Who were Hallelujah Picassos?


Hallelujah Picassos started out in Auckland in June `87 as The Rattlesnakes with Roland Rorschach (vocals) and Peter McLennan (guitar). Roland saw Peter play at the Fringe Festival late shows at DKD Cafe, where Roland was working at the time. After several interminably dull poets, Peter and a man named Russell, (who was filling in for Bruce Hubbard, Peter's musical collaborator in the charmingly named "Death Korporation", because Bruce was too drunk to play), played several numbers, including James Brown's Its A Man's World, in a strung out Nick Cave style.

A few weeks later Roland approached Peter in an inner city nightclub, and raved enthusiastically at him about the James Brown cover. They swapped phone numbers, and hooked up soon after. After their original drummer was jailed in late-87 they were joined by their present drummer Bobbylon, who had never played drums prior to joining the Picassos - he was a guitarist. Tony de Raad, an old school friend of Roland's, took over bass from Patrick Brunton in November `88.

The Rattlesnakes were a noisy garage punk rock outfit, playing various garage classics by the Sonics, The Same, and other obscure gems from the 'Nuggets' compilations and the like. Much of `88 was spent rehearsing and their first release came in December `88 in the form of a now deleted tape called "The Rattlesnakes... go waterskiing", after which they became the Hallelujah Picassos.

Their first vinyl release came in late `89 with a track from a previous tape release (called "Taxi Driver") entitled `Clap Your Hands' on the Pagan Records compilation of new guitar-bands called Positive Vibrations. A review of their tape only release "Taxi Driver" stated, "Sounding at odd times like a flying nun on drugs, a New Zealand punk rock garage band, or a psychotic turnbuckle gone AWOL, they can be jangly, grungy, or snot-nosed . . . very alternative pop." (RAD magazine, November `89) One of the tapes songs, `Mummy Is That A Chainsaw', received good air-play on student radio.

Tony de Raad was replaced on bass by former Black Girls Machine player Johnnie Pain. Like Bobbylon, Mister Pain had never played bass prior to joining the HP's, having been a keyboard player.

A live review in March `91 described their performance as, "a mix of Soup Dragons dance groove and Chilli Peppers hard-core edge, they swept the audience into a whirlwind of dance . . . Reggae grooves and layers of guitar combined to produce a huge sound." (Evening Standard, March 6 `91).During `90 and `91 they undertook tours of the North Island, including support for the Violent Femmes in November `90 in Auckland and Screamin' Jay Hawkins in January `91.

With all band members contributing to writing and singing there was never a shortage of material and in mid-91 they released a three-song tape Peanut Butter.

Finally in December `91 they had their first single `No More' through Pagan Records reviewed as, "Debut single from the HPs showcases their sweet, sensitive side in a lilting ska number that proves just how light their touch can be when they're not shouting `muthafucka!'." (Rip It Up, December `91). In June `92 came their debut album Hateman In Love, a title concerning loving and hating at the same time, extremes existing side by side as they do on the album, "The Picassos mix and match musical styles to keep themselves, as much as their audience, interested. A reggae bassline appears in a thrash number, which breaks to a pop jazz ditty before thrashing back into something with a hardcore bassline which is finished off with a reggae outro." (Rip It Up, May `92)

Musically they had become to be recognised as a reggae band but with quite a difference, "We're not trying to be a reggae band, we are a reggae band, but we want to be good at playing it. It's just a perfect dance style and it's a perfect format for some of the lyrics we write." (Rip It Up interview, May `92). Response to the release of the album was good, "It's a messed up, mangled world that the Picassos inhabit. The sound they are making is not without its charms, a bastardized mush of hardcore, dub, pop and reggae . . . `Black Spade Picasso' has sorta become an anthem around these parts and its gnarled guitar sounds, `Nutbush' samples and angry is preferable to the more sedate reggae moments on this album. Don't get me wrong - reggae rips, and the Picassos do it great live, but the transfer of this sound to vinyl has not been as successful as I had anticipated." (Rip It Up, June `92).

The single `Lovers +' from the album was released in December and included three other tracks, described as "reggaefied Lightening Seeds". Next release came in September `93 with the single U + I, "The first single from the Picassos forthcoming album is the kind of sweet ska pop that has closet rude boys and girls skanking in the aisles everywhere." (Rip It Up, September `93). The single included `Snakesman's Cry' which was performed live down the telephone to a crowded art gallery in Washington D.C. as part of an joint exhibition at the Artspace Gallery, called Burntime.

Released in October `93 Drinking With Judas keeps with the Picasso's method of mixing up different musical styles and the whole band both sing and write on the album, including Johnnie Pain's writing debut with `Roadkill'. "Obviously the amount of territory the Hallelujah Picassos continue to cover and explore is always gonna confuse some people. They're certainly not easy listening as they choose to take the listener on a challenging joy-ride through various musical moods, styles and realities. But whereas Hateman In Love felt at times like a disjointed compilation, Drinking With Judas crunches the Picassos legendary musical diversities together in one consistent, be it messy, rebel style." (Rip It Up Nov' 93). The next single off the album came in February `94 with `Rewind' described as "a breezy slice of pop-laced skank, the man Bobbylon providing lead vocals" (Rip It Up, February `94). The single also included a cover of Head Like A Hole's `Air' and the Prime Mover's `Crying Again'. In May `94 the band were made a 5-piece by the addition of another guitarist, ex-Colony member Gavaroonie, or Gavin Downie, as his mother calls him. In late-October they made a national tour and during early `95 made appearances at the musical festivals Big Day Out, Strawberry Fields and the Royal Easter show, on the back of a truck.

Early `95 they were in Lab studios recording demos for an upcoming release, with plans for a national tour in September. They toured in support of "The Gospel Of The DNA Demon" EP. After this tour Johnnie Pain and Peter McLennan left the band, reportedly for 'spiritual reasons'. (You must admit, a more interesting reason than your standard 'musical differences', or 'personality clashes').

The other members recruited new members, with Bobbylon switching from drums to bass duties. Unhappy with their lack of progress, Gavaroonie departed, and after going through six drummers (count em), they re-emerged a year later in late 96, playing several live shows around Auckand, and recording new material. One of these tracks, "Rude Boy Come From Jail", received student radio play, and was released on a compilation called "20th Century Animal" by Handgun Syndicate Records, along with "Yardie", recorded by the old lineup at BFM, during the sessions for the 'Gospel" ep.

Roland left the band in early 1997 in unhappy circumstances, and Bobbylon, the only original member left, decided to continue with his musical cohorts, but under a new name. Hallelujah Picassos are no more.

POSTSCRIPT: However, they have played a few occasional reunion shows when the mood grabs them, such as BFM's 30th birthday bash in 1999. They also played a show at Galatos in December 1999 (joined onstage by a horn section led by Tim Stewart, ex Supergroove), and played the support slot for Asian Dub Foundation at the Powerstation in September 2000. There are plans to release a Best Of CD compilation late in 2011.