Archives for posts with tag: John Peel

Aberdeen June Brides 14 Iced BearsAberdeen are a band from Los Angeles naturally. Aberdeen from LA were released on Sarah Records, a Bristol, UK label. “Byron” was their first single for the label, back in 1994. This version of “Byron” however is from a newly-released album of KXLU radio sessions called “Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions” featuring 4 tracks each from Aberdeen, The June Brides and 14 Iced Bears.

If you are new to Aberdeen they have an extensive but hard-to-find back catalogue to explore, and also a treasure-rich Bandcamp page for the dedicated fan. The catalogue of singer Beth Arzy’s other band Trembling Blue Stars is also worth exploring.

This version of “Byron” starts with a recording of legendary and influential UK radio DJ John Peel introducing the original Sarah Records single on his show. I first heard all three bands on cassette tapes of John Peel radio shows sent to me from the UK, so the song – and its introduction – sets the scene perfectly to introduce this album here.

It’s an unexpectedly essential collection from these bands, considering the time elapsed since these songs first made their way in the world. All 3 bands deliver spirited performances and 14 Iced Bears in particular still sound like they did on their Peel Sessions recordings – a beguiling combination of the naive melodic charm of The Pastels and the fuzzy noise pop of Jesus & Mary Chain.


Bit of a story for this next obscure new release. Well, it was obscure and a new release back in 1986 or 1987, when I first heard it via a cassette tape of a John Peel BBC Radio One show sent to me in NZ from the UK.

“This Way to the Cargo Cult” by The Gravity Pirates was from a 1986 12″ EP on the Survival label from Sydney Australia.

It was an interesting enough slice of Gothic New Wave to get me writing to the label address in Australia Peel read out after playing the song. I bought a copy of the 12″ which I still have. It also led, a few months later, to an international exchange of cassettes and letters. I’d forgotten it was this song which became the chance catalysts for several music connections I made across the pre-internet world at the time. But I found the letter again tonight which explains how it all happened.

Some time later, after receiving the 12″, I also received a letter from someone going by the name ‘Bimbo’ from Cleveland, Stockton-On-Tees, England. The first letter from ‘Bimbo’ was an intriguing smart-assed riddle, but I took the bait and replied anyway. These pages below are from ‘Bimbo’s’ subsequent response.

Bimbo letter

There were a few other people who also got in contact using the mail list shared by Survival Records and we all ended up exchanging cassettes of favourite music. I provided some splendid compilations of my favourites from the Flying Nun Records catalogue at the time because, as ‘Bimbo’ explained: “New Zealand Music” can generally be used inter-changeably over here with the phrase “The Chills”. A shocking state of affairs.”

The tape from ‘Bimbo’ compiling the greatest hits of Yeah Yeah Noh is much treasured and still played even though I have most of the Yeah Yeah Noh records now.

I have no idea who ‘Bimbo’ was (and hopefully still is). Not even sure if ‘Bimbo’ a she or a he. But it doesn’t matter. ‘Bimbo’ shared my taste in music, wrote very amusing letters and shared some great music with a stranger half a world away. All using cassette tapes, paper, envelopes, stamps and taking the patience to post letters and months later receive replies.

Romulan Records - cover for "Girls in the Garage" Vol 6 & 1/2 7 EP

Romulan Records – cover for “Girls in the Garage” Vol 6 & 1/2 7 EP

This song “Whirlwind” occupied my thoughts for over 15 years. Not even the whole song. Just the first half of it. I heard it on a cassette tape of the John Peel show around 1990. It was at the end of a side of the cassette though and the song ended just as it got interesting, just as the phasing effects started to kick in.

Fortunately Peel had introduced the song before playing it so I knew it was on Volume 6 1/2 of Romulan Records’ “Girls in the Garage” series and was by Corky Rae & Audio Phase. Except it wasn’t.

It was Corki Ray with Audiofaze as I found out 15 years later when a friend in the US finally tracked down a copy of the 7″ EP of Vol. 6 & 1/2 for me.

