by author & eel historian
Nick Bollinger

The early 80s were a pivotal time for New Zealand music. Frustrated by the disinterest of the major record companies and Auckland's dominance in the music industry, musicians around the country began launching their own independent labels. From Christchurch came Flying Nun taking the lo-fi Dunedin sound to the nation and the world, while in Wellington a loose collective of bands recorded under the banner of EELman. In a bleak post-punk world, the EELman groups stood out for their humour and their funk.

Wellington has a strong R&B tradition, which can be traced back to the 60s when blues bands like Gutbucket and Original Sin ruled the capital's nightclubs. The city also has a history of soul bands with horn sections. In the 60s there was the Quincy Conserve, in the early 70s Blerta, Mammal and Redeye. By the late 70s there was Rough Justice, a six-to-eight piece revue led by the capital's R&B icon Rick Bryant. Amongst their audience was a posse of under-age Onslow Collegians just starting out with their own band, the Rodents. The group included saxophonist Andrew Clouston, singer/guitarist John McDougall, drummer Andrew Cross, drummer/percussionist Tim Robinson and vocalist Peter Marshall. Joined by a pianist a few years their senior named John Niland, they honed their chops on R&B covers.

By late 1981 the Rodents had evolved into the Hulamen. A few members had gone and others arrived, notably fret-popping bassist Paul ëMac' MacAllister, Rough Justice guitarist Stephen Jessup, vocalist Marion Spencer and saxophonist Peter Famularo. Retaining some of the fun R&B covers, the emphasis shifted to originals with a pronounced reggae influence. The Hulamen put on a real show. There were at least ten musicians on stage, with the spotlight shared between up to half-a-dozen singers, not to mention percussionist-without-portfolio Ronny Pelicano (a.k.a Tim Robinson) and his Fred-Astaire-on-acid dance routines. At the Terminus Tavern Steven McDougall, the group's tireless tech, erected a platform above the stage where a pair of female dancers ' the Hulettes ' would gyrate to the funk. At the Thorndon Hall guest vocalist Gerry Moran sang one of his showpieces, 'Think I Should Be Locked Away and Helped', swinging maniacally from the top of a lighting rig. And then there was the EELMAN. A slimy cartoon character devised by Andrew Clouston, he was recreated in three dimensions by artist and mask-maker Debra Bustin. The EELMAN's arrival at a gig was a guaranteed showstopper.

Intent on capturing the group's inspired mayhem for posterity, the Hulamen entered Radio New Zealand's Studio 2 with studio engineer Tony Burns and the groups live sound engineer Nigel Stone as producers/in the production seat. These sessions produced three multi-track recordings, and a number of live-in-the-studio performances, notably McDougall's 'Barking Up The Wrong Tree', an anthem of adolescent anguish dating back to the Rodents and exquisitely sung by Peter Marshall, and Niland and Moran's loping reggae state-of-the-subculture address, ìWorking For A Living'. Spencer's singular narrative skills shone on a live cut from these sessions, her own 'Underground'.

Further sessions at Marmalade (with producer Ian Morris), completed Beer and Skittles, the only record the Hulamen would ever make. In the independent spirit in which the group had always acted, they launched their own label ñ named eelman records(©) after their slippery mascot. It was Niland who instigated and drove the project, distributing the initial pressing from the back of his car with the help of Stone. When demand exceeded supply, Niland took the Hulamen's product to established independent Jayrem, where the record remained a strong catalogue item for years. With seven tracks, Beer and Skittles was shorter than the average LP but longer than an EP hence the birth of the EEL-P. But by the time of its release, John McDougall had followed his heart to Paris and the Hulamen disbanded.

Enter Bill Lake, a veteran of 60s and 70s Wellington bands such as Original Sin, Mammal and the Windy City Strugglers, with a guitar-case-full of funky originals. Lake formed the Pelicans in late 1982 and, with a regular gig in Cosgrove's Bar at the Cambridge Hotel, provided work for a number of ex-Hulas: Stephen Jessup, Peter Famularo, Andrew Cross, trumpet player David Armstrong and soundman and producer Nigel Stone. A sprawling beast in the tradition of the Hulamen, the Pelicans (by the time of their first recording in 1983) had filled out to include bassist Nick Bollinger and his percussionist brother Tim Bollinger, horn players Simon Lewis and Tim Nees, with Brian Brown-Sharp eventually replacing Famularo. John Niland was a sometime guest on keyboards.

The Pelicans issued Eight Duck Treasure in late 1983. Lake's ironic wit can be found in standout tracks like ìBanana Dominion', ìDown to the River' and ìDead Cars'. Unlike the Hulamen, the Pelicans toured extensively, spreading the EELman ethos nationwide. A further EEL-P, Krazy Legs, followed in 1984. A loose amalgam of Pelicans and Hulamen was employed by Andrew 'Clyde' Clouston to back him on his 1984 solo EP, ìThe Bag'. The following year John Niland also pursued a solo project entitled Inside.

A frequent Pelicans support act was the Economic Wizards, an anarchistic bunch of Wellingtonians transplanted in Auckland, who mixed topical verse with high-spirited, guitar-based rock'n'roll. When the group made its first EP, Starve The Lizards, it seemed logical that it should be released under the EELman emblem. Their tribute to Miss Universe 1983, 'Pakuranga Girl', remains a cult classic.

