Malcolm Black: We Remember Your Smile (1961-2019)
Malcolm Black ONZM, leader singer of the early 1980s anthemic band Netherworld Dancing Toys from Dunedin, died in Auckland on May 10, 2019, aged 58, of cancer diagnosed 18 months previously. NDT’s signature song For Today is in its fourth decade of resonance. Written in 1985 by lead guitarist Nick Sampson and Black, For Today roused a nation in a heady spirit fueled by the end of Muldoonism and the election of David Lange and his nuclear-busting global political leadership, the post Springbok tour energy from the Left and the burgeoning creative industries, and the arrival of the America’s Cup and the stock market.
The early 80s spawned music and lyricism from all corners. Out of Auckland came The Screaming Meemees, Blam Blam Blam and The Newmatics. Split Enz were still ripping it up. DD Smash were resident optimists. The Topp Twins were marauding town halls in small towns across the country. Sam Hunt breaking house records at the Gluepot. Showbands The Neighbors and Rick Bryant’s big band The Jive Bombers were swinging through the country. Dunedin’s DNA is Flying Nun though anyone present in the Union Hall in 1982 during OUSA’s Orientation would swear the big sound of the E-Street Band had entered the room. The Netherworld Dancing Toys with Black, Sampson, Graeme Cockcroft on bass and Brent Alexandra on drums, Annie Crummer the breakout vocalist of the decade, and a host of inspirational backing musicians including singer Kim Willoughby and Chris Green and Mike Russell of The Newton Hoons, created big, bright, optimistic music to dance to.
The Netherworld Dancing Toys graduated Otago; Black as a lawyer, Cockcroft is now a senior chief financial officer in the Asia Pacific region, Sampson is the creative director of a leading design company, and Alexander is an architect and designer. Malcolm Black became a specialist music attorney, advising, counseling, managing and acting for a multitude of bands and artists including Bic and Boh Runga, and Neil Finn and Crowded House. Black led Sony NZ for 12 years and was musical and rights director for New Zealand fitness pioneers Les Mills, supplying music for gyms in 80 countries. He was one of a kind, a reserved showman who could stoke a packed room, a delicate counsel who could guide and lead, an erudite artist, impresario and muse.
By every account, Malcolm Black was a very fine New Zealander. We miss his presence. We remember your smile.
In the months before his death he recorded an album for his family Songs For My Family.
Several tributes have been written about Malcolm Black, including a lengthy piece for Stuff by Grant Smithies in which Black discusses For Today as part of the 2019 documentary series Anthems: New Zealand’s Iconic Hits. “I said to him, “Can you tell me a little about your current situation?” It seemed as good a way as any to start a difficult conversation with a man who was dying. And for the next hour or so, he did as I asked.”
A widely posted video of Black’s final public performance of For Today, filmed at the 2018 Silver Scroll Awards can be viewed here. Prophetically, the opening lines of the song as “If you told me this time last year / That I would feel like I do now / Well, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
The original NDT’s video of For Today can be viewed here.