When I first moved to Wellington in 1980 I guess I was still writing folk songs. Louise and I had found work at the Art Centre and I felt under pressure to write.
That first Specials album was a killer – every track, every instrument.
Wellington had its own kind of concrete jungle in those days. There was the boot boy/skinhead lot and the reggae fans and gangs. You had to be staunch and have self-belief to play to those audiences. Strumming my acoustic was never going to be enough – I could hear a band in my head.
When we formed the Spines I knew I had to come up with music you could dance to – I didn’t have the rock chops on the guitar but I found I could play that double-time skank and write songs with it. Rob Mahoney was the perfect bass player – he could push the music along with his fretless fender, play those fast walking basslines like no one else. Caroline could play anything on the drums.
We played OK ska for a three-piece – may not have delivered the excitement or the fun of the big bands but we were intense and inhaled the genre.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Neill Duncan joined the band – he played on various tracks on nearly all our records and started playing live with us whenever he could from the second line-up with Tim Robinson on. His sax was great for the offbeat tunes – he played the solos and a lot of the melody lines while I held down the skank and vocals.
It’s All Inane, Sideways, Loving In Coats, Something Wrong With Me, A Harder Man, In Your Wound, Desperate Weekend, Losing Colour – I had a ton of songs in those early years that were ska-inspired. More angular perhaps, more post-punk but the influence was obvious.
The Beat was a different beast, they morphed ska into something different again with the bass more in a pushy reggae style and a drop beat and I think we headed off further that way when Wendy Calder and Ross Burge became the rhythm section.
I went with Simon to see the Beat and Selector last week and it was great, it took me right back to why that music was so important to me – the irresistible groove and the great songs. Though the Spines could never be dubbed a ska or reggae band – those styles were branded in us in the 80s.
Fishing, our very first record in 1981, started with the track It’s All Inane which is pure ska and the final song on Idiot Sun (our last album of the decade) is I Wish You Well which begins as a Dexys on-the-one sort of song and winds up a ska romp with the sax and guitar going for it.