Category Archives: The Puddle

“The Dunedin Sound – Some Disenchanted Evening”


“The Dunedin Sound – Some Disenchanted Evening”, by University of Otago Music Department Senior Lecturer Ian Chapman,  was published in New Zealand earlier this month. As you may have already gleaned from its title, it is a book about Dunedin music. Well, about Dunedin music from 1977 to 1992 to be precise. Seventeen of the dozens of bands existing, performing and sometimes recording during this period to be even more precise. One of those bands is The Puddle.


The book is a combination of images (photographs, posters, set lists and associated ‘ephemera’ of the era) and words. The images make up about 70% of the book, and the words are mostly personal observations of ‘involved bystanders’ rather than musicians for the most part (although there are a few of them contributing), including a closing chapter/ essay bridging the past to some of the present via Fishrider Records.

It’s not the last word on the subject but it is the first book to attempt cover the scope of the City’s music scene during that era. It is a great – spectacular at times – visual accompaniment to the music.

The book also provides a guide to discographies (some of which continue past the era covered in the book). It doesn’t ignore the present, for which we are most grateful, as the past has a habit of overshadowing the present in Dunedin.

Here’s a great review of it from the knowledgeable London fan of the “sound” at Did Not Chart.

The Puddle in Dunedin Sound book2 2016.jpg



The Spies ‘The Battle of Bosworth Terrace’ LP on Siltbreeze

The Spies 1979

The Spies 1979

US underground music label Siltbreeze Records have just released an album by a band called The Spies. Uncut magazine (May 2014) gave it a 9/10 rating, describing it as “…perfectly deformed DIY psychedelia. Of all the recent archival action focused on New Zealand music, The Spies shine the brightest.”

The album – edited from a reel tape of recordings made over a few days in Wellington New Zealand in 1979 – is an extraordinary collection of previously unheard songs from a largely undocumented era of New Zealand music. Here’s a version of ‘Egyptian Bird Song’ by The Spies from the tape which didn’t make the album:

The album has some links to Fishrider Records – The Puddle’s George D Henderson was The Spies guitarist and one of its vocalists and songwriters. And the music of The Spies was also indirectly responsible for Fishrider records recording and release of the debut album by Opposite Sex… more on that later.

The circumstances in which the recordings were made, and even their survival for 35 years, is a tale as unlikely as the music itself. The story of the album’s creation is recounted in the liner notes. You can hear more about it in this Radio New Zealand feature.

To summarise: A small group of disaffected young people mostly from provincial NZ formed a loose musical collective based around a Wellington squat. The Spies were Susan Ellis (vocals and organ), George Henderson (guitar and vocals), Richard Sedger (bass) and Chris Plummer (Drums) plus occasional other musicians like Mark Thomas (vocals).


Lacking the means to record their nascent musical activities they and their associates acquired – through criminal endeavours – sound equipment and a reel to reel tape recorder. In the brief period before the Police caught up with them and seized the equipment they recorded a tape of songs and experimentation, from which ‘The Battle of Bosworth Terrace’ was edited, 35 years later. The tape was returned to George by the Police after the band members were tried and sentenced for their crimes (their defence in Court that an artist is compelled to make their art fell on deaf ears) and miraculously survived through many misfortunes and relocations.

For the last 20 of those 35 years the tape was kept in a cardboard box under the house of Dunedin musician Alastair Galbraith before being returned to George via Fishrider Records. We had the tape digitised and mastered by Dunedin sound engineer Stephen Stedman and helped Siltbreeze to assemble photos and notes etc. for the album.

The music of The Spies is the connection that resulted in an album by Opposite Sex being recorded and released on Fishrider Records in 2011. Opposite Sex reminded us of The Spies. There appeared to be some odd shared spirit between their music – perhaps coming from the common factor of being being provincial outsiders following their own rules, together with Dadaist/surrealist DIY art-pop leanings in common. It was that which intrigued us enough to offer to record them in the event they moved south to Dunedin for University. The rest is history, but this is therefore the pre-history of both The Puddle, and, indirectly, that Opposite Sex debut on Fishrider Records.

A guide to ‘Secret Holiday/ Victory Blues’

George D. Henderson of The Puddle provides the following track-by-track guide to the latest album by The Puddle:

Secret Holiday (Side One)

Decline to Fall.

