The hair and now
Photographer captures Christchurch coolGRANT SMITHIES
Take a look at this picture. Isn't it brilliant?
The man smoking the jazz cigarette next to the keep-off- the-grass sign is Chris Fox, former drummer for Christchurch rock band Link.
Their song, Only Time Could Let Us Know, got to No 17 on the national pop charts in 1973, and, more recently, reviewer Dominic Blaazer quite rightly eulogised that rare single as "one of the $100 bills you find between the cushions of the New Zealand music couch".
Link split up in 1975 but this photo was taken when they were still quivering with possibility. Keen to conquer outlying territories to the south, they had all piled into a van to play in Ashburton, and a young eager- beaver photographer named Kevin Hill tagged along for the ride, taking this shot in a local park.
Thirty-eight years later, Hill is now an Auckland real estate agent with the good taste to be a regular reader of this column. He emailed me recently, wondering if I might like to have a look at some of the photographs he took in Christchurch between 1968 and 1980. Google "Flickr Christchurch Rock Bands" and there they are.
"It's a unique record of the history of the Christchurch music of that era, " he writes. "With the devastating Christchurch earthquakes and the destruction of all the venues these people played in, these photos have given a lot of good memories to people in Christchurch and around the world. The site has reconnected many musicians who had lost touch with each other, too. One common response is 'Brilliant photos; now I can prove to my kids I did have hair and I really did rock!'."
There's no shortage of hair, all right. New Zealand during the 1970s was a place where a man's tresses were frequently long and luxurious and a headband could be worn without irony. It was a time of high-waisted bell-bottoms and high, wasted musicians. Porn- star mos were common and one's flares contained so much superfluous denim that entire families could camp out under them in summer.
Hill captures the look and feel of the era very well. You can almost smell the stale beer as he freeze-frames intense young men rocking out in long defunct Canterbury nightclubs with winningly poetic names: The Rose-A-Lee Rock Club, Mojo's Nightspot, The Sweetheart, La Mer Cabaret, The Adam's Apple. You can almost taste the drifting pot smoke as assorted long-hairs take the stage for outdoor gigs in Hagley Park. You can imagine the ripe pong of socks, sweat and Clearasil during lunchtime gigs in the school hall at Cashmere High.
There are bands with splendid names such as Ticket, Chapta, Bare Wires, Cold Rock and The Scene, and bands with names so appalling, they cause physical pain, such as Rum Jungle, Huckleberry Nurke and the Avon Sandal Band. Hill photographed them all, without fear or favour.
He had a great eye for period detail, zeroing in on gig posters, album covers and newspaper ads of the day. There's a great photo of Brigade guitarist Rob Winch's effects pedals arrayed on some savagely geometric nightclub carpet in 1976; the shot's black and white, but you know instantly this alarming carpet was orange and brown.
Rock'n'roll is 3 per cent thrills and 97 per cent boredom, and you get a sense of this, too. Off-duty musicians are captured playing chess backstage between gigs, leaning idly against V-dubs and MGs, or strumming acoustic guitars on the sagging verandahs of old villas which in all probability are no longer still standing. Some pics are simply tagged "Christchurch musicians", and we see dozens of hirsute reprobates amassed in the street, leering at the camera and looking every bit as disreputable as the musicians of today.
Hill also immortalised touring acts. Eyes closed, fingers snaking up a battered fretboard, clad in a checked jacket/striped tie combo only a used car salesman might consider reasonable attire, Chicago electric blues pioneer Muddy Waters can be witnessed blowing the cobwebs from Christchurch Town Hall in 1973.
There are fresh-faced early publicity shots of Lucy Lawless, Sharon O'Neill and - be still, my beating heart - children's entertainer Suzy Cato, shrink- wrapped in lycra running shorts. And there are self-portraits of Kevin, too, with a fetching blonde bottle-brush moustache. He looks like a top bloke, and he has done us all a favour getting these shots online. Kevin, we salute you for strapping together this cultural treasure trove: 1300 priceless early stills from the shaky city.
- Fairfax Media