I first met John when All Fall Down supported Sneaky Feelings at The Lone Star Tavern in 1987. A few years later John was back in Christchurch and hanging out with Moira, one of my flatmates at Avonside Drive.
John and Rob Mayes rented the space above City Books in Colombo Street for recording. John moved in and asked me if I wanted to share it as a practice space. It was a good idea. We had enthusiasm and common ground. We looked at the drummer available notices in CJ’s. We had a play with Steve T and kept looking. Paul O’Brien was great to play with, but unavailable. Peter Vangioni was also great but heading overseas. We kept looking.
Towards the end of 1992 a production was devised for Sonlite, Campbell’s play about the invention of a sunlight machine. John and I wrote songs and moods at City Books to back up some of Campbell’s ideas. Mark Newnham, Carey Smith, Linley Jane Bullen, Simon Small, Sarah Franks, Liz, Michelle and others acted, danced, sang, choreographed, made costumes, props and organised. Jonathan drew the artwork, Sands McDougall lit, mixed and operated the show.
Theatre has time pressures usually absent from organic band development. Actors have an interest in learning their lines quicker than many musicians will find their groove or their words. Not long into rehearsals there were a dozen people singing the theme song I’d written a week earlier in the kitchen at City Books. It was a buzz.
We did two weeks of 11pm shows at The Performing Arts centre in Worcester Street. The theatre was a challenging space acoustically. The PA was mounted upstairs behind the audience creating a problematic echo if John and I played on stage. We moved upstairs next to the PA.
We played to small but enthusiastic audiences and got a poor review in the Press.
I loved it. It was a great show to be part of.
[Sonlite postcard : Jonathan Hall]
John and I kept looking for a drummer. We ran into Bert at an Elvis Costello concert. He was into playing. Perfect. We took turns practicing at each other’s houses and tried to think of a name. Hugh joined us on bass for a few months. We paid for a couple of practice sessions at Whakarite’s offices and Hugh left.
Our practices moved to The Bakery in Addington where John baked muffins, bagels and baps with his father and brother. We practiced upstairs, outside the office, above the cooler.
A three piece is a special band dynamic – no one wants to be the weak link. John and Bert were both great players and I was keen to keep up. John wrote great songs and knew what my songs needed. He was an experienced and tight player. Bert brought endless power, energy, feel and dynamics to his drum parts, arrangements, ideas, feels, melodies and harmonies.
We all brought songs to the band and collaborated on a few. John and I jammed out our first song ‘loosing’ at City Books with Paul on drums. Everlovin’ Wilderness started as a chorus on my first trip to Okuru in 1992. Casebac Cars was a jam at the bakery with lyrics inspired by my work in the car sales world.
We decided on Creeley Brothers as our name over a beer at Warners, then walked back to The Performing Arts Centre to play our debut set at Carey’s birthday party. The performance was a blur. I’m sure it was ok. We were offered a Friday night residency at the theatre.
We recorded five or six songs with Rob at Methven taps in Peterborough Street. We recorded the backings 11- 2. We headed to Mainstreet for lunch. One pumpkin and Kumara ball in peanut sauce would have been sufficient. We added rough vocals and a few overdubs over a couple of hours. Casebac Cars’ was finished and ended up on a Flat City compilation.
I moved into City Books for a few months before moving out to Conrad’s flat in Sumner. I’d known Conrad since my Little Dead Things days. Later he’d endured Swim everything practices when he flatted with Damian. Conrad played an Ensonic EPS sampler in Hampster and Excellent Soul Therapy. The EPS cost several thousand dollars and could do amazing sampling things. I wanted one.
My belongings had compressed from six station wagon’s worth at Avonside Drive to a single load in the Maxi and Ginny’s Escort. Downsizing was handy. My new room was almost big enough for my mattress, amp and drums. My cat Toss liked Nayland Street straight away. It was great to have her back. She had stayed with Jonathan and Kerstin in Armagh Street while I’d been at City Books.
Our flat in Sumner was at the back of an old white, wooden two-storied house on the seafront, thirty metres south of the surf club. It was once stables. We had two rooms, separated in the middle by a bathroom and a kitchen. We used a toilet in the front house. I washed my clothes in the bath, and peed in the backyard.
I’d kept the Maxi at Lissa’s when I lived at City Books. I was back at her place a week after moving to Sumner to house-sit. I’d spent a lot of time there in the previous few years. I caught up with Learne a couple of times. It was a hot few weeks. I headed out to Sumner to swim.
