Original photo by Kat Spears
Not all Dunedin band members in the early 1980s were retiring and polite. Right from the start it was a music scene consisting of young musicians serious about making different kinds of music. It was also a scene full of all sorts of personality types — and that was a good and normal thing. A few were very opinionated and musically abrasive. The Dunedin scene would have been a dull place without them
Shayne Carter and Wayne Elsey had been in Bored Games together. Wayne split to make more adventurous noises with Jeff Batts in The Stones who had made an impact nationally before the more ambitious Wayne hooked up again with Shayne to form the DoubleHappys.
Shayne had been busy after the dissolution of Bored Games and had been involved with a couple of ventures: Sparkling Whine (with fellow Bored Gamer Jeff Harford and Terry Wood) and the Cartilage Family (with Peter Gutteridge, Lesley Paris, Francisca Griffin (nee Kathy Bull) and Tim McCoy), but nothing too serious or long lasting.
Initially it was just Shayne and Wayne and a useless malfunctioning drum machine called Herbie Fuckface. Herbie was erratic and liked to go beat AWOL and the guitarists had a tendency to break an awful lot of strings when they weren’t going seriously out of tune, which left a whole lot of quiet time between songs. This allowed the duo to further develop their trademark berating banter. Even without the enforced silences they felt compelled to attract the audience's attention. This often sarcastic form of “entertainment” didn’t always make everyone in the audience comfortable.
Bands are hardly ever democracies but duos do have to be equal partnerships to succeed. Shayne and Wayne were supplementary and complementary to each other; dual songwriters, singers and guitarists who produced different material played in a different way that worked well together.
Doug Hood worked with Elsey on The Stones' recordings (the Dunedin Double and Another Disc Another Dollar) so when he heard the Roslyn Woollen Mills practice room tapes, he immediately invited the DoubleHappys onto the 1984 Flying Nun Orientation Tour for February 1984 alongside The Chills, Jay Clarkson’s Expendables and Children’s Hour. The importance of the tour was not lost on the humans in the band and Herbie was ousted just weeks before the tour upon the recruitment of drummer friend John Collie. The Looney Tour was a huge success especially for the DoubleHappys, who now found themselves with a national profile and a career with some momentum. They had started to build an audience and also make connections and build important alliances.
Their debut, the Double B-Side single, was released in 1984. By March 1985 the band were in Dunedin’s Radio One studio recording their follow-up record. There was an element of disappointment with the earlier recording, the standard procedure of recording the band elements (guitar, bass, drums, vocals etc) separately and then mixing them together had left them dissatisfied. This time they’d try recording live. 4 songs done and dusted in March 1985 and then mixed at Auckland’s Progressive Studio in June with Rex Visible.
'Needles and Plastic' is a step up for Shayne Carter’s song writing. It has that persistent and relentless kind of drive that hypnotises and propels the listener all at the same time. John Collie's drumming has become fully integrated into the band's sound. The work on arrangements suggests increased maturity and ambition musically. The lack of bass meant that, generally, the guitar interplay had to be carefully considered and executed. 'Needles and Plastic' is the EP's best song.
The band made a video for 'Needles and Plastic' the night before they set off to return to Dunedin. Shot by Chris Knox in his Hakanoa Street (Grey Lynn, Auckland) living room with a gang of flatmates and friends doubling as an audience while the band thrash about on the living room sofa. It’s a rough-hewn thing but the look of exuberance and palpable sense of possibility is obvious through the under-lit murk of the video.
'Some Fantasy' is a Wayne Elsey song that showcases all of his best song writing and playing attributes. The guitar playing is full of the inventive and the unorthodox and is a tad weird. The vocals strain, skid and slur and are totally convincing. The lyrics are winners with excellent wordplay. It’s a song that has more arrangement structure than anything The Stones managed. But like the best of The Stones there is danger here. This is a reckless rough kind of pop song walking a fine line between calamity and triumph and is all the better for it.
The least convincing song on the EP is 'Moss Monster'. Perhaps Wayne got carried away with his new “grunty” guitar as this song sounds unnecessarily like The Cramps. Only Wayne’s authentic vocals manage to save the day.
'Nerves' fully encapsulates the DoubleHappy’s attributes and strengths. Unlike the other songs on the EP it was recorded on the Progressive multitrack rather than live like the others. The song writing, arrangements, playing and singing all demonstrate how far the band had come in a year and a half. It’s a burner and slowly builds toward the inevitable climax with accomplished guitaring and the help of acolyte backing singers: Jeff Batts, Martin Phillipps and Martin Kean. Nerves is sadly both a glimpse into what might have been and a precursor of an alternative future.
The band, buoyed by completion of their national tour, the finishing of the recording of their EP and the shooting of the video for 'Needles and Plastic' the night before, are ready for a triumphant return to Dunedin by the distinctly non-rock means of train. There was no van, car or drivers licences.
The train trip home got as far as a tunnel in the King Country. The band on tour adventure was winding down, they were going home. They were young men in high spirits. Wayne was outside of the carriage… and then he wasn’t.
The Doublehappys' Nerves compilation consisting of the Double B-Side 7” single, the Cut It Out 12” EP and some rather good live material has just been announced as a 30th Anniversary reissue on vinyl, out soon via Flying Nun Records. The master tapes now held at the Alexander Turnbull Library have been digitised and remastered by Dunedin audio stalwart Tex Houston.