A R T I C L E
The Outsiders III: What memories do bands that toured Hamilton have of us?
By Ian Duggan
Hamilton has hosted many notable bands, from elsewhere in New Zealand, as well as a number of international visitors. I approached musicians from some of these bands, and posed a single, simple question: “Do you have any lasting memories or impressions of playing in Hamilton?” We published Part I and II in August and September 2016, and over the last few months we’ve received a bunch more responses.
In the previous ‘Outsiders’ articles, band members commonly had trouble remembering details. So something fascinating this time around was that one musician actually kept a tour diary! John Willsteed was the bass player for Australian band The Go-Betweens between 1987 and 1989, and played at Waikato University during an Orientation tour on 2 March 1989, the night after playing a gig in Wellington: “We took off from the south after dramas. There was a rape at the hotel, so lots of police, which freaked out [promoter] Doug Hood; a Cheech and Chong scenario of your choosing. Wellington was lovely and we'd had a great few days, but it was an adventure heading north. A very long drive up the west coast stomped on the vibe somewhat, and we had a breakdown in the middle somewhere. I think there was a fair bit of "hooch" as the young people call it, so the vibe returned, mellow and probably blissed by the visual feast of the countryside, the joys of Whanganui and the op shops which regularly drew our attention. We got in late to Hamilton, no time for sound-check. The gig was wild, lots of vets and ag students - these people are ANIMALS! Which is appropriate I guess; they can tend to one another if anything goes wrong. After the show, we play cards back at the motel - what crazy rock kids! The next day, Robert [Forster] drives north as we continue our search for the Bluff oysters and Bollinger…”. Funnily, Waikato has never had vet or ag students, but I guess that was the impression they gave…!
New Zealand music royalty graced my inbox in the form of Mike Chunn, the original bass player for Split Ends/Enz through the mid ‘70s and later Citizen Band. He felt: “Hamilton was a strong city for both Split Enz and Citizen Band. In different ways. The highlight of it all was when Enz supported Spacewaltz in late 1974. The Founders Theatre. That was the first time we wore the Noel Crombie soot suits [image provided]. We felt like kings! We only ever played the Founders. As far as Citizen Band goes it was the strong pub circuit. But Hamiltonians came out in their droves. It’s a rocking good town! The Hillcrest. The River Bar. Cool, supportive crowds”. The Hillcrest having enthusiastic and discerning crowds was mentioned by many in Part I and II, and this continued to be a trend here also. From a similar era, Richard (‘Dick’) Driver, who played here with Hip Singles and Pop Mechanix backed this up: “Hamilton was always a highlight on the national circuit. Compared to many audiences around New Zealand, Hamiltonians were quite the connoisseurs of music. The Hillcrest had a great room that felt like an intimate space. Although there was a restaurant that was separated from the bar by only a low wall and I do remember many occasions diners would screeching loudly in-between songs with outbursts like 'shut that racket up', etc, and our audience were always quick to rebuff them with their own vitriolic response in our defence. Quite touching really”.
Hamilton was lucky to have large numbers of bands tour through the 1980s. The Newmatics, fronted by Mark Clare, played at the Hillcrest on the same bill as Blam Blam Blam and Screaming Meemees; a gig that Blam Blam Blam’s Tim Mahon remembered for its “fine collection of rednecks” (see Part I). Mark stated: “Hamilton; I was born there 1960! This gig is where we kidnapped a 16-year-old Kelly Rogers and took him on the tour as our second sax player. Apparently he'd snuck out of the house with the very intention of doing just that. Cheeky chops hasn't changed”. Not all stories from this time are quite so positive, mind you, as Buster Stiggs, drummer for The Swingers, was clear to point out: “The Swingers played there only once. As we were packing up our gear I walked past a table of the manager and his red-neck regulars having an after closing time drink. One of them stood up and said to me, "Ya fucken poof", and unprovoked punched me on the jaw. I just kept walking, not wanting to cause a scene. We loaded up the rest of the gear, jumped in the van to go back to Auckland and never ever returned to Hamilton”. It’s a shame that just one idiot could have such a negative effect; Hamilton’s loss, for sure.