Descending bass-lines are very “now” right now, and the Puddle have
yet to play one. Try it in a minor key. The lovely thing about
chromatic melody is that resolving it leads one to modulate.
Modulation, if it can be justified (“your Honour, I was resolving a
chromatic bass line”), is the bee’s knees.
I am less sure about this second-person voice, put-down and mockery
may be very rock’n’roll but one tries to be more sympathetic, and
hopefully this poor imaginary soul feels no offense. The lyric took a
year to complete, then reading Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde
biography, by a form of retrospective influence, helped me to approve
of it.
Very proud of the synth solo and think Al’s playing makes sure the
exceedingly great length of this song is not excessive. Also dig the
minimalist outro.

Secret Holiday

A throw-away light-hearted summer piece. There’s a mood in the chorus
I think owes something to Bobby Darin’s “We Didn’t Ask to be Brought
Here”, as well as Purple‘s “Black Night”. If I could actually describe
the percussion instrument Ian plays, I would.

[Ian notes the percussion instrument providing the steam train chuff rhythm was a vintage duck caller – a “Scotch Call” Duck No. 1401 manufactured in Oakenfield, NY to be precise]

Didn’t Even Notice You were Gone

The result of an intoxicated jam during a visit to Wellington some
years back, this song survived by being relaxing to play. This
staggered minor chord change (like Mack the Knife) has Eastern
European overtones but I wanted to pretend I was Hank Williams.

The Vitalist

Vitalism is (among other things) the view of evolution held by G. B.
Shaw and expressed best in the preface to Back to Methusela. Vitalism
can be reconciled with neo-Darwinism by positing that sexual selection
may be responsible for deciding more than matters of display. If
sexual selection is the initial driving force in evolutionary change,
and natural selection then edits the results, well, what then? Ponder
well also the doctrine of emergent properties in biochemistry. If life
evolves from inorganic matter, that is because it is in its nature to
do so.
I would rather be wrong with Rupert Sheldrake than right with
Professor Dawkins, I’m afraid.
See above comment about the second person voice. This lyric is really
just a collection of stuff I wrote.
Nifty guitar-viola part was written by Gavin and overdubbed by Gavin and Al.
At about this point I realise we are making a “cruisy” record.

Hydrogen 6

Hydrogen 6 is the highest level of ordinary human consciousness in
George Gurdjieff’s esoteric system. I just took the name for a song
that required an esoteric title. I believe this is the only waltz on
any of the Puddle records.
We play this song last at Puddle gigs to send the audience off to
sleep and stop them demanding another encore.

Victory Blues (Side Two)
Tender Validation

This is one of my favorites, Bob Frisbee managed to catch just the
right vocal after a long day of diverse takes. The song was written
late one Valentine’s day. Almost too late.
The heart of the lyric is in the lazy repetitions of little words.
There’s a nod to The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s cover of “Cheek to
Cheek” (also a little word repetition) in there. The title came to me
in a supermarket check out line. Lovely burbles by guest keys, Graeme
Humphries, lift this even further above the mundane.


Time for the grand statement. The lyric is interlarded with lardoons
from all over the artisphere, so for once I will not give a helping
hand. Nifty chord change is an evolution of Hudibras via Jefferson
Airplane, with instrumental break perhaps inspired by the one in Sneaky
Feeling’s Husband House (except it sounds more like The Verlaines – go
figure). If you can hear any of that now, you’re a better man than I,
but that’s what went through my head in the throes of composition.
The word “elaborate” comes to mind.

Oh Hayley (you’re right)

I’m just pleased to have completed two firsts here: first Puddle song
with a girl’s name in the title, and first English language song ever
to mention Napoleon’s murder of the Duc d’Enghein.
(note to reviewers: Girl in title NOT the ex-flame. A man
may joke about the wife, it doesn’t mean he’s serving papers.)
Rollicking is the word for this sort of thing, isn’t it?

Little Red Coat

Great art comes, so they say, from even greater unpleasantness. This
is why I love this side of the LP; every song came from some
experience of hardship, and none more so than this soothing lullaby.
Gangs of crazies, one after another, were baying after our blood, and
it was essential to calm and reassure the troops. Another Eastern
European chord change, with Gavin’s weird werewolf chorale to help out
my jazz guitar impressions (how to play jazz guitar in The Puddle – a)
turn tone pot right down, b) fluff around a lot). The guitar part was
actually inspired by Andrew Jamieson’s lead playing on the demo for
this song.

Walrus Arabia

Title by Gavin. We chose to record this as an instrumental, though I
did in fact write words;
“you lost it when I said caustic(ly), you’re apolaustic, but later on,
there was Walrus Arabia, lipstick and labia, you see baby I’m never
wrong, about you, boo boo boo boo”.

In case you wondered why it’s an instrumental.

