Phantom Blog

May 2010

Viewing posts from May , 2010

The Ballad of Phantom Billstickers

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,


Jim Wilson



30c    30b

Diary of a Billsticker – Trenton, New Jersey, USA Poster Run

The Ballad of Phantom Billstickers (Part Two)

R.I.P. Beaver.

In Trenton, I was carrying posters by seven poets: Robert Pinsky, Joe Treceno, Marcie Sims, Jay Clarkson, Michele Leggott, Stephen Oliver and Tusiata Avia. This was to be a true urban poster run and I rode my newly purchased second-hand Schwinn pushbike which cost me $40. I was carrying the posters under my wing. I felt like Ignatius J. Reilly and my hunting cap fell down over my eyes several times. I was the thinking man’s oaf.

Trenton is the state capital of New Jersey and has one of the highest crime rates in America. It is also where George Washington gave the British a damn good dusting during the War of Revolution and sent them packing. A nation was then formed that is (I chose the present tense on purpose) dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

In Trenton there are monitoring devices in the streets which detect the sound of gunshots and can also track the direction from which those gunshots came. Say it isn’t so. This is what life has become.

There is a scourge in Trenton and its name is Heroin. The latest street brand of Smack is called “Obama’s Rescue Package” and is sold by those who want to take advantage of the dream of America. They have not joined in the spirit of the revolution. In Mexico, in less than four years, 23,000 have been killed during the “Drug War” and so it goes, (right?).

On to more pleasant subjects:

I am often asked about the old days of billsticking in New Zealand. One doesn’t want to choose favourites, but I have worked with a number of very good poster put-‘er-uppers. The name Harry Sparkle comes to mind first. Harry did the posters for the Hillsborough and Gladstone Taverns in Christchurch during the late 70s to the mid 80s when New Zealand music made all the ground it did. At the time, New Zealand music was like a religious movement and radio stations just did not play it and ‘cover bands’ pulled far more people than original music. I cannot tell you how Spandau Ballet songs made Christchurch swing and what haircuts became during this period of time. This part was appalling.

But, paradoxically, all this made original Kiwi music better as there was a point to be proven. The good bands won out. They are still heard. These bands were very prepared to be honest. At this time, going on the road was dangerous because the public bar clientele may well chase you down the main street for no reason at all and the only food on the menu for touring bands was Hawaiian Ham Steaks. Now that’s what I call dangerous. One took one’s life into one’s own hands to be playing Palmerston North during these years.

To digress, I would also want to give credit to Gerald Dwyer as a paste dude in Wellington, a giant Totara indeed. Then Lee Hubber and Johne Leach also did good work in the capital city. Doug Nuttall was invaluable in Dunedin for getting across the point of New Zealand music and John Greenfield gave his all in the garden city during the 80s and early 90s. Trevor King pasted up the streets of Christchurch in the 1950s and 1960s for Johnny Devlin and Max Merritt and so we must be thankful. You will remember that New Zealand was a closed shop during these years and the Beatles once famously said that they came to New Zealand but it was closed. Many people said this in different ways.

Harry Sparkle? Harry was a punk and during punk we all knew no limits and the walls of repression were being blasted down quicker than you could say “more government please.” Harry’s band was called “The Baby Eaters” and often crashed the stage at the Hillsborough during a touring band’s break. They cavalierly just picked up the headlining band’s instruments without permission and started playing Iggy Pop’s “Cock in my Pocket.” Several punks crowded around the mixing desk as another mate turned the volume Right Up. Pogo-ing was a thing.

Oh what a breath of fresh air.

The touring band’s roadies (often up to nine in total – what did they all do?) would come running and a fist fight would ensue. That’s the price for taking yourself too seriously. The Hillsborough had one of the two best publicans I have ever met, John Harrington (the other was Ray Newman at the Gladstone). And a good laugh was had by all eventually.

I have many Harry Sparkle stories I could relate, not all of them decent.

But I will tell you I saw him paste up the side of a parked bus in Cathedral Square one day for The Terrorways until the driver came running. Yes Harry could make a point.

I also saw Harry flat on his back on another occasion in the Shades Mall with his glue pot upended, posters everywhere and a dozen packets of panadeine cast about in the shape of a cross. For my sins, Harry.

But when a poster needed to go up you called Harry and he went to the maximum for New Zealand music which quite clearly needed to be heard and now has a very real place in the world.

The two other members of The Baby Eaters (Reuben and Johnny) are dead now as far as I know, as are many of the memories of punk. The grandmaster, Malcolm McLaren, died about a month ago.

I think New Zealand Music Month to be a truly great thing (but not universally great), but more than that, I like to see posters coming through for new and vital bands. But I’m going to finish with a joke because none of us should take ourselves too seriously:

This is what English comedian Ken Dodd once said:

“The man who invented cat’s eyes got the idea when he saw a cat facing him in the road. If the cat had been facing the other way, he’d have invented the pencil sharpener.”

The poster run in Trenton was highly enjoyable and I really tried to interact with local people. It worked.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

29a 29b 29c 29e

Diary of a Billsticker – Atlantic City, USA

We drove an old MK1 Land Rover on a hot New Jersey night toward Atlantic City (‘AC’). I bet Southside Johnny has driven this route many times and could do so in his sleep. We had the Carolina Chocolate Drops playing loud on the stereo and were ebullient to be doing a clean poster run again and to have found ‘open ground’. We were happy to be running free and to be expanding as human beings. It was good.

In the back seat was a Les Paul Gold Top in an old Epiphone case. This case had been dropped so many times you wondered about the previous owners. It was bound in so many loving luggage tags that you would have thought Jordan Luck had owned it. A good loving. A real good loving such as the world needs. Aaaah, poetry. Woodbury’s favourite son is Jordan luck.

The luggage tags showed the time honoured rock n’ roll route: Scottsdale, Arizona – Austin, Texas – New Orleans, Louisiana – Macon, Georgia – Muscle Shoals, Alabama – Detroit, Michigan – Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee – Seattle, Washington. The Betty Ford Centre – Promises – The Stone Pony, Ashbury Park – Chick’s Hotel – The Gluepot – Ranfurly – Whangarei on a cold Monday night – The Whitehouse, Invercargill. Yes, we know them all well. Yes, we earned it together and forever it is ours. Let’s not have it all slip away and poetry keeps it there.

We were carrying poem posters by four Kiwis and two Americans: Brian Turner, Michele Leggott, Stephen Oliver, Tusiata Avia, Joe Treceno and Robert Pinsky. These are all fine and thoughtful poets who make a difference in the world each time they are read.

We stayed in nearby Egg Harbour and went into AC to poster each day. We ate salt water taffy until it was running down our chins and this whilst the Carolina Chocolate Drops were still playing loud in our heads. The air was fresh and it was good to see a beach again. You have to cherish the sea. A seashore in Aotearoa is the most beautiful in the world, but I am here. And here is mighty good and enthralling.

We mostly postered up and down the famous Boardwalk, adding also a few choice spots in the surrounding areas. I think the most satisfying experiences I have postering with poems is when I see people stop and read the words. I saw a woman jogger on the Boardwalk stop to read Michele Leggott’s poem ‘Wonderful to Relate’. This woman combed through it line by line and was tracing with her forefinger. For me, it was like time had stopped as I waited for a reaction. I got one, the woman was obviously moved and maybe it’s my imagination, but she seemed to jog away in a much more coordinated manner and like her breathing had changed. I think it had. Mine did. We had made a difference. That’s what we came for.

Here’s what Pablo Neruda said about poetry:

“On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.”

Yes, that’s why we do it. Little steps to change.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson