"We just want to be popstars!"

Click here to read a review of 'Bring Real Freedom' by Nick Bollinger

Beat Rhythm Fashion by David Maclennan

Having rashly promised Rob I'd write some liner notes for this CD, I then realised I didn't have much to go on, apart from hazy memories, a few diary entries, and reviews in In Touch (a Wellington music mag from 1980-81).

So, random thoughts and impressions it is, then!

For me, the BRF story began during Queen's Birthday weekend in June 1980, when a new venue called Billy the Club (formerly the Rock Theatre) held a "Rockfest" over two nights, featuring about a dozen bands, many making their first appearance on stage (my own band included).

One of these new bands was the Westown Quintet - an odd name, considering they were actually a quartet. Fronted by Dan and Nino Birch, who shared vocal and guitar duties, they were rather good, one of the stand-outs of the weekend for my money. I said as much in a review of the weekend for In Touch:

"They produced a good sound and at least two excellent numbers. One to watch, I think."

I even let Nino play my precious Rickenbacker guitar on the second night (he made it sound way better than I ever did!)

A week later they'd changed their name to The Mixers, and played a few more gigs here and there.

Around August 1980 The Mixers morphed into Beat Rhythm Fashion, initially as a studio-only project by Dan and Nino that resulted in two tracks on the **** [Four Stars] album, released in November 1980, which also featured The Wallsockets, Life in the Fridge Exists, and Naked Spots Dance. These bands comprised the "Terrace Scene" - so named because a number of the band-members lived in a couple of large houses on The Terrace, near Victoria University.

The two BRF tracks, 'None in the Universe' and 'Not Necessary' were relatively conventional-sounding compared to the other tracks on what was a very diverse album. Both are clipped, punchy numbers in a similar vein to some early Cure songs. (BRF were often accused by critics of being Cure copyists, an accusation I always thought unfair. There may have been some similarity in the guitar sound, especially on early numbers like the Four Stars recordings, but many guitarists copped that style in those days -- just as many guitarists played blues styles back in the 60s, or grunge styles in the 90s.)

Following Four Stars, the Birch brothers set about putting a proper BRF lineup together. Good drummers were very hard to come by in Wellington in those days (a fact I can personally attest to!), but they found what they were looking for in the person of Glen Stewart, and began to put a proper set together. The April 1981 issue of In Touch carried the following snippet:

"Beat Rhythm Fashion look like being the NEXT BIG THING round Wellington. They made their concert debut recently with a lineup of Dan And Eno Birch!"

(Given the type of humour that prevailed around the In Touch office, that typo was probably deliberate!)

The concert referred to was 'Wellingtonzone', held on 3 April 1981. A four-band gig held at the Wellington Town Hall's Concert Chamber, it marked the debut of the new BRF. The event was organised by the headline band, The Steroids, in response to the dearth of venues and gigs in the capital at that time. It was very well attended, and about 100 punters had to be turned away. Also on the bill were The Digits (about whom the least said the better!) and The Mockers.

BRF were the second act on that night, and for me, they stole the show, as I reported in the May issue of In Touch:

"Relief came in the form of Beat Rhythm Fashion, the best of the four bands this evening. Descended from the Westown Quintet and the Mixers (of Billy The Club days), BRF are destined -- I hope -- to be one of Wellington's top two bands (Naked Spots Dance being the other). This was their first gig, and while they were probably quite nervous they carried it off well. Their musical influences are a mixture, including such obvious things as the Cure and Gang of Four. BRF's song are, for the most part, quite memorable, with some really pretty melodies. The songs are all original, too, and while some of it sounded a bit samey as the set wore on, most of it stood out and, after all, it's early days yet.

"May people I spoke to afterwards accused BRF of lacking soul or emotion. Personally I've long felt that these terms are rather nebulous and over-used: BRF have soul and emotion, it just manifests itself in different ways. Definitely a band to watch out for."

A live album of this event was later released on Mike Alexander's Bunk label, and featured three numbers from BRF's set: 'Song of the Hairless Apes', 'No Great Oaks (In China)' and 'Art and Duty', and can be found on this CD. All three songs would soon be re-recorded for the trilogy of BRF singles that appeared in the months ahead.

