Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Yes, it would be at least 30 years since they'd last played together, says Maurice Greer sounding as if the enormity of that chasm in time had just hit him.
"Gee, it must have been about the end of 1970, because we'd done the Pins In It album and we'd gone to Australia and Billy had stayed there and I came back and we had a keyboard player ... We've got a family tree made up and you see the different people who went through - about 20 or 25 people in all."
Drummer-singer Greer is talking about The Human Instinct, formed in the middle of the Sixties as the world was turning paisley-coloured and which recorded two classic Kiwi psychedelic rock albums, the bluesy Burning Up Years in '69 and the appropriately titled Stoned Guitar the following year.
With all the comings and goings it's hard to pinpoint a classic line-up, but there would be a few greybeards who might opt for the one of Greer (the sole constant in the band, a drummer who stands up when he plays), guitarist Billy T.K. (who invited comparisons with Hendrix) and former Underdogs bassist Neil Edwards.
That was 30 years ago. Now the trio (with guitarist Phil Pritchard, who played in Wellington's Highway at the time) have reformed for a few concerts here and in Melbourne, starting on Friday at Java Jive.
The Human Instinct originally formed out of the Four Fours and went from Auckland clubs to Britain, where they embraced the sound of the bluesy underground.
"But The Human Instinct was never just one kind of music, the later albums like Snatmin Cuthin ['72, an anagram of the band's name] and The Hustler ['74] are very different from the others."
By then the band had shifted toward country-rock, a long way in less than a decade when you consider they had been the Four Fours playing hard pop at The Monaco and Platterack and earning a good reputation.
"A month before we got on the ship to England we were on the Rolling Stones '66 tour and played the Civic in Auckland and the Town Hall in Wellington.
"We changed the name because we didn't want to arrive in England with a corny name like the Four Fours and be up against bands with names like the Rolling Stones," says Greer.
"We all wrote names on a bit of paper in a cabin on the Fairsky, someone drew it out and it's been that ever since."
Aside from Greer, the name has probably been the only consistent feature of The Human Instinct. But their prolonged periods in Australia and Britain influenced them.
The second time they came back from London the hair was longer, their new sound system the talk of the town, and courtesy of TK's fluid psychedelic style they found their hometown counter-culture audience. Edwards joined in time for the less heavy Pins In It album and another tour of duty in Australia.
"For those times we ventured out and we were staunch because the guys would say, 'We're going to do that' and up and do it. I was only young, 17 or 18 the first time, and there I was, going to England."
The Human Instinct albums are much sought-after by collectors (especially Stoned Guitar recorded live at the Bo Peep) and Greer recently sold a copy of Snatmin Cuthin for $800.
Greer promises even more: The never-released album of '74 (with Steve McDonald on keyboards) is out within two months (reviewed here), and he is putting the final touches on a new album featuring Billy TK on a couple of tracks, but which mostly allows Joel Haines the guitar spotlight.
Greer has recorded four Hammond Gamble songs, including Should I Be Good, and done a treatment of Split Enz' Dirty Creature with former Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner. He says it's "more pulled back and with a bit more beef - theirs was very up there and frantic and mine is more rocked back".
Greer says the set for Friday night, however, will reflect the old days, with songs from their early albums (old fans, expect Black Sally) plus a few classic hits of the period.
Then this line-up will go to Australia, just as some of them did all those years ago. It's a living, and changing, thing.
"The Human Instinct is more than the players, and so as we moved in time there have been other line-ups. Basically, The Human Instinct is whoever's playing with me at the time."