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?
The Great Unwashed
First published in TOM magazine, 1984.
The Great Unwashed – Singles (Flying Nun)
A THOUSAND BANDS used the Velvet Underground as inspiration after punk made it uncool to be hip-hip-hippy. Needless to say most squandered the idea by wrapping their sounds in the most superficial impression of Velvet-surround aspects.
Many of the bands Flying Nun records have a crucial Velvets heritage. Crucial’s the word. Unlike their British and American counterparts, some of these NZ bands sound like they’ve always been tuned into that particular universe.
The Great Unwashed strike straight for the rich fat vein that leads to the brain where all the colour and emotive impact is amplified into something which flashes ‘great sounds great’ (now, where’ve I heard that phrase before?) And they don’t even sound like they’re trying… is that the secret?
Here is a band that cares either too little, or too much (either way that spells integrity) for their music, to risk entering the rock and roll grail trail.
The record supposedly under scrutiny – the analytical process is surprisingly irrelevant and inept in these circumstances – is a double 7-inch single package containing five short songs, wrapped in a plastic hand-painted cover hand-stitched by Hamish Kilgour (one of the group and otherwise Flying Nun pseudo-supreme).
The records are extremely difficult to get out of their cover; no doubt intended to give the listener an added feeling of victory and satisfaction on completion of the task.
Oh, the tracks, the tracks. There are five of them. ‘Duane Eddy’, bizarre dirge and my ultimate fave: “Duane Eddy, one of many, put him on a stage, throw him a penny”; ‘Can’t Find Water’ and ‘Born In The Wrong Time’ are what you could expect from ex-Clean people. ‘Neck Of The Woods’ is what the Church should sound like. ‘Boat With No Ocean’ has the makings of a classic depressive pop song.
The Great Unwashed are probably much more cult and less pop(ular) than they should or could be. A massive irony sees bands like The Violent Femmes more consumable, though TGU are infinitely superior. People are saying Flying Nun’s reign is over, but as long as there are people willing to buy records on intrinsic merit alone there should be a place for the Great Unwashed.
Great great great. What more could a mere mortal say? GARY STEEL
Note from the author: It wasn’t long until that hand-stitched package turned into a sticky mess and damaged the records, though I still have them, they still play, and over the years, those songs just grow in stature.
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.