I first met Chris Knox in my shop Records Records, where he would come after he had finished his postie run. He would usually denigrate some of the vaunted albums in the Recent Arrivals bin, always with a smile, lovely teeth, and then drift over to the One Dollar Cardboard Box, where, in those incredible days, he was able to buy Pip Proud for just that one dollar. I had tried to sell Pip Proud for more, but nobody wanted it.
Chris also worked, variously, at the Cadburys Chocolate Factory and Brian Snell's Hi Fi Shop. He flatted behind Snells, and shop manager Ron Esplin was fond of telling people later on when Chris' musical stature grew, that one morning when Chris didn't turn up for work, he went over there to yank him out of bed, only there was someone else in the bed as well. Ron, with the highly developed Presbyterian moral ethic so common to those of us who live in the south, was shocked. But he liked Chris, he kept him on.
The Enemy was put together a year or two later. I knew Chris quite well by then, but didn't go to any of the practices, unlike others in our group, who reported back breathlessly that the songs were amazing. Like a number of others, I was asked to come and try out for the band with my Diplomat copy guitar, but I knew my limitations and said I was busy that night.
The Beneficiaries Hall debut confirmed The Enemy had amazing songs. Talk turned quickly to getting them down on tape. I had a good reel to reel, a Revox A-77 (which I later sold to David Kilgour, his song Tape Machine is about that) and a bad microphone, so I hauled the two along to the old Cellar Club in Manse Street to record a gig on Alec Bathgate's birthday. Chris had given me a tape I could use - "Don't worry about what is on it, just wipe eberything off, they're just really old songs I used to write, they're crap."
None of us had a sense of history then, not even me, who was older, and should have understood history. So I didn't even play the tape before I erased it with The Enemy at The Cellar Club. This would rank as one of the top ten studpiest things I have ever done in my life.
Unfortunately the cheap microphone had the final say that night. The band dutifully came up to our house on the following Monday and we listened to the tape through a big Jansen valve amplifier to try and get that raw rough live sound. Everyone got very depressed, tape recorders can be cruel when you have only performed in public a couple of times. But Chris was great all the way through, trying to pull the project up from under the water in much the same way he tried to rescue the Toy Love album years later, singing his heart out. Talk turned to doing covers. Yes please, said Mick. No, never, said Chris.
The Enemy took all those good songs into Toy Love and records were finally made, chart positions achieved, and then came Flying Nun. When the label produced a pack of cards on their tenth anniversary with drawings by Chris, he did one of me, calling me The Godfather Of The Dunedin Sound. Wrong. Chris was always that. Everyone deferred to him, hung on his every word and piece of advice, and used his evaluation of their performance as a barometer of where they stood. Most of all, Chris helped so many of them, often reserving his most fulsome praise and material assistance to the ones who were at the bottom of the totem pole, the Pip Proud One Dollar Cardboard Box ones.
I went up to see Chris in Auckland this year, well after his debilitating stroke. I had been told a variety of distressing stories, I didn't know what to expect. But the old Chris was still there, wordless maybe, but the eyes and the smile and the expressive face said so much. As it always did. I had always meant to mention that silly story about him not making it to work that morning at Brian Snells, somehow it had just never come up. Probably because it was silly. It seemed the time now, the moment was ripe for something right off the wall. But Chris was getting tired. I saved it for another time, and used the extra few minutes it would have taken to tell to hug him that much longer.
Chris would have laughed though, he would have really laughed.
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