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Listed: Tall Dwarfs

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Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: NZ legends Tall Dwarfs!



Listed: Tall Dwarfs


Kiwis Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate formed the Tall Dwarfs in 1981 after the demise of the legendary Toy Love (which formed after the demise of the even more legendary The Enemy). They are largely responsible for the "New Zealand scene," sharing the credit with David Kilgour and the label Flying Nun. Tall Dwarfs also are responsible for a little trend called "lo-fi," a term that later swallowed up Sebadoh, Beat Happening, and Pavement (for a bit). Dunedin would never be the same. Though Bathgate took off to Christchurch in 1986, the duo still found time to make the occasional record. In 2005 24 years after forming they headed out on tour with the Olivia Tremor Control in the U.S. in support of two reissues by Cloud Recordings. While those records didn't make it out during the tour, they will hit stores on Oct. 25. Weeville (1990) and Fork Songs (1991) are two of the Tall Dwarfs' (don't ever mix them up with the Dwarfs) six legit LPs. They also released five EPs (their format of choice over the first four years) and a trio of compilations. They are one of the few bands on the planet who can claim they really pioneered a genre. God knows when we'll see one of those again.

Chris Knox:

1. The Beatles
Listening to a whole buncha Beatle bootlegs that I recently grabbed on CDR from a US trader. Covering the '66 to '69 period, they delve very deeply into those astonishing years with - for example - Strawberry Lane devoting two jampacked cds to "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" alone. Wild! Also good fun for the anal part of me makeup to download all the artwork, print it out and assemble into something faintly resembling a legit release. 17 of these things to date wth another seven arriving any minute now. The Fabs are always rediscoverable.

2. Grandaddy
One of me favourite bands of recent years who have the happy knack of making albums that sound like logical extensions of their previous ones but which, upon revisiting those earlier waxings, actually make rather bigger leaps than you thought. Sumday is my favourite hi-fi demo record, the first four or five tracks sound so fucking sublime, a tribute indeed to the home skills of Jason Lyttle. Played a gig with them in the Hague several years ago and met them at the after-match function where, in their mushroomed state, they were all waxing paranoid about their self-perceived lack of any musical identity and worth whatever. I wrote hearteningly positive little messages on beer coasters for 'em and am sure there would not have been a Sophtware Slump without them... ha.

3. Olivia Tremor Control
Touring with these buggers was a joy! Easiest overseas trek I've ever been on. Always loved their records, felt well privileged to see and hear how they did it live. Inspirational also in the extended family nature of their musical endeavours both onstage and in their business dealings. John Fernandes - who is releasing these two Dwarfdiscs on his Cloud Recordings label - has got to be the fairest label boss I've ever had the luck to stumble across.

4. Jeff Mangum
In a related thought, meeting Jeff (and the lovely Laura Carter) in Athens, GA many years ago was one of the finest things to happen to me and my partner Barbara. They put us up for the night (in Julian's room it later transpired) and Jeff "supported" me at the 40 Watt. Stipe left before my set but I didn't care, I was floating after hearing one of the finest solo sets I had ever heard from the Neutral Milk Hotel mainman. I'd loved On Avery Island - how often do you hear an entirely new approach to fuzz guitar? - for some time but his onstage power was mindblowing. They also played us the recently mixed Airplane Over the Sea back at the house...
He and Laura came over to NZ a year or two later, stayed with us, holidayed with us up north, bought a $500 car from the Maori family across the road, drove it round NZ and joined us again on the lush and beautiful Coromandel peninsula where we were camping. That night we had a bit of a singsong round the campfire and Jeff's soaring vocals filled our campsite with sonic glory, stunning all our frends into a deep and abiding silence.
Not realising that the Jeffster hadn't done a gig for over a year, Barbara and I organised a date for him in Auckland. They were amazing, better even than the Athens gig and that was the last the world heard of the live Mangum until his surprise appearances at the OTC NY shows a coupla months ago.
I've seen every gig the man's done in the last five years...

5. Brian and Smile
What can I say?
Tall Dwarfs were over the top lucky to have some French gigs that coincided with Mr Wilson's final gig of the first Euro Smile tour in the Paris Olympia. Longtime Smile freaks, we were so fucking excited to see this set and the actuality was... just overpowering. Surrounded by an amazingly polyglot collection of the global humanity, Brits behind us, Somalis in front, BW wheezed through his back pages and delivered a Smile that knocked our socks off. Remember this was before the record came out, we were constantly looking at each other, bursting into laughter as various bits and pieces fell into place. It was almost life-changing, especially as we'd booked our tickets a coupla months before online from NZ and never really believed it would actually happen.
Then the record came out (great on vinyl!) and it was announced that Brian was coming to NZ! I got the first seats available, front and centre, and my whole family, Barbara, Liesha and John, were just a coupla meters away from the man. Liesha (24) was in tears throughout, Brian sang way better than in Paris and all was perfect.
Whatta guy.

