Graham Reid | | 2 min read
At the time of this writing it has been just over seven years (June 2009) since Chris Knox had his massive and debilitating stroke.
In that period he has largely been a man of good cheer despite not being able to speak beyond a few words (he understands visitors and friends reasonably well) and -- being afflicted down his right-hand side -- has taught himself to paint with his left hand.
He has performed a few times in the past years (and recorded with Rackets) but the effort takes so much out of him it is unlikely he will ever do it much, if ever.
For those who know him the double tragedy is that not just that the music has stopped coming but that acerbic wit and humour is now trapped inside his head. As I said to him early on however -- when I was one of a roster of caregivers -- at least now I can get a word in.
Chris laughed very loudly at that. He saw the irony and knew it was just a joke.
There has been a modest reissue programme of Knox solo and Tall Dwarfs albums and that -- sporadic though it is -- looks to continue.
But this cassette/download release through Thokei Tapes out of Germany is a real gem of little known songs or rarely-heard pieces.
Knox was profligate with his gift and so over the decades would be approached by various artists and indie companies for songs, and he was most obliging.
So here are 22 Knox songs which appeared on various New Zealand and international labels/compilations/split 7" singles and so on.
So unless you have such enjoyable obscurities like the Nun cassette Roger Sings the Hts ('91), the God Save the Clean CD tribute ('98) and Under the Influence ('02), the Powertools comp Here Come the Bulletholes or singles from Forced Exposure magazine, and CD comps from Holland and Germany (among others) it is likely you will never have heard of these songs.
Naturally his love of the Beatles is here in reinvented covers of Baby Your A Rich Man (from an '87 Walking Monk cassette) and Lennon's Mother (from the One Fell Swoop EP, '95). And he offers an idiosyncratic take on the Fall's Hip Priest (from a '04 tribute).
But of the covers it is his utterly tortured reading of Abba's SOS ('95) which is the most extraordinary. I use it to terrify university students when I play the poppy original and this version in which Chris finds the raw pain of the lyrics and drags it out screaming.
But across these often lo-fi recordings -- most done at home -- it is Knox's irrepressible sense of a simple but effective melody in his own songs which shines through.
Anyone with a love and appreciation of pop music (of the angular, minimally-realised kind) or Knox's unique style should eagerly grab this. There's even a "wedding" version of Not Given Lightly.
It is available from bandcamp here on limited edition cassette or as a download. Cheap too . . . and in good news, Chris got paid for this. I checked.
It's legitimate, and bloody good . . . and of course kinda sad.