That may have explained why I couldn’t find it for over 15 years. I tried regularly, searching on-line for either the song or even the volume of the compilation series, which also didn’t seem to exist. It was top of my wish list when I visited Amoeba Records in San Francisco in 2007 but even their experienced staff couldn’t locate it on the internet or their own extensive database.

“Whirlwind” was originally released on the Brent label in the US in 1964. It was written by Jody Reynolds, a rockabilly star famous for the spooky hit “Endless Sleep” which was a #5 hit in the US a year before I was born. Jody Reynolds died on my birthday in 2008.

Clean Vehicle
“I gotta say there was a lot of scepticism back in NZ about the reformation and new LP (and fair enough too! These days who hasn’t reformed? Oh right, The Smiths)” David Kilgour (‘Vehicle sleeve-notes)

I think The Clean may have started all this reforming mania. They started a lot of stuff – like modern day jangly guitar pop. Yep, that was them. They made splitting – and then reforming – their thing. As soon as they had any kind of momentum, David would drag the handbrake on and bring the band to a halt. They’ve had the most off-hand self-destructive ‘anti-career’ imaginable, broken every rule in the business and, in the process, made some remarkably enduring music. In fact still making it.

It took them a decade to release their first album, ‘Vehicle’ and that was mostly the result of happenstance. It’s just been re-issued – more tasty fruit from that Flying Nun/ Captured Tracks partnership. I don’t usually get re-issues – seems a bit pointless and indulgent when you still have the original in mint condition. But I made an exception for ‘Vehicle’. It’s my favourite album by The Clean. One of my All-time Top 5 NZ albums. It’s worth getting for the gatefold sleeve and two pages of notes (and a few photos) from the three members of the band. It comes with the cracking ‘in-a-live’ EP too. But I also wanted to get the re-issue for the sheer bloody thrill of buying it again. It was such a buzz the first time that doing it again seemed worthwhile.

I’d better do a quick history lesson for the uninitiated. In the first half of the 1980s The Clean recorded a clarion-call single ‘Tally Ho!’ to announce their trebly arrival, then a couple of legendary EPs and then another single, then, on the cusp of success, split up. David & Hamish had started The Great Unwashed (with original Clean member and future Snapper overlord Peter Gutteridge), and split THAT up when it threatened to get too serious too.

The late 80s in Dunedin was an exciting time. I was in Invercargill at the time and that wasn’t exciting. I was writing for the weekly music page of The Southland Times in Invercargill and also for Dunedin fanzine Alley Oop (successor to Garage). I took any excuse to get to Dunedin and experience some live music. By the mid to late 1980s the world had started to notice bands from Dunedin. The Bats had made two trips to the UK, The Chills had been there, Straitjacket Fits, Sneaky Feelings too. And now The Clean.

I interviewed Robert Scott not long after he’d come back from the UK trip that resulted in the Live EP and ‘Vehicle’. While the interview was about Robert and The Bats (a half page in the paper – what were they thinking back then?) he talked a bit about The Clean and recording ‘Vehicle’.

Robert Scott on Vehicle 1989

He also let me take a posed photo of him holding his guitar on the veranda at his flat, as if this was a normal thing for him. Bob’s good like that. David would’ve politely declined, or worn sunglasses.


Everyone was pretty excited to hear The Clean had recorded an album in a London studio and that the album would be released on Rough Trade in the UK. I don’t remember much scepticism here, but there are always the hand-wringing purists who reckon they did their best work in their first, early 80s period.

‘Vehicle’ was an impressive album to hear in 1990 and today it still sounds timeless and perfect to me in all its brevity. It fair crackles with a kind of righteous energy that still gives me goose-bumps.

Recently UK music blog Did Not Chart suggested ‘Vehicle’ was responsible for starting American ‘indie music’. Someone – presumably one of those first-era purists from NZ – disagreed and thought it was the culmination of a decade of world-conquering NZ music, not the start of anything. David’s notes with ‘Vehicle’ tend to support the Did Not Chart theory:

“Over the years I’ve met many people, especially in the USA, who said ‘Vehicle’ was where they discovered The Clean – not the early 80s records – so it was an important record for us all in many ways. Still is really.”

