The CHILLS – ” Rolling Moon “

Posted: December 29, 2022 in MUSIC

The release of the Dunedin Double in 1982 featured four young bands: the VerlainesSneaky Feelings, The Stones and The Chills with each band having 3 or 4 tracks on their 12” EP side. It’s a rough affair showcasing the potential of each artist as much as what their juvenile selves were about at the time. Despite this, it was a high profile release with The Chills that generated the most chatter.

In a way, The Chills’ musical ambitions transcended the simple recording experience of the recording. The listener senses the possible beyond the tangible actual.

These were early days for all concerned and already The Chills were being thought of as the band with the most promise, on whom hung the highest expectations and who showed the greatest ambition; they were the band who were starting to be touted as The Clean’s heirs.

The growing feeling was that here was an important alternative music minded pop band in the making. While the early 1980’s was a time for Joy Division and The Fall to be lounging around on the New Zealand charts, it was also a time for new style pop to be flourishing. One (not unreasonably) hoped that a market might exist for quality bands and their songs – somewhere between the grim post punkers of the English north and the pop chart mulch; the likes of the Human League, Spandau Ballet and Flock of Seagulls.

A band with ambitions needs quality songs, and The Chills had better songs than most. It did no harm that young band leader and songwriter Martin Phillipps was quietly cute and shyly charismatic. In the 1980’s musical mainstream you needed songs and good looks. The Chills were marked out as having a chance of some sort of success in New Zealand and if they had ambition, stamina and enough good luck (because successful bands are built on good luck as much as everything else), who knew what was possible. 

The Dunedin Double was recorded in April 1982 and was being reviewed in June. The Chills had some momentum. In May, their debut 7” single “Rolling Moon” had been recorded in Auckland by Doug Hood and Chris Knox on his Teac 4-track – as was “Bite”. “Bite” was joined on the B-side by “Flame-thrower” which was recorded live at the Rhumba Bar (at the filmed all day show on the 15th May 1982 with The Clean, This Sporting Life, Tall Dwarfs and The Stones).

“Rolling Moon” was the catchy tune everyone was waiting for. A pop song that was adventurous and experimental. A song that is exhortatory, optimistic and uplifting with allusions to the feelings and colours of summer. A song that is amplified by the presence of a benign, rolling and active moon and the childhood desire to stay up late and not go home. There is the sense of the childlike innocence and wonder that listeners will come to associate with much of the Martin Phillipps ouvre. 

For the B-side, Martin Phillipps was determined to stay connected with his “Neat Neat Neat” punk “roots” with a hard and fast song. ‘Bite” is short and fast and is dedicated to Chris (Chris Knox). “Flame-thrower” is a long standing live favourite with an unusual song structure that quietly builds and then intensely instrumentally burns to a climax.

Despite the tight turnaround between recordings and releases in 1982, there were some changes in band personnel during this time. Fraser Batts left and original keyboardist Rachael Phillipps returned, and original drummer Alan Haig departed with Martyn Bull joining.

“Rolling Moon” was released in the nick of time for Christmas 1982. It charted at Number 26 and then number 50 for the last chart of the year. That was the sum of its chart action. In hindsight, we should have shown patience, held it over to the new year, tied it to a tour and better coordinated the sales and chart action in the less cluttered early time of the year. It did however sell steadily as a part of the Flying Nun back-catalogue. Proper record companies didn’t really release singles in picture sleeves or keep them available as a part of their back-catalogue. It was too expensive to the point of a loss on every copy sold. Flying Nun did keep these releases available as they were usually the only way that these recordings were available and could be heard. It seemed like the right thing to do by the artist and their audience. The covers were relatively expensive but important; the buyer got to see some art that gave them an insight into the psyche of the act.

The “Rolling Moon” cover is a Martin Phillipps artwork based on the idea that the band members have superpowers. They are depicted photographically against a green and white background with a Chills “logo” lettering and a friendly cartoon moon. Our heroes have special powers. Terry has excellent  vision, Martyn can fly like a… um… seagull, Rachael has a flame-thrower like fireball thing going on and Martin has a “super-ring” (it’s a bit unclear what that does). Martin shows good taste and reinforces the band’s place in Dunedin music history by wearing a Clean t-shirt.

Unfortunately the first print run of this cover was a printing disaster. The printers mislaid the separation with the superhero band members and the covers were printed with white blanks where the band members were meant to reside. There was immense pressure to get the record out for Christmas and a short term solution was found in the making of a large rubber stamp to “print” the figures over the blank part of the cover. The result was particularly ugly. Fortunately, the printers found the missing separation, printed the cover as intended and rushed them to us. But some of the “rubber stamped” copies escaped the office. Certainly to reviewers (who needed them urgently to review before the year ended) and possibly elsewhere including the band who were rightly horrified. I would say that the records with these immensely ugly sleeves are probably the most collectable of all Chills released artifacts.

“Rolling Moon” represents The Chills at the start of their journey proper. It’s not a great recording by later standards but easily good enough to allow the song to shine. It’s the start of a journey that Martin Phillipps is determined will become a career.  And despite a few rather serious hiccups, a career is what it has become with Martin and The Chills recording and releasing great music to this day while touring New Zealand and internationally to promote them.

Info and words from Roger Shepherd, founder of Flying Nun Records.

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