The Great Unwashed played as competition guests

Live Shows From Long Ago – Radioactive Band Of The Year contest 1984

March 15, 2024
4 mins read

GARY STEEL listened to the good, the bad and the ugly in an ‘alternative’ battle of the bands, 1984-style.


Radioactive Band Of The Year Contest, Victoria University Student Union Hall, Thursday 5, Friday 6 and Saturday 7 July 1984.

Circus Block 4

A national competition staged as an alternative to the official Battle Of The Bands, it served to expose up-and-comings but came up tame, through a combination of largely unexciting groups and organizational inexperience.

The judging procedure, whereby only one band from each of the two semi-finals made it to the finale, proved a fatal error; a fairer system would have been a total vote on the two nights. Similarly, the voting forms themselves were ambiguous.


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I could provide enough gossip rumours and facts on the show to fuel the letters column for six months, but in all fairness – despite the questionable validity of band competitions in the first place – most aspects of the contest were handled admirably. Good prizes, good entertainment, value for money, great PA system, incredibly short breaks between bands…

The beginning was with two Wellington bands. The Resurrectionists were my personal pick of the entire competition. Musically a veritable world away from sinister punk cousins Condemned Sector and The Neoteric Tribesmen, they reminded me of nothing less (more in fact) than Madness with muscle. The new hornman has yet to be fully worked into the group sound, but the focus is kindly taken by the extrovert frontman. The Resurrectionists work well together, an ensemble effort. The pre and post-pubescent Mockers audience warm to them.

Gazza was devastated to miss The Mockers

Circus Block 4 have a second percussionist who adds much to their punch, but the music seems to suffer through having only a part-time guitarist who concentrates more on singing. They have a couple of memorable songs, including the single ‘Stone And Steel’, but all too often they veer into a sound which is essentially a modern pub-rock. They are frantic and fast, like much of the talent here.

Dunedin’s unknown Working With Walt began with a version of ‘Cabaret’ (old chum) akin to John Cale’s dramatic version of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. They’re noisy rock’n’roll in an updated fast and frilling mode. The guitarist threatens to break out into wild solos, but always restrains himself. It’s high energy; pretty much yer standard ranch house rage, but the traditional touch is not limited by retreads. The songs are okay, they didn’t use the dry ice machine, but they did feature a guy and gal blowing bubbles at the audience. Someone threw a can. It hit the guitar. The guitar broke. The singer got mad.

Freudian Slips played nice songs sloppily, without dynamics. I nearly fell asleep.

I missed The Mockers. Devastation.


The Pelicans were in, um, top form

Thursday night was a relative failure, in the ignition department. It’s a crying shame that over the three nights, the audience primarily came for the special guest acts. As The Pelicans aren’t quite the draw that The Mockers are, and come time for Jungle Mice to do their dash the hall was almost empty. Mice try very hard. At times they pull it off, at times they don’t. Their music is very busy, they never let a note rest. This is their biggest problem. There are times when they show their true potential, however, and certainly, individual components measure up. I feel sorry for them. They always seem such an unlucky band.

Thin Red Line was the sole awful pub rock nowhere band of the competition. This big band from Palmerston North feature a drummer who could easily pass an audition for the Muppets skinsman, and a little belter on vocals who showed more potential than the rest of the band put together.

The token ‘new musik’ act was Regular Cadets, three men and a drum machine. They play it very sparse and very earnest. Sometimes there’s just not enough compelling substance (they’re a very new group) but other times they do impress. Unlike many such groups, they do have songs.

Audience faves the Economic Wizards played an exultant half-hour which climaxed in a paper mache dummy of the now deposed PM, who burnt up in a fiery bombing of double happys. This outfit has nothing original to say or play. Their musicianship is strictly routine, the songs are virtual replays with added topical lyrics of less than stunning accuracy. Entertaining, sure – who could resist that dopey love song to Lorraine Downs – but no more than that.

The Pelicans sounded in top form, but I slunk away to do more pressing things.


Saturday startled with a repeat performance by Freudian Slips and Regular Cadets. Both were impressive, especially the Slips, who were considerably more together and relaxed than Thursday night.

The competition finale began with Economic Wizards repeating on the previous evening. The only difference this time was the appearance of two big walking paper mache Muldoons instead of one exploding head.

Working With Walt were relaxed, the audience response was good, but they lacked the nervous tension and energy of their Thursday night performance.

The Great Unwashed played as competition guests

The large crowd had come to see The Great Unwashed and here they were. Great things to their sound the sound mixing did not do. They require methinks a bit of dirt, a rough edge, a (Doug) Hoodish quality. It was, to coin a phrase, a little ‘clean’. The band gave a disappointing performance. They were nervous. The changed lineup hadn’t sorted out all its bugs. Most of the time they never fired. There were large sloppy breaks.

Massively popular in Wellington, The Great Unwashed didn’t let us down so much as display themselves in what is still a very formative stage in their development. They played most from the recent double single, including a shambolic ‘Duane Eddy’. Only in the last two songs did they really start to work out. They’re not comfortable on the big stage, they know it, and the audience knows it. But we’re still glad they came.

Working With Walt wins the big prize (recording time with Marmalade Studios, record release through Jayrem, etc) and Economic Wizards get a compensation prize of recording time.




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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