Greg Johnson Set “Talk in this Town”

“Talk in this Town” was the follow-up single to Greg’s debut song “Isabelle”. It has a similar folky sound, but with a more upbeat theme. It’s all about gossipmongers, a not uncommon subject in the world of pop.

The video opens with an introduction of the band – it is, after all, the Greg Johnson Set. They’re sitting around in a picturesque old building and it’s the early ’90s so everyone has statement hair. The guitarist has long golden flowing locks so it’s no wonder the director has made a feature of it. Greg bursts into the frame and he’s wearing a hat, perhaps aware that he can’t match his band’s hair action.

Just when this sedate portrait of musos threatens to get a little boring, the video throws in some drama in the form of gossipmongers. Shot in cold blue light, some women and men wearing dramatic make-up whisper, bitch and gossip with exaggerated facial expressions. Things even get a bit surreal with images of eyeballs and mouths, and eyeballs in mouths. It’s a good contrast, taking what could have been a very nice video and giving it a bit of an edge. There’s more to Greg Johnson than mandolins and folk-pop.

Things get even further from the ordinary with the appearance of a young women in a crucifix pose, wearing only body paint and a crown of thorns. A saintly aura radiates from her head. She suffers for the sins of all the gossipers.

As I’ve discovered, Greg Johnson’s videos did get edgier as his music career progressed, perhaps showing that he wasn’t afraid to take his videos in directions that the songs didn’t always suggest.

Best bit: the little girl doing a twirl in front of the band. I bet she’s the biggest gossip of them all.

Director: James Holt
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… sitting around the kitchen table.

Supergroove “Here Comes the Supergroove”

Let’s kick off New Zealand Music Month with this newly uploaded cultural taonga, thanks to NZ On Air – Supergroove’s very first music video from 1992. As the title suggests, the song is an introduction to the group and the video also acts as a simple primer for this young and energetic group.

The video starts with a sophisticated lady putting a Supergroove CD in her modern compact disc player. So intense is the CD, the player blows up. The lady doesn’t look too concerned.

The smoke clears and we meet the band wearing colourful ’90s clothes. This is how they dressed in their very early days, before their manager took them aside and gave them a bunch of styley monochrome threads. It’s crazy, colourful ’90s garb, and hilariously this sort of stuff is very slowly coming back into fashion. As is the monochrome. Another hallmark of the ’90s is the appearance of a full-screen graphics emphasising select words from the song. FUNK. BEAT. RETREAT. BURNED. HEAT.

The video alternates between this colourful footage of the band in a white studio and grainy footage of the band playing live. It’s like the two natural states of Supergroove – making cool music video and bringing the house down at a gig.

There are fewer of the video tricks that became the hallmark of later Supergroove videos. But there is some back and forth between Karl and Che, shot as black silhouettes against a white background. It’s reminiscent of a similar later bit in the “Can’t Get Enough” video, and – Generation X alert – it was surely inspired by the Electric Company’s silhouette word song.

It takes guts and/or naivety for a bunch of 18-year-olds to burst into the world of music and declare, “We bring the funk”. But Supergroove didn’t do a bad job of following through.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… heavenly creatures.

Hallelujah Picassos “Lovers +”

Roland Picasso has a dilemma – he has two lovers and would rather like to keep it that, only one of the lovers wants him to be true to her. It’s a simple, almost underplayed song, and the video matches this minimal vibe.

There are a few green-screen and digital tricks – dripping paint, flames, but most of the video is restrained, with simple layering of Roland (in colour) over the band (in black/blue and white), as well as an outdoor excursion. While it’s not as fun as other Picassos videos, it’s still a fine early ’90s video.

The only thing that worries me is the song title – it reminds me of Paper Plus, Flooring Plus and all those other ‘plus’ businesses that sprang up in the ’90s. It’s not so appealing being in a menage à retail.

Best bit: the remote appearance of Greg Johnson on guest trumpet. See, he does end up online sometimes.

Director: Bruce Sheridan
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Bonus! Peter McLennan of the Hallelujah Picassos and now of Dub Asylum and the brilliant blog Dub Dot Dash has been kind enough to share his music video experiences both in front of and behind the camera.

We’d made a few videos prior to doing the Lovers Plus video. I directed a video for our song Clap Your Hands, made with the help of TVNZ’s music show CV (the replacement for RWP). TVNZ supplied filmstock, processing, telecine (film to video transfer), and editing. We covered the other costs – we made that video for $138. So going to a NZOA-funded video to the tune of $5000 was a step up.

It basically meant we were able to pay people and hire better gear and so on. It also resulted in a video that was more likely to get repeat viewings on tv, due to higher production standards.

At the time I was studying at Elam School of Fine Arts, working in film and video, so I took a keen interest in the video-making side of things. Bruce Sheridan at Stratford Productions directed and produced the Lovers Plus video, with input from us. We also managed to convince them to let Roland use a welding torch, as he was doing a welding course at the time. Singers playing with fire, always fun.

The use of green screen was pretty popular at that time, from what I recall. It allowed you to layer up imagery and mix and mash it up.

We also did a video for our song Picasso Core, a mate of ours shot that on video one afternoon with our singer Roland. TV3’s late evening news show Nightline screened it once, which amazed us, as every chorus features the f word.

Next… average age 17.

The Mutton Birds “Nature”

Don and the lads are back, and Jan also makes an appearance with the Mutton Birds’s second single, “Nature”. A fuller, noisier cover of Fourmyula’s psychedelic ode to the great outdoors, the video takes its cue from the 1960s and utilises all the psychedelic visual effects the ’90s have to offer. So there’s colour tints, swirling animated backgrounds and green screen layering. It’s like a mashup of all the previously viewed green screen vids.

Don lays on a bit of Front Lawn-style comedy with his sideways glances at the little singing people who keep popping up, and there’s the crazy mouth-to-mouth transfer of, uh, nature, not unlike the controversial mouth-to-mouth transfer in Head Like a Hole’s “Fish Across Face” video. Only animated nature power isn’t a public health risk.

The video shows that the band aren’t quite buying into Fourmyula’s original hippy-style nature loving. The Mutton Birds’ version is more like someone who’s got high and suddenly realised that, HEY GUYS NATURE IS REALLY AWESOME!!!! But nature is also scary with those beetles and lizards that suddenly appear.

Best bit: the interpretive dance in the middle, which ends with the dancers in a heartfelt embrace. Such is the power of nature.

Director: Fane Flaws
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… the challenges of polygyny.

Jan Hellriegel “The Way I Feel”

In 2009, the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision had a public vote for the top 100 New Zealand music videos. The top video was the dramatic “Maxine” by Sharon O’Neill, while number two was the glorious “Way I Feel” by Jan Hellriegel. Hell yeah.

It was the first song of her debut solo album “It’s My Sin” and great effort was made to make sure she really kicked off. “The Way I Feel” is a stylish black and white video directed by Chris Mauger. Layers of windswept Jan, night-driving Jan, moody poolhall Jan, and guitar-playing Jan float on top of each other. Oh, and some boy scouts too. The video is as cool as the song, which is as cool as the video.

Night-driving Jan features a lot, and that’s what I enjoy the most about it. It captures that feeling of driving on a still night. Not hooning up and down Queens Street, but going out on a quiet night to visit your secret lover.

Jan is again rocking a peasant blouse, but you know what? She totally owns it. Hey, isn’t it time for a peasant blouse revival? Yeah, I think it is.

Best bit: an old man blinks rhythmically.

Director: Chris Mauger
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next: Nature is really awesome!

Ngaire “So Divine”

What the hell is this? “So Divine” is a great dance track, an ode to the feeling of love. It demands a video with colour and spark and movement. Instead it gets this weird 1960s Barbarella thing. Actually, it’s more like someone throwing a Barbarella-themed fancy-dress party on an extreme budget, and buying up all the silver metallic fabrics at Spotlight.

So there’s Ngaire in a decently shaped but cheap looking silver dress made from that faux sequin fabric, and she’s rolling around on some silver metallic fabric, at one point cuddling up to a cushion that looks like a bladder from cask wine (and perhaps it is, because that would actually explain a few things).

But the best bit is the others in the video. Ngaire is joined by two men who appear to be eating her ears. Perhaps they are a two-headed alien and that is how they greet friends on their planet.

Ngaire also has three gal pals who have also been shopping at Spotlight. They’re decked out from head to toe in metallic silver. At one point Ngaire hangs from a swing and her spacettes huddle around her. Again, I think this is an alien custom.

It’s the fruitiest video, but you know what? Ngaire is a trouper. Despite the ridiculous set-up, she sings the song with the joy it requires and looks like she knows she’s wearing a sticky plastic dress but she’s still having a good time. Also, after a while “so divine” starts to sounds like “soda vine”.

Best bit: Ngaire’s female posse flicking up their glitter-laiden hair, causing a glam glitter shower.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… Jan goes for a drive.

The Chills “Male Monster from the Id”

Martin Phillipps takes on the male monster from the id, aka the impulse-driven brain bit what wants to root you. The video, which legend has it cost much more than the $5000 NZ On Air funding, is a slick black and white number.

Grim objects move about, a wunderkammer of complexity. A doll head, skulls, brains, scissors, a fish, a key, lightbulbs, a bald dude’s head. These are a few of my favourite things.

But do these objects really represent the male id, the “animal behaviour” that Martin sings of? The trouble is, if you were to fill the video with id fantasy objects, you’d probably end up with an indie version of a gangsta rap video – Martin larging it with booty girls, smoking cigars and drinking Hennessy, laid back with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.

Best bit: the eyeball hanging out with its friend the pair of scissors.

Next… an extravagant world of silver.

Able Tasmans “Fault in the Frog”

“Fault in the Frog” is based around the urban legend that claims a frog won’t try to escape a gradually heated pot of water because it’s happening too slowly to realise it’s being boiled alive. Therefore, if you slowly ruin everything, no one will notice because they’ll think they’re in a nice hot spa pool. Or something. The band uses this as a metaphor for global warming, though you have to delve beneath the bagpipes and light voices to get the lyrical message.

The video is a montage of swirling scenes of forests, tinsel Christmas trees, which in turn leads to a home movie tour around the world – mad bastards shouting in London, village life in India and more of those swirling forests.

There’s a message here, but it seems like the Abel Tasmans are too timid to do a full-on, loud and proud protest song, instead hiding behind lush production and a video that manages to divert attention from the lyrics.

Best bit: the fellow at Speakers Corner gesticulating at a gold star with a photo of JFK glued to it.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next: the bit of the man brain that wants to root you.