A day in the life of Booga Beazley

20:51, May 12 2009

I've always been a fan of Head Like a Hole/HLAH - and was intrigued by Booga Beazley. I used to work in a music store in Manners Mall when I was avoiding (but enrolled in) university. Booga, the lead singer of HLAH, would stick the gig posters up outside the shop and ask us to turn the outside speakers up. We would. And Booga would boogie in his overalls, his mop and bucket becoming props/dance-partners.

The band decided to pull the pin a decade ago (or near enough to it) and, if anything, I have been more interested in the group's music in the last 10 years - that compilation Blood on the Honky Tonk Floor (one disc of the band's "hits", one disc of the covers amassed during the group's career, some "hits", some worked into the live show, most of them B-sides) was a student-flat favourite and sent me back to the albums.

People used to love swapping stories of HLAH as a live band - the early gigs, sharing the stage with Shihad, forming hybrid bands.

I never ever saw Head Like a Hole live.

I've always been a fan of Head Like a Hole/HLAH - and was intrigued by Booga Beazley. I used to work in a music store in Manners Mall when I was avoiding (but enrolled in) university. Booga, the lead singer of HLAH, would stick the gig posters up outside the shop and ask us to turn the outside speakers up. We would. And Booga would boogie in his overalls, his mop and bucket becoming props/dance-partners.

The band decided to pull the pin a decade ago (or near enough to it) and, if anything, I have been more interested in the group's music in the last 10 years - that compilation Blood on the Honky Tonk Floor (one disc of the band's "hits", one disc of the covers amassed during the group's career, some "hits", some worked into the live show, most of them B-sides) was a student-flat favourite and sent me back to the albums.

People used to love swapping stories of HLAH as a live band - the early gigs, sharing the stage with Shihad, forming hybrid bands.

I never ever saw Head Like a Hole live.

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But songs like Spanish Goat Dancer and Fish Across Face blew my mind when I first heard them. No one really sounded like that, not in little ole' NZ, and even today, playing Honky Tonk Floor, the album moves backward chronologically, and when it gets to those songs I can still remember the first time I saw the videos for those tracks, heard those songs on cassette tape. I was almost scared of that sound - but I loved it.

For some time I figured it might be interesting to meet Booga; to hang with him. Not just to interview him but to observe him doing his thing - whatever that is - and to talk to him about his time with HLAH. Why? Because he seems like a rare species: a real Kiwi rock'n'roller; a New Zealand rock star who lived a rock-star lifestyle. He had his issues with drugs and depression, he was an electric performer and he fronted a band that managed to harness a range of sludgy rock and metal strains together and do that rare thing when you live on one of the two main islands that make up this land: create something original.

And then, there was the news that HLAH would actually reform to play this weekend's Vodafone Homegrown show. And to play a couple of warm-up gigs beforehand.

This seemed the perfect opportunity to go hang with Booga. And so I did.

A couple of weeks ago I arranged to spend the day with Booga and his family. I took a drive up the coast and arrived around 10am. Booga had sent me a message to see if I could make it earlier and I explained that I could not. I was worried I might have riled him in some way...but no, when I arrived mid-morning and was greeted by his partner, Tamzin, I was told that the morning had been mad anyway. And Booga told me that he had been very interested in seeing a pedigree kitten at a breeder's house down the road. He had been trying to make an appointment and figured that I "might like to see the wee cat too".

So, that was the start of the day.

From there, I took a tour of the house and parked up outside for a coffee and later a slice of watermelon (Booga tells me that "seedless watermelon is the only way to go". Tamzin explains that he has it added to his backstage rider and for Homegrown he might have to supply his own).

The plan, not that I really have one, is to ask a few questions about the reunion - get a sense of reason and purpose behind the move - and to get to know this rock'n'roller, as much as you can through a fairly informal interview. The last thing I wanted was 15 minutes on the phone, or exchanging some emails.

Booga answers to Nigel, his real name, and Tamzin tells me that most of his friends and family call him Nigel, but adds that she calls him Booga when the band are around, which has happened a bit lately, "just because there's another Nigel [Regan] in the band, so it's less confusing".

