Flying Nun Records
About this guide
This guide provides a starting point for researching Flying Nun artists and the label. In here you will find information that will help you identify Flying Nun material held in the National Library of New Zealand and Alexander Turnbull Library collections and point you to resources in other institutions.
The Alexander Turnbull Library and National Library hold a variety of material relating to the label and its artists, including:
- books and articles,
- published and unpublished recordings,
- gig ephemera,
- personal papers, and
In 2018, the Flying Nun master tapes were donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library, and is increasingly known as a repository of Flying Nun material.
The Flying Nun and associated collections form a significant part of the Archive of New Zealand Music, which is the world's largest archive of unpublished material relating to New Zealand music and musicians.
What’s Flying Nun Records?
Flying Nun Records is New Zealand’s internationally best-known independent record label. Founded in 1981 by Roger Shepherd, the label has recorded many of New Zealand’s most renowned punk, post-punk, and indie rock musicians and bands, including The Chills, Chris Knox, The Clean, Look Blue Go Purple, and Headless Chickens among others.
When record store manager and music fan Roger Shepherd founded Flying Nun Records in 1981, he wanted to document the bands he had seen perform in Christchurch and Dunedin. In his memoir, In Love With These Times, My Life with Flying Nun Records, Shepherd notes that at that time no one else in the music industry seemed to be interested in recording independent bands from the South Island.
The establishment of Flying Nun had a profound effect on this scene. While some bands may have gone on to be recorded by mainstream labels, most would not have been, and the scenes where the bands came from would probably have developed quite differently.
An important factor in the success of Flying Nun was that Shepherd brought a fan’s passion and a fan’s perseverance to the business of recording music. His insistence in having an approach that centred on the individual identities of the bands and artists was vital to how Flying Nun developed both aesthetically and as a brand.
In the early years there was no ‘house style’: each band and artist had a different aesthetic, and they frequently contributed their own art of the album covers, which meant that each album looked very different from every other album. This became a central tenet of the label’s aesthetic, even though Shepherd admitted in his memoir that the varied look and sound sometimes led to confusion among fans and in the music industry.
Getting started on research
There are an increasing number of books and articles that have been published on Flying Nun, its artists and their music. These are a good way of starting your research and getting a sense of the broader picture before exploring your specific topic.
As one of the most significant recording labels in New Zealand, Flying Nun and their artists feature in most general books on New Zealand music that cover the 1980s and 1990s including:
- Wade Churton, “Have You Checked the Children?” Punk and Postpunk-Music in New Zealand, 1977-1981 (1999), Put Your Foot Down Publishing.
- John Dix, Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock ‘n’ Roll 1955 to the Modern Era (2005), Penguin.
- David Eggleton, Ready to Fly: The Story of New Zealand Rock Music (2003), Craig Potton.
- Philip Hayward, Tony Mitchell, Roy Shuker (eds.), North Meets South, Popular Music in Aotearoa/New Zealand (1994), Perfect Beat.
- Grant Smithies, Soundtrack: 118 great New Zealand Albums (2007), Craig Potton.
- Simon Sweetman, On Song: Stories Behind New Zealand Pop Classics (2012), Penguin.
- Nick Bollinger, 100 Essential New Zealand Albums (2009) Awa Press.
These books are also useful for understanding the contexts in which the bands and artists associated with Flying Nun emerged, the wider New Zealand music scene and industry, and why Flying Nun Records was established. These books will also help you locate primary resources held in the Alexander Turnbull Library, and in other collections around the country.
To find the material mentioned above you can search the National Library Catalogue, or Te Puna, a database that searches libraries across New Zealand.
Flying Nun and the Dunedin Sound
The Flying Nun ‘sound’ is often considered synonymous with the so-called ‘Dunedin Sound’, as the label released recordings of many Dunedin bands in its early years. Because of this, books and writing about the Dunedin Sound is useful, particularly if your focus is on Flying Nun bands who came out of the Dunedin scene.
There have been articles and chapters written on the Dunedin Sound in a variety of places, such as the magazines Rip It Up and New Zealand Musician, and the website Audioculture: The Noisy Library of New Zealand Music.
Additionally, there are a growing number of university research theses and dissertations , most notably the University of Otago (which you can access through university library and research portals), and articles and books, such as:
- Ian Chapman, The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening (2016), Bateman.
