Growing up Punk in New Zealand: Martin Byrne
Why, so many people ask me, the hell did you leave such a beautiful place like New Zealand to come over here!? You’ve got it all there haven’t you?
Well, it depends what you want, the running joke by the time I left NZ 3 days before my 21st birthday in 1985 was “last one out turn off the lights”Â and that was my view at the time. Being a punk was hard work, you were the common enemy to everyone, in Auckland you had to look out for Black Power, Mongrel Mob, King Cobra, Tongan Mafia, Hells Angels, Highway 61, Nomads, Headhunters, street kids, petrol heads, rugby boys, Junior Black Power, Junior Mongrel Mob…….then you had the suburban enclaves with their own splinter groups, in South Auckland a certain gang called The Papakura Dogs were, for a time, the bain of my life.
But I want to take it back a bit, why on earth, in “god’s own”Â country would you be a punk? Well it’s all about rebellion isn’t it, and my personal rebellion was a reaction against years of strict roman catholic indoctrination starting age 5 at my first day of school where they lined you up in the church and the priest told you “you have a black mark against your soul because of what Adam and Eve did and you’re going to have to spend the rest of your life scrubbing away at that dirty stain or you’re going to burn in hell”Â ….Ok, one fucked up child, aisle three! Personal events in my family throughout my formative years led me to a point where I just said enough!! That’s it, I’m out!
I remember being at a youth club disco at about 14 or 15 and they somehow got the Pistols played and there was a group of 10 lads in the middle of the floor pogo-ing while everyone else looked on bewildered, horrified, confused… I joined in and laughed my head off while I did it, this was the first group of people I’d met like me that rejected the normal, safe, uber-restrictive catholic lifestyles our parents (to be fair they were just replicating what had happened to them, poor sods) were forcing on us.
That night on the way home my mate pierced my ear with a safety pin, the future was unwritten! My younger brother Simon gave me a copy of ”ËRattus Norvegicus IV’ by The Stranglers, he and his mate Warren Bray were already on to it, I loved that record, we then went on to The Buzzcocks ”ËSingles Going Stead’ being the first NZ release, The Sex Pistols, SLF, 999, The Members, The Ruts, UK Subs … I became a reject at school, in fact I rejected them, I wasn’t good at rugby, I couldn’t run fast, I didn’t like the “cool”Â kids.
There was one shop in Auckland, Sounds on Queen Street that had an import section that was our Mecca. We got NME and Melody Maker on order from the local newsagent; they would arrive 6 weeks late by boat. Now I was at a Christian Brothers boarding school; as a last resort my mum and dad hoped it would reign me in, I met Jaffa and a few others (was it Chris White?) who were just like me, we’d listen to John Peel on the BBC World Service hearing things like X-Ray Spex “Oh Bondage Up Yours”Â Poly-Styrene was changing lives on the other side of the planet!! Sneaking out at night and going to gigs in Auckland, eventually getting caught and being asked to leave.
So I left home at 18, got a job in a bank at the corner of Queen St and K road (I wasn’t thick, just rebellious) and I used to look at the manager every morning and think “if I stay here, that’ll be me”Â he’d been sent to NZ as a punishment for blowing a deal in Australia and he hated his job, his life and us.
After 6 months I was called in to his office and told I had two options, pull my socks up or leave. He looked genuinely surprised when I very politely said “I’ll take the second option thanks”Â I got a job across the road in the Space Invaders parlour I used to frequent at lunch time. They were great people, a Maori couple that accepted me as the white guy that worked in the bank across the road but loved his “spaceys”Â
At first the gang members used to give me a really hard time, there was a lot of racial tension in NZ then, a hell of a lot, but when they realised I had the power to give them change for the machines or not it was “Bro! Gimme some change”Â
My band Local Chaos was playing in and around the Auckland Punk scene and I’d hooked up with Jaffa again. The Auckland scene was a mish-mash of music types, racial denominations I’ll always maintain it was harder for someone like Jaffa of Tongan heritage and Derek of Maori heritage to be a punk than me, everyone hated them, especially their own kind, they were almost viewed as cultural traitors whereas I was just a young white punk.
What brought us all together and transcended any boundaries was music, we all liked the music. Even half the skinheads in Auckland were black; it didn’t occur to any of us that it was about any other than music. You had to be in a gang in Auckland to survive, the number of people prepared to beat you up at the drop of a hat meant that to walk around alone would have been tantamount to suicide.
We had a flat in Grafton Bridge, living next door to The Androids; life was a mixture of hard work, hard play, gigs and parties. But like anything it became a rut, I knew there was a whole world out there, the only options that people seemed to be taking around me were jail or death, and I didn’t want either so Jaffa and I decided we were off. We booked tickets to Melbourne and worked there for our fare to England a few months later. I finally got to see some of those bands I’d read about and listened to for all those years. Spent 15 years in and out of bands in London myself (Destroy The Boy, Thule, The Cropdusters, The Big Boss) and moved to the home of my father, Manchester in late 2006. Full circle!
Now I have a financial services company, Business Protect, a band management company, Mission Management (Stolen Peace, Drew Flanagan and the Black Bombers, Let’s Be Lions), am Regional Leader for 4Networking in the northwest and also a Client relationship manager for Core Business Solutions. I’m still in touch with the few that remain in the UK from those days, Eugene Butcher. El Prez of Big Cheese magazine and Vive Le Rock magazine for one.
Do I still have a punk heart? Yes, but it’s no longer the destroy heart I had when I was young and angry with what I saw going on around me. It’s the think for yourself, do it yourself, make it happen, believe in yourself and take responsibility for your own life heart.
But it’s the music and the attitude that got me here.
LTW – For more info on some of the NZ bands mentioned follow the link HERE