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April/May 2013

by Trevor Reekie

Moments Like These: Graeme Gash (Waves)

by Trevor Reekie

Moments Like These: Graeme Gash (Waves)

Graeme Gash has a wonderful and totally original graphic ability. He has an eye for it. He is an equally wonderful guitarist and singer/songwriter. In conjunction with ex-band members David Marshall, Kevin Wildman and Michael Mason and a team of fans and enthusiasts, Graeme has been working on the re-issue of the Waves‘ album recorded in 1975 (with bonus tracks from the unreleased second album) before disbanding in 1977. Built around the compositional skills of Gash, Marshall and Wildman, their acoustic harmonising resulted in an album that was one of the best selling albums of the mid ‘’70s before going out of print. It is a timeless Kiwi album of its genre – good to see this slice of history back.

When and where was this photo taken – and what was everyone up to on the night?

The photo was taken by our manager, the late Laurie Bell; he was later killed by a drunk driver while on tour with the Commodores. The year is 1975. Look Ma, long hair! Actually, hair. We’’re in the lounge of our Jervois Road villa, which used to be across the road from the Stebbing Recording Studios. [L-R: David Marshall, Michael Matthew, Graeme Gash, Kevin Wildman]

The harmonium was from our local church where I grew up in Oratia (they went electric; we were still acoustic). It’s currently in my kitchen at home! The cat is real, and was mine. Called Mouse. Used to drag home fully-grown pheasants when we were in Oratia; probably trying to live down its name. Kevin and I both bought our Martin D-35s from Lewis Eady’s back in 1974. That’’s mine in the photo. They were (and still are) our pride and joy. We used to occasionally drink Black Tower, because it came in those flash ceramic bottles on top of the harmonium and we thought it was fancy. It wasn’’t.

Have you kept in touch with the other members of Waves over the years? What are they doing these days?

Like me, Kevin Wildman is an illustrator and art director. David Marshall still operates in the music industry and plays in several bands. Our original bass man, Michael Matthew, we haven’t had any contact with since he left Waves, but sadly, I heard that he passed away in the last few years.
 
Our current bass player, Michael Mason, lives just up the road from me in Oratia. He became an architect and consultant after we split. Our drummer, Rex Carter, lives in Byron Bay and is a fulltime working musician and drum tutor. In the end, he may be living the most fabulous life of all. David, Kevin, Michael and I currently get together every weekend to eat, drink, play music and laugh at each other. I mean ‘with’. It’s enjoyable. Everyone is writing what may be their best music yet.

What was your earliest awareness of music, and what got you started writing songs?

First musical memory: age of four. Putting a knapsack on my back and heading out into our 20-acre West Auckland orchard singing The Happy Wanderer. I know, sounds insufferable. Still very young, singing Bach in the church at the bottom of our road. Had a great piano teacher at primary school, John Speedy. Taught me passion. Musical, that is. He shifted schools and I was shipped off to the Catholic nuns (wasn’t even Catholic) where I learnt all about guilt and suffering for your art. At which point I taught myself the guitar. Rubbing musical shoulders with the Chunn brothers, Michael and Geoffery, at 17, was where I learned to dream.
Songwriting? I initially started writing songs for a girl I liked but couldn’’t have; that got me onto the ladder (watch out for those snakes though).

How did Waves get together and develop, and eventually find their sound?

At what is now the Auckland University of Technology I met Kevin Wildman. We studied art and design together, honing our love of the visual and the aural simultaneously. During breaks we would sit in the multi-storied stairwell and sing harmonies, where the reverb was cathedral-esque and our aspirations had room to expand.
 
Kevin and I formed a band with Geoff Chunn, who eventually left us to become the drummer for Split Ends. In the post-Chunn period, Kevin and I would get together, and one day David Marshall crashed our jam; we were gobsmacked. He was great. We snapped him up. Michael Matthew was hanging out with a bunch of musos we knew, and we cajoled him into accompanying us on the bushwalk to Glory. Eventually David, Michael and I ended up living together in a villa on Jervois Rd so we could peer out the window at Stebbings. Kevin was a Southside boy; his roots ran deep, so he just visited. 