- Oli Wilson and Michael Holland, ‘The “Dunedin Sound” Now: Contemporaneous Perspectives on Dunedin’s Musical Legacy, in Shelley Brunt and Geoff Stahl (eds.) Made in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand (2018), Routledge.
Scholarly work on Flying Nun
Scholarly research on the Flying Nun label and its artists has appeared in edited collections of essays and university research repositories.
Music conference proceedings and journals, such as those published by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Australia/New Zealand Branch, frequently contain articles on both the Dunedin Sound and Flying Nun artists.
These articles usually focus on one aspect of music, performance, or recording, so are useful for detailed examinations about specific artists’ outputs.
Some examples include:
- Matthew Bannister, White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Rock (2006), Ashgate.
- Graeme Downes, “Songwriting Process in the Verlaines’ album Corporate Moronic’, in Dan Bendrups and Graeme Downes (eds.) Dunedin Soundings: Place and Performance (2011), Otago University Press.
This is an expanding field of publications, with musicians and other people associated with Flying Nun sharing memories of their times with the label. In addition to books you can find profiles and research in magazines, websites, such as Audioculture, and in collections of essays, both scholarly and popular.
Hearing from Flying Nun people
In recent years, people associated with Flying Nun have also written about their experiences on the New Zealand music scene and with Flying Nun.
- Roger Shepherd, In Love With These Times, My Life with Flying Nun Records (2016), Harper Collins.
- Shayne P. Carter, Dead People I Have Known (2019), Victoria University Press.
- Matthew Bannister, Positively George Street: Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin Sound – A Personal Reminiscence (1999), Reed.
- Graeme Jefferies, Time Flowing Backwards: A Memoir (2018), Mosaic Press.
To find the material mentioned above you can search the National Library Catalogue, or Te Puna, a database that searches libraries across New Zealand.
Magazines and newspapers
Books, contemporary music journalism are also an excellent starting point for background research. New Zealand Musician and Rip It Up are good magazines to have a look at.
New Zealand Musician
New Zealand Musician is a useful magazine for Flying Nun material from the late 1980s onwards. While New Zealand Musician does not include gig guides or reviews, they do have album reviews, in depth features, and flashback articles that focus on artists, bands or certain moments in time.
Although the back issues have not yet been digitised, the hard copies are available in the Library and some of the back material is also available on New Zealand Musician’s website. Archived versions of the New Zealand Musician website are available on the New Zealand Web Archive. To search for items in the web archive using the National Library Catalogue.
Rip It Up
The music magazine Rip It Up was one of the most important local music publications in the 1970s through to the 2000s. The Library has digitised issues between 1977 and 1985, covering the early years of Flying Nun. These are available on the Papers Past website. The undigitised later issues are also available in the Library for you to consult.
Discography is the study and cataloguing of recordings, frequently on a single artist or band, or focused on record labels, genres, or scenes. Sometimes these works will concentrate on one aspect of recordings such as studio albums, or live recordings.
Discographies will usually include personnel featured on a recording. Including; information about where and when the music was recorded, and when it was released. Sometimes they also include sales or chart information, and production credits, or profiles and other information about the artist or band.
There is currently no comprehensive Flying Nun discography, however, the label’s releases appear in a range of different discographical works published in both physical form and on the internet.
Published discographies with Flying Nun material in them held in the National Library collections include:
- Tim Davey and Horst Puschmann, Kiwi Rock (1996), Kiwi Rock Productions.
- John K. Smith and Colin M. Linwood Just for the Record: A Discography of 78s, 45s, EPs & LPs by New Zealand Popular Recording Artists 1949 to 1997 (2nd Edition) (1998), J.K. Smith.
- John Garraway, "Local Heroes": A Selective Discography of Rock Sound recordings by New Zealand Performers 1960-1990 (1991) J. Garraway.
To find the published discographies with Flying Nun material mentioned above search the National Library Catalogue, or Te Puna, a database that searches libraries across New Zealand.
The official Flying Nun website has discographical information and cover images, with older versions available in the New Zealand Web Archive.
