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You're just too, too obscure for me... so take me away, I know not where.
January 6, 2008 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Heavenly Pop Hits: The Flying Nun Story. New Zealand rock doc (in 9 parts).

Bonus youtuberance (there you go, dersins):

The Clean/The Great Unwashed/David Kilgour
The Chills
Sneaky Feelings
The Verlaines
Straitjacket Fits
The Gordons
The Bats
The 3Ds
Toy Love/Chris Knox/Tall Dwarfs
dead c

TVNZ Dunedin and Christchurch bands doc from 1984 with some live footage, parts one, two, and three.
posted by sleepy pete (40 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awe. Some. Thanks for the post! Here's some Headless Chickens to add to the goodness.
posted by goo at 11:33 AM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I made a mixtape (okay, playlist) that consisted of my favourite 90 minutes of music and nothing but, "Anything Could Happen" would definitely be on there. Nice post!
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:46 AM on January 6, 2008


Seconding Card Cheat, except my choice would be "Getting Older" (which, tragically, I cannot find on YouTube.) Anyway, great post!
posted by Rangeboy at 11:49 AM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Huge thanks for this! So many of my favortie songs from the leate 80's/early 90's came out through Flying Nun. I picked up the In Love With These Times comp for the Chills and Tall Dwarfs cuts and ended up discovering so many great bands. For a while just seeing the Flying Nun logo was enough to buy a record.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:53 AM on January 6, 2008


I saw David Kilgour do "Anything" with Yo La Tengo backing him up during the "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out" tour (he was the opening act, then came out and sang a couple of numbers during their set). It was unquestionably the highlight of what was, sadly, kind of a dull show overall.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:53 AM on January 6, 2008


I saw YLT on that tour, The Card Cheat, but Barbara Manning opened for them. It was her cover of "Smoking Her Wings" by The Bats that led me to a lot of the NZ/Flying Nun artists oh so many years ago.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2008


Good call, Card Cheat - I knew "Getting Older" but not "Anything Could Happen," and am now madly searching for digital copies of both for the ole iPod. (My copy of the Flying Nun compilation Getting Older is on vinyl - purchased, since I'm already showing off a bit about it all, at Auckland's magnificent Real Groovy record shop - and Santa didn't make it by with the USB-porting turntable I'm pining for. Yet.)

A query, perhaps answerable by MeFi's kiwi contingent or else maybe ultimately unknowable: Why is New Zealand indie/garage so goddamn good? Is it the southern air? The water?

I'm thinking, in particular, of every other band on Flying Nun's staggeringly awesome Wild Things retrospective of '60s garage. I'm thinking even more in particular of the inventive proto-punk psychedelic guitar sounds on every other track. Anyone know how that happened on a pair of tiny distant isles noted in those days, so I'm told, for being more uptight than the faraway England they were aping? Bonus points if you can answer the eternal question of how many drummers are playing on "Belly Board Beat" by the Music Convention, which might be the greatest psychedelic surf rock tune ever recorded.
posted by gompa at 12:13 PM on January 6, 2008


Always a nice day when NZ rock shows up on the blue, and it's even better when there's a link to the mighty Dead C. performing "Sky" on national TV (on the show Ground Zero, which I'm told is the NZ equivalent of American Bandstand?) Great post.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:19 PM on January 6, 2008


The blog KiwiTapes has a mountain of out-of-print New Zealand music, saving me time when I was digitizing stuff in my collection. You'll find Xpressway cassettes, early Flying Nun greatness, and the first Gordons EP "Future Shock" (an amazing 1980-81 Cabaret Voltaire/Big Black hybrid).
posted by porn in the woods at 12:30 PM on January 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


sleepy pete...you're right; now that I think about it, Kilgour was part of their backing band, and stepped out to sing lead on a couple of his own songs.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2008


gompa: I'm pretty sure I've played "Anything" at least a couple of times at music nights over the years, although God knows when or where. If you can't find a digital copy of it, lemme know...
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:36 PM on January 6, 2008


Two of my most memorable shows have been The Chills and The Clean. Though I have to say of all the excellent kiwi rock I am still the most partial to Robert Scott and the Bats. Fear of God is an almost perfect dark pop creation in my books.

A couple of Mefi Cd swaps ago I did a Kiwi sampler. I think atleast one recipient still listens to it.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 12:44 PM on January 6, 2008


A query, perhaps answerable by MeFi's kiwi contingent or else maybe ultimately unknowable: Why is New Zealand indie/garage so goddamn good? Is it the southern air? The water?

My private and probably completely wrong theory: because we're a small country at the end of the earth, it was basically impossible to make money out of playing music, other than by being as big as Split Enz, or being a bar covers band. So there was no pressure to conform or make one's sound more commercial. So musicians could make interesting music by night and go back to the day job as university lecturer (Downes) or magazine columnist (Knox). That could be complete nonsense, though.

