In The West, In The West, In The West

Buster & Zero

Buster & Zero, Onehunga,
before the Marcellin gig

After the debacle of the Auckland University gig the Suburban Reptiles took a brief break to regroup. Des Edwards left, or at least they left him. He later that year turned up in Junk, a band fronted by Craccum (the Auckland University student mag) editor Frank Stark (later head of the NZ Film Archive) - which allegedly grew out of something called Grand Cremande (who nobody actually remembers seeing but got a lot of press - in Craccum).

Kim Smith and Trish Johnson also retired as backing vocalists, both being rather redundant.

The band, after one aborted gig was drummerless and we held a variety of auditions after I placed an ad in the NZ Herald. One stands out, a 15 year old in a basement in Buckland’s Beach. His clearly indulgent parents had bought him a no-expense spared top of the line drum kit with all the extras. And he could play Led Zep’s Moby Dick note perfect but little else. We passed, and despaired that we would ever find a drummer.

And – more – one that understood.

Enter Mark Hough.

Jimmy and Zero found Buster Stiggs – as he quickly became, after a brief moment as Buzz Adrenalin (but he'll always be Buzz to us) – in Queen Street. The introduction was simple, they started talking to him and he asked if he could join.

Mark had serious connections to Auckland rock royalty, notably Split Enz. He was an art student who lived in the same house in bohemian Grafton’s Park Ave – where various Enz members and Enz-clan lived – and had previously played in a band called After Hours, which featured Neil Finn, pre-Enz (I’d seen them supporting Enz at The Uni Café in 1976).

He went to school and was best mates with Phil Judd, who half of Auckland, myself included, idolised as the genius behind Enz.

His wife until recently was Miranda Joel whose store Pussyfooting had made the famous Enz costumes (designed by Noel Crombie).

More than that, he could actually find the skin of a drum, keep a reasonable rhythm, he looked the part and had access to all the Enz practice equipment (recently left behind after the band had struck out for Australia and the UK). So overnight the Suburban Reptiles had 1) a drummer, 2) gear and, 3) a practice room in Mark’s flat to replace the one in Ponsonby Terrace which was having neighbour issues.

The band reconvened to quickly knock out a set which not only included the songs the band had played pre-Mark, but an increasing number of originals written by Buster, Jimmy Joy and Billy Planet.

Craccum letterCraccum letter

Slightly embarrassing, but what the hell

A few photos and recordings of the first of those rehearsals have survived (and one is on the main Reptiles page). The recording is way too rough to make it beyond private listening sessions (I recorded them, without the necessary skills, on my father’s home-made reel to reel) but surprising in that it was pretty confident in its originals, which form the core. The Suburban Reptiles were, unlike every NZ punk or punk inspired band until mid ‘78, more about self composed music than the standard fare of covers that filled most punk band's set lists. In June 1978, only The Enemy and the Suburban Reptiles played original sets. By that time, as Jimmy explains, the gulf between the increasingly conservatve Auckland punk scene and its founders was even wider.

So, band, gear, and songs. But no gig.

Classic Flyer

The chance of getting a gig in a mainstream venue was almost non-existent, although I was trying. Shortly after Buster joined, I’d hopefully lodged the band with the premier booking agency in Auckland, Benny Levin’s, as an urban blues band: the punk tabloid thing was just breaking in Auckland so it seemed like the only way in, was to try and subvert somehow – to go under whatever taste radar, or lack thereof, these agencies might try and employ to keep us out.

This led to the first paying gig. However, before that the increasingly coherent punk band, with about 10 songs in their set, were offered a private showing.

In West Auckland, beyond the built-up bounds of the city, as it was then, the band were invited to play a fab private party. The party – hosted by someone long forgotten – was extraordinarily hip and filled with the beautiful and the edgy: the designers, the advertising creatives, professional artists, filmmakers and their retinues ...

The Suburban Reptiles were hired as some sort of mix between a curiosity act and something hip that the crowd with aspirations thought it should perhaps be into – the first UK shock headlines were starting to filter through to the colonies by now.

We were happy to oblige.

Jimmy, Massey party

Jimmy, Massey, May1977

There were, I guess, about one or two hundred milling around although I inflated the number to 400 in the first Reps press release, this number being eagerly reported in a Sunday Paper a few weeks later, and it was in full fabulous swing when the Suburban Reptiles roared into life with their inevitable eins, zwei, drei, vier into their liberally interpreted wall-of-noise interpretations of (parts of) Jagger-Richard’s Sympathy For The Devil, then Roxy’s Editions of You, and their own Coup D’etat.

That’s about all it took and the cacophony of noise sent them all running.

Three songs, maybe four and there were ten of us left.

I don’t think any of us would claim to be unhappy with the result.


The Elam Ball

The next gig a week or so later was no less chaotic. The crowd, though, was more user friendly.

