This story first appeared on Andrew Schmidt’s Mysterex blog.
The Idle Idols: Andrew Schmidt talks to Idle Idols front man Paul Gibbs about the early Auckland punk scene.
The published record on Idle Idols is a little thin.
“Idle Idols was one of the first few Auckland bands from the classic punk and new wave years of 1977 to 1979. We’re neglected now because we didn’t go to vinyl. There was no product to push and after we split up most of the band members left New Zealand.
Simon Grigg in his Zwines band tree in RipItUp Xtra (October 1980) says there were at least twenty members of Idle Idols. Can you list the ones you remember?
“You can count Idle Idols band members on one hand: Jamie Jetson (Julie Curlette, guitar), Leonie [Batchelor] (bass), Shona Bruce (drums), Sandra (Jones) and Paul (Gibbs) (vocals). Jamie, Sandra and myself were the founder members.
“Early on we had a couple different females on board who could really play guitar, but didn’t fit. Sometimes when we were a guitarist short of a band Ronnie from The Scavengers or Jimmy Juricevich from The Stimulators would step in and help out. There were a couple others who performed on stage with the band. Anyone else out there says he or she was an Idle Idol … “You were in the band mate.”
Was it a conscious decision to form a mainly female punk band?
“Did anyone ask The Scavengers and The Stimulators if theirs was a conscious decision to form all male bands? And Suburban Reptiles; did anyone ask them if it was a conscious decision to form a mainly male band? It just happened that way; we were not a manufactured band.
What inspirations were there for the band?
“You tell me. We mostly got our inspiration from proto-punks like Iggy Pop and 1960s bands like The Who. Debbie Harry was a contemporary female influence. “Women are going to be the new Elvis’s. That’s the only place for rock ‘n’ roll to go. The only people who can express anything new in rock are girls and gays.” (Debbie Harry)
How did the Auckland punk scene react?
“There was no ready-made punk scene in those early days; we were there pretty much at the beginning. It was up to bands like The Scavengers, Suburban Reptiles, Idle Idols and The Stimulators to span the culture-gap locally. What punk bands there were, were quite supportive of each other. There was so few of us and we needed each other to have any kind of scene.
“The media responded to Idle Idols with immediate interest. Pretty girlies interviewed all in bed together interested them as much as the punk music aspect. There were certainly no talent scouts out there and no follow up from the media coverage. We weren’t thinking global domination anyway and had the reasonable ambition to play live whenever we got the opportunity. I never saw the punk thing as a career possibility or thought it would have longevity.
Were any tracks recorded?
“Most of the NZ Punk/ New Wave material was recorded after we split in 1979. There wasn’t really any industrial plant in place or in still in use to press vinyl in Auckland when Idle Idols were playing (as far as I know). The local New Zealand Recording Industry had pretty much ground to a halt. There was no requirement for radio stations to play a percentage of New Zealand music.
“We were recorded live doing our set at Wellington Town Hall for Radio With Pictures. ‘Innocent’ Bitch was aired on the television show and the tour was covered in an Eyewitness documentary. Jimmy Sex of The Assassins wrote ‘Innocent Bitch’ for us when Jamie was sharing a house in Symonds Street with the band for a time. I don’t know about our practice session tapes or if they even exist.
What songs were the group playing?
“Our earliest sets were mainly covers of proto-punks like Iggy Pop and The Who. We did Junior Murvin’s 1976 hit (‘Police & Thieves’) and trashed covers of Roxy Music (‘Editions of You’) Plastic Bertrand (‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’) and The Swinging Blue Jeans (‘Hippy Hippy Shake’) – pretty eclectic. We didn’t ape contemporary British or American groups.
“Jamie and I wrote some songs. We slipped a few in on stage and planned to introduce more original numbers. One of Jamie’s was ‘Kill City’, a deadly dirge, which we did at Zwines sometimes. I wanted to introduce some psychedelic pop material and some Marc Bolan sounds but Jamie felt we couldn’t mangle such a distinctive guitar sound and get away with it.
Did you have a musical background?
“My sisters Maureen and Patricia (twins) were a singing duo who sometimes went by their middle names Yvonne & Yvette on the Wellington night club circuit. It was pre-Beatles 1960s and they were about 20-22 years.
“I would often sit in on their practice sessions when I was small. They featured at the Carousel Night Club with Tony and the Initials, Wellington Town Hall in the Bill and Boyd Show and The Sorrento Night Club with The Nick Smith Trio, who also backed them for the Have a Shot quest on live television in which they were finalists.
“They did a couple of recording sessions with Garth Young and were offered their own recording contract with Marmalade Studios, but the complications of a romance got in the way.
