The Mutton Birds “As Close As This”

1999-the-mutton-birds-as-close-as-thisDog poo. Rounding out the Mutton Birds’ dozen NZ On Air-funded videos, “As Close As This” opens with dog poo. It makes a bit more sense when it’s revealed that the video is partly shot from a dog’s perspective, so there’s the dog running around a park, weeing up against a tree, sniffing another dog’s poo. But still. Dog poo in a music video. This never happened in the early days with the glorious Fane Flaws-directed vids.

Having been based in the UK, it’s the first Mutton Birds video in about five years to be shot in New Zealand. It’s also a solo Don video, which is probably the result of the other three-quarters of the band still living in the UK.

The video imagery is rather disparate, including Don cruising along in a motorcycle with the dog in a side carriage, the dog inspecting some road kill, and black and white animated footage of Don with Warhol-style colour that gives him a drag queen look. The dog also has a wander in a K Road sex shop and it makes sure to have a good look at a display of fake boobs, as dogs do.

By the time the dog is drinking water out of a filthy toilet, I started to wonder if everyone had just given up. There is too much poo in this video. It doesn’t seem like a music video for a band who wants to be successful. It’s like a deliberate attempt to undersell the song, ensuring the band wouldn’t be burdened with popularity and the demands of touring.

Perhaps they got their wish. The song didn’t chart and the Mutton Birds didn’t release any more studio albums, eventually calling it a day in 2002.

Best bit: faux FM radio DJs Greg and Phil, who are happy to play the track on their station.

Director: Greg Wood
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Bonus: Here’s a piece from a 1999 episode of “Holmes”, where the Mutton Birds are profiled on their return to New Zealand, full of cautious hope for the future.

Next… doing it to everyone.

The Mutton Birds “Pulled Along By Love”

1999-mutton-birds-pulled-along-by-loveIt’s the Mutton Birds penultimate single, but before I leap into “Pulled Along by Love”, I should jump back to ’96 and ’97. That’s when the group released their single “She’s Been Talking”, first in New Zealand, then a year later in the UK, complete with a video for each release. Both were filmed in the UK, but neither were funded by NZ On Air. It’s a good song (with a killer McGlashan melody on the verses), so go on, have a watch.

But back to the main attraction. “Pulled Along By Love” is an upbeat pop number, which seems to be part of the Mutton Birds long-running plan to break the UK. As the Wikipedia entry for their fourth studio album notes, they tried really hard but it just didn’t happen.

The video is shot in England (London, I guess) and is focused on Don. He’s either wandering the city streets, taking in his surroundings, or superimposed over other footage of the city.

We also see plenty of shots of an Indian woman in traditional dress. She’s busying herself with coconuts, grains, flowers and brightly coloured Indian sweets. It’s an unusual visual to have in a music video, but it’s a very Mutton Birds thing to do and the gorgeousness of her world fits perfectly with the tone of the song.

There are plenty of shots of Don wandering around a train station, alone in the commuter bustle. With the passing of time, this footage ends up being a reminder that the Mutton Birds never quite managed to be household names in the UK, not reaching Oasis-like levels of fame. For all their effort, on the everyday streets they were still just a bunch of ordinary guys with some great songs.

Best bit: the extreme eyebrow acting at the train platform.

Director: Paul Oremland
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… cold and hot.

The Mutton Birds “April”

1997-mutton-birds-aprilAnother video from the Mutton Birds’ London years. Don is dressed like a 1960s sex therapist (probably ready to treat “Come Around” era Don after all the love-triangle trauma going on there) and he and the band perform the song in front of a giant rotating flower. It’s all a bit Austin Powers.

And here’s the curious thing – “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” was released in the UK in September 1997, and “April” was scheduled for release the same month but was cancelled. It makes me wonder if the film’s release suddenly threw an unintentionally groovy new perspective on the video, prompting its last-minute ditching.

Whatever the reason, it’s a pity because “April” is a good song. It’s a classic Mutton Birds song, all storytelling and wicked melody.

