Low-tech legend Chris Knox is an accomplished musician, cartoonist, critic, filmmaker, and jandal wearer. As this collection demonstrates, his genius takes flight in the DIY aesthetic of his music videos. As Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd says in his backgrounder, “this is a unique and important collection of work perfectly illustrating what is possible with the barest of resources and a free-wheeling imagination”. Russell Brown adds his view here. Alongside music videos, the collection also includes interviews with Knox and profiles of bands Toy Love and Tall Dwarfs.
Former Velvet Underground member John Cale’s first visit to New Zealand in 1983 is marked with this Radio with Pictures special. Indie legends Tall Dwarfs opened for Cale, and part of their performance is captured too. The venue is Christchurch's Hillsborough Tavern, where the cameras catch Cale's intense solo readings of classic songs including VU's ‘Waiting for the Man’, and Cale’s own ‘Leaving it up to You’. The Welshman also reflects briefly on his early years in New York, meeting Lou Reed, and his then most recent album, Music For a New Society.
Dunedin music historian Roy Colbert once described Toy Love as "The Stooges with better melodies'" The nervy brilliance of Chris Knox, Paul Kean, Jane Walker, Alec Bathgate and Mike Dooley made it onto the Kiwi singles charts three times between 1978 and 1980. Here they are in 1980 — probably at Wellington's Rock Theatre — charging through Green Walls and three chord stomper Pull Down the Shades back to back. Green Walls was first composed by The Enemy, the band from whose ashes Toy Love rose.
After kicking off with the opening bars of Chopin's 'Funeral March', this live rendition of 'Death Rehearsal' invites the audience into a cartoonish, Halloween world before Toy Love members Alec Bathgate, Paul Kean, Jane Walker and Chris Knox take their foot off the brake and let rip. Music journalist Graham Reid described this song (taken from their self-titled first album) as 'kitsch-gloom' and an example of the band branching out from straight ahead punk. Knox juggles delivering witty lyrics with finishing his ciggie, while Bathgate burns up his guitar.
Toy Love's decision to frolic amid the crucifixes in a Dunedin graveyard for this video offended some locals — but it was water off a punk's back for this free-spirited bunch. 'Good Old Joe' ( alongside 'Amputee Song') was the flipside to their third and final single, 'Bride of Frankenstein' . After eighteen frantic months, one album and nearly 500 gigs the band called it quits in late 1980. The clip begins with an excerpt from a group interview; Chris Knox thanks their fans for buying their debut album, and cracks up at a laconic aside from guitarist Alec Bathgate — 'it could have been worse'.
"I'm a fraud / I'm a sham..." The debut single from this influential Kiwi band introduced New Zealand television audiences to Toy Love's recipe of pop riffs and punk sneer. Although the group only existed for 18 months, they charted three times and made a lasting impression on the live scene on both sides of the Tasman. The single 'Squeeze' (backed by B-side 'Rebel') was recorded after a one-off deal with WEA. Vocalist Chris Knox is front and centre, crackling with malevolent energy in a video that mixes kids' toys with some gross out performance art.
The second, double-sided Toy Love single 'Don't Ask Me' / 'Sheep' was released in April 1980 and reached number 10 on the Kiwi pop charts. That year the band signed a contract with Michael Browning — a former manager of AC/DC — and made the move to Sydney, the prize being a studio album and a way bigger audience, but disillusionment soon set in. Sheep jumps out of the gates with driving drums and guitars and lyrics about numbness and confusion, all confirming Toy Love's punk roots. The band wander aimlessly around city streets and rock out in a cramped flat. Punk lives!
A simple line drawing animation for this little ditty from the Slugbucket Hairybreath Monster EP. The video features smoking sharks, animated versions of the Slugbucket character, Alec Bathgate, and Chris Knox himself. It’s fitfully low-tech as usual, but the clip still manages to use correct apostrophes throughout!
The man referred to as the "spiritual godfather of the Flying Nun scene" has undergone numerous incarnations during his musical career: from his arrival amidst the punk era of the late 70s with The Enemy, to short-lived legends Toy Love, and over a dozen releases with duo Tall Dwarfs (in collaboration with guitarist Alec Bathgate). There have also been several Chris Knox solo projects, including 1995 album Songs of You and Me, (hailed by the American music press as a piece of songwriting magic), classic love song ‘Not Given Lightly', and a run of distinctive music videos — most of them directed by Knox.
The title belies this profile (made for TV rock show Radio with Pictures) of Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate in their early days as the Tall Dwarfs. They traverse their past in legendary punk band The Enemy — with compelling performance footage — and the influential but ill-fated Toy Love. Knox’s seething disillusionment with the music industry is rapidly evolving into the DIY ethos that will reshape NZ alternative music. He is also typically confrontational as they busk in The Octagon while the closing acoustic performance is worth the price of admission on its own.