Graham Reid | | 8 min read
Back in February 2012, I pulled the sole album by New Zealand's Waves from off my shelf and posted the track Arrow as a From the Vaults entry.
At the time I said this innovative self-titled album from 1975 by a close harmony, acoustic quartet (with some plugged-in guests) was long overdue for a reissue and noted because their quietly considered sound stood at odds with the prevailing winds of harder rock (Dragon, Hello Sailor) but that they were fondly remembered by many people.
The discussion thread which followed (and again when I reposted it in early 2013 to test the waters again) confirmed what I believed.
People liked and remembered Waves.
One of those who contributed a comment on the more recent posting was by Waves member Graeme Gash himself who said there would be a reissue and then, over a few months, we exchanged e-mails.
I was excited to learn Waves would not only be putting out a CD of the album (with material from their unreleased second album) but that there would also be a vinyl version, and they would both be launched on Record Store Day at Real Groovy in Auckland . . . and the band would play live.
Gash had generously said that – after he was approached by Roger Marbeck (of Ode Records) and Kiwi music enthusiast and archivist Grant Gillanders to do the reissue – he'd had people's good opinion of Waves confirmed by the traffic and comments at Elsewhere, and that encouraged him to helm the reissue.
We agreed to do an interview in advance of Record Store Day and the album launch . . . and then things happened.
He was taking care of an ailing father in addition to everything else, and I went to India.
I missed the whole re-appearance of Waves, the hundreds who turned up to see them play . . . and then what seemed like their discreet retirement from public life again.
However Gash and I continued to correspond and I said at any time he wanted to chat about things after the event I'd be happy to. I already had my heading, lifting it from the title of Gash's 1981 solo album: After the Carnival.
That time came when Waves were to play another concert in October and it turned out that they have not only been rehearsing every weekend since that Real Groovy appearance, but they are writing new material and another album is being planned.
Graeme Gash and I sat down for a coffee and the first thing I wanted to know was whether I had imagined seeing them play the Mercury Theatre.
Not at all, he said, and opened up the informative booklet in the CD to show the poster for the gig.
“That would have been 1974 or '75”, he said, “and the only time we came out and played again after that period [in the Seventies] was 2003 at the St James. There was a line-up of Don McGlashan, Dave Dobbyn, Anika Moa, Liam Finn, Martin Phillipps....
“They all did solo bits then we came out and they came back and did a collective thing. I thought that was it, but I have to say reading your piece and some of those comments spurred me.”
But did you genuinely not know people had a real affection for Waves?
“I knew there would be but I never really considered . . . Well, I look at music today and there is such a wealth of talent out there. All these young people who are writing and playing amazingly well.
“The world is almost overdosed on music so I was thinking, 'Okay, we had our moment and it was a very cool one for us, we were all young'. And I thought 'That's it, just stop'.
“I find it a bit sad when people try to hold onto a golden moment, so I've never really wanted to be that person. But then it got to that point – after reading some of those comments on your website – it made me think, 'Actually it is worth doing'.
“Because we were just on vinyl we were consigned to people's memories. One thing I am happy about is that we have put ourselves back into the story as part of the history. It's only now I feel there is a real appreciation for history. People like you have always appreciated the history but the larger New Zealand public are only now starting to understand there is a legacy.
“When we played Real Groovy we had a line of people coming up with albums. This young guy came up and he must have been all of 17 or 18, shook my hand and looked me in the eye and said, 'In my young life that's the best concert I've ever been to'.
“It was so cute and really nice that somebody of that generation would get something out of it.”
After Waves folded in '75 you did a solo album After the Carnival. You've always kept playing, even after that?
“Music is not something you just walk away from and I was always writing, and that's something I feel we've got a lot better at, and I think we all have actually.”
Was After the Carnival the only solo album you did?
“It's the only one that got out,” he laughs.
Gash talks about a project with the late Josie Rika which is somewhere out there languishing and says prior to the meeting with Marbeck and Gillanders he was working on another solo album, because he felt he had the songs and it was a shame they weren't going anywhere.
“But they've kind of been diverted into the Waves thing because since we played at Real Groovy in April we haven't stopped, we get together every weekend and are getting new material together.
“So we are doing this concert and are really liking the new stuff.
“I've really gone back to the concept that a good song is heard to beat. For a while I got embarrassed by that and I'd look at the likes of Don McGlashan it was so cool all that stuff you could do outside of just the songs. After the Carnival was a step in that direction.