Incidentally, I'm not finding the more recent crop of Kiwi bands to be particular innovative or interesting, other than maybe the Phoenix Foundation. Anyone got any recommendations?
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:44 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is New Zealand indie/garage so goddamn good?

As far as Flying Nun goes, the same handful of people are in most of the bands.

That answer not as flippant as it may seem.

gompa: The Clean Anthology over at eMusic.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:47 PM on January 6, 2008


I love "Anything Could Happen," too, The Card Cheat, but Block of Wood even more so (self-link). Not to get sentimental, but sleepy pete introduced me to the 45 of The Bats' live version at WFMU, which I like so much better than the original recording it is not even a joke, and when we first started dating we used to dance around to it every morning. According to Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia, we were supersaturating our brains' music networks, and "in such a supersaturated state, the brain seems ready to replay the music with no apparent external stimulus. Such replayings, curiously, seem to be almost as satisfying as listening to the actual music...".

So true, because I can nearly always call up that scratchy 45 at will and time travel back to the little shitty studio apartment where we are doing the helicopter in perpetuity. Thank you very much for that and for the post, sleepy pete. Tally ho, tally ho.
posted by melissa may at 12:48 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mixotheque's New Zealand collection is still up and available. I recommend reading the post history, grabbing the zip files and starting with The Renderers' heartbreaking "Dream of the Sea". I miss Mixotheque. It didn't last long, but it was good, and I heard it here first.
posted by ardgedee at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Bringing back good memories of watching Chris Knox at (if I recall correctly) the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis, playing an old omnichord of all things. Flying Nun is one of the many things I owe my brother for introducing me to.
posted by nanojath at 2:56 PM on January 6, 2008


Why is New Zealand indie/garage so goddamn good?

Another theory I heard is that it's because their welfare was so good - a whole generation of young musicians could dedicate themselves to making music their way without fearing starvation. (No idea if it's true - but I did hear it so explained back in the mid 90's)
posted by nanojath at 2:58 PM on January 6, 2008


^
Hmm, The Chills might disagree.

I like Sleepy Pete's suggestion. Maybe it was just dumb luck - five or six hyper-talented people just happened to be born at the same time and in the same place...
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2008


Bringing back good memories of watching Chris Knox at (if I recall correctly) the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis, playing an old omnichord of all things.

One of my most surreal concert experiences... Chris Knox took off my belt and bit my stomach at a sparsely attended show in tiny Columbia, SC.

I've never been lucky enough to see the Bats, but damn I love 'em! Razzle, Fear of God is indeed great. One of my favorites...
posted by BobFrapples at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2008


My private and probably completely wrong theory: because we're a small country at the end of the earth, it was basically impossible to make money out of playing music, other than by being as big as Split Enz, or being a bar covers band. So there was no pressure to conform or make one's sound more commercial.

yeah, see also: seattle circa 1989. i'd add that the influence of big fish in the small pond (like Knox more or less applying his coolass lowfi touch to all these bands as the 'dude with recording gear') had alot to do with a certain continuity. also I imagine few touring acts made it down there. your influences then become your friends and neighbors.
posted by tremspeed at 3:35 PM on January 6, 2008


It always fascinated me how much interconnection there was between the NZ bands. When I made the Kiwi Sampler, I also did up a chart for each band/song showing the inbreeding/cross-polination. I remember it was messy and pretty sure The Clean were roughly in the centre.

Just came across a 5-part Radio New Zealand program on the Flying Nun Records that is downloadable. Looks interesting.

My favourite obscure FN band is still Snapper. When I first heard them I thought they were an amazing cross between NZ pop and shoegazers. A link to their video for Buddy.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:40 PM on January 6, 2008


"Not Given Lightly" is the best love song ever written- honest, emotional and pure without being the least bit sappy or melodramatic (at least, to my ears). I could always use more Chris Knox in my life.
posted by bobot at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2008


Brilliant. I grew up in Dunedin, seeing these bands all of the time. I've stalked Shayne Carter down George Street and the music was the soundtrack of my university years. All these bands made me love music when I was a littleun - when I was 8 or 9, I used to take the radio into the bathroom when I had my nightly bath and listen to student radio until my mother yelled at me to get out of the bath. Ah, memories.
posted by gaspode at 4:41 PM on January 6, 2008


Nice post. 12 years ago, the band I was in (The In Out) played a show with Harry Pussy and the dead c. Being ignorant of both bands going into the show, I was very much knocked off my feet.
posted by not_on_display at 4:45 PM on January 6, 2008


No post of awesome if obscure New Zealand/Flying Nun music is complete without mentioning Bailter Space.
posted by blucevalo at 5:18 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I recommend people try to get their grubby little hands on Bigger then Both of Us - NZ Singles 79-82, because it's really choice.
posted by Jimbob at 5:59 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post! I have a bunch of random Chris Knox stories from his tour in the States in the mid '90s, but he didn't bite my belly, so I'll save those. (though, I did book that show, despite being unable to attend)

Once, while speaking with a visiting Kiwi professor (teaching at a large Uni in the states) the topic of New Zealand music came up (she was a pretty hip prof, now that I think about it) and at some point I said something about Chris Knox and Toy Love and she was like "Oh my god!, they played my prom." Ok, she may not have said "prom." Maybe school dance. Something like that. Anyhow, it apparently didn't go over very well with a lot of the kids. (the prof, being pretty punk rock, loved it)

One thing I have found the world over is that even a cursory knowledge of the NZ music scene is an assured "in" with the Kiwis, at least the cool ones.
posted by shoepal at 6:07 PM on January 6, 2008


Great additions, everyone. Thanks so much.

