Thanks so much to Kieron Flaherty for the interview! I wrote just some weeks ago about the New Zealand band Perfect Garden, on how much I was loving their sound and how surprised I was that this band was so obscure when it deserved to be well known! Anyhow, Kieron got in touch and was very kind to share more songs with me. And how good were they! Now he tells me the story about the band, so read and you’ll fall in love with this band!
++ Hi Kieron! Thanks so much for getting in touch with me. Really loved the songs from Perfect Garden! They are so good! So let me ask you, are you still making music?
Hi Roque! Thanks for your interest and support. To answer your first question – I’m afraid not! I do have a battered old acoustic lying round the house that I use from time to time but certainly nothing serious and I haven’t been in a band for a LONG time…!
++ On the comment you left me on the blog, you say you hero-worshipped Bobby Gillespie. What were your favourite songs of him, and what do you think of the sound that eventually Primal Scream would have, leaving the jangly guitars behind. Were you still a fan then?
When it comes to my favourite songs by (early!) Primal Scream it’s hard to know where to start. I absolutely loved that band until Jim Beattie and Martin St John left. My absolute favourite is Black Star Carnival (b-side to Gentle Tuesday – nice and obscure!) Then we are on to It Happens, All Fall Down, May the sun shine bright for you, Bewitched and Bewildered, Gentle Tuesday, Tomorrow ends today, Velocity Girl, Treasure trip… I mean where do you end?! I do remember being given a tape of the Peel sessions by a friend who had been to England and taped it and for a while it was my most treasured possession.
As for their new sound… well let’s just say I’m not a fan. I bought into the 2nd album and loved Ivy Ivy Ivy and some other tracks but it’s just the sense of betrayal I feel is too much for me to listen to them much these days. It’s more the fact that they left all the original fans behind and kinda laughed at them that really annoyed me. I saw them in ‘94 and sure it was fine and dandy but to not play any of the earlier material is a massive insult to the original fans. To be fair though I did meet Mr Gillespie in London a few years back and he was very friendly and talkative. I asked him if they would ever play the old classics live again… but he was very non-committal! He did sign my All Fall Down and Crystal Crescent singles though so fair play to him I suppose. I could rant about Primal Scream all day so I should leave it there…!
++ You were telling me that back then, when you were in Perfect Garden you were into the C86 scene. Are you still listening to this sort of sound? And what were/are your favourite C86 bands ever?
As with everyone as I’ve got older my music taste has diversified but to be honest I do still listen to a lot of jangly pop. I mean the Smiths and early Primals are never far away from my music player.
My favourite C86 bands? Well I loved Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes (still do of course!) They were just the perfect coming together of the scene for me. I loved lots of Scottish bands unsurprisingly… the Soup Dragons, The Shop Assistants, The Close Lobsters, The Pastels. Then there was Talulah Gosh, the Wedding Present, the Bodines, the Mighty Lemon Drops, Razorcuts, The Chesterfields, The Pooh Sticks…I could go on and on!
++ You were based in Dunedin. There was the whole Dunedin Sound too. How did that influence you? Did you feel part of it?
To be honest we didn’t really feel part of that scene at all. Most of those bands were a lot older than us and The Clean and The Chills had already moved on. I think it probably peaked around 85/86 and we were all just in school and not old enough to quite be taking it in. I did have an older brother with a great record collection who would bring those records home but I was more interested in what was happening in England to be honest. The band that did really happen when I was old enough to be going out were the Straightjacket Fits who were one of the greatest live bands I had/have ever seen.
++ And why do you think such an amazing explosion of bands appeared during that time in New Zealand? And that actually became quite well known! Like if you see, for example, there was a bunch of great Australian bands at the time but they are way more obscure! I’ve often wondered about this…
That is the million dollar question… and people in Dunedin are still asking it themselves I think! I think that being a student town had a big bearing on it. Also its isolation from the rest of the world meant that bands were able to develop and make their own music without a heavily critical music press breathing down their necks. To be honest I’m still kinda baffled by it all! I’m pretty proud that the Clean, The Bats, The Chills etc. are still mentioned as influences on loads of younger bands -especially coming from the States it seems.
++ Tell me a bit about the town, what were your favourite venues, what were the places you used to hang out?