“In Napier they sang at Cabaret Cabana. A French guy owned it at that time and he was very keen on them being the floorshow usually playing to a packed house. They featured in Playdate and in Truth as Girls of the Week with hairdos that made them look like a couple of antipodean Ronettes. They were thought to have inspired The Chicks.
Was your inspiration to join the musical, or the art/ fashion element of punk? Or both?
“Definitely music. My partner John was living in Manchester from 1974 to 1980, attending live music gigs there and in London, sometimes getting free promo compilations that were handed out at these events.
“In Manchester he went to the White Riot Tour at the Electric Circus in May 1977 featuring The Buzzcocks, The Slits, The Jam and Subway Sect. There were other early concerts he saw by X-Ray Spex, The Ramones, The Damned, Richard Hell and the Voidoids (supported by Blondie), The Stranglers and Elvis Costello at The Rafters Club.
“I was lucky to get a lot of first hand coverage of the new punk phenomena from John and was ready to catch the wave.
“The punk ethos allowed you to get up and make music even if you weren’t a musician. The whole Punk/ New Wave thing was a total revolution in everything. Music, literature, art, design and fashion, and it was a fresh start.
“As a band we were interested in tracing the musical roots of punk music. We had to look good too, but if you’re mainly interested in fashion, you open a clothes store, you don’t form a band.
“Idle Idols was Auckland’s Day-Glo posse, especially Jamie and me, but I don’t think we ever discussed clothes. We wore the same clothes on stage that we would wear every day – our own individual clothes choices – which were pretty extreme. Some we made ourselves or customized.
“I wore fluorescent safety vests bought at Farmers and customized. Day-Glo plastic, vinyl and shiny raincoat nylon looked eye-catching, was cheap and challenging; also, when gobbed at, the spittle could be sponged off easily. So it had bombproof style as well as being practical.
“Idle Idols were the brightest objects in Auckland then. The other punk bands wore black and white, almost uniformly, or worked a casual jeans look.
“I was at Elam Art School from 1973 to 1975 along with the guys from Split Enz. I guess they made being in a band seem possible. Noel Crombie would sometimes stay at a student flat I shared with Raewyn Turner.
“We would spend evenings around the kitchen table too stoned to do anything but stare at the floor. It was Noel who “turned me on” for the very first time when we went to an Elton John concert at Western Springs Stadium in 1974.
“Phil Judd used to try to stare me out with psycho Charles Manson eyes. I thought he was a wanker in those days at Elam, perhaps he was just really stoned, but I don’t think we liked each other. Rob Gillies was also at Elam as was Mark Hough (Buster Stiggs) who was later in Suburban Reptiles.
“Art School gave me a good background and understanding of a certain punk sensibility and attitude that runs right through Art movements like Dada, Surrealism, the Beats and Pop Art, Andy Warhol’s Factory, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, and Nico. I read William Burroughs’ Soft Machine and The Wild Boys.
“The art I was making was pretty subversive and proto-punk in nature for that time; installations of big rubber latex cocks. The police confiscated all my artwork in August 1974. It made front page headlines everywhere and sparked off a national debate on civil liberties, and it was early Punk Art I guess, though we didn’t have that name for it then.
“It was a natural segue into punk music. Teachers Training College beckoned after Art School, but the hatchet faced old witch conducting the interview clearly felt I would be a danger to the morals of any school children I might teach. She’d heard about my rubber cocks sculptures so was somewhat prejudiced. “I’m sure you’d have a lot to teach the children, Mr Gibbs, but I think you are more suited to being a practising artist than a teacher.”
“Jamie and Sandra both went to Alternative School. Jamie (Julie Curlette) was beautiful, quick at learning to play, really enthusiastic about music, and she encouraged other musicians and bands – housing and feeding Chris Knox and his band The Enemy when they first came to Auckland, which helped them get established.
“Jamie was well read on the philosophy of Nietzsche and pretty much lived her life by it. Having the police chasing her was a game Jamie really enjoyed. She was caught riding around the streets on a pushbike wearing just a man’s white shirt and nothing else and the police gave her a warning about natural air conditioning.
“As an individual, Jamie was probably the most outstanding and dynamic figure of the early Auckland punk scene. She attempted to live her life her own way, had a totally amoral outlook, and a continual need to challenge those who believed they held the franchise on what is called good or bad.
“Sandra grew up surrounded by the hippie smack-heads and alternative lifestyle addicts manning the stalls in Cook Street Market, owned and run by her Dad (Brian Jones). At about eleven years of age she appeared on the cover of a controversial sex education book called Down Under The Plum Trees. She totally had her own look; like a pretty little girl with flawless soft creamy skin and darkest curly hair who’d put on her mother’s clothes and makeup and snuck out of the house forgetting to wear a coat or carry any money. At just 16 yrs old, she was the youngest; dizzy and sometimes petulant. Her singing really conveyed energy and excitement.