Campbell and I got New Year’s Eve off to a good start in Fairfield Ave. Two minutes after putting The size of food on the stereo, Dave Mulcahy, Jim Laing and Russell Bailee walked into the room. We watched JPSE play later at The Arts Centre. We ran into Josephine, who’d sung in a band called Emily. She told us Swim everything were doing well in Auckland. I sliced my thumb open on a can.
Our wee flat was separated from the bigger front house by a patch of lawn. Conrad and others had established a super fertile vegetable garden. We ate well – steamed vegetables with rice, pasta or noodles, beans, lentils, cheese and peanut butter. Tofu and vegetarian sausages were rare and expensive.
I built a brick fireplace in the courtyard, planted flowers and burnt most of them with kin-pack, a sheep poo fertilizer. The marigolds turned black and brittle, like burnt paper.
We made the most of living in Sumner and being close to the sea. We swam when we could. We had a picture theatre, Cave Rock, Whitewash head, Flowers Track, two good fish and chip shops, a good dairy and a bottle store.
I struggled with the bottle store’s self-service system of coloured buttons, hoses and taps. After several episodes of me spraying quite a bit of beer around, instructional signage was provided. The sign mentioned ‘a large amount’ of spilled beer.
I continued car grooming. It was my first fulltime job since The Press in 1985. My employers and colleagues were kind and decent people who took pride in their work. I learnt a lot and listened to some good music with my workmate Dave. Dave was ten years older than me but we had common ground. We listened to Maggie Barry in the mornings and our tapes in the afternoon. Buffalo Springfield, the Beatles, the Byrds and Bob Marley burst out of our grooming bay as we steamed, cleaned, de-greased, vacuumed, scrubbed, cleaned and polished.
Metal, vinyl, plastic, leather, rubber, chrome and wood all had associated cleaners and polishes. They all stank and gave me headaches.
The car cleaning products were also effective in the home. They cut through years of hippy grime in our Sumner kitchen. Conrad came home a couple of hours after I’d cleaned up. Understandably he found the smell unbearable and drove off to stay at his parents. I went to sleep. I was used to it.
There was a lot to learn and a lot of satisfaction to be gained from my job. Hundreds of expensive cars passed through our hands. Jaguar, Rover, Range Rover, Citroen, Audi, Volvo, Rolls Royce, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes – some old and some brand new. Some were clean and some were filthy. A car owner’s apparent wealth bore no relationship to the cleanliness of their car. Sometimes the salesmen said a car needed a run. One sunny morning it was decided a Jaguar XJ12 convertible needed a run over the hill to Governors Bay and back.
The car industry was in a recession. There were warehouses and lockups full of dozens of cars, new and second hand. Hundreds of Japanese imports started coming through our yard. They were covered with grime and filled with exotic air fresheners, coffee cans and cigarette packets. They belched smoke as they coughed and spluttered into life to run for ten minutes every morning. We charged and swapped batteries when they didn’t. Later in the day car dealers walked around our yard talking loudly into their brick sized phones. Credit and high margins kept them afloat.
Dave and I often did messages in the van before lunch. It worked well. My favourite lunch was a filled wholemeal croissant from the Rainbow Health shop in High Street next to Galaxy Records. Sprouts, brie, carrot, gherkin and beetroot. The Trocadero did something less pleasant with pineapple, gherkin, carrot and cottage cheese. Sometimes they added a large raisin. Yuck. On colder days I enjoyed Trocadero vegetable pies. Usually two. On a few Fridays Dave and I got chips in Selwyn Street when we stopped in for our Lotto. They were greasy. We never won.
The Creeley Brothers performance at Carey’s party was a private gig. Our first public gig was to be a Friday night gig at the Crown in Dunedin, as part of a Sneaky Feelings reunion tour. Amanda and I spent Thursday evening drinking whiskey in front of her cosy fire. Later that night ‘the big snow’ fell. Knee high snow stopped the central city. Large parts of town lost the phone and power. We had food, power, whiskey and a fire in Carlton Mill Road.
We spent the day playing in the snow and drinking whiskey in front of the fire. We watched over-confident drivers spin their four wheel drives in Bealey Ave and the grumpy service station owner go mad about a dog entering his shop. Ducks preferred floating in puddles to standing in the snow.
