Toy Love

Biography

The new wave sequel to the seminal kiwi punk band The Enemy, Toy Love expanded the Enemy’s brutally primal sound to include organ, angular guitar, and even more literate vocals.

By this stage of his musical development (early 1979 through 1980), lead-singer and song-writer Chris Knox was at his most populist peak, writing songs like ‘Pull Down The Shades’ and ‘Squeeze’, which became New Zealand pop classics.

Toy Love was more than just Knox’s band though, they welded his charismatic and warped vocals to Alec Bathgate‘s eclectic guitar playing, a young Paul Kean’s explosive bass playing, the poppy hooks of Jane Walker on keys, along with Mike Dooley holding up the fort on drums.

Toy Love were a band highly in demand, creating a stir on both sides of the ditch the band played continiously, holding up residencies were-ever they would land, but (due to the economics of the time) barely scraping by financially.

Everything would eventually came to a screaming halt when the band launched into recording their debut album. The sessions were a farce, with the band clashing with their engineer who just didn’t know how to handle such an eclectic and wild bunch of misfits.

They were tired.

The resulting album, though still containing quality material, wasn’t a patch on their earlier singles, each song sounded flat and warn-out and compounded the collapse of the group as a working unit. Knox and Bathgate would soon split to form the legendary Tall Dwarfs, whilst Paul Kean would become a part of The Bats.

The group made a triumphant return to the New Zealand album charts on Record Store Day, April 22nd 2012 with the release of the Double LP Live at the Gluepot, an extremely limited (400 copies worldwide!) live album sold exclusively at Real Groovy in Auckland.

Members

  • Chris Knox (Vocals, 1979 – 1980)
  • Alec Bathgate (Guitar, 1979 – 1980)
  • Mike Dooley (Drums, 1979 – 1980)
  • Phil Judd (Guitar, 1979)
  • Paul Kean (Bass, 1979 – 1980)
  • Jane Walker (Keyboards, 1979 – 1980)

Discography

  • Rebel/Squeeze 7″ Single (1979, Elektra, Z10015)
  • Don’t Ask Me 7″ Single (1980, Deluxe, Z10022)
  • Toy Love 7″ EP (1980, Deluxe, 20630)
  • Bride Of Frankenstein 7″ Single (1980, Deluxe, Z10029)
  • Toy Love LP / Cassette (1980, Deluxe, Z20008)
  • Cuts (Reissue / Anthology 2005, Flying Nun Records, FNCD473)
  • Live at the Gluepot Double LP (2012, Real Groovy Records)
  • Swimming Pool Split 7″ (w/ Knoxious 2012, Real Groovy Records, KNOXIOUS)
  • Pull Down The Shades DVD (Video Compilation 2012, Real Groovy Records, RGDV01)

Links

 

Tall Dwarfs

After Toy Love (the bastard son of The Enemy) disintegrated in 1980, Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate were so fed up with the ‘band’ approach to making music, that they formed The Tall Dwarfs as a performing collective absolutely opposed to the way they created music in the past.

Not that i’ve ever desperately wanted to have sex with Alec, ’cause he’s not really my type y’know, ’cause he doesn’t have breasts and a vagina. Apart from that, if i was to have sex with a fellow male musician it would probably be Alec
Chris Knox: Taken From Popwatch #10

Bringing in any number of contributors, the Tall Dwarfs forged a whole industry from home-recording. Knox had recently purchased a simple 4-track recorder, and it become the bases for the Tall Dwarfs recording regime (as well as the initial lo-fi steps of the just-formed Flying Nun label). Because of this freedom to recorded whatever and whenever they could, the Tall Dwarfs grew incredibly eclectic and bizarre, collecting fragments of found sounds, unusual toys, and whatever other ‘beautiful accidents’ they could muster, turning it into a beatles-influenced stew of pop (and not so pop) moments.

Over time, in the united states the Tall Dwarfs and knox’s solo material would become synonymous with the new zealand scene – as knox had become something of an iconoclastic figure with then-trendy lo-fi movement. Although Knox’s solo material started to take precedence over the Tall Dwarfs in the mid-90s (bathgate now lives in christchurch, knox in auckland), they continued to release album after album almost annually.

