As part of a rather sporadic and overdue reissue program the second ever release on my (and Paul Rose’s) Propeller label, The Spelling Mistakes’ Feels So Good (or Feel So Good – as per the front cover – nobody is really sure which it was exactly) has been rereleased by New York punk, powerpop and post-punk label Sing Sing Records, who have gone the extra mile to ensure it sounds better than it ever has.
This was the second single from the band, the first being the notorious Reena (although it came out after the second when the band had signed to Propeller), a song written about former Bass Player Keith’s girlfriend Rachel, but changed at her understandable request. Rena Owen – then a boot-girl although later of course an actor of some note – offered her name instead and so it was thereafter and forevermore.
The internet needs a extended decent bio of this band and one may be on the way shortly, however this isn’t it.
Formed in early 1979, The Spelling Mistakes drew from two earlier Auckland second wave punk bands, Get Smart (from whence came brothers Nick (vocals) & Julian (drums)) and The Aliens (Keith Bacon on bass, and Warwick Fowler on guitar). Fowler and Julian Hanson were both songwriters and their tunes made up about 60% of their repertoire, with the balance being various covers.
Keith Bacon left a month or two later to form The Secret Agents and was replaced by a 17 year old Selwyn College student, Nigel Russell, who’d been in a band called Retrox that nobody remembers.
As the original Zwines crowd dispersed and the venue became mostly dominated by nightclub tourists who’d heard of the venue via the media, The Spelling Mistakes began to play venues that were outside the narrow range Auckland punk bands had played earlier – suburban halls, pubs, underage clubs etc.
Sadly the worst of the Zwines crowd – the bootboys – followed them and they were soon banned from just about every venue in Auckland despite the decent contacts their manager, Larry Young (who also booked a bunch of venues and the hugely in-demand Toy Love), had.
That they also slagged off almost every band they played with, themselves, Larry and just about everybody else in town on a series of increasingly hilarious posters (and even a small booklet or two) that were instantly collectable, didn’t help (a few are on this page, others are here).
As far as most venue owners were concerned The Spelling Mistakes were untouchable.
Enter the 1980 Easter Rock Quest at The Windsor Castle Hotel in Parnell. The venue was booked by Larry and the Spelling Mistakes were thus entered in a two day battle, followed by a final, which, given the number of post-punk bands lining up, was guaranteed to fill the place.
Three things fell into alignment: The Spelling Mistakes needed a record deal (although to be fair, just about every NZ band needed a record deal as there were round about none going in those pre-indie days), I’d just started a label to try and solve that problem and The Spelling Mistakes were on my shortlist of two bands I wanted to launch with (the other was The Features), and the prize was a day’s recording at Hugh Lynn’s Mascot Studios in Eden Terrace.
Reasonably, given their profile and their songs, The Spelling Mistakes were in with a chance. But chance wasn’t something that either Larry or myself wanted to reply on, so the judging panel was selected on their overt SM’s friendliness. Over the three days there were five or six of us. I was on the panel each day, as was superstar radio and TV DJ Barry Jenkin, with Ripper Records’ Bryan Staff and John Doe both putting in a day or two each, plus John Dix and Hugh Lynn.
By the end of the last day The Spelling Mistakes were clear winners. There was one more band to go – from Wellington (the only band from Wellington to enter) came the oddly tagged The Ambitious Vegetables. They’d been late to the show and missed the previous two days of heats – they were slotted straight into the finals. And shit, oh dear, they were good. Really, really good.
However, it wasn’t to be – we had too much invested in getting The Spelling Mistakes into the studio, and Larry quickly arrived at the judging table with a tray of beer jugs. After some six hours of judging with freeflow beer on hand that day, we were teetering anyway. This pushed us well over the edge and The Spelling Mistakes were declared winners. I have no idea whether the result was manipulated or not, but that – I think – was the intent of those last few jugs.
The Ambitious Vegetables went back to Wellington, changed their name to The Mockers and all was well.
The Spelling Mistakes entered Mascot a couple of weeks later and – with Fane Flaws from The Crocodiles on the desk as producer (and Steve Crane as engineer) – they recorded (but didn’t mix) the Feels Good A side within the allotted day’s studio time.
The next day Fane mixed the A side and mastered it, at the same time speeding it up a little.
We still had no B side, so the next day, with no more free time, I spoke to the studio manager Pat Crowe, who agreed that he’d advance us a few hours. The band went back in the next night and with Barry Jenkin recorded two more tracks, I Hate The Spelling Mistakes, and Hate Me Hate Me.
I left late in the evening thinking it was done, but found out the next day that the band had reworked the tracks until the early hours.
Picking up the master tapes later that day I was given an invoice for close to $1800 (the other single I’d recorded at the same time – The Features’ City Scenes – had cost under half that with no free studio time).
I’d taken Bryan Staff’s advice and cobbled together a deal with Ode Records to manufacture these for me and a couple of weeks later had finished copies – with the publishing somehow credited to Ode Music (!) and a huge scratch across the front sleeve – somewhere between my place and the printers somebody had etched a line on the art, and you can see it to this day.
I sold the single in to retailers around Auckland and – bang, without warning – it entered the NZ chart at 29 the next week. It was a WTF moment, but I knew we’d sold the singles – one record store had re-ordered three times in two days.
Within hours of the chart I was contacted by someone at RIANZ, the folks who put together the charts, asking if I’d done malicious things to the chart returns, which were manually completed in those days and notoriously both inaccurate and rigged. The problem was that New Zealand records – independent NZ records without proper distributors more-so – simply didn’t chart at all back then, even those we now think of as classics of their era.
Other retailers rang me, as they’d been called too. It was number 10 in Auckland (there were city charts in those pre-networked days)!
A couple of days later I had a call from a guy at Phonogram – would I be up for putting the single on the next volume of Solid Gold Hits? They’d pay us $2000 upfront – and I instantly saw a way out of the studio bill. The studio’s Pat Crowe, tall and large of girth, an imposing figure who famously liked to cross-dress (and also managed their sister security company and Mojo’s, a Transvestite strip club), wanted his money and was ringing daily.
I’d taken to hiding out the back of the store when I thought I saw him coming.
I stood in the record shop I worked in – Taste Records – with the cheque for $2000 grinning. A hour later the Phonogram person returned – they’d heard the record and hated it. I was handed back my master and the cheque was stripped from my hand.
The first pressing of the single – 500 copies – sold out in the first week or so and I only had the money to cover another 250, thus it was deleted when we’d sold some 732 (the other 18 were band and my prom0s, plus one to Radio B).
We still owed the studio about $1300 (I’d used the few dollars I had in hand from sales to pay a bit, plus my record store wages) and the band had almost no earning power as they were banned from just about everywhere. A few gigs outside Auckland, and the odd show in the city at punk-friendly venues like XS Cafe pretty much broke even.
To add insult, I went to Ode, who were handling most retailer invoicing. The deal I had understood (and to this day am still sure of) was that I would pay Ode 15% to cover their admin – I would then pay all costs. Instead I was given a 15% royalty (no idea where the publishing went) and told thank you.
Thirty two years on, you can buy it at the above link (or most good record stores) and save yourself some US$250 on eBay (unless you really want an original)…