It’s often said that if one wants to follow the trail of creativity, one should follow the trail of cheap real estate. The Waves centre of operations was an eight-bedroom colonial villa on Jervois Road, situated along from the Ponsonby Bowling Club. Ponsonby was the place to be an artist?

Yes, everyone knows rich people can’’t do art. That’’s why we’’ve all remained poor, of course. Prior to Waves, the Chunn household on Parnell Rd (not very cheap real estate, I admit) was frequented by the forerunner to Waves (Geoff Chunn, Kevin and I) and the seminal Split Ends; that was kind of inspiring. Later, over on a rather more low-rent Jervois Road (not anymore!) other musicians would drop by all the time, and there was a great osmosis going on between a number of music-oriented houses around the place. That was how we met our second bass player, Michael Mason.
 
At Jervois, some of Hello Sailor lived in the house that backed on to ours, with a driveway that ran up the side to the main road. We were separated by an old picket fence. When the winters were particularly fierce, that picket fence used to disappear, paling by paling. Not saying it was them, y’’know… 

You and Kevin Wildman both bought Martin D-35s back in 1974. I imagine in those days that would have been incredibly special?

Yep. Music was pretty much up there with sex in terms of excitement. So saving our hard-earned dollars until we had enough to walk out the door with a Martin was somewhat titillating, to put it mildly. 600 bucks, from memory. In 1974. Still made in America, back then. They were, in those days, the Rolls Royce of acoustics. Now it’’s probably Taylor I’’m guessing. What our 40-year-old Martins are now, is played in. They’’re glorious. Hey kids! Never sell anything – you’ll live to regret it! 

The nature of Waves’’ music required specific types of venues. Waves shunned the pub circuit right?

Let’’s start with stage fright, doctor. Had years of folk clubs, cafés, small hangouts and minor festivals under the belt. So knew how to do small. Big venues – the Auckland Town Hall, His Majesty’’s Theatre, the Maidment, the Mercury – with all those paying customers silently awaiting their money’’s worth? Priceless.
 
Playing live for David was like water off a duck’s back; he lives for it. Kevin? I’’m not sure if he knew how the hell he’d ended up there on a big stage, but he’’s our Happy Place, so he was good for the nerves. Michael Matthew was self-contained and inscrutable; who knew what he thought? Me, I like hiding out in studios and creating aural art. In our latter incarnation (1976/77), bassist Michael Mason had been doing live pub and club work in Johnny Tabla’s world, so he was pretty cool under pressure. Rex just rolled along being Rex; lived loose, played loose, nothing fazed him.
 
As for the pub circuit, in 1975 the clientele weren’’t interested in the likes of us; they wanted something to drink to, not think too. So we needed venues where the intricacies of our music would be heard. Not precious, just realistic. 

Tell us about the creative process of writing and recording the debut Waves album, the promotional activity and critical reception?

Before walking through the front door of Stebbing’s we’’d prepared, done a lot of practice and a lot of live work with the material, so we knew it back to front. Let’’s face it, we’’d been living across the road getting ourselves ready for this moment for about a year. We’’d been introduced to Direction Records’’ Kerry Thomas by Hotlicks Magazine editor, Roger Jarrett, and they’’d scooped us up. They got right behind us, with Kerry flying in Peter Dawkins to produce.
 
Dawkins had five days, and he marshalled us through the procedures in a most efficient fashion. That was his job, and he did it well. He was tough though. One of our friends wasn’’t cutting it quickly enough with his solo and Peter made me go into the studio and fire him on the spot. Yikes.
 
Engineer Phil Yule was great, totally laid back, a lovely man, which was good for us, our excitement enhanced as it was with a little terror. The hardest thing for us was accustoming ourselves to doing the vocals with headphones on. We’’d never done that before. I think we ended up with one headphone on the ear and the other side off, just so we could hack it.
 
