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Prepare for the Return of Early New Zealand Punks Proud Scum

A chat with vocalist Jonathan Jamrag ahead of the band's first gig in 10 years.

by Tim Scott
04 January 2018, 5:45am

Photos supplied by Proud Scum.

A boisterous piece of short-haired, bootboy rock n roll, Proud Scum’s “I Am a Rabbit” first appeared on AK79, the defining 1979 compilation of Auckland punk and new wave bands, that included The Terrorways, The Scavengers, and Toy Love.

Written by bassist Alastair ‘Rabbit’ Duguid and containing lyrics, “I am a rabbit, I’ve got to have it, It’s a force of habit, I’d like to share my carrot with you”, it's a crude and burly song dedicated to vocalist Jonathan Jamrag’s earnest lusting.

Thirty-nine years later, the band are reforming to play "I Am a Rabbit" and other songs at their first show in almost a decade, as part of Punk It Up, the last punk show at venerable Auckland venue Kings Arms.

"The song ["I Am a Rabbit"] is a good indication of how we were approaching music at the time," explains Jamrag aka Jonathan Griffiths, from his home in Melbourne. “I don’t think we sat down to decide what sort of noise we wanted to make or what kind of image we wanted to project. It was just who we were and what we wanted at the time. When we formed in early 79 a lot of the punk bands were going more mainstream and we just wanted to be a full on punk band. I think we gave the scene a bit of a reboot."

Featuring members of Rooter and The Atrocities, Proud Scum consisted of Duguid, Jamrag, guitarist John Atrocity, and drummer Bruce Diode. Atrocity left in June 1979 and was replaced by Sid Scum. Though short lived – they relocated to Sydney in 1980 before disbanding in 1981 – their early gigs at The Occidental attracted a young and often rowdy audience and they became one of the most influential New Zealand punk bands of the time.

A young Evan Dando, after hearing the track on Boston college radio, covered “I Am a Rabbit” on The Lemonheads' debut 1986 EP Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners. "Alistair Rabbit, who now lives in the US, has spoken to Dando about the song," explains Griffiths. "Dando also did an acoustic version which I thought wouldn't work but it sounds pretty good."

The band's recorded material was limited to the two tracks on AK79 and a 1980 split 7" with The Terrorways which includes "Suicide 2", a track inspired by Atrocity's departure from the band. "I don't believe Radio New Zealand will play the song at all because of the sensitivity around suicide. We actually wrote two songs about suicide, the first was by John Atrocity, our original guitarist, a song written very tongue in cheek and inspired by Warwick who was our previous guitarist. And when John left rather suddenly leaving us in the lurch I wrote "Suicide 2" which was encouraging him to jump off Auckland's Grafton Bridge."

When the band felt that the Auckland punk scene was becoming too mainstream - “too much keyboards and smooth sounds” says Griffiths – they moved to Sydney. But in Australia they found the scene quite different. “We were used to a more DIY scene where you would play a few night a week. In Sydney it was very organised. You had to have a big PA, you had to have roadies. As an unestablished band with no management and no money we didn’t really get anywhere.”

Still, the band's legacy in the New Zealand punk scene is strong. They last played in 2008 as part of an AK78 reunion and interest in the band remains. "We’ve been wanting to do a show since the reunion and there’s never really been an opportunity. It’s hard because the band is spread all over the world so getting together is difficult. I was at the last Punk It Up show last year and got up to sing “I Am A Rabbit” with another band. It inspired me to do it again and the band are keen and so it looks like we can pull it off."

Proud Scum play as part of Punk It Up, Feb 17 at The Kings Arms, Auckland.