Amplified Streetnoise

March 25, 2012

Gary Steel unearths a 1983 (?) interview with The Gordons MkII, who reveal they would like to have “a negro chorus section”

Three helluva nice guys came to town recently. Nice and loud. All the way from Christchurch… THE GORDONS. Sacrificial ear-bleeder: GARY STEEL

THE DAY BEFORE The Gordons’ come-back gig in Wellington, 181 Cuba St, looks a pretty hostile venue. A mutilated, warped and broken Songs For Cleaning Guppies (the Chris Knox Ego Gratification Album) hangs from a thread attached to the ceiling. How it got there nobody knows.
181 is a long, thin old former billiard parlour with no lighting, only one wallsocket, a toilet which sounds like a jet readying for takeoff, and no stage. Zoo You Grant gets things moving, however, and by the night of the gig there’s a stage and lighting. All’s go, in fact.
Miracles are things The Gordons could use some of, I guess. Their first tour back in 1980 found them stuck in Wellington for over a month with a broken-down van and not enough money to fix it. This time, their van promised much the same, but after an initial seizure, miraculously came right the minute it rolled off the ferry.
The tour, however, nearly didn’t happen, as the group had all its travel money stolen from under drummer Brent’s bed a few days before.
The Gordons had to sleep at the venue for want of the price of accommodation, but luckily their independently staged Wellington gigs were more successful than anticipated, with a nearly-full house the first night, and a comfortable crowd on Saturday.
So what’s all the fuss about then? Who do these guys think they are? Well, let me tell you… The Gordons are FANTASTIC!!! WONDERFUL!!! One of THE best bands. Period. And now you know where I stand, I’ll fill you in on the details.
They formed in 1980, in Christchurch; made some five-odd national tours, mostly disastrous; made a single; made an album; chucked it all in for awhile.
In those days they were Alister Parker (vocals, bass, guitar), John Halvorsen (vocals, guitar, bass), and Brent McLaughlin (drums). About a year ago, Alister left the band because, in John’s words, he had “a religious experience”. This year, in steps ex-Proud Scum, ex-Aucklander Vince Pinker to take over bass duties, and a new, revised Gordons is born. “Vince fitted in straight away,” says John. “That’s why he’s in the band. That’s how the band started… none of us were looking really hard to be in a band or anything… it just fitted, so we did it.
“Alister’s not here, and he was a very big third of The Gordons. We really miss him. He’ll be playing with us again, possibly. Us three, we’re The Gordons at the moment, but if Alister wants to play with us, we’ll be a four-piece. He’s still right into The Gordons. He’s just gotta be sure that we’re all Christians too. Like he wants the album to be called Alister Parker and the Christian Gordons, if we do some recording with him.”
A big third or not, the group are still astronomical without Parker. The huge PA bodes unwell for those with sensitive ears. The first few notes virtually have people reeling back in shock, and many ears are seen to contain blobs of cotton wool. For all the sledgehammering effect, though, the performance is not wanting for subtlety. This music has soul, depth, and, as John says, “what you can do is as limited as the people involved.” I didn’t feel uncomfortable at the time, but my ears screamed for several days afterwards.
Saturday afternoon we sit on the stage talking. Don’t you feel guilty about making people deaf and stuff?
“Well”, says John, “I hope people are sensible enough not to come that often! Sometimes I feel guilty about it.”
Vince: “For the amount that go deaf, there are an equal amount who say ‘can you turn it up tomorrow night, it wasn’t quite loud enough’.”
“My ears are fine,” says John. “Ears adjust… if you live in the city you’re already exposed to heaps of decibels, and apparently your ears do harden to sound so that they can cope. My ears are fine… I can hear things from miles away, and I’ve been exposed to it constantly for the last three years.
“I don’t want to hurt people’s ears. I don’t want to chase people away, but at the same time I want it to be loud enough for the full effect; so that you can feel the bass, in your stomach so that it makes your spine move by itself.”
I noticed quite a few Heavy Metal types (ie, long hair, flared jeans) head-banging to The Gordons on Friday night. What do The Gordons think of the HM comparison?
“I can understand it,” says John. “But I think we’re more like city noise, amplified street noise, than heavy metal.
“We’re not trying to be heavy metal, but at the same time, it’s a shame heavy metal has become such a cliché, because there are elements… like we’ve got everything that heavy metal’s got in a sense. We’re loud, full-on, and I play a Stratocaster through a Marshall stack which means I sound like a heavy metal guitarist.”
“I think we border more on jazz and soul. In format, it’s pretty loose, and mainly spontaneous energy. Like, there are structures there, but there’s lots of scope for anything to happen.”
I wonder out loud how three people can get a noise like that. HUGE drumbeats. NOISE all-over-the-place! Screeching and wailing and keeping it all together melodically and structurally at the same time!
What do you use – strange tunings on your instruments? Guitar pedals and sound gimmicks?
“A lot of our songs are just standard tunings,” says John. “We don’t use any effects pedals, just standard equipment.”
Would they like to expand the lineup at all?
John: “I’d like a negro chorus section.”
Brent: “I’d like canons.”
PS: Come back soon, Gordons.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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