The annual Elam Fine Arts School Ball was, and I guess still is, a major event on the Auckland arts Calendar, and its bands tended to be over the years, the likes of Split Ends (as they were then) and Space Waltz, i.e. arty bands who melded with the nature of the place. Thus it was a natural fit for the Suburban Reptiles, with at least three members being fine-arts students over the years. The gig was captured on film by Gray Nicoll and sits in the NZ Film Archive, with restoration underway.

What the film perhaps didn’t capture – or maybe it did – was the demolition of the very large cake, and much of the rest of the room by to-be-rather-famous painter Dean Buchanan, dressed, notoriously as he often was, in a Nazi uniform. The set was short and to the point.

Sunday News

The Angel Mine Party

July 16th, 1977 saw the first major public Auckland punk gig. The Scavengers had been playing a few gigs here and there as supports, but this was the first time the two bands, with the newly discovered Masochists, from West Auckland, played a dedicated showcase as such.

We had – much as with the Scav as The Globe – accidently discovered The Masochists a couple of weeks earlier. Jimmy, Zero, Billy and myself were walking down K Rd on a quiet Sunday and heard a punkish noise coming from a room above some shops (now part of The Rock Shop). We went up to investigate and found four guys rehearsing some pretty fine post-Velvets NYC styled punk, and we clicked. They'd yet to play live.

Auckland now had three punk bands and this was to be their first gig as a unit.

David Blyth, my old school buddy and the guy who’d been motivational in the formation of the Suburban Reptiles, needed money for Angel Mine, his as yet unmade art-house movie. We talked about a money raising gig, and so, a few weeks later, having tactfully convinced the powers at the university that there was nothing to worry about, the doors opened for what was a pivotal and game changing gig in the history of Rock’n’Roll in Auckland City.

The way music was played, created, and recorded in Auckland was to change from hereon out.

Reptiles Reich Poster

Yes, bad taste all around but it was meant to shock.
The handwriting is mine, the design was Buster's.

The Masochists played first – fairly briefly – and very impressively, like a twisted post Iggy razorcut.

They were followed by The Scavengers (I have a vivid memory of Mike Lezbian on his knees, almost crawling, wailing their always terrific room-stopper, a cover of Leiber & Stoller's Riot In Cell Block Number 9) and then to finish, the mostly unexposed Reptiles.

The set wasn’t long, maybe 12 songs, but increasingly cacophonous, and it finished with an extended new song, written by Jimmy: Razorblade Rosie, a tune which mutates into white noise in its full version. At that, Billy Planet, without a word to the others, dragged on stage two rubbish bags full of waste from the University Café and began to empty them over the front few rows of the audience, who seemed, oddly but perhaps caught in some moment, to either not notice, or enjoy it.

As with the poster for the gig, the intent was to cause shock. It did that and the Suburban Reptiles were promptly banned by the university from the café forever.

The gig was also notable for the flurry of bands that formed in the aftermath. Many of the so called 'second generation' Auckland punk bands formed in the weeks afterwards.

Where Are The Boys At?

The next gig was not public but garnered a fairly wide notoriety courtesy of the tabloid press. They'd become aware of the media fuss abroad and were happily taking our calls now, anxious for stories. I’d got matey with the Eight O’Clock, a rag published by the long departed Auckland Star every Saturday night in an attempt to pre-empt the Sunday News.

I had used the contact I’d made earlier with Benny Levin’s booking agency to secure a gig playing a school ball – not any school ball but, rather perfectly, Marcellin College, a very conservative Catholic boys school in Auckland's conservative Bible Belt, Mt. Roskill.

The fee was $150 and it still remains a mystery how I manoveured the agency into the gig. But I did.

Luck is everything although you have to feel for the kids, who were about to have their ball turned upside down.

The rough sequence of events: a worried school committee at sound-check; reassurance; initial shock at the way they looked as they arrived onstage; shock mutates into horror; an inability to play Smoke On The Water or anything they might know; Brother Humphrey pulling the plug and because Zero had sworn here and there, calling the police; a quick exit and a call to the press; a returned (stopped) cheque for the fee a few days later.

Good stuff.

Craccum, June 1977

Over the next month the band played some more, got lots and lots of trash media coverage which we happily played for all it was worth, recorded a few bits and pieces at Harlequin, some of which have been released here and there.

Then, shortly after the University gig, Brian and Trish Scott both decided they wanted out, which left the band without a guitarist, and gigs looming. Thus for a month or two, The Suburban Reptiles borrowed a new guitarist, Johnny Volume from The Scavengers.

Flyer of Reptiles

On the last weekend of July The Suburban Reptiles were on the front page of every tabloid newspaper in the country, with the horror and clear threat to the youth of the nation being the common theme.

So we decided to take the party south.

Photos: Simon Grigg