Graham Reid | | 5 min read
In the early Eighties, inspired by the punk DIY attitude and the proliferation of young bands, numerous local independent labels sprang up: Flying Nun, Ripper, Propeller, Pagan, Warrior, Failsafe . . .
For the most part those at the helm of these labels were navigating unfamiliar waters without a compass.
This was the notorious “here be monsters” world of antiquity where the monsters in this case were major labels which controlled the marketplace and aspects of promotion and distribution.
Those majors had the money, clout and access to record stores and radio.
The indies only had enthusiasm, exciting new music and the small support network of like-minded people who shared information.
Not all majors were villains – fewer than myth would have it, in fact – but it was a struggle for the emerging labels and artists.
Today however there is the Independent Music New Zealand organisation (which runs the Taite Prize etc) as a kind of go-to place for advice. Alongside Recorded Music NZ and other organisations, there is a professional industry around local music.
But it is also a very different landscape now than in the past: today it has never been easier for artists to record and get their music onto platforms like bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes and so on.
The problem is in getting attention amidst those thousand of competing voices.
Still, it doesn't stop small labels appearing, like Leather Jacket Records out of ŌtautahiChristchurch.
In just a couple of years the label has released an interesting – and sometimes challenging – mix of new and rediscovered music which has gained attention among an enthusiastic cognoscenti, perhaps drawn to the label by its name which refers to the Chills' classic song I Love My Leather Jacket.
The label's first release was the 7'' single Aversion/Thin Air by Sundae Painters in 2021, the informal group of the late Hamish Kilgour, Paul Kean, Kaye Woodward and Alec Bathgate.
Then there was the 2022 reissue of Pickle Darling's 2017 EP Spring Onion Pancakes.
Both these were limited edition vinyl releases and both are now sold out.
Last year the label hit its stride with the vinyl reissue of the 1981 Playthings EP (first pressing sold out, second pressing on green vinyl and minidisc editions still available) and the Ringlets self-titled album.
Of Ringlets we said in part, “They have been described as post-punk and that's mostly true (I Used to Paint, Snitch Olympics) but – given their pop sensibilities and obvious musical abilities – perhaps post-New Wave might be more accurate: they have that jerky economy (Nightmared), broodiness with guitar jangle (Fever Dream in Broken Swedish) and crisp pop dynamics (Boundless Heart).
“There are echoes of the American New Wave (Sever, Made of Mist) and, in Towers' delivery and accent, Eighties British guitar bands (She's An Ascetic)”.
That is still available on vinyl are the recent iterations of the Playthings as a 12'' reissue of the 7'' reissue.
(Leather Jacket also offers t-shirts and ancillary merch, smart people.)
Notably the label reissued all the recordings of the politically volatile band Riot 111 whose single 1981! captured the energy and anger of that year of the Springbok tour.
When reviewing the album we said in part, “In a cover by Stuart Page which captures the whole anarcho-punk collage style of the period, Riot 111 is an explosive collection which opens with the fury of 1981!”
“The album is the sound of its era: titles are Ake Ake Ake, Escape or Prison, Writing on the Wall, Move to Riot, Subversive Element, Riot Fever . . . Void's vocals are strident and shouty as you'd expect but holding it all down is the churning, repetitive and almost tribal drumming of Roger Riot, the brittle and minimal guitar of Nick Swan and metronomic bass (Mark Crawford or Tim Ord)”.
1981! by Riot 111
The surprise release from the vaults has been Grim Ltd (on Grant Gillanders' Frenzy and through Leather Jacket), a short-lived band from the mid Sixties and hardly known outside of New Plymouth.
But their final concert was recorded – an explosion of garageband r'n'b rock – and appeared as Shakin' It Up at the Nicoberg in a vinyl edition and an expanded CD.
It spent one week on the charts for New Zealand albums at number 16, not bad for a band that broke up almost half a century ago and never released an album in its lifetime.
At Elsewhere we said in part, “This previously unreleased collection captures them at their farewell gig after 18 months and they were going to go out with a bang, crash and roar of wound-up tight covers and stinging treble guitar.
“Here was a band which sidestepped the niceties of Beatle pop and headed into rough-edge R'n'B as trail-blazed by the Stones, the great Downliners Sect, the Who and of course the Pretty Things.
“Their aggressive set – 14 songs on the vinyl, a whopping 30 on the CD, you need both – is sometimes heavy on the familiar . . . but “it ain't what you do it's the way how you do it”, as Little Richard memorably said.
“And Grim Ltd just lit the fuse and dived headlong into what we would now call garageband rock”.
One Ugly Child by Grim Ltd, first line-up
Last year there was also the Solatudes' single Home Again single reissued (recorded 1981) and the recent Portage single Hands (recorded 1989.
But there have been releases by a more recent artists.
There was the debut album by Vorsen (John Halvorsen of the Gordons, Skeptics), A World on Fire on vinyl and CD (our review is here) and the four-song Tahitahi EP of late last year from Hoihoi who are billed as “post-punk-Aotearoa-wave”.
It shares some of the shouty early Eighties post-punk attitude, albeit in te reo Maori in places.
The album which has gained most attention for Leather Jacket Records has come from Sundae Painters, the band of the late Hamish Kilgour (Clean, Great Unwashed etc) alongside Alec Bathgate (Enemy, Toy Love, Tall Dwarfs etc) and the Bats' Paul Kean and Kaye Woodward: “a Nun-alumni semi-supergroup”.
Their self-titled album (with guest Delaney Davidson) and in a cover painted by Kilgour made it into the top 20 chart for New Zealand albums. First week in at number two.
Our review is here.
Serious Eye, by Sundae Painters
Coming up in March is another current artist, Hannah Everingham, with Siempre Tiene Flores (“always have flowers) which is the follow-up to her debut album Between Bodies.
She has opened for Tiny Ruins, Erny Belle, Ebony Lamb and Lawrence Arabia.
That should give you some idea of the alt.folk-rock axis she is on.
So Leather Jacket Records embraces the past and the present.
A label worth keeping an ear on.
The Leather Jacket catalogue is at their bandcamp page here
Be sure to check out Elsewhere's more detailed reviews of these albums where we have provided the link.