Diving Off The Deep End – NZ music from 40 years ago

February 12, 2024
5 mins read

Forty years ago Wellington had its second Off The Deep End festival of experimental music. GARY STEEL and a few chums wrote about it.

Off The Deep End 1983 was a week of furious improvisation and experimentation featuring the cream of the country’s musicians. Tucked away in a little loft above the Mexican Cantina restaurant last March, an amazing wealth of talent, proven and latent, strutted forth with variety hitherto unheard under the one roof.

The activities included various workshops, and public performances featuring incredible permutations of established groupings, solo workings and newly established musical liaisons. And although improvisation is often thought of as Off The Deep End’s prime function, there were more than smatterings of jazz, experimental music, and other semi-improvised art forms such as dance.

April 2 to 8, 1984 sees the running of the second Off The Deep End, like last year hosted by the City Art Gallery, and supported by the QEII Arts Council, the New Zealand Composers Foundation and New Zealand Railways.


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This year’s roster of talent looks to be an even brighter bunch than last year, says organizer Dave Kent. Although finance isn’t sufficient to sponsor several overseas musicians who wished to play at the festival, the like (but unconfirmed as TO goes to press) line-up looks most impressive, including as it does Auckland’s female group Marie and the Atom, duo Kiwi Animal, Phil Bowering’s Atmospherics, poet David Eggleton, Wellington’s experimental rock group Yellymin, electronic group Free Radicals, jazzmen Kevin Clark and Paul Dyne.  Christchurch’s Beyond A Joke, cellist Pamela Gray, Aunty Grandpa’s Glitter Band, Origins Dance Theatre, Papakura Post Office, the Vibraslaps and Tin Syndrome are also possibilities.

In all, between 60 and 80 musicians from Auckland to Dunedin will join forces in this week of exciting, fresh and unpredictable sounds.

The major difficulty in mounting such a venture, says Kent, is finding a venue with sufficient room to cater for the large number of musicians and audience.


Off The Deep End – Review

Sunday April 1

First night at Thistle Hall – transformed into a beatnik den of free expression – is a tentative, positive beginning.

Yellymin performs two improvised pieces, in many ways astonishing. Lindsay Maitland’s jazz-styled drumming is loose against Tracy Walsh’s heavy rhythmic bass. Steven Stockley’s guitar at its best flies unexpected sub-Hendrix squeals and ghost noises. No constants from the Yellymin, which is an encouraging if frustrating sign.

Primitive Art Group’s Antony Donaldson and David Watson contributed one long piece, the fiddliness of which destroyed my concentration and proved too much. GS

Monday April 2

Papakura Post Office will never be as popular as the building of the same name on a Thursday when the unemployed shuffle in grasping their account books. But they go down a storm. Their loose acoustic music toots and throbs and wanders about. A few people wander off… most stay to see the band dive through the long shreds of paper they hung from the ceiling. John Henderson described it as a “mixed-media event” and loved it. SB

Tuesday April 3

Old beards, the first flush of stubble, miniskirts and carefully hand-embroidered dresses; the diverse faces of latent talents and pretenders and perceptive observers and sheep who trot through the reek of “incense” this night.

They all erupt into shrill applause at the end of Jungle Suite’s set. The sax, guitar and voice effects were an interesting combination but often lapsed into jazz-something meanderings button-holed to the dimly-lit beatnik mood environment.

Pamela Gray’s outstanding solo performance booted in one of the most hoped-for qualities of the festival – surprise. In acting out the battle of creating art when directly confronted by seething personal concerns and irrational whims, she was like a door that flew open and slammed shut without warning. She played the cello and sang. Her mood segued into corny jazz and reggae, slow and reflective classical, with an occasional outburst: “Stuff the lot of you!”, “Guilt, worry worry worry… structure, work…” Special stuff. Her second piece was cello set to a kinetic film. SB

Wednesday April 4

Have I wandered into an Allen Ginsberg lookalike contest? The room is full of ‘80s beatnik types, although more reminiscent of Acker Bilk than Sal Paradise.

Andrew Lamont is a weirdoid chappie whose colourful baseball-type gear commands more attention than his electronic schmerltzing around. Andrew hands out a paper titled Computers Will Affect Music In The Future.

Three Volts, a violinist, double-bassist and percussionist play freeform spacey jazz. Quite interesting.

Kevin Clark and Paul Dyne are an ancient professorish-looking duo who play keyboards and viola. Everyone likes them but me; the concrete punk is not at home.

A spaz, giggly lady performs two songs acapella. She looks like a dishevelled waitress and forgets the words, but no-one minds – an engaging voice and presence.

The Origin Dancers: two graceful, gasping, green-striped and groping things who collapse upon the floor. Are they okay?

The Heptocrats feature some neatoid guy banging Zippy Pinhead jazz rhythms out of his bass. The floor is filled with floppy Kerouac dancers. The Heps feverish jiving around finally develops into ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’, a great bluesy jam.

This Is Heaven is Paul Luker on guitar, plus Hilary Ord and Lorraine on vocals. Sweet, ethereal vocal harmonies and noise plays against a backdrop of slides; stark and effective.

Kiwi Animal’s short set was enjoyable. Songs of wartime, introduced by Brent: “The lighting we use is gonna be red and white, to symbolize The Railways.” He also said their next performance was to be outside Porirua Mental Hospital. HC

Thursday April 5

Primitive Art Group were astonishing. In the past often finicky, sounding like a chore performed with too much effort. Tonight, the group connected. The sounds were an exaggerated mimicry of other styles and stylists, but it was serious fun, not gimmickry. The two saxes screamed and blurted like a lover’s tiff, the double bass was impeccable, the drumming was sharp, and even guitarist Dave Watson played with perfect complement in tone and colour to the music, as opposed to his penchant for scribbling and scratching.

Marie And The Atom were wonderful. Gill Civil has stunning presence, a fantastic way with her voice, and smouldering intensity. They began by banging 40-gallon drums and exhaust pipes. They shifted to banjo and violin and finished with synthesizer/percussion. Very rough around the edges but astounding stuff.

Orange Peel is a jazz group without the chops. Maybe they had something, but it was clumsy and self-conscious. They looked pretty good. GS

Friday April 6

Two men in Devo glasses playing acoustic guitars and singing droll songs about something or other. Too discreet to stimulate. Yes and maybe. That’s the Membranes.

Family Mallett is another Primitive Art Group off-shoot and this is apparently their public debut after six months of practice. Maybe they should call themselves Tubby The Tuba Goes Round And Round.

Vibraslaps are three women: drums, bass, percussion and voices. They play fairly conventional rock music which tonight sounds tentative and uninspired. Perhaps it was a bad night for them. GS

Saturday April 7

The Origin Dancers start the evening beautifully. But in brief, one dancer stretches towards another holding two masks.

A contretemps with a piece of slime prevented me from taking notes for the rest of the evening. I do remember Kevin Hawkins’ kinda tortured guitar solo piece (plus improvisations) and Miniatures’ set – ocarinas rule, okay!

Phil Bowering and friends closed the show with ‘Off The Deep End’. Well done, and most appreciated. HC


+ The following contributed to the above reviews: Gary Steel, Steve Braunias and Helen Collett. Special thanks to Ken Double for the original TOM cover design/layout.


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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