We freely availed ourselves of notable contributors. Some – Mike Chunn, Mike Caen, Roy Mason – were personal friends; others – Vic Williams, Murray Grindlay, Mike Harvey, Paul Lee – were introduced to us in the studio.
 
The hitherto seamlessly controlled operation came unstuck when, after five days of recording, Peter put the finished tapes under his arm and flew out to Sydney to mix them. No doubt, in his world this was standard procedure; however what it did was disengage us from the process. When the mixes came back to Auckland we didn’’t understand them. They were not the way we heard ourselves.
 
We voiced our desire to remix the album. Almost miraculously, Kerry Thomas agreed, and gained my gratitude forever. We kept Peter’’s mixes of Waterlady Song and Arrow; the rest the band remixed at Stebbing’s with Phil Yule, and that is what appeared on the album.
 
Direction also operated a chain of record stores, so they had the distribution side of things well covered. We had no shortage of press and publicity, and most of it was pretty complimentary. Both prior to and after the recording we did a fair bit of live work, mostly concert-style events, but also smaller places like the Pumphouse, high schools, that sort of thing. As for our demographic, I’’m not sure what it was, but students were there in large numbers. These days, all sorts of people tell me they were at our concerts. 

Did Waves gain traction from being included amongst the acoustic singer/songwriters of the time, or was it seen as being a copy?

Hey, we played acoustic guitars and liked singing harmonies (actually these days, quite a few people enjoy doing that). New Zealand had its cultural cringe hat pulled firmly down over its ears, we were constantly being related and rated. However, I have yet to hear anyone write songs like David Marshall’’s. Our influences were wide and varied, from Joni Mitchell to Jimi Hendrix. Frankly, it was all so damned stimulating, we didn’’t have time to worry about it.
 
There was, though, the beginnings of an upswell, an excitement around bands we as a nation could call our own; Kiwis writing songs for Kiwis. They were there, and thanks to people like the late Roger Jarrett, inspirational editor of Hotlicks and enthusiastic champion of New Zealand music, that interest began to find a focus. And look at it now. All grown up, with its own driver’s licence and everything. 

How did you create the DNA of a Waves song. With a band blessed with more than one great writer, was there a selection process?

David has always written a great lyric. Me, not so much, although I was always a voracious reader. Mind you, I’’ve done a lot of work on it, and these days, my lyrics are pretty damn good. I believe it’’s wise not to overcook your words. It’’s how to make a statement, paint a picture that’’s eloquent without trying to be overly clever. That can be a fine line. You have to try and put your heart on your sleeve without leaving a syrupy stain on the fabric – it can be so hard to get out.
 
And sometimes, you just have to let the music drive the words; that is, after all, what separates it from poetry. David starts with a title, and from there builds a concept. I tend to begin with the music and then hunt for the lyrics, except when there is something I particularly want to talk about: a love, a death, something like that.
 
Back in the day, someone would show up and go, ‘‘Hey look what I did,’’ and everyone else would go, ‘’Ah, that’’s quite nice,’’ and add their magic. I was in charge of harmonies. As for a selection process, if you wrote it, we’’d play it. Mind you, a few months in, only the hardiest songs were still standing. 

Being a professional graphic artist you’ve obviously always had a good visual eye. Was there a division of labour within the band?

Yep. Three writers, very little crossover. David played guitar like we all wanted to. Kevin sang like we all wanted to. Michael Matthew and then Michael Mason took care of the low notes, invariably in brilliant fashion. Rex used to hit stuff with remarkable fluidity and finesse. I bossed everyone around, made us practice until our fingers were bloody and our tonsils shredded. I know, sounds insufferable – some things never change. I also did album covers, poster art, things like that. David and I had a bit of a dual guitar thing going, which was nice. 
 
Then, in between albums, Kevin came out of nowhere as an exquisite slide player and blew us both out of the water. We obviously weren’’t paying attention.

Can you recall your perception of the local scene back in 1975 when you released the debut album?

There was a building excitement, an air of anticipation, like we were all going to feel quite proud, quite soon. Split Enz had embedded themselves into the national psyche, or at least the leading edge of it. Hotlicks was championing a lot of local work. Radio stations like Hauraki were into doing their bit for the locals as well.
 