Luke Haines on unheard records and The Puddle

“99.9% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Jane From Occupied Europe’ by Swell Maps. 99.9% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Oar’ by Skip Spence. 10% of people on the street have heard of Mark E. Smith. 99.9% of people remain unaware of The Fall’s latest album. 100% of people on the street are unaware of ‘Pop Lib’ by The Puddle… make that 150%.”
Luke Haines (The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder) in a Sabotage Times interview

The Puddle “Secret Holiday/ Victory Blues” double EP/ LP album release

Secret Holiday/ Victory Blues

Secret Holiday/ Victory Blues

“One teacher said he didn’t know if I’d grow up to be a genius or a madman. For a long time I thought I’d have to choose.” George D Henderson

The Puddle’s 7th album, Secret Holiday/Victory Blues, is the sum of two proposed 5-track 10” EPs recorded a year apart and pulled together as a complete unit.

This collection is Henderson’s response to 30 years of under-appreciation for their urgent psychedelia, sweet pop sentiments and garage rock undertones. A deliberately more commercial offering than previous albums, Secret Holiday/Victory Blues burns with a quiet fury.

Pitched somewhere between Julian Cope’s fried krautrock and pop, The Clean’s wayward tunes and Orange Juice’s oblique vision of a new pop future, this album features Graeme Humphreys (Able Tasmans, Humphreys & Keen) on keyboards and multi-instrumentalist Alan Starrett (Pop Art Toasters, The Bats, Mink etc.)

No could ever accuse The Puddle of making the same album twice. With Secret Holiday/Victory Blues, they’ve made two different EPs and then released them as one coherent album. What was that John Peel said about The Fall? “They are always different, they are always the same.” Read The Puddle for that ideal, too.

If there’s a constant in The Puddle’s unique, expansive outlook, it’s Henderson’s idea that “there were a few bands like Microdisney or The Smiths or Orange Juice … I thought, `why aren’t people doing this? It’s great’. So I had to do it. No-one else was going to.”

No one else is doing what The Puddle do: the mixture of T-Rex stomp and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd on Oh Hayley (You’re Right), for instance. Or the sadness of The Go-Betweens’ Before Hollywood and the fire of Television’s Adventure on Secret Holiday.

Whether or not Henderson’s glorious attempt at reaching for the skies and grabbing stars will give them a well-deserved 2012 hit is one thing; these songs will last. People will come round eventually

The Old Songbook (1974/75)

But Not The Majic Seal

But Not The Majic Seal

From a blog by George, orginally posted on his MySpace page in 2007:

“My brother has found a songbook from 1974, written in my sixteenth, his fifteenth year. It is a relic from the days when the two of us, with one or two friends, recorded cassettes in my bedroom, the front room of our house in Invercargill. It was made to accompany But Not the Majic Seal, the second of our releases and the first to be credited to Crazy Olé and the Panthers (the first of our cassettes, Good Taste and The Public Tongue, had been made in the name of Evintrude the Ruth). The book is handmade, with lined notepad pages (and some unlined, slightly smaller pages bearing archly titled watercolour illustrations). In pen and Letraset, the lyrics for the original songs on the cassette, mostly mine with a poem of Lindsay’s, are set out neatly. In the front of the book is the track listing, which also includes some Velvet Underground classics and the finale from Peter Hammil’s Plague of Lighthouse Keepers off Van Der Graf Generator’s H to He album; in the rear of the book are the personnel credits. I have taped a picture of a termite queen from Maeterlink’s book on the subject in the front, as though to segue directly into rock’n’roll from my school days.

Track listing

The lyrics are embarrassing; some are derivative of Lou Reed, others of William Burroughs’ surrealist sci-fi, but the most shameful are the songs about women, drugs and sex written by a boy who’d not been kissed, nor stoned, nor really in love. Yet they are real songs; they are little different from those I write now in their attitude, only in their inexperience. They are full of recognisable attempts at the same wit I deploy now, as if my later experiences only confirmed something, about myself and about the opposite sex that I instinctively knew. In other ways the adult writer is presaged; the same symetrical verses and short, tail-like choruses, a similar feel for rhythm and rhyme, and even my favourite words and sounds are there (“She’s a girl of the world”). There is even a long, pretentious quote (in French, no less) from another writer (uncredited, but probably Rimbaud). The tunes and chords may be simple and are sometimes suggestive (as are the wry, world-weary lyrics) of the cloying melancholy of youth, but they are effective and not too far from those I still play.