As well as the band’s psychedelic performance, we also get black and white glimpses of April, wandering about in an eveningwear. But she feels like a footnote in the video. More focus is put on the wheel of Don, spinning like an omnipresent, multitentacled god of pop.

Best bit: Don’s turtleneck jumper, which occasionally makes his head look like it’s floating.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Best… the old gang together again.

The Mutton Birds “Come Around”

1996-the-mutton-birds-come-aroundThis video comes from the Mutton Birds attempt to take over the world. They were based in the UK and their record company was putting some effort behind them.

The band play the song sitting around in a circle, which is what serious musicians do. Joining them in the circle of seriousness is some sort of director man – as signified by his black skivvie, glasses on a chain and floppy fringe – and a woman with a Juliette Binoche look happening.

Both the director and the woman have what appears to be a script, and they kept refering to it. What sort of script would be required for the Mutton Birds to play a song while sitting in a circle?

DON MCGLASHAN bends forward slightly, furrows his brow and looks into the mid-distance. He sings with a look of sincerity and devotion.

Well, whatever it is, they’re not doing it right, as the director has to keep giving Don notes. The woman mainly chews on her pen.

THE OTHER GUITARIST gently rocks back and forth in his chair. His shaggy fringe is in his face. He looks really bored.

Eventually the director seems less bothered by what the band are doing. Perhaps the implication is that he has come around to their way of performing. Or perhaps the Mutton Birds have learned their part and come around to the scripted way of the director.

Best bit: the director’s serious paper shuffling. He’s a professional.

Director: Bjorn Lindgren
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… miserable mannequin.

The Mutton Birds “Anchor Me”

1994-the-mutton-birds-anchor-me“Anchor Me” was released two months after “Ngaire” but they were funding-round buddies. And like “Dominion Road”, there was also a UK version of “Anchor Me”.

The UK video sees a leather jacketed Don with his golden curls hair tamed back into a solid rock barnet. He gives the camera video sex-face while the Mutton Birds do their best to break into the lucrative UK music scene. In the foreground, goldfish swim.

Meanwhile, back in 1994, the New Zealand version is totally Don-centric, with the rest of the band absent. Don is dressed as a salty seadog, but then the nautical theme goes overboard (ha!), with blobbing lava lamp action, a boat, a rained upon car, before Don gets totally wet for the chorus.

There’s also a naked swimming lady, with visible nipples. I don’t remember there being any controversy around this video. Perhaps because no one expects there to be boobs in a Mutton Birds video, no one sees it when it happens.

I don’t quite find this video to be satisfying. The UK video make it feel like a Stereosonic song, while the original seems like a student film project.

Best bit: the faux rainy car driving.

Director: Fane Flaws
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a hard day’s work down at the quarry.

The Mutton Birds “Ngaire”

1994-the-mutton-birds-ngaireA man, played by actor and comedian Alan Brough, is stood up at an airport when his Ngaire doesn’t make her flight. The airport footage captures the simultaneous tedium and excitement of airports. But where is Ngaire?

We don’t see much of airport man, but we do get glimpses of a Roman statue. Horrific flashbacks to the “Blink” episode of Doctor Who aside, the statue appears to be Miss Ngaire in another form. “Oh, Ngaire,” the Mutton Birds wail.

Suddenly we’re faced with Catholic sacred heart imagery (with a gooey red centre). And Statue Ngaire is seen at the 3 Guys supermarket, down the local for a pint, at a service station, and finally bobbing in a swimming pool. If Ngaire is a statue, maybe airport guy only missed her because she had been taken to the cargo area.

I like Mutton Birds videos that are a little bit strange and don’t try to be a proper grown-up rock band. Maybe that’s why they never conquered England, but it’s meant they have a whole lot of really good music videos.

Best bit: Ngaire being ignored by the man at the pub, even though she’s standing there with her boobs out.

Director: Mairi Gunn

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… some smooth grooves.

