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Here's Five: Chris Knox's TEAC 4-Track Tape Machine

Here's Five: Chris Knox's TEAC 4-Track Tape Machine

Monday 7th November, 2016 10:39AM

After three years in the making, the Auckland Museum has just launched Volume - the first major exhibition on New Zealand music. Spanning across 60 years, the engaging exhibition takes visitors on a decade-by-decade journey, from today back to when rock-and-roll music was first written and recorded on our shores. There are interactive zones and displays featuring items donated by artists and labels ranging from Lorde’s Grammy, to Neil Finn’s lyric book, to a display of guitars from notable musicians.

Of course, iconic Christchurch-born label Flying Nun also features in the exhibition, with a corner specifically dedicated to Chris Knox. Part of the display is Chris’ legendary A-334OS TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel recording machine (pictured above) which Knox used to document the musical goings-on in Dunedin and Christchurch in the early 1980s. To find out a bit more about that era of Flying Nun and the importance of the 4-track, we asked label founder Roger Shepherd to pick five of his favourite track from that time and share the stories behind them….

1. Tall Dwarfs - 'Nothing's Going To Happen'
Toy Love had come back from Australia defeated and with a small inheritance Chris bought a second hand TEAC 4-track. This was a heavy only just portable reel-to-reel tape recorder that allowed one to record outside of the studio environment, which was a novelty at the time. But while it was simpler and more modest than conventional studio bound equipment it still required some skill and forethought to use effectively. Getting together with fellow former Toy Lover Alec Bathgate and calling themselves Tall Dwarfs they recorded 'Nothing's Going To Happen'. This was backed with 'Luck Or Loveliness' and 'All My Hollowness To You' on the 12” EP Three Songs. This was originally released on Propeller’s sister label Furtive in 1981 just predating the set-up of Flying Nun. Flying Nun rereleased it in 1985. It sold well on release intriguing many buyers and baffling the many others expecting some full on Toy Love new wave rock and roll experience. Three Songs is relatively rough and rickety but represented a shift in what record buyers were willing to accept and foreshadows not just early Flying Nun recordings but the whole international Do It Yourself movement. The roughness was ironed out to a large degree with experience by the time Tall Dwarfs next recorded with Louis Likes His Daily Dip in early 1982.

2. The Verlaines - 'You Cheat Yourself Of Everything That Moves'
With the idea that anything was possible after the release and success of The Clean’s Boodle Boodle Boodle 12” EP I was introduced to some other Dunedin bands that were also rather good if not outright excellent. It was arranged that Chris Knox and Doug Hood would travel down from Auckland with the 4-track to Christchurch and set up in Paul Kean’s Longfellow Street house. As well as record The Clean’s follow up EP Great Sounds Great, the next Tall Dwarfs EP Louis Likes His Daily Dip, and the Mainly Spaniards That’s What Friends Are For, four young Dunedin bands traveled up to record three or four songs each for a double EP. The press and sales were very good for the resultant Dunedin Double (2 x 12” EPs) and the careers of The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feeling and The Stones were underway. One of the standout songs for me was The Velaines ‘You Cheat Yourself Of Everything That Moves’. It not only has a great title but is also a fantastic song despite being unusually complex with numerous and unusual chord changes. I love the completely unique sound of the band, the contemptuous lyrics and the irresistible musical momentum that carries this song forwards and upwards in an exciting and exhilarating way towards its deeply satisfying climax. Like the other bands on the Dunedin Double Graeme Downes and The Verlaines had arrived and announced themselves as musically ambitious contenders.

3. Mainly Spaniards- 'That’s What Friends Are For'
The Mainly Spaniards were a Christchurch band consisting of Richard James, Nick Strong and David Swift (a sub at the Christchurch Press and later at NME). The band had played around Christchurch and somehow managed to talk Chris and Doug into recording them while they were down with the 4-track recorder The Clean, Verlaines, Chills, et al. The result is a one off quirky pop sensation. The song is famous for the line “Let’s go out and get drunk together and get depressed together, that’s what your friends are for” but there is more. This perfect pop tune brilliantly sums up life in the early 1980s Christchurch, driving around at night and getting drunk. It is inconceivable now but was commonplace then.

4. The Chills - 'Rolling Moon'
The Chills side of the Dunedin Double showcased a band with a lot of musical ambition as well as commercial possibility. The band looked to step up and returned to work with Chris and Doug on the 4-track. Released in December 1982 to ecstatic reviews and multiple plays on student radio, ‘Rolling Moon’ clearly announced that the band was well on its way. There is lots going on here with changes of pace, texture and tone but it sounds great and maintains its momentum throughout. It remains a classic Chills song and recording.

5. The Clean - 'Getting Older'
After a short run with the ‘Tally Ho’ single and the Boodle and Great Sounds Great EPs and a huge amount of touring to bigger and bigger audiences and New Zealand wide recognition the band decided they had had enough. The Getting Older 7” single was recorded as a swansong and released in October 1982. It’s a magnificent slab of pop aggression that encapsulates all that was great about the band. It’s a rollicking statement of defiance and remains a firm favorite when played live. I absolutely loved the song and thought it would be hugely successful. In truth it went OK. With the announced break up of the band the audience had moved on. Mostly to other bands from Dunedin on Flying Nun but also away from the 7” single format to 12” EPs.

Volume is open now at the Auckland Museum and runs until May 2017.

Earlier this year, Roger Shepherd released an excellent memoir titled ‘In Love With These Times: My Life With Flying Nun Records’, which is well worth a read and can be purchased over here.

Photo by Jonathan Ganley, head over to his blog to check out more.

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