There was certainly nothing glamourous about Dunedin when we grew up – it’s a much nicer place now – coffee shops on every corner! In the 80s it was mostly working men’s pubs – all a bit rough around the edges. Our favourite hangout was the Empire tavern or the Robbie Burns hotel. The Empire was the place to go see up and coming bands and we certainly played there a few times. I had many great nights there but alas I believe it’s not there anymore. The Captain Cook was another popular venue but that was more in the student part of town and we didn’t venture there too often. Dunedin is a pretty small place so it was easy to wander down George Street (the main street) and go to many different pubs on any given night.
++ How did Perfect Garden start as a band? How did you all meet?
Well me and Shane had been talking about starting a band for a while. We were really in love with the Primitives so we wanted a female singer. I was dating Karen at the time so we asked her if she fancied trying out and she turned out to be great. We had another drummer to start off with but he wanted to play guitar so we asked Aaron if he fancied joining and he did. Martin was someone we knew from another local band who looked good so he was in. I think the rule was you had to own a pair of winkle pickers and a black polo neck to be in the band!
++ Have you all been involved in bands before?
Yes – to a certain extent. Aaron and I were in a band called The Living End for a short time. I seem to remember Shane played stand up drums at one of our gigs… all very Mary Chain of course! Martin was in a couple of bands before we meet. It was all very chaotic of course – amazing that it ever came together to be honest!
++ Where does the name of the band come from?
To be honest it came from a mis-hearing down the phone! As with most bands the hardest bit is choosing a name-writing songs is easy compared to that! Anyway we were putting ideas around – I seem to remember ‘The Chain of Flowers’ as an idea after a line in Birthday by the Sugarcubes. I had heard that the name of the House of Love was from an underground erotic novel (A Spy in the House of Love by Anais Nin) so I asked around if anyway had heard of other names in this genre. I was talking to a friend who suggested ‘The Perfumed Garden’ – however I heard – ‘The ‘Perfect’ Garden’ and thought – brilliant! So there you have it – we should have been The Perfumed Garden – although I think either name would have been fine.
++ As I was saying, I loved all the songs I’ve heard. So do tell me how was the creative process for you guys? How did it work?
Most of the songs were worked out in the practice room. I don’t remember any of them being written fully formed – although I may be wrong. Mostly it would be a riff or a bassline that we would work on. The lyrics would normally be written by either Shane or Karen although I did contribute a few. We really were like magpies – taking influences from the bands we loved and turning them into our own songs. Looking back it’s hard to imagine that we ever came up with those tracks that sound quite individual but I’m sure most bands feel like this.
++ You were around only for around two years but I’ve seen you played many gigs including some with The Bats, is that right? What were your favourite gigs and why? Any anecdotes you could share?
Yeah we were quite lucky to score some really good support slots early on. This was mostly due to me being lucky enough to work at the local HMV shop which was populated with loads of people in Flying Nun bands! We had members of Look Blue Go Purple, The Bats, 3 Ds, Dead C – it was a hipsters paradise looking back. Anyway I got to know Rob Scott from the Bats who very graciously offered us a support slot with them. It was quite a thrill playing that gig but pretty nerve-wracking. I seem to remember my guitar string breaking and taking ages to put another one on and tune it! Anyway it seemed to go really well – no matter what that reviewer thought on the youtube video! We never got to the stage of headlining – always support. We played with the 3’ds a couple of times which was great – they were really nice as well. We had close ties to a couple of bands in Christchurch – Black Spring and Dolphin and so we did a few’ triple-headers’ with them-both in Dunedin and Christchurch. I have some memories of playing a charity gig at Sammys which was the largest venue in Dunedin. I remember playing Into the Ground and actually looking up from my guitar (I didn’t do that often!) and seeing people getting really into it… that was quite a thrill.
++ From what I know there was one tape released with four songs. “Into the Ground”, “End of the Perfect Sunshine”, “Amelia” and “Swirl”. Would you mind telling me the story behind these fantastic songs?
Well let me just say thank you for calling the songs fantastic – it means a lot after all these years! We never did get around to actually releasing the songs but I’ll get into that in the next question.
As for the songs – well this is how I remember it.
