Pop Mechanix were one of New Zealand's great pop hopefuls of the eighties. They were one of the hardest working bands in the land, made it to Australia, fought a legal battle for their name, broke up, reformed, gigged their asses off, and finally went supernova. It still confounds many of their high profile fans as to how this band didn't make the big splash that they so definitely were destined to make, but maybe that's just the way with the making of stars, 3 parts luck to what ever talent they may have stashed inside their hungry souls.
For Pop Mechanix the road seemed paved with diversions, court cases and minefields, and a stable vocalist was definitely one of those mines, with singers leaving, joining, leaving, and rejoining over the course of their career. But before any of that was a problem the band were well on their way to success.
Speaking of splashes Pop MX started life as a post punk pop/ New Wave outfit "Splash Alley",(after testing the waters with the names Sauron, and Rank Xerox) with key songwriter Paul Scott on bass from Waimate in South Canterbury, Paul Mason on Guitar (from New Plymouth), Chris Moore (from Ashburton) on guitar and Kevin Emmett Drums, and Dick (Richard) Driver on Vocals (both From Christchurch). They came from such colourfully titled outfits as 'Thrush', 'The Doomed', 'Dead Babies' and 'Nasal Spray' and they played their first gig on May 24th 1979.
Things progressed at lightening pace from there. Lots of press coverage, gigs all over the place, it seemed Christchurch and New Zealand in general were hanging out for a punchy guitar band to blow them away, and Splash Alley were happy to work hard to be that band.
They were fueled with ambition right from the start, with the band members all dropping out of University at the same time to focus on their music, Driver stating in the CHCH press that the band had their sites firmly place on overseas, saying it was pointless being the best rock band in New Zealand and would rather see Splash Alley being a Z grade band in Sydney.
Competition locally was stiff with Bon Marche (who later became the Newz) being seen as the band to beat, and beat them they did, taking over a seven week residency at the Aranui in October where Bon Marche had held court. Splash Alley worked on moving their set from a smattering of covers from the Stooges, Cars and Talking Heads to a full set of originals.
From their American alternative rock beginnings the band were quickly labeled New Wave, a press article commenting on the bands op shop attire with Driver's trade mark torn jacket shoulder. Later they would be championed by the Auckland Mods as being the only band around with vaguely ska rhythms in their set. But all styles aside Pop Mechanix oozed well crafted pop songs, whatever the fleeting style that was pinned on them that month.
The band quickly gained attention outside of the Garden City through supports for the Swingers and Dragon (where they debuted their matching black and white jackets allegedly pursuing a mod look) and it wasn't long before plans were ready for recordings to be released, with fans in Split Enz and especially ex Enz bassist Mike Chunn championing the band, taking on the management and Record Label rolls and getting their music out there.
What was striking about this young band was the quality of their songs, and the competence of their musicianship. The band changed their name to Pop Mechanix after meeting radio legend Barry Jenkins who reacted well to the band but not to their name.
They were all ready to go with the infectiously catchy Mike Chunn produced "Now" single (B/W Radio Song) when Driver up and quit, citing the rigors of constant touring. Driver's vocals were good but it took the addition of the edgy Andrew Snoid (Mclellan, Ex Whizzkids front man) in July 1980 to get things going, but that wasn't the only thing needed to get them that elusive free pass to success.
Snoid was quickly drafted in and within 6 weeks they were up and running again, replacing the vocal tracks on the recording and the single was released in August 1980 on Chunn's Ripper Records. In the cultural cringe days of the early eighties getting any radio support was pretty much a pipe dream for most local bands regardless of the quality of their music and recordings. 'Now' did ok though, with its catchy keyboard hook and hot guitar work hitting number 48 in the national charts. Radio Song indicated their American guitar influences from bands like Television, Iggy Pop and Talking Heads, but "Now" showed their Kiwi pop routes, and their own distinct sound.
Chunn also got the band to demo down all their material straight to two track machine in one live take. This recording is one of the few master tapes from that period that survived and captured the band splendidly with all their youthful enthusiasm and edginess. These recordings are part of the Failsafe released Pop Mechanix collection.
Now was quickly followed up by the Chunn produced and Ian Morris Engineered "Ritz" (B/W with "Talking" and "Brains are Dumb"), released in October 1980 with its more guitar driven post punk.
