True Skank Story Number 1 _ Abate Nuisance Forthwith
Being staunch advocates for local music and always game for a laugh, Skank Attack once infamously played a raucous set at 9am in the morning outside the annual New Zealand music convention, in support of a New Zealand music quota for local radio.
The generator powered, guerilla style assault on the ears of unsuspecting commuters was going well, until it became clear that (by a typically Wellington coincidence) the office of the City Council’s noise control officer happened to be directly opposite. The grumpy official was understandably irritated at having to do the paperwork on a brazen outpouring of excess decibels before he’d even had his morning coffee. He wasted no time in summoning some mustachioed police officers before striding across the road to write out a noise abatement order, bearing the uncompromising directive to ‘Abate Nuisance Forthwith’.
The resulting newspaper photographs finally got the band some press attention and while the event itself was witnessed by only a few bemused passers by, influential figures of the time like Karen Hay and Mike Moore were among them. It’s unclear if this stunt had any effect whatsoever on subsequent policies regarding NZ music, or whether the increased public profile of Skank Attack which resulted was responsible for a subsequent invitation to appear on Radio with Pictures, but a good laugh was had by all.
True Skank Story Number 2 _ Pink Daks
There was nothing the Skank crew loved more than heading out on the road in Steve’s huge 1966 Rambler Classic (a.k.a. ‘The Skankmobile’) and touring to places where we had a bit of novelty value for the locals and therefore attracted slightly lower levels of open hostility. To be fair to the often maligned Aucklanders, the Auckland crowds and bands were always really supportive, partly thanks to the favourable airplay we often got from BFM.
On these tours we were usually accompanied by Steve’s mate Andy who acted as an unofficial roadie. Usually referred to as ‘Greystoke’ on account of his long ponytail, Andy was a bit of a Trotskyist hippy and it was rare for him to be seen wearing anything other than a weathered leather trench coat and a pair of burgundy corduroys. So it was with some surprise that we heard Andy announce that he was going to wash his trousers and ask us if we’d like him to do our gear too. Being filthy from days on the road with pretty much one set of clothes each, we reluctantly agreed to strip down, then Greystoke chucked our clothes in the washer and that’s where it all started to go wrong. What emerged from the resulting soup was a slightly less burgundy pair of cords and a totally pink set of Skank threads. There was nothing for it but to take to the stage that night looking decidedly un-manly, before quietly slipping out of town the next morning, the shame slowly subsiding as the miles slipped by.
Photo credit_Steve Cochrane
True Skank Story Number 3 _ Severed heads
Towards the end of our relatively short musical ‘career’ we were approached by then emerging film-maker Grant Lahood who wanted to shoot a music video for his show-reel. As there was no talk of any actual cash fee we naturally jumped at this generous offer. The whole thing was very slick for it’s day and was played on Radio with Pictures on more than one occasion, giving us much needed national exposure and a huge sense of achievement. RWP had been a cultural lifeline in the 1980’s as it was the only vehicle on television for seeing video clips of proper independent music. As teenagers we had religiously tuned in every Sunday night, desperate to get our fix of the latest alternative music coming out of the UK, U.S.A and also NZ, so it was a total blast to find ourselves actually part of the show.
The only problem was that with the passage of a few years we realized that we looked fairly ludicrous in that video, even by 1980’s standards! I was seen running through Wellington’s Mount Victoria tunnel trying to escape from an unseen foe, before being slapped around the head by a series of floating, dismembered limbs. And Jeff appeared as nothing more than a severed head, periodically drifting around the screen. To be fair it all made sense in relation to the lyrics of the title tune ‘Limbs Akimbo’, but nevertheless we secretly hoped that the whole thing would sink from public view. So it was a bit of a shock when the clip re-appeared in my life in the most bizarre circumstances in 1992.
I had just finished a diploma in professional photography at Wellington Polytechnic and was burdened with a large debt. This, combined with a thirst for adventure, prompted me to gain employment as a MAF fisheries observer aboard rusted and decrepit Russian trawlers fishing for Hoki and squid off New Zealand’s West Coast (Sth Island) and the Sub-Antarctic islands. We had to learn basic Russian very fast and adjust to a gruelling shift arrangement to cover a relentless 24/7 work schedule for months on end. Sleep deprivation, combined with truly grim food, huge ocean swells and the constant stench of dead fish could be a stomach churning experience for a vegetarian landlubber like my good self.