“But these days I am all about the good song which is a miniature work of art.”
He recalls how Waves were picked up by Direction Records in the Seventies (“they were a chain of record stores who had a finger in [the music magazine] Hot Licks and were obviously trying to corner the whole market”) and how they were the perfect vehicle for Waves: “They weren't big and bloated but small and lean and hungry.”
For the album's reissue and in the absence of master tapes which had long disappeared he worked from unplayed vinyl for the album and transferred the previously unreleased material from DATs.
“When Roger and Grant sat here and had a coffee they started talking about vinyl. Then I was reading stuff on your page and thought it could be a good thing to do. They set me a date of Real Groovy's vinyl day and we worked towards that.
“The idea of doing vinyl seemed crazy enough to be worthwhile.”
But what if they gave a party and nobody came? They had been away a long time.
“It wasn't like that for us, we didn't care. Right at the beginning we said, 'We are going to spend this much money, this is as much as we could lose, are we prepared to do that?' and it was , 'Yes, we are'.
“We just wanted to make a really nice job of it and tell the story, and that is all we were after. To put it back on the page in New Zealand music history. It seemed like we were part of it and was nice to be there. Beyond that we didn't really care if they sold or not, we are probably more interested in what we are doing now than what we did then."
They pressed 500 copies of the vinyl and 1000 of the CD double disc package (“I don't think there's much left of them') and Gash says playing at Real Groovy was a mixture of exhilaration and fear.
“It was a given we would play. When Roger and Grant talked about it, it was, 'You have to play otherwise it's not going to work'. So we just went from scratch again and started rehearsing every weekend and working it back up.
“But it was lovely because people had come from all over the place to see us. Most of them were old but not all of them. Some came up clutching their original Waves album but then some of them also bought the new vinyl. Some we had to sign both, and some came up with After the Carnival.
“There was a flurry of doing interviews, stuff which I hadn't thought about for decades. It was exhausting but interesting. We were amazed at where the fans were: this radio programmer still had the t-shirts, that television producer wanted us to do the show because he was a massive fan. We were amazed at the level of interest and didn't expect it."
That in part was perhaps because Waves was a band which was there, and then gone leaving just the one artefact.
“Yes that's right. And if you happened to be out of the country at the time you missed it totally.”
The Waves story is not without its drama: their original bass player Michael Matthew left and was replaced by Michael Mason after the first album (Matthews subsequently died of meningitis), Little Feat came to Auckland and Gash asked Lowell George he would produce their second album (he said he would but nothing more happened and died not long after) and their second album to be on the WEA multinational was shelved when, according to Gash, they lost interest.
That latter scenario is inevitably one where each party has its own version but Gash says bluntly, “There's no angle here, we made a second album, it didn't come out. Why would we get to the mixing stage and not put it out? We wouldn't have done that”.
At last however most of those songs – nine of them under the then-proposed album title Misfits – have come out.
“There are probably another three or four that didn't make it there. One of the reasons was cost because we were paying for all of this. One reason also was we hadn't worked out what still fitted.
“There were one or two which could have gone on there, they might surface later.”
But that was then and this is now and Gash says since their Real Groovy session they are rehearsing every weekend and writing all the time. There will be a new Waves album?
“Absolutely. The material is strong enough that it is worth doing.”
And in a style not dissimilar?
“People will judge that and I'm very conscious it's very hard to beat the old songs that people will love. You tend to disappoint people with your follow-up stuff, but having said that I think what we are doing now is better. It is just as song-based so it's not like its gone somewhere else, but as songs there is some really strong material there.
“Kevin Wildman -- who really only managed to put a stake in the ground twice, but they were spectacular songs -- is now spinning them out practically one a week and there are some gems.
“So he is prompted me and David [Marshall] to try harder because we can't let them get away with that.
“It's always been a band with three writers. It's great.”
Gash also says they are keen to put these new songs in front of an audience, as they will do at this forthcoming show.
“That [other music] was what we did 40 years ago and we're not interested in throwing that out all the time. There's got to be more to it otherwise we did it and we could walk away. But the reason we've got together ever weekend since we played is we are working on new stuff and we really like it.”
They intend to road test the new material a few times (“it always tells you by the audience reaction whether you are onto something or not”) and Gash says now they feel some greater urgency top write, play and perhaps record by the end of the year.
“We have to do it before we die,” he laughs. “We're all getting older. One of us might croak and we can't do it. Maybe that's why we're spinning out these gems?”