The track Brains was credited as being co written by Mark Liddy. Liddy was a school mate of Scott's and on the last day of school they got let off early and Liddy walked up and wrote on the board 'Brains are Dum". Scott thought 'great title', It was the first actual song Scott had written, and cos Liddy was a mate he decided to share the credit with him.
Their third and last single before leaving for Australian shores was the Eddie Raynor Produced "Jumping out a Window", B/W "Way I Dance". This single got to number 21 on the national pop charts, which was a significant feat for a local band.
Fueled with their local success, looking for a bigger audience and following in the footsteps of others like Split Enz, Dragon, and Toy Love the band depart for Sydney, to start again from the bottom.
It wasn't long before the band were broke and working their asses off just to stay afloat, but they were making impact. They had an Australian major label, and were playing most nights of the week.
Then the band were blind sided by the torpedo that sunk them for the first time.
A Canberra based band who's bass player was a lawyer by day took the record label to court over the name Pop Mechanix. This other band called "Popular Mechanics" claimed that the NZ Pop Mechanix was trading off their success even though the Canberra act never really played out side of their own town.
Inconceivably the label lost the case for Pop Mechanix and the band were restricted from using their name in NSW and Canberra. The band changed their name to NZ pop and released a single Holidays, but by this time the energy had dissipated from the band and singer Snoid was offered a slot fronting very successful kiwi act The Swingers.
The remaining band stumbled on as a four piece with Scott taking over vocal duties. The band changed changed names again to Zoo to release an album of material, then back to Pop Mechanix again for the Texas/ Cowboys single.
If it wasn't confusing for the audience it certainly was for the band and they eventually packed it in, went back to New Zealand re thought things. The bands career was split into 2 by a seemingly insurmountable dead end met in Australia.
Pop Mechanix Part Two
Getting back to New Zealand the members of the band spent some time recuperating before getting the music urge again. Andrew Snoid's stint in the Swingers was short lived with the band splitting soon after releasing a single incorporating his vocals.
So in 1985 Pop Mechanix took tentative steps toward making music again. Chris Moore had decided to go it alone with a solo career and was replaced with Brent Williams.
The band, still smarting from their Australian experience wanted to take things slow, so they wrote a predominantly new set of songs which fell into two camps, the sweetly melodic and timeless pop of "no surprise" and "eyes of love", and later the more sonic material like "Celebration of the Skin".
They started off with some local gigs at the Gladstone but soon their workaholic habits had slipped back in.
They tested the air with a 4 track ep on the fledgling Hit Singles label comprising the songs "Virginia Purple", "This is No Surprise", "Here She Comes Again", and "Looking Through the Eyes of Love". All well crafted pop songs, all new to the Pop Mechanix Stable.
Response was positive if low key, and the band slowly picked up speed.
They moved into more sonic territory with the "Celebration of the Skin" single, which came with a slick warehouse shot video. In their hunger to get their music out there the band were willing to try anything. Chart success breeds chart success so in order to get noticed the band had to get their single up the charts, so the bands manager at the time devised a plan to go around selected chart polled stores and buy up copies of the bands single. This was a slightly different approach to that used by most of the major record labels who usually just bribed the chart return store manager with bottles of expensive spirits in return for 'enhanced' return figures. The single was already climbing the charts anyway reaching number 24 before someone in the music charts office noticed unusual sales patterns. Unfortunately the manager paid for some of the singles with a cheque which bounced and the band were caught out and banned the band from any future chart action. Shot in the foot the band had to try and generate industry interest in an industry that relied almost exclusively on monitoring the national music charts, a chart that they were now completely excluded from.
The band were splitting at the seams with sparkling new material, and recorded demo after demo at studios around Auckland, all of these master tapes for these recordings (which would be the only studio recordings of many of these songs) were lost in the ether.
The band soldier on, but with the machinations of the music industry slowing them down the pressure once again mounted eventually their losing drummer to harder rock outings (Heavy rock chch band fat sally). Recent guitar addition Brent Williams also departed the band.
They were replaced with Showman drummer Peter (Rooda) Warren fresh from DD smash with Dave Dobbyn, and Mark Bell ex Blam Blam Blam and Coconut Rough guitarist.
