History made: Shihad, The Powerstation

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Murray Cammick already had a decade’s music journalism and a hip-hop label under his belt by the time he launched Wildside Records in 1991. Ahead of their The Meanest tour next month, he recalls how he met a leatherjacketed, longhaired, take-no-prisoners and impossibly young Wellington group by the name of Shihad.

Shihad in the early days. File photo / Supplied by Wildside Records
Shihad in the early days. File photo / Supplied by Wildside Records

I saw Shihad for the first time at either the Powerstation in July 1991, playing as part of the tour for their first EP, Devolve. I remember, I was watching them from the backstage and Johnny Toogood was playing a white guitar. As he went on, one of his fingers started bleeding onto the white guitar, which I thought was very showbiz. White is generally a flamboyant colour - blood, of course, more so.

At that stage I had no idea that Shihad would become available for signing - at that time I was working with Head Like A Hole, who Shihad given their break. HLAH were sharing an practice space in a half-abandoned warehouse with Shihad in Hopper Street in Wellington, and they'd managed to work their way both into playing support of the tour for Devolve, the first EP, and managing to get Gerald Dwyer, who had picked up on Shihad first, to manage them as well. The first time I actually met the group was at the Aseana restaurant in Auckland.

For the record, it was Gerald that put Shihad together with Jaz Coleman to record the debut - John Dix's book Stranded in Paradise wrongly says that I did, but that's not true.

I had nothing to do with Shihad at the time that came together. However, when the Churn album was completed - Shihad had problems paying the studio bill. The band urged Gerald to approach all the major labels, to try and secure some sort of advance for its release. No one at EMI had even heard the band and the only major label people remotely interested were some of the guys at Sony. Wildside and Pagan (who put out Devolve) were interested as well. There was a listening party for the album - the Sony people did turn up, but it became pretty clear pretty fast that they weren't seriously interested.

To be honest, I couldn't hear a single on the record but we did go ahead and release I Only Said to lead things off. Gerald had some unique ideas to sell the single - one of which was to push it through the Wellington record stores two members worked at, which were incidentally also the same stores you could buy tickets for their shows from. It was no coincidence you could buy a ticket to the show and get a free EP at the same time.

These sales methods of Gerald's worked, and we were able to get reasonable chart action for the single - it ended up reaching number three on the charts proper. We managed to get some support from radio for the single but at this stage, the bNet was still in its infancy and radio programmers for the commercial stations still thought of Shihad as a "metal band". One of the most amazing things about Gerald was that he was always on to the next plan - the national tour to promote Churn didn't make any money, but he worked in Germany with a label called Noise Records to secure a European album release and a two-month European tour. Ultimately, it didn't come to a lot but it gave the band some great formative experiences. I enjoyed working with them for several years, although I became a bit of a spare wheel when they went to live in Melbourne in around 1999 or so.

Shihad's The Meanest Tour, a 100 minute-plus set that encompasses their entire catalogue, is heading up and down New Zealand from 5-15 April. Sam Peacocke's documentary Shihad: Beautiful Machine opens in cinemas on 17 May.

Who: Shihad
Where: The Powerstation, Auckland
When: July 1991

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