Snapper = awesome. And I'm a really big fan of The Bats, so I agree with that one as well. I was going to put up Bailter Space, but went with The Gordons instead.

I was going to actually get some stuff finished this week, but it's looking doubtful now.

I'm going to reiterate porn in the woods link to Kiwi Tapes. Awesome.
posted by sleepy pete at 6:37 PM on January 6, 2008


Here's some Bailter Space over at Mixotheque. And a good Forced Exposure interview with Knox.
posted by shoepal at 6:47 PM on January 6, 2008


Shoepal: Ok, she may not have said "prom." Maybe school dance. Something like that.

Probably "ball". Similar to your "prom", though perhaps not such a big deal here.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:09 PM on January 6, 2008


While we've got some kiwi indie music aficionados here, can someone tell me more about The Front Lawn? I have one burned copy of one cd of their that I got from a kiwi housemate several years ago, and I love it, but I know nothing more about them and whether they were ever popular or anything. Last time I was in Wellington, two record stores on lambton quay didn't have anything by them.

Can someone give me more info?
posted by wilful at 7:13 PM on January 6, 2008


From memory The Front Lawn grew out of a stage show: Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair had a folky comedy duo act that played festivals. Now that I think about it, you could see them as forerunners of Flight of The Conchords, although the Front Lawn's humour was a more subtle, wistful kind of thing. Don had been in succesful bands before (Blam Blam Blam), I think Sinclair was an actor.

They were never popular as far as pop music goes, but they got a lot of radio play on student radio and public radio, and their shows sold very well. They also got good reviews at foreign arts festivals. The backing band on their first album was actually the Six Volts, an amazing and highly under-rated group, who in turn sprang from the equally amazing Avant-Garage.

Don went on to form the Muttonbirds, and is still a stalwart of the NZ music scene. I heard him playing with a reformed Blam Blam Blam just a month ago. Not sure what happened to Harry.

Anyway, here's a wee treat for you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2008


Blam Blam Blam. More.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:29 PM on January 6, 2008


Oops, first link (wee treat) should have been this.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:30 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


[On preview, i_am_joe's_spelln beat me to most of these, but I typed it all out so here you go anyway]

I wouldn't say The Front Lawn were ever popular in the sense of having major chart hits, but they're certainly well-regarded by Kiwi music fans.

They were a duo who put out two albums. Songs From The Front Lawn is the only one I could find available on the usual websites.

Harry Sinclair is probably better known now as an actor/film-maker (Topless Women Talk About Their Lives is worth investigating - and the soundtrack is full of Flying Nun style goodness).

Don McGlashan was previously in Blam Blam Blam, a much loved early 1980s band (YouTube: No Depression in New Zealand; Don't Fight It Marsha, It's Bigger Than Both of Us). After the Front Lawn, he formed the Muttonbirds, a poppier and more successful group (YouTube: Nature (cover of Fourmulya classic voted NZ's number 1 song of all time); Anchor Me (McGlashan doing a Muttonbirds song solo as a Greenpeace tribute).

As an aside, Smoke CDs and Real Groovy are probably your best bets for NZ music; you could also try Slow Boat for second-hand out of print stuff (I'm not affiliated with any).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:37 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is New Zealand indie/garage so goddamn good?

I blame the weather. Seriously. Long cold rainy winters... Nothing to do but sit around indoors with your mates and play. Before long, everyone one Dunedin knows someone else in a band, critical mass forms and off you go.

I remember seeing The Chills on their Submarine Bells tour in Melbourne in the early 90s. 15 years ago or not, I remember every moment of that gig. The Chills were the soundtrack to one of the best summers of my life.
posted by tim_in_oz at 8:34 PM on January 6, 2008


Thanks guys. It seems I can't get more songs from the front lawn (unless someone wants to mail me a copy?).

What's with Dave Dobbyn, you guys disown him or something?
posted by wilful at 8:45 PM on January 6, 2008


After Slice of Heaven, Dobbyn was lucky he wasn't lynched.
posted by tim_in_oz at 8:56 PM on January 6, 2008


Harry Sinclair is probably better known now as an actor/film-maker

Unnecessary nerd alert: he was Isildur in LotR.
posted by John Shaft at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2008


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