The first FNR compilation was ‘Tuatara’ in 1986. That started to be heard around the US in the late 1980s when FNR began licensing a few releases to small indie labels there (eg: Communion Label on the West Coast of the US) and set up Flying Nun Europe. I have met a couple of US musicians who said that compilation was their introduction to Flying Nun, and to NZ music in the late 80s.

The Chills were the first to travel to the UK, in 1986. That was when Flying Nun Europe first started, but everything I heard about that was it was a bit of a shambles early on. The Bats went in 1987 and 1989, as did the Clean. Sneaky Feelings and Straitjacket Fits were also there in 1989. But I think their impact was quite minor at the time (compared to other independent labels) and Flying Nun had notoriously bad distribution & promotion in the UK. John Peel – one of the label’s biggest advocates through his radio show – found releases hard to get even when Flying Nun had a London office.

In NZ we used to take the occasional review or mention in the NME as confirmation ‘our music’ was making a huge impact overseas. NZ bands had been getting heard around the world up to that point, but not in a way that compared to UK or US alternative bands on labels with good distribution and marketing.

Sure, The Chills went to the US in 1988 and signed with Slash Records, two years before ‘Vehicle’ came out there. But The Chills were more influenced BY music from the US (the 1960s) than an influence on it I think. There had also been some FNR titles licensed to the small independent Communion Label in the US who were distributed by Revolver, starting with The Bats in 1987.

The reason I think a compelling argument can be made that ‘Vehicle’ was the start of a more widespread influence is that it was a Rough Trade release in the UK (Rough 143) and the US, so had the benefit of their UK and US distribution and marketing. No earlier releases had that. The other thing to remember back then is that time (and discovery of bands) moved very slowly compared to the internet age so 1987-90 was not the kind of dizzying churn of flash-in-the-pans we are accustomed to now in a three-year timeframe.

Even in 1991/92 Flying Nun’s own influence in the UK and Europe seemed frustratingly limited. I sent Peel some Flying Nun Records releases in 1991 because I heard him say on a show that year (playing something by The Clean from ‘Vehicle’ in fact) that he wished he could get more NZ stuff to play on the show. He sent me a postcard saying “Thanks too for the records. Supplies of stuff from NZ are erratic in the extreme, so I’ve probably missed out on some real gems over the years. One of our newsreaders is from over there and is visiting for Xmas and she has promised to bring back loads of tunes.”

My reaction at the time (and most people I knew here) was that Rough Trade releasing ‘Vehicle’ was something pretty special. For the rest of the world (particularly those who were not crate-digging music obsessives) ‘Vehicle’ in 1990 was the start of their connection with NZ alternative music. After 1990 a lot more people began discovering the 1980s Flying Nun Records catalogue, Flying Nun set up a US office in North Carolina, there were tours by The Bats, The 3Ds, Straitjacket Fits and others and the rest is history.

Big Soft Punch live 1990

Casette tapes

I read this report summarising MTV research findings on young people’s music ‘demands’ today.

My first reaction – as someone running a small scale label and struggling to justify the rationale for continuing at times – was a typical ‘the end of the world is nigh’ despondency.

I was initially saddened that young people would think that music should be free but that musicians should share the intimate details of their lives with them, in the hope that the youngsters took pity on them and/or respected them enough to eventually pay for some of their music.

I am not a young person. But I have been a young person. In fact I am still that same young person, just with more experience.

Once I thought about these findings for a few minutes I realised that, other than the technology, nothing much is different. You could change a few of the words in these findings and the same would be true of my generation’s relationship with music in the 1980s. When I think back to my own youth, and how I got into this lifelong addiction to music and on-going relationship with the people who make music, the terminology may be different but the concepts and the fans’ ‘needs’ are much the same.

