The Ballad of Phantom Billstickers
I have put up several million posters in the streets of New Zealand over these past few decades and hence given the place a damn good pasting. I have never put up a single poster that I did not think contributed something in some way, whether it was to advertise a band or a brand, a political meeting or a drama group (often the same thing). I always came away thinking that I was helping someone, somewhere on down the line. Employment depends on advertising. That’s a fact. Without marketing you have Estonia in 1952.
I’m not going to give you my line about putting posters up in the snow, but I will tell you that I busted the suspension in my beautiful old Volkswagen Notchback when I went ripping through the Cashel Street Mall in Christchurch in the late 1970s. That was when the mall was being built. I was putting up posters for The Dudes that cold Sunday night. The Dudes gave us Dave Dobbyn and we are extremely grateful for that. ‘Loyal’ is one of the all time NZ pop hits, but I remember ‘Bull by the Horns’ as being a great song too.
I pasted up the Cathedral fence when renovations were happening there in the 1990s. Someone had pasted up the original fence when that Cathedral was first being built over a hundred years earlier in the 1870s/1880s. (And there are photos to attest to this). So posters have been with us since printing was invented five or so centuries ago. Before that people made marks on walls. It is an urge and a mighty good one. Of course we could all just stay indoors and do and say nothing. I believe Janet Frame’s mother warned her against magazines.
Nothing breaks my heart more than to see posters peeling untidily off a wall and at Phantom we call this ‘carnage’. I remember I once had a whole holiday in Istanbul ruined by carnage. I’ve seen carnage in Prague, Glasgow and Manchester and in many other places.
I’ve come to enjoy all things visual and random splashes of colour in the street. I love the arts and think that they save a city in so many ways as to be uncountable (is that a word? Too bad). I also love the creativity that goes into brand logos and I love magazines and photography. These things are cheering and uplifting. I even think that sometimes a billboard can dress up a Soviet era block wall in a good way. This is heresy, I know. Burn me… It’s been done and it did not work. I have heard the words “you cannot put that there” more than anyone in New Zealand I dare say. I lurked in vans with pots of glue for decades like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. I said many of the same things. I certainly thought them.
A poster on a wall is flora for the concrete jungle and might save us from grim moods as we swan about Christchurch in the cold of winter. Miss Emily Dickinson’s poem “A Certain Slant of Light” comes to mind. These moods might happen at other times too, we are all human beings after all and the Buddhist idea of suffering does fit true to many of us. Others would deny it and they end up selling soap and mortgages on TV. All credit to them (Sean Fitzpatrick’s greatest line and a fine one to live by). These people are welcome to their positive thinking as long as it is tied into reality. There is always room for one more inside, sir!
When I first started putting up posters in the 1960s they were being printed offset by Fuller Brothers Printing in Tuam Street. These posters were usually for bands coming to town. In the 1970s photocopies changed everything and punk rock happened at the same time. Many of us got caught up in the excitement of it all and many fine bands gathered an audience because of simple postering. The Androidss come to mind – they had some of the finest street posters I have ever seen. There should be a statue in the park for the Androidss and how they actually did liberate Christchurch in many ways. Toy Love livened up the country at the same time. The Spelling Mistakes were priceless and I’d give my right arm to see The Screaming Meemees one more night. Or the Car Crash Set.
There were many great graphic designers doing sterling work back then hunched over simple kitchen benches. I remember I saw a band called the Whizz Kids (which became Blam Blam Blam) designing a poster on an old table in a house on Salisbury Street for their “We are Tightening Our Belts” Tour. This being Muldoon era New Zealand. There was nothing that man liked to do more than punish us all and keep New Zealand locked up and indoors after 6pm. Government officials roamed the streets looking for the wayward at night. We can’t imagine it these days. God bless David Lange. My only wish is that David Lange could’ve totally liberated New Zealand in the same way that the Androidss could liberate 700 punters at the Gladstone. The Swingers were the best live band I’ve ever seen after The Gordons. But wait, there are countless more good bands and it is unfair to dismiss them by not mentioning a handful…. Mother Goose; Larry’s Rebels; The Chants R & B; The Bilders; The Vauxhalls; Murder Incorporated; The Underdogs Blues Band; Baby; Dragon; Hello Sailor; Flying Wild; Luna Sea; The Punch; Pop Mechanix; Hip Singles; Boot Hill; NZ Fantasy; Butler; Love’s Ugly Children; Pumpkinhead… Yes, I’ve been lucky.
John Halvorsen of The Gordons was probably the best graphic designer I have ever seen (Ian Dalziel would be second and Paul Smith is way up there too). I watched John Halvorsen doing some of those early Gordons posters and I thought my head would split. Every time I put one of them up, I felt something through my total body… A streaming. I was coming alive.
I’ve had many fine and interesting people working with street postering in those dark vans and many a good laugh was had and there was much joyful vitality. Yes I’ve enjoyed it all.
This was the ballad of Phantom Billstickers…
Keep the Faith,