BY TIM HINELY
The music of New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records made such a huge impact on me when I first heard it in the mid-late ‘80s that I honestly can’t see anyone not liking it. Oh sure, it all had its lovable quirks—and some of the music was downright menacing, like the Gordons or Bailter Space—but stuff like The Chills or The Bats should’ve been million sellers, at least in my mind. Well, the gent who started it all on the back of a 7” by The Pin Group (but the next single, The Clean’s “Tally Ho!” really got the ball rolling), Roger Shepherd, has written a book about those days and it’s a terrific read. Shepherd was born in 1959 in a dingy part of Christchurch and was an odd fellow, by his own admission, who sort of accidentally fell in to a small but burgeoning music scene. Between having older siblings and just being in the right place at the right time Shepherd haphazardly created one of the best and most influential record labels in the world…making it up as they went along (the ol’ punk rock aesthetic). At one point he met the Kilgour brothers, David and Hamish, of The Clean, who were showing everyone else how to do it. The Clean were writing top-notch songs their own way as were several several others like Martin Phillipps of the Chills (whose sister Rachel worked at F.N.), Chris Knox, Shayne Carter and plenty of others.
Along the way Shepherd develops a nasty alcohol problem, moves to London to help the label thrive, falls in love there and gets married, and ends up losing the label—and then buying it back with the help of Neil Finn. Eventually he, his wife, and two daughters end up back in New Zealand and here we are today with the label still going. It’s a great read…Shepherd can be hilarious and, at times, brutally honest; he found out later in life he’s manic depressive and thus he figured out that was how he was able to create those amazing highs of the label. In Love with These Times is a quick but comprehensive read of a little label that could. There’s probably too many labels to mention who claim FN as a huge influence (NYC’s Captured Tracks for one, who have reissued some of the stuff over here), and Shepherd deserves every accolade that has been thrown his way.
The book is a rush from beginning to end and you must ride this one. Side note: I met Shepherd on my trip to N.Z. in February of ’91 where I tromped up the steps to the F.N. offices in Auckland and introduced myself to him where he was more than happy to chat for bit.