Graham Reid | | 3 min read
When Nigel Beckford of Wellington got in touch two years ago about the album by the band Sven Olsen's Brutal Canadian Love Saga, he opened a door into a very strange and wonderful world.
That album Songs From the Bottom of a Hilltop went into our Best of Elsewhere 2010 list and has, as expected, become a collector's item. There were only 400 pressed and it was an elaborate package of two discs and book of artwork and lyrics, plus photos and posters, inside a pizza box.
It was a strange but beguiling song cycle of sorts, and you just knew it hadn't come from nowhere.
What Beckford didn't mention -- and he can't have been ashamed of this -- is that he was once in the equally eccentric but even more surreal and Pythonesque band the Inhalers in late Eighties/early Nineties.
I discovered this when I hauled out their Nudist on the Beach of Love album (don't ask why, I think I just wanted to hear their track Eric Clapton Died in My Arms again) and there is Beckford billed as "living God and shoplifting decathlete".
He was the co-writer of their songs Pope of the Boat Shoes, Nico on a Bke (Nico died while out cycling) and Alan Parsons Had My Baby.
The eight-piece Inhalers described themselves as "gasping asthmatics from Wellington" whose music was "an alphabet soup of up tempo styles including rock, pop, ska, rap, reggae. disco, goth, Venezuelan merengue and the theme to The Magic Roundabout".
They were mad of course -- this review of their album launch captures the mood, the album wasn't actually available -- and when I took Beckford up on this association recently he admitted to it: "Sprung like an old warlord from an Afghan jail," he said.
He noted there had been a clue -- Sven Olsen covered the Inhalers' song House Truck (not on the Inhalers' album I have however, there was another?!)
"Back then the Inhalers baffled all with lack of regard for anything remotely cool or trendy," he said. "Years later I read the term 'bonkers rock' in a music mag and thought, yes that's what it was all right!
"How else to explain a 30 foot painted backdrop of Craig Scott done in dots so it was visible from half a mile away. Or singing a whole song made up of bumper stickers, or wearing a chicken on your head to sing. It was music tailor made for deaf ears."
Yes, they were bonkers -- and in addition to oddball originals on the Nudist album they also covered Me and Mrs Jones and the MOR classic Dreams of an Everyday Housewife.
As much conceptualists as musicians -- hence the elaborate inserts with the Inhalers album and artwork for Sven Olsen, as well as theatrical shows -- Beckworth and his fellow travelers are something well apart from the mainstream of New Zealand music.
They reference local things and places but take a long and often ironic or satirical view, and aren't above some self-skewering.
In Nico on a Bike the lyrics run "Dave came up to me and said 'I like your songs, but why are they all bitter ones?' Now I'm 29 I've realised life isn't fair and people aren't wise . . ."
Incidentally, Beckford is launching a new book on June 28 about New Zealand and it's quirks.
I hope he forgives me for offering you a teaser/sample page.
Written and illustrtaed by Jess Lunnon, Sandi MacKecknie, Michael Fitzsimons and Beckford, it covers everything from Maui to Auckland traffic and the recent All Black Rugby World Cup victory "beating the French by a whisker".
It really is something special and is full of wit, facts, funny drawings and drollery.
More of that when it becomes available, meantime here's Nico on a Bike from Beckford's distant past.
I think he'll still get a laugh out of it. I do.
For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory use the RSS feed for daily updates, and check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.