Between 1980 and 1982 The Screaming Meemees were far and away New Zealand's biggest independent - it was called indie pop then but that pop tag means something quite different now - band, and, with DD Smash, one of the two biggest live acts in the country by a margin.
They were at the same time both extraordinarily innovative, and commercially successful - in a way that no longer seems possible.
Tony Drumm (vocals), Laurence Johan - but everyone called him Yoh - (drums), Peter van der Fluit (bass, keyboards) and Michael O'Neill (guitar) formed the band at Rosmini High, a private Catholic boys school on Auckland's North Shore in late 1979 and started practicing in the school's music room.
Their reputation spread fairly rapidly on the Shore, with a growing and devoted following, and by the middle of that year they were playing regularly in the city. They were soon seen as the leaders of what was termed, by Rip It Up magazine, the North Shore Invasion, when dozens of bands from garages across the bridge seemed to flood Auckland's multitude of venues (best documented by many of the tracks on the Propeller's Class of 81 compilation).
Mashing together punk, ska and sixties pop, it was a huge breath of fresh air in a city weighed down by the tail end of the original punk movement which had grown stagnant, violent and clichéd by the beginning of 1980.
The band recorded their first demos at Harlequin Studios in late 1980. One of the tracks from those demos, See Me Go, was added to the playlist of Auckland student station, Radio B (now 95bFm) and spent several weeks at number one on the station's chart. Another of the demos, All Dressed Up, was placed on the Class of 81 album.
Playing with the crop of post punk heroes including The Features, The Clean and The Spelling Mistakes, in the large number of venues around the central city - like The Windsor, XS, Reverb Room, The Rumba Bar and many others, the Meemees' brand of rough derivative garage power-pop immediately won them a massive and loyal fan base, and they released a one off single sided single (with the Newmatics track Judas on the on the other) Can't Take It on Bryan Staff's indie, Ripper Records.
It was rushed out in March 1981, and it's release coincided with Class of 81, with the Meemees headling at the CO81 parties in Auckand and Christchurch.
The single entered the bottom rungs of the top 40 and eventually sold about 2000 copies, quite a large number for a New Zealand act at that time, especially two bands that were, to the maisntream, unknown.
Before that single was released they had already signed to Propeller Records.
By mid '81 The Meemees were the biggest thing in Auckland, with massive queues outside all their gigs and they headed off on the landmark Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow with labelmates Blam Blam Blam and The Newmatics, doing the same sort damage throughout the rest of the country, with nationwide full houses and a frenzy of publicity.
The second single was the highly anticipated - recorded - See Me Go, released in a limited 12" edition (500 numbered copies) and deleted in all formats on the day of release. The single entered the chart at number one the next week, and, being completely unavailable, dropped off a couple of weeks later. See Me Go sold about 4500 copies in that one week, and was the very first New Zealand single to enter the NZ Singles chart at number one - doing so with no radio play whatsoever outside student radio.
In fact the band's success happened without any commercial airplay at all - anywhere in NZ. Ever.
Remember kids, many of these execs now championing NZ music fought long and hard to keep local music off the airwaves....
The next single was Sunday Boys, in December. Another record, another top twenty tune and the first release from the debut album. That album, the now acclaimed indie pop / post-punk masterpiece If This is Paradise.....I'll take the Bag, was begun in October 1981, with Ian Morris producing (it was his whiskey soaked production which helped make the record what it was - that and the ongoing parties that were part of the recording sessions) and was finally released in July 1982.
It duly jumped into the top twenty in an era when NZ albums simply didn't chart. It showed the band, whilst still wearing their influences proudly were growing up-something that would become obvious on their next and final single.
By late 1982 the band were confusing many of the still huge crowds with the pre-show tapes of dub, New York dance and hip-hop that were being played regularly. The album had strongly hinted at these changes.
The final single, Stars in My Eyes, the only record produced by the band (with soundman Tom Sampson), was a result of these influences, especially with the 12" mixes - the first NZ record to have 12" club mixes. Stars in My Eyes sounded revolutionary for NZ at the time of its release, with Festival Records (the label's distributor) management being unsure if it should even get released.
It 'sounds odd' we were told. 'Too fast'.
Three decades on it sounds like a New Zealand classic.
The authoritative US guide, AllMusic, has this to say about the band:
Their work for the album brought the Screaming Meemees closer to what U.K. groups A Certain Ratio and Rip Rig and Panic were up to. Stars in My Eyes was the last single the group released, which came out as a 12" EP with extended versions. The Screaming Meemees were as essential to the history of New Zealand rock as Split Enz and Blam Blam Blam. Their sole album is well-worth seeking out for fans of post-punk.
The Stars single was a crucial moment in NZ rock - the first New Zealnd single to bridge the punk - alt dance divide.
And - more - it was another hit and an appropriate way to go out.
After a headlining - 8 pm on Saturday night - slot at the 1983 Sweetwaters Festival, The Screaming Meemees played their last public gig at Auckland's Mainstreet Cabaret in April 1983, breaking the attendance record there held by Split Enz, with over 2000 attending the final night and queues of those who couldn't get in down Queen Street.
They reunited in August of the same year to help bail Propeller out of the hole that their album (and the Blams' album) left it in. And that was the last NZ saw of one of the most important bands of the decade.
They reformed once in the late 1980s for Michael's first wedding but not since.
At the time of writing (mid 2011) Mike & Peter own Liquid Studios in Auckland, and a year earlier remade See Me Go as a Weet-Bix TVC with a child vocalist. Tony is a sculptor in Auckland, and Yoh is a landscape gardener in New South Wales.
In 2003 Mike and Peter bounced back into the NZ Top 3 as The Zephyrs, a band made for a TV ad.
The Screaming Meemees' album If This is Paradise.....I'll take the Bag has recently been remstered and extended and is on iTunes and Amplifier.
For a more personal - and detailed - overview of the band, please head over to this page.
Plus a large number of comps that seem to have slipped through. Tracks have been found on various US compilations plus a few from Europe over the years, most of which we had no idea about. Pirate copies of If This Is Paradise were available in Europe and the US in 2005.
Days Goes By and Hardly moved by It were both renamed as Day Goes By and Hardly Moved By You on all releases subsequent to the "Paradise" album (I don't know why)
See Me Go, Till I Die, Days Goes By, F is For Fear, At At, and Stars in My Eyes all had videos made for them. The video for Stars costing a grand total of $129
The Screaming Meemees on iTunes.