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Newsletter Issue #111: 13 Aug 2006

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Watchdog Revisited

By Xmas of 1973 Watchdog were already Invercargill's premier rock group. At the end-of-year Town Hall concert, they blew my 15-year old self away - long hair & afros, electric guitars, wearing colourful japanese silk capes that made them look like kick-boxers (though no-one then knew what a kick-boxer was) - they looked exotic and powerful - there's something about effeminate fashions that appears macho to teenage boys - as if only a stone-cold killer could dare to dress so girlishly in public.  And they sounded powerful and skillful, like nothing I'd ever heard, as they kicked off with "Get It On", following it (if not on that occasion, then on succeeeding ones) with "Moonage DayDream" "Gypsy" "Smoke on the Water" "Suffragete City" "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues" "Fairies Wear Boots" "Ziggy Stardust" "Jeepster" "…If the Mountains(Led Zep 2)", Jean Genie". Their covers always sounded better than the originals, which in those days were mastered and pressed locally by people who didn't understand the sounds involved.

In the years 1974 - 76 I often saw Watchdog play (truth be told, I doubt I missed a set outside of pubs, where I couldn't go). Most often at the YMCA, with a good heavy metal covers band (Butler) and an MOR covers band for company. I don't know whose idea these free, all-ages Friday night gigs were, but whoever organised them deserves a medal for services to music and Invercargill's teenagers. There was unusually little aggro on the streets of Invercargill, N.Z.'s Boganville, while these gigs lasted - they were that satisfying.

Soon, Watchdog did something unheard of in New Zealand. They got in a gifted keyboard player with a Hammond organ - this made "Gypsy" and "Smoke on the Water" sound even better, but more was to come. Glam was proving to be a dead end - the genius of Bolan and Bowie paving the way for Glitter, Stardust and the Chin-Chap bubblegum acts. Progressive rock was becoming where it was "at" for real music lovers; Genesis (Foxtrot), Jethro Tull (Thick as a Brick), Yes (Tales from The Topographical Oceans), ELP (Brain Salad Surgery) made Led Zep's contemporary LP Houses of the Holy seem like a top 10 single.

Yesterday I saw a young band called Wolfmother on Alt TV. Like the similar Mars Volta, they play prog-rock that would have slotted into the 70s effortlessly. Now that progressive Rock can be cool again, someone should revisit Watchdog's magnum Opus. I don't know what it was called, but it evolved into an album's length of Wagnerian riffs and delicate ballads (the dynamic and emotional range of this music was one reason why I loved it) with lyrics derived from Tolkien. Perhaps embarrasingly so in post-Rings NZ, but back then the sense of being one of the few to "get it" made me love them even more. Rock music had never evoked such emotions before, and, not knowing Debussy, and only having "Ride of the Valkerie" in my parents' collection of 45's (the relevance of Wagner to what Watchdog were doing was obvious to me even then), I was able to fully appreciate the originality and importance of their work. Like most prog-rock Magnum Opii, Watchdog's was a curate's egg, but when it was good it was very, very good. However, Watchdog's covers act had been, deservedly, very well loved in Invercargill. What followed was every bit as dramatic as Bob Dylan going electric ("Judas!"), the Rites of Spring or the first Dadaist gigs. Except that it seemed endlessly protracted - the same battle was refought weekend after weekend. Watchdog always did 2 sets, one with 3 piece as before, one with 4 piece playing mostly originals, but that cut no mustard with the V8-Freak hybrid audience. Picture me if you must, a 17yr old virgin, long hair and greatcoat (This being the 70s, I was otherwise dressed like Eric in "That 70s Show"), standing near the stage, wherever I could see and hear best, beneath psychedelic oil slides sliding and rotating, projected through the hazy darkness onto the wall above the basketball hoops. Moments of delicate beauty were torn with whistles, jeers, and cries of "Smoke on the Water", despite the fact that they could always be relied on to evolve into moments of rock brutality to leave "Smoke on the Water" and its musically illiterate riff dead on the water, choking in cordite fumes (the phraseHeavy Metal was often used by journalists to describe the battleships - the armour and big guns - of the worlds' great navies, long before it was used by Burroughs or applied to rock music. This is the real meaning of "Heavy Metal Thunder…. Fire all of my guns at once…etc."; the first metal audiences, those of the '60s, had been brought up on WW2 literature). In 1970's Invercargill, the hegemony of Rugby, Racing and Beer had stretched to include the novelty of Glam, but felt threatened by the "progress" intended by Prog-Rock. As long as bisexuality was a camp drag act it could be treated as a joke, but Watchdog's keyboard player, who sang most of the new songs, was threateningly slight, his voice and manner effete, his lyrics fey, his dress and apprearance genuinely effeminate. The whole package challenged the teenage boys who had learned to love Watchdog, and the Band turned their hostility back on them, subltly; was the

Tolkienist convention that allowed songs about fairies being subtly exploited, and if so was it being used to express sexuality, or just to mock an increasingly intolerant audience?

