Hard News by Russell Brown


Old Friends

Today, on what would have been his birthday, NZ On Screen has opened a tribute to the screen work of the late Kevin Smith. It's been a good project: because of who Kev was, people have been keen to help -- the excerpts of his films and TV programmes are longer than rights-holders usually grant, and there are written tributes from James Griffin, Michael Hurst and Geoff Dolan, along with Simon Prast's eulogy, which was published in The Listener.

Kev died far from home in 2002, after falling from a prop tower on a film set in Shijiazhuang, 270 km south-west of Beijing. Climbing the tower would have been a typical act of high spirits. I wrote and broadcast this in Hard News on 95bFM the week following:

Twenty years ago, in my second year in journalism, I was posted to the Timaru branch office of the Christchurch Star. It was not good. The work was pretty dull and most of the people I lived and hung out with were, frankly, complete idiots. Life was lightened chiefly by occasional visits to the local record shop, where the owner and I would smoke pot out the back.

But then I moved into a better flat and, as you always can in provincial towns, met and befriended the interesting people. Amongst them was a freaky, part-Tongan kid who the year before had been kicked out of school -- for, it always seemed to me, being too talented. He drew cartoons, played guitar, sang and wrote songs for a weird little band he had with a couple of his mates. He was gentle, a good guy to know and, of course, quite a physical specimen.

His name was Kevin Smith. When I first met him, he was this bundle of stuff who didn't quite know what he wanted to do -- apart, perhaps, from being an All Black. It is cruel that he has lost his life when he not only knew what he wanted to do, he was doing it. Crueller still that he leaves behind Sue and the boys. We've been thinking about that a lot in our family.

I can understand that people will want to dwell on the circumstances of his fall. I could do without hearing it. I've looked across the endless span of China from a high point. It is a fine thing to do when you're feeling on top of the world yourself.

I expect some of you are feeling Kevin fatigue. All those headlines, all those tributes. But it can't be helped -- he really was the guy that everyone knew and everyone liked. He was magic.

And, like I said, he once sang in a little band called Say Yes to Apes. They liked Radio Birdman and Sun Ra, although I think Kevin mostly just liked to sing and play. They were only the second New Zealand band to release a double album; the magnificently-titled 'The Decline and Fall of Say Yes to Apes', aka 'Trance of Savagery' by Max & the Puffins.

I want to play a tune from their 1984 7" EP, Knife. It's called 'This is Your Lucky Night' and it's kind of their country song. Lord knows what anyone else will make of it, but it's one of my favourite songs. Cheers, Kev.

I don't seem to have that MP3 any more, and my turntable is broken so I can't capture it again at the moment. But there's a YouTube montage featuring 'Toddler Gets Caught in the Rain' from Kev's 1983 BadAss (pronounced "Bard Arse") album, and 'Say Yes to Apes' from SYTA's Who's That? album of the same year:

I'll see about clearing an MP3 for later in the week, but for now I'll stick with the memory of Kev and Steve Watson furiously busking Motorhead's 'The Ace of Spades' in Vulcan Lane. I'd helped Say Yes to Apes book gigs for a tour to Auckland in 1985; most notably a Verlaines support at the Windsor Castle. I don't think they had much control over how they sounded on any given night --they'd just pick up their instruments, and what happened, happened. On that night, they happened to suck. I'd rib Kev about that for ever afterwards: all that effort scoring them the show, getting people along early -- and they sucked! We'd laugh.


A recent passing: Steve Marsden of The Androidss, known to most people as Steve Android, twin brother of Eric Android. Steve died on March 1. He had been ill for a little while.

The Androidss were the sound of my coming of age. If your delinquent older brother was a band, it would have been the Androidss. Trouble trailed them wherever they roamed, but they had hearts of gold, and a stash of classic covers ('See Emily Play', 'Virginia Plain', 'Search and Destroy' …) that, in some cases, I heard for the first time when they played them.

They decamped to Auckland fairly early on, but they'd come back to Christchurch for a month or two at a time, and you knew when they were in town that there would be parties. My friends and I, still the wrong side of 20, would follow them around, most notably to the British Hotel in Lyttelton, a grungy sailors' pub where their version of the Velvet Underground's 'Sister Ray' seemed particularly authentic.

Iggy Pop himself once saw them play at The British, and declared them "a real fun band". How cool is that?

They only put out the one single -- 'Auckland Tonight'/'Getting Jumpy' on Ripper Records -- and the video for 'Auckland Tonight' has mysteriously disappeared from YouTube -- so you'll have to take my word for how good it was. But I gather Failsafe Records might be doing something with other remaining recordings. I'd see various members of the band for years afterwards, as far afield as London, but the memory was always of those formative years.

Thanks Steve. I hope you knew how much you meant to us.


PS: Keith has the detail on the bogus school violence statistics published by the Herald and repeated by almost everyone else. I've linked to the YouTube clip of that part of last week's Media7 show in the comments.

PPS: Our special guest on Media7 this week will be the Minister of Broadcasting, Jonathan Coleman. If you'd like to join us before 5.30pm on Wednesday at The Classic, hit Reply and let me know.

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