For anyone born after 1990 it may be hard to imagine a world without the internet & smartphones (or any kind of mobile phone). No Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, LastFM, and radio was broadcast within a limited terrestrial range. If you lived in a backwater (like I did in the 1980s), you had a choice of listening to BackwaterFM.

You did however have TV that was yet to be taken over by (un)‘reality TV’ & cooking shows. And that TV (here in NZ and overseas) tended to have some kind of alternative music shows. Not sure how that happened, but they seemed to be an accepted – and popular – part of TV here (Radio With Pictures, Frenzy etc.) and overseas (SNUB TV, Rapido, The Tube etc. in the UK).

You also had a healthy music print media culture that ranged from local fanzines (often exchanged internationally by mail, many with cassettes, flexi-discs etc.) through to music weeklies (NME – which was great once, and my weekly fix) and monthlies. That was our indirect ‘direct contact’ and third-party ‘zero-distancing’ through a proxy of a music writer.

You also had the humble cassette tape. Cheap, easy to use, easy to record, copy and swap. Throughout the 80s and most of the 90s I was lucky to be the recipient of regular cassette tapes of radio shows from the UK – John Peel, Andy Kershaw on BBC, plus Peter Easton’s ‘Rock on Scotland’ and ‘Beat Patrol’ on BBC Scotland. I’d also send them copies of my favourite NZ releases – the slow and expensive equivalent of a fan today sending a DJ a Soundcloud or Bandcamp link via social media or e-mail.

Every so often I’d find myself exchanging cassette tapes of strange music with people I didn’t know in the UK and Germany. I have no idea now how I connected with these people at all without the internet, but it happened somehow. A mysterious person in England sent me some cassettes of Yeh Yeh Noh. I can’t remember how they got my address. I sent them cassettes of The Bats, The Clean etc. which I presume they also shared around their circle of friends. We exchanged cryptic smart-arse letters in which we hid behind our imaginary personas (a bit like hand-written versions of Twitter posts or Facebook status updates really). I know other music-obsessive friends had similar experiences and contacts around the world.

I would sort through those cassettes I received and every month or two compile the best on to one C90, make a few copies and hand or post these on to a few friends I knew like similar music to me. They might reciprocate with a cassette of their recent discoveries. So our music was also ‘on shuffle’ in the sense that listening was often by way of ‘mixtapes’ (and the FF>> button on the cassette deck).

I would consume every word in those NME and fanzine articles and sort out what I was interested in hearing from reading about a band and their life (‘zero-distancing’). Anything I loved from a tape I would try to track down any time I was in a record store. If I was desperate I would write overseas – to a label, a friend, to a mail-order record shop.

I can’t remember ever thinking ‘music should be free’. But clearly much of what I heard was ‘free’. “Home taping is killing the music industry” was the slogan at the time. I resented that and laughed at it because I knew that home taping and sharing those tapes was actually what helped music sell – particularly the kind of alternative music I liked that would otherwise not be heard.

So, when I look at that piece of research and think about it, really all that has changed is the technology and the speed and ease with which this all happens now.

Exchanging MP3’s (or links now rather than attached files) has replaced cassette tapes; streaming music, podcasts, online radio have extended radio’s reach; YouTube & Vimeo have become ‘on-demand’ TV music programmes with an added discovery element; blogs and music websites have all but replaced music magazines; Facebook & Twitter (& e-mail still) have replaced letter writing as a way of exchanging music.

Rather than get depressed at the ‘music should be free’ generation, I’m happy to accept that nothing much has changed really except the technology which enables the young (and older) to discover music. And it makes it easier for more people to be involved in sharing music with friends.

We still need to trust that enough people will ‘do the right thing’ and make the ethical choice and pay something for the music they love the most, as I did (and still do) when I received it ‘free’. There is a much greater opportunity for doing that directly with the band or small label now too via online stores and Bandcamp.

As musicians and labels we can help by (a) not giving up just yet, (b) still creating and releasing music that has magic, and (c) still presenting it in formats that people value and desire.