Archives for posts with tag: The Bats

Our Day 21 song for 31 Days of May Madness, attempting to post a New Zealand track every day of the month of May, is “Another Door” by The Bats:

Thirty eight years on from their inception in Christchurch NZ, combining The Clean bassist-turned-guitarist Robert Scott, with ex-Toy Love bassist Paul Kean, guitarist Kaye Woodward and drummer Malcolm Grant, The Bats still rock that original line-up. “Another Door” is from their 10th album, called “Foothills”.

There’s a comforting and familiar melodic chug and jangle, those vocal harmonies, a certain kind of wistful warm lo-key DIY homeliness, and an atmosphere of subdued psychedelia hovering in the air.

That atmosphere here (and throughout the album) is given weight through the minimalist tone soloing from Kaye Woodward’s lead guitar. Over successive albums Woodward has refined those lead guitar lines into things of Fripp-like esoteric beauty, with their thick overdriven saturation and sustain, and a ghostly waver of tremolo here.

Hobart, Tasmania DIY music stalwart Julian Teakle (Native Cats, The Bad Luck Charms) has released a solo album called “New Hobart” packed full of jangling, irascible guitar pop. The second track “Gentle People” stands out with it’s bold psychedelic garage rock guitar tones and pointed take-down of the the “bourgie beige” suburbanites who live “in the bush, but in the city, too straight to go full hippy”.

That lament at soulless development and the toll it takes on those not invited to be part of the “Golden Age” is a re-occurring theme throughout “New Hobart”.

The sparse title track is an arch biting commentary on the gentrification of Hobart. It’s a familiar tale of a once DIY artist-friendly city undergoing change that makes it unaffordable to those who’s contribution is cultural capital rather than the kind of property-based financial capital that drives up the cost of housing: “Can’t afford the rent, don’t worry, we’ve got a famers’ market”.

Throughout the album these tales of the everyday life and the forces at work in society are set in freewheeling jangling guitar pop songs, which carry some trans-Tasman echoes of the spindly charm of early Chills or Bats or Clean songs and recordings, mingling with trans-Bass Strait echoes of the equally spindly charm of early Go-Betweens music (“Bellevue Parade”).

The set of songs on “New Hobart” will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the surge in new DIY guitar pop in Australia in the last decade. Or to anyone who just loves a wry and well-crafted lyric, a strummed jangling guitar, propulsive bass lines, and clean lead guitar lines lacing their simple melodies through the pattern of a song.

Teakle has also been the driving force behind Rough Skies Records, established to encourage an idea of a scene or music culture in Hobart – “positive parochialism” – for the past decade. The 4 Rough Skies Records “Community” compilations are a great entry point to explore the Hobart scene.

Thirty eight years on from their inception in Christchurch NZ, combining The Clean bassist-turned-guitarist Robert Scott, with ex-Toy Love bassist Paul Kean, guitarist Kaye Woodward and drummer Malcolm Grant, The Bats still rock that original line-up. They’ve just released their 10th album, called “Foothills”. Here’s the closing track, the glorious “Electric Sea View”:

“Electric Sea View” is everything Bats in a song. That familiar melodic chug and jangle, those vocal harmonies, a certain kind of wistful warm homeliness, and an atmosphere of subdued psychedelia hovering in the air.

That atmosphere here (and throughout the album) is largely supplied through the subtle keyboard shadings and minimalist tone soloing from Kaye Woodward’s lead guitar. Over successive albums Woodward has refined those lead guitar lines into things of Fripp-like esoteric beauty, with their thick overdriven saturation and sustain, and tiny bit of tremolo here.

“Foothills” was recorded by the band (bassist Paul Kean) in a house in the foothills of the Southern Alps in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. As Robert Scott explains: “Many carloads arrived at the house, full of amps guitars and recording gear, we set up camp and soon made it feel like home; coloured lights, a log fire, and home cooked meals in the kitchen. We worked fast, and within a few days had all the basic backing tracks done, live together in one room, the way we like to do it – it’s all about ‘the feel’ for songs like ours.”

Robert ScottOur day 22 song for New Zealand Music Month 2020 is “Lights are Low” from Dunedin, New Zealand music legend (and artist) Robert Scott.

“Lights are Low” is the opening track from Scott’s brilliant 2014 album “The Green House” and features Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins) on co-lead vocals. Fullbrook sings on 5 of the songs on the album, which stands as the high point of Scott’s solo catalogue.

Robert Scott should require no introduction. But just in case… (deep breath) … he has been bassist and one of the songwriters and vocalists in The Clean for almost 40 years, plus he’s also been guitarist, songwriter & vocalist in his own band The Bats, first formed just after the early 80’s reign of The Clean, and still going strong with the same line-up today. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget his other bands, like the glorious Magick Heads (1991-1997), or his covers band The Moreporks (playing Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Stooges etc. Bats-style for weddings, birthdays etc.). So calling him ‘prolific’ seems like an understatement.

