But in every other way "Tally Ho!" was seminal stuff. Recorded
for $60 in an 8-track home studio, the single on an unknown, self-distributing
label sailed into the New Zealand Top 20, thus setting a precedent
of no-compromise chart success for both Nun and The Clean. It's
also the first vinyl outing for Chills
mainman Martin Phillipps, who guests on that crackling keyboard
The Clean's sales success was based on an impeccable live credibility assembled since
their 1978 debut with Dunedin punk godfathers, The Enemy. The Enemy can be traced through
Toy Love to the unique Tall Dwarfs today, but The Clean were the first of their own wave.
Although no older thasn their later-emerging contemporaries, The Clean set the tone for
the Dunedin/Flying Nun strain of song that has swept the world (or at least the front
porches big in Dunedin -- and it is great front porch music).
The Clean's nucleus was the Kilgour brothers, Hamish and David,
on drums and guitar respectively. The first Third Man was Peter
Gutteridge, a most talented musician and songwriter but a chronically
itinerant band member (Peter left The Clean in 1979 and formed The
Chills with Martin Phillipps. He reappeared in the Great Unwashed
and then The Puddle before forming his own group, the still-active
Snapper. By the time of the
records came Robert Scott, later of The
Bats -- you wanna band tree yet?!).
After "Tally Ho!", the three Cleans got together with Chris Knox (Tall
Dwarfs) and soundman/alternative businessman Doug Hood to record the classic five song
Boodle Boodle Boodle EP -- this time on four-track in a hired hall. And it sounds
magnificent. The reason Boodle and subsequent records could revel in such spartan
recording conditions was that the music on them is so sharp and strong, born of the
imperative that it must actually work as music played by a band. Real songs and real
sounds that needed only to be recorded faithfully.
The Clean espoused Dunedin eclecticism in its neat form -- caught in Boodle's sweep are
the tremendous and influential electric guitar drones of "Point That Thing Somwhere
Else", the hard folk rhythm and mewling chorus of "Billy Two" and the
cheerful youth nihilism of "Anything Could Happen".
Boodle went Top 5, and eventually gold, as did its successor, Great Sounds Great, Good
Sounds Good, So-so Sounds So-so, Bad Sounds Bad, Rotten Sounds Rotten, an even more varied
pack of seven tunes. There's more "Point That Thing" choogalatin' on
"Fish", the snarling country rap of "Side On", the exuberantly ironic
"Beatnik" and elegant, awkward love songs like "Flowers" and
"Slug Song". Through it all permeated a taut sense of humour and a hint of surf
that must have oozed up through the Kilgours' surfboards to permanently invade their
By the time the next single, "Getting Older", emerged in 1983, The Clean were
no more. Uncomforable with the demands implicit in their increasing success, The Clean one
day just bailed out before it got to be really not fun anymore. Hamish and David began
noodling at home with the four track on what became their next project with Peter
Gutteridge, the Great Unwashed. Robert picked up a guitar and formed The Bats with his
Since then, three collections have been issued to show still more faces of the band.
The tape-only Oddities and Oddities 2 were just that -- a bunch of early and live
recordings that show a rainbow of influences from the howling garage pop of
"Oddity" to a not-very-good dub of "Point That Thing". The second
volume, made up mostly of Great Unwashed material, even has cassette-recorded tracks from
that first Clean gig in 1978! Live Dead Clean is seven songs from three gigs, highlighted
by another great guitar instrumental, "At The Bottom". It gives a peek into how
exciting the band could be live. The Clean always had the potential to be bad on any given
night -- it was precisely this potential which allowed them to be near-transcendental on
An impromptu one-off gig in London in 1989 led to a new live EP,
In-A-Live and then to a brief, casual reformation of The Clean.
They polished off a quick world tour and recorded an album of all
new tunes in London. Vehicle was catchy, insistent pop -- its 13
songs clocked in at just half and hour. Then Robert went back to
The Bats' ongoing career, Hamish left the Clean and Bailter
Space behind him to stay in New York with his new wife and a
new band called the Mad Scene,
and David followed on from his latest group Stephen with an acclaimed
solo debut album called Here Come The Cars, released in 1992. And
then just recently, the three came together again in Dunedin, March
1994. After two practices, they had written half a new album and
two weeks later the thing was recorded (at a community hall in a
freezing corner of nowhere called Hoopers Inlet). No-one's heard
it yet, but The Clean are promising something wild with this album.
There'll be a couple of gigs in the South Island and then it's all
over again -- David has a new solo album Sugar Mouth ready for release,
Robert's got a Bats album underway in a few months and Hamish is
off back to New York.
Long before their demise, The Clean had become the focus of an
ongoing musical subculture that treats good live gigs less as entertainment
than as rockin' community celebration. They have the magic and the
quality of heart that makes this music worthwile. For those of us
who've grown with all this, The Clean, late in the afternoon, late
at night, or first thing in the morning, sound... Elemental.