Gary Steel wrote this in 1982 for the short-lived New Zealand Rolling Stone magazine.
On The Verge Of Smiling
NAKED SPOTS DANCE inhabit a different space. They’re band-aided to a “we’re so serious, man” aesthetic that restricts possibilities. They’re not, however, easily typecast.
Emerging at the tail-end of Wellington garage-punk in 1980, no-one denied the strength or originality of their inaccessible avant-punk. Then, as today, they could be atmospheric and hypnotic on a good night, and ponderous and tiresome on a bad night; so many mood factors influence the destiny of an NSD performance.
Their first recording – four songs on the compilation album Four Stars – showcased the original lineup which was Jenny Leyland* (vocals and strong stage presence), Philip Harfield (rolling drums), Kate Walker (guitar-like bass), and Stephen Norris (guitar textures and clusters, synth). They had at least one great song in ‘Crescendo/Circle Moon’, but the production was creaky.
1981 fast turned into a slumber for NSD. Other commitments deprived them of Leyland and then Harfield. They carried on with new drummer Matthew Fisher. They even ventured to Christchurch and a warm reception at the Gladstone, and recorded their 12-inch EP, Certain Ways. There are flashes of brilliance here, especially on the crushing ‘New Meaning’. But it’s marred by sloppy playing and a crying need for a distinctive vocalist.
When Norris calls the band “post-modernist, psychedelic, futuristic, intellectual – we don’t fit in that well,” he may be joking, but he’s hitting their current schizoid dilemma on the head. It’s a crying shame that the lack of a clear direction and commitment to the band ideal is depriving them of their deserving world-class standing. Blossom! Don’t succumb to this Wellington blight!
December was soul-searching and spring-cleaning time. “Differences” caused Fisher to leave. Surprisingly, old drummer Harfield rejoined. “He left,” says Norris, “because he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to play with us all the time or not. Commitment. Time. When he left he found he had the time and wanted to do it. He fitted in really quick. He’s changed a lot. We’ve changed a lot.”
As for 1982, NSD says they’re optimistic. They add, though, that “things with us change quite a lot.” If I was a betting man I wouldn’t currently place all my bets on them. But, here’s hoping – they’ve got objectives: to get a “proper” vocalist, and to release more material to the world. Two months from now they may very well be worth re-investigating. It’s a matter of sticking out a year that’s bound to be trying for all of us.
NSD is Norris and Walker’s musical baby. It cries a lot, and gets sick as infants are wont to do. NSD music is either bursting with the power, or it’s a clammy, deathly thing. Always changing. So are the songs: faster, chirpier. Yes, we may even see them break into a winning smile on stage some day.
* Now known as Jennifer Ward-Lealand. The group would go on to “employ” a couple of other fetching vocalists, first actress Katherine McRae (later music writer Nick Bollinger’s wife) and then Frances Walsh (later screenplay writer and Sir Peter Jackson’s wife).
Note: This piece is in a series of “for the record” pieces from Gary Steel’s archive. In this case, I’m not proud of what is undoubtedly a sloppy piece of writing that was very possibly tapped out on an old typewriter at 4am after too much wacky tobaccy. Still, it’s from an under-catalogued and interesting period of NZ musical creativity.