Watchdog, it is obvious to me now, were fighting in the Culture Wars - but that battle did not become overt until the 1981 Springbok Tour (which, in my book, had little to do with oppression of  SA blacks and everything to do with oppression of NZ's young adults). Watchdog were ahead of their time, and were also the very best exemplar of it. Nothing I've heard since beats them. Today's prog-rockers lack their discipline and sense of drama. Watchdog taught me some of the most important musical lessons, very early on: how well-earned popularity can become a curse, impeding development; how intolerant those who love you best can become; the importance of keeping a fickle audience in the passenger seat; that a true original can't help but burn bridges; most importantly, that a band who finds their identity can stand together, alone against the world. Watchdog showed me an example of incredible courage (as this was Invercargill, it was physical courage, not just artistic), of unmistakable professionalism at all times (right down to their various deconstructions of "Smoke on the Water" at their farewell performance), and, as they went back to their day jobs, their work and genius unrewarded, they showed me the true path of my future calling. All Hail: Watchdog!

Thanks to George Henderson for this week's inspiring editorial. If you've got anything that you'd like to share with our newsletter subscribers, please send an email through to [email protected] and we'll fill you in on the details!


Hysteria, Aucklands (possibly NZs) only exclusive Rock, Punk & Metal Bar / Venue, Open thurs (8pm till late), Fri(9pm till very late), Sat Nights(9pm till very late). Live kiwi music on stage on all three nights and our very own Dj K - Rock. We try to provide support for the bands in the genres that get very little support from anywhere else in the NZ Music industry.

Live at Hysteria has seen acts such as The D4, Eight Foot Sativa, Stylus, Sinate, Dawn of Azazel, Redline, New Way Home, The Mint Chicks, The House Of Capricorn, Remote and Many many more gracing our stage!!

Situated on K Rd central Auckland, we have a large bar with a great variety of beers,Rtds,wines,spirits and softer beverages, Friendly fun bar staff, In house Engineer, P.A.& Lights, Three Pool Tables, Lounge areas, large dance floor / mosh floor.... Making Hysteria a place most people want to stay untill the very end of the night. If you want to party, but aren't into the dance, RnB/hiphop, pop music scenes then Hysteria is the place for you.
Hysteria 258 K Rd Auckland City.

Sophie Moleta

Returning to New Zealand after a number of years is Sophie Moleta - Wellington based singer, songwriter, composer and music teacher. Her extensive music career has included Australia, the UK, France and other European countries, and New Zealand. Her career is documented in detail on her web site   www.sophiemoleta.com   and also on myspace  www.myspace.com/sophiemoleta. She has an extensive discography and has tracks included on more than 30 compilations.

2006 started for Sophie with having a track included on the "In Love & Light" album released in January by Ova Records in the USA.

In February the NZONAIR funded (Kiwi Hit Disk #79) single "Te-Atawhai" was released (along with two other tracks) - this song was the Number 1 played song on Vision100 in April.   The video for "Te-Atawhai" should be available in the next two weeks.

Ova Records is about to release an album of six remixes of the very popular "Awaken" track from the "Untie Me" (electronic ambient) album of 2005.   And eight collaborative tracks by Sophie and Marc Mitchell (Isle of Jersey) and Human Movement - titled "Confessions of an Angel" is also about to be released.

The main focus for the rest of 2006 will then be the "Every Girl I Know Deserves a Packet of Stars" album - a collection of very New Zealand songs - written by Sophie since her return - plus a few surprizes!

You can also find more information about Sophie on muzic.net.nz.

