Fronted by the always provocative, ball-of-energy singer Chris Knox, Toy Love was the ultimate flowering of Kiwi punk rock into new wave, and despite an existence of less than two years, the group is now considered one of the seminal acts of NZ pop. Yes, that’s right: pop, because Knox, with the help of Alec Bathgate (guitar), Paul Kean (bass), Mike Dooley (drums) and Jane Walker (keyboards), tempered the group’s blistering blast with fine pop melodies that made them good to sing and pogo to.
Arising from the embers of Knox’s previous group, the Dunedin-based, punk-oriented The Enemy, Toy Love captured the zeitgeist perfectly. Onstage, they were high octane, with Knox’s confrontational stage persona and acerbic lyrics masking the great tunes, but on record, those tunes couldn’t disguise Knox’s melodic gifts and a certain Beatles influence.
After a blaze of nationwide touring throughout NZ, the fiercely independent group signed to Warners, and found themselves in Australia recording a debut where the producer, Dragon’s Todd Hunter, called the shots. They hated it, claiming that its production values fraudulently represented what the band were about and, back in New Zealand with a number 4 charting album and an adoring public wanting their piece of Toy Love action, the group unexpectedly fizzled out.
The experience prompted Knox and Bathgate to become fiercely low-fi with their own duo, Tall Dwarfs, and to spark up the famous “Dunedin scene” and the “Flying Nun sound” in 1981. Subsequently, the mythology around Toy Love has increased exponentially, to the degree that they’re now considered one of the key acts of NZ music history, despite their tiny discography.
In 2005, that fated album was finally remixed and reissued on CD, and in 2012, with Chris Knox suffering the effects of a stroke, Toy Love won the Legacy Award at the NZ Music Awards, and a live vinyl album, Live At The Gluepot, was issued.
Alec Bathgate (guitar) • Mike Dooley (drums) • Chris Knox (vocals) • Jane Walker (keyboards) • Paul Kean (bass)