After missing breakfast yesterday, I was up early for breakfast today [at the Windsor Hotel, Christchurch] and spoke briefly to the lady at my table, a social worker from Wellington, down for a conference.
Headed over to Tuam Street and Real Groovy [record store] and had a quick browse and texted Paul [Kean]. He met me outside shortly after and led me to a coffee shop a couple of blocks away and jogged and started like a kid now and then. I bought him a long black and me a flat white and we took a seat. Piercing blue eyes and a child-like way of sitting with his feet up on a chair. Lots of chat about his bands The Bats and Minisnap and coming to London soon. Very enthusiastic. He answered a couple of my questions about how he heard about new music in the late 70s and early 80s, and how he had set up the makeshift studio in his old flat to record the Dunedin Double EP, amongst other things.
So I wrote, in my diary on February 20, 2008, in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A lot of Christchurch has changed since I was there last. The devastating earthquakes have meant that, amongst hundreds of others, The Windsor Hotel has gone, and so has Real Groovy. But I shan’t dwell on that here.
When I went to meet Paul Kean four years ago, it was on a bit of a whim. Having been into NZ music for years – particularly the sort of post-punk and guitar rock released by Flying Nun Records in the early 1980s – I found myself with a few days in Christchurch, the spiritual home of all things Nun.
Having chatted with Roi Colbert – an expert in the area, and a thoroughly nice chap – he encouraged me to meet up with anyone I fancied grilling on the subject of the music made back then. His encouragement in the past had led me to exchanging a few emails with The Clean’s David Kilgour – a hero of mine – and I took him at his word.
I can remember fairly clearly, sitting on my bed in the cosy little twin room at the Windsor at 8.30pm, holding my mobile phone, and dialling Paul Kean’s home number. He had no idea I’d be calling, and when his wife picked up, I suddenly found myself having to explain who on earth I was, and why on earth I was calling.
“Is Paul there? Yeah, it’s Paul. He doesn’t know me. Thanks… Uh, hi. My name’s Paul and I’m from England. I’m in Christchurch for a couple of days and I was wondering if you’d have the time to meet up for a coffee and a quick chat about a few things to do with Flying Nun, and all that sort of thing…?”
“Sure! Of course, I’d love to.”
“Oh! Oh, wow. Ok. Well – I’m leaving in a couple of days. Could you meet me tomorrow?”
“Of course. I could meet you for a coffee in the morning? I know a great place. Do you know where Real Groovy is?”
And so it was. I’d rung up a complete stranger and he had quickly agreed to meet me for a coffee the very next morning. It turns out that most of the Kiwis I’ve ever met will pretty much extend you the same sort of blind kindness. It’s really nice.
My meeting with Paul Kean was brief, and it is largely covered in the above quote from my diary of the time. I sort of wish I’d recorded the chat – I went on to have a couple more conversations with other similar folks about similar things – but it is still fairly fresh in my mind four years on. I loved Paul’s infectious, childlike enthusiasm – especially for things that happened thirty years ago.
I’d thought that a lot of the people involved in all that stuff would be sick to the back teeth of talking about it, but Paul talked about rigging up the makeshift recording studio in his parents’ home – by sticking the tape recorder in the next room, a bathroom, I think, and running the cables through the doorways – like it was something he’d done the other week.
He was just as enthusiastic about living and working in Christchurch, and about his current project, Minisnap, and a French band he’d had staying recently, while on tour.
In amongst my questions, which were admittedly rather primitive and unprepared, Paul asked me a question:
“Are you writing a book?”
“Oh! Um, no, I’m just kind of… Interested I guess.”
“…It sounds like you’re writing a book!”
Maybe I was – at least in my head. When I spoke to another chap closely tied into Christchurch music from the early days – he recorded The Clean’s Tally Ho!, the second single released by Flying Nun – Arnie van Bussell agreed with Paul, adding a philosophical slant on it, saying that everybody ought to be writing a book, especially nowadays with such easy access to authoring tools.
Maybe so, maybe not.
The point is, this trip, and those meetings, didn’t lead to me writing a book. They’ve led to all sorts of photographs, diaries, blog posts and countless hours of thought and daydream. And maybe that’s better than a book, at least for me personally.
But I was reminded of all this stuff – and about Paul’s query – hearing him in a recent interview. The excellent 95bFM, a student radio station in Auckland, is currently broadcasting a documentary series about Flying Nun EP releases. Each of the 22 hour-long episodes deals with one particular EP, talking to those involved in making it at the time, and playing the tracks from it.
It’s a masterclass in the radio documentary form, at least in terms of source material, and it’s great to hear familiar tracks explained fully, and to discover some that I’ve overlooked.
All the episodes are available online to stream and download here: http://95bfm.com/default,18,bcasts.sm?cast=205161
Paul Kean features on last week’s episode, dealing with sides 1 & 2 of the Dunedin Double EP, featuring The Chills and Sneaky Feelings. The recording of the EP was what Paul and I discussed in the above recollection. On the documentary you’ll hear Paul’s own recollection – he’s the one with the chirpy, kiddish delivery!
There’s even some short video clips of the interviews used on the shows, which makes me wonder if the whole thing was filmed as well as recorded, and might lead to a DVD release or similar. That’d be pretty great. But it already makes for excellent radio.
It’s a great project, and it makes me a little sad that I didn’t do more with the opportunities I had four years ago – maybe I should have written that book? – but I also know that I wasn’t the man for the job.
Luckily though, there are plenty who are.