The whole thing was totally mad because as far as the crew were concerned me and my NZ work partner Greg were in Russia, not the other way around, so we were totally immersed in their world, while working professionally for a NZ agency. Loads of these guys had crewed in nuclear submarines during the cold war, or fought in the Soviet-Afghan war, so they were extremely hardened blokes, and yet incredibly hospitable. Hard drinking was less common that you might expect but on very special occasions a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka usually materialized and half glasses of the stuff would be knocked back in one gulp. Quality standards would then immediately plummet because when the bottle was drained (this typically took less than ten minutes for a group of 5 or 6 people) they would break out a rank home-brewed fruit wine that reeked of old socks. No-one cared though because it took the edge off the filthy working conditions and lets face it the whole ship reeked of death and diesel fumes anyway, so what was one more foul and obnoxious odour if the stuff got everyone pissed enough to break out the guitars and accordions and forget the 12 hour shift they’d just worked? When the home brew ran out it was not uncommon to see guys chug back a bottle of cheap Eau de Cologne. I kid you not.
After a couple of months of this we had become comradely with some of the crew, but were still treated with caution and outright suspicion by others. Remember this was a time when Russia was only a few years into the Glasnost period of political reform and so the old school communist ways were still very much embedded in the culture.
One great vehicle for promoting cross-cultural understanding was the simple act of sitting in the crews mess-room watching movies with them. Usually these were crappy Claude Van Damme action flicks, poorly recorded off the telly in English and then crudely overdubbed in Russian, but nonetheless simple to follow. The problem was that once everyone had seen the same movie half a dozen times the crew became a bit mutinous if the captain did not cease fishing operations briefly to obtain new/old films from another vessel. Believe it or not this was achieved by bringing two large ships containing around 60 souls each into close proximity in the middle of the freezing ocean (a highly dangerous and frankly inadvisable operation under any conditions). Then the burliest crew member would throw a weighted rope between the two vessels. A plastic bag full of video tapes would be tied onto it and hauled across to the waiting Russians on the other ship. And vice versa. Sorted!
So, there I was one night, half dead from exhaustion as I lay slumped in a cramped bunk bed drifting in and out of a disturbed sleep. It had just gone 2a.m when my work partner Greg came crashing into the room shouting ‘Your not going to believe this, I’ve just seen you on television!’ ‘Greg’, I groaned, ’piss off’. ‘No, seriously’ he replied ‘you were in this crazy music video on Radio with Pictures’.
Opening one eye I groaned ‘Radio with pictures has not screened on New Zealand television for several years Greg and even if it had we don’t get TV reception out here you nutter. Now f#ck off and let me get some sleep man!’
Then as my brain returned to full consciousness the penny dropped. Some Russian bloke had obviously recorded a random episode of RWP several years before and the tape had been endlessly circulating around the Russian fishing fleet in the middle of the Southern Ocean ever since … and out of the entire fleet the tape just happened to pitch up on our ship. What were the chances?
The next thing I knew I had young crew members dragging me out of bed and into the mess room where I received a rousing cheer from half the guys, who clamored around in their distressed denim threads, slapping me on the back as they played air guitar and shouted their approval. But then there were the fully warranted looks of cynicism and suspicion from the rest. At this time if a band could appear in a music clip in Russia they would literally have to have been endorsed by the state moguls who were paranoid about Western music corrupting the minds of the young. So the perfectly reasonable logic among some of these guys was that there was no way that a state sponsored ‘rock star’ would be working on their festering trawler in the middle of the Southern ocean. ‘It is not you’ they declared with deadpan soviet certainty. ‘Fair enough mate’ I replied (in bad Russian). ‘Can I go back to bed now? We’ve got fish to kill tomorrow’
Grant Lahood went on to become a successful film director, the Skank Attack video apparently presenting no obstacle to his career trajectory. Curiously, like that Skank Attack video and my work on the trawlers, Lahoods 1992 short film The Singing Trophy also happened to feature a hell of a lot of severed heads!
Photo credit _Unknown
Top photo – Screen shot from the ‘Limbs Akimbo’ video (and the only bit where we look like a band with all body parts attached)
Photo credit _Unknown. Copyright in underlying image – Grant Lahood
True Skank Story Number 4 _ The Somme
After a successful gig supporting Hunters and Collectors at Wellington’s Union Hall we discovered that Steve’s beloved Rambler (a.ka The ‘Skankmobile’, the car that had reliably transported us on many a tour around the country), was missing. A couple of calls located the towing company responsible.
Arriving at their walled depot we entered via a corrugated iron gate to a scene reminiscent of a WWI Somme battlefield. A muddy parking lot held a huge assortment of filthy, random vehicles. A terrifying pack of mud-covered, barking Alsatians dogs surrounded us as we trudged across ‘No Man’s Land’ towards the owner’s office.
We then endured a few excruciating minutes as the owner and a couple of his mates, while suggestively looking us up and down, regaled tales of how other car owners had resorted to dubious sexual acts to get their cars back. As the sound of banjos started playing in our heads, the dogs who had followed us into the office barked loudly and shook themselves, covering us with mud and dog hair.
Realising sexual favours would not be forthcoming the owner finally presented us with a bill and a toothless smile and as we paid over the cash the dogs immediately, and I mean immediately, stopped barking.
