Have You Checked The Children?

Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?

Originally appearing in In Touch magazine, December 1980, here’s my review of the impossibly rare **** (or Four Stars) album from Wellington’s Terrace Scene.

Various Artists – **** (Sausage) LP REVIEW

4stars_coverALONG WITH THE Gordons’ magnificent debut single, **** is one of the most exciting releases this year. Not only is the music incomparably nonconformist, but it’s uniformly of world standard. Each band is distinctly original, yet the tracks complement one another through a common cause: rebellion, subversion, anti-police and authority (or something along those lines).
Without more ado, the people on this record are: The Wallsockets (whose idea this was), Life In The Fridge Exists, Naked Spots Dance, and Beat Rhythm Fashion. Wellington bands all, though it is unkindly parochial to emphasise that fact.
Life In The Fridge Exists, a loosely-assembled collective of whom photographer/writer Michael Gallagher is the brainchild, contribute three tracks. ‘Have You Checked The Children’ is the most convincing. It’s a menacing slice of teenage rebellion/subversion with Lady Sam providing voice of steel narrative: “Your children hate you!” ‘First Death Take’ is a manic-depressive Gallagher-led pained-voice tirade, but I can’t hear the words so comment is reserved. ‘Peter The D’ closes the album. It is a manifestly ponderous riff, a vivid, descriptive sax complementing Gallagher’s narrative about, well… buy the album. Pity LIFE’s most famous tune, ‘Phil O’Brien Song’, had to be omitted for legal reasons; fated to lie in the vaults of libelous infamy. Though LIFE do become tiresome on too many repeat listenings, they’re the surprise of this record in that their tracks aren’t as disposable as many thought they would be.
IMG_4207The Wallsockets are a comparative disappointment. Their performance is strictly sub-standard garage punk. Their main assets on vinyl are the songs and Lynette’s vocals. They have a knack in composing nifty little anthems, the samplings here being ‘H&C’, ‘Euthanasia’ (which puts forward the case for putting granny in her grave), ‘Blue Meanie (anti-cop harassment) and ‘Snerl’ (a lovely little novelty with one of the classic simple guitar solos of all time).
Naked Spots Dance have by far the most potential of these bands – apart from the fact that they’re now the only really functioning one. Their music is already so evolved and curiously complete. It leaves spaces that remind one of Jefferson Airplane (don’t laugh) without the ponderous pretension. Yet the musicianship is genuinely creative, with Levene-type guitar and a great pouting-voiced lady singer. ‘Secrets’, and particularly ‘Crescendo/Circle Moon’, are the most impressive. The latter begins with a spiraling invective against a career-orientated type, and then sinks into a heady, atmospheric vein IMG_4205repeating: “The moon came out tonight/I sat there watching it/The moon came out tonight/There was no stopping it.” ‘Banana Baby’ appears to be a mean put-down of sexual stereotypes, while ‘Subtractions’ is surprisingly conventional by comparison.
Beat Rhythm Fashion are a studio conception and creation. Their two tracks are ‘None In The Universe’, an almost American-sounding pop tune with sneer, and ‘Not Necessary’, which boasts the immortal lyrics: “Not need no house/Don’t want my own home/I would prefer to be made of air/It would make me so happy/Not to be here.”
Unfortunately this review is rushed due to impending deadlines. I can only stress that this is one to buy, folks! GARY STEEL

IMG_4203Note from the author: I wasn’t to know it, but **** would have already sold out its limited print run (200 copies) by the time this review appeared. Of course it’s a terribly naïve review and probably soaked in whatever lucidity-killing compounds were going around in 1980, but hey, it’s a review of an album that has become one of the most revered underground releases in NZ music history, mainly, I would think, for its rarity value rather than its music, which as someone pointed out, does sound rather rushed and demo-like. What interests me most is the fact that four bands decided to make an album together, rather than opt for individual EPs, as just about everybody else did. I guess that was the Terrace Scene, and the organisation of The Wallsockets.