On his return to New Zealand in 1985, John McDougall reassembled a number of former Hulamen (MacAllister, Jessup, Cross, Robinson) plus several newcomers (pianist Brenton Dempsey, singers Danny Makamaka and Mara Finau) and launched the Tombolas. Though their performances created a similar frisson to those of the Hulas, their legacy amounts to just one single, the tumultuous 'Glad To Gladiate' backed by the even more gleefully crazed 'Vandalised'.'ìNova Bossa' comes from their extensive catalogue of unreleased demos.

At the same time, Bill Lake was assembling a new line-up, which would become Bill Lake and the Living Daylights. Retaining Nick Bollinger from the Pelicans, he recruited pianist Alan Norman, saxophonist Neville Schwabe, drummer Ross Burge, and singer/guitarist Ra Te Whaiti, with whom he shared the vocal spotlight. Te Whaiti had previously fronted R&B covers band Ra and the Pyramids, and his rich soulful voice shines on Bill Lake's ;You've Got My Number' and his own 'Whatcha Gonna Do'.

Amongst the EELman collective were a number of visual artists who were vital to the overall aesthetic. The bright cartoonish sleeve of Beer and Skittles established a 'look' that would carry through to the end of the Eel-days. The surreal illustration on the front was by Tim Bollinger, whose work would also ornament the Daylights' A Bop In The Ocean album. Andrew Clouston, creator of the EELMAN persona and logo, decorated the back cover with cartoon characters including the EELMAN himself. Crucial to the Pelicans' presentation was Debra Bustin, who painted the sleeves of their two discs (Krazy Legs won Best Cover Design in the New Zealand Music Awards), created lavish stage sets with sculpted trees and three-dimensional backdrops, and directed the power-packed 'Krazy Legs' video.

The 90s loomed and professionalism beckoned. The Tombolas begat the Holidaymakers, who, in 1988, enjoyed a spectacular six-week national number one with their cover of Bill Withers' ìSweet Lovers' organised/driven and produced by Nigel Stone. With four original Hulamen (McDougall, Marshall, Jessup and Clouston), and Nigel Stone in the production seat, the Holidaymakers marked both the apotheosis and the end of the EELman era. Significantly, ìSweet Lovers' was not an EELman record, but was released by the larger Auckland indie, Pagan. The EELman moniker was used only twice again for a 1990 collaboration between Bill Lake and Rick Bryant, and in 1994 for an album by Lake and Bryant's group The Windy City Strugglers.

Where are they now? John Niland, Andrew Clouston and Peter Famularo live in Australia where they continue to develop their art, design and musical talents. John McDougall lives in Wellington and his pile of great unrecorded songs is approaching ceiling-height. Bill Lake also lives in Wellington, has made a solo album and plays with Rick Bryant and Nick Bollinger in the Windy City Strugglers. Movie art departments nationwide have benefited from the skills of former EEL-men Jessup, Robinson and Marshall. Andrew Cross lives in Barcelona where he has been tutoring doctors in english for the past ten years. Nigel Stone has become New Zealand's most awarded producer and engineer and is currently working in London on a variety of music and feature film projects. - works in the field of feature filmsound production and operates his mobile studio from London. With the core of the collective thus dispersed, further EELman projects seemed unlikely until the advent of email (EEL-mail?) made the preparation of this compilation a practical reality. As for the EELMAN himself, he has been reclusive in the 90s. It was rumoured that he had been deported to the deserts of Australia. Someone else said he got into jazz. At press time, an unconfirmed report has him dwelling in a damp garage in Johnsonville. But watch out - he could return at any time.




EELMAN RECORDS© was conceived by John Niland in the early 1980's, after seeing a cartoon by fellow HULAMAN Andrew Clouston. Technical and assistance from Nigel Stone, EELMANRecords put a stamp on Wellington, New Zealand music. It was a particular group of Wellington and Auckland people who loved Soul, R&B, Funk, Jazz and Pop music. The label kicked off with the highly successful HULAMEN, BEER & SKITTLES, vinyl EP.

EELMAN Records underwent a period of change in the late 80's and 90's. This left a large gap in the identity of who was administrating EELMAN. John Niland had moved to Sydney, Australia in 1985 initially to study music at the Conservatorium of Music, Sydney but ended up pursuing an Art & Design education completing a National Art School, Diploma of Art (Ceramics - Major) 1987 -89 and a University of New South Wales, College of Fine Arts, B Des (Hons) 94 - 97 graduating 99.

'It was always my intention to return to EELMAN and develop the ARCHIVES that had been languishing. The first project in this direction was the EELMAN COMPILATION which began 1999 with the collection and digitisation of a section of the tape archive fondly looked after by Nigel Stone and a design relationship with Andrew Clouston, creator of the eelman character'

'My art and design education has given me powerful skills in both Print & Web Site design and production. As well my experience in both Live and Post Production Television allowed me an opportunity to experience the power of broadcast media. It was during this period that I began to realise the importance of utilising intellectual artistic assets and their conservation for developing a sense of one's own history and a shared group history. EELMAN Records became an important focus for me in the late 90's wereupon I decided to take up my previous role and provide direction.'

'Subsequently I have been working on a project called 'Big Picture' tracking down Film and Video materials developed during the 80's. From this a showreel of EELMAN bands and music is to be established, and will be featured on the website. It is also my intention to feature audio tracks as well.'

'The EELMAN Records website was established to bring together all the valuable artistic development and the individuals who embraced the concept of EELMAN and breathed life into it. This project for me is a lot of fun and also keeps me in touch with my musical roots and freindships I developed in the 80's.'

John Niland
February 2002



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Over 40 Years of Recorded Music History

Wellington, New Zealand Music, Original Compositions and Covers
Funk, Soul, Rythm & Blues, Rock, Hip Hop, Ska, Reggae, Art Music