Toy Love

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 (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 Bathgates 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.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘Rebel’/’Squeeze’ 7″ Single [1979 Elektra Z10015]
  • ‘Don’T Ask Me’/’Sheep’ 7″ Single [1980 Deluxe Z10022]
  • Toy Love 7″ Ep [1980 Deluxe 20630]
  • ‘Bride Of Frankenstein’ / ‘Good Old Joe’ / ‘Amputee Song’ 7″ Single [1980 Deluxe Z10029]
  • Toy Love Lp/Cassette [1980 Deluxe Z20008]
  • Cuts Double Cd Anthology/Reissue [2005 Flying Nun Fncd473]
  • Live at the Gluepot Double LP [April 22nd 2012 Real Groovy]

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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)

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Tall Dwarfs – The Sky Above, The Mud Below

Flying Nun [2001]

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 70s.

“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.

The Clean – Compilation

Flying Nun [1986 Compilation]

In 1978 the New Zealand underground scene was on the verge of explosion. The Enemy, Bored Games, and The Spelling Mistakes were showing that New Zealand could produce great punk music, and all with a great ‘do-it-yourself’ gusto. The Enemy later developed into seminal early 80s punk outfit Toy Love, and with their eventual collapse, guitarist/vocalist Chris Knox formed the infamous lo-fi pioneer duo the Tall Dwarfs with fellow Toy Love member Alec Bathgate. David Kilgour was a great fan of the Enemy, and had developed a relationship with the musicians that made up the Dunedin scene at the time. In 1978 he set about learning guitar, then forming a band that would eventually capture the essence of the 2nd wave of New Zealand underground music, the so called ‘Dunedin Sound’.

After a period of almost 2 years and a plethora of line-up changes, Kilgour settled on his brother Hamish on drums and original bass-player Peter Gutteridge (who after leaving the band before the majority of their output was an original member of the Chills, The Puddle, and then eventually his own band Snapper). This formation would go onto write a handful of The Clean‘s early songs, and eventually resurface in 1983 as The Great Unwashed (for a short tour and subsequent album), but it was robert scott (also of the bats) who secured The Clean’s line-up in late 1979.

After touring haphazardly for there first three years of existence (often supporting The Enemy), Kilgour was propositioned by young upstart Roger Shephard, who had come up with the idea of forming a record label to release The Clean’s noticeably inspirational music to the masses. Shephard put together Flying Nun records in 1981, and The Clean’s breakthrough single Tally Ho! Was the label’s 2nd release (following The Pin Group’s ‘Columbia’). Featuring a young Martin Phillips on organ accompaniment and recorded for no budget whatsoever, the single rocketed into the New Zealand charts – which was considered impossible for a self-distributed minor label recording at the time. Phillips’ catchy, driving organ and the gentle sing-song nature of Kilgour’s vocals had immediately struck a chord with the New Zealand public, but the band failed to fully capitalize on this early success.

Over the course of the next two years, the clean only put out two EPs, Boodle Boodle Boodle was recorded by Doug Hood and features a stunning array of pop-classics (“aNything Could Happen”, “At The Bottom” and the Gutteridge penned classic “Point That Thing Somewhere Else”) and the equally superb ‘Great Sounds Great, Good Sounds Good, So-So Sounds So-So, Bad Sounds Bad, Rotten Sounds Rotten’ EP (track highlights included the instrumental “Fish” and jangly masterpiece “Beatnik”).

This complacency with relative seclusion eventually led to a number of self-imposed band break-ups, and delayed their eventual debut album release till 1990, which brought Vehicle – by which time the Clean had become a part time band for all three members, due to the demands of their various other musical exploits.

Compilation documents the high-times of the early Clean. Released by Flying Nun as an LP (then re-released during the 90s cd reissuing phase), the album gathers together Tally Ho! And the original 2 EPs, several tracks from the ‘Oddities’ self-recorded album, as well as live material recorded crudely on a fan’s cassette recorder.

The quality of the recording is of no concern though, as it becomes immediately apparent on listening to these lo-fi masterpieces that the clean were on to something special. From the twin-guitar and bass onslaught of pounding pop opener “Billy Two”, the chugga chugga bass and steaming lead-guitar of “At The Bottom”, through to the quirky pop highlights of “Beatnik”, “Oddity” and “Hold On To The Rail” – there isn’t a single dud in this wonderful archive of one of pop-rock’s truly great bands.

Ear-marked by a stunning live rendition of signature tune “Point That Thing Somewhere Else”, the live tracks are murky, but show the band in full flight. Waves upon waves of guitar distortion, pounding bass and drums and kilgour’s enigmatic, hushed vocals characterize a band that did more for the New Zealand live scene than any other band has done before or since.

Rough and ready, this is a compilation of the most well-honed, dynamic guitar music your ever likely to hear. Simmering solo’s, bass that gets your foot tapping, and primal, aggressive drumming lead to a winning combination. Though the Clean may have since failed to live up to the expectations that this album documents, they have become a crowning monument for New Zealand in the history of pop-rock, and i’d recommend anyone with more than a passing interest in music to give this classic a try.

Alec Bathgate [November 2004]

Alec Bathgate isn’t a household name in new zealand. Though his most famous group (the 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 cd-r 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.Rnas for videos there’s a plan to do a video for ‘Slow Fuzz’, so hoping that works out.

Stefan Neville

Stefan Neville, The Man Behind Pumice And Stabbies And The Rocket Recordings Released An Unusually Titled Cd-R Under His Own Name In 2003.
You’re not welcome cd-r

Stefan Neville is the incredibly talented musician behind Pumice, as well as being the drummer for excellent Auckland punk group the Coolies, playing alongside Chris Knox in the Nothing and releasing material under his own name.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • The Day Tape Challenge Triple Cassette [1997 W/ Sugarjon And Ee Monk A Stabbies And The Rocket Recording]

  • Do Not Destroy/Destroy Only After 10 Years / Can Be Destroyed By Cd-R [2003 A Stabbies And The Rocket Recording]

  • Lathe-Cut 8″ [2005 W/ Richard Francis, Howard Stelzer, Clinton Watkins Cmr Cmr9]

See-Also

Chris Knox and the Nothing

After the abstract computer-orientated Friend project, Chris Knox (guitar and vocals) got back to business as a live performer by forming the Nothing with the very talented Stefan Neville (Pumice) on drums, and Jol Mulholland (Gasoline Cowboy on guitar. The trio record their self-titled debut in a real studio – the first time Knox had done so since his days in Toy Love.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Chris Knox and the Nothing [2005 a major label]

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