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THE CLEAN - BIOGRAPHY

Real Audio Samples
Anything Could Happen (293 kb)
Don't Point that Thing(610 kb)
Fish (270 kb)

See also:
David Kilgour / Madscene / Bats / Stephen / Great Unwashed / The Clean - Getaway / The Clean - Unknown Country / God Save The Clean


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Like all the best record companies, the early days of Flying Nun Records has become the subject of a little mythologising -- the facts have been weathered into some kind of anecdotes. So let us say now that The Clean's 1981 debut single "Tally Ho!" was not actually the label's first release. By a matter of days, that honour belongs to the Pin Group's "Columbia", a record that boasted a solid black label with black-on-black sleeve print.

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 riff.

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 systems.

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 Christchurch flatmates.

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 other nights.

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.

 

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