Every Day In May – Day 17: Steve Braunias On Gerald Dwyer

The idea? Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month and 38 years of his own rancid opining and reportage, Gary Steel will present something from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Between 1983 and 1985, I ran an independent Wellington ‘arts and entertainment’ magazine, TOM. One of my favourite contributors and dear friend, Steve Braunias, has kindly consented to have the following re-published. It’s a fabulous insight on a scene in Wellington that’s long forgotten. Make sure you read his postscript at the bottom.

 

Tom magazine, sometime in 1983

 

Gerald Dwyer and Void.
Gerald Dwyer and Void.

ON BLACK FRIDAY this month two glass doors were kicked in and smashed at the University Union building. It’s going to make it even harder to book live gigs for the types of bands who are banned or unwelcome anywhere else.

That night, Christchurch band Youth For Christ were due to perform but rumours they would be sued by the real Youth For Christ for infringement of copyright meant they didn’t show up. However, Vietnam played, as did a band formed from members of the 1sT XV and the Jellymen along with “a lot of people in the audience who joined in completely”, according to Void, who helped stage the show.

When it finished, someone from the audience of 100 people broke the two front doors and tipped over a pinball machine. Despite the fact that Void has paid the bill of about $90 for the doors, there is a chance the Students Association executive may ban groups from playing at the Union.

“It wasn’t punk rock, it was more avant-garde opiate music,” Void said. But it shared the same recurring theme with hardcore punk gigs – outbreaks of violence that ruin the hopes of organisers, bands, and music fans.

Riot III
Riot III

The Newtown Community Hall is now totally off-limits to any bands following the Golden Showers punk festival held there at Easter. Gerald Dwyer, with Blaise Orsman and Void, helped stage that event, and also the Underground Emerges night in January.

Before that show, Dwyer had been practising with his new band Flesh D-Vice and needed a place to play. They were booked at Cosgroves but the week before they were due to play, the hotel was fairly well done-over when Unrestful Movements and the Swerve appeared. “So naturally we got banned! Our first gig and we got banned,” said Dwyer.

The Newtown hall came up. “I was only looking for a small gig with two bands. Then these people in Nelson wanted to play too… and then more bands in other places around New Zealand said they did too… and it just snowballed. I thought why not have a big event. And it went well.”

It went well enough for the Newtown Community Council to agree for a second bash, at Easter. There was fairly extensive advertising for it, including a half-page in Rip It Up. The copy read, “Sick of Sweetwaters? Bored by Brown Trout? Let there be noise! New Zealand Punks, Skins and Ragers for a new wave punk celebration pissing over the others! ” The door charge was $8 and it attracted many from out of town. They came from South (Dwyer: “Apparently the 10 o’clock ferry sailing from Picton was really chaotic”) and North (“There was a bit of confrontation between Auckland and Wellington skinheads that had been brewing”).

Void pictured on the front cover of TOM magazine.
Void pictured on the front cover of TOM magazine.

It was an hour late in opening. “The sound system was hopeless. We were trying to fix it and in the meantime there was a huge contingent of people outside, banging on the doors.”

During the show in January, police paid a visit and left after a few minutes. But at the Easter show, Dwyer said, “they came along and saw alcohol inside. So they came in right in the middle of After Shock’s set, just as everyone was beginning to rage, and suddenly they stopped it and threatened to close it down. Void managed to keep the audience cool and after a while the police seemed quite happy, and left.”

Dwyer said he was onstage most of the time. “I could see some scuffles, but I also watched the rest of the audience and they didn’t react. Two years ago a scuffle would get completely out of hand and the whole front of the stage would get engulfed in fighting. There was no control then.”

Five bouncers were hired for the Easter show. “Really big guys who tower over everyone and who look like you don’t have them on.” But they weren’t on standby in the toilet, where someone ripped out a washbasin.

