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….