Friday, September 21, 2007




Yesterday, I bumped into Chris, my Prog mentor friend. After a couple minutes we were quickly talking, like you do, about Split Enz, the 70s Quirk band from Aukland, New Zealand.

Chris saw them in Southampton on their first UK tour (or possibly even performance, he wasn't sure), supporting, wait for it...Gentle Giant on the massive'75/'76 World Tour which spawned their live album. Well, needless to say, saddo that I am, I found this extremely fascinating...I've mentioned before that I thought that some of Gentle Giant's later material had that brittleness of sound and pumping dry-hump syncopation that I've come to associate with the strand of New Wave that I've christened Quirk, buuuut: to find out that Quirk pioneers Split Enz actually supported Gentle Giant (truly, we are in 'Get a Fucking Life' territory here, but, y'know what, I don't care...) or maybe even toured w/ them for a short time creates a hithertoo unknown linkage 'tween the twilight of Prog and the birth of New Wave.

The Southampton gig was May 17, 1976 at the Gaumont Theatre. Chris' understanding is that Split Enz were standing in for Solution (who, my failing memory tells me, were a Dutch Jazz-Rock band, I think...I'm not sure how I know that...I'm thinking I might have actually owned something by them in my I did own, at various points, assorted Jazz-Rock albums by people like Ian Carr's Nucleus and Isotope, who featured guitarist Gary Boyle...). Chris and a mate went along and ended up digging the Enz...saying they were Poppier than the sort of Prog and Fusion he was into back then, but he really got into it after a while and ended up going out and buying "Mental Notes," which he still loves to this day and rates as their best album. I asked him to describe them live and he said they were...quirky. LOL!

They were very theatrical-looking, he recalled, and their hair was dyed and spiked-up at strange angles. They wore pantomine-like costumes and percussionist Noel Crombie did one of his soon-to-be-legendary spoon solos, much to the amusement of the prog-fixated audience, who were generally more used to meandering Wakemanesque keyboard solos, but in 13/8. But, even tho they were quite Poppy-sounding, said Chris, there were plenty of odd time-signatures and what he described as a sort of pumping rhythm on some of the songs. "You would've loved them," he told me.

But the thing that really got me, was this was 1976 (and their 1st album came out in Aus in '75!) - my own selective retro-reductionist memory had placed Split Enz at their Quirk-iest at being a bit later, around maybe '78. By which point I was deep into Punk, etc and thinking, who are those fucking clowns... funny how I now find myself oddly fascinated by them, so many years later...Still it looks like they were ahead of the pack.

A couple of other late additions to the Quirk Canon: Lene Lovich has got to be in there for all sorts of ridiculous reasons: clothes, hair, make-up abuse worthy of a confused 13 year old, chirruppy-sounding vocal style, (plus that look of perpetual befuddled bemusement that seems to befall practicioners of Quirk, etc (Hmmm: and is she the missing link between Quirk and Goth?)) She sang on Cerrones' "Supernature" and also on The Resident's "Picnic Boy." (Whatta CV!) Dom and I saw her on the Be Stiff Route 78 Tour. I seem to remember we were drunkenly swinging from the curtains at one point while she was performing. She used to do some sort of weird marching/mime dance similar to Hazel O'Connor. Cool.

I would also make a case, I think, for adding The Residents to the School of Quirk. I think they would have been Quirk from quite early on if they could've actually played in a conventional sense: there's a sort of sing-songy-ness, a childlike ommm-pah-pah feel to their stuff (but also overly dramatic theatricality, the use of lurid colours, costumes, spiky Expressionist angles on their music/album covers/film sets, etc) about their early/mid-period stuff that makes them strong contenders.

Slow Quirk, perhaps?