When I learned a little more of life, I quit trying to write songs about it; the only exceptions were two cutesy rinky-dink love songs, not meant to be taken seriously, exercises in twee. When I say I quit, I mean that I kept coming up with the musical and lyrical phrases, but lacked the confidence that it takes to gather them together and say, “here is a song”.

When I resumed serious songwriting, so as to have something for my bands to play, I avoided the painful and tricky subject of love and reality; surrealism, protest, and drugs were my inspirations. Even after I had written good personal songs, I was often unable to sing them clearly and loudly enough: for years I hid behind the notion that I was not a good singer. Part of the problem was, that I had no very clear notion of who I was singing for; my vocal performances would vary widely, depending on my self-conscious interpretation of the context. What exactly does it mean, making the private public? It seems to me that, unless you are an emotional idiot, you will face this problem again and again until such time as you are prepared to assert, admit, confess or boast that you are an artist, and need not be subject to the same considerations as other people. This is what is meant by suffering for one’s art, and it is true whether you are a painter, moviemaker, or whatever.

By the same token, if you want to write love songs, you need to deal with the girlfriend reading them over your shoulder. If her critique is drying up your inspiration, it’s likely the same story in bed, and she doesn’t need to go out with an artist, any more than you need to sleep with a critic. A lover who gives you carte blanc, a muse who doesn’t know she is one, or a partner who likes to understand your songs, but who accepts that sometimes you don’t understand them yourself, and who feels flattered when you write a good song, not a flattering one; these are your friends. What they have in common is that the song is free to exist above and beyond your relationship (unless you have children, it is the part that will survive the longest). It’s only a map of the battlefield, not the action itself.

This For You - words and painting by GDH

The song writing techniques I had learned in the years after writing the songs on But not the Majic Seal were ways of mitigating those faults I had seen in my older songs once experience, of life and love and rock music, had shed its light on them. However, we always remain callow in some way. If we are not still at risk of being in the wrong, about love and about life, then there is no reason to continue writing rock songs, which are, after all, the record of the crimes and follies of mankind.

I’ve made mistakes in the past, but it’s the future that excites me.”

“Playboys in the Bush” and split 7″ single!

“Playboys in the Bush” has been out on CD and vinyl for a few months now, along with a 7″ split single where The Puddle team up with Robert Scott (The Clean, The Bats) for some rarities. You can download it or order the LP from our bandcamp site here.

The Puddle album has been gathering some sweet reviews too:
“…a heavy, confusing, heady and eccentric album. It has all the usual parts you’d expect: drums, bass, guitars, singing, verses, choruses etc; but it puts them together in such a hallucinatory way it sounds like something quite new… to follow it intently is to fall down the rabbit-hole for 12 songs. Mandatory listening for undergraduate boys.” 5/5 Waikato Times

“fans of Pavement and the 1990s American slack school can squint and see the southern-hemisphere source of those insouciant grooves, and the decision to retell Norse mythology chug-guitar-style on the nine-minute Valhalla is inspired.” Sunday Times (UK)

“further evidence that The Puddle are enjoying the kind of career high which other bands experience in their youth then lose”

“The track about about what Thor, Odin, and his mates get up to in the wee small hours (think Iggy singing Beowulf) is the mad but gripping centrepiece of this set… shows the second wind that frontman George D Henderson’s band have shown on their noughties albums is still blowing strong… Might be time to sign up for that cult following.” 4.5/5 NZ Herald

“…a rollicking cohesive swagger, quirky yet very comfortable with itself. Like the best bits of Flying Nun. Emphasis on lurid simplicity, curly Q&A, unexpected nuance in amongst the somewhat twisted innocence and pure iron. Beautiful cover art by Tanya Hoarfrost, especially if gorgeous frolicking nymphs is your thing. Get it.” NZ Musician

“Right from the get-go, Henderson’s lyrics and delivery grab you by the short and curlies: unmoderated, direct, contentious, outrageous. The overall picture is of a slightly deranged individual, with his shaky, manic vocals reinforcing this raw art… There is a very bottom-of-the-world hopelessness about these songs, but in their own way, they’re great songs, and even, sometimes, pop songs… Like a punk-edged Syd Barrett who has lost, then found himself again (while remaining seriously askew), George Henderson and his Puddle have managed to squeeze out a short but potent work… There’s nothing else quite like it.”

George has provided the following track-by-track commentary on the album:

What I Believe
This first song relates directly to the romantic genesis of the album; at a Puddle gig at Chicks Hotel (September 9th 2005) I heard a name from the past, and saw a face from my future; made plans to travel to Auckland to be with the one I love; two days later Richard Steele rang me out of the blue and offered to record The Puddle in Wellington; I fly there from Auckland, where in the meantime I had written this song (amongst others); meet the band and record the album on a honeymoon high. There were screeds more lyrics for this one; the main riff and chorus phrase quote from a 1981 song by The And Band (1980-1981). Richard Steele’s massed brass takes this to another level.

