Flying Nun certainly gets its share of retrospective coverage, but there are chapters in the Kiwi label’s story that are only intermittently skimmed; one such example is Bill Direen. Noted as a poet and novelist in addition to his work as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Direen’s musical rep largely rests on a string of ’80s recordings issued both under his own name and a succession of monikers, most of them variants on Builders. After self-releasing a handful of EPs, Beatin Hearts served as the first full-length album in Flying Nun’s discography, and yet it’s overlooked far too often; Grapefruit’s reissue, available for purchase on LP August 12, underscores that it’s anything but a historical footnote.
Bill Direen was a member of Vacuum, which in Flying Nun terms means he spans way back before the beginning, back to 1977 in fact, in cahoots with Stephen Cogle, Peter Stapleton, Peter Fryer, and Alan Meek. Swiping liberally from ’60s garage, the Velvets and other proto affairs, Vacuum was surely a small speck in the global sonic uprising of the period, but their raw, low fidelity recordings, retroactively released on a pair of 7-inches by Siltbreeze, illuminate them as more than just another punk band.
Once Vacuum dissolved, Cogle, Stapleton, and Meek hooked up with Tony O’Grady to form The Victor Dimisich Band. During this period Stapleton also played a role in the Pin Group alongside Roy Montgomery, and after the Victor Dimisich Band broke up was part of Scorched Earth Policy; later than that he joined The Terminals. Make no mistake, all this subsequent activity is very impressive, but one could easily argue that the strongest post-Vacuum track record belongs to Bill Direen.
A part of the reason is the string of 7-inches he released in ’81-’82. Self-financed and distributed by Flying Nun, these objects; “Soloman’s Ball,” “Six Impossible Things,” “Die Bilder/ Schwimmen in Der See,” and “High Thirties Piano,” offer a remarkable post-punk survey undiluted by marketplace concerns. There was lingering demand, however; the whole lot was reissued in 2012 by the Unwucht label, and it’s all worth tracking down. Just don’t let locating them usurp obtaining a fresh copy of Beatin Hearts.