I’m in danger, as usual, of over-stating the case when I say I returned to New Zealand back in the mid-1980s because of one record. But there’s a lot of truth to it. The record was ‘Getting Older’ by The Clean, and when I heard it in London it bowled me.
I was moonlighting there as a music journalist and it sounded like nothing else I’d heard, and it sounded like everything I loved in a song – rough, melodic, full of harmonics and spirit. What it probably sounded most like – was home. I hear it’s opening growl of guitar and slam of drum and twenty-five years later it still gives me shivers.
Back then it was just further evidence that a generation who grew up in Dunedin in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s had bands more than worth calling their own – the top of the pile for most of us, The Clean. By the early to mid -‘80s the second flowering of the city’s music was well underway - The Chills, The Verlaines, The Bats, Sneaky Feelings, and newer bands, Look Blue Go Purple, The Rip, The Puddle, and the recently formed, the mighty but doomed Doublehappys.
I thought I’d write about them, but in a way that was the antithesis of everything required of me as a journalist working for the daily press – I didn’t want fairness and balance – I wanted the tone to be fevered. I wanted it to bark like a rabid dog about the joys of the music we were hearing. I wanted it to be amateur. I wanted it to be slightly unhinged. All my wishes – for better or worse- came true.
But it would also serve a purpose I wasn’t even aware of when we got out the typewriter, heavy black marker pen, glue, and staples and set to work. The first issue was a pimply 18 pages, a photocopied run of bugger all. But by number six, the final issue, we were printing more than a thousand, and selling in London, Germany, the mid-West, and The East Coast. They lapped us up overseas.
You have to remember this was pre-Internet, you couldn’t read about an obscurity on a blog and then have it materialize before your eyes and ears on YouTube. It’s difficult to convey how isolated we were. The British music weeklies arrived by ship three months late. There was one music programme on television. One. It was such an event for the hour it screened each Sunday night many marked the occasion by getting stoned to watch it.
Conversely for people overseas trying to find out about New Zealand music – they probably had a better chance of finding a stray piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We fired our tiny information dart into the stratosphere more in hope than anything, but we did find readers. We knew we did because people wrote to us from all over and sent us their records to review. Through the postbox they came from Ohio, Scandinavia, Essex, New York.
We become part of a network of fanzines and magazines dedicated to reporting on the margins of music – B-Side and Distant Violins in Australia, Bucketful of Brains (England), Forced Exposure and Conflict on the USA’s East coast, the K Label – home of the Calvin Johnson and Beat Happening – out of Olympia Washington, and Option down in Los Angeles. We traded news and records like the obsessives we were.
We were in our mid- twenties and we had the time and the life. Living was cheap as chips. Between bouts of paying work on newspaper and radio, I worked on Garage. We lived with friends who owned their own home – a high-ceilinged drafty villa on the flats of St Kilda. When the stereo wasn’t blasting we could hear the sea. In the room where we slept and worked there was only a wall of rough boards between us and the weather. In winter I typed and glued and stapled in a coat and balaclava. It was the concentrated work of a medieval monk in numbing cold.
We attracted the company of music lovers, and musicians. We become well-known for our Friday and Saturday night parties. A sack of oysters and Jim’s homebrew. The munchies were often a problem for one errant attendee – he left teeth marks where he’d chomped our block of cheese.
At one gathering Shayne Carter stage-dived off one of the many mantelpieces.
Robert Cardy – whose lo-fi recordings were a household favourite - visited in one of the most stylish pyjama jackets we’d ever seen anyone wear in company.
David Kilgour called in between surfs; Martin Phillipps drove out to see us in his stylish British car after he’d had some success overseas.
We felt at the centre of a great chapter in music – here or anywhere. It started with The Enemy and Toy Love and kept going through The Clean and onto another generation. There was always a gig to go to, a new record to hear. Or a past chapter that had been overlooked – the Victor Dimisich Band and the Builders in Christchurch and their various offshoots and cross pollinations. We tried to record a bit of history here and there.
It was a monumental exercise just getting each issue done compared to the swiftness of a blog. We typed each and every word and sentence and paragraph and glued it to the page. We took it to the printer, bought it home and collated it, stapled it, bundled it up and packaged it, and got it to the shops.
We kept at it because we were read, and we were kindly received and reviewed. Ken Double in the Listener called us…’Prolix and parochial, ‘ and said, ‘the free-flowing writing is a joy to read’. He did warn people we were a bit rabid in our opinions about local music – so he understood us perfectly.
Over the years I have constructed many Garage 7’s in my head. I wanted an issue with the Jefferies brothers of This Kind of Punishment on the cover. Any number of bands have incited me to think it’s time, let’s kick it back into gear, recordings of Voom, the magnificent Stereo Bus, Alec Bathgate’s gem ‘Gold Lame Suit’, Dimmer’s first, any number of efforts by Robert Scott and David Kilgour and the reformed Clean…
But it’s past. We did it when we were needed. It was great. Leave it be, I tell myself, seldom entirely convinced.
- Richard Langston, 2011
GARAGE #1 PODCAST
Editor and journalist Richard Langston put this podcast together as a musical companion to the first issue of Garage magazine which has been digitally republished as part of Flying Nun Record’s 30th Anniversary. This choice reflects the music of the time that inspired him to write, edit, print and staple his fanzine of musical life in Dunedin during the mid 1980s.
1. The Chills – Kaleidoscope World (M. Phillipps, 1982)
2. The Bats – I Go Wild (R. Scott, P. Kean, K. Woodward, M.Grant, 1984)
3. Sneaky Feelings – For Pity’s Sake (D. Pine, M. Bannister, M. Durrant, K. Tyrie, 1982)
4. Bilders – Moderation (B. Direen, 1982)
5. Tall Dwarfs – Crush (C. Knox & A. Bathgate, 1984)
6. The Stones – Gunner Ho (W. Elsey, J. Batts & G. Anderson, 1983)
7. The Verlaines – Joed Out (G. Downes, 1984)
8. Doublehappys – Others Way (S. Carter, W. Elsey, J. Collie, 1984)
9. Bilders – Dirty & Disgusting (B. Direen, 1982)
10. The Great Unwashed – Duane Eddy (H. Kilgour, D. Kilgour and P. Gutteridge, 1984)