Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FNun sound and pictures



Henrietta Harris is the talented artist behind the splendid collage artwork for the Flying Nun compilation Tally Ho: Flying Nun's Greatest Bits. She also was involved in the cover for Volume magazine's Nun tribute issue, using this artwork. Read an interview with her here, talking about the process of putting this cover together.

source: Chillblue on Flickr


I recall meeting another artist who was involved closely with Flying Nun when I was at Elam art school in the late 1980s. Lesley Maclean was from Christchurch, and she'd played in a few bands down there and in Akld (The Letter Five, with Richard James from Mainly Spaniards, an early FNun outfit - soundclip at bottom).

There is a ton of great art as well as music that was associated with Flying Nun over the years, like Chris Knox's art, or David Mitchell's magnificently twisted, gothic drawings for his various bands (Exploding Budgies, 3Ds etc) to name just two examples. There's a coffee table book in there somewhere, with all the FNun art.

Maclean had done a lot of poster designs for Flying Nun bands, and is most famous, I reckon, for designing the distinctive label (above) for Flying Nun's vinyl releases. I vaguely remember Lesley working on it as a holiday project during a term break at art school. Prior to that, every Flying Nun vinyl release had its own unique/messy label.

Below is Lesley's cover design for the very influential Tuatara compilation, which was important in exposing Flying Nun's stable to the world.


The current revival, helmed by the label's founder, Roger Shepherd, came to fruition in 2009, with the financial help of Neil and Sharon Finn, and Graham Cockcroft ex Netherworld Dancing Toys among others.  It's great to see some of the label's leading lights re-emerge, and its back catalog being revived and introduced to a new generation, along with new signings.

Flying Nun was part of the sale of FMR (Festival Mushroom Records) to Warners in late 2006 (see NZ Musician) and it can be argued that it spent most of the 2000s as a less than vital imprint and little more than a logo on the back of Mint Chicks releases. The Mint Chicks may have always claimed they signed to Flying Nun, but when they ditched the label in early 2010, they said they were leaving Warners. The irony being that Roger Shepherd had regained ownership of the label by then, once again making it independent (albeit tied to Warners for distribution).

Conventional wisdom is that Warners neglected the FNun back catalog, failing to even note the label's 25th birthday. Not true. There's a 17-track compilation  to commemorate the 25th anniversary available on iTunes, released in Feb 2007 (drawing on the 4 CD boxset malarkey from that year, compiled by Shepherd). Of course that date sounds wrong, but hey, Flying Nun's own website says they celebrated their 21st birthday in 2003, which aint right either. There was the release Under the Influence – 21 Years of Flying Nun Records, from 2002. They just love celebrating, so who's to stop them?

The Nun's 21st anniversary wasn't without controversy though - Gary Steel wrote a piece in the NZ Listener decrying the label's roster at the time, among other crimes. Numerous folk in the press and the music scene rounded on Steel - Chris Knox even performed a song about it entitled "The Late Gary Steel".

Russell Brown also responded in a robust fashion to Steel's comments (Brown recalls the song in question as being called "In memory of Gary Steel").

But that was 9 years ago, and a lot has changed with The Nun since then. Why, only yesterday Mr Steel was praising Flying Nun on Twitter. "It was very gracious of Flying Nun to gift me a pack of their delicious 30th anniversary ale. Has the disser been bought? More, please."

So, does time heal all wounds? Yes. That, and beer.

The Nun's connection with Mushroom Records (which was later sold to Festival Records) started in 1990, with them buying a 50% share in Flying Nun, helping to give that label some financial stability, and decent recording budgets for its acts such as Straitjacket Fits and JPSE.

I recall reading an article from  the early 90s where the JPSE were talking about their album budget, which was $60,000. That's a long way from Chris Knox hauling his four track reel to reel down to Dunedin and he and Doug Hood setting up in a hall to record The Clean.

Festival Records was part of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited, and in 1995 a 23-year-old James Murdoch took over as chairman at Festival. He reportedly dropped out of Harvard to start hiphop label Rawkus Records (source). I know John Peel was quite surprised to discover that Rupert Murdoch owned half of Flying Nun when he visited NZ in the early 2000s!


Now then, where's the Skeptics boxset?






Here are some of Maclean's poster designs from 1985-86, via National Library.







Below, a poster for the first two Flying Nun releases 
From the Christchurch Library's online poster collection, numerous FNun posters



4 comments:

Russell Brown said...

Lovely work, Peter. It's nice to see Lesley's work acknowledged.

And Gary Steel and I are in 100% agreement: that's a bloody good beer.

Andrew Gladstone said...

Nice piece.
I had not read the Gary Steel article - glad i didn't at the time. Good to see that beer still heals old wounds though.

lmac said...

hey there peter, gosh that was a while ago. It's nice that people like you keep the past alive. I keep forgetting it exists...thanks for remembering me

Flying Nun Records said...

Great piece and good to see the art angle mentioned - it was one part of the 30th that we were keen on doing some stuff around but just ran out of time, however we have some ideas to put it into motion next year!

Glad to see the beer is doing the trick as well

On a slightly different topic - Andrew could you send Roger your postal address, have some stuff to send you.

Matthew