Flying Nun and other New Zealand indie labels
The 1980s were a booming period for New Zealand independent music, with several small labels engaged in recording similar post-punk music to Flying Nun. Labels such as Propeller, Failsafe, Industrial Tapes and Xpressway all recorded artists that had also recorded on Flying Nun. Some of these labels specialised in cassette releases, with cassettes being cheaper to manufacture on a small scale than vinyl and reflecting a DIY aesthetic that appealed to them.
These labels were rivals to Flying Nun to some extent, but several were established by people who had worked for and with Flying Nun at one point. Because of crossovers in their artist roster and DIY approaches it is beneficial to read about these other indie labels to understand the musical and cultural landscape that Flying Nun was operating in.
Websites such as Audioculture are a good place to start this research. You will also find information in the general texts mentioned above.
Finding published articles
As noted above, music journalism has played an equally large role in spreading information about Flying Nun Records as books or other forms of traditional publishing. Music journalism in New Zealand has always been spread across a wide range of different publications ranging from music magazines to newspapers to lifestyle magazines.
The FindNZArticles database hosts nearly 20 bibliography and indexing databases and sites, from a variety of New Zealand institutions, including National Library’s Index New Zealand, which includes citations from most (if not all) New Zealand serial publications, and many local peer-reviewed journals in New Zealand from 1984 onwards.
In the FindNZArticles database you can find album and gig reviews, news items and interviews relating to Flying Nun. Artists and bands websites are also a useful place for information, but longevity and the internet do not often go hand in hand, and while you might be able to find current information, what about older information? Fortunately, many of the Flying Nun bands’ and artists’ own websites have been harvested and archived by the National Library and are accessible by searching for the band or artist name in the published catalogue.
Finding archival material
The library holds large collections of unpublished material, which can be searched and requested through the library’s unpublished materials catalogue, Tiaki.
Searching for Flying Nun material is occasionally challenging, as material relating to the label is held in various collections. This is because the material was acquired from different organisations and individuals at different times. For a broad overview, begin by doing a name search on Flying Nun. Doing a name search rather than a keyword search means that you get results that directly relate to Flying Nun, as opposed to getting results that include the word ‘flying’ or ‘nun’.
There are hundreds of unique collection items that are associated with Flying Nun records ranging from recordings to album and gig ephemera to sales catalogues and correspondence.
The collections containing Flying Nun material
Flying Nun music releases in the New Zealand & Pacific Published Collection
Most of the official Flying Nun releases are held in the National Library or the Alexander Turnbull Library catalogues on the main formats of the day: vinyl, audiocassette and CD. Some international variants are also available, for example the CDs released by FNR Europe and the Normal label in Germany. There are also some autographed, annotated copies available for research, especially in the Anthony Norton Collection of New Zealand vinyl records.
Contemporaneous independent record labels are also well represented in the catalogue, such as Xpressway, Industrial Tapes, Propeller and Jayrem.
The National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library also add reissues of Flying Nun artists to their respective holdings, including from Flying Nun itself but also Siltbreeze, Merge, Roof Bolt and various Bandcamp offerings.
Flying Nun Collection
The Flying Nun Collection is a collection of master tapes and other recordings from Flying Nun that were donated in 2018 and 2019. The material dates primarily from the 1980s and 1990s and comprises production masters, studio multitracks, outtakes, live recordings, alternate mixes and demos, together with radio live-to-airs, interviews, and music videos.
The recordings relate to over 70 different groups and artists associated with Flying Nun Records, including: The 3Ds, Able Tasmans, Bailter Space, The Bats, Bike, The Chills, The Clean, Headless Chickens, JPS Experience, David Kilgour, Chris Knox, Look Blue Go Purple, Skeptics, Sneaky Feelings, Straitjacket Fits, Tall Dwarfs, and The Verlaines.
Approximately half the recordings are on open-reel tapes of various types, with the remainder on a range of other analogue and digital formats. A subseries within this collection is the Audiocassettes series (FLYC), which are all on the cassette format. The collection is being progressively digitised with hundreds of items already available to listen to/watch in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room. Due to copyright restrictions, however, they are not yet available for offsite access.
The tapes are housed in their original annotated and labelled boxes, some enclosed with papers such as tracking sheets, label copy, technical information, and personal messages. The collection also includes some born-digital copies of album artwork and booklets.
