Music expert Grant Smithies will be playing with, and then interviewing, Flying Nun Records founder Roger Shepherd, this month. Photo: Andrew Board.

Flying Nun coming our way


As a university student in the 1980s Grant Smithies, like many of his peers, fell in love with Kiwi bands like The Clean, The Chills, The Bats, The Verlaines and Straightjacket Fits.

The common thread between them? They had grunt, they had no money, and they had Flying Nun Records.

And this month Grant – a Nelson-based music reviewer and feature writer for the Sunday Star Times – will get to interview and play a gig with the man behind Flying Nun Records, Roger Shepherd.

Grant and Roger will DJ a gig at Deville on October 21, where the music will be loud and exclusively Flying Nun.

The following day, Grant will interview Roger on stage as part of the Readers and Writers section of the Nelson Arts Festival.

He says he can’t wait to delve into the mind of the man who created a music subculture.

“I’m interested in what made him decide to do it in the first place. He was just a kind of music-obsessed young dude and he got a job in a record store in Christchurch, so he saw how that whole industry worked and I think there were all these young bands not getting any traction and he just started to work out how you might do it.”

Flying Nun was founded by Roger in 1981. He toured the country listening to bands and then tried to figure out how to produce records for the ones he liked. The label rose to prominence after the success of The Clean’s first record, Telly Ho!

As a music writer, Grant has interviewed most of the bands that made the Flying Nun label infamous in the 80s and says it’s a fascinating story.

“I’ve always been quite inspired, not just for what their records sound like but the whole culture around them, and the sign of a kind of alternative movement through New Zealand in the 80s. These bands were touring at times like the Springbok, tour playing in little halls. I think it’s just a fantastic part of our history and the music still sounds shit-hot now. So I’m looking forward to playing it loud for people in Deville.”

The early records produced by Flying Nun had a real DIY feel and Grant says even the art work for the records was done by the bands or by Chris Knox, who was also on the label.

“It was a time when, if you wanted to make a record in New Zealand you had to save a heap of money, go to a professional studio and the studio still really cared about high-fidelity sound and removing all the distortion and having a glossy enough sound that the radio might play it. But it was also a time when radio was not interested in playing New Zealand music at all. So Flying Nun were one of those labels where bands would often record in someone’s house on a four-track that Chris Knox owned, and they’d set it up and surround the drummer with mattresses so the sound didn’t leak too much and they had guitarist over there in the hallway. So they made these records with a good, appealing kind of rough sound full of character.”

For Grant, The Clean are his favourite Flying Nun band, but he’s keen to hear how Roger found them at the start of their career.

“It will be good to hold up a Clean record or a Chills record and say ‘ok, tell me about making this. You went to see this band when they were pimply 17 year olds playing in the corner of some pub in Dunedin. What made you decide to put this out? What did you see in this band?’

“With a record label you also get insight into a lot of eccentric characters. A lot of the people making that music had colourful lives, they are opinionated, interesting people, so working in a collective way with these dudes must have been quite something.”

To buy tickets for the “I’m in love with these times” gig at Deville on October 21, visit Deville. To book tickets for the Roger Shepherd: A Flying Nun Experience on Saturday October 22 at the Granary from 3pm, visit