1980s: Dance Exponents

The group formed in 1981 after singer Jordan Luck and guitarist Brian Jones disbanded their first group, Basement, and relocated from Timaru to Christchurch with their friend, Steve “Fingers” Cowan. Searching for a drummer in Christchurch, the trio met David Gent (bass) and Michael “Harry” Harallambi (drums) from punk band Channel 4. David hailed from Oamaru and Harry from Nelson and to fit them both into the band, Steve moved from bass to keyboards and guitar and the five piece became the Dance Exponents.

Their first gig was at the Hillsborough Tavern a week later on October 15th, 1981, Jordan’s 20th birthday and Steve’s 22nd. A residency at Christchurch’s Aranui Tavern quickly earned them a strong live reputation, and on the recommendation of their first manager Jim Wilson they were signed to Mushroom Records by Mike Chunn in 1982.

Victoria was the Dance Exponents’ debut single. “A unique song”, Jordan believes. “It was a strange song to pick as a first single but it was important; it was the right choice. In many ways that is the song that has granted us this longevity, that has enabled us to keep going. It’s a song that kept people guessing. You didn’t know what was going to come next”. “Most of the songs, the early ones, came from poems I’d written” Jordan explains. “I’d have these lyrics, some of them a complete lyric, some of them just a verse or two and we’d add a chorus. We’d get some chords and a melody, give it to the guys to work on, take it from there”.

Powered by Jordan’s extraordinary writing output, Victoria was followed by an extraordinary run of hits for the band. Steve Cowan left the group before the release of the second single Airway Spies and was replaced by Martin Morris who only spent six months in the group, leaving before the band recorded their debut album in 1983. Sadly, Steve passed away a couple of years after leaving the group.

With their popularity growing nationally through extensive touring, TVNZ recorded them live at Mainstreet Cabaret in Auckland. The show was simulcast on television and FM radio and the companion album Live At Mainstreet, which was released in June 1983, saw six songs from the Dance Exponents on one side of the album with four songs from Graham Brazier’s Legionnaires on the other side. On November 26, 1983, the Dance Exponents supported David Bowie at Western Springs in Auckland it what has been reported to be the largest crowd ever to attend a concert in New Zealand.

In December 1983, the group’s debut album Prayers Be Answered was released. The album featured re-recordings of Victoria, Your Best Friend Loves Me Too, Poland and All I Can Do and two further singles, Know Your Own Heart and I’ll Say Goodbye (Even Though I’m Blue). Produced by Dave “The Spoon” Marett, the album didn’t quite capture the energy of the group’s live show but it did herald the arrival of one of New Zealand’s greatest songwriters. The album was a huge success staying in the NZ Album chart for nearly a year, selling double platinum in the process – a rare feat for a new New Zealand act at the time. Jordan’s songs, their exuberant live shows and the group’s broad appeal turned them into one of the most popular new bands in New Zealand in the early 80s.

Chris Sheehan joined the Dance Exponents on guitar in late 1983, just before the release of Prayers Be Answered. Chris brought a new edge to the group, best heard on his first recording with the group; the Julian Mendelsohn produced single Sex & Agriculture. The single was recorded in Australia where the band had briefly attempted to re-locate. Immigration issues for British born Brian and Canadian born Jordan meant the band returned to New Zealand to record their second album.

The success of Prayers Be Answered saw the Dance Exponents win awards for the Best Group, the Top Male Vocalist and Album of the Year at the 1984 New Zealand Music Awards. Remarkably, later in the evening, after the Music Awards show, Jordan, Dave and Harry fired Harry, a decision they later regretted. Harry moved to Auckland where he drummed for Grey Parade and These Wilding Ways.

The production and maturity of Sex & Agriculture gave Mushroom the confidence to commit a bigger budget to the second album and UK producer Ian Taylor was hired make the record. Harry was replaced for a short while by Christchurch drummer Steve Birss who was only to play a handful of shows with the group. As Steve had not had time to settle with the band before recording commenced, Taylor brought in Vince Ely from The Psychedelic Furs to drum on the album. Recorded at Mandrill Studios in Auckland and released in May 1985, Expectations featured the singles My Love For You, Christchurch (In Cashel St. I Wait) and the Australian only single Greater Hopes, Greater Expectations.

Following the album’s release, Eddie Olson joined the band on drums as they embarked on the major national Expectations tour.

The band’s third album Amplifier was co-produced by John Jansen and Doug Rogers at Harlequin Studios in Auckland and released on Roger’s Zulu label in 1986. Recorded with an eye firmly on the international market, Amplifier featured the single Caroline Skies and re-recordings of Sex & Agriculture and Only I Could Die (And Love You Still), the latter becoming the second single from the album. Some months later, without the band’s approval, Zulu released a recording of Brand New Doll as single. It was not featured on the original Amplifier album but was included on the CD when it was released in 1992, along with a re-recording of Victoria made during the original album sessions.

