Probably Graham Brazier's best-known track as a solo artist, 'Billy Bold' didn’t garner much radio play when released in 1981, but would go on to become a staple of Hello Sailor live sets. First appearing on Graham Brazier’s debut solo album Inside Out, the ballad is based on the infamous 1981 riots in Toxteth, Liverpool. The song came to Brazier in a dream; he was drawn to the topic because his working class father came from Liverpool.
This heartfelt 1981 hit was the first song sung in te reo to top the NZ singles chart. It was written by Te Arawa elder George Tait for his cousin Deane Waretini, who recorded it with musicians he could only afford to pay in fried chicken. Tait based the melody on Italian Nini Rosso’s 1965 hit ‘Il Silenzio’, but the lyric refers to the linking of Pākehā and Māori cultures at the time of the construction of the Mangere Bridge. The TVNZ video features the less imposing but rather more picturesque valve tower turret, at Wellington’s historic Karori reservoir.
'Azania' is an impassioned anti-apartheid song written for the Auckland reggae band by law student Ross France. Led by original Herbs vocalist Toni Fonoti, it helped to establish the band’s political credentials at a time when New Zealand was split by the 1981 Springbok Tour. Azania was the name given to a post-revolutionary South Africa by the Pan African Congress. There are name checks for black African leaders Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela; and the chant “Angola! Mozambique! Zimbabwe! Azania!” was quickly incorporated into anti-tour protest marches.
'Maybe' was the title track from Sharon O'Neill's 1981 album and she wrung every drop of emotion out of the performance. The video sees her during a sad break up, wandering around the flat in satin pants and a cavalry jacket and slumping against walls as she ponders on exactly how things came to this. It's in glorious black and white apart from the relationship flashbacks during the bridge, which oddly look like a montage from a sitcom. 'Maybe' reached No.12 on the NZ Singles Chart.
Coup D'Etat were a short-lived band featuring Harry Lyon (during a Hello Sailor sabbatical) and Jan Preston (from travelling theatre act Red Mole). The band's second single is an ode to "the dangers of having too much fun". The bright, breezy number was written by Lyon, with the familiar Ponsonby reggae beat favoured by Hello Sailor. Peaking at nine on the charts, it won Best Single at the 1981 NZ Music Awards. The pedestrians in Leon Narbey’s video are near Auckland's Civic Theatre on Queen Street. In the same period, Narbey shot the short film of the same name.
This classic alternative national anthem by Auckland post-punk trio Blam Blam Blam became a theme song for New Zealand’s long, troubled winter of 1981 as the country was wracked by social and political division and the Springbok Tour. Poet and playwright Richard von Sturmer wrote the lyrics while the music was by Blams member Don McGlashan. The video features a band performance shot on the roof of TVNZ’s Shortland Street studios and shows a curious penchant for celebrity lawn mowing. The performing Marmite and Vegemite jars are, however, the real deal.
“I hear the roooolling thunder”. Sir Howard Morrison’s classic bilingual rendition of the popular hymn comes from an October 1981 Royal Variety Performance, in front of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Morrison's performance at Auckland's St James Theatre of 'Whakaaria Mai' marked a comeback for the veteran entertainer, who had been out of the spotlight working in Māori youth development. Released as a single a couple of months later, it topped the charts for four weeks, and led to the commissioning of a televised Howard Morrison Special in 1982.
Blam Blam Blam’s second hit from 1981 was angular and artsy, hook-filled but unsettling: all qualities captured in a theatrical video, directed by Andrew Shaw. Clowns, magicians, fire-eaters and trick cyclists join the band, while actors play out the saga of ‘Don’t Fight It, Marsha’. The actors — including Phillip Gordon (Came a Hot Friday), Michael Hurst and Donogh Rees (Constance) — were directed by Harry Sinclair, who would later join Blam band member Don McGlashan in The Front Lawn. The Len Lye-style scratch effects were by Jenny Pullar, the Blams’ lighting designer.
The Swingers have long been umbilically tied to one composition: 1981 chart-topper 'Counting the Beat’. But the band's debut single makes clear that their gift for percussive pop was there from the start. The accompanying video sees the trio getting down to it in their union jack-emblazoned shirts; the lyrics channel the same kind of sexual frustration as Stones classic ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. The result is arguably in the same realm of catchy. After reaching number 19 in NZ, ‘One Good Reason’ featured in Aussie film Starstruck. Strawpeople later released a funked up version.
Chris Knox mines his immediate, 1981-era surroundings for this elaborate stop-motion clip. Record players go crazy, sleeping bags swallow people, and hardly anyone on screen seems to have a face. On the telly are Springboks and protests, plus the Ready to Roll top 20 countdown. And all this unravels a full two decades before editing programme Final Cut Pro made homespun hip again, and directors like Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep) started popularising the craft aesthetic.