Friday, February 26, 2016

Shoes This High - Shoes This High EP and Live at Billy The Club (1980)


I love-love-LOVE New Zealand music!  I wish I could have lived there back in the early 1980's, when it seemed like there was interesting stuff happening all over the country, and great bands - The Clean, Toy Love, The Chills, and many, many more - were popping up left and right.  I've been an aficionado and collector of Kiwi punk and alternative music for donkey's years.  Here's a real obscurity I got into almost a decade ago . . .

Shoes This High has its origins in the New Zealand punk/post-punk music emerging from Wellington in the late '70s. The band was specifically part of what was called the city's "Terrace Scene", a group of cheap, ramshackle houses on a street hard by Kelburn Park (and just down the street from Victoria University and Massey University) occupied mainly at the time by young students, artists and musicians. Lacking funds to partake in other local entertainment, the residents of The Terrace began throwing underground house parties with instruments available for participants to jam together on. From these jam sessions, several bands began forming, but none of them - including Beat Rhythm Fashion, 52, Life In The Fridge Exists, and Naked Spots Dance - lasted beyond 1982.

Of all of the short-lived Terrace Scene bands, Shoes This High was probably the most interesting of the lot. The band came together in the early fall of 1979, when Kevin Hawkins (lead guitarist) met Jessica Walker (bassist) at one of those impromptu gigs and they decided to join forces (Jessica came from a family that already had deep connections in the New Zealand post-punk scene; her sister Jane was a member of the legendary Toy Love). Vocalist Brent Hayward joined the group that November, and after running through a couple of drummers, the band finally settled on Chris Plummer. Shoes This High honed their chops on the Wellington scene, branching out from Terrace parties and playing more established city venues like Thistle Hall and The Last Resort. The band's name came from a conversation overheard in the street: “Jessica heard some transsexual people getting on a big red bus and they were gossiping. “And how high did you say her shoes were?” “Those shoes were this high.”"

The sound this group put together was far and away from what was going on elsewhere in the city, and country, at that time - scabrous, slashing guitar rhythms; Gang Of Four-style propulsive, almost funk-based bass lines; crash-and-bang drumming . . . all backing Hayward's aggressive vocals. Here's a good summary description of what the Shoes This High was about, taken from Wade Ronald Churton's book Have You Checked The Children?:
“The band were plainly punk-based (though influences like funk and even disco were coming through) but shared little of the form's clichés. Plummer and Walker locked together to form one of the country's finest post-punk rhythm-sections; taut, slippery, staccato and even funky (and remarkably reminiscent of 1980s' Features). Fused with Hawkins' menacing jangle and unusual melody-lines, the three were exemplary improvisers who could extemporise on a theme on a par with most jazz-rock hotel outfits. Shoes This High were working with much more exciting rhythms, however.”
However, while the band was carving its own space in the local music scene, they were doing so at the expense of establishing a more extensive audience or with an eye towards greater commercial acceptance. New Zealanders just didn't 'get' Shoes This High in the early '80s. In addition to the jagged, abrasive, angular music, Hayward would spend much of his time during the group's gigs spitting venom, hurling insults and abuse on their audience. All of this made it difficult to be a dedicated fan of this group back then - pissing off your audience is rarely a recipe for success. The situation got so bad for Shoes This High in Wellington that the group decamped for Auckland in the austral winter (July) of 1980, although things them up in that city, in terms of audience reception, weren't appreciably better.

Still, the band was provided one shot at immortalizing their legacy. In late 1980, they entered a local studio to lay down tracks for a four-song EP; here's the track list:
1. The Nose One
2. Foot's Dream
3. A Mess
4. Not Weighting
The EP was released on the band's own STH Records label, but sold very poorly (usually at the group's poorly attended gigs) and quickly faded away . . . as did the group itself.  Shoes This High soldiered on in the North Island punk scene, but broke up before the middle of 1981 (rumor has it that Jessica's affair with a member of The Gordons - who Shoes This High gigged with extensively and lived with in Auckland for a time -  was the final straw that did the band in).