After only a moderate response in New Zealand to Amplifier, Eddie Olson left the group and the band moved to Britain in 1987.

In London, the band were a popular draw for expatriate New Zealanders but the need to earn money meant that the band had to take day jobs. Jordan worked at Cable & Wireless while Dave and Brian became gardeners. Living in different parts of London meant that they did not play as regularly as they wanted but, with the support of drummers Barry Blackler and Brendan Fitzgerald, the group managed shows wherever they could. Jordan continued to write and accumulated a huge batch of strong new songs which were demoed by the band. These demos and their live shows lead to interest in the band from CBS Records (now Sony). The group played a showcase for CBS A&R Director Muff Winwood, but after a famously shambolic showcase he elected to sign Deacon Blue over the Dance Exponents. So close, yet so far….

1990s: The Exponents

In 1990, after four frustrating years in the UK, it was interest from New Zealand that kick started the second phase of the group’s career.

A friend of the band was working for PolyGram in New Zealand and on hearing the UK demos he began talking to David about returning home. Brian had already returned to NZ and thinking that the Dance Exponents were most likely over was working on a new project. With a bit of cajoling from PolyGram and inspired by the opportunity to record Jordan’s new songs, Jordan and David returned home and joined Brian for the Dance Exponents mark II. Chris Sheehan remained in the UK and went on to form The Starlings.

They still needed a drummer and it was Harry who they asked to rejoin the group. He accepted and to mark the re-union of the four original members, the band decided to change their name from the Dance Exponents to “Amplifier”. After a quick New Zealand tour where no-one knew who they were, the band hastily re-named themselves The Exponents and the crowds came flocking.

Thrilled at the warm response from a new generation of fans, the band entered Airforce Studios in Auckland with UK producer Duffy to record their fourth album.

Up until then the plan had been to spell the word ‘Peace’ with the first letters from the album titles: Prayers Be Answered, Expectations, Amplifier… and so it was in March 1992 The Exponents released Something Beginning With C.

The album yielded the group’s biggest hits of their career in Why Does Love Do This To Me and Who Loves Who The Most. The album was a massive success going triple platinum and giving the band their first number 1 record. The album includes some of Jordan’s greatest songs and is marked by simple arrangements and Brian’s vocal harmonies with Jordan. It is widely considered a New Zealand’s classic and it is included in Nick Bollinger’s book “100 Essential New Zealand Albums”.

In 1992 The Exponents signed to Phonogram Records in Australia and relocated to Sydney to record their fifth album Grassy Knoll. Before they began Brian left the band and relocated to the UK. With guitars played by Dave Dobbyn, who was also living in Sydney, and Brent Williams (an old band mate of David Gent’s who went on to join Pop Mechanix), Grassy Knoll was significantly rockier than Something Beginning With C. It delivered the singles House Of Love, Like She Said and Don’t Say Goodbye. New management had come in at PolyGram in New Zealand and were not particularly supportive of the group or the new album. With limited promotion in New Zealand, Grassy Knoll only managed to go gold. The album has a strong reputation to this day, but it could not match Something Beginning With Cs runaway success.

Following the release of Grassy Knoll, the band met Australian Dave “Duck” Barraclough in Sydney in 1994 and he joined them as guitarist and song writing partner to Jordan. His first contribution to the group was his song La La Lulu which was backed by a co-write with Jordan called Summer You Never Meant. La La Lulu returned the band to the singles charts and the two songs featured on the group’s first hits compilation entitled Once Bitten, Twice Bitten – The Singles 1981 – 1995 which was released by Warner Music. The album was a huge success for The Exponents, hitting Number 1 on the New Zealand album charts and selling 5 x Platinum.

In 1996 the group recorded a one off single for Warner Music entitled Do You Feel In Love before moving to Sony Music in 1997 to record their sixth studio album. Produced by former Split Enz keyboard wiz Eddie Rayner with The Exponents, Better Never Than Late featured the singles One In A Lifetime, Close and Change Your Mind and reached number 3 on the album chart.

In 1999, Dave Gent took a break from the group and Steve Simpson was drafted in on bass. Shortly after The Exponents decided to call it quits and went out on a final New Zealand tour in support of their final album Hello, Love You, Goodbye. The record featured Steve on bass with 6 new tracks and 8 live tracks recorded at the Pounamu Hotel in Takapuna in 1999. Following the tour Barraclough returned to Australia and joined Mental As Anything.

