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…!
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.
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!”.
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!)