The Exponents are embarking on a national reunion tour, including Tauranga on April 25 - and performing as their own support act. The fun-loving celebration sums up the band, and Carly Gibbs discovers frontman Jordan Luck is as humble as the teenager he was when he started in the industry.
After decades of fame, singer Jordan Luck is in no hurry to start talking about himself.
Our chat, meant to be about The Exponents’ national tour with support act Dance Exponents, which is the same four mates playing songs from earlier in their career, begins with Luck preferring to give me a history lesson on the 1931 Napier earthquake.
On hearing that I live in Te Puke, he wants to tell me about the quake’s impact on the town and says it’s something he read about in the New Zealand book A Fence Around the Cuckoo, an autobiography by Ruth Park.
Later, he initiates talk around birthdays.
I was born the same year and a month after, Dance Exponents landed their first professional booking: “So, we played, and then you popped out! How cool.”
Luck has palpable charisma, but like a song, thoughts move in skips and leaps.
Over the phone from his home in Little River on the Banks Peninsula, the 61-year-old says he’s feeling “match fit” for The Exponents’ 11-stop tour, which celebrates 40 years since their debut album Prayers Be Answered was released in December 1983, and focuses on the two periods of their history.
They will perform all the Kiwi classics Luck has written over the years including Dance Exponents’ hits Victoria, I’ll Say Goodbye (Even though I’m Blue), and All I can Do, before leaving for England from 1987-1990.
They started using the name The Exponents in London, in around 1989, Luck recalls.
While ‘dance’ was a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll euphemism and that’s what they’d named the band on, record label scouts would tell them that they weren’t playing dance music, nor did they actually dance.
Under their new name, they went on to produce Who Loves Who the Most and Why Does Love Do This to Me.
Dance Exponents and The Exponents (who officially called it a day in 1999) have produced iconic anthems and remained popular for generations of New Zealanders, but so too, Luck notes modestly, have The Bats, The Chills, Blam, Blam, Blam, Shihad, and Supergroove.
“It comes down to songs,” he says. “If the songs are good, people want to hear the songs, and it doesn’t matter if your career was 20 years or 18 months. If the quality of the songs is there, they’ll be an audience for it.”
A ‘lazy’ guy with a unique gift
Praised on the internet as the “hardest working man in music” and “the pop phoenix who keeps on rising”, Luck calls himself “lazy”.
He was a fifth former in the 1970s who wore tartan pants fashioned out of curtains when he got the rock-star bug.
Inspired by a band in Timaru playing punk songs from The Damned, Buzzcocks, and the Ramones, he hunted out the only two kids at his school, Geraldine High School, who played the guitar, one of whom, Miles Richardson, had a dad who played bass.
“Before I learned guitar, I just started a band. These two guys brought along songbooks and showed me how to play chords.”
Luck preferred working the songs out for himself though, by playing along to records like Jethro Tull’s Locomotive Breath and Boomtown Rats’ Close as You’ll Ever Be.
“My laziness came about because I’m going ‘now I’ve got to remember all these words’. What about if I do my own?”
His college band called Basement (1976-1980), originally consisted of Luck, Richardson, Gary Bruce and Michael Jones, before Steve Jones joined in 1981 and Brian Jones joined after Bruce left.
They played covers and Luck began to play songs he’d penned, which punters loved, and it gave him an “aha” moment.
By this stage, he’d given up the guitar because his singing was suffering.
“I like to be holding the microphone close to me, so I just became the vocalist. Also, laziness came because I didn’t need to carry around the guitar, and I didn’t need to be looking after the guitar. Machine heads and tuning, I didn’t need to do that. All I needed to carry around was a can of beer.”
Lazy, he proclaims, but he’s completely self-taught on the guitar, piano, and in songwriting, and admits to having a “unique gift”.
Forty years after the smash hit song Victoria was released, Luck still has people asking “flip, what are those chords?”
