The Clean

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
Anything Could HappenBoodle Boodle Boodle EP
Point That Thing Somewhere ElseBoodle Boodle Boodle EP
FishGreat Sounds Great EP
BeatnikGreat Sounds Great EP
Getting OlderFlying Nun single (A-side)
At The BottomOdditties
Diamond ShineVehicle
Big Soft PunchVehicle
StarsGetaway
In The Dream Life U Need A Rubber SoulMister Pop

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Contributor: Keith Shackleton

Take a look at the top of the New Zealand singles chart for November 29th 1981.

1. Renée Geyer – Say I Love You
2. Olivia Newton-John – Physical
3. Shakin’ Stevens – Green Door
4. Alvin Stardust – Pretend

At number 5, a seismic event in Kiwi chart history, was the Boodle Boodle Boodle EP, from Flying Nun’s most important band. The Clean had featured in the hit parade before – their debut Farfisa-powered single Tally Ho reached the dizzy heights of #19 three months earlier – but the sophomore five track EP really made Kiwi teenagers sit up and take notice. It stayed in the charts for six months.

Boodle Boodle Boodle (with its ingenious cover designed by the great Chris Knox) contains two of the band’s most enduring songs: the hammering acid-rock of Point That Thing Somewhere Else and the more summery strumalong Anything Could Happen.

Our playlist versions are live recordings drawn from 1989’s In-A-Live EP – powerful motorik drumming from Hamish Kilgour, brother David flaying the hell out of his reverb-drenched guitar, both locked in to Robert Scott’s bass: on form, as they are here, they’re a terrific live experience. It’s easy to understand why the Dunedin Sound was so influential both in 80s New Zealand and also to a generation of American college rock radio stalwarts of the late 80s and early 90s.

The Clean’s second EP – marvellously entitled Great Sounds Great, Good Sounds Good, So-so Sounds So-so, Bad Sounds Bad, Rotten Sounds Rotten – contains another couple of solid gold Clean classics. Fish is a pounding instrumental, part manic spaghetti western theme, part psychedelic surf rock (our playlist version once again taken from In-A-Live), and the band use the Farfisa once more to great effect on the wobbly 60s pop confection Beatnik (accompanied by its cheeky video).

The coruscating Getting Older from October 1982, with its off-kilter horn interjections, mid-song count-offs, and desultory chaotic backing vocals sounds like a band falling apart … which was exactly what was happening. In a state of almost-disbandment, with the occasional jolt of a gig they just couldn’t turn down – supporting The Fall in 1982, for example – The Clean were faltering.

They’d been on the go for around five years, but by the time of Great Sounds Great; David Kilgour had floated the idea that The Clean would be ‘a long term project, on a casual basis’. And so it proved, which was no consolation at the time for their fans. The ramshackle nature of the early Flying Nun bands is part of their charm, but inconsistency of course can lead to frustration, and interviews with the band from the time reveal both that and a degree of doubt about what they were doing, and how they were doing it.

1983’s compilation Odditties satisfied the lust for more Clean songs, a gathering of pretty much everything they had in the tank at that point, featuring Getting Older alongside twenty (count ’em) other tunes from the vaults. The subterranean sound of At The Bottom is my pick of this collection, a live version of which graced 1986’s Live Dead Clean EP (featuring songs from gigs played in 1981/2).

The band kept themselves busy: the Kilgours were working as The Great Unwashed (geddit?) with former Clean cohort Peter Gutteridge (bass player early on and co-author of Point That Thing Somewhere Else), whilst Robert Scott formed another legendary Flying Nun line-up: The Bats.

And that might have been it, but The Clean’s first career defining retrospective compilation, accurately titled Compilation, was released in 1986. It sold well, as did an American re-press with extra tracks in 1988. Riding that particular wave, the Kilgours and Scott joined forces for a couple of double-header Clean/Bats shows in London, and their subsequent return to New Zealand was a triumph.

Geoff Travis of Rough Trade felt the buzz and funded Vehicle, recorded in three days in 1989 in London, produced by Alan Moulder (The Jesus & Mary Chain, Ride, Swervedriver etc). It was the first full length studio album by the band, and it’s a stupendous record, one of those albums I have to play from start to finish. I unfortunately must restrict myself to just two selections: the rumbling, skittering Diamond Shine, and the pure pop of Big Soft Punch. The expanded CD has the brilliant In-A-Live EP tacked on to it, which puts the icing on a really terrific cake.

And so it continued for The Clean: bursts of activity, an album here, a gig there, other projects intervening, time off, somehow simultaneously ever-present but never-present. No sooner have they slipped your mind than hey presto, they pop up again with a gem or two for your delectation. I’m going to round out my selection with a couple of those. Stars, from 2001’s very strong Getaway, is a droney, multi-layered concoction which reveals more on every listen. In The Dream Life U Need A Rubber Soul from 2009’s Mister Pop, is a super little slice of folky indie-pop.

It’s hard to put over just how much affection there is for the band in New Zealand. I last saw them live in 2011. As my Kiwi friend Chris bellowed into my ear as we stood at the bar watching three old geezers crank out the familiar tunes with fire and skill, both glad we came out that night, “It’s The Clean, for God’s sake. You just have to go, don’t you? You can’t miss ‘em.” Indeed you can’t, folks.

 

The Clean live at the Rumba Bar, Auckland, 15 May 1982

Hamish Kilgour interview on the band history

The Clean Stories on AudioCulture (NZ)

The Clean biography (iTunes)

Keith takes his pick from the solo albums of The Clean guitarist, David Kilgour, at Toppermost #285.

TopperPost #262

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