Back to the late ‘70s, and more positive memories…. Following on from the comments of Jonathan Jamrag of Proud Scum in Part II, other members of bands from the same Auckland punk scene also shared some memories. Jim Salter was the sax player and founding member of The Suburban Reptiles, better known during this period as Jimmy Vinyl or Jimmy Joy, and despite initially claiming otherwise, he had some amazingly specific memories: “Yes, the Reps did play Hamilton, once. My memory of the details is sketchy; exactly when, the name of the venue. None of this was Hamilton's fault. But I do have a couple of impressions. So the venue was a pub - must have been the Hillcrest Tavern I think, and 1978. I do remember that the crowd was pretty good and we played OK. "Pretty good" meant no fights and no idiots who thought they were being punk by pouring jugs into the monitor speakers, which had happened at the Awapuni in Palmerston North. It wasn't a punk crowd, and at least they weren't pretending to be. The ripped t-shirt thing was already about three 'looks' in the past. "Playing OK" meant that we started and finished all the songs at the same time and nothing blew up. So it was a pretty chilled Reptiles gig. We had some friendly faces in the audience: Auckland had its own version of the ‘Bromley Contingent’, who were as important to the scene as the bands. One of these was Sandra Jones, who went on to form the ‘Idle Idols’ along with some others from the scene. On this occasion, we had driven down in a borrowed van and there was limited room, so Sandra hitched down from Auckland. Dressed just in red-splattered bandages like a mummy and a nurse's hat, and carrying a kid's school bag with a red cross on it. That's one mental snapshot. The other is a guy coming up to us after the set; he had the early studded dog-collar and safety-pin look going on. He was really excited to have us in town, but he wasn't from Hamilton. He said "I'm the only punk in Huntly". We thought "that's pretty staunch, there's only about ten of us in Auckland!" If he reads your column it's be great to know if there were ever more punks in Huntly”.
Similarly, The Terrorways also played Hamilton once. Frontman John Hunter (a.k.a. John ‘No-one’) also remembered the Auckland fans making the trip down. “So the Hamilton show. The few weeks on tour were brilliant and we were all excited about getting back to Auckland and going into TVNZ to achieve television immortality. We could've probably used a short break to dry out but for some reason this show was tagged on at the end. Fans came down from Auckland”, who were apparently loaded into three Morris 1100s.
Through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, touring bands to Hamilton began to include many on the Flying Nun label, including The Chills, The Bats and Jean Paul Sartre Experience. Brent McLachlan played Hamilton with both the Gordons and with Bailterspace. Although he remembered playing Hamilton a few times, he didn’t have any specific memories: “Not really. Probably smelt of beer and cigarettes and if [it was] a good night maybe some vomit”. Alan Haig, drummer for The Chills in the early-‘80s, had similarly hazy memories. “The only vague memory I have would have been on the Flying Nun Looney Tour. Playing with The Chills as drummer and I think it was at the Metropolitan?”. “Yes, the Metropole”, I stated, “It's now a Briscoes store!”. “That’s right, the Metropole! I could be wrong but that whole tour was pretty crazy. I had my own (red) CF Bedford van on this tour and remember carting some of 'Childrens Hour' back to Auckland directly after we had played and packed down the PA equipment. Other than this, I don't think I have played anywhere else in Hamilton. As far as the Chills performance went I'm sure it was okay. It’s quite different when your performing when you know personally we could have played better but that was always my thoughts. Most audience goers loved it and we got very good feedback. Pretty sure it was at the time Terry Moore rejoined the band replacing Martin Kean. Sorry I don't have any more memories as its being a while and of course I aint getting any younger!”.
Jeff Eden, bass player and vocalist for Wellington band Skank Attack, remembered Hamilton best for playing, and a rivalry, with The Bats: “We had a great time playing with The Bats in Hamilton and probably got a better response there than at the Auckland gigs due to a packed venue and a very responsive crowd. As [drummer] Steve Cochrane tells it, this particular gig came about because we'd booked the venue and they were on tour and asked if they could join us there, which Steve rather cheekily (and entrepreneur-ally; we were totally skint, as always) agreed to on the condition that we got a 60/40% split of the door take. Although we had our [self-titled] EP out and were getting better known, albeit in a pretty niche manner, they helped pull in a much bigger crowd as they were pretty well known. The Bats were a lovely bunch of people. However, because we thought their music was disappointing given their multiple lineages via The Enemy, Toy Love and The Clean, etc, and they were the better-known band, we set about trying to blow them away by playing as loud, hard and fast as we could, which seemed to go down quite well in the packed Tron. Legend has it that both bands were so twatted by the end of the night that nobody could work out the 60% split for ages, until Steve — by far the most hedonistic among us all — finally did the maths and we went our separate ways, never to see them again”.
Finally, getting the prize for the earliest visitor, I heard from Carl Evensen of late ‘60s band The Fourmyula, most famous for their song ‘Nature’. The Fourmyula were regular visitors to Hamilton, and particularly the Starlight Ballroom on Anglesea St during their prime: “I remember dark, dingy halls. They were our gigs, kids our age standing around listening and dancing to the music. [I] lost my new duffle coat there, lol... Big old, empty houses, with low coloured lights. Parties after the gigs. A lot of longhairs. It was all getting a bit psychedelic”.
The lesson learned from the three parts of the Outsiders? Although the memories of visiting musicians can become hazy in the mists of time, a number have recollections of Hamilton that have been clear, specific and generally positive. But if you are a touring musician, if in doubt, think about keeping a tour diary!
(Thanks to Mike Chunn and Jeff Eden for providing images!)