In his Every Day In May series, GARY STEEL digs up pieces of our rich musical tapestry. [Translation: stories he’s penned over the past 40 years about NZ music]. Today’s victims – The Mockers, in a piece originally published in IT Magazine in 1980.
“The Mockers, eh? Like Mods and Rockers? That’s quite good!” says Mockers vocalist Andrew Fagan.
Did he think the title up himself? No! That was something The Beatles said when they were asked whether they were Mods or Rockers.
[Note: 99.9 percent of the quotes in this piece are attributable to the irrepressible Andrew – known by most simply by his surname Fagan – with very occasional interjections from other Mockers, who were all present for the interview.]
For the record, The Mockers are Charlie Minell (drums), Gary Curtis (bass, guitar and keyboards), Dale Monaghan (guitar), Andrew Fagan (vocals and percussion). What percussion, one may ask? “Mike stand”, says Fagan. So now you know.
The Mockers are young, too. Despite the fact that three of their members spent time in the ‘legendary’ Ambitious Vegetables, at the time two of them are still too junior to play in pubs. That is, not yet 18. The fourth member, guitarist Dale Monaghan, who was “in Timaru playing my violin for six years”, is an acknowledged Yes fan, but hopefully young enough to have this little deviation hammered out of his system.
Are The Mockers Mods or Rockers, or what? They don’t want to be classified (and what’s new, baby?) They reckon The Veges were a virtual Mod band way back in time (say, last year) but that it meant less than zilch as Mod means clothes and little else.
The Mockers, for it is they – forgotten already? – got it together in May 1980.
“That’s when we started composing songs. When Charlie came along, that was our first proper practice.” When was this? “June. The performing debut was made in July at Victoria University supporting Lip Service.”
They’ve since become something of a regular support-slot feature for bands like Tramp, Techtones, Toy Love, Top Scientist and Knobz. More importantly, they’ve made a record, the controversial ‘Murder In Manners St’/’The Good Old Days’. It’s a Radio With Pictures session recorded at Marmalade Studio and produced by Peter Blake.
The topical nature reaped a typical response from Truth, which tagged the group as punks, and their art as “a Mockery… of music”. Well! As if this wasn’t enough, it went on to accuse The Mockers of wasting public money on the recording; a recording that they paid for themselves.
“It is slightly topical, slightly controversial”, admits Fagan of the single, which is about the stabbing of a student in Wellington’s Manners St earlier this year. The record treads dangerous ground because, not only did the incident technically occur in Willis St, but the protagonist was declared insane and acquitted on the murder charge. Controversial? “Just a hint of it, eh. Just a wee bit!” says Fagan.
Aside from this, and the obvious quibble for catching Boomtown Rats-it is – ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ documented a similarly tragic real-life occurrence – Fagan insists: “It’s a good tune!” and I agree. “It’s basic, simple but it’s catchy, eh? Just two chords but it’s the melody that makes the song.”
So how much original material do The Mockers play these days? “Fifty, 60, 70 percent. Any higher bidders?” quips Fagan. Let’s believe the 70 percent guess, and stress that most are at least memorably melodic, nostalgic in construction, but content-wise very much up to the moment, containing spots of reggae, mid-‘60s and late-‘70s sounds. You haven’t got The Mockers sussed yet? Never mind, buy the single, cheap at the price. Then you’ll know.
For the covers they prefer selecting lesser-known quantities. They were the first – before it hit the charts – to pick up on ‘Turning Japanese’, and they display their influences in their rousing version of The Kinks’ ‘All The Day And All Of The Night’.
It seems certain though, that despite an almost disarming lack of pretension, the group are destined to cop flack (just as The Veges did before them) from the alternative music scene and retrogressive parrot fashion punks alike. At the Techtones’ Last Resort gig several moths ago, Fagan in particular appeared to be getting a very hard time from one of the extreme kind. Fagan explains: “That guy who came as a punk that night – the night after he came as a Mod!”
He insists that the intimidation doesn’t really worry him: that it was all basically in fun, but remarks: “Those guys aren’t really hard-core punk rockers! They were still going to discos at the beginning of the year! They’re the ones they call baby punks. And all the weirdoes, they live in Grass St – no offence if you live in Grass St – they don’t have us on, they just sit back there in their own little world sort of thing. The ones who were hassling us, they’re the ones who have their nine to five jobs and earn a lot of money and they dress-up as punks at the weekend.”
Fagan says that when The Veges first started, they were adopted by the alternative set, and that at one stage several members of Shoes This High were real fans of the group. Yet “they wouldn’t even talk to us now, you know.” He puts this change in attitude to The Veges progressing and being accepted by a wider audience. “It wasn’t that they (the alternatives, for want of a better description) didn’t like what we were playing. It was because we weren’t in their world.” It’s more of the same for The Mockers.
Hurtling back in time to that same Techtones Last Resort gig, it was plain obvious that The Mockers were a group that had the potential to appeal to a wide range of the youth population without sacrificing its integrity.
“All the weird ones liked it on Thursday night, all the punks liked it on Friday night, all the really straight people liked it on Saturday night, and Sunday night there was nobody there!”
Fagan and Curtis left The Veges in February/March for university/school respectively, and Minell three months later. At about this stage, The Veges evolved into The Red and there was one original Vege in the ranks, as against three in The Mockers.
The Red “went professional”, while The Mockers are still amateur (technically), and this appears to be the main reason for the split between the two bands. The Mockers’ attitude, in Fagan’s words, is “we’re being paid to have fun”, whereas to him, The Red have very few advantages and lots of monetary problems to show for going pro.
Though The Mockers have had an avalanche of interest shown and offers proffered, they’re sceptical about taking it all too seriously, as they see that even the front-line of working New Zealand bands are losing money and becoming disillusioned.
That’s not to suggest The Mockers don’t wish to make it a paying thing. As Fan says: “we want to make millions.” Don’t we all.
Disclaimer: These early stories are like skeletons in my closet. I barely knew how to string a sentence together back then. But because there are relatively few interviews or reviews of NZ bands going back in time, every one of them is worth putting ‘on the record’.