Waikato Rockers Reunion: An interview with Phil Walsh
with Ian Duggan
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there appeared to be two distinct music scenes in Hamilton. One, the ‘alternative’ scene, centred around Contact 89FM at the University of Waikato. The other, more mainstream scene, was centred on the clubs in town. The ‘Waikato Rockers Reunion’ at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival takes place on the Rhododendron Lawn on 28 February, organised by Phil Walsh of Doublebass Promotions, and focuses on this latter scene. Bands and musicians appearing on the night had their heydays in the times of The Lady Hamilton (later Shakes) on Alexandra St and Zaks in Te Rapa. We talked to Phil about who he has organised to play, how he has managed to get them back together, and the limited re-release of Hamiltune – Rockin’ the Tron.
HUP: There is a long list of bands and musicians advertised as making guest appearances at the reunion. Who have you got playing, and how is the night going to work?
Phil: Yes, trying to organize that many bands in such a limited time-span is problematic for a hundred reasons. Just getting ALL of the full line-ups together with the musicians spread all over the globe, and the time lost in changing equipment.
Velvet Bulldozer will open with a short set, as they are pretty much the only band from that era still playing, and still with the same line-up from the late ‘80s.
Four-fifths of The Giants are available, so they will be the ‘House Band’, and will feature a series of ‘guest stars’ including Darryl Monteith (Joe 90, WhisperScream), Lawrence Arps (The Break, Stainless Steel), Zed Brookes (Step Chant Unit), Rik Bernards (Knightshade), Woody Dean (international session keyboardist), Mike Wilkie (Sly Tourists, Citizen Kane, Made in Britain) and Martyn Clist (Fury). Members of the Giants also played in Echoes, Russia, 8 Forty 8, Living Proof, and other bands. It was a pretty incestual scene back then.
They will be followed by The Bronx with guest guitarist Grant ‘Weka’ Shaw from Gafford Hamsters. They will play a full set of originals and covers. After that Gavin Dempsey and Paul Martin from Blackjack will play a couple of their songs with Jeff Downey (Echoes, The Politicians) and Denis Newby (The Bronx) on drums and bass.
Both Mark Rimington (Echoes) and Tim Armstrong (The Politicians, Kiwi Bandits) are unavailable for the night, but we have a video screen backdrop so they have given me permission to play their singles videos from the era.
On top of that, ‘80s-‘90s rock photographer (and ex-Radio Contact DJ) Karen Ford is putting together a display of photos from the day to display as the bands as playing. The photos include shots from a huge range of bands from back in the day; some still with us, some sadly not.
And, to cap it off, we have a special guest MC, radio personality of the era, Mr Ronny Philips.
Phil: Yep, the planning has been… intense. Not just organizing the night, but arranging combinations of rehearsals with musicians from all over the North Island. I liken it to “trying to organize a pre-schoolers day trip to MOTAT”. But a huge part of it is that most of these musicians all played together in various combinations over the two decades, and just having them all in the same room at the same time will be like big hugest family reunion ever.
HUP: Are you having to deal with any egos, regarding who plays at what time of the night?
Phil: No, not at all. We’re all a bit older now and the egos are well in check. In fact, I have been humbled by the enthusiastic response and the willingness to help out and work in. All of the artists are as excited to be there as I am; just to be back playing with each other again.
HUP: Do you know what is being played by each of the artists, or is a lot of it going to be a surprise for you too?
Phil: No… the songs are all pre-determined. Especially for the artists being supported, we are rehearsing all of those now. And, I have to submit set lists to APRA before the gig. There may be a couple of last minute substitutions, but only one or two.
HUP: Many of bands played in the clubs in town and, to keep the punters happy, would have played primarily played covers. However, most of the bands, including Echoes, Blackjack, Step Chant Unit and The Bronx, all released original music also. What is the mix going to be of originals and covers on the night?
Phil: It’s going to be a mix of both. You’ll be getting original songs (live and video) from Joe 90, Step Chant Unit, Knightshade, The Bronx, Blackjack, Echoes and The Politicians.
HUP: One of the exciting aspects for me is that Gavin Dempsey and Paul Martin of Blackjack are performing together again for the first time in 26 years. Who are you most anticipating seeing live again, and why?
Phil: Yes, getting Gavin and Paul involved has been a HUGE bonus, and I can’t wait to see them play. Again, for me, as I was involved with most of those bands (and played in a few) and I am playing with The Giants again; getting to be on stage with these guys is like a dream come true. I’m equally ecstatic and terrified at the same time.
Phil: YES… A limited re-release of Hamiltune is due to drop on Monday. There will only be 100 copies, and apart from the duplication and printing we are waiving all admin and percentage cuts, so ALL profits will go directly to the musicians who contributed. $15 for 20 tracks of Waikato musical history.
People can purchase online at www.doublebass.net.nz/shop/product/220218/db91-HAMILTUNE-2015/
Or, I will be at the Hamilton Blues Soc gig, back bar of Biddys on Thurs 13th, and the will be sales on the night (if there’s any left),
Or, if none of the suits, people can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hamiltune Two? It’s been in the back of my mind since the first one. There were so many bands that Zed and I couldn’t track down or just ran out of space for. Let’s see how the concert is received and if the re-issue is popular.