Simon Grigg, Roger Shepherd and Doug Hood. Photo by Murray Cammick.
Today I am writing about a key behind-the-scenes Flying Nun-associated personality, rather than a record release by an artist. There have been a few important people associated with the label over the years helping to keep the thing alive and flourishing. The quiet colossus among them in terms of big hitting and heavy lifting is Doug Hood.
I first met Doug at an Enemy gig at the old Beneficiaries Hall in Dunedin in 1978. Chris Knox abused me for wearing a skinny tie (I still have it, but that was the last time I wore it), but I felt his friend Doug, who was the singer in the support band, The Clean, was committing a far greater sartorially sin that evening by wearing a stripped, “Oxbridge” style blazer.
The band made a racket that would eventually become a sound, but it was apparent to all that Doug wasn’t a born singer. Fortunately, he did other things. Doug was immensely practical and understood wires and how they transported sound. This was the basis for his career in the music business.
For some reason, a small number of us from Christchurch had been told we could get into the gig free if we made it down and I had budgeted, petrol and beer, accordingly. Of course, the ticket seller was ignorant of any such arrangement and took my money, probably $2, and told me to sort it out with the band afterwards.
This primitive version of The Clean was an ideal support band. The tiny glimmers of promise made me nervous for them and their future and amplified anticipation for the main act. And The Enemy were certainly a main act. They were something else and oozed quality. A part of that chemistry was their sound. A live sound engineered by Doug.
The Clean. Photo by Craig McNab.
After the gig I was obliged to head off to where the band were going as they had my $2. Legend has it that some of us travelled on the bonnet of my car. I doubt I was anywhere but behind the steering wheel as it was my car. There was a good chance Chris Knox (the fool) was on that bonnet. Doug would have been sitting in the front passenger seat. Or perhaps already trusting Doug’s sensible reliability I allowed him to drive and Chris and I were on the bonnet (the fools). I forget, which is a pity as it was an arrangement of bodies that surely signifies something.
Back at Chris Knox’s flat there was a discussion over the money. Of course, it was Doug who was in charge of the cash and I clearly remember how tightly he was holding that bag of coins and notes. But being the reasonable person he was and understanding my unfortunate predicament and appreciating that it was best for all if I returned to where we came from, Doug handed back my $2.
Over the next few years, I kept tabs on The Enemy, and then Toy Love, as they developed musically and hiccupped career wise. I could clearly see Doug was a vital cog in making both of those bands what they were in terms of sound and organisation.
Chris Knox with his Teac 4-track + Doug Hood in the mirror. Photo by Alec Bathgate.
What would happen after the demise of Toy Love was hard to predict. Chris Knox’s experimentation with a Teac 4-track was no doubt aided by some pointers from his immeasurably more practical-minded flatmate Doug. Doug had a skill in giving gentle but precise instruction. Chris and Tall Dwarfs built their DIY musical careers on that initial Teac 4 track advice.
At that time, Doug was spending a lot of time on recording projects. The Androids’ 'Auckland Tonight' (Ripper, 1981) recording would have been a wild and rowdy affair and Doug, the calming voice of reason that made it sound rather good. He used Chris’s 4-track to record the Techtones' TT23 (Ripper, 1981) album. It’s not a wholly satisfactory record, but it’s an important one, thanks to the willingness of Doug and band to fiddle, experiment and explore the art of recording. Two of the band went on to recording careers.
Then, things turned interesting. Through his old band The Clean, Doug and Chris got dragged into Flying Nun. Figuring they could record The Clean better than what was achieved with first single 'Tally Ho!', they produced the game-changing, life-altering and good sounding Boodle EP. The band had the material, Chris owned the 4-track, did a fair bit of the talking and made the cover while Doug recorded the thing. It was Doug who made the collaboration work.
The success of Boodle meant Flying Nun could do more recording and Chris and Doug threw themselves into that, travelling south with the Teac 4-track early in 1982 to record the next batch of Dunedin bands (The Chills, The Verlaines, The Stones and Sneaky Feelings) as well as recording a new Clean EP and a Mainly Spaniards single. It was a difficult and hectic time with the resultant four-band double EP compilation being less of a showcase and more of a teaser. But record buyers were forgiving and intrigued enough to become long-term fans of the bands involved.
Doug helped record follow-up records or helped the bands find studios and other personnel he felt could contribute help. Doug was a natural enabler and connector. He and Chris were a bit more hands-on with a band they specifically loved. Doug worked closely with This Sporting Life in the early 1980s.
And it’s hard to believe that the anarchic and snooty Stones could have found anyone willing to work with them without the moderating skills of Chris and Doug. It was while recording The Stones at Progressive that Doug made the connection with Children’s Hour, a loud and dark band that he loved, did sound for and effectively managed before they broke down and then remerged as the Headless Chickens.
Doug had a seemingly unfashionable belief in the importance of having a good work ethic: regular practice, gigging and touring, being busy and getting things done, keeping the wheels turning and the money coming in so it can go out. This philosophy was most sorely tested by the band he spent the most time working with. The Chills had enormous potential and ambition to match, but also an uncanny ability to stumble from crisis to calamity.
Manager in all but name, Doug steered this brilliant band for 15 odd years. Without his guidance and not inconsiderable investment (managers usually take a percentage), the band would never have got to the UK or ever had a shot at getting a major record deal. Unwilling to travel overseas let alone relocate, Doug handed over international management while keeping his hand in on things in New Zealand. The band missed his level-headedness and astute understanding of the music business and its many nuts and bolts.
After Flying Nun moved to Auckland, Doug rented a room from us in the Queen Street offices. He was good for occasional advice, usually unsolicited. Sometimes a single word from Doug could take decades to decipher before making absolutely good sense.
At one stage I sensed Doug might be resentful about not being more formally involved in Flying Nun but the thing wasn’t big enough for someone else at the top of such a precarious project. And Doug already seemed busy enough with Looney Tours. I could judge exactly how busy he was by the number of people walking past my office door to his office each day. The numbers started to skyrocket when he started running the New Zealand chapter of the Big Day Out.
That office was a remarkable space. Doug liked to smoke. Last century we all liked to smoke but Doug kept all of his smoke in his office. If measured it would have had the highest concentration of air pollution on the planet. In the “atmosphere” of the Doug’s office there was an ash tray that was a legend in itself. A teetering gravity defying tower of butt and ash. I’d like to think it was occasionally emptied by a man in full protective clothing. I suspect not and worry.
Things are tougher now for Doug. He’s been in hospital these last few weeks, after being diagnosed with cancer. Radiation treatment will start soon and the days ahead are going to be a rough for a little while for my understated old friend. I was reminded of Doug’s qualities as a reticent conversationalist late last year when we met at the Flying Nun 40th. He loved it but sometimes we make conversations difficult for ourselves. Standing directly between two of the loudest bands of the night Doug attempted to whisper something succinctly positive about the Mermaidens into my deaf right ear.
Of course, I couldn’t hear any of it but I knew exactly what he meant. Doug Hood always did have immaculate taste. And he’s always been the master of the few well-chosen words school. Although that makes it sound more than it is. Doug is more like a guru of the diminished haiku. Able to deliver a universe of precise guidance within the pith of a single inaudible syllable.