Able Tasmans “Hold Me 1” (1990)

able-tasmans-hold-me-1And Flying Nun birthday week concludes with something very sensible from the time before NZOA funding.

This video is so grown up, so adult. The first 45 seconds of the song is Graeme Humphreys’ lush piano intro. Subtly – and notoriously – he is revealed to be sporting a rats tail hair tuft. At the time, only bad boys had rats tails.

Slowly the piano starts to build and suddenly the whole band appears, looking very sensible, grown up and adult. The performance space is decorated in bright ’90s colours – strong blues, red, browns.

The band all have their roles, and seem to be working solidly and competantly at playing their instruments. There is no rock star posing. These are professional musicians. Their restraint is very pleasant to watch, especially after seeing videos from bands who try to do the big rock face but don’t quite get it right.

Most pleasing is the scratchy old organ, where its switches are flipped with great importance, like a PhD student (not a mad scientist) conducting valuable scientific experiments.

There are nine people on board – pianist, organist, drummer, bassist, lead singer and guitarist, cellist, two violinists, and a backing singer who only has 24 words to sing and spends most of the time standing very stiffly in the background. In fact, the backing singer isn’t shown singing until three minutes into the song, making his appearance initially very mysterious for the first-time viewer.

This is a very serious, grown up video but it absolutely works. The band have shown up to work wearing their best clothes and they’ve just gone about their business in making a good video that highlights the song.

Bird Nest Roys “Alien” (1986)

bird-nest-roys-alienThe continuing celebration of Flying Nun’s 30th birthday, looking back at music videos made in the days before NZOA music video funding.

There’s something really lovely about this video. It starts with the song – it’s indeed a lovely song. Great guitar pop with sweet vocal layers and harmonies. The video, directed by Jed Town, is pretty much a perfect visualisation of the song.

The video is full of light and layers. As Big Ross and Little Ross sing the song, the image is layered with golden sparks, outdoor scenes and the band performning live.

The Roys look like they all like each other – and I mean really like each other – which just adds to the really nice spirit of the video. A lesser director would have gone “Alien! Let’s have green spacemen in it!!!”, but really, the song is more about love than it is about aliens, and the video shows this well.

Bird Nest Roys are one of those great Flying Nun bands that never quite got the success they deserved, but if this is the only visual remant of their time, it’s a brilliant thing to be left with.

Doublehappys “Needles and Plastic” (1985)

doublehappys-needles-and-plasticContinuing a look back at Flying Nun videos made in the days before NZOA funding. Instead of putting candles on Flying Nun’s 30th birthday cake, I’m using Doublehappys.

Well, yeah, I kind of have to have some Shayne Carter in here. “Needles and Plastic” is such a young dude kind of song. Mr Carter was about 20 when this was made and it just has this really cool, cocky spirit to it. And if you think he’s signing “fat gut”, then you have a pure heart.

The video was a Doublehappys and Chris Knox work, and I have this idea that it was filmed at Mr Knox’s Grey Lynn house. It looks about as low budget as it was, but it’s just a really dumb fun experience.

In a shadowy room with a hand-painted backdrop, the band play while occasionally mysterious hands emerge and grab the band. Maybe these hands are meant to represent an audience at a gig, but they somehow have a more sinister, more sexual feel.

The video is shot in one continuous take, but it doesn’t feel like it’s showing off. In fact, it’s quite similar to the sort of gig videos that appear on YouTube taken by fans in the audience holding their smartphones in the air. The camera moves around, like it’s being operated by someone who’s really really enjoying the song. Which he no doubt was.

Skeptics “Agitator” (1987)

skeptics-agitatorThe 5000 Ways celebration of Flying Nun’s 30th nunniversary continues, looking back at videos made in the days before NZ On Air’s funding started in 1991.

The Skeptics are the best Flying Nun band, if not the best band in the entire world.

They only had two videos – “AFFCO” and “Agitator”. AFFCO is the one with the notoriety. It has the sheep and the blood and societal commentary. But the thing is, AFFCO isn’t anywhere near the Skeptics best song. For that, I turn to their other video, “Agitator”.

It’s a glorious three-part journey. Starting with moody black and white footage, as a simple piano line slowly builds, joined by creepy guitar, alarming synth and David D’Ath’s haunting vocals. A little colour is allowed into this vision with a bald-headed colour D’Ath reflected in a window, and then an eerie, bloody red starts seeping into the picture.

On to part two and full colour returns with the band in full-on freak out. Layers of people and visual effects and textures play with each other, sometimes emphasising the music, other times underscoring the mood.

But then just when it was all threatening to fall apart, along comes the final conclusion. An ode to June, July and August – the winter months – and we’re back in the black and white world. Only this time it’s a lot more peaceful, as if the former chaos has been exorcised, leaving only a peaceful feeling.

S.P.U.D. “Breakdown Town” (1990)

spud-breakdown-townFlying Nun are celebrating their 30th anniversary this month, so I figured I should join in the fun. This week, for an afternoon special, I’m going to look at five of my favourite Flying Nun videos prior to the introduction of the NZ On Air music video funding. First up, S.P.U.D.

You know how Auckland is quite cool but how there are also bits of it that are a bit crap? “Breakdown Town” is the perfect theme tune of that Auckland. It’s crunchy and slithery and on the verge of falling apart, and – as YouTube commenter Flipper1974nz says – “SO DIRTY”.

Stuart Page’s video focuses less on the band and more on the city. A few familiar landmarks can be seen, including One Tree Hill back in its innocent tree days, but much of the video is a street-level look at life.

Making an electrifying cameo appearance is John Hartles, the notorious Queen Street busker. Using an electric guitar, he appears for some blistering guitar action outside Smith and Caughey. By the way, worth a watch is filmmaker Andrew Moore’s 1996 documentary on John Hartles.

Crowded roads, demolition sites, state housing, and a rapidly cut montage of signs and scenes from all over the central city. Even though little is readily identifiable as Auckland, collectively it can only be Auckland, that dirty Auckland of the early ’90s.