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The Suburban Reptiles were, with The Scavengers, one of the first two punk bands to form in New Zealand.
The Suburban Reptiles
|Origin||Auckland, New Zealand|
|Past members||Simon Grigg|
Brett "Jimmy Joy/ Jimmy Vinyl/ Lino Clone" Salter
William "Billy Planet" Pendergrast
Clare "Sally Slag/ Zero" Elliot
Trish "Sissy Spunk" Scott
Bryan "Shaun Anfrayd" Nicholls
Mark "Buster Stiggs" Hough
Wayne "Bones Hillman" Stevens
The Suburban Reptiles were first conceptualised by Auckland students Simon Grigg and Brett Salter in late 1976, with some encouragement from filmmaker David Blyth. Grigg and Salter had originally planned to form a jazz band but Grigg was redirected by Blyth after he saw a live review of The Sex Pistols in the New Musical Express.
Grigg, seeing himself as the manager, explained the concept to Salter, who played the saxophone, and other students, William Pendergrast, bass guitar; Clare Elliot, (Salter's partner), vocals; Trish Scott, guitar; Brian Nicholls, guitar; and Kim Smith, backing vocals, were invited to join. Grigg found a drummer, an apprentice butcher and part-time juggler, Des Edwards and the original lineup was complete. This group only lasted the first few practices in a basement in Auckland's inner suburb, Ponsonby, before both Smith and Edwards departed. The first practices however produced a nucleus of a live set with a mix of covers (including songs from Roxy Music, The Damned and The Modern Lovers) and a number of originals.
The only live performance from this lineup was an aborted late night set in Auckland University's Student Quadrangle, with the power being pulled by University custodians after one song to a bemused crowd fresh from a concert by Th' Dudes.
Having thought they were the only 'punks' in town, The Suburban Reptiles had a chance encounter in an Auckland pub, The Globe, that night with The Scavengers, who likewise had believed they were the only ones.
A drummer was now needed and Salter and Elliot had a chance encounter with Mark Hough, who had been playing in a band called After Hours, with Neil Finn. Hough, an art student at Elam (Auckland University's Fine Arts School), was asked to join and the first serious lineup was formed. The members then, in the tradition of punk bands the world over, took stage names: Salter became, initially Jimmy Vinyl and later Jimmy Joy and Lino Clone; Elliot took Sally Slag but quickly became simply Zero (although to the band she was simply Zed); Nicholls was Shaun Anfrayd; Pendergrast naturally identified with his (highly strung) Buzz Adrenalin but opted for the more user friendly Billy Planet; Scott was Sissy Spunk; and Hough, though wanting Buzz, became Buster Stiggs. Grigg used the name Partizan Politik as a management coverall.
The first performances were at a variety of private parties in April 1977, but the first major public performance was in June when they, with The Scavengers, and another newly found band, The Masochists, played a party put on by Grigg and David Blyth, for Blyth's forthcoming film, Angel Mine.
Over the next couple of months the band played regularly although Scott and Nicholls left, with The Scavengers' Johnny Volume playing from time to time before Pendergrast moved to guitar and Wayne 'Bones Hillman' Stevens, from The Masochists, joined on bass, the name Hillman coming from the brand of car he drove. Over the period the band was fired from a Catholic Boys School; was pursued and vilfied by a hungry media, repeatedly making the front pages of various newspapers; and were attacked by a vigilante mob at a student arts festival in Wellington.
They also, during this period, recorded their first single, a double A side, single (the first released in New Zealand). The first recording sessions were nominally produced by Tim Finn (although he slept through much of the session) at Harlequin Studios in Mt. Eden, and produced four tracks, at the time unreleased. The second session a few weeks later, produced by the band and Doug Rogers, re-recorded two of those songs, "Megaton" and "Desert Patrol", and these, after some gestation came out on Phonogram's Vertigo label in January 1978, selling about 500 copies at the time.
In late 1977 Grigg departed and Hough proclaimed himself the de facto manager, with the band taking on the role of a more conventional touring act thereafter. However, in mid 1978 Zero was arrested for swearing on stage at the Riverhead Rock Festival. The subsequent court case and her acquittal set a legal precedent as to what could be said and where. Over that period, both Tony Baldock and Rolland Killeen played bass for the band at various times.
For the second single, not all the band were pleased that former Split Enz guitarist Phil Judd became involved and offered to produce. Judd became more and more part of the band over the following months. His arrival and the subsequent fawning caused a great deal of friction between the members who effectively divided into two camps, with Judd and tag-along Hough on one side and Pendergrast and Salter on the other, with Zero in the middle. Drug issues also exacerbated tensions which self-managed high-adrenaline highly-creative youth bands are ill-equipped to self-manage. The band were intending to record "Mamba" as the next single but Judd decided to re-write, play all guitars and produce his old mate's song. Planet left them all to it, didn't attend any further recording sessions and effectively left the band. The resultant single, "Saturday Night Stay at Home", with Judd's soaring guitar and little else audible or recognisable of the Suburban Reptiles was an instant classic, selling hundreds of copies. A Student Radio survey in the early 2000s named it the greatest NZ single of all time. Historically, New Zealand will forever be denied what could well have been the definitive kiwi punk album which could've/would've/should've been recorded instead.
|“||We started off recording on low quality sixes between 1 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the morning, when the recording studios charged the least. As our first songs became popular, we were able to record high quality twenty-fours, in good studios at reasonable times. -Brett Salter||”|
It was too late for the Suburban Reptiles however and, at the premier of Angel Mine in October 1978, two bands both played under that name. The Hough / Judd led band re-emerged some months later as The Swingers.
|6/2/1978||Vertigo||6036 920||"Megaton" / "Desert Patrol"|
|8/1978||Vertigo||6036 924||"Saturday Night Stay At Home" / "45 Single"|
Tracks on compilationsEdit
- Davey, T. & Puschmann, H. (1996) Kiwi rock. Dunedin: Kiwi Rock Publications. ISBN 0-473-03718-1
- Dix, J. (1988) Stranded in paradise: New Zealand rock'n'roll 1955–1988. Wellington: Paradise Publications. ISBN 0-473-00639-1.
- Eggleton, D. (2003) Ready to Fly. Nelson, NZ: Craig Potton Publishing.