Rainbow Bridge Airlines
Also based on an And Band recording, one I made with Mark Thomas, filtered through rockabilly and krautrock psychedelia. I revived and reworked it in Auckland to form a conceptual link to Valhalla.

English Speaking World
This is one of maybe two songs I wrote during my whole ten year “dead to the world” Hep C period, composed on Peter Gutteridge’s old player piano in the late 1990’s. The chorus (“You’ve got to get in to get out”) is lifted from “The Carpet Crawlers”, the star track on everyone’s favourite Genesis album, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”.

Purple Horse
Based on a half-song written in Christchurch 1981, to which Lindsay Maitland contributed some of the more “literary” lines, and (like all the songs here which date from the And Band period) very much completed much later, shortly before recording. The last verse is quoted from Rimbaud’s fragment, “Est-elle Almée?” My French here may be atrocious, but so, by all accounts, was Rimbaud’s English.
The organ is a digital Hammond B3; the first and last time I’ve fallen in love with a digital instrument.

Delmore Schwartz (In Dreams)
Absolutely and completely modern love song written and completed shortly before recording the album. Nils Olsen, who plays the lovely liquid sax lines here, used to play in a band called Let’s Get Naked, who were contemporaries of the early Puddle. Their best known song was “Funky Dunedin”.
“Imagine” by John Lennon was the first record I bought.

This song grew and grew from the mere pleasure of playing metallic riffs. My favourite record in my parent’s collection as a child was a 45 of “The Ride of the Valkyrie”, best played loud. When I was a child, beginning to learn School Cert music in high school, I was made to study in a dusty backroom cluttered with musical detritus while the 7th formers listened to Led Zep and Pink Floyd in the main classroom (it was there that I first heard a Syd Barrett song winging its way through the wall, a pivotal moment in my relationship with sound). I used to pore over an encyclopedia of music; the entry on Wagner’s Siegfried was illustrated with photographs and diagrams of the dragon from Fritz Lang’s film of that name. A six-legged French river dragon encountered earlier in Look and Learn also made its way into this song. What I know about Norse and Germanic mythology I learned in primary school in Scotland. I was deeply impressed by the mood of blood and gloom in those stories in which no-one, not even a God, lives happily ever after.
The Norwegian Black Metal bands will probably put a fatwah on me when they hear this.

Sleepy People
This is a true Dunedin Sound song, written and arranged in 1985, and originally performed by The Puddle as myself, Ross Jackson, Lesley Paris, Peter Gutteridge and Lindsay Maitland. Misanthropic, environmental, and sentimental, it’s my favourite lyric of that era.

Wise Dolls
A favourite of the 1993 “Thursday/Too Hot to be Cool” era Puddle. Some floozies are working over some gangster, in the lyric I wrote, but people will hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. The riff is an homage to Microdisney’s “Big Sleeping House”. This is one of the tracks where Heath Te Au’s amazing drumming is heard at its best.

Weight of the Stars
This song existed, as its first verse only, in (yes) The And Band era, composed on chloral in a dark and poky Clifford flat on Bealey Ave. The early version was only played once and recorded by Ian Henderson in Invercargill. It was completed in 2005 in Auckland in my lover’s house and recorded first with Bryan Spittle, my Mink collaborator. Both Ian’s version and Bryan’s feature rhythm loops, making this one of the few Puddle songs to ever go anywhere near a drum machine. Richard has progged this up considerably by treating the guitars like synths, bringing out all the mechanical dissonance implicit in the original riff.

This might be my favourite Puddle song, because of the way it just poured through my mind onto the guitar one day in 1982. It took me less time to write this song than it takes to play it here. I only realized recently that the lyrics might owe something to Kevin Ayers’ “Shouting in a Bucket Blues” (“I might say that I love you, but that would be a lie. I can only say I try, and I know it”), a song I last heard in 1976 (in fact, I realise only now how much my songwriting owes to an early and half-forgotten exposure to the best work of Kevin Ayers). A good example of Ross Jackson’s feel for the bass; when you play a song like this, you want to relax into it, and that’s only possible when the bass player’s got your back. Richard Steele plays the organ, with more jazzy levitation that’s beyond me. Monogamy is a song that’s on nearly every Puddle LP, because every lineup plays it differently. It’s our “My Favourite Things”.