Michael Canning – Glen Wilson interview about the Gordons
Gordons/Bailter Space Bio – Michael Canning (2014)
+0044 7599 949 647 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Glen Wilson– email interview 16th January, 2014.
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- Can we start with you giving me a little biographical material? Where did you grow up in New Zealand? What was the music that inspired you to set up Unrestful Movements?
Born in Wellington, grew up in Upper Hutt until 11 years old, then my parents moved to Taupo and I was there until I was 18. Lived in Auckland, Rotorua and Wellington to complete my apprenticeship with NZPO/Telecom. While living in Rotorua out of sheer boredom Unrestful Movements was born. Early influences would have been Iggy Pop, early Bowie, and first generation Punk music from the UK.
1a. Who were the first NZ punk band you ever saw and where and when was this? What was your reaction to this music?
The Suburban Reptiles around 78 or 79 in Auckland, I think the Zwines Bar, not sure. My reaction was I wanted a piece of the action.
1b. Can you describe what life was like for you about the time of 1979-82 for you and your peers i.e. what do you remember most about that time? Was rent and food cheap? What was the political vibe like for you as a young person at that time?
Rent and food was cheap but wages were shit as well. It was more affordable to drink in bars than it is now. At that time I think the Spring Bok tour and things like that and the Wanganui computer centre were all issues of the day. I think there were a lot more prejudices back then. As an example, I was thrown out of a flat by the landlord for being a Punk rocker.
2. The Gordons mk.1 (Parker/Halvorsen/McLachlan) played numerous shows between 1980 – 1981 – did you see them at all during this period? And if so can you recall any specific incidents/impressions from them?
Please see the gigography I’ve put together here for date references, http://30kwattpa.wordpress.com/
The list is not yet complete, but probably covers most shows between 1980 – 1992.
I would’ve seen them at the Terminus in Wellington around 81. The thing that I remember most was the sheer volume when they played. They were always friendly if not a little shy.
2a. Over the times that you saw them play what kinds of crowds did they attract? Were they consistently popular?
They attracted a wide audience from differing circles and I think that they were always incredibly popular.
2b. Did you ever know or speak to any of the Gordons during the 1980-84 period, if so what can you recollect from conversations you had with them.
From 83 to 84 I flatted with three members of the Skeptics, had many conversations with John and Brent. Everyone had a really cool sense of humour and all extremely down to earth people. We all helped each other; sharing resources and experience.
3c. If you know anyone who has any photographs, videos or live recordings of the Gordons please do let me know. Any photos that are published will attract a small fee.
I don’t have anything but if anything comes to light I’ll let you know.
4. John Halvorsen and other people I’ve spoken to about the 1978 – 84 period of time in NZ have spoken about a feel or frission of violence in the air. Firstly, via a negative response towards punk rock, then the NZ police doing stupid and brutal raids on gigs and private parties, while at the same time problems caused by skinheads and bootboys apeing something from the UK. Can you expand on your memories of this?
Yes, the police department were all red-necks and the skinheads were no better. In Wellington we used to employ our own security to deter the skinheads and bootboys from creating trouble. This seemed to work to our benefit as we were one of the few punk bands that played at bars.
4b. If you were present did you ever see any violence or problems at any of the Gordons’ shows?
Not while they were playing. The only trouble I ever saw was from police intervention. Outside the venue and checking patrons for identification, a lot of people back then didn’t carry any formal form of ID.
4c. In several conversations I’ve had many people have talked about a great deal of drug use going on in the NZ music scene of the late 70’s/early 80’s. What kind of effect do you think this had on the music of the time
I knew about it but didn’t really get into that side of things. I couldn’t really tell you what effect it had on music.
4d. Did you know the late Kevin Hawkins from Fishschool/Shoes This High? If so what can you remember about him and his distinctive guitar playing? He was friends with the Gordons, probably an influence on them, and John Halvorsen to this day rates his playing highly.
I saw Fishschool play in Wellington; truly amazing band. Periods of extended improvisation, dissonant guitar playing and a very rhythmic back bone. They were very inspiring.
5. Do you remember when the ‘Future Shock’ 7” EP and the Gordons first album showed up? What did you make of them – given that the Gordons work was quite experimental and purposefully dissonant at points. Did they influence your approach at all as a musician and writer?
Yes of course they did. There was nothing else like them in New Zealand at the time and the first album was pure genius.
5a. What did you think about these releases given that they were completely independently done? It is often assumed that Flying Nun put out the first Gordons album but this is not the case, they jumped on the album after it was released and took on the original Gordons pressing as well as pressing more, with the FN label on it.
I think it was before it’s time and that’s the way of the future. Having said that, Flying Nun did a lot more for local music than any other label. It’s always hard being in a band in New Zealand as the money isn’t really there and so much has to come from the musicians own pocket. Unfortunately I was never part of the Flying Nun label but from what I can see they did a good job of promoting local artists.
6. What did your peers make of the Gordons approach with their sculptural approach with volume and the spacey jams they sometimes did. Did they cause a polarization in reactions?
Most people I knew just loved the band. Because of their sheer volume, a lot of people couldn’t stay inside the venue.
6b. Do you believe the Gordons were artistically respected given they were effectively ‘outsiders’ from Christchurch?
Perhaps it was only Auckland that saw them that way. Everyone I knew respected them.
6b. What were the Gordons mk 2 like, did you find them to be stylistically different with Alister Parker gone and Vince Pinker on board 1983-84 playing bass?
I would say that the magic was still there- I think if anything they were a little more driving than what they were. They just got louder.
7. Listening to the Gordons music as a whole (and later on in Bailter Space) it strikes me that they had quite a socially and intellectually critical edge to some of their lyrics. Would you agree with this? If so, please expand on your answer.
Yes I agree, but then I think at the time we were all sick of hearing inane lyrics to songs with no real point.
7a. Do musicians have a responsibility to be socially critical? Please expand on your answer
I don’t think musicians are responsible at all. I wouldn’t put any faith in a musician to be responsible. And it’s a great bonus if a band chooses to be intelligent with their music.
8. Can you recall any Bailter Space shows you attended? Did you have any favourite concerts? For what reasons?
No, I never saw Bailter Space play live.
9. What do you make of Bailter Space’s catalogue today? Their sound has evolved through various phases of songs versus more sculpturally/tonally oriented pieces. Do you have any favourite pieces or albums? Why?
I haven’t really listened to Bailter Space that intently. What I have listened to I’ve enjoyed but very much still a fan of The Gordons.
10. A long time has passed since the time of the Gordons and since Bailter Space played regularly in NZ and elsewhere. What kind of legacy and/or influence, if any, do you think both bands had on NZ music as a whole?
They still have a huge influence on New Zealand music and every new generation that hears their music is always inspired by what they’ve done. The energy, the creativity…..and they’re usually surprised to learn that they’re a New Zealand band.