Wednesday, January 05, 2011





Someone alerted me recently to the "PCP Crazy" clip above and a tinge of nostalgia hit me. I figured I should say something about the genius of Venom P. Stinger. Have I written about them before on this blog? I don't think so. In the back of my mind, I feel like I have, yet a search has me semi-convinced that I'm not repeating myself (and if I am repeating myself, there's always the option of not reading this). Dugald MacKenzie was their original vocalist, singing w/ them from their inception in the early/mid '80s until his wild life got the better of him at the dawn of the 1990s and he was replaced by the relatively mild-mannered Nick Palmer. Don't get me wrong: Palmer was a great vocalist and a nice guy to boot (he lived around the corner from me for years and we'd always chat when we bumped into each other at the local supermarket), but his onstage persona couldn't compete, from what I've heard, w/ that of MacKenzie's. Tragically, or perhaps foolishly, I never saw the band in their original incarnation.

Dugald's lifestyle was the stuff of legend. He came from an upper-middle-class family and his father is (or perhaps was) well regarded in the medical field. He and his two brothers also attended the same high school as I, his youngest sibling being in the same year as my brother, which is how I first learnt of the band when I was 13. My brother used to sneak into shows when he was 15/16 and see them play at places like Thrash 'n' Treasure and the like. I had to make do w/ listening to their "Walking About" 7" or hearing their music played on the radio (which it was, occasionally).

They released two studio LPs, Meet My Friend Venom and What's Yours Is Mine, in 1987 and 1990, respectively (as well as a live album on Siltbreeze), though a band as abrasive as Venom P. Stinger are much better heard in short bursts, such as singles and EPs. The best thing they ever did, so far as I'm concerned, remains their Waiting Room CDEP from 1991, released on Au-go-go. A four-track CD in a slipcase, it sold next to nothing locally and later wound up as a bargain/"warehouse find" item in the Forced Exposure catalogue. For the life of me, I can't locate my copy amongst the mountains of CDs cluttering up the spare room, but when I do, I'll tell you about it.

Rumours abounded of MacKenzie's life back in the '90s, and I can't confirm whether any or many of them are true. He acquired a major heroin habit back in the 1980s at some point, and he apparently never shook it off. There were stories of him being in jail, rehab, holding up chemist stores and even trams (the story was that he tried to hold up a tram full of commuters w/ a knife but nodded off halfway through his failed attempt) and that he'd become involved in organised crime and was on the run, living in Adelaide. When I brought up the last story to John Murphy back in 1993, he just laughed and noted that he couldn't imagine Dugald being involved in anything which was organised, let alone crime. You can likely take all those stories as being laced w/ bullshit. The fact is, he had a major drug problem, and I'm not being a gossip in saying that. He died a few years ago from bone cancer: as for whether his chronic drug abuse has any relation to this, you're best seeking a physician for advice (see the comments box for that). For the last 6 months of his life, he was, for the first time in a long time, "back on the scene", so to speak, buying records regularly at various independent music outlets around time, always interested and enthusiastic to hear music from contemporary young bands. His rep as a wild man w/ a litany of personal problems clouded the fact that he was, from all reports, a funny and personable guy. After his death, there was even an obituary for him in my high school's magazine (still delivered to my parents' house quarterly), noting him as a "punk pioneer" highly regarded for his music with the likes of the Sick Things and Venom P. Stinger. Bet that one went down a storm w/ the readership.

Ten years ago, Pavement or Steve Malkmus must have been touring Australia, and Malkmus was asked to program the music-clip show, Rage (Australian readers don't need the show explained). Among other interesting oddities (Merzbow, Boredoms, Coloured Balls), he played Venom P. Stinger's "Walking About" video. I'd seen it many times before, but obviously others hadn't. The next day I was working a weekend shift at Missing Link, and every second customer, usually gormless young men, would ask me if we had any Venom P. Stinger, wanting to know about the band and their records. I was only too grateful to clear my throat, ascend the podium and pompously espouse the shorthand history of the band as I saw it. By halfway through the day, if a nervous, socially-challenged young gent approached the counter w/ a quizzical look on his face, I'd jump the gun and simply say, "No, we don't have any Venom P. Stinger and the "Walking About" 7" is long deleted." 90% of the time, I got it right.

I was surprised that so few people had heard of the group, as they were kind of a big-deal u/ground local band back in their day and VPS members Jim White and Mick Turner had since become a much bigger deal w/ the equally fine Dirty Three, but then I'd come down off my high horse and realise that the band known as Venom P. Stinger hadn't been a functioning unit for a few years and that these young folks asking for the record were, after all, just kids. But I was glad that the video had obviously made such an impression on many of those watching the show. After all, no one came in that day desperately seeking Pavement albums.

Venom P. Stinger didn't sound like too many other bands back then, and they still don't today. Nominally, you could say there's strong elements of early Fall and the Birthday Party, but neither band really approached their sound w/ the ferocity of hardcore like VPS did, and no one - barring perhaps the Laughing Clowns - was mixing up their rock & roll w/ bizarre percussive rhythms which sound part Gene Krupa and part marching band. You can thank Jim White for that: he remains one of the finest and most expressive percussionists on earth.

