George was the first Flying Nun single to make it to number one in New Zealand, and the video is also a strong one. Brooding black and white shots of singer Fiona McDonald are frenetically cut together with dark images (tattooed man crawling on concrete, wily old bloke holding birthday cake) that match the menacing lyrics of the song.
Auckland band the Headless Chickens went against the grain of the so-called Dunedin Sound that dominated the roster of legendary record label Flying Nun, by making extensive use of beats and electronica. The band won the Rheineck Rock Award in 1987, and the prize money funded their innovative (for its use of sampling) debut album Stunt Clown. Singer Fiona McDonald joined the band in the early 90s, and it was during this time that they attracted their widest audience. Headless Chickens split up in 1998, but in 2008 performed reunion gigs in Australia and New Zealand.
In this leg of The Big Art Trip, hosts Fiona McDonald and Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins drive through Hawke’s Bay and catch up with artist Dick Frizzell to discuss landscape painting and his Phantom comic series. Then they’re off to Napier to meet musician Paul McLaney and his co-producer David Holmes, who explain their song production techniques. Painter and ceramic artist Martin Poppelwell shares his art, Douglas describes art deco and modernist architecture and they head south to nearby Waipawa to meet potter Helen Mason and painter Gary Waldrom.
This black and white video is certainly not the first to adopt the patented 'are these images connected, or is it all a trick' approach. A woman crouches in a nightgown; a man waits in an expensive looking chair; a confident woman in a distinctive dress enters the room, possibly for the cash. Taken from 1994's Broadcast, probably Strawpeople's most successful album, 'Trick with a Knife' features vocals by Fiona McDonald. Strawpeople founders Mark Tierney and Paul Casserly make fleeting appearances.
Strawpeople emerged from the corridors of student radio, where founders Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney met in 1985 after swapping academia for jobs at what is now bFM. The studio-based recording outfit utilised an impressive line-up of vocalists, including Stephanie Tauevihi, Fiona McDonald (Headless Chickens) and Bic Runga. Strawpeople released six albums beginning with 1991's Hemisphere, plus distinctive covers of John Hiatt's 'Have a Little Faith in Me' and The Church's 'Under the Milky Way'. After the departure of Tierney in 1996, the final three albums were led by Casserly alone.
Director Justin Pemberton takes this love song by Paul Casserly and Fiona McDonald (from fourth Strawpeople album Vicarious) and transforms it into an exercise in noir influenced, brooding unease. His video takes place over a night at a rural motel (with McDonald as a receptionist, and Casserly up to no good with a range of medical equipment). A tarot card-reading, yoga-practising new-ager, a traveller with unexplained cages, and random appearances from stringed instrument-playing senior citizens contribute to the growing sense of disquiet.
This second season Big Art Trip episode opens in Wairarapa with hosts Fiona McDonald and Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins marvelling at sculptor Harry Watson’s carved statuettes. In Masterton they visit the Aratoi Museum and drop in on painter Robin White, who discusses her paintings, talks about the years she spent in Kiribati, and about the World War II POW camp in Featherston. In Wellington they catch up with first series' co-host, screenwriter Nick Ward, visit toast mosaic artist Maurice Bennett, watch Katherine Smyth throw a pot, and meet composer John Psathas.
Co-written by lead singer Fiona McDonald, 'Juice' celebrates the days when she watched morning music shows as a child. Alongside scenes of children playing outside, things take a more sinister turn indoors, with one particularly nightmarish sequence showing her younger self restrained in a dentist’s chair. 'Juice' was released paired with Chickens song 'Choppers', and won Single of the Year at the 1994 NZ Music Awards. It was originally recorded by McDonald’s other band, Strawpeople, under the title 'Dreamchild'. It featured on 1994 Strawpeople album Broadcast.
‘Cruise Control’ is one of the Headless Chicken’s most poppy and accessible songs, and became a hit in New Zealand, and (in remixed form), in Australia. This studio shot promo, for the ‘Eskimos in Egypt’ remix, has Fiona McDonald and the Chickens packed into a touring car cruising to old school rear projected nighttime cityscapes. It’s dark and moody: a wry touch of Hollywood glamour mixed with early 90s Auckland - dated by Knight Rider, bling and brick-sized mobile phones.
With a career born from student radio, Paul Casserly shifted his focus from music to television in the 1990s.