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Propeller

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Nick Hanson

Nick Hanson at Mainstreet, 1980.
Photo Anthony Phelps

Part 1: A Brief History

Propeller was started by myself in early 1980 with a $400 loan from my flatmate, Nancy Tidball, initially to record her boyfriend James Pinker's band, The Features, who had a massive live following but couldn't get a record deal.

I'd toyed with the idea for a couple of years, and the first Suburban Reptiles single, Megaton, was copyrighted to my semi-label, Partisan, but in those days New Zealand had virtually no indigenous record industry and a couple of major label owned pressing plants which showed little interest in pressing indie singles.

It took a combination of a change in staff at the PolyGram plant (thanks Annabel) and the assistance of Ode Records' Terrence O'Neill-Joyce, to get it off the ground - although I soon learned the hard way to get things in writing when I found the songs on those early singles assigned to another publisher, amongst other things.

Newmatics & Shoes This High

My brother-in-law was also managing The Spelling Mistakes, who just happened to win the battle of the bands competition he was running and got themselves a free day in Hugh Lynn's Mascot Studio in Eden Terrace. I was also a judge (the others were radio DJ Barry Jenkins, John Dix, Bryan Staff, and John Doe, the last two being the compilers of Ak79).

I topped up the budget and we had our second release.

Both singles were released in June 1980 to the disdain of the established recording industry, such disdain being somewhat aggravated by the instant massive retail support and the fact that both singles charted nationally the next week selling about 1000 each over their first three or four weeks.

We were immediately the subject of chart rigging allegations and a chart investigation by RIANZ, who ran the charts, which verified the results. Over the next three years we managed to put 22 (out of 26) singles into the top forty and 9 (out of 10) albums into either the lp or compilation charts.
 

Ther Features

The Features, 1980.

The Second Wave

I released the Class of 81 compile of new acts in March 81 and signed 3 of the bands to long term deals.

The Screaming Meemees, Blam Blam Blam and The Newmatics proved to be the mainstay of the label thereafter, and eventually our downfall.

At the same time I'd taken on a partner, Paul Rose, put Propeller's distribution through Festival, and we started a second label, Furtive which we had through CBS - an arrangement designed to keep both companies honest and on their toes. It was also honouring a verbal committment The Newmatics had made to CBS.

The label was named by Chris Knox.

Throughout '81 and most of '82 we seemed to do no wrong. At one stage in August '81 we had four singles in the top 40 - numbers 1, 11, 23 and 40.

Meemees _ North Shore Netball Club

Screaming Meemees - North Shore Netball Club
Photo: Murray Cammick

This was one more than RCA, and two more than RTC (Virgin)- both majors - had.

The number one was "See Me Go" by The Meemees. We released it, pressed 4000 copies and perversely deleted the disc the same day. All 4000 were sold within 7 days - thus causing it to enter at #1 and meteorically plummet down the chart over the next three or four weeks. Another chart rigging investigation followed (I had to explain the concept to a bewildered RIANZ person...why would you delete a number one single??) - another acquittal.

Ballare

Ballare, 1982
Photographer unknown

In July / August 1981, The Screaming Meemees, Blam Blam Blam and The Newmatics toured NZ as The Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow, selling out a series of large venues in every main centre, some over several nights.

By later that year The Meemees were easily the biggest live band in NZ with record deals on the table from labels in Australia and the US (we signed a label deal with Festival in Australia and Mushroom picked up the rights for the rest of the world. Neither sadly came to much).

In the interim we'd also signed and released a raft of other acts, including several who pushed the post-punk boundaries somewhat. These included Car Crash Set, The Dabs, No Tag, Ballare, Bongos, Prime Movers, The Skeptics, Tall Dwarfs, Milltown Stowaways, Ivan Zagni and more.

 

The Primer Movers

The Prime Movers, Mainstreet, Auckland, 1982

The End - sort of..

The ongoing hits from The Blams, Meemees & Newmatics meant we had to progress to albums from these acts.

The Newmatics split in early 82 but the other two started their albums late '81 after we put together a joint venture deal with a recording studio.

Both albums were released mid '82 and sold well. A series of events, including break-ups of both bands, the recording studio going back on its deal (it was far more expensive relatively too, to record albums in those days and the potential return, pre CD era, was far less).

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Looking back it was not a smart move but we had little choice but to take the risk or lose the bands. They had every right to expect albums from their label. These were, however, the first of the post punk New Zealand albums and opened the floodgates.

Before the Screaming Meemees and Blam Blam Blam albums indie and edgy New Zealand bands simply didn't make albums - they were the preserve of the mainstream acts signed to major labels, and rarely exciting.

The Screaming Meemees - Rip It Up

The Screaming Meemees on the cover of Rip It Up. This was the third colour Rip It Up cover - all the earlier ones
were one colour - the two before were also Propeller acts: Newmatics and Blams.

These records opened the floodgates and thereafter it was unacceptable for important local bands not to make long players.

However the financial burden of cost overruns and personal circumstances made us decide to put the label on hold in early 1983. One of the final recordings, was, I felt, the best thing we ever did - "Stars in My Eyes" by The Screaming Meemees.

At the end there was a massive bill from Blams, Meemees and Newmatics sessions which a couple of benefits, loans from my parents, and profits from comps eventually covered by the early nineties.

I think it was worth it.

The Features

The Features, One Tree Hill

Since '83 I've revived the label every now and then, for one off singles, CD reissues, and a couple of great compilations: Bigger Than Both of Us, a collection of virtually every important NZ single between 79 and 82, and an expanded revised AK79, a couple of albums that document the era when Propeller (and Ripper Records) can reasonably claim to have initiated the modern age of the independent label in New Zealand and kicked off the contemporary NZ recording industry.

In 2003 Propeller was revived for the compilation Give It A Whirl, the album released to accompany the TV One Series; and for the remastered Bigger Than Both of Us collection.

A Propeller singles anthology is due for release in 2012.

Simon Grigg

Toy Love 1979 (Photographer unknown)

Toy Love, Auckland 1979.
Photo Anthony Phelps

Propeller 7" Singles
Propeller 12" Singles
Propeller Albums and CDs

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