Bert and I headed south in the Maxi on Saturday morning. It was an exhilarating ride, with low grey light and snow in all directions. We opened the windows and let the cool fresh snowy air fill the car. Bert controlled the stereo, heater and wipers. We met up with Jenny and Jim, dropped off our gear and headed up and down some hills to The Crown.
I had arranged to borrow David Pine’s amp for the gig but ended up using Alice’s violin amp. Creeley played second, after The Far Canal and before The Dribbling Darts of Love and Sneaky Feelings. The gig went well. We got some encouraging smiles on the way out.
Toss and I moved in upstairs at Carlton Mill with Amanda early in 1993. Our house had been a large turn of the century family home. It was converted into four unusually shaped flats sometime in the forties or fifties. We had a large lounge, two bedrooms, kitchen, a huge hallway and a big bathroom. My room overlooked the river and across to Hagley Park. We paid $100 between us.
I quit car grooming and went to university. Ilam had a wind-blown, West-Christchurch feel I’d known since childhood. As a kid our family occasionally drove from Spreydon to the new suburbs of Burnside and Ilam to visit friends in new houses. We marvelled at their stipple, Akronite, ranchsliders and Shoji doors.
Sometimes we detoured down flash streets to see flash houses. There were Mock Tudor and Colonial styles near Teacher’s College. Summerhill stone and exposed stained beams could be seen in Bishopdale and Burnside, alongside well mown lawns with shaped conifers, silver birches and silver dollar gums or shrubs and scree gardens.
I spent as little time on campus as possible. At 25 I was a ‘mature student’; organised, worried and diligent. I wrote down everything in lectures. I worked 8-4 and took nights off. Essays, tests, deadlines, reading and re-reading. Writing and re-writing. There was so much to know. I was only ever on the edge of understanding the coursework. After three years of fantastic ideas I got a BA in American Studies and shared the Roffey Prize.
Grunge, Madchester and hip hop were meeting in our clothes. People grew their hair, got tattoos, piercings and dreadlocks. I retired my tapered 501s and bought looser trousers from Galvins. People wore brushed cotton workshirts and zipped jackets. Caps and beanies, big shorts, hoodies and flares. 50’s styles short sleeve shirts with collars and a short zips were popular. Bert’s brother Dean called them Shayne Carter shirts. You could get it all at Hallensteins and Famers.
Dean was an excellent guy and a solid bass player. We asked him to join Creeley. It became a new version of the band with a new dynamic : two guitars, bass and drums.
1994, Carlton Mill : Blair, John, Bert, Dean. Original Photo by Johanna
I’d known Dean since high school. We’d spent a wintry afternoon in 1988 recording at Dean’s bedsit at 122 Papanui Road. We drank several bottles of $2.99 Aste Spumante. Dean channelled Rick James and Prince into a recording we called Superfunk.
122 Papanui Road was a large turn of the century home that had been divided into bedsits. I’d known a few people who’d lived there. I’d stayed downstairs at Kriston’s, jammed in several of the rooms and played at a party with All Fall Down in another. We were on after the Prodigies.
Rock Music was big in Christchurch. Pumpkinhead, Loves Ugly Children and 147 Swordfish regularly packed Warners. Grizz Willey was there when we played with The Muttonbirds, but missed us at The Occidental. I never saw him at our University or Quadrophenia gigs either.
We had a degree of ambition and played as often as we could. We flew to Auckland in 1994. Mark picked us up from our early flight in his Citroen. We played at lunchtime in a quad at Auckland University. I felt jetlagged. The following night we played at The Gluepot with The Letter 5 [solo Richard James] and The Dribbling Darts of Love. Paul Crowther mixed everyone a good loud snare. Not many people came.
We travelled down to Fish Street to record with Tex. We found Fish Street, the street, but we couldn’t find the studio. We were outside it. Inside it smelt of coffee. There was a long room to set up in, with a small control room off to one side. They had Nueman mic.s, Tannoy monitors, a Fostex 16 track and Tex. Perfect.
We recorded as we drank and set up on Friday night. We started again the next morning and recorded the music for six songs by early afternoon. We stopped for lunch in a park, then re-recorded ‘Everlovin’ Wilderness – we’d accidentally wiped the previous version. My vocals went down easily and I was pretty much done. It was a relief.
The next day we did overdubs and a rough mix. We left town at five. Bert got all he could out of the van on the trip home. We stopped for enormous burgers in Oamaru and got to Christchurch mid-evening. A couple of weeks later John and Bert headed back down to mix the songs.