Discography (picks in bold)

See-Also

Tall Dwarfs – The Sky Above, The Mud Below

2001, Flying Nun, FNCD456

After 20 years of continually releasing dynamic, independent and thoroughly inventive music – the Tall Dwarfs have released perhaps their most laid-back and restrained full length with ‘The Sky Above, The Mud Below’, their 13th album. Wearing their influences on their sleeve, the album varies between shades of the Beatles and Beach Boys brands of pop, and the Tall Dwarfs trademark lo-fi inventiveness. For the first time, the group incorporates digital techniques (which might send some shivers down the spine of the purest of listeners – don’t worry it’s only for editing purposes!) to modify their endless collection of loops, sample snippets, tape-effects and found sounds.

The warmth of their previous recordings is still very evident, this time being far more reflective than their previous albums. Both Bathgate and Chris Knox (who has now reached the ripe old age of 50) seem at peace with themselves, and how they make music – no longer concerned with the “lost opportunities” that their other recent albums such as ’50 Flavors Of Glue’ and Knox’s solo release ‘Beat’ portrayed.

The album starts with the chirpy, upbeat tribute to the late great George Harrison “Meet The Beatle” inspired by Chris’ accidental run-in with Harrison a couple of years ago. “I know that guys like me are a drag, you must have had it up to here with fans” – a lyric typical of Knox’s content throughout the album. He’s playing for himself now, and songs like “Meet The Beatle” and the follow-up “Beached Boy” demonstrates he knows his place in the (music) world. Knox absolutely dominates the vocals on the first half of the disc, creating an introspective flow based around timid, tentative instrumentation – it’s hard to believe this is the same duo that raised so much hell as The Enemy back in the late 70’s.

“Room To Breathe” again recalls long lost beatles numbers, with Bathgate’s first vocal outing sharing a great deal of character with long lost Lennon classics. As the understated (and undervalued) member of the duo – Bathgate has a great deal of talent for playful melodies that goes unrecognized. “Melancholy” sees Knox bring out the oven trays (for percussive effect) along with some gentle wilting Mellotron from Bathgate – a sickly sweet ditty that’s already burnt its impression on my brain – imminently hummable.

Bathgate’s given the job of pulling off the album’s one true radio hit, though, with the self-effacing sing-a-long “Baby, It’s Over”, featuring some of the best organ and synth the Tall Dwarfs have ever committed to tape. Similar to the catchy (and somewhat revolting) singles from last album ’50 Flavors Of Glue’, it’d be a surefire hit if only pop songs were judged on merit rather than marketing ability!

“You Want Me Shimmy” is the prime moment of humor on the album, Knox trying his hardest to pull off an allman brothers impression, but comes off somewhere between captain Beefheart and Tom Waits! Definitely the result of many whiskey soaked nights behind the mixing board, it serves as a great foil to the more serious songs on the album.

The album concludes with an additional 8 tracks (described on the cd as a free EP) under the ‘International Tall Dwarfs’ moniker to coincide with material collected from international fans, called The Weidenhausen Impediment. The EP features Graeme Downes guitar work, a loop from Jad Fair (of Yo La Tengo), vocals, clarinet and guitar from Jeff Magnum and Laura Carter Of Neutral Milk Hotel (and Elf Power) and instrumentation from the entire Clean crew, along with a loop from unknown Dutch band ‘Mongrell’. Following on from the International Tall Dwarfs stunning debut ‘Stumpy’ — considered by many as the Dwarfs best album.

It’s quite evident that digital recording hasn’t made too much of a difference to the way the boys make music, the album still showcases the Dwarf’s disdain for flashy production – and it takes until the trailing EP before their trademark tape manipulation comes into play. all in all though, the many guest stars (and occasional stolen sample byte) blend perfectly into the dwarfs lo-fi madness – with even the guests from neutral milk hotel being relegated to merely impersonating possums on ‘possum born’. one of the best albums of the year so far, filled to the brim with catchy sing-a-long choruses, strange lyrical bents and references.

