I thought long and hard about who would be an appropriate 100th resident, considering every big name in Wellington (Sir Peter Jackson must be in the phone book, right?)
Nothing felt quite right. In the end, it was while I was going to get my VERY VERY EXCITING Limited Edition Bones Style Club Tee’s printed which you can get via the little shop I've popped up for JUST ONE WEEK that I met Thomas Lynch from Artisan Screen Printing and everything fell into place. Nothing made more sense than sharing the fascinating stories of this former Wellington punk.
My gut told me to go for it. He was the one. Because after 100 stories, I’ve learnt that sometimes the best tales come from the most unassuming places, like a dusty run-down shed in Shelly Bay.
Thomas is skilled in his craft. He makes screen prints with natural dyes, printing on tops, paper and almost anything else you can think of. Tall and considered, Thomas has a natural easy charm. He’s travelled the globe yet considers Wellington his home.
"...After 100 stories, I’ve learnt that sometimes the best tales come from the most unassuming places, like a dusty run-down shed in Shelly Bay"
WHO IS THOMAS LYNCH?
Thomas Lynch is Resident 100. He's not famous at all. But he tells a bloody good story. His tale has all the elements of the classic Wellington prodigal son – punk bands, living on the cheap, the Kiwi OE - the works. He makes a living by printing screen prints at his business Artisan Screen Printing in Shelly Bay. He's knowledgeable, kind hearted and an all around good guy.
HOW DID HE GET HERE?
Thomas was born in Dunedin. His parents met in the North Island, before relocating down to the South. Thomas doesn’t have many memories of this time except for the time his pal Ralph Henderson accidentally rammed his trike into his shins. “I remember feeling really angry and still knowing it was irrational at age 4 or 5,” Thomas says. “I have a few stories from that time but most of them are ones that my mother told me when I got older and I think I remember it. We all have unreliable ‘memories’ like that.”
When the family moved from Dunedin to Wellington in 1970 (Thomas was 5), the family had 4 children. “It sounds like a lot young, but in those times it was quite normal,” he says. Thomas went to Catholic schools, completing high school at St Patricks in Wellington. “I liked the learning part of school – I didn’t like the weird outdated practices of single-sex-catholic schools. Being told what to do all the time was a problem for me! I was quite a bookish kid.”
“I was walking past my sister's bedroom and I heard her playing ‘The Clash – London Calling’. I couldn’t go in because she would have thumped me, so I sat outside, having the epiphany. I remember it so vividly, hearing that song for the first time.”
All that changed one day when Thomas discovered the sounds of punk. “I was walking past my sister's bedroom and I heard her playing ‘The Clash – London Calling’. I couldn’t go in because she would have thumped me, so I sat outside, having the epiphany. I remember it so vividly, hearing that song for the first time.”
It was (ironically) in metal work class that Thomas found his first ally, Paul. “There was this guy who was always quite stand-off-ish. He looked like a punk, dressed like a punk. I sidled up to him and told him I was thinking about buying some punk music. He told me to buy ‘I got a right’ by The Henchmen – an Iggy and the Stooges cover. A few days later, when I told him I listened to it, he tested me, asking what the B-Side was. Because I could answer him we became friends and I just went to Pauls 50th birthday in Germany”
Sadly, “every child in our family has been asked to mouth along in school plays. As a family, we are tone deaf. It’s quite depressing really but them’s the breaks” Thomas says wryly. “Particularly for someone who loves music. It’s why I got into supporting bands. Without the crews, the shows don’t happen. You can still be part of the scene.”
The Lost Years
After leaving school, Thomas threw himself into the punk rock scene, hanging out with the likes of punk bands like ‘Flesh D-Vice’. “You’d get arrested, you’d get beat up. But we were a community. Because of our size, and the size of Wellington, we couldn’t see punk bands every week. So we’d go and see hip hop or reggae bands too because they were the only show in town.” Thomas credits this cross fertilisation of music for broadening his horizons and introducing him and his friends to band’s they wouldn’t have seen otherwise, like the Warratahs. “You’d find yourself having quite a good time”.