Scott is also an artist and, together with partner Dallas Henley, runs and art shop/ exhibition space in Port Chalmers near Dunedin called Pea Sea Art. As well as art supplies, there’s also a collection of local vinyl and CD releases available for sale there, including some of Scott’s own releases.

NZMM 2020

 

MinisnapSomehow missed this gem of a single “Bear Hunt” from Minisnap from 2012 with an accompanying video filmed around the ruins of earthquake damaged Christchurch.

Minisnap are an offshoot from The Bats. Basically Minisnap are The Bats (Kaye Woodward & Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant) without Robert Scott, with Woodward taking the lead vocals (and songwriting) as she has done on the occasional song by The Bats over the years.

Fourth Minisnap member is guitarist Marcus Winstanley, however on this single they are joined by John White (of Mëstar, The Blueness, and the first line-up of The Prophet Hens) on layered guitars and backing/ harmony vocal. It all adds up to a perfect kind of fuzz’n’jangle popcraft with a bit of feedback shoegaze style guitar layered beneath it all. Fantastic.

Also fantastic is the full range of releases by Minisnap and The Bats available in digital format via The Bats and Associates bandcamp site which is well worth some detailed archeological excavation if you are either unfamiliar with the bands or wish to add to your collection of sublime jangling NZ guitar pop.

Flowers

Don’t know how many bands in the history of forever have been called Flowers but I’ll bet there’s been a few. Possibly not quite as many as the number of bands playing indie-pop strictly following the C86 Purity Laws* of unadorned guitar, bass, drums and vocals.

But this Flowers and this song “Pull My Arm” pretty much grab you by the scruff of your neck and demand your undivided attention.

“Pull My Arm” features a clarion call of a lead vocal so effective at cutting through and grabbing attention Flowers could warn shipping away from a dangerous reef in dense fog.

Rachel Kennedy is the owner of that wonderful voice. Her bandmates are Sam Ayres (Guitar) and Jordan Hockley (Drums).

The minimalism and strum’n’churn of the guitars does invoke the likes of The Wedding Present or Heavenly perhaps. But on the quieter tracks it’s actually NZ’s The Bats who come to mind in the guitar and even some of the melodies. These are all fine touchstones for any band happy to fly the ‘indie-pop’ flag – as Flowers clearly are.

But it’s rare to find a voice as assertively confident whilst still retaining the unaffected purity of tone required classic for indie-pop. Adding to the fun and the fury, the guitar here also packs a bit more of a power when the buzz-saw fuzz/ distortion is engaged, transforming it into something altogether heavier at times.

There’s plenty of variety and texture from the relatively limited ingredients making up Flowers’ sound. Indie-pop this may be, but on steroids and capable of heavy lifting when it matters.

Flowers have a new album “Everybody’s Dying to meet You” out this month on Fortuna POP! in the UK and Kanine Records in the US.

If you wish to go on an archival dig you’ll find an early EP and some demos on Flowers’ Bandcamp page.

[* I made up ‘The C86 Purity Laws’… they don’t exist. It was just a throwaway hook-line for effect to get your attention. Relax.]

Not much time spent searching out new music so far this year as work has been busy and the weather great down here for a change… so, in lieu of something new, here’s a classic song by The Bats called “North By North” performed live at Sammys in Dunedin in 2009.

The Bats - North by North (Live 2009) from Fishrider Records on Vimeo.

Here's the original recording and video for the song - the single from their 1987 album "Daddy's Highway" which was re-issued last year.

Boomgates

Day 7 of the unofficial Australian Music Month takes us back to Bedroom Suck Records for Boomgates ‘Whispering or Singing’ from their ‘Double Natural’ album.

Boomgates draw together people from a variety of great Australian underground bands – Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Brendan Huntley, Twerps Rick Milovanovic and Dick Diver’s Steph Hughes. They’ve also done a split 7″ with The Bats recently.

The album is a great rough thrash of guitars bass & drums part Velvet Underground, part The Clean, and part Feelies staccato-strum. The voices alternate between braying ‘strine (I mean that in a good way) and Steph’s more melodic singing. The contrast between the two is perfect here.

The album packs a naturalistic punch – a clean and real recording, with stories and laconic voices reflecting unpolished suburban Australia (Melbourne in the case of Boomgates), and echoes of early Paul Kelly as much as beloved Australian storytellers The Go-Betweens.

Boomgates – Whispering or Singing from Powers of Ten on Vimeo.

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.

Bats_Bob_88

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