Don McGlashan & Dave Dobbyn - Acoustic Church Tour review - NZ Herald (September 2013)|
- Russell Baillie
Dobbyn and McGlashan complement each other superbly in Parnell leg of their Acoustic Church Tour.
This double-up of national treasures Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan marks the fifth year of this annual acoustic church tour, a chance for veteran acts to do the sit-down unplugged mix-it-up thing in venues which might inspire a hushed reverence in their respective flocks.
No, this isn't the night to heckle Dave to play Bliss, my son.
Dobbyn had taken it to the pews of the nation solo a few years ago. This time, with McGlashan, was a chance for the pair to bounce between their respective Great New Zealand Songbooks - both of which probably should come with fold-out maps given their shared sense of geography - and add some new elegant touches to the familiar.
The pair had made up the set list by naming their favourites among each other's songs.
Said McGlashan of the tour prep: "Learning one of Dave's songs is like meeting a long-lost family member who has lived a vivid parallel life to my own."
The result on this hometown third night of the tour was a gently enchanting show to a sold-out congregation at Parnell's Holy Trinity Cathedral, the venue making up for what it lacked in decent sightlines to the seated musicians with warmly cavernous acoustics.
It got better as it went along. The opening ballads of Dobbyn's Beside You and McGlashan's Andy felt a mite tentative, the latter suffering from too much acoustic 12-string lushness.
But with Dobbyn later mostly opting for electric guitar and the arrival of a rhythm section which included former Mutton Birds drummer Ross Burge, it soon gelled into musical tag-team magic.
Both men were content to accompany each other with harmonies and deft playing of multiple instruments rather than offer their own interpretations of each other's songs, but they still pulled out some surprises. Among them Dobbyn's Song of the Years, his setting of a James K. Baxter poem from the 2000 tribute album, was one of the night's most stirring moments as it closed the first half of the show.
There were others - a hymnal Anchor Me with McGlashan on piano played after Loyal, which came with Dobbyn's amusing introduction trying not to mention a certain sporting event. And there was the added entertainment value in both men's stage banter with Dobbyn's happy heartfelt rambles against McGlashan's self-deprecating wryness.
Yes, of course, it was preaching to the converted who responded with a standing ovation which won them a double encore. But this double-act in this setting acted as a fine reminder of just how special the songs and voices of each man remain.
Bathe In The Songs (Marvellous Year review - The Listener (April 2009)
- Nick Bollinger
From the Front Lawn to the Ponsonby backyard where he launched his latest album, Marvellous Year, Don McGlashan has consistently offered songs that are both startling and familiar.
The image of trees “turning red along the shore” might evoke a row of beachside pohutukawa, but it also amplifies an eeriness that runs through Bad Blood, a song from the new album in which a chance meeting on a bus leads to a loss of identity.
It is typical of an album that balances edginess and beauty, comfort and disturbance. On Marvellous Year, McGlashan draws more than ever on traditional forms – country, gospel, folk – yet chisels fresh melodies from these ancient -materials to carry his observations of the lives we live and the strange ways in which the profound and the mundane rub against each other.
As always, there are recognisable glimpses of New Zealand. In the title track, he breaks into a litany of human achievements, humorously skewed to a Kiwi perspective (“The Koran, the Torah/Interflora”).
Yet the essence of these songs is universal. In You’re the Song, he ascribes human traits to a set of guitar chords, which are echoed in the song’s chiming changes.
Several tracks are epic in mood, if not duration. Not Ready is a beautifully compressed piece of writing, essentially a blues in form, that describes an ominous dream and reaches its shattering climax with a boldly angular string arrangement, scored by McGlashan and Victoria Kelly.
And on 18th Day, McGlashan plays a dirge-like piano to set the scene: the return by steamship of Te Whiti, after the Parihaka leader’s long incarceration in the South Island. The song builds majestically with Neil Finn adding weight to the harmonies and the stinging tones of guitarist John Segovia heightening the drama.
Since Warm Hand, his 2006 solo debut, McGlashan has consolidated his band, the Seven Sisters, and their delicate, detailed playing helps make this album both more dynamic and more relaxed than its predecessor.
As a singer, McGlashan has conquered a new part of his range, and his increased use of falsetto pushes these performances into more vulnerable and emotional territory. He uses this to great effect in The Switch and again in the penultimate track, a version of Bathe in the River, the hit he gave to Hollie Smith. Wisely, he doesn’t attempt the gospel fervour of Smith’s recording, offering instead the quiet contemplation of a secular hymn.
But there are some funnier, looser moments that make a change for an artist who occasionally appears to be thinking too hard. Take C2006P1 (Make Yourself at Home), a rocking ode to the snappily named comet of the title, which McGlashan suggests would be welcome to collide with Earth next time around, provided our species has already wiped itself out.
And there is Radio Programmer, another in a series of McGlashan songs that examine how a character deals with a moral dilemma. You could hear it as a flippant cousin of Warm Hand’s Toy Factory Fire, in which a corporate exec considered whether to bury the evidence of an industrial crime. In this case, his protagonist is a commercial radio jock, agonising over whether to add a local song to the playlist. The song is, of course, the one we are listening to, which McGlashan hilariously peppers with riffs reminiscent of the deathless radio classic Born to Be Wild.