The Mutton Birds “In My Room”

1994-the-mutton-birds-in-my-roomTwo Mutton Birds videos in one funding round! This is outrageous! “Heater” was released in February, the same month as this funding round, where as “In My Room” wasn’t released until a couple of months later.

“In My Room” didn’t chart as well as “Heater” (only reaching 14, compared to the number-one spot for “Heater”) and its video isn’t as much fun. In the lyrics, the protagonist of the song seems to live a similar shut-in life to that of Frank from “Heater”, though the “In My Room” guy seems to have better luck with the ladies.

It’s very performance based, with the band playing the song in a room, sometimes joined by cardboard cutouts of the themselves. The video is shot in black and white with colour tints, and it’s just a bit boring.

It seems like the video is too much about the band and not enough about the song. Yeah, they’ve set it in a room, literally, but that’s not really want the song is about. Maybe Virgin blew their budget on “Heater” and only had the $5000 left for “In My Room”.

Best bit: the window frame that, when it’s out of focus, looks like the as-yet-unbuilt Sky Tower.

Director: Leon Narbey
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… Tim’s Irish roots.

The Mutton Birds “Heater”

1994-the-mutton-birds-heaterThis is the genius of the Mutton Birds – their lone number one single was a song about a heater. Not in a “baby, my love will keep u warm like a heater”, but literally about a heater, an electric heater (the elements were made of wire and clay).

The video perfectly captures the sinister tone of the lyrics, with Don McGlashan playing the heater-buyer Frank, and stop motion used to bring life to the sentient heater.

Frank takes his newly purchased heater home, where his concerned parents (including Marge from “Shortland Street” as his mum) furrow their brows with concern.

The band’s performance takes second place to the adventures of Frank, perhaps indicative of the larger budget the Mutton Birds had after signing with Virgin for their second album.

Would anyone write a song like this about an energy efficient heat pump?

Best bit: Mum is concerned when Frank doesn’t want an egg.

Director: Fane Flaws
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… pop through rose-tinted specs.

The Mutton Birds “Your Window”

“Your Window” starts off sounding like a pleasant slice of suburban New Zealand, but then the chorus comes along and – ahoy! – it’s about sex. It’s about sneaking in to root your sweetie.

The Mutton Birds switch between two universes. Dressed in tapa-print shirts, they perform the song outside a bungalow. It’s the same sort of cosy Kiwiana that flows through all Mutton Birds songs. The other universe is a ’60s pop performance. Dressed in matching black suits and white skivvies, the band perform in front of a stylised window set.

What do these two realities say? One is the present, in a definite place, with acknowledgment of multicultural contemporary New Zealand. The other is in the past, with only a symbolic connection to the lyrical content of the song. The Mutton Birds are caught in the middle, struggling to find a connection between these two worlds. Struggling to find an open window?

Maybe the song is about former children of the ’60s struggling with ageing. Maybe it’s not actually about sex.

Best bit: the backwards guitar solo

Director: Josh Frizzell
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a bunch of tools.

The Mutton Birds “Giant Friend”

With all the missing music videos, it’s nice to find a band whose singles are consistently on YouTube. The Mutton Birds third single is noteworthy for several reasons:

1. Throughout the song, there are guitar chord charts along the bottom of the screen so you can play along at home. It’s very satisfying to watch the chord changes correspond with the song.

2. It contains the first instance of a sexy lady in a NZ On Air music video. At one point we see a woman in a yellow swimsuit tied up bed. But because it’s the Mutton Birds, it’s all subversive and she’s kicking the bed apart.

3. Don is wearing a red military jacket with a blue sash, not unlike what Prince William wore at his wedding.

The sexy lady turns out to be the giant friend, called into action to come and keep a small boy company. They play some games, she impresses him with her ball-crushing ability (a squishy toy ball, that is), and generally keeps him company. The video ends with the boy standing alone, outside. Has Don run off with the giant friend?

Best bit: the Alan vs Don game of Paper Scissors Rock (Alan wins).

Director: Fane Flaws
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… spark it up