In the Tiaki catalogue of unpublished material, the Flying Nun recordings are identified by the reference numbers ‘FLYC’ (cassettes), 'FLYT' (open reel tape), 'FLYV' (video), 'FLYDT' (DAT), and 'FLYCD' (CD).
The Chris Knox Collection
Chris Knox is one of the most significant artists associated with the Flying Nun label. Even before the label’s founding in 1981, Knox had a major influence on other musicians in the New Zealand scene as a member of the groups The Enemy and Toy Love. He went on to work for the label, making 4-track recordings of key groups, creating graphics for album artwork and posters, and also directing music videos. Flying Nun released his solo recordings and as a member of Tall Dwarfs (with Alec Bathgate).
In 2019, Chris Knox donated a set of 253 master tapes and other recordings from his personal collection. These have been described as a separate collection: Knox, Chris, 1952-: Recordings (ATL-Group-00454). As with the main Flying Nun Collection, the recordings are being digitised and will gradually become available to hear in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room over coming years.
Nunfest: Flying Nun material in other collections
There is a wealth of Flying Nun-related material in other collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Of note are items like gig tickets, posters, flyers, and other advertising material held in the Ephemera Collection.
This material is grouped in a variety of ways depending on where the material was sourced, for example, from a design company such as Apple Pie Design or an organisation who collected across a range of bands, for example Crawlspace Records, or from a band who has donated material relating specifically to them.
You can find this material by searching for the artist or band, venue or associated organisations. Some of this material has been digitised and is available for viewing offsite, however you need to get permission from the copyright holders for reuse elsewhere.
Other Flying Nun-related material in our collections include wholesale distribution catalogues, photographs, correspondence, cartoons (primarily by Chris Knox) and clippings files. These materials are all valuable resources on your research journey.
Some relevant collections include:
- Radio Active 89FM: Recordings
- Radio Active 89FM: Uncharted, 1992-1998
- Terry Leamy: Collection relating to New Zealand popular music
- Propeller Lamont Ltd: Recordings
- Peter Cooke: Sound recordings
- Bill Direen: Sound recordings
- Anthony Norton Collection of New Zealand vinyl records
When you search for ‘Flying Nun’ in keyword searches on our catalogues or website (whether the general search from the front page, Tiaki or National Library catalogues) please be aware that, as noted above, you will also get results for both ‘flying’ and ‘nun’. ‘Flying Nun Records’ as a general search will increase the accuracy, although you will still have quite a few unrelated results. You can also search on individual band and artists names, and graphic designers (for posters and other visual ephemera) related to Flying Nun.
In the general front-page search, it is best to be fairly specific about what you want to look for, as that search covers both Tiaki (unpublished) and National Library (published) catalogues, as well as the website (so results can include events, blogs, and media releases as well as published and unpublished material). You can limit that search to just catalogues or the website if you want to exclude some results and, in the results page, you can also apply filters for date ranges, material types, subject, creators and so on.
It may be that you only want to search for published or unpublished material however, and for that you will need to go to the National Library catalogue (published, including both National Library and Turnbull collections) or Tiaki (unpublished material).
In the National Library catalogue you have the options of doing a simple or advanced search. Much like the front page search the simple search will bring back a lot of results, but some will be unrelated to what you are looking for. The advanced search functions allows you to place limits on your search terms, for example searching for Flying Nun in the subject or creator/contributor fields of records specifically. You can also refine your search results through material type, time period, author/creator and so on (similar to how the search function on the front-page works).
In Tiaki, you choose the limits as you do the search. If you wanted to do a general search on Flying Nun, the easiest option is the name search, which will bring up all relevant records that have Flying Nun in the name fields of the record. The same advice applies to band and artist names. Be aware that if you do a keyword search on Flying Nun and a band name (e.g., Flying Nun Sneaky Feelings) you would get all the records that related to both Flying Nun and Sneaky Feelings, but you would not get any results on Sneaky Feelings that did not have Flying Nun appearing in the record. Searching on keywords or names and a specific date range in another way of applying limits to your searches and can be a useful way of searching if you’re looking at a specific year or period.
Searches will generally include digitised material in the search results, but if you want to search for digitised material specifically you can do so by checking the ‘Only Digitised Content’ box at the bottom of the search column. The bottom of the search column also has links to search tips and help for requesting items should you need it.
