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Man on The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown - by Roger Shepherd

The Story of the Straitjacket Fits Album 'Hail'


Straitjacket Fits formed in early 1986 when Shayne Carter and John Collie linked up with bassist David Woods (ex Working with Walt). Carter and Collie were still recovering from their friend, and Doublehappys bandmate, Wayne Elsey’s tragic 1985 death but felt compelled to form another band and start again.
Straitjacket Fits New Zealand Band

by Roger Shepherd

Founder of Flying Nun Records in 1981, Roger has been involved in the label for much of the past 40 years. In 2016 he published the book “In Love With These Times: My Life With Flying Nun Records" (Harper Collins).


Straitjacket Fits formed in early 1986 when Shayne Carter and John Collie linked up with bassist David Woods (ex Working with Walt). Carter and Collie were still recovering from their friend, and Doublehappys bandmate, Wayne Elsey’s tragic 1985 death, but felt compelled to form another band and start again. Encouraged by the positive musical development made on the Doublehappys musical journey and steeled by the bands sudden and terrible end the trio were determined to be uncompromising in the making of their music and to make an organised success of it. They had ambition. No songs were to be carried over from the Doublehappys so a whole new set had to be written and practiced, not an inconsiderable task.

With more complex songs we being written it was soon obvious that the load that singer and guitarist Shayne Carter was carrying was unsustainable. Bruce Russell of the Dead C is given credit for for suggesting the idea that someone was needed to share the guitar and vocal work and introduced Andrew Brough, of the band the Orange, to Carter.

Brough contributed not just as a player and singer who added guitar and vocal harmonies but as a songwriter as well. These were songs with a light ethereal style, songs influenced by the psychedelic late 1960s, laden with melody and harmony, a complete contrast to Carter’s work, Brough was a writer of fine pop songs.

After a year of song writing, practicing and live performances, first to their Dunedin Sound scene friends and peers and then taking the show national. Heads were turned. The debut ‘Life in One Chord’ was released in early 1987 and the 4 song 12” EP instantly generated glowing reviews and excellent sales.

1987 was a hard year for the band. Touring New Zealand and playing to increasingly large, appreciative but demanding audiences is highly rewarding but physically and emotionally draining. There was also the pressure of having to write material for a new album. The band returned to Lab Studio to again work with producer and engineer Terry Moore (ex Bored Games and The Chills). It wasn’t a happy experience with the band not communicating well, unsure of what they collectively wanted with Moore taking the lead in shaping the sound of the album.

After a lengthy 3 months of frustrating stop start recording the Hail was finished in time for the vinyl to be pressed up for a Christmas release. In music press interviews the band were frank about their dissatisfactions regarding the finished record. Reviews were sympathetic. Sales could have been better.

The following year an international release was organised with Rough Trade Records in the UK. This was the first step in the bands concerted effort to build an international audience for their music. It was also an opportunity to put things right with the arrangement of the songs on Hail. All the tracks excepting the song ‘Hail’ were dropped from Side 1 and all four songs from the ‘Life in One Chord’ EP were added, making for a stronger and more coherent album. As well as ‘She Speeds’, ‘Sparkle that Shines’ and ‘Dialling A Prayer’ from the ‘Life in One Chord’ EP, standout tracks include those indicative of the band’s forward development in the guitar monolithic ‘Hail’ and ‘Grate’ and a gentle unique take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘So Long Marianne’. Hail was now an album that more realistically reflected the work of the band at this stage in their recording career and which also pointed to their musical potential and future.

John Collie designed a new cover for the revived reiteration of Hail. It is a stronger design with bold angry creatures amongst what could be cruel multicoloured hail. It makes an assertive statement after the subtle pale wash of colour on the cover of the original album. 

It is this revised international version of Hail (with the ‘Life in One Chord’ tracks added) that has been reissued and recently repressed by Flying Nun Records.

 

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