Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s new exhibition TOHE | PROTEST looks at the 1981 tour by the South African Springboks rugby team. The resulting clashes between anti-Tour protestors and the police was a significant moment in New Zealand history and left a mark in film, television and music history. In this blog, Senior Public Programmes and Partnerships Advisor Joanna Szczepanski tracks another memorable tour by a trio of New Zealand acts.
In the winter of 1981 New Zealand bands the Screaming Meemees, Blam Blam Blam and The Newmatics set off on tour. That tour – The Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow – became an accidental shadow for the Springbok Tour sometimes playing gigs in the same location and at the same times as the games. Although a coincidence, the bands embraced it.
Blam Blam Blam and The Newmatics released singles ahead of the Tour which became unofficial protest anthems. The Newmatics’ “Riot Squad” seemed to predict the police violence against protestors but was actually written about a police raid on XS Café in Auckland that happened in March of that year.
Blam Blam Blam’s “There is No Depression in New Zealand” was a pointed critique of the then-government’s policies for causing rising unemployment, industrial strife and growing economic anxiety.
Sticking mainly to the student circuit, The Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow reached a couple of tense points in Canterbury. In Lincoln, Blam Blam Blam bassist Tim Mahon was confronted by an angry student about the HART (Halt All Racist Tours) badge he was wearing. Many of the students at Lincoln College were farm kids who grew up on rugby. They were pro-Tour and didn’t want any politics in sport – or on their entertainment’s lapel, in this instance. Punches were thrown but the musician and the student ultimately made peace over a jug of beer.
A few days later the police showed up at the Gladstone Hotel in Christchurch. Noticing the unexpected presence in the audience, The Newmatics played them a special, slowed down version of “Riot Squad” and the officers left without incident.
The legend of the Screaming Blam-matics Roadshow has grown since 1981 and the songs still rock. If you want to listen to more music from that era check out the TOHE | PROTEST playlist on Spotify.
Special thanks to AudioCulture (‘the noisy library of New Zealand music’) and Simon Grigg for their records of the tour.
Feature image courtesy The Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow poster, designed by Mark Bell.