I’ve been to Wellington heaps this year. I like it lots.
I’d not done Wellington much for of a decade until 2011. In fact my last visit to the city (aside from a single pointless – to the utterly hopeless Indonesian embassy, for a visa I later found I didn’t need – 3 hour visit) was in 2002. I used to come through six monthly or less before that, mostly on band, label, NZ on Air or political business but then the reasons dried up and I didn’t anymore.
And then I didn’t really go south of the Waikato, not from intent but more circumstance.
The result was I guess I rather Aucklandized, and then I moved to an Indonesian island and had no real reason to visit the capital, the Indo Embassy jaunt being the exception.
Of course, I laughed at Damian’s wonderful/infamous “I lived in Wellington and survived to escape” story in Metro – and so I should have as it was freaking hilarious. However I always felt – quietly and with a little, very little, unspoken shame – that I was doing so as a contemptuous Aucklander, not just because it was simply a mighty fine piece of very funny writing. That pissed people off when it really shouldn’t have.
It’s that enduringly ridiculous ‘they hate us, so we’ll sneer back’ thing that plagues the AK vs. the rest fractured/fractious relationship. It’s odd too: mostly I see Auckland as a city that is a lot smaller than it thinks it is, and Wellington as a city that stands rather taller than it humbly thinks it does. Of course, there is nothing wrong with either self-view, but if I’m honest the two places mentioned most by people I’ve met living in Asia who have been to New Zealand, are Queenstown and, yep, Wellington.
‘You went to Auckland?’
‘Wellington was very cool…’
Sorry Auckland, but nobody really notices you: your harbour is pretty but the most of the bits surrounding it – at least the bits a visitor might see – are a bit shit. Wellington has better drinking holes, better harboursides, more interesting eating options (our good ones – and there are lots – are mostly a long, long way from anywhere a tourist might go. The average visitor doesn’t venture a bus to Dominion Rd) and simply better surroundings.
Which kinda in a strange way brings me to The Enemy and Toy Love. I was thinking about Auckland arrogance, that being as good a word as any, and how it worked all those years back. To be more exact, I was standing in Real Groovy last Saturday on Toy Love Day, having purchased the all the vinyl and the DVD, and in front of me were hundreds of people – kids mostly who’s parents were likely still in school when The Enemy first arrived in Auckland.
But thirty-four years back is where I was mentally: the day The Enemy came to town, the black van pull up outside Taste Records and this crew tumbled out, into the store where they asked questions and introduced themselves. They’d just arrived and it was anticipated. We knew they were coming you see. In those days of pre-electric communication, we relied on Rip It Up magazine’s regional roundups to tell us who and when acts from other regions were on their way. And Rip It Up warned us that The Enemy were coming. And we sneered. A punk band from Dunedin coming north to show us how it was done. Sure…
And, without going into the much-repeated narrative once again, they did: The Enemy, these cousins from the distant past turned us on our collective punk heads, or at least some of us.
It’s maybe worth pausing a moment to clarify that…
The narrative has become somewhat skewered there and history has been a little reworked in the years since. It’s true The Enemy figuratively tossed the mostly uninspired – until then, it would change – second-generation of punk bands in Auckland in the air and reworked them on their way down, forcing them to write songs if nothing else, but it’s easy to forget that the other great single of the punk era – The Suburban Reptiles mesmerising ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’ – owed nothing at all to the Dunedin influence, arriving in August 1978, and neither did the bulk of The Scavengers’ output, which more or less existed as it appears on their posthumous long player and on AK79, by the time The Enemy arrived.
The Enemy were amazing – it’s hard to overstate how amazing – but they certainly didn’t invent or even completely transform an already thriving AK punk scene.
And it could be argued – and I will – that when Toy Love arrived in 1979 they were as much an Auckland band as anywhere else, feeding from the scene that they were both now part of and had matured greatly from that encountered by The Enemy when they arrived. Whereas The Enemy were brutal, almost ruthless in their approach, Toy Love had smoothed the edges a little, perhaps not intentionally, but very much noticeable at the time and slotted quite perfectly into an Auckland scene that was fast mutating from punk to a more inventive post-punk spread. They were not outliers as much as they are now portrayed as such.
The other irony, as a friend brought up at Real Groovy the other afternoon, was that Toy Love in mid-1980 were no longer anything like the underground act we now see them as. By that time they were the biggest mainstream drawcard in the country, and indeed that the recent live album is called Live At The Gluepot says way more to us who were around at the time than it does to a more recent listener tainted by the mythology: the simple fact is that none of the other bands from the punk or post-punk scenes were welcome at the Gluepot as performers or audience. Put more clearly, the alternative crowd was pretty much banned en-mass from the place that album was recorded. Toy Love’s Windsor Castle followers could not get into The Gluepot.
Live At The Gluepot is an album recorded away from their fanbase and in a fairly alien environment: the band playing to a crowd in a traditional way, rather than the intense crowd interaction that was the norm in their home venues.
Of course none of that should take anything away from the fact that a) Toy Love were never less than an extraordinary musical phenomena to witness as I did countless times, peaking I’d argue late in 1979, and b) the place they found themselves in mid 1980, when that live recording was made, was a place they really didn’t want to be and they’d already designated a self-destruct timer which in retrospect you can hear in the winding vinyl grooves of that longplayer.
And if I was, for some odd reason, requested to nominate just one single live musical ‘thing’ – gig doesn’t work for these as they were fully crowd interactive – as the – insert whatever word you require here but greatest does it I guess – I’ve been a part of or witnessed in the last forty odd years, the gob-smackingly joyous extended family event that was Toy Love at the Windsor Castle on Saturday afternoons in the summer of 1979 is it without question. I used to beg for the sequed Yummy Yummy Yummy into Positively Fourth Street (1910 Fruitgum Company into the hallowed poet no less) and almost always got it….
Best live band. Ever.
As an aside – and my own little part in the story – I can claim two things. Firstly Paul Kean reminded me at the Music Awards that I used to make the tapes they played before and during live sets. I’d completely forgotten the request I’d get to provide these. Secondly, I can claim to have sold the first ever Toy Love record – it was a released on a Friday by the record company, which meant in shops on the Monday. However, I was managing Taste Records (as above) a small store in Parnell and Terence Hogan was my Saturday staff member. As impossible as it now seems, the two of us manned the only record store open in Auckland on a Saturday – and we were required to close by 1 pm by law!
That Saturday Terry, who of course not only designed the TL artwork, but also was designer in-house at their label WEA Records, arrived with a couple of boxes of Rebel / Squeeze and, playing it over and over, we sold the lot to the kids gathering for the impending Saturday afternoon down the road.
If you’ve been under a rock and not seen it, here’s the neat new Jeff Smith-directed video: