Greg Johnson “Hibiscus Song”

1999-greg-johnson-hibiscus-song“Baby, how it slides in and out of you,” sings Greg. Something about a flower, yeah?

“Hibiscus Song” is like an old folk ballad given a contemporary arrangement, but it’s all the work of Greg Johnson himself. At the centre of the video is a young woman who “smelt like red geraniums, wore hibiscus in her hair”. When we meet her, she’s dramatically applying make-up, seeming startled at her reflection in the mirror.

Out in the street, Miss Hibiscus hurriedly walks, holding a violin case. While she looks like the sort of person who’d fit in with such an urban environment, she is very ill at ease here.

In the choruses, Greg Johnson sings the song against a plain black background. He fades in and out, as if he is the dream and the Hibiscus lady is real. But then she appears in the same black space with her violin. Did Greg summon her?

Back on the street, she wanders. She stands in a fountain (the old one outside the Auckland Art Gallery, I think). Guys, it’s not looking good. Greg Johnson comes to the spot to scatter some flowers. Oh no.

Both the video and the song remind me a little of Nick and Kylie’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow”. But where Nick Cave was going for a traditional ballad, the song and video for “Hibiscus Song” have a modern flavour. It’s like a folk ballad for a troubled young woman who’s come to a bad end in a big city. Yeah, take that, Nick Cave.

Best bit: the perfect lipstick application.

Director: Bruce Sheridan
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a pinch of salt.

Greg Fleming “Codeine Road”

1994-greg-fleming-codeine-roadNurofen Plus – it’s my wife and it’s my life. I’m not sure what this song is about. It might be about homebake, or it might be about debilitating lower back pain. All I know is that only Auckland could produce a gritty life-is-tough song based around an over-the-counter analgesic.

Regardless of the dramatic lyrics, the video is still pretty interesting. It’s shot around Karangahape Road when it was still seedy and grimy, a good decade before it started to get gentrified and all the pink bits moved away.

K Road regulars can be seen hanging around, and there’s even a shot of the old McDonald’s before K Road became too cool for a McDo. Another ’90s memory – the mural by the Baptist tabernacle that was all “No one comes to the father except through me”. Cut with this footage, Greg Fleming mooches around the area, sometimes with his bros, other times on his own.

I’m trying to think – was K Road scary and dark back then? Maybe it only felt that way if you were luxuriating in a warm blanket of Panadeine.

Best bit: the wistful looking lady holding an elaborately wrapped gift.

Director: Bruce Sheridan
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… for the children.

Headless Chickens “Juice”

I’d forgotten what videos look like when they’ve got more than the minimum $5000 (or less!) behind them. The vid for “Juice”, Fiona McDonald’s ode to childhood, is a slick black and white job. Fiona sings on a windy shore, clad in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt (as a possible middle finger to haters who reckoned she’s only joined the Chickens as a bit of sex appeal).

This is cut with footage of young girls running around some craggy trees, , playing hopscotch, swinging on a tyre (that’s a childhood 101 signifier), as well as plenty of shots of those dark menacing trees.

That’s what makes this video work. Yeah, it’s a song about childhood but it’s a Headless Chickens song too, so it’s never straightforward. There’s the pleasant reminiscence of childhood, but that’s tempered by the knowledge that childhood will end and the darkness of adulthood will eventually swoop in.

Best bit: near the end, Fiona briefly breaks character and smiles at someone.

Directors: Grant Fell, Bruce Sheridan
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… cool, cool air.

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.

Headless Chickens “Donde Esta La Pollo”

“Donde Esta La Pollo” was to New Zealanders what “Sesame Street” was to Americans: a source of basic Spanish. Fortunately the video doesn’t linger on the Spanish factor, instead picking up on the carnival vibe of the song.

How cool were the Headless Chickens? While their compatriots were jigging about in front of green screens, the Chooks kept it real. They invited all their freaky friends into a circus tent and just filmed the decadent freakiness.

Ok, there was probably more to it than that, but no one in the video looks like they’re helping their mates make a music video; they all look like they regularly do freaky things in a circus tent and they probably all have more sex than you do. That’s how cool they were.

This video has a great tension between fun and unease, like they’re just one glass of absinthe away from terrible, terrible times. And I bet there would have been a few crazy religious parents who declared this video to be evil and forbade their kids from watching it.

Even though this is just one side of the Headless Chickens experience, this is how I like to remember them at their peak.

Best bit: the hairy guy with the egg in his mouth.

Directors: Bruce Sheridan, Rachael Churchward
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… an inappropriate public health act.