Alec Bathgate – The Indifferent Velvet Void

2004, Lil Chief, LCR009

I’ve tried to start this review several times now. There is something about Alec Bathgate‘s music that is so compelling that it’s a mystery why I find it hard to describe why his subtle blends of Beatle-esque pop and noise-collage lo-fi experimentation so appealing. When I put this CD in my Walkman, it replaced another cherished CD that was graced by Bathgate’s presence.

That album was AK79 – a compilation of Auckland-based punk bands from the late 1970’s which should be a standard in any kiwi music fans. Bathgate and his buddies in toy love had made great progress since evolving from their primordial roots as the enemy, as toy love’s two tracks on the album were an early indication of how startling Chris Knox had become as a vocalist, and the intense pop-filled hooks Bathgate and cohorts Paul Kean, Jane Walker and Mike Dooley were capable of.

Well AK79 is a long time ago now, and the indifferent velvet void is just the 2nd solo excursion of one of New Zealand’s finest guitarists and song writers. The tall dwarfs have been a little quiet as of late, though a recent excursion up north produced a wonderful Helen Street Studio recording of some of their past classics, as documented on national radio recently.

Bathgate is most notoriously known as the quiet or sane member of the duo, so hopefully this will be a step towards Christchurch’s own being recognized on his own merits, rather than as a supporting player.

First song in the shadows hits immediately. With a Tall Dwarfs style gleeful intro and extended-bridge style chorus punctuated by some simple rhythmic organ and of course, hand claps. Not exactly a long way removed from Gold Lame and its fuzzy guitar and organ driven power pop. ‘Ebb and flow’ quickly shows the other side of the coin, a more down-beat, acoustically driven number that establishes one of the themes of the album – a fascination with dreams, perhaps alluding to something more in-grained..

After the hyper-catchy sing-a-long of we’re all babies, a track fairly reminiscent of more recent tall dwarfs tracks, the centerpiece of the album unfolds. In a mere two minutes and 10 seconds should I wake up? Presents itself as the most perfect pop song, and one perhaps with something to say, to boot. A rising hum gives way quickly to shuffling guitar and accompanying bass with an orchestrally constructed, brief and utterly engulfing chorus. ‘Should I wake up?’ is repeated until it lodges into your brain.

I’m pretty sure this song was part of my subconscious memory before it had even finished playing the first time. The briefness and epic approach suggests that Bathgate might be hinting at something a little more deep than simply dreaming… Is this a relationship song?, the phrase ‘Wake Up’ is so ambiguous, he could be hinting at any kind of underlying issue. Each verse varies between metaphor building allusions ‘On the Inter-Island Ferry / on the deck in the sun, your in your pajamas / but somehow it don’t seem odd’, and the more suspicious ‘You’re still hanging in there / you’re still doing well, are you really with me? / I can’t tell’.

Out of my head follows up on this relationship issue theme ‘Sometimes you look right through me / like i’m an invisible man, I try to do the right thing / I don’t know if I can’, sounding like a confession rather than a catchy pop-number. Lyrically, the rest of the album veers a little off-center after the slight return electronically-constructed intermission piece, though faked is another highlight.

On a bed of junk-box percussion and some genuinely creepy organ (that actually appropriates a theremin initially) , Bathgate plays around both lyrically (the song reads like fractured poetry) and musically (with layers upon layers of harpsichord and unidentifiable instruments).

On Bathgate’s cover of the Yardbirds classic Overundersidewaysdown lots of Beatles-style faux-psychedelic tricks are put to good use, with some genuinely huge sounding guitar and bass building to climax with the help of backing vocals from Alec’s son tTim, not to mention the phased and trippy vocal approach during the chorus.

Next comes the broken cup – a track very reminiscent of the tall dwarfs baby it’s over (a recent live performance by Alec included this gem) and the album title track, which is a bass-driven number punctuated by drum-machine rhythms and muscular rock guitar.

After a couple more rock-driven aggressive numbers, the album finds solace with new day, a strumming poppy number with more ambiguous lyrics – ‘did I forget? / Did you forget somehow, everything starts on a new day’, pointing at a gentle, world-rebuilding kind of end to the album. It’s a little confusing deciphering just what is the message in the indifferent velvet void..