The band still had breaks coming their way and they were working toward the elusive international success they craved. At the time that international success was seen to only be achievable via an international producer re-sculpting a bands songs to an acceptable package for the sensitive international ear.
Being right on the extreme edge of the civilised world NZ wasn't exactly spoilt for choices with international producers and the arrival of Californian Producer John Boylan produced a scramble for his services, purely because he was one of the only international names around. Boylan cut his teeth with the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, before moving onto such dull acts as Little River Band, and of course the footloose soundtrack.
In hindsight Paul Scott's forward looking pop songs deserved much better than a seventies producer, but the band took the punt and plans were made to have Boylan produce the band's album.
Boylan chose the songs and seriously sanitised the bands sound giving it a slick west coast USA production, essentially blanding it out to something the consistency of candy floss without any flavour.
A single from these recordings was released, but the album never eventuated and if it had it may well have bared little resemblance to the original and engaging Pop Mechanix. The single "Pale Sun" (b/w its alright here) had little impact and sank without a trace.
The third and final phase of the band was more of a group trying to hold onto a career in playing music rather than the movements of a brilliant pop outfit taking their music to the world. Instead of being a show case for the brilliant pop songs of Paul Scott, Pop Mechanix retreated to the resident band model that had started their career, churning out crowd pleasing cover versions and a smattering of their own works to sleazy night club crowds 5 nights a week, to earn a living while still chasing their dream of musical success.
In true excessive music industry the costs were piled up on the bands tab via their label WEA, most if it spent on producer Boylans and his accommodation. The band were in the elevator on their way to sign themselves up for a long and big contact when Rooda's girlfriend said "Scotti, do you realise that if you sign you'll be party to a debt of around $100,000". Scott left the elevator, walked into the office, said, "Hi - I've left the band" and that was it.
It's easy to see the bands mistakes and issues in hindsight but in the cut throat and heartless world of modern music its hard to see how the band could have tried any harder or done any better.
The road to success really does seem to be three parts luck to whatever amount of talent a band may have in its hungry soul. Pop Mechanix had oodles of talent, the energy, drive, and hunger of maybe five other bands in one, and maybe only 2 parts of luck. This collection of their works stand as Testament to that.
About This Collection
The first disc called "NOW' is Pop Mechanix mark 1 with Snoid, Scott, Mason, Moore, Emmett. This disc is comprised of the 1980 demos, the first three singles and the b sides.
The 1980 demos were recorded direct to 2 track reel to reel, no overdubs. It was intended as a demo of the material but some of these takes are the only recorded versions of these songs in existence.
The singles were taken from vinyl copies of the releases as the original masters have been lost.
The Second disc called "ZOO" is Pop Mechanix mark 2 with Sniod leaving the band and vocal duties taken over by Scott. This is the zoo album, and lots of demos and rarities.
Disc Three called Acceptance is a collection of Pop Mechanix part three when the band reformed in 1985 with Snoid re joining. This collection contains the Hit Singles EP, the celebration of the skin single and lots of demos and unreleased tracks from this period.
Disc 4 is called LIVE KICKS and is taken from live recordings made by Rob Mayes at the Gladstone and Aranui. It captures the live energy of the band and some really great performances of these songs, some even better than the studio works.
Disc 5 is Called ALRIGHT HERE and is a collection of the last phase of the band when drummer Peter Warren and Guitarist Mark Bell replaced Emmett and Williams. It contains the four tracks recorded with producer John Boylan and live tracks of the band performing at Kicks nightclub in Auckland.
All tracks were painstakingly restored and mastered by Rob Mayes at Avalanche Studios. This collection was compiled by Rob Mayes, with the assistance of Paul Scott. Special thanks to Mike Chunn for encouragement, information and support.
Where They Are Now
Paul Scott in Sydney Australia playing in his band Montana and working as a librarian.
Paul Mason is working with Tufts University in Boston Massachusetts, to develop learning tools that promote engineering education
Andrew McLennan is in Auckland running the old tin toy shop specialising in vintage toys.
Chris Moore is a solo artist performing throughout Australasia.
Kevin Emmett plays in a covers band in Christchurch
Richard Driver in Auckland as a tv Producer
Brent Williams runs a music shop in Sydney
about Pop Mechanix in the Real
Groove magazine feature reprinted
on our Press page.
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