In the mid-1980s, a teenager paid five dollars for a Katango fan club parcel. Thirty years later, her son attempts to track down the missing goods, or at least a refund.
Katango was one of thousands of bands in the 1980s. Their members were effeminate young men who wore make up. Their fashion was loud and garish. Their songs were vomit-inducing saccharine pop, shooting for a one-hit-wonder. But there is one thing that singles Katango out from the crowd: they ripped off my mum.
It was a lunchtime concert at Westlake Girls High School. Word was buzzing around the morning tea tuck-shop line that some dreamy boys were going to play a show. Mum hadn’t heard of Katango but her friends were keen, so she went along. Mum said that at the show “girls were whipped up into a frenzy”. They were screaming, pulling at their hair, and throwing their training bras onto the stage. People were fighting tooth and nail to get a glimpse of the band.
The feeling of frenzy is important because after they finished playing, Mum saw flyers encouraging the fresh-faced fans to join “Club Katango” – a fan club which promised signed posters, photographs, and new singles – all for the low price of $5NZD. My mum was one of many innocent young girls who joined.
She never received a damn thing.
When I first heard this story, I leapt out of my seat in anger. “What do you mean you didn’t receive anything!?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe it got lost in the mail.”
Lost in the mail? God bless my sweet mother’s soul.
She still can’t bear to face the ugliness of a 30-year-old truth: she got ripped off by some 80s pop freaks. After I heard the story, I decided to do a little digging on Katango. I poured every ounce of my research skills into chasing this thing. To say I had a personal investment was an understatement. I had a vendetta. A vendetta against the bastards who robbed my 13-year-old mother of five dollars. I decided that I wouldn’t rest without getting her money back. Adjusting for inflation, I was going after $12.35NZD.
Like any researcher worth their salt, I started with Google. Google turned up an app called Katango, which uses social algorithms to sort your friends list into people that share in your ideology. Google bought the technology in 2011 and utilised it along with leaked White House information sourced through Russian spies to secure Trump the US presidency.
Unfortunately nothing to do with the New Zealand pop band.
Scrolling further I turned up an article on AudioCulture, a website for jaded old musicians to relive their glory days by writing lengthy esoteric essays about bygone eras. The article contained several key pieces of information that both intrigued and incensed me. One was a magazine advertisement for “Club Katango”. The ad promised posters, autographed photos, badges, and t-shirts to anyone with five dollars and a rudimentary understanding of the New Zealand postal system. Near the ad was a quote from Katango’s lead singer Phil Eversden, candidly mentioning that “doing a school show was a quick way to make some cash”.
I bet it was, you slimy fucking rat.
This new information changed the game. This was no accident. This was an organised con job.
I started trying to locate the members of the band. All I had to work with were their names. I started with drummer Nick Ferneyhough, as he had the weirdest name. Google turned up an article from 2006 NZ Herald’s lifestyle section, in which Nick waxes lyrical about the simple pleasures of having both a house in Remuera and a Chateau in France. Such luxury, possibly aided by savvy investment of my mother’s five dollars.
I punched his name into Facebook, sourced his email, and sent him a message. Not wanting to let on that a 30-year cold case was coming back to bite him, I couched my questions in an unassuming discussion of the 1980s music scene.
When I mentioned the fan club, he said, “I’d forgotten about that. I think one of the fans actually set it up”.
This would not be the last I’d hear of this mysterious fan. Nick went on, “We really didn’t interact with the fans much at all as far as I remember… I think there were just a few cheesy signed photos given away to club members”. I find it hard to believe that if Katango gave away anything, they would do so for free.
After locating one member, it was relatively easy to find the rest. Facebook has the delightfully creepy feature of being able to search within other people’s friends list. It was through this method that I found Katango’s bass player, Carl Robinson. Carl is currently a fine wine importer living in Japan. Even with the time difference, he kindly scheduled a Skype call so that I could ask him a few questions.
I started off easy, knowing that with a click of a button he could leave both the call, and me, in the dark forevermore. Carl seemed to know a lot more about the fan club than Nick. He explained that the club grew quickly, with a couple thousand members joining in the first few months. 2000 x $5 = $10,000 — adjusting for inflation that’s $31,812.81. If Carl was the mastermind behind the scheme, then converting it into yen would make the amount ¥2,339,449.92 — enough for a house in central Auckland.
