interesting bit of info ... for those in wellington.
the central library is giving away ecobulbs in support of earth hour. at least they were yesterday. so i assume its happening all week.
go back everyday and stock up for free.
It was nice of Russell to steal my thunder, but he wasn’t to know that even though the band broke up before I got to discover them, they are one of my all time favourites.
In fact I was a bit slow in discovering Flying Nun altogether. I can remember the odd late Sunday night – must have been school holidays – catching Radio With Pictures on the tele. Once they played ‘Pink Frost’. I didn’t get it - this skinny guy walking through a boring pine forest singing about some girl who was lost or gone or something. I would’ve been 12 or 13 and my idea of pop music was very much radio friendly chart material – including, it must be said, The Mockers, and Dance Exponents, plus the usual overseas rubbish.
A couple of years later, I discovered Radio Active and “alternative/indie” music, and my musical education really began. I remember falling for Lyle Lovett (and by association, country music) when I was supposed to be studying for School C. And of course there was The Smiths, Jesus And Mary Chain, Sugar Cubes etc etc. But the New Zealand stuff took a little longer to seep in.
When I started at university, my new best friend was already well into The Bats, The Chills, The Clean, The Verlaines etc. It didn’t take me long to realise just how great they all were too.
In 1991 along came the “Getting Older” compilation, celebrating ten years of Flying Nun. Amongst the predictable choices (though you could never complain about their quality) were a few unknown gems, including “Alien” by Bird Nest Roys. I was in love.
Almost as perfect a piece of pop that has ever come out of the country. Beautiful chiming guitars, gorgeous vocal harmonies, words that don’t make a hell of a lot of sense. It’s a song that never outstays it’s welcome, and one I have listened to on repeat probably more than any other song.
So five years after it was released I made my way to Slowboat or Solid Air to spend my precious student allowance on a copy of the Roys self-titled debut album. And what a thing of beauty it is.
Starting with the wonderfully titled “5 weetbix and toast” we’re introduced to the delicious pop that was the Bird Nest Roys. Things get better with “Alien”, rocky with “Loving Time”, childish with “Jaffa Boy”, and rockabilly punk with “Bided”. And that’s the end of side 1; a perfect ending, but far too short.
Side 2 is a bit angsty. More rock on “Joringel”, then more pop perfection on “me want me get me need me have me love”, again with chiming guitars and lovely harmonies, the real angst of “Michael Jones” (which, from memory isn’t about the ex-All Black, but his namesake), heading towards the finish with “Who is the silliest Rossi?”, and the more punkish “love”. The album ends with “Wads of Park Fat” where BNR go all avant garde on us.
Like all great music there’s a timelessness to the Bird Nest Roys. You can say when it wasn’t made, but it’s hard to really pin a time on when it was recorded. They avoided the traps of 1980s production sounds of say R.E.M. Although clearly inspired by the 60s, it’s clearly not a 60s album. It’s now twenty years old and it still sounds wonderfully fresh to my ears. I’d even go so far as to say the boys were ahead of their time. But then much of the Flying Nun catalogue was back then.
I met Pete the drummer a couple of years back. It was the first (and only) time I’ve had an ohmigod-you’re-my-hero moment – and it was only brief cos we were working and I didn’t want to come across all unprofessional and fan geek like. He told me soon after the album came out they were about to break into the US market when the band split. In some ways it’s a shame because they are a hugely under-appreciated band here, and at least making it in the US would have opened more people up to the pleasure that is the Bird Nest Roys. On the other hand it means I can sit at home with my vinyl copy and revel in their obscurity.
Pete also told me they were an awesome live band, but I can only imagine, having missed them by five years. I even somehow managed to miss them when some of the band briefly ‘reformed’ as The Tufnels in the mid 1990s, releasing a couple of cracker singles and a disappointing album. Maybe one day a long lost live performance will sneak its way onto a CD, maybe when Flying Nun reissue the album.
It was good to hear Russell’s Pavement comment cos it comes as no surprise that those guys knew about BNR. You can even hear it in their music. It seems odd that none of these overseas artists who namecheck Kiwi music ever mentions them – it’s always The Clean, and/or Chris Knox/Tall Dwarfs. But then that just adds to the specialness and obscurity of BNR. Those of us in the know are, well … in the know.
I’ve taken (a taped copy of) this album with me all over the country and it variously takes me back to random road trips, my 21st birthday, and numerous friends. Unlike pretty much every other album I’ve owned I’ve never gotten sick of this. (On the other side of the tape was ‘Compiletely Bats’ or something, and as often as not I’d rewind to the beginning and start again.) It’s not just “Alien” but the whole album that is almost as perfect a piece of pop that has ever come out of the country.
PS - I’ve spent the last few years trying to find a copy of the album on CD. I’d be most obliged if anyone out there has a copy they’re happy to get rid of (god forbid) or, dare I say it, loan me (nudge nudge wink wink).