Archives for posts with tag: Bruce Russell

The New Existentialists

Our day 20 song for New Zealand Music Month comes from Auckland outsiders The New Existentialists, with the title track from an unexpected album of ‘works in progress’ called “Didn’t Have Time”

The New Existentialists are the Auckland ensemble of George D. Henderson (The Spies, The And Band, Mink, The Puddle).

Best to use the words provided to set the context for this release: “In 2019 The New Existentialists began recording demos for their second album during practices, raw unformed things that the world was never meant to hear. Ongoing curiosity saw these tracks added to over the subsequent months, and new ones recorded. When pandemic requirements prevented further band recording New Existentialist producer and synth-man Fraser completed the choicest tracks, leaving us a month later with this 10-track mini album. Quite unexpectedly, the New Existentialists had returned to the live-with-overdubs recording ethos of the early Puddle.”

The best music George D. Henderson produces is done in the moment, on the fly, on the edge, imperfect, unfinished.  That makes sense for someone whose lifelong aesthetic – whether by choice or, more often, by force of circumstance, has been about capturing the essential spark of music creation over creating a glossy audiophile music commodity.

That frustrates some of those who appreciate his art. As notorious NZ music critic curmudgeon Gay Steel once wrote of an album he liked by Henderson’s long-time band The Puddle. “I wish, however, [the] budget extended to a producer, and rehearsal time, and someone to sweat over the arrangements.” 

For the perpetual outsider of NZ rock, his recordings – as The Spies, The And Band, The Puddle and now The New Existentialists – have usually been made under various financial, physical, practical and temporal constraints and exist as the product of their circumstances. Fittingly, that is also the theme of this song “Didn’t Have Time”

In 1991 Bruce Russell (The Dead C/ Xpressway Records) explained in a review   in NZ music weekly Rip It Up: “While his career may be largely unknown to the majority of even those well informed insiders reading these pages, the fact is that since the mid-70s George Henderson (poet, nutritional theorist, connoisseur of the esoteric) has been constantly engaged in an obscure but utterly uncompromising investigation-cum-pilgrimage through the ‘secret’ side of music, thought and the fine arts in this country. The most obvious expression of this has been in music… Though all too often better appreciated by other musicians than by the public, George’s music is at heart pop. Those who snapped up The Puddle’s 1986 EP “Pop Lib” will know that he has few peers in NZ for a catchy melody or an incisively pithy lyric, as well as a unique guitar style and a talent for off-the-wall arrangements.” 

Henderson, now in his 60’s, and making music for over 45 years, is still questing for esoteric knowledge like a curious child trying to understand the universe and his place in it. In the process he’s still finding new corners to turn and ideas to explore in his lifetime “investigation-cum-pilgrimage through the ‘secret’ side of music” and in the process still creating weird and wonky and wonderful literate pop and rock music.

NZMM 2020



The cover of 'Pop Lib' by The Puddle, released on Flying Nun Records in 1986. “99.9% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Jane From Occupied Europe’ by Swell Maps. 99.9% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Oar’ by Skip Spence... 100% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Pop Lib’ by The Puddle… make that 150%.” Luke Haines, Sabotage Times, 2012

The cover of ‘Pop Lib’ by The Puddle, released on Flying Nun Records in 1986.
“99.9% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Jane From Occupied Europe’ by Swell Maps. 99.9% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Oar’ by Skip Spence… 100% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Pop Lib’ by The Puddle… make that 150%.”
Luke Haines, Sabotage Times, 2012

This blog is named after, and in honour of, a 1986 mini-album by The Puddle which was released on Flying Nun Records. Despite releasing “Pop Lib”, then the albums “Live at the Teddy Bear Club” (FN172, 1991) and “Into the Moon” (FNCD164, 1992), and finally a 7″ single “Thursday”/ “Too Hot to be Cool” (FN278, 1993), The Puddle never appeared on any Flying Nun Records compilation until “Time to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Movement 1981-86” last year (2012).