Perhaps its an accurate title, a beautifully colored album hiding an unidentified but generally dark undertow. In any regards, i’d love to see Alec Bathgate get the recognition he deserves, and hopefully it won’t be another 8 years before his third solo release is out.

Alec Bathgate [November 2004]

Alec Bathgate isn’t a household name in New Zealand. Though his most famous group (Tall Dwarfs) and his subsequent partner-in-crime (Chris Knox) may have achieved a level of recognition slightly beyond the typical indie-rock crowd, Bathgate remains one of New Zealand’s best and lowest profile song-writers. I spoke with Alec on the eve of releasing just his 2nd solo LP, ‘The Indifferent Velvet Void‘, due to be released in November 2004.

So it’s been a clear 8 years since [debut solo release] Gold Lame came out. Have you gotten sick and tired of people telling you to release another album yet?

Well, actually, not many people have been hanging out for another album! I occasionally have someone tell me how much they like gold lame, which is nice, but not many people seem to have discovered it.

What was the inspiration for the Indifferent Velvet Void?

Lyrically there seem to be some deep issues being thrown around.

There’s a few themes that run through the songs on the album (death, loss, self-doubt, confusion… All that good stuff). So, yeah, it’s a bit dark, but quite poppy as well, which hopefully offsets what the lyrics are saying.

Is your writing and recording methodology different from the way the tall dwarfs work? Has much changed from the early days of Chris’s 4-track?

Tall Dwarf songs are recorded pretty quickly as we don’t normally have long together. The songs tend to then evolve over a period of time (whenever we can get together to do further work on them). Generally we don’t know when we begin how they will end up. With the solo album i would completely write a song before recording it and would have a fairly clear idea of how i wanted the final track to sound. My album was recorded on computer which has sort of replaced the 4-track as the preferred recording medium for the home recordist (even though tape is still better). Having 24 tracks is pretty insane after years of struggling away with a 4 track, plus there’s lots of effects built into pro-tools that you couldn’t possibly afford to buy as outboard gear.

The album is coming out on Auckland label Lil’ Chief. How did you connect with them? Do you still feel part of the Flying Nun roster?

Chris Knox gave them a CDr of the album late last year (after Flying Nun had turned it down). I really liked the records they had put out and their enthusiasm for what they were doing, so was really happy that they wanted to release it. I’m still signed to F.Nun for Tall Dwarf releases and they’re reissuing the Toy Love album (early next year i believe).

Scott Mannion from Lil’ Chief / the Tokey Tones appeared as a Tall Dwarf [along with Pumice‘s Stefan Neville] for a recent Helen Young Studios session. Are there any plans to release the material?

I was impressed by the re-takes of ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ and ‘Nothings Going To Happen’. We were really happy with how the Helen Young session worked out, particularly as we only had a short time to learn the songs with the other people (we hadn’t played with any of them before and only had two days to practice). We’ll possibly do a short-run pressing of them sometime in the future to sell at gigs.

What’s your most proud moment on the album?, I guess your aware I’ve been thrashing ‘Should I Wake Up?’

Most people who hear the album seem to mention ‘Should I Wake Up?’ ‘Slow Fuzz’ and ‘Broken Cup’ are probably my favorite songs on the album.

Are you a picky song-writing?, do you think taking such a long-time between releases has worked well for your albums?

I never intended to do another solo album. It just requires soooo much work, so i guess it took 8 years to muster up the enthusiasm to go through it again (plus we did three tall dwarf albums in that time)…All the songs were written over the 18 months i was making the album, i didn’t have any songs hoarded away, and in the year since i finished it i haven’t written anything. I think it’s good to have a break from writing (and playing music) to keep it interesting and enjoyable.

Any plans on any live performances or videos for the album?

I did the Wunderbar gig in Lyttelton a few weeks back and also did two shows with Pine in Auckland last weekend. I’ve always been reluctant to play solo, but I’ve actually been enjoying it! I ‘d actually really like to play some more. As for videos there’s a plan to do a video for ‘Slow Fuzz’, so hoping that works out.

Alec Bathgate

Biography

The George Harrison to Chris Knox’s John Lennon.

