Hard News by Russell Brown

Stories it is now safe to tell

My old friends Children's Hour are back together and playing a gig at the King's Arms tonight, to celebrate the release of Looking for the Sun, a collection of live recordings retrieved and fixed up by Rob Mayes of Failsafe Records. I'll be there.

I was close to those guys for some time, after I met them by interviewing them for Rip It Up in 1983. We conducted the interview in the cocktail bar at DeBrett's hotel, and got along so well that we all went back to the big old house in Grafton where most of them were living, to party on. By the end of the evening I was quite drunk, and had a bunch of new friends, and a new flat. You can get a glimpse of the place we lived in the video for their song 'Caroline's Dream' on the Flying Nun DVD Very Short Films.

Some in the Flying Nun community didn't care for Children's Hour, who were dark and dangerous and decidedly un-folky. But they were my mates, and they could also be quite breathtaking live. By the time I left for London in 1986, they'd broken up then reassembled as the International Headless Chickens (who later, of course, became the Headless Chickens). They had a good bit of purpose about them, and had rented out the old charm school in His Majesty's Arcade as a base of operations, and staged a couple of performance events.

I had been in London only two or three months when I got a call at the record shop I worked at to tell me that Johnny Pierce, the bass player and "minister of finance" had taken his own life. (That's Johnny on the cover of the new CD; Rob Mayes has picked up the bass for tonight's gig and a final one in Wellington.) I was shocked, and felt a long way from home.

But there had been happy times. I joined them once to cover a national tour that was something of a riot. We crammed into a Toyota Hiace, drove to Wellington, crashed overnight with a guy called Craig and fronted up next morning for the ferry. Problem: no one in the band actually had any money to pay the fares. So I got out the Bankcard my father had arranged for me to buy my car (with all the usual warnings about being very careful with it) and paid up for everyone bar the two people hiding under gear in the back of the van.

We disembarked in Picton on a sunny day and dropped into the pub. But one member of the band went off to do something and didn't come back. We eventually emerged to discover that he had been detained by the local constabulary. Nothing too serious, but enough to delay our outset for Christchurch, where the first gig of the tour was.

I don't really remember the drive south, but I do remember us piling into the Record Factory in Christchurch late in the afternoon in what must have been a fairly unruly state. The shop was managed by Roger Shepherd, the founder of Flying Nun, and there had been some crazy talk that Roger might give the band some touring expenses. Explaining that I was out of pocket, I put this proposition to Roger, who looked anxiously at the young men crashing around his shop, whipped out a chequebook and wrote out a cheque for several hundred dollars. It might as well have been endorsed on the back with the words "PLEASE GET OUT OF MY LIFE IMMEDIATELY".

There are other stories from that trip it might not be appropriate to tell, in case they encourage bad behaviour in impressionable young people (I really don't know how I avoided being beaten senseless by the Magogs in New Plymouth - I probably deserved to be). But there's always the YFC story.

NB: A key element of what follows is untrue. It wasn't Ian Grant who served the letter at the Windsor Castle, but Brian McStay, the chair of Auckland Youth for Christ. Ian, who was prominent in protesting against Youth for Christ's use of the name, did allow that Mr McStay looked similar enough to have been mistaken for him "if you weren't really thinking it through," but it wasn't him. My apologies for the error. Carry on then …

YFC, a group of friends and fellow travellers, are also back together in support of a of a new CD, and are supporting Children's Hour tonight.

Anyway, one Saturday in the early 80s, YFC were playing the Windsor Castle in Parnell, which was where everyone played in those days.

That afternoon, there was a party at a house in Marlborough St, where I later lived. We were young and free and the party was swinging. It began to swing even more after a guy who did that sort of thing turned up with a little tin containing doses of a popular psychedelic drug. I would like to offer a very belated apology to the neighbours for the subsequent high-spirited carry-on.

It came time to go to the gig, and we piled into a van (I am pleased to say that all the stories in this post feature sane and sober drivers) all mad and madly happy. We stopped off at the Fort Street warehouse where I lived with most of Children's Hour and various other folks. I busted the fancy catch off the zip on my leather jacket on the way out, by surfing down a flight of stairs on my front. I'd do it again.

So we got to the Windsor, as a lovely late afternoon mused about turning to evening. I was seated at a table in the pub exploring my mind while the band set up when a slight, greying man appeared at the door, then approached me with an envelope in his hand. He seemed strangely familiar, but I couldn't quite place him

"Could you direct me to Jonathan Ogilvie, please?" he asked; Jonny being the singer and bass player in YFC. He had been at the same high-spirited party.

Suddenly, I realised who the man was. Older readers will recall a TV programme called The Herd, in which the presenter, Ian Grant, every Sunday, discussed faith and family and virtue with a group of decent young folk. I think quite a few people watched The Herd, for one reason or another, and Grant had a national profile.

He and several other people had had YFC in their sights for a little while, because back then YFC were more commonly known as Youth For Christ, having adopted the name of the then-ubiquitous school-age faith group in the spirit of irony. The last time they'd played at the Windsor, the Christians had sent spies. No, really, they did. A couple of undercover Christian youth turned up at the door claiming to be music journalists and trying to get in for free.

The guy on the door picked them as possibly being on a mission from a God, but let them in and had a word in my ear. This seemed fairly priceless. So (as I recall), Hilary Ord, who later established the Verona Café, and I bowled up to engage the couple in cheery conversation. So, he was a fellow music journalist, eh? What was his thing? The guy blurted out the name of a non-existent magazine and began to sweat his way through a highly enjoyable conversation, digging himself deeper in the folly of fabrication with every breath. So what did he think of Youth for Christ, then? "They're ... interesting," he gasped.

We eventually let them go, and they slipped out shortly thereafter, hearts presumably pounding with the falsehood they had wrought.

But anyway, back to late afternoon on that particular Saturday: here was Ian Grant from The Herd, standing in front of me at the Windsor. That would normally have been quite weird. In the personal circumstances in which I found myself, it was double-double-super weird.

"Jonny is ..." I turned around to where Jonny had taken his guitar out of its case and was looking quizzically at it, as if it might contain an answer. "Over there."

Ian Grant thanked me and walked over to Jonny and gave him the envelope, which proved to contain an injunction preventing Youth for Christ the band from using the name of Youth for Christ the faith-based organisation (they subsequently styled themselves Youth from Christchurch). To say Jonny looked startled is probably to understate the case - he looked like a swarm of bees might have invaded his head - but they had a brief, civil conversation and Ian Grant turned and exited to Parnell Road, unknowing but hopefully impressed by our good manners.

As soon as Ian Grant was out of sight, the thought occurred that perhaps it hadn't happened at all. But it really had. I know that.

PS: Staying with the 80s band nostalgia thing, Daniel Barnes has reviewed last Friday's Danse Macabre get-together at the King's Arms on Dub Dot Dash. And Big Ross, lately of dad-rock supergroup Raygunn, who got Bird Nest Roys back together for his wedding, has blogged on impending fatherhood, under his nom de plume Jimi Kumura. What a beautiful thing. Speaking of which, just how much does Tegan and Sara's 'I Bet It Stung' sound like Bird Nest Roys? Lots.