So was the cistern, according to hall co-ordinator, George Morrison. In giving his reasons why “it is not worth our while to stage any more concerts”, he added, “There was a lot of filth on the hall floor – human faeces, which I had to clean up on Easter Monday. There were three dustbins full of beer cans outside the hall in spite of drink restrictions. The surrounding district suffered as well, with broken glass all over the neighbourhood, and a woman had her fence pulled down.”

He added he was “horrified” with the advertising. This refers to either the poster with a crucified punk on it, or the one that had the word “pissing” over Prime Minister Rob Muldoon’s mouth.

Flesh D-Vice with Gerald Dwyer on vocals.
Flesh D-Vice with Gerald Dwyer on vocals.

The hall is now lost to bands – and music fans. Four hundred people squeezed into the hall for the Easter show, among them “a lot of normal people”, said Dwyer. “And it was very interesting to get about 15 letters from really isolated country places, you know, ‘I am the only punk in Taihape and please send me a ticket.’

“A lot of the people who came were just after a good rage. All we’ve got in New Zealand is artistic, trendy music but it’s lacking in energy. You get audiences doing strange ballet dances, or just sitting down getting stoned. People at our gigs tend to get more drunk, jump around, have a good time, head-banging even.”

Dwyer is reluctant to play the role of event organiser. “A lot of the aspects of organising freak me out, like trying to hire a hall wearing a mohawk and a leather jacket. I’d like someone else to do it, because I can’t handle the responsibility, to be honest, of everything coming back to me.”

Like complaints about violence at his shows. “That is substantiated by a certain amount of reality. We do have violence. But no one looks at the positive aspects, like what could emerge from this whole music scene in about two years time.”

 

Note from Steve: Panic on the streets of Wellington. The city was such a shambles in the 1980s, really very shabby, damp and cold and full of bootboys and skinheads, dummies who said they wanted a good time but actually just liked beating people up and wrecking things. And shitting on floors too, apparently. I feel sorry for George Morrison, the Newtown man who had to clean up “human faeces”. Even saying the words must have disgusted him.

As for Void, Gerald Dwyer, Blaise Orsman – they were so famous in Wellington street life in 1983 that I guess I thought they didn’t need any introduction when I wrote this story. I respected and admired all of them, and was probably in awe, too, of Void, even though his real name was Geoffrey Sayers-Ludbrook. He was the vocalist in punk band Riot 111. They weren’t very talented really but they had a shambolic energy about them and one song had a pleasing chant: “Riot! Riot! Riot!” Blaise was the guitar player in The First XV, the best noise band in Wellington by miles, also very shambolic but also genuinely talented. They had a great song with the sardonic chorus, “I don’t understand you mate, and I don’t want to.” Words to live by. Blaise was the son of Harry Orsman, the great lexicographer who edited The Dictionary of New Zealand English.

Gerald Dwyer, rest in peace. He was so shrewd and articulate, saying things like “That is substantiated by a certain amount of reality”! His band Flesh D-Vice became a fixture of Wellington music, and always played at Halloween. They were loud and fun but they made lousy records and no one took them seriously. Gerald went on to manage Shihad and Head Like a Hole. He died of a drug overdose – morphine – on January 19, 1996, after Shihad played Big Day Out.

Jon Toogood later told a journalist, ““We were all staying in the same hotel, The Talofa, and both bands (Head Like A Hole) had played awesome… The next thing I’m getting a tap on the shower door going , ‘do you know CPR? Do you know CPR?And it was like Gerald’s not breathing. OK, fuck! And we’re all running down into this room and he’s dead. We got told by the ambulance guy who arrived later that he’d been dead for hours.”

Gerald was a really nice person. He was very tall, quite charismatic, and had black curly hair. He worked as a chef at Greek restaurant Emmanuel’s. I had no idea he was on the needle. He had a deep, deadpan voice, and was a very reserved guy, almost shy. He just always made cool things happen, including Shihad.

I wonder what happened to the guy who wrote to Gerald, “I am the only punk in Taihape”.

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