The band played a show last year at Brooklyn's Shea Stadium as part of the Pavement-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, this time w/ ex-Bird Blobs/Sea Scouts/Mouth dude (and NYC resident of a few years), Tim Evans, on vocals. I heard nothing but good reports. Strange how things work out in the 21st century. Negative Approach and Saccharine Trust get flown over to the UK to play big festivals, and Venom P. Stinger, a band few cared for back in their hey-day, get to play a stadium show in NYC to a bunch of people who probably weren't even alive when they formed. I ain't complaining: they deserve all the hooplah and praise people pour on them. Someday soon their discography will finally see the light of day again in some sort of reissued form, and when it is, snap it up but quick. These clips are ample proof of just how great they were as a band.

11 comments:

Robin said...

Hi Dave, Interestingly i can't find a mention of Alan Secher-Jensen in your write up and then checking out on the net i find out that they didn't get him to play in the reunion... whats this all about? From memory he was a driving force in the band. Also re the band history, i think i heard that Dugald went to Adelaide as part of his drug rehab... i could be wrong.

Xmorula said...

Hi Dave
Dugald was one of five brothers, three of whom were "bad". Dugald was the eldest. James and Ian were in my school year. Their dad took me and few other prospective medical students around his pathology lab one day at the end of year 11 in 1981. Ten years later I happened to be in New York when Nick did his first gig with them at Coney Island side shows. The band was a shadow of its self without Dugald but Nick did his best. The records all disappointed me but retrospectively Walking About/26mg is good. I'll dig through my collection to see if I have the CD you mentioned. Miraculously Dugald died of natural causes, I believe a bone cancer, but I don't have any inside knowledge that allows me to give a more precise diagnosis. I don't think it had anything to do with his drug use but who knows what his immune system was like?
Jim

Xmorula said...

Another brief story via Murph was that Dugald was expelled from Scotch College after being seen by a driver on the SE Freeway (now the Monash and maybe a Scotch mother) as tried to shit from one of the high tension power lines into a bucket. That would have been in the mid 70's..
Jim

Dave said...

Robin: I didn't mention Alan because I know he's been suffering mental health issues the last few years. A really nice guy - plus he was a very successful engineer/urban designer for many years - so it's quite a surprise to see the sad turn of events for him the last few years.

Jim: I think you're correct, it was bone cancer. I might have to amend the blog. But like you say, years of hard drug abuse definitely wouldn't have helped. My brother also knew one of Dugald's brothers, one of the "bad" ones, at least well enough to be hassled (in a friendly way) one evening years ago when he was at the Moonlight Cinema. Dugald's brother was described by Andrew as being somewhat of a "toecutter". Very strange to see a few bad eggs in such a "respectable" family.

Pussy Galore said...

this may be worth a mention too:

http://www.myspace.com/deepwherealldrownrecordings

tom jones said...

strange i just got both of the albums again this weekend, my old copies had been sold years ago to pay for a tour

Mr. Goldblog said...

I saw Venom P Stinger about 10 times back in the late 80s, they were one of my favourite local bands. Interestingly I got into them via seeing 'hardcore' bands, Venom P were for one heaps classier and their sound was just as intense, but more interesting and challenging than the fucken idiot chugga-chugga of most hardcore/rock n roll bands. On record Venom P didn't come across as good as they were live, 'meet my friend Venom' live was just this total godhead wall of controlled noise.

Dave said...

Pussy: I didn't mention Come The Rubber Pig either...

Mr. Goldberg: for some reason, I don't know why, I never saw Venom P. with Dugald on vocals. I liked 'em then, and saw similar bands to them at the time, but I don't recall them playing that much (I can assume they were, I just wasn't looking hard enough). I saw Nick front them many times in the early '90s at the GB, and they were always fun, but folks who'd seen them w/ Dugald said they couldn't compete. Still, I think on record, Nick did a really good job.

tom jones said...

oh, by the way, shea stadium is the name of a regular club, not the stadium where the mets play and the beatles played

Mr. Goldblog said...

If my fucked memory serves me correctly the use to do a cover of 'super freak' with Dugald singing. But it was shit. Dugald would just yell. I never saw it, but was told back in the day that Dugald was so fucked up on booze and drugs (probably a mixture of smack and prescription shit) that he spewed all over the mike as he was singing, kinda like a Lucio Fulci special effect w/o the effects...

Billianne said...

Hi dave, my name is Billianne. I came across your blog that was suggested from a fan of VPS. You seem to know dugald from a very young age and even his family. I dont want to be so forward but im his daughter and would love to hear some storys you may have about him, the good and the bad lol.
Please contact me via email i would really appreciate it :).
My email is billianne.lidgerwood@hotmail.com

so sorry about this being so random! must be strange