouth and has still not given me the security to concentrate full time on finishing the music. I am currently working to change this situation and dedicate the rest of my life to getting our unreleased music to the world. This course will also involve more moving image work to create the promos, and design work for posters and cover art etc., so all the collected skills will come into play.
I guess the most satisfying medium is actually the audio-visual form, which combines all three skills and has the potential to create a series of totally unique works and be used to promote both the music and the short film out into the world. It really is the medium of the time and I am skilled up to capitalise on that – the only two things I am missing are the time and the money to complete a high-quality result – which is the only thing I am interested in.
In saying that I will contradict myself and admit that I have taken to throwing demos up on Youtube with primitive slide shows if I like them, but always with the proviso in my mind that the high quality finished product will come later down the line.
That question is inherently unanswerable I could list 50, but let’s just say off the top of my head in pop-music:
The Beatles –– ‘Magical Mystery Tour’; Jimi Hendrix Experience –– ‘Are You Experienced?’; Captain Beefheart –– ‘Safe As Milk’; XTC –– ‘Skylarking’; Elvis Costello & The Roots – ‘Wise Up Ghost’.
and in jazz:
Wayne Shorter – ‘Speak No Evil’; Charles Mingus –– ‘Blues & Roots’; Thelonius Monk & John Coltrane –– ‘Monk Trane’; Frank Zappa –– Hot Rats’; Oliver Nelson –– ‘Blues & The Abstract Truth Part 1’
and to brighten my day……
Sunny Afternoon or Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks; Abba Zaba Zoom by Beefheart; 1000 Umbrellas by XTC; I’m Only Sleeping by The Beatles; Montana by Zappa; Phil Judd‘s I’m In Love With A Girl I’ve Never Met; Room At The Top by Tom Petty and What’s Going On? by Fetus Productions.
Brother Ray – Ray Charles. Very inspiring.
My printmaking tutor John Drawbridge failed me and said, “You are talented, so what? You are also lazy!”
Tony Backhouse said, “Stop being a count!”, and Bruno said, “You can’t fuck everyone!” and he would know.
It’s a feeling of achievement – a kind of sweet exhaustion that comes from a 100% effort in the uncompromising completion of job well done.