A Drive through Patea (1/2)

“I then stated, long after her and I have left our earthly bodies, the language – via our anthem – will live on from generation to generation.”

Dalvanius Prime to Ngoi Pewhairangi

Mostly I remember songs from the 80s because I liked them, but there are a couple of spots in my memory reserved for musical moments of sheer awfulness.  As much as I’d like to forget these songs they are burned into my mind, forever reminding me that the 80s were not a jet plane to the stars of poppy, glossy loveliness, but a roller coaster ride with some plunging, vomit-inducing lows too.  Agadoo by Black Lace is one example of this awfulness.  Maggie by Foster and Allen is another.

Regardless of what you may (or, far more likely, may not) think of the song Maggie, you will have to concede that it is the kind of music, and the kind of duo, that was unlikely to appeal to an 11 year old boy in 1984.  These days, when there are so many ways to get access to music, it doesn’t really matter if the number one is crap, but in 1984 it was a dire situation.  Let’s list our options in New Zealand in 1984 for getting access to pop videos:

  1. Use the internet (What’s the “internet”?)
  2. Go on a music TV channel (We had two channels in New Zealand.  Channel One and – wait for it – Channel… Two.  Neither of them were music channels)
  3. Watch Radio With Pictures (On at 9.25pm on a Sunday, which was controversially regarded as “too late” for 11 year olds “with school the next day” in my household)
  4. Watch Shazam (Not much music and too much Philip Schofield)
  5. Watch Ready to Roll (bingo!)

There was nothing flash about Ready to Roll and that was its beauty.  It was on once a week on Saturday from 6.00 to 6.30.  It counted down the top twenty for the week, and played a handful of videos in full on the way.  The key was that they always played the number one.  This was great when it was Let’s Dance by David Bowie, but unbearably disappointing when it was week after sodding week of two old codgers from Ireland rabbiting on about some bint called Maggie.

The Listener describes the situation well enough: “The video consists largely of two portly persons standing in a paddock, their lip movements unhappily out of sync with the song.”  As far as I can make out, New Zealand was the only country in the world where Foster and Allen have ever had a number one, and so by June of 1984, Foster and Allen were touring here.  “This affable middle-of-the-road duo chose a freezing night for their first New Zealand performance at the Auckland Town Hall….  Allen sings and Foster accompanies him on his newly-acquired electric piano accordion.  His nimble fingers have won many All Ireland accordion playing titles.”

I can tell you what I would have liked to do to Foster’s nimble fingers, and it wasn’t hand him an electric piano accordion.


So when Poi E replaced Maggie in the number one position there was then the double delight of knowing that you never in your life again would have to hear Maggie, and the sheer awesomeness of one of New Zealand’s greatest songs.

Poi E became the biggest selling single in New Zealand in 1984.  I loved it then, and love it still.  If you were sitting next to me on the couch in my living room in March 1984 at around 6.25pm one Saturday I would have pointed out these bits to you:


Snort! A dog with a poi?  Come one!  Who doesn’t find a dog with a poi funny?


The boy in the crowd who is fully into it.  What a cool kid.


Dalvanius. Except I didn’t know it was Dalvanius then, I just thought it was a funny as guy driving by waving his tongue around.


The Maori Poi George (thanks Robyn), and a white chick who has been sniffing hair products

And, of course, New Zealand’s most famous breakdancer performing New Zealand’s most famous breakdance sequence of all time.


While Poi E was number one Michael Jackson’s Thriller was slowly slipping out of the top twenty; another reason Taika Waititi’s re-imagining of Poi E as a kapa haka Thriller tribute in 2010 was spot on.

So, in New Zealand we had Thriller and Poi E at the same time.  I loved both.  Both for their fabulous music, and both for their dance.  In Thriller it was MJ and his posse of zombies, in Poi E it was Joe the breakdancer and his posse of poi.

Kids of the 80s remember Joe the breakdancer more than any other part of the Poi E video.  He wasn’t that awesome when he got down on the floor in the school hall later in the video, but he did a mean robot, and his gloves put him in touch with the coolest man on the planet: MJ.  Everything about Joe’s look and his moves suggested a dude who had spent thousands of hours in his Patea bedroom with a Grandmaster Flash tape and a full length mirror honing a talent.  Respect.  For me, seeing Joe demonstrate his craft was a moment of pride and recognition.  Pride because there at number one was a New Zealander doing the unspeakably cool act of “breakdancing”, and recognition that a part of what made it quintessentially kiwi was  that it was a little bit shit.

Fly the flag

Very briefly something strange happened in the album charts in New Zealand in 1982.  Let’s watch it happen. 

The week before it happened:

If you’re not from New Zealand then there is a chance you think I’m going to make fun of DD Smash and their album Cool Bananas, but this is not going to happen because DD Smash were awesome.

Elton John Jump Up!  Now there’s something to make fun of (I have already, here).  By far the most risible though has to be the number four and number five double whammy of pap.  On the other hand, when you’re trawling youtube to find something to mock Kamahl with you might find this and see him in a whole new light:

So.  Are you ready?  Here it is.  The week I was talking about:

I know, right?  AMAZING.

Translation for rest of planet: the top three places on the album chart in New Zealand on the 2 May, 1982 are held by New Zealand or Australian bands.

Explanatory notes for people living in Britain or the USA: until some time in the mid 90s mainstream New Zealanders didn’t really like New Zealand music.  In Britain and the USA you are used to having music from your own country all over the charts.  In New Zealand we are not.  Aside from the fact we are too small to have enough quantity to fill up the charts, we also suffered from cultural cringe.  Mostly we thought of New Zealand music as being worse than British and American.  Which, to be frank, it often was – it wasn’t all the fault of New Zealand public – but sometimes it wasn’t, sometimes it was really, really good, and just needed a little love.

This chart then is a really remarkable feat.

It didn’t last.  One week later we have this:

Richard F&%king Clayderman as I like to call him.  Man he was popular with middle-aged New Zealanders in the early 80s.

Split Enz were a very good band and (for the three people who don’t know) had Tim and Neil Finn in its final line up.  Neil, of course, went on to Crowded House, but Tim has also made a lot of good music since.  Actually all the tracks I like on Time and Tide are either by Tim or the band rather than by solo Neil.

I’m not sure which track to play for Split Enz.  Six Months in a Leaky Boat is pretty fantastic, but I have always loved Dirty Creature.  Mental illness sounds great with a good bass line.

Cool Bananas is harder to get a video for.  The only things I can find have a very low volume, and the big song from this album – Devil You Know – really needs to be played loud. 

Dave Dobbyn (the DD in DD Smash) really deserved fame outside of Australasia.  Such a fantastic musician (well, until he stopped drinking).  Totally implausible as a rock star.  I mean, check out this outfit from the Radio With Pictures gig:

I can’t tell you how cool Adidas, stirrup leg pants were in New Zealand at this time.  Dave would have been rocking it a bit more if his pants had been black.  (Incidentally, I am aware of how funny the phrase “stirrup leg pants” sounds in England).

Dave was never a man who was ever going to rival Elvis, for example,  in the sex-appeal-o-meter stakes and, as we have seen, he wasn’t a snappy dresser, but he wrote great songs and, at this point in his career, there was a lot of fantastic stuff to come.

Maybe, then, we’ll save a Dobbyn clip for a little later.