The first of these singles, 'Beings Rest Finally' b/w 'Brings Real Freedom' (B-R-F, geddit?) appeared around mid-1981 on the Bunk label. In an interview in the July 1981 issue of In Touch (which, whether by coincidence or design, was on the same page as an interview I did with the Cure's Robert Smith, thereby furthering the unfair BRF/Cure associations), Dan Birch described 'Beings Rest Finally' as a song about the death of millions:

"It's not a sad song musically, it's meant to be a happy sort of lullaby. We wanted something like that Lou Reed song where a guy jumps out of a window and it's not sad or terrible but quite a wonderful, purifying thing."

While BRF were seen by punters and critics alike as being very much a part of the Wellington post-punk underground, the Birch brothers themselves felt somewhat detached from that scene. Coming from what could be considered a cosmopolitan background (they spent most of their youth in Hong Kong), New Zealand in 1981 seemed something of a cultural wasteland by comparison, and they felt little in common with the other bands. "We're a solar system band" quipped Nino in the In Touch article. Even Kiwi-born drummer Glen Stewart chimed in with the comment, "I hate New Zealand bands". And they made no bones about being purists, a trait I admired in them: "You gotta set yourself an absolute standard. You can't say 'That's okay for a New Zealand band'."

Following their Wellingtonzone debut and the first single's release, BRF played here and there in the months that followed, and even ventured out of town (I caught up with them at Mainstreet in Auckland in late October).

The Birch brothers were also part of an event that has subsequently assumed legendary status: a jam session with The Cure in the basement of a Wellington school during their second NZ tour in early August 1981. Some friends and I had gone up to Palmerston North on the Sunday night to see them play, and I invited them all to a party at my house in Wellington the following night (the Wellington gig was not until Tuesday). Organised at very short notice, I called up a fairly select group of friends from other bands and the In Touch team, and The Cure themselves duly arrived along with a couple of their road crew. A good time was had, of course, and late in the evening the idea of a jam session came up, so we all trooped off to Clyde Quay School in Mt Victoria, where one of the bands present, the Neoteric Tribesmen, has a basement practice room.

It was all very loose, with combinations of Cure members and local band members jamming on each others songs. It sounded chaotic and shambolic, but we were all far too gone by that stage of the evening to even care!

(In 1993 I was working in a record shop and a young Goth came up to the counter with a Cure album, and as we were making the transaction he talked about this legendary jam session wioth The Cure that he'd heard about. I just smiled and sold him the record!)

The second single, the sublime 'Turn of the Century' b/w 'Song of the Hairless Apes', followed a month or so after the first. I'd been listening to an advance tape of the latter for some time, and had no hesitation in declaring it Joint Single of the Month in the Sept/Oct issue of In Touch:


"BEAT RHYTHM FASHION - Turn of the Century (Bunk) - The second (and finest) of the BRF singles trilogy. This is a slow, smooth number with a really lovely tune, wrapped around some political (sort of) words: 'There are no dissidents/In the homeland/There is no dissidence/At home/It's a long project/With no prospects/But I'd still like to see/The end of the century.'

The sound is rich and seductive -- a beautiful song, period. The B-side is 'Song of the Hairless Apes': a harder sound with dissonant, atonal guitar and controversial lyrics."

(In case you're wondering, the other Single of the Month was 'A Song for the World' by Smelly Feet, a.k.a. Brent Hayward, former singer with Wellington's finest band, Shoes This High.)

The third and final single's release was delayed as Bunk Records folded. It eventually appeared in 1982 on CBS's Epic label (CBS had distributed Bunk releases). 'Art and Duty' b/w 'No Great Oaks (In China)' rounded out a memorable trilogy of singles that sound as fresh today as when I first heard them back in those heady days of 1981. From their strikingly-designed red and black matching sleeves to the last superbly-produced note, these three singles were a landmark in New Zealand post-punk music. Sadly, the original tapes got dumped years ago, so the versions you hear on this CD have had to be remastered from vinyl copies - but at least they are available again, and for that we can be very thankful indeed.

I saw BRF for the last time in August 1982 at a really good, laid-back Saturday afternoon gig at the Clyde Quay Tavern in Wellington. It was packed out, and if you weren't there early enough to get a seat you had to either sit on the floor or stand at the back.

I still rate them as one of my all-time favourite Wellington (or solar system!) bands, and this CD and the other two in the BRF series sure bring back some good memories!

(David Maclennan is currently writing a book chronicling the early Wellington punk and underground scene from 1978 to 1981.)

"Beings Rest Finally" album - rarities (coming soon)


Beat Rhythm Fashion Myspace Page

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