Still Bewitched makes the claim for Look Blue Go Purple to ascend the Flying Nun ranks.
Far down New Zealand’s South Island coast from Auckland, Dunedin holds about a fifth of the population as that metropolis. The polar-oriented orientation and relative isolation of this small city during the ‘70s and early ‘80s, enabled musicians in the region who were curious about punk and alternative rock to craft their own sound by looking inwards. Inspired by the jangle of The Byrds and mid-period Beatles, the drone of The Velvet Underground and whatever punk or post-punk records were imported from Britain, such Dunedin groups as The Bats, The Clean, The Chills, The Verlaines and Straitjacket Fits exemplified this approach. All found success at home and distribution abroad, yet less heralded groups also found a home on the fabled Flying Nun label.
Among these is Look Blue Go Purple. The band doesn’t boast the discography or the duration of some of its neighboring peers, but it does have a more memorable name. Founded in 1983, the group featured five women, when few indie outfits had even one.
Its three EPs were collected on a 1991 anthology and five its meager output of 14 songs appeared on label compilations. But the band remained little-known compared to its peers, so the release of Still Bewitched is doubly welcome. Fans of the Dunedin Sound may well have a complete set of long out of print recordings, but this set adds seven live cuts, which are more than just padding.
Each song on Bewitched (1985) conjured up another fresh mood. “Safety in Crossroads” has Norma O’Malley’s synthesizers sifting the air. “As Does the Sun” has her flute step in, softly, while “Circumspect Penelope” chides the hero who returns telling stories after 20 years overseas as if Odysseus meets the scorn of his spurned spouse. Denise Roughan and Kath Webster tempt twee in their guitar arrangement, but the intriguing set-up for the drama convinces by its clever conceit. Presumably these songs were produced in studio on a small budget, but they nevertheless glimmer.
“Cactus Cat,” a standout on two different Flying Nun comps, is a poppy ode to a feline that bounces along merrily. Originally on LBGPEP2 (1986), this modest homeland hit precedes more flute in “Vain Hopes,” which continues the band’s subdued, dignified mood, while “Hiawatha” thunders and howls.
Critics compared the quintet to their predecessors The Slits, with their anarchic attitude, and The Raincoats, with a less antic if more inventive command of song structure. LBGP seems to have listened closely to the latter. Still, the geography of Dunedin, set on the South Pacific turning away from the land, works its way into LBGP as much as other bands with the “Sound,” stirring in a maritime flavor, a brisk sea scent to carry its arrangements forward into the mist. The thicker atmosphere, layering unsettled instrumentation under searching vocals, sharpens the group as it matured on record. This is This (1987) incorporates a perky beat for “I Don’t Want You Anyway.” The mid-decade C-86 English scene and the emergence of pop melodies and gentle lyrics must have intrigued this band on its final, introspective EP.
The bonus live tracks argue for a reevaluation of a band often marked by its influences. With texture and abrasion, these tapes sound raw and reveal an eagerness to cut loose from the meditative moments of their studio efforts. Sure, “Juxtaposition” will remind listeners of The Raincoats, as “Eyes” complements the pastoral, modest creations of Speed the Plough. Drummer Lesley Paris recalls The Feelies, and the stutter of “Spoke” suggests The Fall. Young Marble Giants hover over “A Request.” Bassist Francisca Griffin (nee Kathy Bull) boosts an amplified delivery of “I Don’t Want You Anyway.” Ramshackle as some of this supplemental material is, it successfully makes the claim for Look Blue Go Purple to ascend the Flying Nun ranks.