Musician Chris Knox is pointing one finger at the camera and another at his head. Yellow text reads 'Songs of You and Me Available now on Flying Nun Records in a Really Really Yellow Plastic Case'

Tracking Chris Knox: A Research Journey

12 May 2020
As anyone trying to do research will know, flitting from one location to the next to look at bits of archival material can be laborious and time consuming.

By Joanna Szczepanski

With the recent relocation of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision to the National Library of New Zealand building, there is now an even greater wealth of resources which can all be accessed under one roof.

If you come to the National Library building at 70 Molesworth Street, Wellington there are several collections that you can now access including those of the Alexander Turnbull Library, and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Thankfully (given our current circumstances) your research journey almost always begins online.

Say, for example, you were interested in finding out more about kiwi cultural icon Chris Knox whose recording archive has recently been donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library. Blessed with an almost boundless creativity, Knox has been an entity in many parts of New Zealand artistic life for over 40 years with projects tied to music, art, writing and directing.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision and the National Library hold a variety of materials relating to Knox and his work.

A quick search through Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s online catalogue reveals this fascinating music video:

Hero image: Album poster for Chris Knox's 'Songs of You and Me' (1995) - ATL Eph-D-Music-CR-1995-01.

In the music video for “The Face of Fashion” from Knox’s 1988 album Seizure, the singer goes from hippie to skin head (with many creative looks in between) around in a loop. The clip was originally shot on 16mm film and screened as part of a variety show performance. When it came time to make a music video for “The Face of Fashion”, Knox dug the film out of his personal archive, transferred it to videotape and with a bit of editing the music video was ready. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision now cares for the videotape.

To find the album itself, look no further than the National Library collection. Both the CD and vinyl issues of the album are available, as well as another gem — the “Guppiplus” media mix for Knox’s most famous song from Seizure: “Not Given Lightly”. (You may recognise the song from the famous Vogel’s bread advertisement)

With your curiosity now piqued you’ll probably want to do a deeper dive and get into some background reading on the album to understand its significance. Looking at both the National Library Catalogue and Tiaki (the catalogue for Alexander Turnbull’s unpublished collections), via the main search function on the National Library homepage you would quickly find a wide range of material. It covers Chris Knox as a solo artist, the groups he was involved with such as Toy Love and Tall Dwarfs, as well as the cartoons and poster art that Knox created for other people. After registering as a reader you would be able to order up some of the books that he features in.

Looking specifically at the album Seizure, you would find it mentioned as one of Nick Bollinger’s 100 Essential New Zealand Albums and is also mentioned in Gareth Shute’s NZ Rock 1987-2007. Knox’s work is appraised in several other publications including the Virgin Encyclopedia of Indie and New Wave, Forced Exposure issue 18 and Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

But what if you couldn’t make it into the library? What if you don’t live in Wellington, or the Library is closed? Then you can save your searches to your reader account on Primo or email the permalinks to yourself for the time when you could come into the library or you could interloan them to your local public library.

After a bit of reading you’d certainly discover (if you didn’t already know) that Knox was one of the founding artists of the indie record label Flying Nun and from your general search you would know that the Alexander Turnbull Library holds a collection of their material.

If you did a keyword search on Tiaki you would find a mass of material from the Flying Nun stable, including master tapes, gig recordings, album ephemera, artworks (including works created by Knox), advertising, and even some of Knox’s correspondence. You could also see some items that have been digitised and are available to view from home (items that have the green Access Digital Content button in the record. If you registered on Tiaki with a RealMe account you would be able to not only search but also save those searches in Tiaki and order items to look at in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room.

At this point you might be thinking, what else might there be and return to the general search to dig deeper and do more specific searches. Say you were interested in Knox’s work with the group Toy Love. You search for them specifically and in addition to the types of material already covered, you would also find that the Turnbull is involved in harvesting and archiving websites and pages relating to New Zealand material because there in front of you is the official website of Toy Love where you can find their discography, see photos from gigs, and read profiles of the band members.

Great, I hear you say, but I have more questions and I can’t get into the library to look at these things or ask questions in person. In that case you can click the Ask a Librarian link at the top of the National Library page to talk to music and other subject area specialists (such as cartoons, New Zealand history, photographs) or for Ngā Taonga you can go to their contact page and you will find phone numbers and an email contact form, where you can contact sound and audiovisual specialists who can help you with your enquiries.

A gig poster for Chris Knox in blue white and red reads 'Look Blue Go Purple Thursday 22 Wgtn Cricketers Ak Windsor Fri 23 and Sat 24'

Gig poster created by Chris Knox for the band Look Blue Go Purple at the Cricketers Arms, Wellington and Windsor Hotel, Auckland (1985). ATL Eph-C-Music-CR-1985-01.

Intrigued? Wondering what else you might be able to find? The best place to start is with the online catalogues. National Library and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision catalogue.

Some materials can be viewed online but most can only be viewed onsite at the National Library building. The appointment booking process for each organisation is slightly different so be sure to check the National Library website and Ngā Taonga’s website for details on how to view material.

Our public spaces we are currently closed due to the New Zealand Government’s COVID-19 Alert Level 2, but keep an eye on our website for the latest on when it will reopen. We look forward to seeing you in the first floor Reading Room at 70 Molesworth Street once we reopen.