TALLY HO! Happy 30th Birthday, Flying Nun Records

After years of
mishandled distribution deals and a crumbling music industry infrastructure, the
venerable New Zealand
label is poised for reinvention. Let’s review.

 

BY RON HART

Talk about indie rock. If there was one record label you
could say defined the very word by which this contrived industry term is rooted
– independence – it would be none other than New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records,
currently in the throes of an extensive and much-deserved 30th anniversary
celebration.

 

You haven’t truly been educated on the history of modern
rock if you have yet to introduce your ears to the multi-layered sonic paradise
that has existed on the island nation in the South Pacific since 1981, when Christchurch record shop
owner Roger Shepherd launched the label amidst social unrest and political
division within his country. The very existence of Flying Nun, born of the very
punk ideals that got the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” banned
from New Zealand
state radio, saw the movement Shepherd was gestating on a local level attain a
heavy amount of heat from the country’s conservative establishment. For this
record label, the very act of releasing music that would deviate from the norms
of white kiwi life of farming, rugby and beer was seen as an act of treason, in
a way. Last time I checked I don’t think Reagan was cracking down on Greg Ginn
for starting SST or Ian Mackaye for Dischord here in the U.S., did he?  Yet once word got out of the imprint’s
Molotov cocktail of post-punk experimentalism and British Invasion psychedelia
that served as the blueprint for many of the acts Shepherd signed, there was no
way to stop the wildfire as groups like The Clean, The Bats, The Chills, The
Verlaines, Tall Dwarfs and The 3Ds began to get distribution and airplay
amongst the international underground, from the campus stations of collegiate
America to the pirate frequencies of Radio Luxembourg. And the rest, they say,
is history.  

 

 

 

 

If you happen to be a novice of the Flying Nun library, you
could find no better place to introduce yourself to its vastness with a recent pair
of anniversary-oriented anthologies. Time
to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-1986
is tailor made for the
most scrupulous Nun lover, compiled by Bruce Russell of longtime FN act The
Dead C to give a proper chronicle of the label’s early years gestating on the
South Island of New Zealand. “It isn’t a ‘greatest hits’ or a ‘best of’ or
even a ‘most obscure’,” Russell states in his excellent liner notes to the
20-track mix. “It’s a collection of tracks that was obvious at the time
but has been rather lost to subsequent history (and also to that baby-wipe of
history: music journalism).” And when you really dig into this outstanding
compendium, particularly the inclusion of such lost label gems as The Gordons’
“I Just Can’t Stop”, “Obscurity Blues” by The Great
Unwashed, Scorched Earth Policy’s “Since The Accident”, “Junk”
by the Puddle and equally deep cuts from other early signees like Playthings,
The Builders, The Shallows, Max Block and Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive
Stereos among others, you will understand exactly where Mr. Russell is coming
from.

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, the anniversary celebration’s centerpiece,
Tally Ho! Flying Nun Records’ Greatest
Bits
, is a quintessential young person’s guide to the label’s three-decade
run from yesterday to today. It features forty songs by forty acts, split up
strategically by Shepherd himself to showcase the Nun’s uncanny knack for
birthing earworms and eargasms with equal measure. “The first represents acts
and songs that could be seen to fall in the broad category of ‘pop music’, with
some achieving the popular notion of success whether it be by chart action or
radio play,” the label owner explains in his liner notes for Tally Ho! “While, the second disc
explores the other side of Flying Nun, made by artists who tested the
boundaries and did not necessarily sit comfortably within the ‘popular market’.
And while it is great when you get to the songs of the groups you may already
know like The Clean’s “Tally Ho”, “Death and the Maiden” by The Verlaines,
“North by North” from The Bats’ classic album Daddy’s Highway, Bailter Space’s 1989 college radio favorite “Fish
Eye”, The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience’s Bleeding
Star
highlight “Breathe” and “Not Given Lightly” from Tall Dwarfs front man
Chris Knox’s solo masterpiece Seizure,
one must not overlook the material on hand across these two discs from the
label’s lesser known acts as well. Particularly in the case of the label’s
current roster of acts, many of whom have just as much to offer the listener of
this anthology as the old faves including DIY indie pop upstart Grayson
Gilmour, the Motorik-inspired Ghost Club, Crowded House-gone-prog outfit The
Phoenix Foundation and Dunedin
psych rockers High Dependency Unit among several others.

 

 

 

 

Just one warning before looking into picking up either of
these new collections: both Time to Go and
Tally Ho! will inspire you to dig
deeper into the Flying Nun chasm by picking up the actual EP and LP releases
from which both titles were crafted, especially for those just getting into the
history of this great label. And being that Shepherd and company are currently
in the midst of re-obtaining the rights to their catalog from years of
mishandled distribution deals and a crumbling music industry infrastructure,
now is a good of a time as any to take the headfirst plunge into one of the
world’s finest purveyors of independent rock ‘n’ roll. 

 

 

Below: Part 1 (of 5)
of the “Anything Could Happen” history of Flying Nun radio documentary.

 

 

Below: Part 1 (of 5) of the “Anything Could Happen” history of Flying Nun radio documentary.

 


Flying Nun Records History – Radio Documentary “Anything Could Happen” Part 1 of 5 by thevault1

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