sunsetdrum memories

1989 -1990

My workmate John Kennedy flatted with Phil Clarke and Greg Malcolm. I recognised Greg and his woollie hat from the Palmerston North band Three Leaning Men. Their video was next to all fall down’s black grattan on the vhs  I taped off Radio With Pictures. We were on same night as The Fold.

My friends and I dressed in the ways of the times. Punk, opshop, student, 80’s, goth and hippy vibes. Woollen jerseys, shirts, ripped jeans, tie-dye and scarves. Homemade haircuts, ethnic clothing and hats. I wore imitation Chuck Taylor hi-tops, bare feet, roman sandals and Docs. Many of us were vegetarians. We knew our herb teas.

John was a great musician to play with. He brought a lot of skill and thought. We  spent a few wintry Saturday mornings at the practice room on the top floor in High Street. We recorded electric guitar and drums for two songs. I added vocals, guitar and bass in the lounge at Kilmore Street. I bounced the tape through several generations. The final mix was a product of its process; scratchy and wobbly, with lots of wow and flutter. I liked it a lot.

John was playing in two bands: Don’t make Noise with Greg and Paul Sutherland an One leg too short with Greg, Michael Kime and Francis K. One leg too short played quirky jazz. Don’t Make Noise improvised with varying setups. Drums, guitar, gramophone, tapes, delay, percussion, toys…They were really good.

Don’t Make Noise held a workshop one afternoon in the blue room in the Arts Centre to share some of their concepts and practices. We tried some rhythmic grouping and improvisation ideas. I blew a trombone for the first time. Once was enough.

I think it was Paul’s trombone. Paul was doing things on a Revox B77 reel to reel. I lent him my Fostex X15. He didn’t like it much, and gave me a quality chrome tape to say thanks.

radio cassette c

Cassette tapes were big in our lives. My cassette decks were in daily use. In 1988 I bought a TEAC double cassette deck for dubbing. Compilations were made and sent. Practices, ideas and gigs were recorded and distributed.

John and Greg had wide-ranging tastes: Negativeland, Eugene Chadborn, Shimmy Disk, the Recommended Records scene, Chris Cutler, Henry Cow and This Heat.

They had loads of stuff I’d never heard of.

Their place Oxley Ave, like dozens of houses in St Albans, had been bought by The Ministry of Works for a motorway that was never built. ‘Ministry houses’, Billy’s blue houses in Bealey Ave, 122 Papanui Rd and the Garrick and Co. flats were the sort of houses that a lot of people you knew ended up living in. Different friends moving through the same houses.

Matthew and his flatmates moved out of Matthew’s Aunt’s beautiful house at 32 Avonside Drive, and John, Anita, Moira and I moved in.

red heart c

Moira’s boyfriend turned out to be John Kelcher. We’d met before at the Old StarTavern when All Fall Down had supported Sneaky Feelings. We were big fans of the band and weren’t disappointed. I watched them shape up ‘in the shape of a heart’ a few times at soundcheck. Martin Durrant read The Listener off his snare drum at sound check. Brilliant.

After our access course ended Matthew, Conrad  and I had a few days work helping Tony Geddes build some of the set for a Wellington production of Madam B. We built some large rocks and parts of a crashed plane. It was an inspiring time.

John had collected a few drums and was able to make me up a kit in exchange for my set building wages.  I was doing a little cutting and pasting for Ian upstairs in the Triangle Centre and playing in swim everything with Campbell and Damian.

My room upstairs overlooked the river. It was big and glowed in the afternoon sun. Ducks and cars were a constant background noise. My drums and amps sounded good up there. I recorded ‘starworms’ and drew thirty covers on fluorescent orange sticker paper. Most of the songs were based on initial drum tracks.

starworms cover

Hummdrum was John [Kennedy]’s idea for a large, improvised drumming group Sunsetdrum was the humdrum idea outdoors at sunset. It was better than it sounds. A   group of friends and friends of friends free-playing in beautiful places and hopefully annoying no-one.  It was collaborative and indulgent. Participants listened and responded, energised and directed by a strong, collective, shifting feel. There was no chanting and no one took their shirt off. We never played too long. Things would go on for a while, winding up and down to laughter.

sunsetdrum victoria park

I made posters at Ian’s and word of mouth spread through a few flats about the time and place to meet. People brought whatever drums they had. John had a lot, so there was something for everyone to play. I put my toms on guitar straps, so they could be worn around the kneck.

sunset drum colour scrasfitto

The first Sunsetdrum was a stormy night in Scott’s reserve in the Port Hills overlooking the city.  The weather roared around us as we drummed in the lee of the hillside’s volcanic rocks and grasses well into the dark. We were hooked. We tried other places in rocks places in the Port Hills.


Another night we played high on the North beach dunes. We could see the city, plains and mountains to left and the sea on our right. The playing went its course and things began to wind down. We noticed a house, hundreds of metres north along the dunes. Some people were yelling at us. Our sound had travelled further than we’d thought. It was hard to make out what the guy was saying. It was something like ‘ what’s it for ’?

next : The Letter 5  memories

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