In August 1977 we wandered down to Wellington.
It was the Students Arts Festival and I’d cajoled the band onto the bill, via the Auckland Office. Bus trip, food, $200 and a place to stay was the promised deal, so around the 20th we found ourselves on bus to Wellington.
Billy caused a fuss because he took some girl’s Moro bar. I don’t blame her, but it was a pointer to the way it was heading.
Arriving in Wellington the organisers told me the band was booked to play, after Living Force, a prog-relic band who specialised in Krishna-inspired extended solos on a very spiritual tip, on the 24th. Yep, perfect placement on our part, but gross stupidity on the part of the organisers.
But - no - there was no accommodation or payment scheduled, nor food. I stamped, swore and they promised $100 but were firm: you have to find your own beds and food.
A couple of kids watching the fracas put their hand ups and offered 'You can stay with us'. They were 14ish, a little bit snotty and rather unclean, but being beggars ourselves - thanks to the Student Arts body's renegging - rather than choosers, we took the only option we had and found ourselves looking, about 10 of us including the odd girlfriend, at a single room, with wall to wall mattresses in a house owned by a couple of older guys, one of whom, we think, was the foster father to one of these boys. The realtionshp was never that clear, but what was clear was that this house - filthy and smelly, mostly from their dog’s urine and the stale beer and sherry bottles around the place - was our only real option.
For most of us, anyway. Buster decided to head over to a mate’s house in Kelburn. He had a large, warm and comfortable house that the rest of us clearly were not welcome to share.
Buster always had contacts.
It was incredibly cold - Aucklanders feel Wellington in the winter rather badly - we had no money, and we were all communally cuddling at night in this one large room just to survive. Add to that hunger - we were eternally hungry, with the mission to eat dominating much of our days.
You get inventive.
Billy found a soup kitchen, but I couldn’t bring myself to sink that far. We took the odd loaf of bread from the deliveries outside closed dairies, and we wrote a $14 cheque for Chinese food in Cuba Street - it bounced of course but it filled us up and I went back two years later and gave the guy his cash.
We soon discovered that standing in the queue at a coffee shop - the Matterhorn was best - and eating a few extra sandwiches before we got to the front was cost effective, until Billy got caught and the police were called. And he then got busted for tagging a city wall with 'The Suburban Reptiles have got you licked - all over', just to add to the legal burden - he returned to the city some weeks later and paid a fine.
A few of the band crashed some sort of private arts function at Victoria University, ate vast amounts before it turned into a food fight followed by eviction.
Oh and the band played some gigs.
Elvis died - for many it was a very big deal. I approached a club called Ziggy’s Rock’n’Roll Heaven for a gig on the Saturday night - or they approached us - the memory is vague. Simon Morris, who seemed to be booking the place, and was a Wellington music person of some note was intrigued and placed The Suburban Reptiles on the Elvis Memorial Party bill. It was a fiasco. Zero said mean things about Elvis to the bopping bobby-soxers from Wainuiomata, and we all ending up in a fight on the dance-floor. The press arrived on cue.
The club paid us $50. It was food on the table for a few days.
The gig at the university was the main event. The main room was filled after the media hype - and I guess there was a person or two there for Living Force.
The sound was shite, but I think Chris Bourke sums it up well:
In August 1977 I had snuck into Victoria University to see The Scavengers and Suburban Reptiles; like musical napalm they laid waste to anything that whiffed of long-hair and long guitar solos. The Reptiles’ gig was especially apocalyptic. They were on second in a double-bill with hippie rock gods Living Force, who were instantly rendered irrelevant. In my shoulder bag I had my latest record purchase, Jacques Louissier playing Bach. (Catholic tastes or merely omnivorous? Because of the piano, jazz was an interest but never prog rock: and certainly not after that gig.)
It all went a little bit pear shaped after a short while.
First up, the soundman took some sort of moral offence to a Reptiles' follower with her small child standing near the front.
He began to get his long blonde strands in quite a tangle over the fact that the child was being exposed to not only loud music, but - worse - to this sort of loud music.
All I wanted was a sound mix - not opinion. To be fair I met him years later and he apologised, explaining that the sound-desk was playing up badly amongst other issues.
In frustration at all this - and the refusal of the soundman to carry on with the kid present - Buster tossed his broken drum sticks into the crowd. One of these, as the press (yes, I know…) were later to allege, hit a girl in the eye and caused an injury, happily not serious.
The gig was over.
The press later cornered me. I was quoted as saying 'we're not the animals some people think we are'.
The next night, despite it all, enthused by what he'd seen of The Suburban Reptiles, Simon Morris asked me if the band would open for his band, a popular rock and roll band called The Heartbreakers, at a pub. We were a little in awe of The Heartbreakers - Simon Morris had, after all, been in the legendary Tamburlaine. The Rep's set was fine, albeit unremarkable - aside from the bemusement on the part of the regular Heartbreakers crowd.
Outside the door, however, sat a carload of creeps who had appeared from nowhere obvious as a reaction to the incessant press coverage.
Yes, the Wellington press.
In Auckland, the Suburban Reptiles had received (benefited from?) quite heavy coverage in the tabloids, but the mainstream papers, The NZ Herald & The Auckland Star, had largely ignored the band and the emerging scene. Aucklanders, too, largely took it all in their stride. We were used to rock bands in funny clothes after all.
Wellington was another matter all together. It was like the aliens had come to town, like the monsters from planet freak had arrived to steal your children. Walking down the streets, down Cuba Street or Lampton Quay, it was like we’d gone back decades.
The mainstream media, The Dominion and The Evening Post, managed to feature the punk monsters from Auckland on the front page of at least one of the papers - often both - everyday for a week.
It started with curious stories - with a rather cool picture of the Reptiles, and one about The Scavengers (who’d driven down) and their car, which had innocently caught fire just as they arrived in Wellington.
Then, mid week it started to turn nasty and by the end of the week it was plain vicious. The result was a gathering of vigilantes who decided to drive the depraved flesh eaters back north. Johnny Volume was dragged into toilets at the university and beaten. Carloads of hoods followed us all around the streets, yelling, threatening and instructing us to go home - now.
It was very, very scary.
So, we went home.
The University Arts Council decided they’d not pay any of the punk bands from Auckland anything, despite promises otherwise - we’d disrupted the whole show and, after all it wasn’t real music, was it - words from one of the organisers when the contracted payment was being declined.
We found the bus - the girl who’d had the Moro bar was nowhere to be seen, and we went home to a shower, warm bed and real food.