Feature


The Skeptics Story

A Biograhpy by Derek Bell 1997
Derek's New Zealand Music Index

The Skeptics had their beginnings in Palmerston North, a city of 60 000 in the North Island of New Zealand in 1979. Palmerston North is a quiet city, the music scene at the time was quite sedate. Nothing much in the way of venues unless you were a cover band. At the same time there was a radical and inspired young population. They were fuelled by the the excitement of punk. Punk promised to smash the icons and the rock dinosaurs of the 70's. It was the spirit of DIY and garages were ringing to it everywhere.

The band formed out of a group of 6th form high school students. They were required to choose an option for two hours of the week - media, drama, etc. - and also encouraged to form their own interest group.

Robin Gauld explains,

"I had been strumming a loaned guitar over the holidays and convinced my old friend David D'ath he should help me form a group to study the new musical forms coming out of the states and the UK (it was 1980) with the added possibility of attempting to play some of these. He was keen. Others weren't so, or were only interested in doing nothing when it came to the crunch. We eventually convinced Don White and a front row prop, Ian Reiddy, to acquire drums and a bass respectively. The school supported us by giving us an old PA speaker through which the whole band was amplified. I have a recording of the first ever performance under the name Skeptics using this system: it's fairly astounding. This was in the school library at lunchtime and included numbers like 'I am a spastic' and 'I feel sick'. We focused mostly on our own songs as playing others' was not feasible. The interesting thing about the recording though is it shows what we knew about music. The guitars are completely out of tune with one another: we did not know that being in tune existed.

Shortly after, I ran into Nick Roughan, an old friend from skateboarding days. Over the subsequent weeks he convinced us that he should replace Reiddy with himself and that he could play the bass. Nick came to a practice, tuned the bass with my guitar and it was like consummation: it sounded amazing. This was about half way through 1980."

With a solidified line up, the Skeptics began to gain a solid following. The band's reputation began to grow.

Robin Gauld continues...

"Of course we tended to play different songs to one another which began our 'reputation'. The 70s dudes vowed to drive us out of town. In revenge, we used to approach touring bands that regularly visited El Clubbo - Spaces, Newmatics, The Red, etc. - asking them if they needed a support. Unlike the management, we didn't have long hair, so in a desolate and sometimes hostile environment like Palmerston North, natural friendships would form, the touring bands invariably said 'yes'. There was nothing the management could do but grin and bear it.

We gained great exposure this way. Word got around that we were highly original, if not bloody awful, and an act to be watched."

The Skeptics did make some friends. People like Mark Clare who was in the Newmatics. He went to Massey University in Palmerston North. The band was taken on tour by the Newmatics to New Plymouth and Auckland. Spaces took them to Hawkes Bay, The Red to Wellington. Finally they convinced the Palmerston North venues to give them their own gig at El Clubbo (some months later - 1981 sometime).

This turned out to a big kick in the face for them as the Skeptics proceeded to break all door take records. It wasn't the blues, and certainly was no folk music but the Skeptics finally had won acceptance.

Their first recording came out in 1982. The band contributed the track, "Last Orders" on a compilation called "Three Piece Pack". The compilation featured mainly pop groups like the Bongos, the Dabs, the Prime Movers and strangely the Skeptics. The band had entered into the NZ battle of the bands staged at Mainstreet Cabaret in Queen St, Auckland. They drove from Palmerston North figuring it was a longshot. Some 30 acts performed over a 3 evening session with the finals on a 4th night. They were judged second behind The Gurlz who had a few subsequent hits. Consequently, one Paul Rose (Furtive Records) approached them afterward and promised much by way of recording and fame etc. What eventuated was the song on the 3 Piece pack and accompanying tour.

At the same time as Last Orders, they recorded a 5 song EP entitled 'Pyronnists Selections' for release on Propeller which was never released. The reason was that the master tape vanished from the Office. Who took it or why remains a mystery. There are some surviving fragments of those recordings, but unfortunately they have deteriorated beyond any practical redemption In 1983, the band released and EP called "Chowder Over Wisconsin". Initially Robin Gauld was the major song writer but gradually, it became more of a collaborative effort. Rarely was material 'written' by any individual.

From 1983-1984 they ran their own club in Palmerston North called Snailclamps. It was quite an usual name. Robin Gauld explains how the whole thing came about ..

"Snail Clamps came about via the Palmerston North City Council arts centre. We played a gig there and were asked if we were interested in making use of an old warehouse just off the Square. Snailclamps was a former electrical store disused for some time - dusty, etc., but a wonderful space as anyone who went there would testify. It contained a loading bay which served as a stage and offices along the wall and entrance way at the other end. It was tunnel like, dark and eerie. The only thing the electric dept had left behind was a small blackboard which was hanging from the wall. It bore the chalk inscription 'C164 Snail Clamps', a name which was we figured meant to be."

Initially Snail Clamps ran as a sort of underage afternoon venue but became booze and evening based as time went on. It attracted all sorts of performances and really bought people out of themselves. It was a bizarre forum indeed. It was here that Skeptics spin-offs such as Carlton Heston, who released a tape on Industrial Tapes, and the Go-Cats were conceived. There was much interest in Snail Clamps, even from blues/folkheads but eventually the thug/skinhead element got the better of the place and combined with the move to Wellington, it closed."