Nine or ten months later we spent a night deadening the bakery’s parking area with cartons, blankets, carpet and duvets. John and a guy from The Soundman set up John’s 12 track and some hired mics. We got the backing tracks for seven songs down over the next few days. I took stereo mixes home and demoed the vocals on my four track, before adding them to the 12tk at Swanns Road.
We decided to release the Fish Street songs together with The Bakery songs spread over three cassette eps. Three release gigs and three review opportunities seemed a good way to go. It was a lot of work. Each ep was titled by its first track. I made the covers for the three tapes -and Bert dubbed them off to be sold at Galaxy and further afield
Creeley drew the short straw and played first before Wadd, Cinematic and Dating Godot one night at Warners. It was a small audience. I got to know Wadd and their friends. They were equally obsessed with sport, fun and music. Andy and Walt were from Ashburton and lived in a large wooden two-storied 1920’s wooden house near the railway line in Riccarton Road. Hayden and Hamish lived in Durham Street near Bealey Ave. Walt and Andy had a big lounge to practice in. Both houses had backyards for kicks, cricket and empties. We had a few jams.
We reduced Creeley practices to once or twice a week. Bert and John had new babies, jobs and study. I was given some extra hours at my library job. I upgraded my Fostex three track to a Tascam 424 Mk II for $900 cash at the Rockshop and started recording with Hayden.
I heard people were moving out of City Books. Dean moved in and we set up The Clubhouse in the front room. John bought a home stereo for vocals. We added a mixer, some sound-proofing and a lock on the door. It was a great room to record in. We hung two mic.s from the ceiling at head height – one closer to the guitar amps, the other nearer bass and drums.
Bert played a drum set and cymbals he’d bought from Ewal. John and I had Fender twins, which gave us a lot of volume. I bought mine from Mark and sold the ridiculously heavy SUNN amp to John. John also had a Fender Bassman from his Sneaky Feelings days. It was enormous and sounded amazing. John usually played his cut down Ibanez, and later a white Squier Strat. He surprised us when he bought a brand new black Gibson Les Paul. He didn’t keep it long.
Dean up-graded his gear regularly, sourcing and replacing pickups, pre-amps and basses. He plateaued on an orange vinyl Holden power amp, a modern pre- amp and a Mexican Fender Jazz bass. I experimented with an a-b box, and a digital delay, trying to get a louder, different tone for lead parts. I couldn’t make it happen. I stuck to the Hotcake.
Creeley had another batch of songs to record. Nightshift was an easier option than setting up our own studio again, so we booked a couple of nights. It was early summer and hot when we went in. We kept our beer cool in the hand basin by the toilet. We laid the basic tracks for seven or eight songs in a couple of hours. Dean snoozed on a couch in the studio while we overdubbed some guitars, and sung vocals in a tiny booth. We spent another night mixing and Arnie ran off some cassettes. Dollar Mixture and Red Coke Dairy ended up on ‘Dollar Mixture’, a Wrong Records compilation.
disk art, Dollar Mixture Compilation
Creeley made a few more trips to Dunedin. We played at the University a couple of times, and later at The Empire with The Renderers. Sebadoh had played the night before. It was pouring. Only a few people came.
We enjoyed an easy company as a band. We had a couple of ‘Christmas parties’ when we took our bag of coins to Mainstreet. We drank beers from most continents.
Posters were changing. The organic beauty of hand-cutting, screen-printing, photocopying and Letraset was being replaced by clip art, no layout and rigidly spaced text. Desktop publishing was mostly ugly. I was part of it. I bought an apple laptop for my final university year. I used ClarisWorks drawing and painting programmes to make posters, covers and artwork. I printed with an inkjet, then used double printing and coloured paper on the photocopier. Sometimes I experimented with the track wheel.
Bert got a job in Wellington. We carried on with two other drummers, both called Peter. We had some fun practices with Peter Vangioni but he decided against joining the band.
Pete Mitchell joined for a few months and pushed the songs in some great new ways. We recorded some of the newer songs on the 424 and the Akai 12 track. Two songs featured a recording I’d made of Jim Hopkins’ CTV show. Linda, a local woman channelled an extra-terrestrial live to air.
We played a farewell gig with Bert at Bar Bodega in Wellington. It was our first and last gig in Wellington. The bar staff objected to us practicing at sound check, but we had to take our chance. The gig went fine. It was great to see Ginny and my brother in the audience. I drank some Gisborne Gold.
Our time was up. We’d had a good time.
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