1981 Cleaning Up ...

In 1981, the single Tally Ho set a precedent in New Zealand music. Recorded for the princely sum of $50, the song defied all record industry logic and reached number 19 in the local charts. It also gave New Zealand a memorable music video and marked the directing debut of musician Chris Knox.

 

Tally Ho was recorded by Dunedin band The Clean. Formed in 1978 and originally consisting of brothers Hamish and David Kilgour, the band went through a few line ups before being joined by Robert Scott two years later. While slow to get gigs in the beginning, by 1980 The Clean were definitely the hottest band in town.

“People say ‘Why did you make Scarfies?’ I say, ‘How else could I have a free concert by the Clean for me and a bunch of friends?’”
Robert Sarkies,
Director
 

Through the success of their single, the band had proved you didn’t need to copy the latest pop trend from overseas or spend millions of dollars in an expensive studio to be successful. Nor, for that matter, did you need to be signed to a major record label.

Released by fledgling independent Flying Nun, Tally Ho was just the label’s second release. The Clean’s subsequent EP Boodle Boodle Boodle spent six months in the charts peaking at number 5. The band’s mix of jangly guitars and slightly off-key vocals would soon become recognised internationally as the beginning of ‘the Dunedin Sound’.

 

For Hamish (drums), David (guitar) and Robert (bass), much of the inspiration to form a band came from punk. After the indulgence and excess of 70s stadium rock, the likes of The Damned, the Sex Pistols and Dunedin’s own The Enemy brought a back to basics approach to rock ‘n roll. They embraced the belief that anyone with three chords could form a band and write songs.

“A vague idea”

 

The Clean also brought humour to their music which, combined with the DIY ethic of punk, was precisely the recipe that created the video for Tally Ho. Just as the song fundamentally changed the New Zealand recording industry, the video broke with the previous New Zealand standard – in-studio lip-synching mixed with occasional big-budget clips from acts signed to major labels.

The video was shot by Chris Knox, formerly of The Enemy and a friend of the band. Borrowing a 16mm camera, Knox described his plan thus; “none ... a vague idea I’d pixellate them a la Norman McLaren... never used a 16mm camera in my life”. Undaunted by his lack of experience and a zero budget, Knox combined a number of cheap but effective camera techniques to capture the energy of the song.

 

The most basic was to film the band walking up the street with the camera set at a slow frame rate. When the film was played back at a higher speed, the effect was to make the band look like deranged Thunderbird puppets - albeit ones that had just stepped out of a South Dunedin op shop.

As he had never loaded film into a 16mm camera, Knox accidentally exposed half of his stock and had to use negative as well as positive film. This resulted in the solarised or “flared” passages in the video, adding a touch of psychedelia.

A successful video

The natural charisma of the band was also a big factor in the success of the video. As well as running around a playground and eating grass, the boys, Knox recalls, “thought it was a hoot going down Parnell Rise on their bottoms”.

 

In the sequence that would later become the basis for the Boodle Boodle Boodle cover, guitarist David Kilgour sits drooling in the bath, accompanied by his two bandmates, all of whom proudly display their pale southern physiques whilst grinning maniacally. Considering Knox’s inexperience with the camera, it is amazing that he managed to pull off such a successful video. Even the editing, he says, was minimal.

Since 1981, Knox has gone on to make a number of music videos for himself, The Clean and others, often using direct-to-film or scratch techniques inspired by McLaren and New Zealand artist, Len Lye. Knox’s video for the Tall Dwarfs’ Turning Brown and Torn in Two was played on MTV by Beavis and Butthead. He cites Frank Mouris, Jan Svanmajer and Warner Brothers cartoonists Tex Avery and Robert Clampett as other influences.

As for the endurance of the Tally Ho video 20 years later, Knox says “Hey, it’s The Clean—the best band that ever lived”.

Other Clean videos held at the Film Archive include: Twist Top, Drawing to a Whole, Too Much Violence, Beatnik and Diamond Shine.



 
Mark Williams, 2001
Dix, John, Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock ‘n Roll 1955-1988 (Paradise Publications: Wellington, 1987).
Knox, Chris, interview with Mark Williams, New Zealand Film Archive, September, 2001.
 


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Watch the Clean's breakthrough music video, Tally Ho


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