Songwriters Nick Sampson and Malcolm Black, with a rhythm section of Graham Cockcroft (bass) and Brent Alexander (drums) and an ever-changing horn section, filled the much complained about tyranny of distance (for Dunedin groups) with self belief, an accessible persona, persistent tours and a constant run of chart records.
They built their early set during 1982 in the tight, sweaty confines of Otago university student haunts, The Captain Cook and the Oriental Tavern. Netherworld Dancing Toys hit the road in late 1982 and early 1983, beginning a cycle of intensive touring, signposted by EP releases on Flying Nun Records.
During this first tour an unexpected call came from the organisers of the Sweetwaters music festival and the band went from South Island pubs to playing main stage on the Friday evening, replacing INXS who had cancelled. The show and the resulting media coverage broke the Netherworld Dancing Toys nationally.
A joint live album with the briefly reformed Blam Blam Blam on Propeller/CBS Records, was followed by a deal with Virgin Records for New Zealand in 1985, negotiated around a promise that success in New Zealand could lead to release and promotion in the UK.
They added Auckland soul stylist Annie Crummer to a Malcolm Black/Nick Sampson composition, and shot to No.3 in August 1985 with the New Zealand classic ‘For Today’, off their Top 10 gold selling album Painted Years. ‘For Today’ won the APRA Silver Scroll songwriting award. At the 1985 New Zealand Music Awards it also won best and most popular song, while Painted Years won album of the year and the band picked up group of the year.
Even with this success Virgin declined to release either 'For Today' or Painted Years in the UK. The Netherworld Dancing Toys consequently decided to raise private funding for their follow-up album, Everything Will Be Alright. Recorded independently, the band secured New Zealand and European release via CBS in 1989.
However, the band's main target was the US market and a deal was sought and negotiated with CBS NZ's US parent, Columbia Records. Then – before anything could be signed – Sony purchased Columbia and the unsigned deal offer was withdrawn as part of a global freeze on new signings. Sampson and Cockcroft moved to the UK shortly afterwards, bringing the band to a halt.
'For Today' has become part of New Zealand musical landscape, appearing the APRA Top 100 New Zealand songs listing in 2001.
Graham Cockroft is now CFO at Contact Energy and a major shareholder in the revived Flying Nun Records.
Nick Sampson was also in Lure Of Shoes.
Malcolm Black is a prominent entertainment lawyer working in music licensing. He was head of A&R for many years at Sony Music and now works with Les Mills International and Crowded House.
The name Netherworld Dancing Toys was suggested by the band's trumpet player, Alistair Perry. It's a line from the Roxy Music song Spin Me Around on the 1979 Manifesto album.
Nick Sampson's current band is called Betty Love Elvis
Malcolm Black - vocals, guitar
Nick Sampson - vocals, guitar
Graham Cockroft - bass
Brent Alexander - drums
Phillip Hurring - brass
Alistair Perry - trumpet
Matthew Trubuhovich - saxophone
Mick Rillstone - saxophone
Neville Schwabe - saxophone
Stephen Renwick - trombone
Grant Hughson - trumpet