The mangy mutts followed us out of the office to the now mud-splattered Rambler and we locked ourselves in to have a closer look at their invoice. Curiously it was exactly the same amount as our performance fee for the gig.
True Skank story number 5 _ Skank Fritters (with bonus recipe)
Back in the very early days of Skank Attack we had a guy called Dave Nendick on vocals for a short while, mainly while we cut our teeth playing house parties and gigs at (long defunct) Wellington venue The Terminus.
Dave’s lasting legacy was more culinary than musical as it turned out. Our impoverished lifestyle at the time involved subsisting on breakfast cereal and lentils, this being the recession end of the ‘80s and all. So you can imagine our delight when after a rowdy rehearsal session one winters night, Dave offered to whip us up a batch of tasty potato fritters.
‘Damn Dave, those are mighty tasty fritters!’ we all chorused, and to our delight he cheerfully knocked out a second batch. Champion!
After Dave left however we quickly returned to our normal state of malnourishment, until one night I could stand it no more and decided to have a crack at Daves recipe myself. Sadly though, I could never get it quite right. Here was my misguided interpretation of the recipe:
Skank fritters – Serves 3
-Grated potato (Just throw a big mound of the stuff in a bowl, she’ll be right)
-1 Egg (Hmmm, or was that two?)
-Milk (I’m sure Dave just sloshed a load in there)
-Flour (Oh, just chuck some in man!)
Start preparations by drinking large quantities of cheap lager.
Mix all ingredients together roughly in a bowl, giving no consideration to the order you do things in.
You are already starving so do not bother waiting until the oil has heated sufficiently in the pan, just slop the mixture in without delay
Ensure that you pile up the blobs of mixture to twice the recommended height because you are ravenous and really need a very big fritter, right now.
Needless to say, my mega-fritter interpretation of Dave’s recipe was not greeted with such hearty enthusiasm by the Skank crew, because the inside of each fritter was basically a load of sloppy uncooked potato, congealed in a half raw, paste-like substance.
Despite constant griping from the lads I never seemed to work out that I needed to simply take a more light handed approach. And despite the boy’s complaints these dire Skank fritters became an almost nightly staple for the band, mainly because they were cheap and filling.
Around this time we read a great story about how The Clash had been so hungry in their early days that one night after a fly-posting session they had gone back to someone’s flat and cooked up the leftover poster paste and eaten it. Frankly this put the fritter situation into a whole new perspective for us. We suddenly realized that relatively speaking, we had been living like kings!
True Skank Story Number 6 _ The Cricketers Arms
Back in the day, one of the main venues in Wellington was the ‘Cricketers Arms Tavern’. Despite the not exactly catchy name and the less than enticing brutalist concrete exterior, many a great night out was had there seeing all manner of Wellington bands and classic touring acts like the Straightjacket Fits, Tall Dwarves etc etc.
This was of course years before bars got trendy fit outs, cool sounding names, or indeed paid any attention whatsoever to the tastes of their clientele. It was just assumed that red carpet and beer stained walls would appeal to the majority of punters. This is a fancy way of saying that the place was a complete shit-hole.
So it was with deep amusement that we recently saw the Cricketers building listed as a tourist site on the dayout.co.nz tourism website. It’s attraction number 1928 to be specific. Be sure to check out this wonderful landmark (complete with boarded up windows) on you’re your next visit to Wellington. Here is a taste of the delights that await you: http://dayout.co.nz/attractions/attraction.aspx?attractionId=1928
To be fair though Skank Attack did play a number of very successful gigs at this venue. The most noteworthy of which was the record release party for ‘When the wind blows’, a compilation album of Wellington bands, which we released under the ‘Skank Records’ moniker.
The standout tune was arguably the title track, by our mates The Glass, members of which were also in Number Nine. NN could always be relied upon to put on a powerhouse display and their performance at the release party was no exception.
On this particular night we told the promoter that not only did we want him to let everyone in for free, but we also wanted him to pay all the bands a set fee (as opposed to the usual percentage of the door take) and we wanted the management to sell beer at a reduced price to get the party rocking. He just about had a fit, but somehow we persuaded him to give it a go. What resulted was a totally packed house over two nights, with the audience spending the cash they had saved on door charges on booze instead and everyone having a fine time. By the end of the weekend the bar had been drunk completely dry and the happy promoter was left eating humble pie. Much to our satisfaction.
Number Nine mash it up at the ‘When the wind blow’s’ record release party
Photo credit_Unknown (… probably Phil Simpson)
More Skank stories coming soon!
We will be adding more stories over the coming weeks. Stay tuned and feel free to email us with your own recollections at firstname.lastname@example.org
To hear hear audio anecdotes check out Kirsten Johnstone’s recent interview with Skank Attack on the Radio New Zealand Music 101 show by clicking here