From pub rock to punk rock

Chris Knox (left) fronts The Enemy at the Old Beneficiaries Hall in 1978. Photo: Jeff Bates
Chris Knox (left) fronts The Enemy at the Old Beneficiaries Hall in 1978. Photo: Jeff Bates
A new book on New Zealand's band venues by Joanna Mathers, Backstage Passes, tells a story of the country's music venues. In this extract she talks to those who witnessed Dunedin's punk rock scene igniting. 

"We didn't do covers. The bands that played covers in the Dunedin scene represented everything we hated."

Mike Dooley, drummer with the Enemy, remembers seeing bands playing covers of the Eagles at the Captain Cook and seething with anger.

Underage and accompanied by friends (including Chris Knox and guitarist Alec Bathgate), Dooley would drink beer and mock the musical dinosaurs belting out MOR (middle of the road) music to crowds of drunk rugby fans.

Dooley, Knox and Bathgate had very different musical heroes: Iggy Pop, Lou Reed.

Dooley and Bathgate had been playing around with music, looking for a bass player who liked the same stuff as them, when they met Knox behind the counter of a record store. They started talking and Knox decided to join them for a session, after pretending he could play bass. It soon became obvious that Knox's skills didn't lie with this instrument. He was born to be a singer.

"It was the sheer force of his personality - he was full of confidence," says Dooley.

It didn't take them long to get a gig. It took place at the Old Beneficiaries Hall, with an audience that looked nothing like the fashion-conscious punk Auckland set.

The gig had been pre-sold, and lots of people turned up as the evening progressed. Roy Colbert, owner of Records Records and Dunedin scene champion (now sadly departed), wrote the following about the gig in the Evening Star: "The Enemy provided more visual and physical fun than most of the jumping, shouting crowd could handle". Shortly afterwards they blagged their way on to the stage at the Captain Cook (it was someone else's gig), played a few songs and were promptly banned.

"We'd actually been banned before. We used to drink lots of tequila and break lots of glasses," says Dooley.

And Knox's predilection for self-harm didn't go down well either. Knox first indulged in his "trademark" public mutilation when he was drinking with mates at the Cook.

"We were talking about how Iggy Pop cut himself on stage," explains Dooley. "I remember saying `that's nothing' and smashing a glass. I took some broken glass and made this tiny scratch on my hand. Chris did a big `woosh' down his arm with a piece of glass and opened up half of his arm. Then he jumped on the dance floor, and splattered everyone with blood."

The Cook's banning of the Enemy didn't last long - they started to get a reputation as the best band in the city, a must-see, with a crazy singer who'd tear up the stage ... and himself. They had their own songs, and they were great songs.

The interested onlookers in attendance at the Enemy's gigs were a diverse mix of people.

"The university wasn't an overriding institution like it is now, and it wasn't mainly students who came to see us. There was actually quite a mixture of people, which was very different from the Auckland punk scene, which had a much more defined age group. In Dunedin, we have this `make it as you go' attitude and things just evolved. Lots of people from the old bands would come. We didn't play that well, but we had something. We were something to see in town that was different."

The Old Beneficiaries Hall would prove a good place for the band. Hundreds of people would turn up to their gigs; many highly intoxicated and fresh from the pub. The Enemy soon garnered a big following - many of whom would be inspired to do their own thing.

"A big proportion of the people following us would start their own bands. Martin Phillipps, from the Chills, the guys from the Clean. It was an amazing time."

Elsewhere in Dunedin, the covers bands were still pulling the punters.

Alan James played in a band called Tarsk, Dunedin mainstays who played regularly at the Cook after Stash had vacated the spot in 1974.

James actually remembers a pre-Enemy Chris Knox jumping around the dance floor in a monkey suit.

"He hated the covers bands and he would let people know."

The guys from Tarsk also saw the Enemy play the Cook: "He got a bottle, broke it, and slashed his arm. The students liked them, but the bands like us took a dim view of them."

James was also in a band called Hampton, who played the opening night at a small club called Hatchcover. A bit of a dive, it attracted visiting musos (including Cold Chisel) who would head there after playing larger venues in town.

Hatchcover had an unusual tiered stage, so the drummer would be elevated and the rest of the band played on a platform below.

There was a bouncer called Big Dennis, a half handle cost 85c, and people drank beer from ashtrays.

"Most of Dunedin's covers bands played there," says Dunedin sound/lighting/roadie mainstay Ron Heaps.

"There were (of course) many high-jinks (including the odd fight). But they were great times and the place was open for about 10 years all up."

One night at a gig the guys from Hampton earned a reputation as local heroes when they saved a woman from a knife-wielding guy trying to make trouble.

"She was a nice girl and she was being harassed by this bloke," James recounts. "So we offered to walk her out to her car. He followed us, and when she got into the car he pulled out this massive carving knife. Two of us grabbed him and got the knife off him (I was doing karate at the time, so I could take care of myself)."

The guy was caught by the police and tried to pin the blame on James.

"He said that we started it all - total lies - but no-one believed him."

James doesn't remember police being a major presence in the clubs, but they hit some of the pubs hard.

"I remember being at the European Hotel and the cops came in wearing full riot gear. A guy called Lyndsey Parry was the chief sergeant at the time and he wanted to make his presence felt."

The book

Backstage Passes, by Joanna Mathers, published with permission by New Holland Publishers New Zealand. RRP$39.99 

 

 

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