Alec Bathgate’s always kept a couple steps back in his fellow Enemy, Toy Love and Tall Dwarfs shadow, but released a lovely little Byrds-jangle-pop album (with heavy Beatles and Beach Boy flourishes) in 1996.

More technically competent than Knox, and somewhat reserved (in comparison at least), Bathgate is a reflective, precarious song-writer of great talent.

Bathgate then resurfaced in a solo capacity a mere 8 years later with the superb Indifferent Velvet Void, an album chock full of pop-classics and weighty lyrics.

Signing to the Auckland-based Lil Chief, Bathgate has played just one solo show prior to it’s release, as part of a joint CD-release promotion with fellow Christchurch popsters Pine.

Members

  • Alex Bathgate (Guitar/Vocals)

Discography

  • Pet Hates 7″ Single (1995, Flying Nun Records, FN333)
  • Gold Lame (1996, Flying Nun Records, FN353)
  • Nunfest ’96 Etched 7″ (1995, Flying Nun Records, FN373)
  • The Indifferent Velvet Void (2004, Lil Chief, LCR009)

Links

 

The Enemy

Biography

Young Dunedin guitarist Alec Bathgate and drummer Mike Dooley lined up Invercargill-born record store employee Chris Knox as a bassist in mid 1977, unaware he couldn’t actually play. Eventually the group would secure a gig at the Old Beneficiaries Hall, so Mick Dawson was brought in – allowing Knox to assume his rightful vestige as the new groups vocalist.

Knox was a long-haired, bearded counter-culture type – but more in the hippy frame than the burgeoning punk style of the time. The group would encourage crowd involvement and invite their mates around for regular practices, hashing out a vast selection of original songs in public.

In a breezy 18 month life-span the group would play a ridiculous amount of shows, firmly establish themselves as New Zealand’s very best original punk group, inspire the formation of groups such as The Clean, The Chills and Bored Games – and mutate into something completely different before they even unleashed a studio recording on the world (though a handful of studio cuts have made it on to compilations over the years).

The Enemy’s legend was based on Knox’s confrontational stage antics (stealing Iggy Pop’s tricks like rolling in broken glass, cutting himself etc), unconventional appearance and dress and free-flowing lyrics – though the band were no slouches either!

It the tail end of the seventies The Enemy played at our school dance. Chris Knox was the evilest person I’d seen. From the start I was dreading the moment he might come off the stage, and, like, tap me on the shoulder or something.

I thought I was punk but inside I was cowering. Thank god they only lasted two songs before school principal Dave Rathbone ran onto the stage and kicked them off.

– Shayne Carter [Taken from Mysterex: Kiwi Punk and Beyond #3]

The Enemy were HUGELY influential – venturing North to Christchurch just a couple months after forming, and eventually rolling on to Auckland to dominate their local punk scenes, everything would eventually come to a close when Mick Dawson decided to head home to Dunedin.

The trio of Bathgate, Dooley and Knox would go through a couple line-up changes, and head in a New Wave direction, reconvening as Toy Love.

Note: AudioCulture has an EXCELLENT history of the group on their artist profile.

Members

  • Chris Knox (Vocals, 1977 – 1978)
  • Alec Bathgate (Guitar, 1977 – 1978)
  • Mike Dooley (Drums, 1977 – 1978)
  • Mick Dawson (Bass, 1977 – 1978)
  • Phil Judd (Guitar, 1978)

Discography

  • The Enemy At The Beneficiaries (2001 Archival Live Recording, Restrainer Records)

Links

 

Chris Knox

Biography

I’ve had a hard time starting this profile.

A man who’s done so much for New Zealand (underground) music that it wouldn’t really be the same without him – Knox was responsible for so many changes in the way we think about music here in New Zealand.

In The Enemy he proved that New Zealand underground music was indeed a viable and precious quantity, absolutely illuminating the Dunedin punk scene that had sprung up around his quirky (and utterly convicted) troop.

When The Enemy became Toy Love they located and conquered Auckland, but were ripped apart by the complacency and vindictiveness of the big-label music scene (and apathetic Aussie crowds) in Australia.

Knox and his fellow burned band-mates returned with a new outlook on the kiwi music way of life. He saw that creation is far more important than clarity, and with a few simple steps (purchasing a four-track recorder, a chance encounter with Christchurch music-enthusiast Roger Shephard) set about defining the ‘Lo-Fi’ (a term yet later sunned) revolution of early 80’s Dunedin.

