40 years ago: Grammar Boys

May 30, 2023
3 mins read
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It’s still NZ Music Month so GARY STEEL continues the excavation of his mouldering story scrapbook. Today’s travesty: Grammar Boys. 

Original intro: Gary Steel swallowed the last particles of a hurried custard square breakfast and stumbled into The Oaks lounge bar to face an 11am interview with Grammar Boys.

EMI’s promo person Sandy Hodge cheer-led the show. Grammar Boys leader Simon Alexander ring-led the circus. The entire crew sat around looking dazed. And all I could think about was how to quickly counteract early morning fog in the brain symptoms.

Surrounded by the lot, suddenly lost for words, our coffees become the immediate topic for dissection. Someone says theirs tastes like detergent. “Yeah”, says I, “mine’s got some floating on top!” Sandy: “That’s cream dear!”

 

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This time GB’s are in the Capital for one Wednesday night at Cricketers which, due to a cockup somewhere along the line receives little advertising and flops dreadfully.

Meanwhile, I enquire as to the band’s origins in The Garage Crawlers. I remembered a pure pop single a couple of years back, ‘Only You Tonite’ b/w novelty ditty ‘Normal Dunediner’. The b-side stuck more in ye olde memory bank. So what prompted that one? (Question directed to Alexander, as it was an Alexander composition).

“… It came out one night when we were all up at the old Mt Eden Harlequin Studios. I used to run the place. As the old studio closed down and the new one opened up, I had the opportunity to invite people round and record until the early hours. A few months later, I met some people from Dunedin and they were exactly like that: (imitates moron-speak): “We[e just come to Auckland, eh, just come to see the big smoke.”

Okay then, so why did the Garage Crawlers become Grammar Boys?

“There was a change of members, a change of direction, change of ownership…”

Another voice in the band says, “Nobody’s happy with the name anymore (Grammar Boys). We wouldn’t play Grammar Boys songs if we changed the name though. When the album’s sold as much as it’s going to and we’ve got 25 new songs, then it would change.”

So… (the investigative reporter gets into gear) … What sort of contract have you got with EMI, anyway? I’ve heard a few weird things about it.

“It’s a five-album contract but with yearly options on EMI’s behalf,” says Simon. Oh.

For some reason, I temporarily reach a level of temporary blankness hitherto unknown, and stare at my interviewees like a frightened buck rabbit about to stamp his hind leg and sound the danger alarm.

Simon takes the initiative and starts quizzing me on my response to  Grammar Boys Daring Feats album. “Did any songs stick out from the album, that you thought were great or horrendous?”

Um. Song titles are rilly hard to remember, y’know.

Eventually, I come round. Why, I ask diplomatically, the Oz-rock production touches?

Simon says: “Songs like ‘I Don’t Know You’ need that kind of production. At that time I liked those kind of songs. I wrote those a year and a half ago. The stuff I’m writing now is taking a different turn. It’s not mainstream Oz-rock. You would call it near-enough to mainstream. I just can’t help writing like that! I like a whole lot of things. I do write other things as well, but they don’t necessarily find their way onto record, because record companies like things that sell.”

Because Daring Feats was recorded over a year and a half, in a strange twist of fate it is ineligible to contend for the Recording Association of New Zealand Album of the Year category in the Music Awards. Given this stroke of bad fate, the record had better do well for the band.

“It’s taken a long time but I’m happy with it,” says Simon. However: “My tastes had changed so much from the time we started doing it to doing the final mixes that it was quite hard. I wanted it to sound different to that but I couldn’t make the songs sound anything but an almost Oz-rock kind of style, because they’d been recorded with that in mind.”

Simon seems a particularly together, lucid kinda guy. If he sounds apologetic for the album’s rampant commercialism, you can be sure he’ll smile if it moves units. Who wouldn’t? Since when has there been anything wrong with an honest attempt to make a buck? And after all, the Grammar Boys are okay.

+ Originally published in TOM magazine in 1983. Whatever happened to, etc? Anyone know?

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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