“I would hear on the news about punk rock and see someone with a safety pin through their nose but I had no idea what the music sounded like!”
It’s hard to determine whether broadcaster, writer and comedian extraordinaire Tony Martin had a childhood that was characterised by sensory deprivation, or sensory overload. But the sounds of the songs that he did hear drifting through his family home have left an indelible mark.
“I grew up in New Zealand in the 70s and all we heard on the radio was easy listening. My parents controlled the radio station. There were no RRRs to listen to in Thames or Hamilton, so we listened to 1ZH and that was ‘smooth and easy’.
“You would hear Gilbert O’Sullivan, Kenny Rogers, you might hear Led Zeppelin but you would only hear ‘Stairway to Heaven’, you would hear The Beatles, but you would only hear ‘Penny Lane’. You might hear David Bowie, that would be amazing, but it would be ‘Golden Years’ or something that wasn’t too abrasive.
“During those years I never heard any heavy rock, never heard any punk rock, never heard any post punk. My parents bought me a stereo, probably when I was 14, and the album they gave me was Sing Along with Max [Bygraves]! My friends were listening to the Sex Pistols and I was listening to ‘Roll Out the Barrel’!”
By the 80s, new music television programs in NZ like Ready To Roll and Radio With Pictures were introducing Tony to an array of mind expanding acts and counting down the biggest, coolest songs of the week.
“One week, Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ was number one,” he recalls. “I remember not even being able to comprehend what it was!”
Pretty soon acts like Iggy Pop, XTC, Gang of Four and Television were filling his ears with their jagged post punk sounds.
“One night, on comes The Clean and they’re playing ‘Anything Could Happen’”
It was immediately apparent that their raw infectious melodicism would mark an important turning point in his life.
“If you heard it now, you might think, ‘So what? It’s not a particularly distinctive sound.’ But in that era of ‘Jessie’s Girl’, you know, that over produced California sound, Air Supply, that kind of sound, if you go from that, to suddenly jangly guitar music that’s been recorded in someone’s lounge room in Dunedin, that was mind expanding to me.”
Being a music hungry and curious youngster, Tony was keen to know what was happening in his own backyard. He would pore over articles in music rag Rip It Up, whose writers were passionate advocates of Auckland's local scene, championing bands like Blam Blam Blam and The Screaming Meemees as well as the Dunedin sound of the revered Flying Nun Records.
But, because none of these acts were played on the radio and being in his last year of school with no money to buy any records, Tony had no idea what any of these bands sounded like. That changed when he was done with school, though.
“I just went mental, buying as many of these local albums as possible,” he says. “In fact, I have one of the original 500 copies of The Clean’s Boodle Boodle Boodle EP…which came with a hand drawn comic!”
Tony’s musical instincts served him well with his prized and rare acquisition, but equally as satisfying was the sonic purge that seemed well overdue.
“When I heard that Clean sound, it wasn’t like all the nonsense of prog rock of the 70s and that California sound. You couldn’t get further away from that than the Dunedin sound, so that was cleansing, it was great to hear that stripped back sound.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Tony Martin on Don't Look Back.