Vinyl, Art and Community : Needles and Plastic Book Launch – WORD Christchurch

On Wednesday 16 November WORD Christchurch programme and engagement manager Kiran Dass chaired a panel for the Christchurch launch of Matthew Goody's Flying Nun biography, Needles and Plastic, hosted at Lyttelton Coffee Company.

Needles and Plastic: Flying Nun Records, 1981-1988

The panel included the author - Vancouver based Matt Goody - as well as Roy Montgomery (Pin Group), Bruce Russell (The Dead C) and at one point, our very own Rachael King, author, WORD presenter and sometime bassist for Battling Strings, Cake Kitchen and the 3Ds, to name a few.

Ten years in the making, Needles and Plastic was described by Kiran as a 'lavish, amazing book'. An immersive experience, it's filled from cover to cover with homemade gig posters that those of a certain age will remember with a song in their hearts (and maybe a little anarchy). The art was a huge part of the scene: bands made their own posters and cover art, or their friends did. A fair bit of Flying Nun poster art was designed by Christchurch artist Lesley Maclean, who was there for the launch.

The Flying Nun independent record label was founded by Roger Shepherd and Graeme Downes in 1981. Each chapter of Needles and Plastic covers one of the many bands to sign to the Flying Nun label in the eighties. There are some brilliant photos in the book of the angst-ridden and angry youth of the eighties, pictured in their flats, backyards, lounges and the underground venues of the alternative Kiwi music scene. 

Amazingly, our wee Kiwi music scene defined our identity far across the world - in the U.K. where the Chills broke into radio playlists and in Vancouver, where it later made a huge impression on the book's author. During those pivotal years, music was being reviewed weekly in newspapers and The Listener in New Zealand (remember Russell Brown), compared to overseas where punters relied on monthly magazines such as the NME and Rolling Stone.

It was possible, says Roy, to strike up correspondence with other labels in the world, such as Rough Trade from the U.K. - who wanted to know,

'What's it like down there at the bottom of the world?'

When Bruce Russell visited the U.K. in 1986, he found that 'there was so much more happening in New Zealand. He also described the wonders of the fax machine as 'electrickery' : 

I couldn't (f'n) believe it!

Rachael King took the panel for a moment, expanding on the experience of women in the scene. There were quite a few women in bands at that time, notably in the Verlaines, The Bats, and Look Blue Go Purple. It was a community, said King, where women were respected - there was a lot of feminism. As a young woman I remember we rejected outdated, sexist expectations around makeup and clothing - opting to reflect skate culture and layering our clothing for warmth.

Although the book covers the formative years of the label, Flying Nun continues to foster New Zealand musicians to this day. These include Aldous Harding, Garageland, Die! Die! Die! and Tiny Ruins, who have all played in Christchurch in the last year. Flying Nun's musicians can also be heard in movies, television adverts, and even on Shortland Street. Many of the old school are still touring - recently I've seen Shayne Carter (Dimmer, Straitjacket Fits) and The Gordons

Listening to the panel spin records afterwards, the evening was such a trip back to my youth, I think I'll be avoiding retirement for some time. I fully recommend this wonderful book - I'll be spending the weekend in it.

And the title? It's the name of a song by the DoubleHappys - one of Shayne Carter's incarnations with Wayne Elsey and John Collie. With weird video-ness added by Chris Knox, of Tall Dwarfs.

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