As I began to ask direct questions about the fan club, the plot thickened more than I could have ever dreamed. Carl told me that Katango the band didn’t actually have anything to do with the fan club, and they certainly didn’t see any money from it. Carl didn’t even know that there was a fee to join.
Upon learning this information, I turned my attention to this mystery fan club president.
Carl had mentioned her name was Kirsten. He couldn’t recall a last name. I doubt one was ever given. Apparently, this enterprising teeny bopper had contacted the band and asked if she could make a fan club for them. Carl said that she “wrote, published, and sent it out. She was in high school, sixteen at the time I suppose”.
I suddenly realised that all my anger towards Katango had been misdirected. They themselves had been duped by a conniving young lady with a penchant for financial misdemeanour. I made it my objective to find this Kirsten and confront her with her crime. I finished the Skype call with the request that Carl send a bunch of Katango fan paraphernalia to my mother. Carl promised that after 35 years, my mum would finally get her fan package.
Securing the goods, I next sought vengeance.
After googling the name Kirsten turned up over 100 million results, I decided a more direct approach would be needed. I went back to the basics: scouring Katango’s Youtube videos for comments. When this failed I searched the name on both Carl and Nick’s Facebook accounts. No dice.
Then I remembered my original source: the AudioCulture article on Katango. That single article had more information on the band than anywhere else on the internet. I began to scrutinise every line. The article mentioned band managers, venue owners, and local scenesters, all by name. But for fan club presidents I was coming up dry. I thought perhaps the writer of the article, Jon Chapman, possessed the information but didn’t realise the weight of it. I would have to talk to him directly and find out what he knew.
Finding him was not so easy. Like myself, Jon Chapman has been cursed by mediocre Anglo-Saxon nomenclature, making him very hard to locate. Linkedin turned up zilch. Facebook had far too many options to go sending out Katango-themed interrogations at random. When I returned to Audioculture, I realised that I had somehow missed the writers section. On it I found Jon Chapman, there was a bio but no links. However, the bio mentioned that he was currently playing in a Dunedin psychedelic rock band called Eye. I found the band on Facebook, chucked them a message, and within a week I was speaking to New Zealand’s foremost authority on 80s teen pop.
I could feel the story going cold as I typed the words, begging Jon Chapman to put me in contact with the people who ran the Katango fan club.
His response: “I’m happy to send your email address to Carl (main band member and also fan club runner) … He’s a really nice guy.”
I was confused to say the least. I had already spoken to Carl and he’d denied all knowledge of the fan club, putting the blame on this mysterious Kirsten.
“Ah, Paul Eversden told me that Carl ran it with his girlfriend of the time,” Jon said, “so that must be Kirsten I suppose.”
My jaw dropped. Had Carl lied to me? He certainly knew more about the fan club than anyone else. He certainly had access to the fan club paraphernalia. Did he know I was onto him? Was he trying to cover his tracks? Had I spoken directly to the man who thieved from my mother, and not known it?
I pulled myself together for one last question to Jon. I knew that talking to New Zealand’s foremost Katango expert was a one-time opportunity and I had questions that needed answers. I laid it all on the line, telling Jon about my mother’s five dollars, the adjustments in inflation, the conversation with Nick, my confrontation with Carl, the thousands of people in the fan club all paying five dollars, the yen conversion, the mysterious Kirsten who has never been seen or mentioned in the online records…
Then it struck me: Maybe that’s how they paid for their insanely expensive gear.
I have tried on numerous occasions to get in contact with Carl for a final round of questioning, but he’s been dodging my Facebook messages, emails, and Skype calls. I assume he’s hurriedly checking New Zealand’s statute of limitations and extradition agreements with Japan.
I called my mum.
I was dejected. I hadn’t been able to get her what she was owed: a Katango fan pack, and justice. Both of these things will remain out of reach as long as Carl Robinson stays hidden. My mum lost five dollars. She will never get that (inflation adjusted) $12.35NZD back. But what I hope this story has given her is a sense of closure. No longer will she spend sleepless nights tossing and turning, wondering if her package is at the bottom of a slosh pile of 1980s mail that never got delivered.
She will at least know the truth.
That her five dollars was thieved by some of the most heartless and conniving bastards to lay their hands upon a synthesiser.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.