GARY STEEL turns red in the presence of a Crocodile, Jenny Morris. Later, another Crocodile joins the conversation…
NOTE: The Crocodiles were a New Zealand pop band featuring a revolving cast that included Bruno Lawrence, Fane Flaws, Peter Dasent, Tony Backhouse, Arthur Baysting, Jenny Morris, and Tina Matthews. My rather biographically challenged piece below fails to mention anything much about the group’s quite amazing lineup, or their individual histories. Me bad. It’s published simply as a matter of public record. The group had two rather excellent albums, Tears (the title track of which was a hit) and Looking At Ourselves, both 1980. Unfortunately, a decently mastered reissuing of these two historically important discs hasn’t happened as of September 2012.
JENNY MORRIS LIKES to get the basics quickly out of the way: a capsule Crocs history in the learning:
“It all started with Kim Fowley… He made demo tapes of Spats. He flew Tony and Fane up to Auckland and wrote some songs with them and expressed his interest and fired Fane with enthusiasm, which in turn made Fane very interested in getting the Crocodiles together. He approached me when I was playing with the Wide Mouthed Frogs and I said I would only join to make the album, but one thing led to another and I stayed longer. Mark Hornibrook was in it, but he wanted to leave and do other things, so we got Tina and…”
Don’t you miss the Wide Mouthed Frogs, Jenny? “Yes, a lot actually. Everyone got on very well and there was a hell of a lot of support and we didn’t take ourselves that seriously, so there was no-one striving to get ahead, which makes it nice. I’d like to think the Frogs paved the way for women musicians. I mean, there are a hell of a lot of women who front bands as singers, which people accept more readily than women musicians, and I think the fact that Tina’s bass player with the Crocodiles is on the one hand helpful to any ladies who might be thinking about it and on the other hand proves the point that we can do it just as well as men can.”
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Is the band pushing hard for commercial success, or does it prefer to coast? “It’s a bit of both really. We all realise that if you are hellbent on getting to the top you’re halfway to having a nervous breakdown, because no matter how good you think you are, it’s not you you have to convince, it’s the public. So you can have many a sleepless night. We don’t operate like that. What we do is fun. We write fun songs, we perform them. We’re not trying to be businesslike.”
Jenny’s quite cynical about the local scene: “The whole music scene here gets under my skin a lot. When we have a computer running the government station’s playlists, it seems to lose out on that humanitarian touch…” She then said some revealing but unprintable (possible legal wrangles) things about the NZ gig circuit.
Fane sidles into the room. It’s 3pm and he’s just woken up. He’s not in the most lucid state. The first album, he says, “was recorded in about three weeks in September ’79. We’ve got enough material for two albums because of the gap between recording and release of this album.”
What exactly is the Crocs’ music all about? Jenny answers: “If you ask a Crocodile what sort of music they play, they’ll say pop music but… and I’ll say but anytime you like… I’d like to think there’s a little bit of nonsense and something a little bit different. You like to throw as much as possible in. You’ve got bits of disco, reggae, doowop, blues, and jazz all thrown in… our music is quite diversified. Sometimes people get quite narked about that. People can’t handle it when you’re playing completely different types of music.”
According to Fane, the Crocs are all about strong melodies, their big faves being people from the ‘60s like The Kinks, The Who, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and from the ‘70s/’80s, people like The Boomtown Rats, Tom Petty and Elvis Costello.
Fane: “I’ve been through all sorts of musical shit in the past. I’ve got to the point that I’ve realised what I really want to do is have a pop band. I’ve been in blues bands and jazz bands and avant garde bands but I’ve never been in a band that plays pop and I think that’s the hardest thing to do.”
The worst thing about the ‘70s, he says, was “things got over-produced and multitracked – fucking strings on every record, which I fucking hate.”
And to finish with, a lovely little piece of historical insignificance: ‘Recycled Sound’ was originally written “for a Bata Bullet ad.”
And in close harmony: “Bata Bullets will take you anywhere!”
* This piece originally appeared in the July 1980 edition of IT, a Wellington rock magazine.