Into the Ground. Me and Shane were listening to a lot of Loop , Spacemen 3 and Ultra Vivid Scene (the Mercy seat was a real favourite) at the time and loved the idea of a long ‘droney’ song. It’s also a lot easier to play this type of riff when you are learning how to play-especially if you turn the distortion up! The original version went for over 6 minutes – I loved the idea of locking into a groove and just keeping it going.
End of the Perfect Sunshine. To me the best song we ever did. It came about from a bassline that Martin was messing about with. The guitar lines just followed it but where the big drum intro into the chorus was just one of those magical things that happen in practice rooms. I can say for sure that the chords for the chorus are the same as About You by the Mary Chain… I was very pleased to come up with that. Shane wrote the lyrics and I recall thinking…’this sounds like an indie classic’!
Amelia. This was built around a little riff I had from listening to The Bitter End from Felts wonderful Pictorial Jackson Review. I’m pretty sure the name of the song is a tribute to the wonderful Amelia Fletcher from Talulah Gosh. The lyrics were written by Karen and tell a tale of jealousy at a lover being fancied by another girl – and it causing considerable pain it seems.
Swirl. This one I remember the least. I think we just wanted a good thrashy song to play and worked out a pretty simple riff which Shane wailed all over. Im guessing we had probably heard the early Ride e.ps and were trying for something along those lines…
++ Was this tape a demo? Or was it a proper release? Where was it sold and how many copies were made?
The tape was a demo. Not long after we recorded these songs the band broke up as Shane headed to England. Subsequently what you see in the video is a mock up made by Karen and not a proper release. So I can safely say – none were made and none were sold!
++ On the tape it says it was mastered by Kevin Stokes for Failsafe Records. Was that your label?
We were never signed to anyone I’m afraid. Kevin was in a great band called Dolphin from Christchurch who we got to know through our friends in Black Spring who were also from Christchurch. Subsequently we did some recording in their studio which is where the songs you have heard were done. As an aside I remember writing to Sarah records around mid ‘89 just to tell them how much I was enjoying the music coming out on the label and I was thrilled to hear back from Matt and Clair a few weeks later. They were really interested that people in NZ were loving their label. Anyway I promised to send them our recordings but for some reason I didn’t do it…
++ And what do you remember from those recording sessions?
Not that much to be honest! Maybe we knew the band was coming to an end I’m not sure but I’m glad we got the songs down before we broke up. My main memories are trying to play the lead for Into the Ground (based on the solo at the end of Velocity Girl – although it may be hard to hear that!) and Kevin suggesting the wonderful backing vocals for End of the Perfect Sunshine which to me really make the song. When we heard that played back for the first time there were goosebumps for sure! As you can imagine it was done very quickly. All four songs were done in a day – recording doesn’t come cheap so we had to really hurry it along but I think we really managed to capture the band and what we were trying to do at the time.
++ Are there any more recordings by the band?
Yeah, just two. As mentioned earlier a longer version of Into the Ground and a lovely little pop song called Back for More – one of our very earliest tracks. They were recorded in Dunedin at the Radio One (Student Radio) recording studio – (no idea if it’s still there!) These two tracks got some play on Student Radio and I believe Into the Ground made No 1 in the Top 11 for a couple of weeks… so that was really pleasing looking back (thanks Aaron I had forgotten that!)
++ There’s one flyer of yours I saw that says “Indiepop Ain’t Noise Pollution!”. I wonder then if there were many indiepop fans in New Zealand at the time? And how did you find out about indiepop? How did you get into?
Well there were certainly a few fans and of course we all knew each other – Dunedin is a pretty small place as you can imagine – it’s easy to spot a fan of indie pop. I got into it, like many people I suspect, through loving the big two – the Smiths and the Mary Chain. Again being lucky to have an older brother who not only had a great record collection but also bought the NME from time to time (it wasn’t easy to get in N.Z in those days – and it was 3 months behind) made it possible for me to read about these amazing looking bands coming out of the U.K. If I saw a picture of a band with bowl cuts and leather trousers I wanted to buy their records! I also had met Shane who also had a big collection and a job which meant he was able to buy all the expensive imports of the day as a lot of these bands L.P’s were hard to come by in Dunedin at the time. From ‘86 onwards we were just lapping up everything to do with that scene. We devoured the music press and would buy anything mentioned, especially if it was on Creation. I also had a friend who went to England quite regularly and would bring back tapes of John Peel sessions and videos of the chart show so that was another way we got to know what was happening. Of course the greatest day was actually getting a copy of the actual C86 tape. I think it was a copy of a copy but boy did I treasure it… and play it a LOT!!