“Leonie and Shona I don’t know a lot about. I liked them both immensely and we enjoyed each other’s company but it was focused on getting down to work at practice sessions. Both really easy to work with. We got along well and it was more a kind of professional relationship really.
Can you describe a typical week in the Auckland punk scene?
“Typical? When Idle Idols first started playing I still had a day-job in a bank. I got moved out of the chief accountant’s office after turning up to work with fluorescent hair after a weekend gig. They put me in sole charge of the Records Department in the basement where no customers could see me, but at least they didn’t fire me. It was difficult doing a late night gig and turning up to work at eight am next day.
“We went to a pub or club if we were doing a gig there. It’s not easy to remember details; just a haze of impressions, there was a lot of pills and drugs. It didn’t revolve around clubs or pubs much for me. The Windsor Castle in Parnell was my local. We played there with The Enemy (Chris Knox’s band), but I didn’t hang there much, and The Gluepot, where we played with Mi-Sex. We were just a curiosity.
“There were houses and practice rooms where friends and bands lived and people hung and did booze or drugs. Often someone would yell out at the pub where the parties were and everyone would just crash them. It was pretty much usual but the police would sometimes be called in if things got too out of hand.
“Some of us arty punks regularly went to gallery previews at Auckland’s premier galleries such as Barry Lett, Denis Cohn, and New Vision.
“We were young. All sorts of people would drop into the old house in Parnell Rd where Fiona and me lived and more often than not they’d bring booze or something else, anything and whatever. I sampled most on a purely ad hoc basis. I’ve never injected but sometimes there would be blood spattered all over the bathroom walls or toilet where someone had been shooting up.
“Pills were popular, and speed. Downers easily obtained from a dodgy GP in chambers off Queen Street. Often there would be someone toppled over in the bushes, totally out cold in the front garden. Relative to those around me in Auckland, I wasn’t so big into drugs, but it really was ubiquitous and there were tragic overdose deaths right through the 1970’s. Sex, Drugs and Music, is it any different now?
You played crucial venues such as Disco D’Ora, Zwines, The State Theatre, Classic Cinema, The Windsor Castle, HQ Rock Café and numerous other hell-holes and concert halls around Auckland. How many people would come to the shows? Did they have a wider appeal than the city’s punk core?
“After living in London so long I’ve forgotten a lot of Auckland street names and venues. There were never huge crowds. It could be as few as twenty to thirty on a bad night. A good crowd even at Zwines wouldn’t be more than around a hundred punters. It was a small club.
“One slack night at the HQ Rock Café, there wouldn’t have been more than about fifteen, but we had big fun experimenting with the resident long-hair band as they mixed our sounds through Revox machines and phasers and other musical accessories we couldn’t afford. It was great.
“Playing at suburban college halls and small local halls could be very scary and we didn’t do many. Sometimes it would turn into a war zone as lagered-up, local, long-haired rednecks would screech in on utes looking for rumbles. They’d start trashing everything. There weren’t any security guards.
“My scrambled memory of it is even more scrambled now years later, but it was like a western movie at the time. I remember being pushed from the stage at some old hall and falling onto the amps one night then blacking out. I went through a hole in the floorboards (the hole was already there). I don’t know who got me out of the place or how I got home. I’ve been deaf in one ear ever since.
“It became increasingly more violent later and too fucking scary as people began to ape the kicking, gobbing, and violent crap they’d been fed by the media.
The New Wave Special 78 show in Wellington’s Town Hall in June 1978 was a landmark punk event and featured in television shows Radio With Pictures and EyeWitness. Idle Idols featured prominently in the coverage (and I must say didn’t sound too ramshackle at all). What are your memories of the show and trip?
“We were all filmed loading into a coach on Queen Street. There wasn’t room for Fiona (Clark) to come (Fiona and me were an item) so I was pissed about leaving her. Don’t recall much about travelling in the tour bus. It was like being on a school bus, naughty ones at the back.
“When we arrived in Wellington the bands were each given dressing rooms backstage at the Town Hall. We got slapped a few bucks and went out for chicken and fries and some packs of lager, but it was basically fend for yourself.
“Sandra decided to have a petulant tantrum, wanting all my songs cut, to do only hers … nice! Eventually she reconsidered and it was fine once we got on stage and were into it. I was wearing bondage straps round my legs and had to hop onto the stage. I hadn’t thought this through. Suburban Reptiles were sneering at us backstage as we went on after them.
“There were about two hundred people out in the hall that night, a fairly good crowd, but the place sure weren’t jam-packed.
