When Louise and I hit Wellington at the start of 1980 I thought I was in Gormenghast – the castle city. Punk was still in full swing when we arrived with our long hair and acoustic guitars. We got a flat straight away with three beautiful women in a big house on The Crescent in Roseneath with fantastic views down over the city. On our first evening there Dan and Nino Birch (Beat Rhythm Fashion) came around with their guitars and we jammed long into the night. They did fine Beatles and Everly harmonies and were checking us out.
We thought we had a pretty good track record and went about finding gigs. Negative Theatre was never really a pub band so it was mainly cafes, theatres and universities. We met a lot of musicians of all stripes – in fact everybody seemed to be an artist of one sort or another.
There was a punk fest at the Rock Theatre one long weekend and we played. We walked out on stage and got hell from the crowd before we played a note – spitting and jeering. Sam Swann from Life in the Fridge Exists ran on grabbed the mic and tore into them saying we were her friends and to shut up and listen – they did. The music had a few more chords but the lyrics were darker than they were – it turned out to be a fantastic show. Had a great jam with Kevin Hawkins of Shoes This High afterwards – an amazing left-handed guitarist.
Graham Nesbitt had set up the art centre on Willis St and we got work there. It was a community arts program and the beginning of Summer City. A very long list of talent came through that place. We thrived there.
We played at a wedding in Napier and sometime over that weekend we broke up as a couple. I moved into a flat on my own in Hawker St. though we continued on as Negative Theatre – the musical chemistry we had was still intact.
Then we went on tour with a stage show from the art centre about unemployment just before we all lost our jobs. It was small venues all over the Wairarapa and southern Hawkes Bay. I shared rooms with Jonathon Zwartz on that tour and we talked about forming a band. I felt we’d taken Negative Theatre as far as we would and it was time to move on.
I got involved in solo gigs and joined a children’s theatre group – Bricks Theatre with my cousin Mark Thompson and Ron Kjestrup and big Gary Smith. Mark and I started writing together – more adult comedy sketches and we did shows at campuses and even Araharta Women’s Prison.
It didn’t work out with Jonathon because he got snapped up by the Crocodiles but the jams I had with him set me on the road to forming the Spines.
I was sitting in Homestead Chicken by Pigeon Park and the news that John Lennon had been murdered came on the radio.
I went back to the art centre and wrote the Lions.
RIP Sam, Dan, Kevin, Graham and John
The Ghost of Electricity – War Stories by Jon McLeary is a new initiative at Off The Tracks, a series of stories and reflections from painter, writer and musician Jon McLeary