The Puddle

The Puddle (George D. Henderson, guitar/piano/voice; Ross Jackson, Bass; Heath Te Au, Drums), are working on "Playboys in the Bush" their follow up to "Songs for Emily Valentine", having already laid down 24 tracks with Mike at Inca  Studio in Wellington last year, including a remake of "Monogamy", an old live favourite. George will be playing in Wellington at the end of August, dates to be anounced, and, in Dunedin, in a one-off gig with The Chills (Martin Phillipps also singing with The Puddle) at Refuel (on campus, Otago Uni) on Wednesday 6th September
Who are your favourite NZ bands and artists?

Largely, but not exclusively, those I've also known and loved. At this particular moment, de profundis and all logrolling aside, I am thinking of The Enemy, Toy Love and Tall Dwarfs, Mark Thomas, Bill Vosburgh's The Perfect Strangers, early Watchdog, King Loser, later AbleTasmans, the Beat Rhythm Fashion  7"s, and Sam Swan's "Have You Checked The Children?" (Life in the Fridge Exists, from the LP ****). Two great guitarists, David Kilgour and Dave Mitchell. And so many unsung overnight heros besides.

I'm playing the new Dimmer album, and Humphries and Keen's  "The Overflow", both of which have measurable traces of genius - they also sound beautiful. I rate Bic Runga, Pluto, Don McGlashan (probably no coincidence most of these people play on one anothers' songs).

Heath: Favourite NZ bands? Bailter Space, Clean, early Verlaines, Pretty Wicked Head and of course the Puddle.
What is your favourite NZ venue?

Sammy's, - Dunedin, Chicks, and the Town Hall - Port Chalmers
What is the best thing about being in The Puddle?

The whole gang thing: looking out for each other.

The Work Ethic.

Knowing that there are, on occasion, enough people in New Zealand with good taste to fill a large room, and that, whenever they meet, they want The Puddle to entertain them.

What is the best live gig you have ever been to?

Undoubtedly a Puddle gig, Chicks at Port Chalmers. Then Watchdog doing covers at the Invercargill Town Hall, Xmas 1973, and Tall Dwarfs' first Dunedin gig. The Violent Femmes. The Great Unwashed with David and Hamish Kilgour, Peter Gutteridge and Ross Humphries were astounding live, so were The Perfect Strangers as a 3-piece or with Mark "Sharkface" Thomas singing. Other contenders include Celia Pavlova singing with The Axel Grinders at the Wharf, Dunedin, The Enemy at Zwines, Toy Love at the Last Resort, Watchdog at the Invercargill YMCA 1974. Add one each of the heavy metal and pop-rock groups that also played at those Invercargill Y gigs (3 bands every Friday night) and you perhaps do have the best gig. Ever. Glam and metal (Zep, Alice, Purple, Sabbath, Heep), so theatrical, are ideal styles for covers bands (I've always prefered the better covers bands - the better the songs, the better the gig, and few bands have as many good songs as a covers band, right?). Live music in NZ went downhill in 1975-76, when the bands began to get "funky" in a costive and fidgety, imitation honky-cat style…and the buddha sticks dried up. The hippies had to go straight,

And suddenly only those who could ride the new wave would have a chance.
Where do you see The Puddle in 5 years?

Another 5 years ahead of our time, I suppose, in 2016. Or (2011) getting high at Abbey Road or the Record Plant and recording another classic album. Or, assuming that I don't win Lotto, in a garage somewhere rehearsing for the hell of it.
How do you keep in contact with your fans?

They know where to find me. And then there's http://blog.myspace.com/georgedhenderson - and former puddle keyboard guru Richard Cotton (the genius behind the samples on Southern Man) has an excellent website at www.insanitywetrust.com, with much Puddle info; also, the Powertools sites (especially the German one, which includes some notes on "…Emily Valentine") are worth a visit.
What rumour would you like to start about yourselves?

Are there not enough already?

What advice would you like to give to other aspiring musicians?

Play as much as you can now, while it all still sounds good, because once you have good taste it'll be harder to get that valuable experience.

Beware the boyfriend/girlfiend axis.

You're competing in the only sport where doping's still good form. Don't be a sucker - make sure you're fully informed about everything you do.

Music can carry just as much meaning as you want to give it. Or as little. But the most primal rocker and the most crafted ballad, if both done for love, have more in common with each other than with any music made to please some supposed "market".

Anything that would be good in a novel or a poem is probably fit material for a song.

If your music has to play loud, do something to protect your hearing. If it doesn't, then turn everything down to protect ours.

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