There are a bunch of ‘nostalgia’ acts playing around the Bay during summer, but The Narcs aren’t one of them.
So what’s the difference, in a holiday season that’s bringing us Toto, Jefferson Starship and too many others to mention? Why not The Narcs?
Here’s how I see it. There are many old bands that reform. Then they tour the world as old fans enjoy another outing for 20 or 30-year-old songs. There are, as I just noted, a bunch of these acts coming our way.
But there are other bands that have split up, who get back together and actually make new music. Take for example UK band Suede, which has released three albums since reforming in 2010. They first formed in 1990 and broke up in 2003. Since reforming their new albums have been every bit as good as their earlier work.
The Narcs are a little older than that, with their main successes in the 1980s when they were part of a group of bands who really defined the ‘Kiwi pub-rock’ sound of that era.
Singer-guitarist Andy Dickson, bass player Tony Waine, drummer Steve Clarkson and keyboardist Liam Ryan produced a series of hits and near-hits including ‘(You Took Me) Heart and Soul’, ‘Lazy Susan’, ‘Diamonds on China’, ‘Abandoned By Love’ and ‘Missing In Action’, and in 1984 took home five Recording Industry Association of New Zealand statuettes at the NZ Music Awards on the back of the release of their debut album ‘The Great Divide’.
So flash forward a few decades and it was a 2014 show here in Tauranga at Mills Reef, which brought them back together. That was the restart of The Narcs.
Following Steve Clarkson’s retirement from the band, drummer Peter ‘Rooda’ Warren of DD Smash joined as a guest and has firmly taken over the drum stool.
They gigged in 2016 and in December 2017 joined Australians Pseudo Echo for a successful North Island tour. Now in 2018 the band has been recording again.
The first new single ‘Summerhill Stone’ emerged in March and the latest one ‘Not Over’ has just been released as the band prepare for a tour of the same name.
These days The Narcs are unapologetically ‘indie’, self-managing and enjoying the freedom of writing and recording without being signed to a major label.
And while I don’t file them in the ‘nostalgia’ category it would be fair to say that after 30 years of playing together they are drawn to somewhat nostalgic themes in their new songs.
‘Summerhill Stone’ is a tribute to the coloured brick houses in the suburbs of Christchurch where Liam Ryan and Tony Waine grew up – and it’s a rocking little tune, recognisably capturing the energy of the Narcs of old. Meanwhile, ‘Not Over’ celebrates the long history of the band, obviously referencing their biggest hit ‘Heart And Soul’, with an accompanying video that is a mash-up of early Narcs footage.
These days the band has some challenges with members spread across cities and across countries but Liam Ryan says the internet has been a godsend for keeping in touch at a buddy level and also as a production tool.
‘Not Over’ was a collaboration with Buzz Moller, from the band Voom, and they recorded the rhythm track and vocals live at The Lab Studio with the legendary Ollie Framer in co-producer role with them. Then Liam laid down his keyboards, including a Hammond solo, at his Anam Cara studio in Waihi.
He’s very pleased with the results.
“The new single sounds fresh,” says Liam. “We used reversed samples and some random production devices but the overall feel – that brash Australasian live sound – is still there.
“It still sounds like The Narcs.”
The band is hitting the road for a week in January on a North Island tour, including a couple of shows in the Bay. They’ll be playing the Back Room at the Waihi Beach Hotel, tickets are $20 each, on Saturday, January 12; and Totara Street performance venue at Mount Maunganui, tickets are $25, each, on January 13.