Once you’ve found a variety of material and feel comfortable knowing what the group and series numbers are, reference numbers are also a useful way of doing more specific searches in Tiaki. For example, if you just wanted to look up the Flying Nun masters you can use ‘FLYC’ in the reference number field and see all the records of the audiocassette recordings. Or perhaps you were wanting to look at Flying Nun ephemera that you knew was in the Eph-C-Phono collections, but didn’t want to limit yourself to one specific folder you can search ‘Eph-C-Phono’ in the reference number field and you would get results for all of the folders in that collection, if you added in a date, for example 1986 (Eph-C-Phono-1986) you would see the results that only related to 1986, and find that there was a high proportion of Flying Nun material in those folders.
Registering and requesting material
To use the National Library and Alexander Turnbull collections you need to register as a reader as all material except the reference collections are kept in closed stacks and need to be requested. You can find information about how to register for both the National Library Catalogue and Tiaki, request material and when to expect item delivery here: Registering and Requesting.
Restrictions and permissions
As Flying Nun was only founded in 1981, all the recordings and associated materials are still in copyright, as is all the ephemera associated with the artists, bands, and the label. This means that none of the material can be reproduced without permission from the copyright holders.
Further, some of the material has restrictions placed on it for a variety of reasons ranging from donor permissions to conservation decisions. In some cases, the library has made surrogates to be used in place of the originals to protect the items, for example the Flying Nun open-reel tapes and cassettes that have been digitised and are available to listen to on search stations in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room.
If you have special reasons for needing to view the originals, please contact the library in advance through our Ask A Librarian service.
For personal use, you can make research copies of books/journals, manuscript and ephemera items in the Reading Room. You can use your own device (phone, tablet, camera) or by using the Reading Room resources. Please note however that research copies of A/V material cannot be made. The library also offers an Imaging Service where you can purchase high-resolution digital images or research copies.
Flying Nun resources in other places
Audioculture: The Noisy Library of New Zealand Music — is New Zealand’s popular music history website. It features a wide range of articles, discographical listings, audio and video on Flying Nun Records and associated artists. This includes profiles on the label, bands and artists, and memoirs from people involved in the label.
Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision — holds a large collection of material relating to Flying Nun Records. While some of the material is available to listen to and view via the website, much you will need to contact them directly about. The material ranges from music videos and tracks to interviews, profiles, news stories, documentaries, and more.
Te Papa holds a small but significant collection — of material objects associated with Flying Nun. This includes recordings (mostly vinyl), album and gig advertising and ephemera, and items such as commemorative t-shirts.
Hocken Collections (University of Otago) — has a broad collection of material that relates to Flying Nun Records, the Dunedin Sound, and associated artists and organisations (including Xpressway Records). This material ranges from album and gig ephemera to correspondence and business records. They also have a Music Reference Guide available, which is useful for Flying Nun research as well.
Increasingly university students at postgraduate level are choosing to focus on New Zealand music topics (from a wide variety of angles: music, heritage studies, sociology, business studies and so on), and this includes topics relating to Flying Nun. For example, the University of Otago holds a growing number of honours and masters theses that focus on the Dunedin Sound and on Flying Nun artists. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one-stop shop’ to search for these theses and dissertations, but you can search through each institution’s catalogues for theses and dissertations on the area you are interested in. Many of these theses and dissertations are freely available for download by anyone for their research and interest.
Universities also often have special collections of ephemera manuscripts relating to their institution and/or local area, as well as collections of student publications such as
- Craccum (Auckland),
- Nexus (Waikato),
- Salient (Victoria),
- Canta (Canterbury), and
- Critic (Otago).
These can all contain information relating to Flying Nun and are worth investigating. For example, the J C Beaglehole Room Student Arts Council Poster Collection at Victoria University of Wellington contains posters from on-campus concerts by Flying Nun bands.
Thanks to the following organisations and people for their work on the Flying Nun and related collections in the Alexander Turnbull Library:
- Flying Nun Foundation
- Roger Shepherd
- Ben Howe
- Flying Nun artists
- Flying Nun Project Group (Alexander Turnbull Library)
- Aleisha Ward