In 1984 The Skeptics had the tape "Skeptics Said" out through Industrial tapes. Industrial no longer exists.

In 1985, the band moved to Wellington. They also released the album "Ponds". Also during that year, Robin Gauld left the band to concentrate on university studies. Although the band had lost a major pillar, they were by no means left high and dry. Gauld's replacement came in the form of John Halvorsen, formerly of the Gordons and then also playing with Bailter Space.

A video for the song "AFFCO" was shot in two South Auckland freezing works during August, 1987. The video was finished and submitted to "Radio With Pictures", a Sunday night music video show for the "serious" rock audience. The video was intended to coincide with the release of their second album, "Skeptics III". However it was rejected. Garry Ryan, the producer of the show gave this explanation as to why the video was rejected:

"The graphic scenes of animal slaughter are unnecessarily detailed and prolonged, and despite the fact that they may be everyday scenes at freezing works, this does not imply that visuals of this nature may be screened on television."

The video was resubmitted with digital squares to mask the slaughter. This too was rejected. "AFFCO" has never been screened by TVNZ, although it has featured in a few public screenings in NZ.

Late in 1989, while they were working on "Amalgam", David D'Ath learned that he had leukaemia. With a heightened sense of urgency, the band tried to complete the album. However there were delays.
On Tuesday, 4th September, 1990 David D'Ath died. The band ceased to exist.

"Amalgam" was finally released in November 1990. Sadly David D'Ath never got to see the finished product.

A 10" single entitled "Sensible was released in 1991. The material was recorded in 1985. An album version soon followed which featured the tracks off the "Sensible" single and a few more recordings from 1985 to 1990. The band had no guitarist during the bulk of these recordings.

In 1992, came a boxed-set of the Skeptics recordings: Skeptics III, Amalgam, Sensible and the new EP If I Will I Can which contained three live recordings from the last Skeptics gigs at Auckland's Gluepot in July 1990. Also included in the boxed-set was a 12-page booklet of lyrics and artwork by David D'Ath.

In 1992, the three remaining founding members, Roughan, White and Gauld put together an act named 'Hub'. About a dozen songs were written and recorded and posted to record companies. Due to extraneous events Hub faded into oblivion.

John Halvorsen and Brent McLaughlin now live in New York, devoting their time to Bailter Space Discography.

Discography:

* Various Artists, "Three Piece Pack", Furtive (1982). [deleted]
The Skeptics have a track called "Last Orders".
* "Chowder Over Wisconsin", EP, Flying Nun (1983), CHOW 001. [deleted]
Track listing: Boo-Chang / New Barking Riff / Aud Balmoral / The Broach / Stella / The Old Grey Whistle Test / Chowder, Jelly.
* "Skeptics Said", cassette. Industrial Tapes (1984) [deleted]
* "Ponds", LP, Flying Nun / Ulp (1985), ULP 001. [deleted]
Track listing: Tone / Bedrock / Freely Gotten Gains / For Silos / Bubba Clutha / Voluminous /Divine Muscles Flex / Ponds.
* "Skeptics III", LP and CD, Flying Nun (1987), 30313, FN 109.
Track Listing: AFFCO / Feeling Bad / Agitator / Turn Over / La Motta / Notice / Rain / Luna / Crave.
* "AFFCO", video, Brilliant Film Company (1988)
* In Love With These Times compilation with 'A.F.F.C.O.'. 1988
* "Amalgam", LP and CD, Flying Nun (1990), D30384, FN 146.
Track Listing: And We Bake / Felt Up / Pack Ice / Never Tire Of Looking At The Stars / Heathery Men / Bad Wiring / Threads / Spade / Sheen Of Gold / All Sum Nul.
* "Sensible Shoes", 10", Flying Nun (1991), L20094, FN 194.
Track Listing: Sensible Shoes / Bub / Blue / PCH Mix.
* "Sensible", LP and CD, Flying Nun (1990), 30831, FN 221.
Track Listing: You Look Great / Water / Pressure / Jonny Come Lately / Haks Off / Fwoney / Blue / Men `O' War / Splenal Langwems / Bulldozer Song / Baron Vice / Bub / Dodunski / PCH Mix / Spring / Sensible shoes.
* On Pink Flying Saucers Over The Southern Alps compilation with 'Sheen Of Gold'. Flying Nun, 1991
* Boxed Set: A box set of Skeptics III (remastered), Amalgam (remastered), Sensible and If I Will I Can and also a 12-page booklet of lyrics and artwork by David D'Ath. 1992, D80956 [Out of Print]
* "If I Will I Can", CD EP, Flying Nun (1992), D17040, FN 256.
Track Listing: If I Will I Can / Any Any (live) / Two Pot Resin (live) / Mamouth (live). There are also some 'hidden' tracks at the end of this CD, namely live versions of: And We Bake, Threads, and Sheen Of Gold