Little dead things memories
It was a social time. After a tentative attempt to start a band with Hugh, I formed Little Dead Things with Campbell, Brett and John Christoffels. It was the beginning of the year and great to be playing some new music. We practiced at Brett’s, upstairs, behind Hamco speed. We shaped our sound and a dozen songs over the summer and played at Orientation. We made $50 each. I spent my money on a flap-sided toaster and a bottle of whiskey.
We did nothing for a few months.
Cramer Square, 1988 Photo: Mark Heaslip
Brett was flatting upstairs at the old headquarters of the Canterbury Manufacturers Foundation in Oxford Terrace. The big two storied house was divided into two flats, one upstairs, one down. Each flat had five or six bedrooms and enormous lounges. All Fall Down’s last gig had been at a party organised by Marcus Puentener in the lounge downstairs. I’d delivered advertising proofs to the same room when I worked for The Press. Brett’s flatmate Mark Tyler started playing bass and a little while later Francis Hunt, who lived downstairs, joined as our third guitarist.
The Manufacturers Association built new offices next door and put a stop to our daytime practices.
I did a lot of work on my fostex in the small room at Kilmore street. Most songs were for the band, but I kept the odd one for myself.
Local gigs began taking place at the Subway, on the corner of Madras and St Asaph streets. The place had been known as ‘The New Zealander’ and ‘The Tavern Rachel’ before that. Sometime after that it was the Jetset. For a couple of years my friends and I were there most weeks, watching each other play. The king George was on the opposite corner. One night a King George patron crossed the road and punched Jonathan in the face. It was a rough pub.
The Gladstone had closed as a venue a couple of years earlier. It seemed to die at the hands of indifferent managers. All Fall Down and Vague Secrets had a run-in with the Pub manager over sound check one Thursday night.
He was a classic bryl-creamed hair 50’s guy; glassy eyed, bulging white singlet under the business shirt opened one button too many.
Bands began playing early week happy hours at The Coachman. Jugs were $4 and pickled onions and cubes of cheese were free. The second Little Dead Things line-up debuted at The Coachman around August, just before they wound things up.
My trip with Campbell to Indonesia and Thailand was my first significant period away from a musical instrument since I began playing seven or eight years earlier. I’d considered taking a guitar but decided against the hassle. I did some writing. It wasn’t as much fun as music.
Koh Phangan, Thailand, 1989. Photo: Campbell Taylor
Within a few days of getting back to Christchurch, Little Dead Things played at a festival organised by Andrew Penman in Hagley Park. I borrowed Francis’ shopping trolley from downstairs and slowly wobbled my Fender Twin and guitar down Kilmore Street and across North Hagley Park to the ‘Summertimes” stage.
It was a beautiful day. The stage was enormous. Brett and Mark were nailing it, enjoying the thump of the big PA in such a big space. John and Francis sent snaking guitar lines out to the Port Hills. I could sing and play with power and volume. It was such a blast. Tim Prebble was using large slabs of volume, reverb and delay in his mix, and doing it very well. Martin Henderson recorded it on his four track. It was red levels all the way and sounded great. My friend Lissa said to me afterwards, ‘fuck you’re a bloody rock star.” It was really funny.
Andrew organised three gigs in a row one week for three bands; The Little Dead Things, Manelito’s Dream State and, Vanessa’s band, Physic Dasiy’s. Manelito’s were a three piece of Andrew, Dave Deakins and Henry Downes. Henry was a great hairdresser and cut my hair for a while. Dave sang a catchy song called “Brown Trout”. Andrew used a combination of guitar, time machine, cassette player and stereo amps. All three bands played the Wednesday night at the Subway, and on Thursday we drove down to Dunedin. Andrew and I travelled down in Conrad’s comfy metallic green Triumph 2000, Henry and Dave in Dave’s avenger, Mark and Brett on Mark’s motorbike. Trish’s Marina took more people and dogs than you’d think possible. We played at “The Pits” Thursday night, and on Friday at The Empire. Tim did all the sound.
A few small problems rolled into a slightly down vibe in the trip’s second half. We’d made money at the Subway, and travelling day was also dole day. Mark’s motorbike died outside Timaru, so he and Brett squashed into Trish’s car. There was tequila and things were boisterous, with alleged outrage in the Oamaru tearooms.
We ate chips and egg foo yong on the floor of ‘The Pits’. The venue was well named – a skinhead-run room in a freezing, damp cellar. We were three bands of hippies. There was only one exit.
We copped some abuse and Brett spoke back. There was in a near-fight with an enormous drunk, angry skinhead and his friends. We gave up on trying to play and managed to quietly pack up and slip out the door. There were six people and two dogs in the Marina on the way back.
Brett, Mark, Francis and Paul O’Brien had been playing together as ‘The Catherine Wheel’ and people were starting to take notice. They were serious and were practicing most days of the week.
Catherine wheel Photo: Mark Heaslip
I recorded solo cassette ‘black light’ and made a number of scraffito art works. I sold some of the scrafittos, large papier mache fish, and a red-veined sun mask at The Mermaid shop. Somehow I got a letter from John Coley inviting me to enter an art competition. I didn’t.
Black light cover #30
We had a final recording session one night in May. I biked over to Rob Mayes’ in the rain with the black squire telecaster I’d just bought. Rob had set up an eight track in his Gilby Street house to record Catherine Wheel and Dolphin, his own band. Brett, Francis Mark and I ran through seven songs on the Catherine wheel gear. About a year later we spent a night in a temporary studio adjacent to the Horticultural hall and finished it. Rob copied the eight track onto a 16 track, John added his parts, I did the singing and we mixed it.
Rob photocopied a scrafitto spacemen from 1989 for the cover and released it on cassette on Failsafe in 1991.