The Cut & Thrust of British Pop with a Slice of Pork Pie


Penknife Glides evolved in 1980 after the punk movement in New Zealand began to fragment. Frontman Steven Gravelle had just returned from a 12-month stint in Australia where he proclaimed to have witnessed JJ Burnel from The Stranglers feeding a floor-standing fan into the face of an over-eager punter in a seedy club in Sydney. A simple act, and yet a life-changing revelation for this budding singer in the audience.

On his return to NZ he quickly teamed up with three other troubadours who had been searching for a vocalist to front their new band. His brother Cliff 'Skeats' Gravelle had just exited The Primmers and assembled Jules Moloney from Electrobeat on bass and Stefan Morris a drummer and Rip it Up's layout artist as his rhythm section. All four descended into Skeats' infamous Nikau St house in Newton to pen some original tunes. With Sid Pasley and Mark Clare from The Newmatics sharing the same house at the time, Nikau St soon became a hotbed of mayhem and 24-hour party people, where creative juices (amongst other things) flowed freely. Within six months PKG were up and running and playing their first gig to 100 enthusiastic Elam art students just up the road at Auckland Uni.

Although briefly starting life as Vicious Circle, the name Penknife Glides was eventually unearthed from a book of poems and seemed to resonate with some of the more obscure band names that had been appearing within the pages of NME. With three members of the band originating from London it didn't take long for their rapidly expanding repertoire to reveal its true colours. Elements of The Jam, The Specials, XTC and the Clash were all evident in those early songs, and with the lads eagerly devouring large doses of Jamaican reggae, a strange concoction was indeed brewing from within their ranks.

On stage the band became notorious for Steve's athletic antics and the band's natty dress sense. Fuelled by a lack of funds, these struggling musos had unwittingly discovered that a snappy 1960s suit and a pair of winkle pickers could be purchased for under ten bucks from almost any charity shop. A bargain to be sure, proving cheaper and much shinier than a pair of jeans! Steven in particular acquired an amazing talent for discovering the most pristine of secondhand suits during shopping expeditions on tour. Having slightly shorter legs and smaller feet than the rest of the lads proved a blessing in disguise, as any clothing purchased off-the-rack needed very little alteration (see band photos for examples). Jules on the other hand, standing at 6'3 never found anything off the peg and was reduced to making his own stage clobber - a dab hand at it he was too! Stefan, yet another dedicated fashion victim, went on to create a successful career for himself in London designing tailor-made 'Morris' suits for the clubbing aficionados.

To set the scene in those formative years, let's bear in mind NZ was a very different place in 1980 to what it is today. Loafers, winkle-pickers, brothel creepers, Dr Martens and Ben Sherman clothing were all unobtainable fashion items that could only be purchased 'sight unseen' from the back pages of Melody Maker via mail order to Carnaby Street in London. Cliff acquired a pair of white patent leather Chelsea boots in this manner, only to see them arrive six months later, two sizes too small. The boots do however make a cameo appearance on the guitar player's feet in the Nervous video.

Perhaps though, in those early days, PKG were even more renowned for their handmade posters than for their musicianship (many of which have now become collector's items - see this site for examples). With Steve and Stefan both Graphic Designers, posters for up and coming gigs were designed and silk-screened by the band at Nikau St and fly-posted around the city before the ink had time to dry. This proved to be an extremely time-consuming affair and perhaps time could have been spent more wisely in the recording studio rather than elbow deep in slow drying ink.

In 1981 their first single 'Laugh or Cry' was released, with 'Taking the Weight Off' on the flip side. WEA, their record company at the time, had decided that 'Taking the Weight Off', with a running time of close to five minutes, was far too long for an A-side and wouldn't get airplay - much to the annoyance of the band. (The 2010 version is 6.06 minutes long, but who's counting.) Needless to say, in a dysfunctional music scene in NZ circa 1980, no independent local music was ever taken seriously by any of the major record companies or radio stations anyway, so bands were reliant on their die-hard fan base for support. Despite this, most of their releases charted somewhere in the Top 30. The single was followed shortly afterwards by their Nervous EP and by March 1982, with the release of the 'Sound of Drums' EP, the band had added two additional members - Steve Duffels and Bill MacRae - to their line up. Both of whom appear in the 'Sound of Drums' video.

In July 1982, eager to explore the outside world, PKG moved to London, recruiting additional members along the way and this was where most of the personnel then resided for the next 15 years.

From these humble beginnings, Penknife Glides' career would include not only playing almost every club and pub in NZ many times over, but also playing major venues supporting Split Enz, INXS and The Police, and culminating in gigs in London - such as the now infamous Marquee Club in Wardour Street.

...and so it came to pass that 30 years after their first Elam gig in Auckland, and with the advent of some welcome digital technology at their fingertips, an arsenal of hidden gems has been unveiled as the Penknife Glides sound rises once more from the ashes.

'A Stab in the Dark' boasts seven previously unrecorded tracks and three updated classics.

Perhaps the band has now completed that Vicious Circle after all.