“I was inventing chords that were five-fret stretches (and) inverted frets. I don’t know what the chords are to this day.
“Words will come as soon as I pick up the guitar, no matter what the first chord is I play. That feeds the melody, and some lyrics will come with it.”
He has never written for audience approval.
“The main thing for me is that if I can’t remember the song that I wrote yesterday morning, then it can’t be very good. I stick to the songs I can recall, which generally seems to lend itself to the ability of an audience to be familiar with a tune too, to say ‘I can whistle that, or I sing it’.”
However, sometimes, repetitiveness irks.
“There’s one song I wish I didn’t sing so many times: ‘Tell me what, oh…ever happened to Tracey? Tell me what…
“Towards the end, I try to keep it short because even on the recording, I just think it’s too much. Whereas, I’m not saying that repetitive stuff is bad,” he says, then breaks into the chorus of Eddie Rabbitt’s song I Love a Rainy Night, again using his phone as a makeshift microphone.
“It just works. Tracey, I just think on the recording, maybe if I had four less, something like that,” he muses.
The public loved and still loves it.
A rapid rise to fame
It didn’t take long for Luck’s fame to rise when he and guitarist Brian Jones disbanded Basement and relocated to Timaru with friend and guitarist Steve Cowan. Dance Exponents formed soon after with bassist David Gent and drummer Michael “Harry” Harallambi.
Luck was recognised and approached at a bus stop for their first booking at the Hillsborough Tavern as Dance Exponents on October 15, 1981 (Luck’s 20th birthday and Cowan’s 22nd).
They signed with music manager Mike Chunn in May and recorded Victoria in June.
Then they were touring the country with the Screaming Meemees in 1982, and Luck recalls hitting Tauranga, where they enjoyed the grandeur of Greerton.
“Generally, if you are provided food at all by the pub or hotel, they take you to the kitchen and bring you something - cold pies, but at Greerton it was Cobb & Co and we got to sit, and we were fed in there. Oh yes, please, a Cobb schnitzel!’”
They went on to tour constantly throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Much later, in 2013, Luck recalls playing at Tauranga’s Trustpower Baypark during a winery tour with Stan Walker and Breaks Co-Op: “It was a cooking hot show.”
The band’s upcoming show here will feature an array of specially chosen songs including some that they wrote when the band included fallen comrades Steve Cowan, Chris Sheehan and Dave “Duck” Barraclough.
Luck predicts each show to be unique: “I find that even just changing venues will do that”.
The band’s musicianship has “improved technically” over the years and despite being aged in their 50s and 60s now, they’ve retained their energy on stage.
“It’s great fun,” Luck enthuses.
Forty years of hit songs and memories
They’ve had endless tours since starting and supported internationals such as Kiss, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.
Bowie happened in 1983 and Luck’s mum Elizabeth “Tibby” came along as support.
“Well, flip, while we met David and had photos with him, it was mum who spent 15-20 minutes talking to him. He had his assistant Coco, and mum never got the signal to be passed along.”
Bowie went to school in Brixton and Tibby taught later at the same school.
Asked which period of the band’s history he’s enjoyed the most, Luck, who now has his band Jordan Luck Band, leans towards the latter.
“The Dance Exponents, gosh, we had a lot more struggling kind of times, whereas The Exponents was a real cruise. I think that was just because we were older, and we’d learned a bit about things that we should and shouldn’t do.”
I ask: Does a band, especially a touring one, only survive as long as its members get along?
“Uh, The Exponents? We’re keeping the drive short. And when we fly, we’re in separate rows,” Luck hoots.
“No, we get on famously. We’ve got great yarns. A harmonious band will certainly travel better.”
And travel in life, and music, they continue to do.
# The Exponents with special guests Dance Exponents 2023 Tour runs throughout April across 11 centres. They will play at Tauranga’s Trustpower Baypark Stadium Lounge on April 25 (Anzac Day). Tickets from Ticketmaster.co.nz