In honour of NZ Music Month, Gary Steel climbs into the crumbling catacombs of his back catalogue, and disinters a different story Every Day In May (EDIM). Today’s piece was penned by Helen Collett, and appeared in TOM magazine, August 5, 1983.
Note: I hadn’t read this piece since I typeset it myself for TOM (I had a part-time ‘typesetting’ job at NBR using a Compugraphic machine that must seem rather hilarious to the digital generation). Because I contribute a bit to the dialogue, I must have been there at the interview, but I have no memory of it. It makes me so sad that Fishschool never got to make a record – just a poorly distributed, amateurish cassette tape – and that they didn’t last too long after this cover story in TOM; and that not so many years later, the very talented Kevin Hawkins died under circumstances that still aren’t very clear. (Which reminds me, if anyone who knew Kevin well back then is happy to talk to me, I’d love to talk to them for a piece I plan to write on him). The Fishschool cover was illustrated by Jane Walker, former Toy Love keyboardist and sister to Fishschool bassist Jessica Walker. So there it is – probably the first and only Fishschool review you’ll find online!
FISHSCHOOL – (ORIGINS) NEWTS, newts, newts, baby spawn fish, salamanders…
Kevin Hawkins: The beginning of Fishschool… Auckland, driving up Symonds St in a bus. I saw this big place which we actually played at recently. It was the School Of Music. I thought, ‘School Of Music’, oh no, this thing’s existed for a long time. I mean anti-music. Which is like the Dadaist’s idea of anti-art, anti-music.
So I thought, rather than music, FISH. (Why not?)
Christ Plummer, the drummer: Is that how you got the title?
Kevin: Yes. So instead of School Of Music, it was Fishschool. That was just because of the stupid connection in my head, like anti-music. Which is still a part of Fishschool; anti-music, anti-rock.
No Slacking fishlets, I want your attention!
Kevin: We don’t really write songs. We just play music, and some of it ends up as songs. Basically, everything comes from improvisations.
IT’S ONLY WORDS
“I get the distinct impression you little tykes don’t like me. Still, you may be a big-shot in YOUR city… but HERE, I am the Law!”
Kevin: Up till quite recently, Fishschool didn’t have words. Out of a set of maybe seven songs, two would have had words. It’s changed now, because we’ve decided that there are actually a lot of things to be said. And if we’re going to say anything, it’s going to be about the way things ARE. Politically and socially.
Chris: Music can be powerful enough, by suggestion, to make people start thinking. But you still really need words to trigger people’s minds off. So words are pretty helpful.
Kevin: Up till recently, I didn’t think that I had things to say to people. Now I’ve decided that I do. But it’s just about everyday things, like walking down the street and falling down and breaking your leg. Which is important. I mean, it is to you. If you fall over and break your leg, it MATTERS!
Helen, to Chris: How did you meet Kevin?
Chris: Oh, I used to go to Fishschool with him. No, I’ve known this person for years.
CUE, RAVE ON SHOES THIS HIGH: SHARKSCHOOL
Kevin: Maybe the difference between Fishschool and Shoes This High is that STH were, generally, in tune with the punk rock movement, being anti-society and anti all sorts of things. Whereas the general idea behind Fishschool is fuck the anti, let’s be pro anything possible.
The time of ‘I don’t wanna be this, I don’t wanna be that, I don’t wanna be a part of your BLEURRGH!’ – that’s gone. It’s time to think about what you can do about the situation. Like, this is the way it is, and we can make it better by doing this, or this, or anything we want. If we want change, then we can bring it about. It’s sort of political, but still apolitical in a way, because things are left up to personal choice. Like Mark Perry from ATV said a long time ago, you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. It’s up to each individual person, whether they want to do negative or positive things.
Helen: Ex-Shoes This High vocalist Brent Hayward now appears negative about his work with the band. A waste of time, etc.
Kevin: I don’t think it was a waste of time at all. But then the things Brent said during the Shoes This High period was just where his head was at then. Whatever he says now is where it is now. Chris and me said fuck all when we were in Shoes This High. Basically, if there was any talking to be done, Brent did it.
Chris: Lots of times, we’d try to make quite happy music, but there’d be this person going – SNARL!