++ Perhaps you were big indiepop record collectors too?
Well as I said earlier Shane had an amazing collection when I met him as, being a little older than me he had left school and was working. I had a paper-run so I was able to afford an album a week… but it soon added up! Karen started to get really into as well and sometimes we would all be fighting at Echo Records (the best place in town for indie pop from England at the time) for the latest imports! I know Aaron was into the Sex Pistols in a big way and Martin was a big fan of 4ad (amongst other things) so all of these influences were bought to the table.
++ And was there any interest from labels to release your music? It’s hard for me to believe no one put your songs on vinyl!
Unfortunately not because as I say we broke up not long after we did them. I think the fire was perhaps going out of the band and I guess we knew Shane was leaving for England so looking back I don’t think there was any plans to put them out. I’m just so glad we managed to get something recorded that still sounds really good after all this time…
++ How was the press in New Zealand towards Perfect Garden? Was there good support? What about fanzines?
We did a few interviews with a couple of local fanzines and the local Dunedin papers. It was all very positive I seem to remember. Of course I was always waiting for the call from the NME that never came…!
++ Then what happened? When and why did you split?
It all comes back to Shane leaving for England I guess. I think we talked about carrying on and I’m sure we even tried another guitarist but it seems the fire just went out pretty quickly. It was about the middle of 1990 and as I say things were changing in England and indie pop was yesterday’s news and perhaps it felt like the band had had its day. I don’t think we ever had a band conversation about splitting up… I think we just all drifted away.
++ Did you all kept making music afterwards? Are you all still in touch?
Through the wonders of the internet and Facebook we are, to a point, all in touch. We are all spread across the Globe now- I’m in the U.K, Aaron is in N.Z, Karen is in Australia, Shane is in Canada and Martin is in Denmark so as I said – a reunion is unlikely! Aaron still plays in bands but I don’t think anyone else does – unless playing guitar to amuse my 6 year old counts!
++ And these days, what are you up to? What other hobbies do you like doing?
Well after many years living in London and going to see every band under the sun I prefer a quieter life in Cambridge these days with my partner and 6 year old son. I keep fit, watch films, drink coffee… and still play Sonic Flower Groove way too much!
++ Looking back, what would you say was the biggest highlight of Perfect Garden?
I guess the times I really enjoyed were being in the practice room and getting songs together. Anyone who has been in bands will know that thrill of a skeleton of an idea blossoming into a fully fledged song. I remember how fantastic to was to get End of the Perfect Sunshine together – me and Aaron would grin like idiots at each other as we built into the chorus – almost as if to say ‘did we really write THIS?!’ It’s those times I really miss – even to this day…
++ I’ve never been to New Zealand, though I hope I go one day. So if you don’t mind, what do you recommend me visiting in your town? And what about any traditional dishes that I shouldn’t miss?
If you ever visit Dunedin you MUST try the ‘cheese rolls’… they are legendary. As I say I don’t live there anymore but when I visit they are the first things I go for… along with Jimmy’s Pies! They are incredibly delicious. Dunedin is a pretty small but lively place as it’s a student town and I’m guessing as a fan of Flying Nun from the States it would be great to see all the places the bands played? So I would recommend visiting the Empire (not sure if it’s still open though!), The Captain Cook, The Oriental… legendary venues. Then it would be also worth venturing out of Dunedin to Central Otago to visit Wanaka and Queenstown which are stunningly beautiful!
++ Let’s wrap it here Kieron, thanks so much again, anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to say thanks to you for your interest! It’s been great trawling through my memories of a very short lived but really important part of my life. We had some fantastic times and wrote and played music that we couldn’t have expected to make when we started the band. We went from being slightly shambolic to a pretty tight unit in a relatively short space of time and I’m really proud of that. We also managed to write some pretty wonderful songs I think! On that note I’m going to post the rest of the songs online in the next few weeks.
Edit: here are all the songs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3C-jfbZ1e0&list=PLXAFG5whX2leDFhgR9Pg1LXhh9GYnMj0k