Knox then set about forming the utterly eclectic and thoroughly low-tech Tall Dwarfs with his fellow former Toy Love buddy, guitarist Alec Bathgate – the whimsy to his destructive element and a high quality song-writer in his own right.

The Tall Dwarfs remained highly productive and totally engaging throughout the 80’s, forming a cult of quirky, dark songs with bizarre narratives and eclectic touches (tape-loops and sound-manipulation became common-place early on), but in the later 80’s, Knox started working on his own solo material (as well as continuing to record and produce a number of his compatriot artists on Flying Nun).

‘Not Given Lightly’ could be called the apex of Knox’s career – his most commercial success and his most oft referred and covered ‘classic’ song, it’s also well-documented as his very first love song (and some would point out that his wife Barbara had certainly deserved one by the time of its release..).

So into the 90’s Knox stride as an icon of the New Zealand music scene, alternating between The Tall Dwarfs and his own solo albums, just as his journalistic side was starting to bloom.

Come the mid 2000’s and Knox is involved at all levels of New Zealand music. He is an acknowledged historic figure in the New Zealand scene (even winning a Silver Scroll for the heart-wrenching ‘My Only Friend’ in 2000), a valued journalistic resource, an archivist and historian, and yet is still finding new avenues to expand his musical vocabulary, releasing a new recording as Friend in 2003 that explores a new, hi-tech alley.

Knox’s life took an unfortunate turn in June 2009 when he suffered a deliberating stroke that left him unable to speak (or sing). After a long period of recovery and with huge support from the local music industry, Knox struggled own despite his own limitations, recording new material (without actually vocalizing words) with Auckland pop-punk trio Rackets under the name Knoxious.

Awards

RIANZ Awards 1994

  • Cover Design of the Year

APRA Silver Scrolls 2000

  • Song Writing for ‘My Only Friend’

Discography

  • Chris Knox Ego Gratifaction Album – Songs For Cleaning Guppies (1982, Flying Nun Records, FN Me001)
  • Seizure (1989, Flying Nun Records, FN125 / FNE30)
  • ‘Not Given Lightly’/’Guppiplus’ 12″ Ep (1990, Flying Nun Records, FN127)
  • ‘Not Given Lightly’/’Face Of Fashion’/’Love Song (Part 1)’ 7″ Single (1990, Flying Nun Records, FN152)
  • ‘Not Given Lightly’/’Face Of Fashion’/’Love Song (Part 1)’ 12″ Single (1990, Flying Nun Records, FN153)
  • Song For 1990 10″ Ep (1990, Flying Nun Records, FN155)
  • Croaker (1991, Flying Nun Records, FN165)
  • Polyphoto, Duck-Shaped Pain & “Gum” (1991, Flying Nun Records, FN249)
  • ‘Under The Influence’/’Stasis’ 7″ Single (1991, Flying Nun Records, FN266)
  • Not Given Lightly Ep (1993, Communion, COMM26-2)
  • Meat (1993 Communion Comm 28-2)
  • Song Of Me And You (1995, Flying Nun Records, FN313)
  • ‘One Fell Swoop’/’Giving Her Away’/’S.O.S.’/’Shrapnel’/’Mother’ Cd Single (1995, Flying Nun Records, FN316)
  • ‘One Fell Swoop’/’Mother’ 7″ Single (1995, Flying Nun Records, FN316)
  • Songs From 1990 Ep (1996, Caroline, CAR7528)
  • Nunfest ’96 Etched 7″ Disc (1996, Flying Nun Records, FN372)
  • Yes!! (1997, Flying Nun Records, FN400)
  • Almost (1998, Dark Beloved Cloud)
  • Beat (2000, Flying Nun Records, FN444)
  • Inaccuracies & Omissions (As Friend, 2003, Flying Nun Records, FN470)
  • Chris Knox and the Nothing (As Chris Knox and the Nothing, 2005, A Major Label)
  • A Warm Gun (As The Nothing, 2008, A Major Label, AMAJ001)

Links