Many of you who read this column are probably musicians, united by Link2wales creator Neil Crud. We are all driven by our inner need to create and connect with others via the means at our disposal, music. Most of us have taken the safe route, have a day job with music on the side like it’s some sort of part time girlfriend. But how many of us have truly given ourselves over to this inner demon, to dedicate our entire lives to creativity? Chris Knox is someone who has.
Born in Invercargill, one of the World’s southernmost cities, Chris became involved in music after moving to Dunedin University in the mid 70’s. Dunedin was, and still is, a creative hub within New Zealand. Creativity was born out of isolation and the typical NZ ‘can-do’ attitude.
Knox and his first band The Enemy became part of the emerging punk scene and soon moved to Auckland in the hope of finding larger audiences. The Enemy were far removed from the punk ‘look’ found in Auckland at the time. They looked like hippies, didn’t have spiky hair and the singer started shows wearing an ill fitting thrift store suit. Judging this book by it’s cover was a mistake Auckland punks didn’t make for long. The band played a clutch of originals in a frantic set that saw Chris occupy the stage like some possessed lunatic. No form of expression seemed off limits during their shows including self mutilation.
Sadly The Enemy burned out pretty quickly not even lasting two years. The move to Auckland meant quitting day jobs and trying to survive as professional musicians, but the hand to mouth existence didn’t suit everyone. Chris knew he didn’t want the 9-5 life so put together another band, Toy Love.
This band took the best elements of The Enemy, replaced some of the punk thrash with post punk sensibilities and hit the stage. They found an audience quickly and played night after night to sold out audiences. Toy Love recorded just one album which tickled the upper ends of the NZ charts and found widespread critical appreciation even receiving a favourable review from Danny Baker in the NME.
Of the old Enemy songs that were rehashed for Toy Love my personal favourite is ‘Pull Down The Shades’ a super catchy 1:50 that will stick in your head all day. Fans of the original version are critical of the extra polish given the Toy Love album version but for me it’s just right. Thrashy enough to satisfy my inner punk but melodic enough to engage a new listener.
Off the back of the album’s success Toy Love made the move to Australia with a future UK tour also offered. The band had hoped to follow in the footsteps of other Kiwi bands who had wowed the Aussies like Split Enz and Mi-Sex but it wasn’t to be. Chris Knox was just too confrontational and weird for Australian audiences but he walked it like he talked it and he was unwilling to compromise just to be famous.
The band returned to New Zealand and played a huge home-coming tour. The band’s record label was using this domestic success to encourage the band to have another crack at Australia, but their hearts weren’t in it. The band played their final NZ tour dates without announcing they were splitting up, they just kind of faded away.
Chris Knox used The Enemy and Toy Love as a springboard to a life as one of New Zealand’s most celebrated creatives. He found further success with Tall Dwarfs and on solo albums, was at the heart of the ‘Flying Nun’ record label, started his own label, wrote newspaper columns, published comics and presented TV shows…..he never stopped.
In 2009 Chris Knox suffered from a stroke. To help pay for his rehabilitation a benefit album was put together and the list of Kiwi and international artists involved shows just how influential Chris Knox has been.
Although hampered by the effects of his stroke Chris still gets onstage periodically, nothing stops him. I look at people like Chris Knox with total admiration, he has let his passion for artistic communication and expression consume him, he didn’t take the safe road, he was all in.
Don’t take the safe road, give it 100%, be more like Chris.