You shared the stage with every notable Auckland punk band of the late 1970’s – The Scavengers, Suburban Reptiles, The Enemy, The Masochists, Sheerlux, The Atrocities, Proud Scum and Rooter – can you list your memories and opinion on each of them (or at least the ones you remember)?
“The Scavengers: A brilliant band. Johnny Volume was king, recycled from former band 1B Darlings and briefly with Suburban Reptiles. Back then The Scavs did a lot of Ramones covers (that’s good). They were a great jobbing band to dance to at Zwines, and guaranteed a fun night out if they were playing. It’s something some bands forget.
“They worked a casual tee shirt and tight jeans look mainly, but it was as deliberate an image as any of the other bands.
“Johnny and Ronnie (Recent) bluffed their way round the simple punk chords totally believably and their singing matched their playing. Des (Truction) was tall and gangly. His drumming was often out of sync, but it sounded right. Ronnie looked slight and affected a mockney accent (or was it real?).
“What’s not to like about The Scavs? I still play their Marching Girls 45 – ‘True Love’ and ‘First in Line’. Whenever I get a bit nostalgic I unplug the CD player, plug in the old 1970’s turntable and give it a spin.
“Suburban Reptiles did punk British style along with “shocking” antics like emptying rubbish bins over the booing audience at Auckland University. Playing original material live is a challenge. Their music wasn’t danceable and they didn’t play very often. People stood and gawped mainly, but they were loud, it sounded crap, but it was perfect anyway and exciting at the time.
“The attempt they made at being a media entity was very ambitious in New Zealand. At an early gig of theirs with The Scavengers above the Classic Cinema the sound was up so loud it almost made your ears bleed in such a small space. I remember the night mainly because I was steaming up under clear plastic clothes and Maran licked all the sweat off my chest.
“Zero was a good front for the band. She was really totally unthreatening and had a warm presence that made up for the coldness of some of the other band members, excluding Billy Planet (William Prendergast), who was really cute and likeable.
“I knew Buster (Mark Hough) from art school, pretentious and ambitious. Jimmy Vinyl’s saxophone playing gave them a pastiche X-Ray Specs sound that was possibly Sub Reps best feature even though the sax didn’t always come in on cue or at all often. Bones looked cool and he was a real musician, had a kind of Zen quality about him because he knew he was good, later moving on to join Midnight Oil.
“I got to know Billy Planet (William Prendergast) a lot better later in London when he and Fiona came to live with John and me in the mid 1980s after having been deported from USA.
“The Stimulators (Sheerlux) – a nice little band who could actually play their instruments. I remember singing “Wild Thing… You Make My Ring Sting” with Roland (Grovel) and Jimmy (Juricevich) on guitar and doing numbers with them at auditions in what had once been Mojo’s strip club.
“They were brilliant and unpretentious. I don’t know who was auditioning or for what, but Jamie and Sandra were there and Maran, Buster Stiggs, and maybe Bones and a few others. I guess it just about covered every swinging dick in punk in Auckland then, minus very few.
“I really liked the way Roland and Jimmy played, excellent drummer too. Their vocalist could sing, but lacked personality – the dark-haired handsome type. I think they had a lot of potential. Jimmy and Roland were the only guys I might have enjoyed working with apart from Idle Idols, but they never asked me.
“After a gig we did in an old hall off the top of Karangahape Rd, we’d all been kidding around having fun then I came across Roland screwing a girl on top of a gravestone in the cemetery. You could see them clearly from the street, oblivious. I always remember Roland that way. I’m sure he’d approve.
”Rooter. J Jamrag: “I am a rabbit, I’ve got to have it.” (from his Proud Scum era). Brilliant! I saw them when they first started playing at Zwines. I remember him having a pogo on the dance floor when Idle Idols were playing. Rooter only had a couple of songs. Jamrag looked an archetypal punk like Johnny Rotten, but taller and better looking.
“The Enemy came up from Dunedin at the end of 1978. Not exactly punk. Chris Knox was a one-off kind of performance artist. He would do himself harm onstage and slice up his arms with broken bottles. I was impressed. Obviously talented and original.
When did the group cease playing? Why did you stop performing with them? Have you seen any of the other members since and when?
“I don’t recall where we did our last gig or anything about it. I guess it was becoming increasingly less important, things just sort of stopped, and I started painting again, working for my show at Denis Cohn Gallery in September 1979.
“I remember thinking it was the end of punk when I saw Kate Bush for the first time on telly at a party.
“We played a gig at The Windsor Castle with The Enemy. Sandra had left the band and Leonie left shortly after. We got a replacement on bass (sorry! got the face, but the name’s gone), but it was the end.
Eyewitness punk special (1978)