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

The Story of the 1983 Children's Hour EP, 'Flesh'

Prime Movers' drummer Chris Matthews didn’t feel right playing drums in a pop band. His thoughts were darker and he was seeing music a different way partly due to his new flatmates musical outlook. 
The Story of the 1983 Children's Hour EP, 'Flesh'

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).


Prime Movers' drummer Chris Matthews didn’t feel right playing drums in a pop band. His thoughts were darker and he was seeing music a different way partly due to his new flatmates musical outlook. Peter and Graeme Jefferies were members of Nocturnal Projections who had moved up to Auckland a year or so earlier from New Plymouth. They were making and doing their own kind of musical thing that was austere and direct but they still thinking they could achieve some sort of commercial acceptance. With Joy Division and The Fall charting in New Zealand in the previous year in 1981 anything seemed possible for a post-punk band with an unconventional non-commercial sound.

Also living in the house that Chris Matthews had just moved into was the Nocturnal Projections manager Johnny Pierce. Chris was soon learning guitar and with a little guidance from Graeme Jefferies learnt that (because of his small hands) he was favouring open drone chords over barre cords. Already writing songs and looking for a band to hook up with he found that Johnny was already practicing with a fellow Whangarei refugee guitarist Grant Fell and the musically most capable of them all, drummer Bevan Sweeny.

Practicing making big, loud discordant noises and heavily influenced by The Gordons, Children’s Hour sound started to build around Chris’s original songs. The racket became more structured as their playing improved around the dynamic drumming of Bevan. Johnny’s bass playing was partially modelled on the lead instrument style of players such as the Birthday Party’s Tracey Pugh and Joy Division’s Peter Hook. Chris was glad to remember The Gordons' John Halvorsen’s convenient aphorism “there is no note that does not go with another note”. Grant kept on grappling with his notoriously out of tune Ibanez Blaze guitar.

Children’s Hour used space at Terry King's Progressive Studio a couple of times a week to practice. Doug Hood and Chris Knox were in the studio next door recording The StonesAnother Disc, Another Dollar EP when Chris heard them playing when on his way to the toilet. Impressed, he asked them to support The Stones at the Rhumba Bar a few weeks later. The band learnt a few more songs to add to their existing three and they were set to play their first gig. Before their debut was about to start Grant was observed approaching Doug at the desk to ask him to “make it loud like the Gordons”. There was a belief that a decent amount of volume can cover up most mistakes. The set went down well. A week later Children’s Hour were playing with This Sporting Life, The Stones and Nocturnal Projections at the Bowl of Brooklyn in New Plymouth on New Year’s Eve 1982.

PHOTO CREDIT: Terry Moore — "The Looney Tour", February 1984

From his experiences with the Enemy and Toy Love, Doug Hood clearly understood the importance of having a strong work ethic. It was all about playing gigs, touring and making records while finding ways to avoid overexposure. New Zealand was only so big and you could only tour so many times before you were no longer welcome. Keeping this in mind Children’s Hour still managed to tour New Zealand 4 times in less than 2 years.

With his involvement with Children’s Hour, Chris Matthews got to meet his idols, The Gordons and The Skeptics as well as many other like-minded bands up and down the country such as This Sporting Life, Not Really Anything, The Stones and many more. The band become a part of what would today be called a community, a loose grouping of like-minded musicians that had clustered around Flying Nun Records. For Children’s Hour access into this world was enabled by Chris Knox and Doug Hood, two men with very different mind and skill sets who were of assistance to so many bands up and down the country in the 1980s.

The Flesh EP is 5 songs of full-frontal sonic attack. As Colin Hogg said in his 5-star Auckland Star review: “some of the most potent music to turn vinyl in this country”. “Caroline’s Dream”, “Go Slow’, “I Know Where She Lies”, “Slaughter House” and the monumental “Looking for the Sun” are great songs of their — or any — time. It’s not just noise, these are songs with ambitious song structures played with a sense of purpose and given momentum by the unfaltering power of Bevan’s drums. Johnny’s bass is purposeful and Grant’s guitar is a scratchy squall. Chris’s lyrics are dark, meaningful and a little dark. The early 1980s were generally dark, things were a bit gloomy and evitable nuclear annihilation hung over everyone’s head. The fun of the Sex PistolsNo Future” of a few years previously now seemed more a prophecy of something far more serious. The outlook was grim at best and much of the best music being produced had turned dense and angry.

Of the 5 songs “Caroline’s Dream” is the one that screamed out for the Chris Knox music video treatment. Chris turned up at the Children’s Hour Ponsonby house with his camera and that night shot footage of the band “performing” the song in the back year. There are some “props” included a pig’s head on a spike. The chaotic nightmarish nature of the shoot has Chris Matthews writhing on the ground with his trousers half down, screaming faces leering into the camera and Bevan Sweeny being accidentally bottled by Chris Matthews was largely because everyone present, apart from the unaware Chris Knox, was tripping on acid. There was light and humour in the darkness. As Chris Matthews says “it was cinema verité, a representation of our lives”.


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