In December of 1978 Chris Knox, Mike Dooley and Alec Bathgate of Dunedin legends The Enemy formed a new band, they recruited Jane Walker and Paul Kean into the fold and Toy Love was born. The five-piece hit the ground running and played their first gig in January 1979 at Zwines, Auckland. At this debut gig Toy Love showcased material that drew from The Enemy’s punk rock roots whilst introducing indie and pop elements into their songs.
Toy Love began recording just a month later, all the while persevering with performing; their first tour kicked off in April at The Gladstone Hotel, Paul recalls; ““full house” at the Gladstone Hotel where fans climbed in windows, ensuring it became standing room only.”
In July debut single ‘Rebel/Squeeze’ was recorded with Glyn Tucker at Mandrill Studios and got released later that summer. Chris’s lyrics were consistently provoking throughout Toy Love's material, “Rebel was a protest song of sorts while - like Squeeze - admitting that the author of the tirade was pretty similar to the object of his scorn”. The songs focused on girls, boys, lust and frustration, "and the more literary stuff that tried to inhabit another's skull", Chris says about anthemic tune “Pull Down The Shades” which has now been covered by the likes of Jay Reatard and Sharp Balloons.
The band continued to tour. Their shows became so well loved that at one show in Cook Hotel underage kids lined up deck chairs by open windows of the venue just to catch their set. In November Toy Love crafted demos at Mascot Studios with Tucker at the helm, these 14 tracks would become ‘Cuts’. At this time Toy Love signed to Deluxe Records based in Sydney, Australia.
The troupe played more shows, in January 1980 they performed to 40,000 people at Sweetwaters Festival opening for Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Hot off the heels of that show Toy Love returned to Mandrill Studio and made second single for Deluxe “Don’t Ask Me/Sheep”, with Tucker joined this time by Todd Hunter.
Touring continued, and in March Toy Love played a farewell gig in New Zealand just before moving to Australia. The show was at Windsor Castle, Jane remembers; "Chris walking out across the tables at the Windsor with a long mike lead and a deranged fan trying to strangle him with it, The farewell gig at the Windsor before going to Sydney where we invited all the bands we knew to get up and play a song. Mike the skeleton suit man gave us all a bottle of tequila each and Chris gave himself a radical haircut on stage." Mike’s account of the show; “Some memorable gigs include those at The Windsor Castle (on one occasion fans were swinging from the light fittings while at the farewell gig we gave the door take back across the bar - it’s surprising how quickly a whole bar-full of people can become inebriated)".
(photo from bands myspace)
Almost as soon as they’d moved to Australia Toy Love took to the stage, Jane observed varying reactions, "The mixed look of horror/wonderment on the faces of our (new) management company when we played our first gig in Sydney, not to mention punters and press. They’d only heard recordings and I don’t think were prepared for the live assault with all its black humour." Australia was a challenge for the band although they had a core loyal following Toy Love went largely under-appreciated. Chris noted, "Toy Love set about conquering New Zealand by 1979 before being washed up 18 months later in a sea of indifference in Sydney, Australia."
In June 1980 Toy Love recorded a full length album at Studio 301 for EMI Records. The challenge was to capture the raw energy they forged on stage on to record, it’s now largely written about how the album did not turn out as planned. Jane recounts, “Now here’s the rub - translating the energy and madness of our live performances when in the studio was a huge challenge. Of all the studio recording that we did, the LP sessions were easily the hardest -the pressure was on. Recorded at EMI studios in Sydney during downtime (towards midnight onwards), we had a two week break from gigging to get the album down. There was a brief respite (which included more gigs!) before going back to mix it. I don’t really know what happened between mixing and the cutting to vinyl but somehow the arse had dropped out of the whole thing. I cried when I heard the test pressing."
In an interview Mike Dooley, Jane Walker and Alec Bathgate gave after receiving the Herald Legacy Award recently they spoke about only having the option of signing to a major at the time. They went on to say how a few years after they broke up independent labels started to flourish and if the group had had backing of someone who understood the aesthetic, Toy Love may have been a different sort of band.
Over the summer they continued to play shows, 27 more if you're still counting! Their third single “Bride of Frankenstein” hit the shelves in New Zealand, a song that Chris confesses was the most challenging to write, "the rhythm was weird and the syllabic count was high. I've still got two complete sets of lyrics that didn't make the grade, third time lucky - and going back to my long held adoration of ancient horror films".
In August Toy Love did their final New Zealand tour to promote their album, their very last show was Septemeber 10th at Mainstreet and shortly afterwards quietly disbanded. In 18 months they played nearly 500 shows, released an album and 3 singles.
In the aftermath Chris and Alec began formed Tall Dwarfs. Mike played guitar in The Dri Horrors, and returned to drumming for a tour with The Snapper. Jane moved around doing sound-mixing, playing shows with Static, Gridlock and The Purple Gang. Paul moved to Christchurch and did soundmixing mostly for bands on Flying Nun, then became bassist for The Bats in 1983. Toy Love’s legacy was revived by Flying Nun in April of 2005 with the release of 'Cuts' putting the band back on the map where they belong.
Goner Records have released this live album made in September 1980 at The Gluepot in Ponsonby, Auckland just before the band broke up. It's fitting this album has been released as Toy Love's live performances are an instrinsic element in the make up of their songs and they've strived to capture this on record since the beginning. Doug Hood Toy Love’s soundman, recorded the show and Steve McGough of Stebbings in New Zealand has mastered the tracks.
This new album is a snapshot of the mayhem and brilliance of Toy Love’s live shows. Personal highlights for me are "Don't Catch Fire" and "Sheep" for the urgency, chaos and joy that comes out of those recordings. For those of us who weren’t there it’s a great glimpse of what Toy Love’s world must have been like on stage at that time. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how bands can put their heart and soul into something and might feel like there's nothing to show for their efforts sometimes. But this is a great example of how it does matter to try – call me hopelessly optimistic but you can see right here with this record one day people may care and it matters to give it a shot.
You can find copies here
Research Sources : Toy Love's Website plus interviews found online, all hyper-linked above