Today, you couldn’t survive as a punk in New Zealand, living as Thomas did. In the 80’s, however, Wellington could accommodate punks at a good price. “You’d live in warehouses. We had a 4 bedroom house on Tasman St and Rugby St. It was $120 per week. We had 5 people living there so rent was about $24 per week. A pint of beer would have been about $2. If you went to a nightclub it was $5 which seemed outrageous. There was also a ‘homeless hotel’ where the Wakefield Hotel building is on Cuba Street and you’d get a solid meal of pie and potatoes and a little glass of beer for just over $1. The welfare system was much less stringent. If you dressed like a punk, they assumed you were unemployable.” Thomas also laments that these days it has become much harder for artistic Kiwi’s, like Flight of The Conchords or Taika Waititi did, to get support while they work creatively. Through this time, Thomas worked in hardware stores and also lived on the dole, having fun and being young.
After Thomas had had his fill of his self-proclaimed ‘lost years’ in Wellington, he decided to do the great Kiwi OE and move to London. “I’d done a little bit of screen printing by then, making them for Flesh D-Vice” he recalls “Once I’d been in London a few months, my money ran out I got back into printing tops at a large printing business. Over time, I was able to go and see bands that we did the work for too which was great. You naturally pick up what works and what doesn’t. I probably learnt more from doing it practically than I would have from design school!” However, despite his talent, Thomas’s tardiness got the better of him.
One day, his London boss told him he had to start arriving at work on time and that he’d better “shape up or ship out” because it wasn’t fair on the other workers. Thomas left the room, made a phone call to his friend who was living in Aspen, Colorado, told him he’d be joining him in the US. He returned to his boss’s office at the printing business. “’Look, I’m not a shaping up type of guy’ I said” Thomas recalls laughing. “The next morning I went to the travel agent and booked a flight to Colorado, still carrying my ‘devil-may-care’ attitude. I didn’t even know it was a ski town. All I knew is that it was where Hunter S Thompson lived. I arrived on the day they shut the ski lift.”
Spice Up You Life!
Thomas spent 3 years in Aspen working for a small printer, before moving to San Francisco to work for and then Seattle. He then returned to the UK where he worked as crew on band gigs solely for a time. During his time doing this, he worked on gigs for Motorhead, Public Enemy, and a live Bee Gees Gig (with the last remaining Bee Gee), and the Spice Girls at Wembley Arena. Another life highlight was meeting Debbie Harry. “You spend weeks bringing this thing together,” Thomas says “and then after 3 hours they pull it all down, to get it to the next show.”
Thomas was also one of the first people to learn of the demise of the Spice Girls. “When Geri left the Spice Girls, I was already printing a tee with just 4 girls. I printed that before it was announced. So I was one of the first people in the world to know that Geri had left the Spice Girls. The merchandise is so important!” Even though Thomas wasn’t they key demographic for the Spice Girls, he does admire what they did. “Anyone who can make 70,000 people lose their shit must be doing something right?”
After 10 years working overseas, in 2001, Thomas returned to New Zealand. Prompted by the chaos after 9/11 Thomas realised he needed to leave the USA. “All this stuff got slipped into the Patriot Act and the world changed because of that day,” Thomas says.
Thomas started in Auckland, but after a year moved back to Wellington. “Auckland has all the problems of LA or London, without the benefits” he opines. After 13 years, Wellington had changed from the sleepy 80’s village to a little groovy town. “’Once you’ve faced the fact Nashville Pussy aren’t going to play here, its great’, I’d tell people,” Thomas says “And then, they did come and play here around 7 years ago. So the only thing wrong with Wellington wasn’t a problem anymore. I even got to do their poster the last time they toured.”
WHAT DOES HE DO DIFFERENTLY IN HIS PRINTING?
Thomas sold tees on Cuba Street at a shop he shared with a boutique designer. “It’s hard to go New Zealand made and organic. When the GFC happened, it affected how much people were prepared to spend. She shut the shop so I decided to start my own printing business, printing for other people.” Now Thomas prints all day and does his own designs on top of his commercial work. He also prints posters for local bands. “It’s a business but it is not just a business to me,” he says. “There wasn’t really anywhere to get decent organic clothing so I started importing my own to print my own designs on. There is a growing awareness about sustainability and they’re only a few more dollars”
Thomas still loves living here to this day. “I live in Kingston. Its 10 minutes on the bus to Cuba Street. And when you’re out in Wellington, you run into someone you know. We have Te Papa, the National Library, The New Zealand International Film Festival. There’s so much going on – like Nashville Pussy playing!”