Pre-punk lessons flowed freely into the space created by punk. The unsettling of rock’s predicable beats, the DIY independence of Ralph and Recommended Records and artist’s imprints like Pere Ubu’s Hearthan Records, the dissonant, cracked end of prog rock. They all fed new Wellington art-punk outfit Shoes This High. Brent Hayward, one of the most distinctive voices in New Zealand music was the front man. He talks. AudioCulture listens.

Wellington pre-punk freak scene

“52 were quirky dudes. I met all of them and later lived with a couple. Malcolm Wardlaw, he was the keyboardist for 52 – he was almost like my father figure – he was older than me and Kevin Hawkins (Shoes This High vocalist and guitarist), he was from the same town as us – Masterton – a real sicko town.

“He used to come up on weekends and stay with Kevin. Kevin had a massive collection of records and books. He was my favourite candy store. Malcolm used to come up and be with us and hallucinate. He was a crazy dude. He had a big square head. He played the keyboards with his head – with any part of his body. He got right into it. He was really accomplished as a musician. He was really bright, and I thought here's a guy who is interesting.

“52 were my mates. No one really remembers them as far as New Zealand music goes. It was more about a local thing and being into the experimental English rock like Robert Wyatt, Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, Eno, Roxy, the drug way, not the Bryan Ferry way, Eno/Manzanera – that kind of experimental rock, quirky rhythms. There was an Italian guy Dino (Houtos) on guitar. Andy Drey on bass (later Steroids/Body Electric).”

“Ziggy’s was a Wellington rock club and cabaret, which was firebombed in its original spot on Jervois Quay in 1976 and moved to Vivian Street, where it eventually became Rock Theatre then Billy d’ Club. It was out there, interesting and burlesque. It was for transient people. It was a big deal for the kids in the city. They dug it. 52 were resident band in September 1978.”

What's in a name

“Jessica (Walker – bassist) heard some transsexual people getting on a big red bus and they were gossiping. “And how high did you say her shoes were?” “Those shoes were this high.” Jessica and Kevin went out together and I don't think there’s ever been a relationship that's as intricately woven. Even though he’s bi. He really loves her and she really loves him and they’re crazy ... these two cats, crazy as, and they were like cats, real lovable.

“I wasn’t in the band at the start. There was another guy from Dunedin, Andrew Strang, in it for a short time. He was a mate of Terry Moore of The Chills, who used to stay with us in Wellington, and was also from Masterton.

“I hadn’t done any music with Kevin since The Amps. I was living out in Wellington’s suburbs. I was psycho. I was going off my tree. I just had the most violent thoughts about stuff. You’ve got no idea. Real homicidal stuff. Kevin says, ‘Come and play with us.’ The drummer then was a gardener at the Botanic Gardens in Wellington and was replaced by Chris Plummer. We played in his house. I just unleashed all this blood and guts. I thought this is cool.”

“When Toy Love came they played at The Last Resort on a Thursday night. Bob Sutton said, ‘These guys used to be The Enemy. You should check them out tonight.’ Toy Love sounded a bit kinky so I thought, ah yeah. They played there for four nights. They brought them out. A certain audience.

“Jane [Walker], Toy Love keyboard player, and Jessica were sisters. Jane and Paul Kean – Toy Love bass player – used to crash at our place. Toy Love had their own PA and when passing through they’d always want to play on Sunday in Cuba Mall. Someone had figured out how to rig up the power free.”

Opening Billy d’ Club with The Newz, May 1980

“We were trying to make money to buy musical equipment – amps, speakers. The big news was that we blew the PA up and they were pissed off. We had a soundcheck and the soundcheck sounded great. We played exceptionally loud like everyone liked to. We were just going to blow whoever The Newz were off the stage.

“Our sound guy, who was right into Robert Fripp was quite a strange guy, Richard Sedger. George Henderson (The Puddle) was his best mate. George and Lyndsey Maitland. Those guys were interesting. They had The Spies and Chris Plummer was the drummer. They played some good gigs in the Speakeasy (Willy’s Wine Bar).

“Richard was in a Kevin Ayers frame of mind that night. He took too much of something and he couldn’t get the sound loud enough, that was fine by us, and blew up the PA.

“It was big shindig, lots of hairdressers there, lots of new wavers, bullshit artists. They wanted to confiscate the gear and there was a big argument.

“No one would give us a gig after that. They didn’t want to lend us amps. We’d have to get Jenny Lealand and little Billy Labortski to get PAs. So we eventually moved up to Auckland to get away from that sort of bullshit. No, that’s not true. Billy d’ Club let us use their PA.”

Toy Love – The Last Resort, May 1980

“When we first played we were lucky to play with Toy Love. People used to come along and they had all the gear. We really just threw ourselves into our gigs with them. We made these little dinky A4 photocopied posters that were real cool. Little cuts from other magazines. The idea was anything and everything was up for grabs."

Rockfest – Billy d’ Club, Queen’s Birthday Weekend, June 1980

“We played the Rockfest in Billy d’ Club. Kevin had a good sound live. He could make his guitar sound chook. Sound like an electronic chook shrieking. In Wellington a lot of the stuff was public stuff. There were no rehearsals.

“We had a real healthy music scene in Wellington. It made things interesting and there were quite a few women and girls that were into it and wanted to play music. They had a real energy for it. This was interesting with real creative rhythms and patterns with melody, particularly Naked Spots Dance that Jenny (Lealand) was in.

“The bassist Kate Walker, she was interesting and she wrote a lot of their stuff. I was really proud because when bands were passing through they got to see what a great music scene was going on in Wellington.

“We had a lot of bands and lots of those bands were related to other bands. A real community of people and of bands – everyone who came was into the music and they had their personalities, their fixes and their vices.

“I'll give you an idea about the antagonism we had towards music and bands. I was [...] probably the cheekiest person on stage. I didn’t have respect for too many people and I just thought our band was the best and if any band was going to get in the way, well, I’ve got mates over the hill. We'll sort them out.

Leaving Wellington

“Shoes This High got this tag like “Something bad is gonna happen.” We couldn’t do anything more in Wellington and it was getting so small. Everybody knew everybody at the parties. After a while it became a bit passé.

“Chris Orange, bass player in The Features, said, ‘Come up to Auckland. You guys are good. It’ll be a good injection for here. The boot boys will really like you.’ We'd made fast friends with Chris, Karel Van Bergen and James Pinker (also in The Features). They were nice guys and we liked them so we came up.”

Brent Hayward on Shoes This High Part 2