NZ Music Month – Shoes This High

GARY STEEL digs up his 1981 review of the first and only record by the now-legendary Shoes This High.

 

Stayers Shoes This High Shine

There is one crevasse into which so very many capable New Zealand rock groups continue to fall.

This dilemma gets the best of all but the hardiest. Should a band attempt to make their music appeal to as many members of the public as possible – after all, it is a small, supposedly middle of the road population in New Zealand – or should they remain true to themselves and plough their own furrow in the way they think best?

Most Kiwi bands take the first option, and by trying to appeal to all they actually appeal to few. Bar patrons may drink to their music, but why waste beer money on their records?

Only a few bands have had the gumption to stick to their original vision. The notable example is Split Enz, who had a large cult following from the beginning because their music was genuinely bizarre and unusual.

There are several New Zealand groups with vision, originality and commitment to what they are doing and believe in. Take away the Government’s 40 percent sales tax, and there would soon be a healthy export of records by these artists to Europe, a continent that laps up such material in large doses.

With restrictions still imposed however, records by such groups are unlikely to be made in the first instance, and even more unlikely to be noticed with interest by any but the few.

An example of such a band is Wellington’s Shoes This High, whose EP (their first) was recorded in Auckland. To say it is exceptional is an understatement. It is fair to say that if Shoes This High were a British band, this record would be a much sought after item.

It is an independent release, produced by the group. The cover and distribution are also handled by the group.

Their music does contain elements of music heard elsewhere: Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, Pil, The Fall, Gang Of Four… but overall the sound is unmistakably Shoes This High.

‘The Nose One’ is an addictive trance dance with nagging bass and guitar lines by Jessica Walker and Kevin Hawkins respectively, and lyrics that perhaps reflect the band’s own philosophy: “I just follow my nose/I don’t care about my clothes/I close my eyes/I fall asleep… nothing, nothing, nothing!”

‘Foot’s Dream’, played with the air of inevitability of the average New Zealander’s limiting lifestyle attacks in particular, the institution of marriage.

In ‘A Mess’, vocalist Brent Hayward gives examples of mindless violence and self-abuse, screams a fierce “I don’t think it’s so funny”, and reinforces it with a hurt: “It’s a mess, a horrible mess.”

‘Not Weighting’, the finale, is an ominous almost-instrumental, with xylophone/breaking glass sound effects. Spare and jarring, it is quite unlike anything recorded in this country.

With bands like these New Zealand has come of age. It’s time we realised it.

* Originally published in The Evening Post, Feb 28, 1981. Poor writing, for sure (and pompous, too), but as with much of my early stuff, I’m making it available simply for the record, because there was so little written about such groups at the time. To put it in context, there really wasn’t an indie scene yet in NZ, and no discernible market for a band like Shoes This High (or The Gordons, for that matter). Invariably, winners of Battle Of The Bands-type competitions were pub-rockers, covers bands who played the taverns. I was one of the few journalists really pushing Shoes This High, The Gordons and other left-field post-punk groups, both through my Wellington-based free publication, In Touch (IT) and as The Evening Post’s music writer. I did this, I might add, in my own time and for no financial recompense: by day I was a humble sub-editor. The recent LP release of live Shoes This High material by American label Siltbreeze has at last given a slightly wider international audience a chance to hear this seminal if short-lived group, and vindicated my support back when it seemed that no one gave a fuck.

You’ll find one of my Shoes This High interviews here, and many other archived NZ bands on Witchdoctor – just use the search button to find them.

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