12 Comments

  1. Steve Braunias

    Who was the “pouting-voiced lady singer” of Naked Spots – cool actors’ equity leftie Jennifer Ward-Lealand, or Oscar-winning establishment creepo Fran Walsh? Tell! And: is is possible to tell us the lyrics to the “Phil O’Brien Song”? Also: Didn’t some band stage a protest at Avalon against Phil when he hosted Radio With Pictures? Was it LIFE or Riot 111 or someone?

  2. Ms. Pouting Voice was Jennifer Ward-Lealand. Fran was in The Wallsockets at this time… she was the singer in the last version of NSD around ’82. In between came another actress Katherine McRae, these days I believe, known as Mrs Bollinger.

  3. Was RIOT 111 at Avalon.

    What were the O’Brien lyrics? Love to know. He was so out of time at that time. Has he ever been in time?

  4. Now wait just a minute. RIOT 111 did do a thing at Avalon but, trying desperately to remember, was it about that man? C’mon memory work for me!

  5. Thanks Robert, that was most illuminating. I remember seeing LIFE performing ‘The Phil O’Brian Song’ live, and thinking it hilarious at the time. The objection to O’Brian, I believe, was to do with a talent quest where it was alleged that O’Brian had rigged his pub-rock mates’ bands to win, and of course, ignored the punks completely.
    And yes, Mike, I do remember something about a Riot 111 protest at Avalon, but presume that was later, because their first single was 1981, some time after the **** album. I’m sure all that information lies dormant in my archives, and will come to light in time.
    From May 31 the AudioCulture website will be up and running, and will be the place to go for details about these important wee tributaries of the NZ music underground.

  6. Thanks Robert. I remember the ‘song’ now. I think I remember seeing it performed.
    I think at the contest he said something along the lines of he didn’t understand the sort of music they were performing. Even Taste of Bounty who won, got it.

  7. Steve Braunias

    Taste of Bounty! Oh dear. As whoever writes about Phil beneath that LIFE clip, “Dadrock MOR usurper.” Hang of a nice guy, though, Phil.

    I wonder what that Riot 111 protest was about? And: whatever happened to frontman Void, born Geoffrey Ludbrook-Sayers?

  8. Taste of Bounty! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ2rgVNVN9g you get the idea. They were alright.

  9. Obviously there are people out there with better memories than me – and I’m guessing these people still bear some sort of grudge. I’ve occasionally found it vaguely interesting that no one ever bothered to ask ME about this. Considering it was 34 years ago, I’m having trouble remembering exactly what happened, but a couple of things need to be spelt out. One – I wasn’t a judge at this thing. I was simply asked by the radio station I worked for to arrange it. There were a few judges, all somehow related to the industry, and I left them to it. Secondly – the band that won weren’t mates of mine – didn’t have a clue who they were. However, they were chosen as the winners, a decision obviously not agreed with by some present. As regards the “banning of the video clip” by RWP. Talk to Tony Holden – he decided what we play, and, in fact, pretty much every word I said. That was a show that had exactly zero input from me in terms of content. Considering I was being paid under $80 a week to present the bloody thing, I was more than happy to leave any and all editorial decisions to him and therefore do as little work as possible.

    I was recently (this year) asked to MC an event featuring one / some of these bands. I wasn’t able to attend as I was actually undergoing some pretty heavy chemotherapy at the time. No doubt, this will be interpreted by some as me not bothering…

    “Dadrock”? What the hell is that??

  10. what happened to geoffrey sayers ludbrook alias VOID.

  11. Jewel Sanyo (Gill Samuel)

    Void came to Sydney in the 1980s to pursue an acting career. He also acted as an agent for Virus clothing and now lives in Brisbane, looks pretty much exactly the same and most recently appeared in a small Australian film called Brother (2000), according to IMDB.

    Re Wallsockets
    The wonderful Debra Packman who wrote the lyrics to ‘Snerl’ later became a lawyer who guided NZ educational policy under the Helen Clark Labour government. She was one subversive who remained a lifelong and genuinely effective champion of the disaffected.

    BTW I gave my Four Stars vinyl to Radio B, along with other gems from NZ’s extraordinary underground No Wave era, back in 1986. I hope they kept it.

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