Facing death 'makes you think about life'

Tomorrow Malcolm Black wants his family to remember his smile.

The Netherworld Dancing Toys frontman, who propelled the Dunedin band to the heights of the New Zealand charts in 1985 with hit single For Today, has terminal bowel cancer.

Last week, in longtime friend Jeff Dickie's home studio, Black (58) and a who's who of Dunedin musicians were recording a new album, Songs For My Family.

"When you think about death a lot it makes you think about life and how to live your life better, and it instantly prioritises what is important,'' he said.

"I wrote the songs on this record just for my family, the kids [Ruby, Awhina, Cilla and Martha] and my wife [Julia].''

Netherworld Dancing Toys frontman Malcolm Black rehearses for his new solo album in the home...
Netherworld Dancing Toys frontman Malcolm Black rehearses for his new solo album in the home studio of Jeff Dickie (right). PHOTO: ODT FILES
Nigel Stone - a Wellington producer who worked with the Netherworld Dancing Toys in the 1980s - is now one of the world's foremost film music recording engineers.

Stone has flown in from London with a collection of vintage recording equipment, including microphones once used at the famed Abbey Rd studio, to helm Black's sessions.

"Back in the Netherworld days, before we went into the studio I would learn my parts perfectly, whereas this time I've been a lot freer both in the songwriting and then in the performance,'' Black said.

"I don't really care what anyone thinks any more - that kind of fear of judgement has gone. There is something nice about a performance where something stirs inside you and just pops out.

"I don't think I would have been brave enough to do that then, but now my risk profile has changed a little bit and everything goes.''

The Netherworld Dancing Toys in the 1980s (from left) Nick  Sampson, Malcolm Black, Brent...
The Netherworld Dancing Toys in the 1980s (from left) Nick Sampson, Malcolm Black, Brent Alexander and Graham Cockroft. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
Black's career as a professional musician ended 33 years ago, when he embarked on a successful career as an entertainment lawyer - in which capacity he represented many of the early Flying Nun "Dunedin Sound'' bands - record company executive, fitness club executive and manager of Crowded House and Neil Finn.

Black was in Dunedin for the 2017 APRA Silver Scroll Awards, when a severe stomachache took him to Dunedin Hospital.

"A day later I had most of my bowel removed and was told I had nine months to live.''

It was at last year's Silver Scroll Awards that Black returned to the stage for what was envisioned as being a one-off performance.

He and his original bandmates were asked to close the show with a rendition of For Today - a song with which Black has had a love-hate relationship.

"After it became a hit, for those first three or four years, I was sick of it because it was everywhere and it had defined us - I almost wanted to distance myself from it,'' he said.

"Subsequently, I have become very proud of it, and I like the way it has lasted. I listen to it now and it still sounds good to me, and I like the impact it has had on people from all walks of life.

"I'm a big rugby fan - it gets played at the rugby all the time. I went to an All Blacks test recently, and hearing 50,000-60,000 people singing your song in a big stadium is really nice.''

Now he is set for one last show, he and the band recording his new album - Jeff Dickie, Ron Murphy, John Hodge, Steve Larkin and Sue Chilton - making a one-off appearance at the Captain Cook tomorrow, mixed by former Netherworld Dancing Toys soundman Tex Houston.

Admission to the show is by donation, all proceeds going to cancer research at the University of Otago. Prof Parry Guildford and oncologists Chris Jackson and Donghui Zou have played a large part in keeping him alive well beyond his initial prognosis.

"There is a good cause for the show, but mainly it's just a way for friends and family to come along and listen to the songs.''

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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Welcome back to hometown. All the best with the show, family and health.