On the corner of Bow Street and Wainui Road in Raglan, is the Tongue and Groove cafe. Inside, on the wall of the corridor next to the toilets, are posters advertising bands that have previously played there. Amongst all the posters is a hand-designed, photocopied A4 poster for a show that took place on 25 August, 2000, featuring Hamilton-based bands The Nerve and Trinket. They’d apparently made the hour-long drive over to Raglan to broaden their rock horizons. Admission was only $3.
Back when I lived in Hamilton I used to go out a lot to see bands play and kind of got involved with the scene. I had guitar lessons from the guy who was the lead singer and guitarist in the Nerve, and I remember at the battle of the bands in 1996 when two bands named Trinket entered (the other Trinket ended up changing their name, but neither of the Trinkets won that year).
I saw a lot of really good bands playing. Some only lasted a few months, others stuck around for years. There was always this feeling that eventually there had to be a band from Hamilton that would go on to greatness.
The problem was that Hamilton had this reputation as being full of bogan-rock metal bands. The last band from Hamilton that did anything big was Knightshade, rocking the charts in 1986 with their scorcher “Out for the count”. Cleverly using boxing as a metaphor for a bad relationship, they sealed Hamilton’s reputation as a bogan rock city.
I still had hopes. I wanted there to be a band coming along out of Hamilton that was so good that they’d blow away all preconceived notions of Hamilton rock and make people sit up and take notice.
For a while I had high hopes for Trucker. It was a bit of a Hamilton supergroup, with the guitarist from the Nerve, the bass player from Trinket, and a couple of other guys who’d done their time in other bands. Trucker were pretty good live, but by the time they got their stuff recorded it sounded a bit too processed. Their coolness hadn’t made it onto the CD.
Then an unexpected thing happened: a band from Hamilton got really big.
A few years earlier Trinket had changed the kind of music they played. They went for a harder, more rock and less pop sound. They also changed their name to suit. They were now known as The Datsuns.
After years of electronic music dominating what was cool, suddenly rock ‘n’ roll came back into fashion – really, massively into fashion. Not only was rock ‘n’ roll the new rock ‘n’ roll, but it was also the new black. The Datsuns were getting out there and playing and were getting noticed in Britain. They played big music festivals, were signed to Richard Branson’s V2 label, did a session for John Peel’s show, made it onto the cover of the NME and – holy shit – played on Top of the Pops.
They even made it into The Face magazine’s “40 messed up new bands” special where Dolf told it like it is with the quote, “I’ve heard Hamilton referred to as a ‘cultural wasteland’. It took us years to find people who appreciate what we do.”
But here’s the kicker, the kind of freaky little twist the follows the “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it” line: I don’t really like the Datsuns’ music.
I interviewed them once and they are really nice guys. They’ve worked really hard and put so much effort into their music. They seem pretty smart and I think they’re really enjoying what they’re doing, but I just don’t connect with their music.
I saw them play a few months ago at the King’s Arms and while most of the capacity crowd was just freaking out and having a rockin’ ol’ time, I was standing at the back kind of digging it, but just not really having much fun. It just felt like I was just standing in dark, smoky room listening to a band play than experiencing some sort of divine rock ‘n’ roll experience.
I still like going out and seeing bands play and I’ve seen some live stuff lately that has excited me and blown me away, but I just can’t get into the Datsuns. I’m not going to force it or fake it. I’m just going to keep listening to bands that I really like. Maybe there’s something good on this weekend at the Tongue and Groove.