the most proficient (and pop) of wellington’s post-punk terrace scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, beat rhythm fashion are one of the new zealand indie boom’s best-remembered and least-known groups. the birch brothers dan (bass, vocals) and nino (guitar, vocals) were constants in the trio, which had tracks on wellington’s two early 1980s scene-defining compilations – the curiously titled **** (aka four stars) and wellingtonzone.
three airy, rhythm-light cure-ish strummers, ‘beings rest finally’, ‘turn of the century’ and ‘no great oaks’, followed. sheathed in stylish red and black themed picture sleeves, the first two singles arrived on new wellington indie bunk records with the third issued by epic records in late 1981, after bunk had folded. the dreamy, trance-like songs touched the time and gathered a strong local myth, while the birch brothers slipped away first to australia’s east coast, then into indistinct memory, until failsafe records' 2007 compendium of studio and live brf recordings brought them back into the light.
having emigrated from hong kong in the mid-1970s with their parents and third brother jono, dan and nino birch found wellington to be a grey and conservative place.
“hong kong was a brilliant place to grow up. the musical influences were definitely english, although i had a number of american friends. it was an international community there, so we were hooked into a global consciousness, which was quite dissimilar to the communities we landed in in new zealand. it was quite civilised,” nino birch told graeme hill on radio live after the release of brf’s bring real freedom compilation in 2007.
“i ended up at wellington college and it was a victorian school where you wore grey shorts and had to have your hair cut short. it felt like i’d landed in the dark ages. i had to relearn my survival skills.” birch had been encouraged to play guitar in hong kong, a creative outlet he pursued in new zealand’s capital with his older brother. “dan and i always played music together. right from when i was about eleven or twelve, he taught me how to play the guitar. he was my creative hero, and still is in many ways. dan in my view is a musical genius and remains a brilliant songwriter and when we play together we create this whole.” wellington saw them first as the westown quintet, one of the many fresh groups showcased at rockfest over queen’s birthday weekend in 1980 at the new vivian street venue, billy d’club (ex-rock theatre). at year’s end as beat rhythm fashion, the birch brothers contributed two songs, with dan also playing drums, to the **** (four stars) compilation on sausage records. alongside naked spots dance, l.i.f.e and the wallsockets, brf shone with ‘not necessary’, which showed they had the songs if not yet the sound. the wellington post-punk sampler quickly sold out its 250-copy run.
in october 1981, brf’s masterpiece ‘turn of the century’ backed with ‘song of the hairless apes’ was released. the first thing to hit the eye was the black and red logo based artwork, conceived by third birch brother jono. “they were the anarchy colours – red and black – and he was looking for something that carried that sort of stark ominous atmosphere, but also denoted the band. we really loved it and its simplicity. it was a serious look and we were a serious band,” nino birch said. the quality of the sleeve is surpassed only by the music within. ‘turn of the century’ is a miasmic blend of drifting guitar textures and prophetic utterance. the spacious art rock experimentation of the flipside, ‘song of the hairless apes’, has the same very english post-punk guitar, done wellington-weird. “song of the hairless apes’? we wrote that one the day john lennon was killed. we were rehearsing at the terrace when we found out and became pretty angry and came up with that, which was a jam at first and dan just started screaming the lyrics into the mic,” nino birch recalled. with the wider listening public’s interest piqued by the colourful and appropriate video for ‘turn of the century’ and wellington’s venues closing down, brf headed to auckland for headline shows at mainstreet in central auckland on october 22, 23 & 24.
there was one final single, in december 1981. the studio recorded ‘art and duty’, based on a coleridge poem (“so fears can lead to joyful tears”), backed with ‘no great oaks’ by dan birch, about growing up in south asia.
text by; andrew schmidt
source: audioculture magazine