NZ On Screen's sister site AudioCulture have described Toy Love as one of the most important — and mythologised — New Zealand bands to emerge in the aftermath of punk. Fronted by the legendary Chris Knox, the band enjoyed a short but vibrant existence from 1978 to 1980, after evolving from Dunedin punk outfit The Enemy. Playing nearly 500 gigs in Aotearoa and Australia in the 18 months they were together, Toy Love proved a powerful live draw, their cocktail of punk/new wave/pop spiked with a wallop of raw energy. Compilation Cuts (2005) collects all of the band's released recordings and demos.
Indie legend Chris Knox is featured in this episode from a series made for secondary school music students. He performs 'One Fell Swoop' — a love song he describes as an aberration amongst his more "nasty" numbers — and explains its composition while denying Whitney Houston comparisons. Knox is typically forthright in discussing his varied career as musician, cartoonist, TV presenter and "renaissance bloke". He outlines his philosophy of DIY self-sufficiency and extols the virtues of never compromising (so that even failure is "much more meaningful").
Kiwi music legends Toy Love are credited with leading the NZ post-punk sound, delivering a sonic flare from 1979 that scaled charts and smashed Sweetwaters watermelons, before the love ended on a late 1980 NZ tour. In this February 1980 interview for regional show The South Tonight, the band is seen in their Dunedin hometown, preparing for a show at The Captain Cook Tavern. Reporter Keith Tannock asks Chris Knox what he’s rebelling against as the singer chugs a double-barrelled ciggie, and casts shade on boring pub rock music. The band would shortly depart for a stint in Sydney.
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!
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.
This Joe Wylie animation is a veritable treat: the melodramatic grotesqueries, bright colours, surgery porn and animated tomato sauce all contribute to produce one of New Zealand's first iconic music videos. The band are said to have kept their break up a secret until Wylie finished work on the clip, so he could get paid. The Auckland-produced video was the second made for 'Bride of Frankenstein'. The first was shot in Sydney, and in B movie style featured band members as surgeons who construct a bride (played by Toy Love keyboardist Jane Walker).
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.