Nun but the best: Musicians share their thoughts

TimeOut has gathered musicians whose history with Flying Nun goes back to the early period of the label and asked them to share their thoughts on this month's 30th anniversary.

Robert Scott. Photo / Gerard O'Brien
Robert Scott. Photo / Gerard O'Brien

It wasn't like this in our day ... or was it? With Flying Nun Records celebrating its 30th anniversary this month with a series of shows and releases, we asked a selection of the leading lights from the independent label's first generation - all of whom are still performing -to reflect on its past and present.

The label has been back under the steerage of founder Roger Shepherd for the past two years and it's had a steady trickle of releases from acts both old and new. As well there has been a re-release campaign from the archives which started with the 1981 release of catalogue number FN 001 - the seven-inch single Ambivalence by Christchurch band The Pin Group. They were one of a wave of South Island post-punk groups that grabbed the attention of then-record store manager Shepherd who thought he should start a label to capture what was happening.

The Pin Group didn't exactly go on to greater things. But many others on the label did. Here's some of them talking about the meaning of the anniversary and the label's legacy.

Had there been no Flying Nun, where would we be now?

Shayne Carter: Crying bitterly into our schooners that we could have been contenders? No. I think it's important to remember that the bands made Flying Nun, not the other way around. There's been any number of talented people involved with that label and I'm sure they would've found some way of expressing themselves even if Flying Nun never existed. Flying Nun was a facilitator but the company wasn't exactly sending out memos about stage manners or how to write a song.

Kaye Woodward: Perish the thought that all those bands would have been left languishing in obscurity - complete and utter as opposed to semi - so we have to say that another or other labels would have put at least some of them out. What would be missing and irreplaceable is the collective spirit of Flying Nun, created by those bands all being in it together with Roger at the heart of it.

Graeme Downes: Well, I doubt I'd be doing what I am doing, still writing and producing albums (new one this month), surely I would have given up well before now, as would others. Not that Flying Nun did a perfect job mind you, but then again the parallel universe without it is a bleak one.

Denise Roughan: In the doldrums.

Robert Scott: Same place we are now, I guess a lot of the music would have come out somehow, at some stage.

What's the best Flying Nun album ever?

Carter: I still love the first Gordons album especially the Flying Nun version that includes the Future Shock EP. It still sounds so alien and self-determined and unlike anything else. True outsider rock. I'd rate it on a par with Funhouse [by Iggy and the Stooges] or something. It's a classic record.

Woodward: Hard to choose but it's probably the Look Blue Go Purple compilation, those EPs got played a lot round the house because the music is warm in winter and cool in summer. The video of driving round the hills near Dunedin makes the music even prettier.

Downes: Probably Tuatara [the 1985 compilation of earlier releases], if for no other reason than it made the world sit up.

Roughan: 10 o'clock in the afternoon by the Verlaines. Not an album, but it's retained a major fave status of mine since first released.

Scott: Tuatara, for its breadth of talent and style.

The best song?

Carter: Point That Thing by the Clean.

Woodward: Favourites change but some songs I've thrashed are The Subliminals' Oh Oh, The Cake Kitchen's Witness To Your Secrets, Tall Dwarfs' The Slide, Nelsh Bailter Space's New Man (live with massive guitar sound and Ross Humphreys continuously whacking the stage with a large chain is the best version I experienced).

Downes: Getting Older by the Clean.

Roughan: Twist Top by the Clean.

Scott: Point that Thing by the Clean.

Who's the unsung hero of the label ?

Carter: My vote would probably go to Peter Gutteridge. He was a founding member of the Clean and the Chills (and the Great Unwashed) and the stuff he did early on with Snapper totally predated a sound that a lot of overseas bands later became successful with. Peter was ahead of the game and had a bullseye view of the rock'n'roll aesthetic. He totally knew how it should sound. He wrote any number of great tunes as well. It's kind of criminal that he has never played outside of New Zealand.

