Bill Direen has been around forever, it seems, an original in the Christchurch punk scene, as I have just found out, he was in an early Christchurch Punk Band called Vacuum before moving on to front The Builders among many other collaborations over the last 40 years. Bill is a bit of an underground legend in New Zealand, playing with many other semi underground figures in the local scene and some overseas artists as well, he now has a quite extensive discography, albeit, one that it is difficult to track down many of the releases.
I'm not familiar with all that much of Bill's output over the years but I do remember hearing some of his stuff on Student Radio back in the early 80's and I have just discovered, through checking out his discography, that I actually had a copy of The Bilders second album, "Lets Play" from 1985, which I had completely forgotten about. With my current obsession of collecting NZ music, both old and new, I had recently picked up The Builders 4th album "We Are The Coolest Cats In The World" from 1989, a fantastic record and listening to that inspired me to go see this gig when I saw it was coming up.
I arrived at The Darkroom about 15 Minutes before the advertised start time and already there was a reasonable number of punters there and it turned out to be the biggest crowd I had seen for a gig at The Darkroom so far, not full, but close.
I was in the toilet when someone got on the stage and started talking to the audience, and when I came out there was a lone figure on the small stage with a guitar about to start his first song. The concert was advertised as Bill Direen, Builders and Guests, I didn't know if that meant guests doing their own thing or guests playing with the band. I had never seen Bill Direen in person before so I wasn't sure who I was seeing on stage playing these short intense, very locally themed songs and I was thinking how amature this sounded as It started to dawn on me that this might actually BE Bill Direen. It took a bit of getting use to Bills singing for this portion of the show and his guitar playing was very minimal and staccato like, but he wasn't alone for long as he invited the first of his guests to join him on bass for some better sounding songs in this, what Bill called, "bracket" of the show. The gig was fairly chaotic or disorganised looking as each "bracket" started and stopped as other guests came and went for numbers throughout Bills career. The guests turned out to be various locals that Bill had played with over the last 40 years, including Steve Cogle, who played in the original Vacuum as well as other local bands like The Terminals and The Victor Dimisich Band and has a current band called Dark Matter. He also had another original acquaintance from those early punk days, the writer Grant McDonagh, who gave a reading from a manuscript he is writing, describing how he met Bill Direen back in the late 70's. His memoirs could be quite interesting for people interested in the local scene back then.
As the evening progressed with each "bracket" I thought it got better and better until the final bracket that was the longest and included the current 3 piece line up of the Builders where they really rocked out the best, playing for me the songs i new the best including their "hit" The Alligator Song" which got a lot of air play on student radio back in the day.(see Video below)
Bill Direen is a great song writer and social commentator, and although what I have heard of his studio recordings are far more complex than what they were able to play live in this situation, it was a great set that I enjoyed a lot.