Hauraki were great in those days; they used to do Buck-a-Head concerts. Big venue, one dollar for two bands; can you believe it? No wonder we all went out of business. Occasionally we’’d headline our own shows and charge something more realistic, like $1.50. Somewhere between 1974 and 1975 we did a double-bill Buck-a-Head with Split Enz at the Mercury, another with Tole Puddle at His Majesty’’s Theatre. These were great platforms for us. Our own concerts included His Majesty’’s with Chris Thompson in support, and the Mercury with Geoff Chunn. 

Waves’ career suffered from record company machinations. Can you tell us the chain of events that lead to the recording of the second album, and why it never saw the light of day?

New Zealand was a tough gig; probably still is. At that time, a handful of major labels controlled everything. They were the security on the door to Fame, and if they didn’’t like the look of you, you were told in no uncertain terms to bugger off. And then, if you did get a foot up, the government taxed the shit out of it and you ended up on crutches. Anyone would’’ve thought bands were packets of cigarettes. Actually, in those days cigarettes were treated better.
 
One day the Direction empire, including their rare and wonderful independent label (hats off to you, Kerry Thomas and Guy Morris), came crashing down and the banks cleaned up. In the process, every dollar we had ever earned from our record went their way. We had done quite well, getting to No.6 on the NZ album charts, which in those ‘‘play something we know’’ days was a pretty reasonable effort. The previously uninterested majors came calling.

Consequently, we ended up in Parnell’’s Mandrill Studios, run by Glyn Tucker Jnr. and Dave Hurley, where we recorded what was to be our second album. By this time Michael Matthew had gone and we had a new bass player, Michael Mason, and our own drummer, Rex Carter. Some of the songs followed the path set down by the original album, while others were headed in a whole different direction. We were producing it ourselves, and it was all ourselves; unlike the first album, there were no guest performances.
 
The rhythm section was gelling nicely, the songs and the playing seemed a step up and we felt much more relaxed and in control of the process than we had previously. Things were looking pretty good. But this is NZ, circa 1976. With just a few solo overdubs to complete and on the verge of mixing, we were told that the record company exec didn’’t like what we had done and had ordered the multi-track tapes to be recorded over. Can you do that? He did. Dave Hurley allowed us to pull off a rough mix, and today, that is the only record we have of our endeavours, an entire album’’s worth of work. We had worked hard. It deserved better.
 
Maybe we just weren’’t tough enough; certainly, after a few good blows to the head you start to wonder what it’’s all for. The second album being wiped just prior to the mix broke our hearts. Some months later, our final song, Vegas, being abandoned (once again) just prior to the mix broke our spirit, and we conceded and walked away. On good terms with each other, I might add. Anyway, now people can judge it for themselves; admittedly in an unmixed state, because that’s all we have.
 
I can’’t help but wonder what might have been if we’d got to the third album. We were taking big steps. The third, for me personally, ended up being my solo album, ‘After the Carnival’. By that time I was beginning to move away from songs and the whole ‘carnival’ aspect of the industry, into more complex, more obscure stuff. Music for dance, music for film, that sort of thing. These days I’’ve come full circle and I am, once more, an ardent believer in the power of a good song.

This re-release certainly writes it back into history. Looking back, where do you consider that Waves fitted into Kiwi music history?

We were a bright light on the horizon for a relatively short time, and quite localized I guess. Eventually the young guns came sailing through and left us in their wake, but hell, isn’’t that always the way? Don McGlashan, bless him, grew up listening to us. Neil Finn was our support act at the Maidment Theatre. Holy shit, who says that? Everything has its place and time. Here’’s how I see it: Music is a wonderful thing; it defines us as a species, in a way not much else does, as it cuts across a multitude of divisions to unite people. It is bigger than individuals and their personal tastes. It makes people passionate – that has to be good. The genre is not important, because there is room enough for all of it. If your song has made the soul of one human being glow a little brighter, then you’’ve done the job required. For a little while, we did that.
 
