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Headless Chickens

One of the first New Zealand bands to explore the world of "abused technology" -- samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, and the like -- the Headless Chickens formed in 1985 as a one-off project to play the multimedia event "Nitpickers Picnic." Originally dubbed the International Headless Chickens, the trio -- onetime Children's Hour members Chris Matthews and Johnny Pierce, along with drummer Michael Lawry -- re-formed on a permanent basis in 1986, and soon made their recorded debut with a track on the student radio compilation Outnumbered by Sheep. A self-titled EP followed later that year, and the group began a tour in support of Nico.

Tragedy soon struck, however, when bassist Pierce committed suicide in August 1986. The Headless Chickens soldiered on, enlisting another Children's Hour alum, Grant Fell, as Pierce's replacement; with the addition of former Bird Nest Roys member Rupert Taylor, they became a quartet. In 1987, the Headless Chickens won a national rock music contest which resulted in a first prize award of $60,000, allowing them to record an LP and mount a national tour; ex-Children's Hour drummer Bevan Sweeney then signed on to cut Stunt Clown, issued in 1988 to strong critical acclaim. The single "Donka" was also an audience favorite. The following year, the Headless Chickens' roster changed yet again with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Anthony Nevison, who made his debut on the excellent single "Expecting to Fly," which helped land a contract with the Flying Nun label.

Still, because of their heavy reliance on electronics -- a sound atypical of the dominant New Zealand aesthetic -- the Headless Chickens initially found little mainstream acceptance. That changed with the release of 1991's Body Blow, the first record to feature new vocalist Fiona McDonald; the single "Cruise Control," which marked a new, slicker direction for the group's sound, reached the Top Ten -- only the second Flying Nun release to earn such a distinction. The follow-up singles, "Donde Esta La Pollo" and "Juice," were also successful. Health problems forced Nevison temporarily out of the group in 1993, and after a 1994 European tour, both McDonald and Lawry exited as well; when Fell announced his own departure in early 1995, the group's continued existence appeared grim, but in 1997, they returned with Greedy. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
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