40 Years Ago: Working With Walt

March 15, 2024
Working With Walt with Rob Hellriegel on the far left

GARY STEEL digs up a story about a Dunedin band from way back in 1984 in which he interviews Jan Hellriegel’s bro, Rob.

Working With Walt with Rob Hellriegel on the far left

The surprise winner of the Band Of The Year competition is Dunedin unknowns Working With Walt. We caught up with WWW singer/songwriter Rob Hellriegel at a Thorndon flat the day after the big win.

Once upon a time (like 1983, you dig?) there was an all-covers R’n’B band in that fair Southern city called Red Rooster. All musicians with considerable chops, it transpires the band was at a dead-end. Robert, it transpires, credits himself with changing the situation.


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“They couldn’t get their act together so they recruited a vocalist, myself.” He joined the band and they came up with the new name early this year. It was his first dalliance with the dreaded “rock” music, for his background was in the singing and strumming of ye olde folk music.

“We’re not brilliantly popular in Dunedin,” says Rob, conceding that they haven’t really played enough to have cultivated a true following. “Dunedin has two varieties of music and people adhere to those. There’s the Verlaines and Chills… they have a certain crowd. Then there’s The Idles and they’re the middle of the road crowd. We come along and don’t fit into either of them. Dunedin doesn’t know what to do with us.”

Working With Walt’s 1984 12″ single, ‘The Prophet’ b/w ‘Unfamiliar Way’ on Jayrem

In fact, apart from their Wellington competition sojourn, their only other gig outside Dunedin thus far has been Invercargill’s Waikiwi Hall.

As for the music itself… “A lot of our influence is because I’m writing most of the music. It comes from very early Gang Of Four, and the Dunedin sound. We don’t actually do “the Dunedin sound” but we like their attitude to music.”

The music is danceable, with elements of that old man R’n’B showing through.

The song that obviously lost the band at least one vote on the night was ‘Rip It Up’ which, says Rob, is questioning whether the rock magazine “stimulates conformity instead of being a good critical music magazine.”

The peak of their Thursday night performance at Vic Uni was interrupted by a can which split his $1300 guitar. The band nearly walked off. The $100 gathered in a sympathy collection will pay for repairs.

“Why should musicians tolerate things like that?” Saturday’s performance was pale as a result. “I wasn’t going to give the audience everything. I felt scared it was going to happen again.”

Working With Walt walk away with some very fine prizes. You will be hearing more of them.

+ This story was originally published in TOM magazine. The group is notable for having featured in its lineup later solo artist Jan Hellriegel, along with Mark Petersen (guitar) and the late David Wood (bass) who both went on to join Straitjacket Fits.

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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