- The band known as - Skeptics - hail(ed) from New Zealand, and
were operational between 1979 - 1990. Their music combines 'traditional
instrumentation with electronic and machine-based rhythm and sound.'
Skeptics were pioneers in recording with electronics in New Zealand,
and as such commanded a devoted listenership through their experimental
and innovative musical form. The text that follows offers a comprehensive
account of Skeptics history, including commentary from original
guitarist Robin Gauld - and lastly a complete Skeptics Discography.
In addition, check out A.F.F.C.O. film-maker Stuart Page's story
behind the video.
D'Ath - vocals and samples
Nick Roughan - bass, samples
Don White - drums and percussion, samples
John Halvorsen - Guitar
Robin Gauld - Guitar
A Biograhpy by Derek Bell © 1997
Derek's New Zealand
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 th
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
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.
With a solidified line up, the Skeptics began to gain
a solid following. The band's reputation began to grow.
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."
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.
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).
We gained great exposure this way. Word got around that we were
highly original, if not bloody awful, and an act to be watched."
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
"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.
- 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
- On Pink Flying Saucers
Over The Southern Alps compilation with 'Sheen Of Gold'. Flying
- 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
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