Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?
Netherworld Dancing Toys
First published in the Evening Post, October 22, 1987
Netherworld Dancing Toys Set To Regain High Profile
TWO YEARS AGO, the Netherworld Dancing Toys were top dogs.
The Dunedin group picked up the honours for single, album, top group and Song of the Year at the 1985 New Zealand Music Industry Awards. Their single, ‘For Today’, became a top 10 hit and their album, Painted Years, sold more than 10,000 copies.
Subsequent to the Year of the Netherworlds, their profile took a flying leap off a tall building.
Suddenly, they’re back for two weekend dates this Friday and Saturday at the Cricketers. But what DID happen in the meantime?
“It’s been a story of heartbreak and woe,” bemoans singer-guitarist Nick Sampson.
After breaking out of the alternative bracket and into the charts, the band found themselves both heavily in debt and too tired to tango.
“We worked really hard and if we weren’t touring we were recording or planning or practicing,” says Sampson. “It was just flat-out, and we decided we needed some time.”
Time to sit back, write songs, and think about the followup to the successful but expensive debut, which was released through the local branch of the UK record company, Virgin Records.
But the local branch “had the dirty done on them” by the parent company. “They spent heaps of money on us, and then Virgin UK took six months to say, ‘Oh, look, we’re too busy to even bother listening to it’.”
The company, says Sampson, wanted to do another album with the band, but having spent something in the vicinity of $60,000 on recording and promotion, and coming out of it some $20,000 in the red, everyone felt a bit burned.
There was worse to come. Back in Dunedin, they looked forward to a promising new record deal.
“We found a major record company that was interested in doing a deal, and we could raise money through a private partnership. There were megabucks involved, and we were going to make a record here, go to New York to mix it down, and play there. And then the budget came out, and the private partnership deals became obsolete overnight because of the new tax laws.”
Demoralised, by December 1986 the Netherworlds found themselves deeply in debt.
“Our bank had paid us $100 each a week so we could live, because the whole way through we’d never been on any more than the dole. Six people (including lighting and sound technician) for six months on $100 a week was what we owed.”
The only way to pay back the debt was to take to the road. This they did last December, on what turned out to be “one of our most successful tours ever.” Since then, the band members have scattered themselves around the country, taking up other employment to ensure survival, and coming together only for the occasional gig.
Sampson is living in Wellington and working on the upcoming arts festival. Vocalist-guitarist Malcolm Black now lives in Auckland and practices law, specialising in the field of entertainment. Bassist Graham Cockroft shortly completes his law degree, and plans a move to the Capital, and drummer Brent Alexander is a carpenter in Dunedin.
“This way, when we play it’s a real event,” says Sampson.
After the Wellington dates, the band are touring down south prior to Christmas, but the carrot dangling before their eyes right now is the prospect of another major record deal, to be confirmed shortly.
Sampson is anxious to get back into a recording studio, having backlogged three different batches of unrecorded songs; some from the album that never eventuated, others written last summer, and this year’s models. “What we’ve got now is about a dozen songs that are a combination of all three, the best from each,” he says.
Sampson is nervous but confident about the coming months, and he is no longer worried about the whims of audience allegiance.
New Zealand is a small place; any sign of hype and the groundswell of original support is likely to show swift repulsion at the incumbent hordes. “It used to perturb us, but then we thought ‘what the hell.’
“When it comes down to it… I know it sounds almost corny, but the most important thing to us is actually the songs, the music, and playing together. That’s what we like doing.” GARY STEEL
* Crowded House play the Wellington Town Hall next Thursday.
Note from the author: No offense intended, but I’ve always HATED ‘For Today’. I can’t even remember doing this interview, but it’s an interesting insight into the vagaries of ‘success’ in 1980s NZ. I know what became of Malcolm, but what about the others?
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.