Live shows from long ago… Mangaweka Viaduct Blues Band/The Gen

Malcolm Prenderville of The Gen

GARY STEEL wrote this gig up for In Touch magazine way back in May 1980. It wasn’t his (or their) finest hour.


Mangaweka Blues Band/The Gen, The Last Resort, Wellington


Malcolm Prenderville of The Gen

How can one be kind yet honest, encouraging yet truthful without it hurting? Being too kind would almost certainly be more destructive than a total dismissal. So I’ll lay it on the line: The Gen, new Wellington band (previous incarnation Animal Magic) were, in their hour-plus support slot, fairly abysmal.

But let’s not write them off completely. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, and there’s not a hell-of-a-lot-of-you showing much initiative in this city as we edge apathetically into the ‘80s. At least they’re trying, and they deserve a measure of admiration for the mere fact.


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The frontman/vocalist (Malcolm Prenderville) makes for an unusual sight in such times, with a curly mane the likes of which unseen in recent times. Ain’t it strange: long hair may be unfashionable, but should we not enjoy variety in modes of dress and length/shape of hair? Yet it looks embarrassing. Funny that, how we let fashion manipulate our ideas, albeit subconsciously.

His voice is a mid-to-deep blur. Not enough definition, and nought phrasing or style. He needs to work at it.

The rhythm section though, is the crux of The Gen’s problems. They simply don’t cut it. The drummer has a hard time keeping it all together and the bassist makes some terrible boobs. And if the rhythm section can’t cut the cake, how can the rest of the group be expected to succeed. The guitarist plays some nice licks, if nothing especially inspired.

They’ve got something though: enthusiasm, and the type of old-fashioned, rocking, jamming gait that Dragon achieved in their pre-Platinum days.

The covers are acutely embarrassing, the band not looking or sounding at all comfortable singing Elvis Costello or Peter Gabriel. Their own songs are nothing to write home about, but they do have their moments, most of them developing into almost-jam sessions with snatches here and there of interesting foreplay. But there is only one conclusion: they really should have stayed in the rehearsal rooms a little longer.

The Mangaweka Viaduct Blues Band were a pleasant surprise. Suffering a little from gig over-exposure, they demonstrated why reports and opinions on the group vary so tremendously.

As the name suggests, they really are a blues band, and what’s more, a damn fine slow-blues outfit. In fact, Dougal, lead singer and guitarist, introduces the songs as such: “Here’s a slow one, folks”, and “Here’s another slow one”, and “Here’s a song. It’s… another slow one” and on and on.

But they’ve got far more than a sense of humour. In fact, chubby Dougal has a perfect blues voice, soft, mellow and expressive. His beautiful guitar playing complements this excellently. He somehow cajoles mellow low-down deep-throated and sweetly understated notes from his axe, as though just summoning from some spring of liquid gold.

The drummer, a studio young man, adds perfectly timed and anticipated, felt embellishments. His name is Tim Robinson, and he should go far.

But democracy is stalling this band, just as it’s stalling Enzed from getting off its collective arse. Davey McGhee may be a very nice gentleman, and he no doubt contributes adequately to the group, but his vocals are painful to behold (behear?), and a good 50 percent of material has him taking the vocal chores.

The material is mostly fairly stolid stuff. Nothing too unpredictable, and the occasional original, and perhaps a little experimentation would not go amiss. But I’d recommend the MVBBs any day of the week for a nice night out.

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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