6. Nina Simone
Broke all the rules. Shattered them. Destroyed em completely. No fear, no showbiz, no fucking around, she sang from the heart and the soul and from an anger as deep and broad as the Atlantic Ocean. The worst thing I ever did was not go to see her play ten hours drive away in Wellington when she played there a decade ago or so. I am an idiot.

7. The Velvet Underground
I know, I know, obvious as all hell. I first heard Run Run Run on some compilation album in the very late 60s and thought, what's the fuss about? Then, in 1971, our nextdoor neighbour had an original UK gatefold banana album and I played the shit out of it, using "Heroin" - however inappropriately - as a lift-off track for my frequent (good!) acid trips of the day. I grabbed all the albums I could - including that very copy of the VU & Nico record, which I still have - bootleg tapes, whatever and even once heard Squeeze and quite enjoyed it. Most pissed off that our mates, Yo La Tengo, got to co-habit with the re-formed band... that bloody Ira gets his oar into everything. Bless him.
PS: Anyone willing to run me off a cdr of Squeeze?

8. John Lee Hooker
Had a flatmate during that same time who owned 700 blues albums (and Miles Davis' Porgy and Bess) which I assiduously sorted through. Nothing was as good as the John Lee Hooker Sings Blues I'd bought a few years previously and which contained a buncha singles recorded over 1948/49 for King records. Totally solo, just John, a cheap guitar and his boot stomping down on a board for percussion. Powerful, primitive and primeval, seldom 12-bar, I'd dearly loved to have met the old bugger. The latter years when yoked up with idiots like Van Morrison and Carlos Santana were largely worthless - musically if not financially - through no fault of his own.

9. Buffy St. Marie
Makes my spine melt. Her 60s folky stuff was weird and haunting and mysterious and arty and scary and preposterous and all that good stuff. Utterly unique with none of that Joan Baez blandness or Joni Mitchell academic jazziness. Not to mention stunningly beautiful in the kinda way that only those with Native North American blood can deliver. If D Bowie really wants just one damned song that'll make him break down and cry, let him try to get through "A Man" off 1975's Changing Woman without shedding a tear. Or watch her live performance of the appallingly covered Up Where We Belong on the DVD of the same name.

10. The Clean
New Zealand's most complete and best band ever. Especially live when drummer Hamish was full of fire, inspiring bassist Bob to his minimalist best and leaving guitarist David the freedom to play like the three unknown guitarists he channeled with every home-made chord. they are always good, mostly great and often the most amazingly soul-uplifting band you will ever hear. I wanna hear em NOW!.
Failing that, I'll get by on the news that The Stooges are gunna be playing at our local Lollapaloozalike, The Big Day Out, next year. I am in fucking heaven! As I would be to see The Troggs, The Kinks, Smog, Wire, The Monks, Patti Smith, Danielle Dax, Robert Wyatt, Bela Bartok, Hendrix, John Cage, Big brother and the Holding Company, Nick Drake, Shostakovich, T Rex, Slade, JS Bach, The Clean, Alec Bathgate, Albert Ayler, Lothar and the Hand People, any of the other artists mentioned above and a whole galaxy of equally wonderful musical humans.

*******

Alec Bathgate:

1. Red West, Sonny West & Dave Hebler - Elvis - What Happened?
Picked this up for $2 on our recent US trip. Written by Elvis's long times pals and body guards, this book caused quite a stir when it came out in 1977 and blew the lid on Elvis's drug use and general debauchery (he died very within days of its release). Lots of stuff I haven't read elsewhere. Touchingly poignant at times (despite the fact they're digging up the dirt on their buddy) and some really funny stories too... there's a great anecdote of Elvis demonstrating his psychic powers by moving clouds with his mind! Lotsa crazy tales about girls 'n guns.

2. Bob Dylan - No Direction Home
Some great alternate takes of well know stuff on the CD. 'Tombstone Blues' with backing vocals is brilliant. A scorching 'It Takes A Lot To Laugh' beats the released version (I reckon). 'Maggies Farm' at Newport '65 is fantastic. Nice to hear an attempt at 'Visions of Joanna' with The Hawks/Band backing. Can't wait for the DVD to see the live '66 stuff (due here any day now).

3. Dr. Who
The revamped BBC series just screened here, with quirky and unpredictable storylines, silly looking aliens and a fantastically gleeful Dr Who, played by Christopher Eccleston. Despite a bigger budget than previous series, the special effects still look kinda lo-tech (in a good way). A rare TV treat.

4. The Beatles - Mono Mixes
These 'needle drop' cds transferred from pristine Beatle vinyl are real good. Make much more sense than the weird stereo mixes of the official releases. Revolver and Sgt Pepper particularly good in their mono incarnations. A revamped Beatles back catalogue with new packaging, mono/stereo mixes and outtakes is long overdue.

5. The Indifferent Velvet Void
Let me take this opportunity to plug my solo album which can be bought online from smokecds.com. You'll like it. I promise!

List Within A List:
Stuff I've been listening to today:
Colin Blunstone - One Year
Donovan - Hurdy Gurdy Man
Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island
Shaft - Open Sesame
Robert Wyatt - Cuckooland

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