That debut Waves album has over the years become a collector’s item – albeit by virtue of its total obscurity. Waves had its time. I have never wanted to be one of those aging bands that fruitlessly pursues its golden years. That’’s just sad. And so I looked forward and not back. The medium we worked in at the time was vinyl, and that went the way of the steam engine (like hell, I hear the current vinyl aficionados muttering), because nothing ever stays still, so we ceased to exist other than in some people’s memories. But hey, they’’re all getting old now, so we thought we’’d better make a CD, just in time to watch it superseded by digital downloads. Hilarious.
 
Seriously though, it’’s nice to have your pin in the map, because the story of NZ music is a long one, and full of riches, and we’re part of that musical tapestry, champions of home-grown music at a time when that wasn’’t a particularly popular pastime. The album became a collector’s item because you couldn’’t get it. And also, perhaps, for a certain group of people it recalls memories of a time in their lives that was particularly good. Long, hot summers, low rents, jobs for everybody, that sort of thing. And, just maybe, it was quite good.

Post Waves you released a wonderful solo album ‘’After The Carnival’’.

‘After the Carnival’ ‘was me walking away from some less than happy memories and looking for an alternative musical path. I hopped on a plane to Sydney and hunted down Direction’s’ Kerry Thomas, put some songs in front of him and asked him if he’’d fund it. There was some mutual respect going on; he said yes, and founded Siren Records. Got me to design the logo.
 
I had the material and the backing, so I went hunting for a studio. Doug Rogers was just finishing off Harlequin Studios in Auckland. It was pretty flash for the times. I believe ‘Carnival’ was the first album done there, so we managed to secure a reasonable $ deal. Also hanging around at the time was Lee Connolly, a very talented man. One day, in the control room, he played me the stuff he’’d done in England, and I said, ‘’This is great, will you come and work with me?’’ Our engineer was Paul Streekstra, and I have to say the three of us made a pretty good production team; we ended up doing a number of projects together.
 
Some very cool musicians came and helped me out: Steve Garden (drums), Howie Morgan (bass), Paul Lee (soprano sax), Paul Clayton (bass), to name a few. And, of course, a touch of Waves. Everything was first or second takes. The album was mastered at Studio 301 in Sydney. Came out sounding pretty fabulous, really. These days, it’’s just another lost vinyl. Might do something about that.
 
One thing I loved from those days was the analogue mixing process: you had your bits of tape all marked up and plastered to the faders, and then three or four of you stood at the desk, someone pushed ‘go’ and off you all went, start to finish. No digital pre-programming. If someone buggered it up, it was back to the beginning. It was a very sociable way to mix, very seat-of-the-pants. Exciting. And when you all successfully arrived at the end together, you felt like you’’d just played a team sport and won.
 
The day of ‘Carnival’’s NZ release, the news came to me that Kerry Thomas had just gone down in a plane crash. He nearly died (the people around him did). He was out of commission for a long time. The album was received well enough but there was no machinery behind it, so as you say, comparatively low sales.
 
That was the beginning, though, of a good period for me; I worked with Limbs Dance Company on both music and visuals, did sets for blacklight puppet theatre, scored a short film for Christine Parker, worked on an animation piece with Joe Wylie at Magic Films, did some stuff at Harlequin with Lee and Paul. Something of a golden patch, you might say. 

I get the impression that you have never compromised your musical vision, but there have obviously been times when you’ve thought, ‘What am I doing this for?’… Is there a cure for this syndrome?

If you can, just keep going. And you know? Music operates on many levels. They’’re all good. Sitting in a room for a few hours with half a dozen people passing the guitar around can be just as brilliant as getting an encore in the big auditorium, or hearing your song on the radio. Write one in your bedroom. Just aim to make it the best song you’ve ever done, every time, and you’re on your way. And most of all, work at meeting your own standards – not those of anyone else; the rest will take care of itself, hopefully.

What catalysed the decision to re-issue the Waves album along with previously unreleased material?