Kevin: Playing became really frustrating for us, especially towards the end. Lots of times we’d feel positive, like really giving something to people. The whole thing about being onstage and actually making that loud noise is an effort to communicate. That’s what it’s supposed to be about. Regardless of the fact that we’re up there on a stage. You’re just trying to give some of what comes out of your head, how fucked off you feel about the way things are or whatever, to those people. Saying, well, maybe I feel the same as you do. Ages ago, we’d feel like really communicating that, while Brent was going “lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, I fucking hate YOU! And you, and you, and fucking all of you. Fuck off!”
Gary Steel: Oh, you’ve got to admit, it was effective, though!
Kevin: Oh yeah, it was from the heart. Still, even though it was…
Gary: But it suited the times. Your performances were just asking people to do something.
Kevin: Asking? They demanded that people did something, anything!
Helen: Tell us about the Fishphilosophy song, “The number of the fish is seven”, etc.
Kevin: Well, I don’t know how you or anybody else is going to read it.
Helen: The first thing I thought of was Crowley. Indirectly.
GET TECHNICAL WITH ME, CREEP, AND YOU’LL BE DOING 30!”
Kevin: Oh no, it’s got nothing to do with him at all. But it is to do with numerology, and having faith in things that are unknown. Some people don’t believe in the Bible or any of that stuff, because of their upbringing. But I didn’t have any religious upbringing, and I find that some of it is really true, and easily related to everyday life. Some of it’s just undeniable truth. It’s concerned with religion right throughout the ages, not just Christianity, but Buddhism and other different forms. And it says, if you add the number of my birth date up, which is your destiny number, it’s the number 7. That 7 is the number of Christ, and the fish is an ancient symbol of Christ.
Kevin: And I say, this is why we are learning, in this school, in this Fishschool, because the aim of Fishschool, for me, is to make people aware of things they might not be aware of otherwise. Possibly. If they aren’t aware, we might be able to tell them something. But if they just like the music, that’s fine. But that is why we are learning, in this school, this Fishschool. This school of thought, this thoughtstream. They flow just like fish, up or downstream. The stream of your consciousness, awake, awake. Then the song goes: “I’m with scales” – a Libra, because I was born in October.
“I must weigh up all that I do” – if I’m hungry and want to buy something to eat, I have to get things weighed before I buy them. That’s because I have so little money in my pockets.
These songs have words, because, as I said, we’ve decided what we’re saying is something worthwhile. Like on the Disco Song, which is going to be a record soon. The words are: “If you take something when you don’t need it, it won’t be there when you do.” Which is a direct reference to drugs. But it’s also about everything, in a way. If you take anything from anyone and you didn’t really need to do it, then it might not be there when you do need it.
Helen: Crying wolf, in other words.
Kevin: Yeah. Then the Disco Song goes, “If you don’t hurt your brother, your brother won’t hurt you.”
A story to illustrate the lyrics: When Shoes This High moved up to Auckland, it was really heavy. If you met a black person on the street, they’d give you the Black Power salute along with a terrible horrible face. Look, I hate you, sort of thing. But it’s different now. I think it’s partly because of a lot of time spent listening to Bob Marley, the message has finally gotten through. It’s wonderful because they’ve finally realized we’re on the same side. We hate the same things as they do.
Helen: A longish footnote of vital importance:
Kevin: New Zealand is an incredibly good place, and we don’t intend to leave it. That’s because I think there’s going to be an explosion here soon. And it’s not a nuclear one at all. It’s going to be a cultural and social explosion. It’s already happening, and it’s happening with everyone. People have been fucking around for ages, but now they’ve realized that to achieve whatever it is they want, they’ve just got to go ahead and do it. That’s all. If it’s within your means to make something happen, then you can do it. That’s what we’re going to do with Fishschool: make what we want to happen with us happen. Hopefully, in the process of doing so, we’ll make other people aware of all sorts of things.
There’s been a real ignorance about the history of this country. I don’t know if you heard the story we do during our set. It’s about Maui fishing up the island, and about the Tohunga, which is the Maori shaman, casting a spell. And the actual splitting up of the island when the mountains and volcanoes came into being. The island was reversed, and completely fucked up. The North Island is the fish, which is partly why Fishschool is so close to New Zealand. Because it’s a fish, and it’s learning, and New Zealanders are learning.
Chris: That poem is also a sign for the future.
Kevin: Yeah, a sign from way back. But it’s also a sign for future times. Everything’s all split up now, but I think that’s changing. Everybody is coming together, in all sorts of ways. HELEN COLLETT