Woodward: I think a lot of the video makers get overlooked. It has always been hard to find the money to make videos which are such an important part of getting the music seen and heard. People like John Christoffels, Stuart Page, Peter Bannan, Johnny Ogilvie, Pat O'Neill and Christian Carruthers have made great videos for The Bats and other bands for very little or nothing. They are all artists in their own right but it might not be known what they've contributed to Flying Nun.

Downes: In terms of cultural impact versus revenue, everyone is an unsung hero.

Roughan: Has to be Tex Houston [soundman, engineer and producer], not because he's unsung, as in unappreciated, but because he's one of those behind the scenes people who always go the extra mile for friends (plus money and beer, in no particular order).

Scott: Lesley Paris [onetime Flying Nun general manager after Shepherd went to the UK] for all her work and help in a difficult time, also her sense of taste and vision.

Who's the brightest star among the label's recent young acts and why?

Carter: Hate to be obvious but I guess the Mint Chicks and Die! Die! Die!. I think the stuff the Mint Chicks people have come up with individually since they broke up is proof of their talent. And Die! Die! Die!, on their night, are one of the best live bands I've seen in the last decade.

Woodward: Favourite young Flying Nun band is T54, yes, it's partly because I know Matt and Joe, but mainly because they are a unit that puts out something greater than its parts, which is a great quality in a band.

Downes: I haven't caught up with new signings yet.

Roughan: Maybe Grayson Gilmour. He seems to come from a galaxy far far away.

Scott: T54 from Christchurch are pretty cool - great bass, guitar drum combo and good singing and songwriting too. How can you fail if you are named after an Eastern bloc tank? Surf Friends are pretty cool too.

Having been there for the10th anniversary, the 15th, the 21st anniversary, is this 30th celebrating the same thing as its predecessors?

Carter: Well, there have been many chapters to the Flying Nun story, and not all of them have been wonderful and romantic. But as far as being a specific entry in our cultural history - yes, it's definitely worth a toast or two.

Woodward: No, this is more special because it was really so unexpected that Roger would get the label back and start it up again. It will be a wonderful welcome back to Flying Nun. Amazing that a few of the bands have carried on regardless and are still intact and ready to be hauled back on board.

Downes: Hopefully not. Hopefully it celebrates renewal as much as past achievements. I know I will be.

Roughan: Of course not. This is a different animal altogether, and anyone interested enough will have gleaned that already. It's a new label in numerous respects.

Scott: No, it's celebrating 30 years; quite different, there is a lot more to look back on, so many highlights.

Any qualms about this anniversary spotlighting what you did in your youth? And was it misspent?

Carter: Oscar Wilde was right when he talked about regarding your youth with a "tender contempt". But misspent ? Nah ...

Woodward: The Bats didn't/don't fight too much, break the law or deliberately piss people off and we were/are all far too stingy to spend money on expensive drugs (like alcohol) that make you do embarrassing things. (Mind you, there could always be stuff I can't remember).

Downes: Hits and misses, triumphs and failures, I'd do it all again to get to where I am, so no qualms. In many ways I'm still in my youth in terms of believing writing songs is a worthwhile way to spend your time.

Roughan: I have always been a nervous performer and that always shows, so that's a qualm. Was my youth misspent? I can't remember.

Scott: No qualms. Life is what happens to you, some things remain unknown to the general public - and it should be that way.
The participants

Shayne Carter: Now of Dimmer, previously Straitjacket Fits, DoubleHappys and Bored Games. Also featured on Jon Toogood's The Adults album and tour.

Graeme Downes: Of The Verlaines and senior lecturer in music at the University of Otago.

Robert Scott: Solo artist, singer-guitarist in The Bats and bassist in The Clean.

Denise Roughan: Bassist in Ghost Club, previously The 3Ds and Look Blue Go Purple.

Kaye Woodward: Guitarist and singer in The Bats.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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