I didn't know a thing about this band or its music until nearly a decade ago, when I came across their hard-to-find EP via Detailed Twang, a superb music blog that sadly ceased operations in 2009. The write-up they did for this band and its music really whetted my appetite:
“.....Think it was all whimsical happy-go-lucky goofball pop music down there in New Zealand twenty-some-odd years ago? Songs about sheep and fish and heartbreak? You gotta hear SHOES THIS HIGH, a quick-lived 1980 Auckland-by-way-of-Wellington quartet who are by far one of the best lost post-punk bands I’ve had the pleasure of finding out about. Think a more jagged Minutemen, The Gordons, Seems Twice, Pere Ubu, some Beefheart-like deconstructed stabs at atonality – or, as Gary Steel’s liner notes for the reissued 7” EP exclaim, “killer-riffing-angry-in-your-guts-avant-garde-pin-pricking punk funk". The lead track on their sole four-song single, “The Nose One”, has a real spastic stop/start structure which successfully masks some great weary, disengaged vocals. Guitars chime in and chop out of all four tracks, some of which are pretty biting and aggressive (hence the GORDONS comparison). The greatness of this thing again reminds me of the strong influence of The Fall in NZ, where “Totally Wired” went actually into the Top 5. Not that Shoes This High sound much like The Fall, but there’s gotta be a hook there somewhere. Recorded December 1980, released in 1981, reissued on Raw Power records in 2002. Please do yourself a favor and begin a tireless, unyielding quest for the Shoes This High EP forthwith.....”
I downloaded the music directly from the site, and immediately fell in love with it. Here's my favorite song off of the EP, the lead track, "The Nose One":


After being exposed to this fantastic stuff, I began searching for more offerings by this great band . . . only to quickly discover to my disappointment that apparently there was no more to be had; Shoes This High made no other official recordings, and it seemed that there was nothing else available . . .

Until about four-five years ago, when out of nowhere, a live recording of the group playing a June 1980 gig at Billy The Club popped up on the Web. There's a guy by the name of Bob Sutton who, back in the day, used to go around recording the shows of the various groups that came through his town. And over the years, he had collected a pretty extensive archive of live sets by some of the country's most obscure, short-lived bands - including Shoes This High. Here's the set list from their gig that night:
1. Monodrone
2. Living Hell
3. The Nose One
4. Sop Pong
5. Mental Whiff
6. Tic Toc
7. Ain’t 1/2 Right
8. Fatman
9. Gifted?
10. Stuk
11. Christian Song
12. Menace In Yer Head
13. Tunnel Vision
14. ——–
15. You Sold Out
16. Small
17. For Too Long
18. Scab
19. Catshit
20. Bull-fight
21. Cretin Time
22. Beach Muscle
23. Don’t Wanna
24. R U Happy?
Of course, I quickly snapped this offering up as well. For a bootleg concert recording in a dodgy venue, it has a remarkably clear sound and presentation. And it greatly expands the band's previously limited musical legacy. All in all, it's a great recording.

The reason I'm posting this stuff now is that, while browsing around the Web the other day, I came across a site selling a "limited edition" release (only 500 copies available) of live Shoes This High music along with "bonus cuts", called Straight To Hell (link to the site is here). I quickly realized that what these guys were offering up for sale was the Billy The Club gig I already owned, along with the original EP tracks as the "bonus" songs! And to add insult to injury, they weren't even offering the complete show - only about half of the original 1980 show tracks are on the album (I assume they're saving the remaining twelve for another "limited edition' release to gouge people with later on down the line).

As I've said before, blatant money-grubbing like that pisses me off. So in order to counter that, and to make available some great, mostly unheard music to you all, here's:
  • The Shoes This High self-titled EP, recorded at Mascot Studios in Auckland by Gerard Carr on December 21st, 1980 and self-released by the band in January 1981; and
  • The Live at Billy The Club (22 June 1980) set, from Bob Sutton's personal stash.
Enjoy this flashback to a mostly-unknown but influential and fondly remembered scene - and as always, let me know what you think.
Shoes This High EP: Send Email

Live At Billy The Club (22 June 1980): Send Email

1 comment:

  1. Incredible stuff, quirky and angular. Much obliged!

    ReplyDelete