Nigel and Tamzin are engaged and were in fact supposed to be getting married this coming Saturday but then, as Tamzin puts it matter-of-factly, "Homegrown got in the way...so I'm still waiting for a new date to be put forward".

The couple moved away from Wellington and I get the feeling it is to keep Booga away from vices, but I'm sure I'm just deciding that in my head. The pair have a pair of children to raise now, which is as good a reason as you'd need to move away from the city and two-and-a-half-year-old twins, Jet and Ivy love having a big yard to explore (though on the day I visit, Ivy is "deciding to be shy, she does this sometimes" and Jet is content to eat his spilt ice-cream off the concrete after copying his father by sluicing through a wedge of watermelon, grinning between pink-chin wipes).

It's a laidback start to the day with Tamzin laughing at her fiancé's "giant big beard which he's grown for the gigs, to be a rock star again" and a very nice, strong cup of black coffee which Nigel takes great care in creating, checking three times with me through the window if I don't mind waiting while he gets it right. We're listening to the new Bruce Springsteen album all the while, Nigel had read my earlier post about how stunningly average the album is, and as a fan (all HLAH fans will remember this) he wanted to have a listen to it.

And after an hour or so of getting to know my host - truth be told I feel at home within minutes of arriving - we are in the shed as Nigel fumbles around in cardboard boxes, looking for a certain videotape, periodically showing me photos and tapes from the one-day-soon HLAH archives: "I'd like to set this corner of the garage up as a bit of shrine, or whatever, once I finish with the car" - and he points over to his pride and joy which he has been working on for several years, when time permits.

There's an exercise bench and a rowing machine on one side of the garage, a TV set up with a VCR on a table. "I'm trying to get fit for the show and drop a few pounds", Nigel says as he slaps his gut. And then he's found what we were looking for. Tamzin has taken the kids in to town for an hour or so, and I'm ushered to the lounge so we can watch a video.

The tape in question is the interview that was recorded with Beazley about five years ago for a music-TV show that is no longer with us. I had inquired about the tape - a) because I had never seen it and b) because a friend had been involved in the making of the tape and for that reason alone I was curious.

The recorded segment - which plays for 20 minutes or so with HLAH clips in and around some shots of Booga being interviewed - captured Beazley after HLAH had called it quits and he was living in Lower Hutt taking care of his mother. He had a band, Grand Lodge, that he was trying to get off the ground, mixing the alt-country that had exploded in the early/mid-00s with his wild-child rock'n'roll persona. A bit of Elvis Presley, a bit of Johnny Cash and still the grunt of metal subverted into a cabaret-lounge act. "That band was okay," he tells me, as the video starts and I ask the question of what he thought about Grand Lodge, "but I got f**ked off with a couple of them so I don't miss it now. But it was a good band for a while."

And then Nigel leaves me - "this goes on for a bit, so I'll just check some emails"- and I wonder if he is feeling self-conscious with this version of himself speaking back at him, five years down the track...then I wonder if he's about to become embarrassed because the car that is still unfinished in the garage is featured as part of the segment. It was "close to completion" there too.

But then: Hootenanny is played as part of the recorded show and I can hear Nigel-as-Booga from the office singing along with himself from the TV: hooda-hooda-hooda-hooteanny, so I figure he is okay with it.

He returns. "I'm fat there bro. Jesus look at me. All pasty in the face too!" I point out that he has a beard now, covering his whole face, thick and black, so maybe that's part of it also? "Yeah, maybe, but I still look really pasty there, man, I wasn't too good." So I ask what it's like seeing yourself, presuming this is not the first time he has watched the tape. "It is weird I guess, but it's okay."

I start quoting from that interview, asking him how happy he feels now. During the taped interview he is asked if he is happy, the reply is: "mostly". This time, now, he says, "I'm definitely a lot happier now, thanks to Tamzin and the kids, but you still have moments, as everyone does."