2000s: Reformation

Following The Exponents split, Jordan formed his own band, Luck, playing Exponents songs and new compositions with song writing partner Bryan Bell. He and Bryan continue to play in the Jordan Luck Band today, releasing their album, Not Only…But Also in 2016

Brian returned to New Zealand in the early 2000s and began working with former Bird Nest Roys singer Little Ross Hollands in their new group The Diamond Rings which also included a rhythm section of fellow Exponents David and Harry. The Diamond Rings released their debut album The Rasper in June 2009.

In 2005 the four original Exponents – Jordan, David, Brian and Harry got together to record Geraldine and Or A Girl I Knew with producer Neil Finn for inclusion in a new Exponents hits compilation called Sex & Agriculture – The Very Best Of The Exponents. The album featured one disc of the hits and a second of b-sides and rarities. The group played a small tour in support of the album which went platinum and reached number 7 on the charts.

At the 2007 APRA Silver Scroll Awards on September 18th, Jordan was named by his old friend Mike Chunn as the first inductee to the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in recognition of his outstanding body of work as one of New Zealand’s leading song writers.

Jordan, Brian, David and Harry reunited again in 2010 to play at the “Band Together” benefit concert for the 2010 Canterbury earthquake. Their 1985 hit Christchurch (In Cashel St. I Wait) became the theme song for the concert and the band closed the show which was screened live on national television with a mass chorus of the song featuring all the artists who performed at the concert.

2010s: Recognition

2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the group and on November 14th of that year, almost 30 years to the day after the Dance Exponents first ever show in Christchurch, Jordan, Brian, Dave and Harry got together to play a one off show at The Ferrymead Speights Alehouse, a venue very close to the Hillsborough Tavern where the band made their debut three decades earlier. To mark the anniversary, Universal Music released a brand new best of album called Why Does Love Do This to Me: The Exponents Greatest Hits.

The anniversary celebrations sparked interest in the band’s story from Notable Pictures, who secured funding and support from Prime Television and NZ on Air to produce a feature television documentary about the band. Simply entitled The Exponents, the documentary was an entertaining journey into the heart and history of the group. It first screened on New Zealand television in May 2013 and it documented the group’s return to Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios in Auckland to record some of Jordan’s earliest and most immediate songs, most of which never made it to an album during the course of their career.

The result of their sessions at the famed studio was a new album Eight Days At Roundhead that featured seven new recordings, an acoustic version of Caroline Skies recorded for the documentary and two tracks the band recorded with Neil in the earliest days of the studio in 2005.

Eight Days At Roundhead was released in early May 2013 as a standalone digital album and as bonus album packaged with The Exponents Greatest Hits album.

At the same time Universal Music digitally re-issued the band’s classic catalogue, which include the long out of print Live at Mainstreet and Amplifier albums and special deluxe editions of Prayers Be Answered, Expectations, Something Beginning With C and Grassy Knoll, which featured b-sides, live recordings, rarities and some never before heard recordings.

In December 2014, the Exponents heard the sad news that Chris Sheehan, who had done so much to shape the group’s sound in the eighties, had died in Spain after a long battle with cancer.

In October 2015, Recorded Music NZ and The New Zealand Herald announced that the 2015 New Zealand Herald Legacy Award recipients would be The Exponents. The New Zealand Herald Legacy Award pays tribute to notable and celebrated Kiwi artists who have helped shape the NZ music industry.

In addition to being presented with the Legacy Award at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards on 19 November 2015, The Exponents were inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame, joining Jordan Luck who was already there in recognition of his outstanding contribution to New Zealand song writing. Along with Jordan, Brian, Dave and Harry, Recorded Music New Zealand included Steve Cowan, Chris Sheehan and Dave Baraclough into the Hall of Fame induction to recognise their major contributions to the group.

In July 2016, Great Southern Television received the green light to make a dramatic television feature about the Exponents. The idea for the film came from a conversation between David Gent and long-time friend of the band Phil Smith who owned Great Southern Television.

Smith developed the script for the film which revolves around the relationship between Jordan Luck (played by Jordan Mooney) and David Gent (played by Matariki Whatarau). Directed by Danny Mulheron and called Why Does Love, the film was shot in October 2016 and features original Dance Exponents and Exponents songs including some never before release recordings. Why Does Love first screened in New Zealand on TVNZ 1 on July 16th, 2017.

Today recognised as one on New Zealand’s finest ever groups, the idea of the band remains simple for the original members. For Jordan, Brian, David and Harry, their journey together, is about years of friendship, great songs and endurance – “Slogging those songs around the country for over 30 years, until one day they become public property and you don’t own them anymore”. And you know it seems this is actually the aspect of their career they hold closest to their hearts.

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