The song included there was “Junk” – a song that Puddle frontman and songwriter George D. Henderson used to introduce at the time as ‘a song about non-medical use of pain-killing drugs’. I hated that song, the sentiments it expressed and saw the damage that drugs (self) inflicted on him and others. So I guess it is ironic indeed that the first, and only, song from The Puddle on a Flying Nun Records compilation is the one I hate the most. It is also the least psychedelic song on that remarkable, damaged “Pop Lib” record. Pain killing drugs – “Junk” – are not psychedelic.

Around that time George D. Henderson was interviewed for Dunedin University student magazine Critic. The interview must date from 1987 or maybe even April 1988, as “Pop Lib” was released in 1987 and Lindsay Maitland died in 1987. The photograph used must be from 1986.

The interview ranges from early life in Invercargill, through Wellington and Christchurch scenes, including being banned from playing all venues in Christchurch and seeing The Clean play in 1981 (“the support band were terrible and I just kept wishing they’d finish so I could see The Clean who I’d heard so much about. As they came off stage and then went back on I realised that I had been watching The Clean”). It also covers the origins of The Puddle and the name, how “Pop Lib” was recorded and mentions “Junk” and some of the fall out from that life-style. Plus some other rather eccentric views.

Here it is:

The Puddle_Critic_1986


“Journalists looking back at the early years of Flying Nun generally make two mistakes. One is to think that the main creative impetus came from Dunedin, when in reality there was as much if not more really memorable music coming from Christchurch, the town that actually gave birth to the label. The other mistake is to think that the music being made was simply a direct response to what was hip in the post-punk music of the day” Bruce Russell, ‘Time to Go’, Flying Nun Records

In 1980 Christchurch a loose collective of like-minded musical mis-fits assembled, many from the nucleus of Wellington band The Spies, a band which had coalesced from people drawn to Wellington from the provinces – Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch and beyond. The And Band and Perfect Strangers shared members and gear, often played together and were often banned together from live venues in Christchurch. You can read more about their adventures here in some old blog entries The And Band’s George D. Henderson originally posted on MySpace which were fortunately appropriated onto The Axemen’s website (fortunate because all this stuff is lost from the revamped commercial MySpace platform now).

Just prior to Flying Nun Records starting in Christchurch they managed to record and release a split 7″ EP. It appears that no more than 200 were pressed, and split between the two bands. It is now one of the rarest slices of NZ vinyl. Both bands were ‘punk’ in the very loosest sense of the word. In The And Band’s case, a very avant-garde experimental psychedelic type of punk, or, more correctly now – post-punk. They were drop-outs from literature and philosophy study and, like Scritti Politti in the UK, they took their influence as much from the post-psychedelic experimentalists of the 1970s (eg: Slapp Happy, Henry Cow, Syd Barrett, Robert Wyatt, Faust etc.) as they did from late 70s punk.

The footage in this was shot on Super 8 movie film at the Christchurch Art Centre by a person unknown in 1980. The song ‘We Are Right’ (track A2 on The And Band side of the 7″) was recorded late 1980 and released early 1981. The musicians are George D. Henderson (guitar), Susan M Ellis (Vocals, keyboards), Mark Thomas (drums) and Richard Sedger (Bass). If you are into archival internet digging there’s more material on The Axemen website, including this digitised tape by The And Band.
The And Band 7 EP
I never saw The Spies or The And Band play. But I was familiar with their music, being the recipient of regular cassette tapes from my older brother George D. Henderson, guitarist & songwriter of both The Spies and The And Band (and now, of course, The Puddle). He would compile their best recordings and forward these on to me, wherever I was in the world at that time. Strange little audio postcards from home.

Growing up amongst the music of The Spies and The And Band should help explain why I immediately understood and loved the music of Opposite Sex when I first saw them play, and why I wanted to record them and then release their extraordinary album. It’s not that they sound much alike, just that they depart from convention and play odd time signatures, melodies and incorporate diverse influences into their music – breaking many of the accepted rules of pop music in the process. Subversive pop.