The whole Waves reissue thing started late in 2012 over a coffee with NZ music enthusiast Grant Gillanders and Ode’s Roger Marbeck, the two of them touting the concept of reissuing the Waves album on vinyl to coincide with the annual Record Store Day. The idea of pressing a new vinyl of it was just out there enough to arouse our interest. What no one really knew was that we had a whole other album as well, sitting in the wings gathering dust, with its own story to tell. I think it was the idea of getting that out of the shadows and into the light that swung the deal for me.
 
With the Waves album, we have never been able to find any tapes, so it came down to the small number of unplayed vinyls I had stashed away under the bed for the last 38 years. They were old, but mint, and I took them to Stebbing’s, where we ran them on a very high-end turntable and transferred it all to digital files. It worked superbly. We then mastered it there for vinyl with Steve McGough, pulling in the original engineer Phil Yule to listen as well. That was a nice touch.
 
I then redid all the cover art and designed a new insert for photos and info. Kevin did a take on the original Direction label, and we sent it all off for cutting, pressing and packaging to United Record Pressing in Nashville. As I write this, we await the outcome with bated breath.
 
Steve also took the DAT tape I had of the unmixed, unnamed second album, recorded at Mandrill in 1976, and transferred it to digital. Amazingly, nearly all of it was still there and in one piece. That is a minor miracle. Roger Marbeck had, too, hunted down the multi-track tapes of Vegas (well done, that man!), the final song we ever recorded (at Mascot). They are the only multi-tracks we have of any of our material, and therefore the only song we had the opportunity to do an actual mix on. And so, we have Vegas, recorded July 1977, mixed January 2013. We had to bake the tape at Stebbings prior to running it, but we retrieved everything.
 
We then took those files to York St Studios in Parnell, where we mixed Vegas with engineer Hayden Taylor and mastered the Mandrill sessions. I would’’ve loved to have mixed them as well, but with the multi-tracks destroyed back in 1976, that was not an option. At the end of the day, what we have now is the Waves album, new and sparkling and remastered for both vinyl and CD, and the previously unheard second album (three-quarters of it anyway, and no final mixes), now titled ‘Misfit’ and packaged up as a bonus CD together with the first one.
 
waves new (rt)We tracked down a whole pile of old photos – some we’’d never even seen ourselves – had them scanned, and I’’ve compiled a 20-page booklet to go in with the CD that tells the whole tale, with pictures. And yes, I’’m sure there will be downloads as well. But you should really buy the CD just to get the story and the pictures. And the vinyl will be stonkin’’ if that’’s your thing. 

Can I ask you how you define and view success?

If you can manage to apply some degree of originality and creativity to everything you undertake, from the smallest aspect of your life to the largest, then you’’re probably well down the road to attaining success of one sort or another. If you’’re happy, you’’re there. You don’’t have to be 100% content; a shortage of it is what makes you try harder next time. 

Who is the most imposing presence that you have had the privilege of meeting, and why?

Musically? Where do I start? Dave Dobbyn – lovely, humble, clever man; Nigel Gavin – extraordinary player; Don McGlashan – erudite and talented; Mike Chunn has pumped boundless energy into NZ music for such a long time; Josie Rika‘’s voice. In fact, Tama Renata is somewhat imposing. And insanely brilliant; it’’s like the guitar is plugged directly into him, or he into it. My list could go on. Actually, I bow to everyone who picks up an instrument and gives it a go.

What would you consider your proudest musical moment?

Way back, my mum and dad came to see Waves play in the Auckland Town Hall. They were lovers of classical music; for them, me being in a band playing that incomprehensible modern stuff was a dodgy career move. They worried. But there I was, onstage in the Town Hall. People were clapping. They were so proud. It made the moment.

Is there any one mistake that you learned more from than others?

Yeah, get it in writing. And don’’t give away the whole farm. You don’’t have to. And! Keep a steely eye on your multi-track files and masters; you never know when you’’re going to need them.

What would you say are the most distinct differences between you then and now?

I’’m older and wiser. And fatter. Damn.

The best advice you ever got was…?

“‘In music, there are no emergencies.”’ – Jeremy McPike, York St Studios, 2013.