Graham Reid | | 2 min read
For much of its lifespan the of Flying Nun could best be described as spluttering.
In the first decade it outgrew itself within a couple of years – too many artists, too much music and not enough business smarts, organisation and forward planning.
As the label's great helmsman Roger Shepherd observed in his book In Love With These Times, "In the ten years from 1981 to the end of 1990 Flying Nun released 184 records of which 17 percent (or 31 titles) were seven-inch or twelve-inch singles, 42 percent (78 titles) were twelve-inch EPs and 41 percent (75 titles) were LPs."
With that rate of productivity, what could possibly go wrong?
Everything of course. Deadlines for releases missed, cash flow problems, bands competing for the little money there was, outgoings but slow incomings, successful bands broke up . . .
When Shepherd moved his tiny operation to Auckland he put himself on an accountancy course. It didn't help.
The label spluttered on, faltered from time to time, bands signed to other indie labels, distribution deals were signed but didn't work as well as hoped . . .
Along the way there were some odd but interesting signs and signings.
Not the least was the young band Betchadupa in the late Nineties when Flying Nun was really struggling and, for most, a thing of the past.
The band were singer-guitarist Liam Finn (a son of Neil), drummer Matt Eccles (son of Brent of the Space Waltz, Street Talk, Citizen Band and the Angels, now a longtime and successful promoter), guitarist Chris Garland and bassist Joe Bramley.
When I interviewed Finn and Eccles in 2002 on the release of their debut album The Alphabetchadupa I asked them why -- with their families' connections which could have opened other doors -- they chose to join Flying Nun.
They loved the idea of being an indie band on a label which understood them. They thought Flying Nun was cool when those who'd grown up with it didn't at that time.
Betchadupa didn't stay long on the Nun roster . . . but one who has was also an interesting signing in the more recently – and financially successful – revived Nun.
It was Grayson Gilmour, whose Nun debut in 2010 appeared in that brief period when Roger Shepherd returned and bought back his former label.
Gilmour was a Nun fan and his No Constellation was Shepherd's first signing, and it sounded nothing like the reverb'n'jangle of classic Nun.
Gilmour was already a mature and sophisticated songwriter (with time in So So Modern and independent releases) and soon enough was making soundtracks.
The title of his new album Holding Patterns could suggest a pause in proceedings, but not so.
His restless career has run from So So Modern's electro-rock then into a decade of solo work embracing award-winning film and television soundtracks, as well as provocative electronica, art-rock, glorious melodies and dream-pop across acclaimed albums: 2014's Infinite Life! was nominated for a NZ Music Award and the Taite Prize.
This fourth album for Flying Nun – his first in six years – explores a rich sonic palette (Our Perfect Storm's washes of strings, harp and percussion) with impressive collaborators, Lontalius (backing vocals) and Yumi Zouma's Olivia Campion (percussion) among them.
The breathy ballad Lessons as Landfill leans into balmy yacht-rock and goes out with multi-tracked solos by jazz saxophonist Eilish Wilson who reappears on the following piece, the equally breeze-blown Did You Make It? which closes the album with a coda of sustained electronica notes.
There's pop (Here We Are, the percussion-driven angularity of Day Moon), the immediately appealing Maat Mons which lands between experimental baroque pop and dancefloor electrofunk, and behind Forget Yr Future's deliberately lazy atmospherics some darker purpose is suggested.
The lengthy, spacey electronica instrumental title track however seems more like a misplaced soundtrack piece.
Grayson Gilmour's albums don't reveal themselves easily, they tend to be carefully sculpted repeat-play experiences.
Holding Patterns is no exception, and is often exceptional.
You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here.