Part of those moments come, I think, from Booga not playing music regularly, and not living the rock'n'roll lifestyle. He's now a responsible father - he and Tamzin both work part-time and share the work at home with the children ("but," Tamzin tells me, "Nigel, if anything, does more than 50% of the childcare and domestic work; he's an excellent cook too, he loves to cook") - but you can see that he wants to be on the stage ruling the roost, or at least wandering around in a cage with people looking, cheering, sharing in the visceral energy carved out from the jackhammer-sludge of riffs and drums.

"I spose I do miss it," he starts, "but I guess, now, geographically we are all in different places and I have a family." There's a glint in his eye, just talking about music has him excited at the prospect of the new HLAH shows.

We are in his lounge and he has replaced the taped interview with a DVD of Motley Crue live. "I love the Crue - you cut through all the bullsh*t mate, all the blondes with big boobs and the drugs and reality TV shows and Tommy Lee is still a kick-ass drummer!"

The Crue DVD is getting Beazley excited about the prospect of playing with HLAH again: "I hope the shows go well...I really hope they do". And does he hope for more to come from the shows, perfect-world scenario?

"I guess, best-case scenario, would be for the shows to go well and someone to offer us a deal, have us working on a new album - I'd like to write new material with the band again. That's what I would like."

And there it is - confirmation that the rock'n'roll dreamer is alive and well. In that statement Nigel Beazley has morphed into full Booga Beazley mode. I can imagine him in his overalls, dancing with his bucket and mop. Except I didn't know him then and now, about three hours into a visit that will last for close to six, I feel I can count Beazley (both Booga and Nigel) - a man I had never met before -  as a friend.
 
"Look at my CDs, mate, still all metal and rock, I haven't moved on much," he tells me as he idly thumbs through some discs, "and I don't care, really. There's some Johnny Cash there," he says, pointing, "but otherwise look," the running commentary continues, "Iron Maiden, Guns'n'Roses, AC/DC..."

Beazley starts firing questions back at me: "what's the new AC/DC album like?" and "did you go to Iron Maiden?" - he loves having a conversation about music.

He tells me that part of his urge to reform for these shows is "because there is so much sh*t music about, bands like Blindspott...you know...and, er, Elemeno P - I hate those bands, they're not rock, they're not metal, they're not doing anything original or good and I just thought that maybe it was time we did something again, played some rock'n'roll".

We also talk about HLAH's golden days - the shine to the smile returns when Nigel recalls stories of playing Wellington - and over to Europe - with his old band mates. "I honestly thought we were going to make it really big, you know, play America and I remember it clearly, we were in Europe and we got called in and they said the label wanted to talk to us - I thought 'this is it, we've made it, we're going to America' but no, they told us we were dumped from the label in Europe. I was gutted."

There's an admission that at times there was bitterness in the rivalry/kinship with Shihad. "They've done well, sure, good on them, but when we played around Europe and had to open for them we did our best to blow them off the stage and I think we did that very well. I like their album Killjoy - and the stuff from before that but what are they now? They're a pop band, doing stuff for the kids. I want to say 'are you serious?' but I guess they're happy and I certainly applaud them for lasting the distance. I just can't listen to their music these days."

It's outside for more offers of watermelon and some fresh corn. Jet's fingers are coated in ice cream as his cone cracks. Ivy is still burying herself into her mother, the kids and mum back from a trip to town.

Nigel puts on a copy of The Deep Purple Singles and I tell him I got to meet Ian Gillan and interview him on live TV. "Really! What was he like?" Not as accommodating as you Booga...but a very nice guy.

Then I am played a demo disc of some new ideas. Booga seems very excited at the prospect that the band might one day be a band, beyond these shows. He's holding it in, but at the same time, he's playing me demo ideas and fantasising about writing lyrics again.

I left, late in the day, with a drive back to Wellington of around an hour, hoping that HLAH's shows go well.

They played twice in Auckland last week. Did anyone go? I have heard it was hot, sweaty and the band delivered - playing the "hits".

Nigel told me of a few surprises and asked me not to tell. He then taunted me by saying there were some special surprises he wasn't telling anyone until the night.

This Friday HLAH will play in Wellington, a special show, at Mighty Mighty. And the following day the band will play as part of the Homegrown show. It sounds like Booga is packing his A-game (and his seedless watermelon).