Every Day In May – Day 19: Fats White

The idea? Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month and 38 years of his own rancid opining and reportage, Gary Steel will present something from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. This story is another dip into the pages of Auckland’s Karangahape Rd scene, and was originally published in Metro, February ’06.

 

Great white

Fats White/Brent Hayward
Fats White/Brent Hayward

ONE OF THE most notable long-term denizens of Karangahape Rd, the rather extraordinary Brent Hayward greets me at a local bar with a polemic that lasts exactly one hour and 13 minutes. During this impenetrable squall of jet-propelled information – performance art carried through to interview – I slowly understand why Hayward isn’t valued and revered the way he clearly deserves to be: He’s failed to come up with useful sound bites, just like he’s failed to capitulate to the demands of acceptable artistry.

No fancy arts grants for this restless poet, film-maker, singer-songwriter and agent provocateur: For over 25 years Hayward’s art has been such a naked exposition of self that there are none of the usual safety barriers.

Smelly Feet on record.
Smelly Feet on record.

Today, Hayward is playing an anti-nostalgia card. He’s tired of hearing about his past. Lately, audiences around the world have begun to discover his first incarnation as the singer in NZ’s seminal post-punk group Shoes This High, and the rare vinyl from his subsequent Smelly Feet and Kiwi Animal projects sells for vast sums.

Hayward’s life and art is one of extremes that could fill a substantial tome, and would keep sensitive jaws dropping. After rejecting music in the mid-‘80s, for a time he sold sex to maintain a drug habit. This, and other real life experiences were explored during the following ten years in his bizarre and sometimes x-rated experimental films, and equally disturbing performance projects, and he’s only returned to music this decade… first as the busking Reverend Stinkfinger, then as the lynchpin of Fats White, his current band.

Kiwi Animal (Photo by Charles Jameson)
Kiwi Animal (Photo by Charles Jameson)

Fats White – which has seen a vast number of musicians swell and deplete its ranks over the last couple of years – makes a kind of voodoo rockabilly that’s pure Hayward, complete with his King Kong-size lyric sheets to aid memory over the often three or four hour performance marathons.

Still angry after all these years, Hayward’s extreme personality might not endear him to some, but the man and his work are capable of great charm and a very Kiwi sense of humour and unique insight.

  • Available: Fats White – Open Yr Buck’N’Ears (Powertool)

Notes: I’m appalled by the lack of recognition Hayward has received over the years. To me, he’s one of our great multi-media artists, but I guess he’s just too edgy for arts patrons, the perpetual outsider. I remember sitting listening to Brent rave on at Alleluya cafe and then trying to understand what the fuck he was talking about when listening back to the tape, and using none of it for the story. He deserves a biography.

 

 

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