If radio programmers don’t feel blessed to have albums such as Marvellous Year landing on their desks, you wonder which country they are living in. Not the one I recognise in these marvellous songs, that’s for sure.
Ship Songs at Pumphouse Theatre - NZ Herald (11th August 2008)
- Shannon Huse
High seas adventures, epic and small, are lovingly retold in Ian Hughes' new one-man-playShip Songs, which had its world premiere at the Pumphouse Theatre on Friday night.
Hughes' slice of nautical nostalgia ties together three tales of people leaving their comfortable home shores for an ocean of adventure. The action shifts from the epic story of 15th-century Chinese explorer Zheng He to an Irish convict who jumps ship and falls in love with a Maori maiden, to the true tale of how Hughes' parents met and fell in love en route to Alaska. Interspersed with the narrative are traditional sea shanties and new songs and evocative incidental music from Don McGlashan.
Ship Songs has plenty of pitfalls for an inexperienced performer, with a host of characters from China, Ireland, Britain and Canada colliding in the various strands of the story. But Hughes is a fantastic performer who effortlessly shifts from woman to man and through centuries of action. He doesn't put a foot or accent wrong as he deftly dances around the stage, handling both the humour and pathos of the play with equal aplomb. While all the stories have their own highs and lows it is the story of Hughes' mother's adventures that really shines, providing the true emotional heart to this feel-good show.
In addition to Hughes' charming onstage antics, music and moving images are also integral to the show.
Don McGlashan's original shanties are indistinguishable from the traditional shanties and his incidental music (played by band Seven Sisters) adds a further layer of emotion to the action. The opening line of the play serves to remind us why McGlashan is the perfect man for the job. In the first line of the play Hughes reminds us the best songs "are little stories too" and fans of McGlashan's song-writing prowess could only concur.
Michael Hodgson and Grant Bowyer's visuals work well, switching from a set-like backdrop to creating special effects or illuminating the thoughts and feelings of characters in the show.
The best bits saw Hughes interacting with the video thanks to John Verryt's ingenious sail/screen backdrop, which also transformed due to various zips and doors. While clever, there is a flat quality to video that no matter how dynamic will always appear passive next to a performer as vibrant as Hughes.
Ship Songs is a new initiative by the Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) to develop its festival brand. It is the first new NZ work specifically commissioned to tour and take ATC style professional theatre to the suburbs and beyond.
Such a charming show would warm the coldest of cockles and the added bonus of not having to trek into the city and fork out for a carpark means there's no excuse for suburban theatre fans to miss Ian Hughes' nautically nice nostalgia.
Warm Hand album review - The Big Takeover (24th August 2006)
- Jack Rabid
I'm still mourning the demise of the great New Zealand popsters The Mutton Birds in 2002 (may they reform someday!). But some of the sting has diminished via the fine album by one-time second banana Alan Gregg as Marshmallow and finally (after four years of writing for Kiwi film and TV), this rather great debut solo LP by the band's ex-leader, McGlashan. Bravo.
Right off the bat there's two strong tracks that remind of his late, great output (don't miss 1996's incredible Envy of Angels) in "This is London" and the more subdued "Toy Factory Fire"-which, as ever, feature his lovely voice and knack for little observations. There's soon another, crowning pop-tune, "Harbour Bridge." One of 2006's songs of the year, its evocative, emotional tug of war is prime McGlashan, filled with doubts, regrets (he has a few), and self-recriminations for a sticky romance while it's disintegrating. As usual, it's fraught with perceptive, gotcha snapshots like "I drove her to the airport/And I ran out of things to say." And musically, it's another prize, like his all-time classic "While You Sleep" or "April," "Winning Numbers," and "She's Been Talking." Take ringing guitars, a devastating melody, breezy melancholy, a mild, pretty slide guitar or pedal steel solo, and supreme self-harmonies, and you've got a massive winner.
Thereafter the LP gets lighter (a few more up-tempo numbers wouldn't've hurt, but that's pure quibble), making the whole more of a grower than Mutton Birds' immediate pleasures. Yet the results are beautifully beguiling and soulful-just more reflective. In particular, the one song by bassist Sean Donnelly, "I Will Not Let You Down," is a gem, and the hushed breaks midway through "Miracle Sun" and "Toy Factory Fire" are wonderfully tingling.
Lastly, in a novel addition, a foray into sociopolitics proves perfectly understated, letting you fill in your own horror, then outrage, then conclusions. "Toy Factory Fire" recalls the May 10, 1993 fire in Sam Phran, outside Bangkok, Thailand, which destroyed the Kader Industrial Toy Factory-makers of stuffed and plastic Simpsons and Cabbage Patch dolls for our ravenous U.S. market. The worst accidental Factory disaster ever (eclipsing New York's infamous, similar March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist blaze), it killed 188, 174 of them women and teenaged girls, with 449 more rushed to the hospital. Tellingly, 168 died in a single stairwell before Building 1 collapsed, suggesting the "deathtrap" the song mentions, with allegations of locked fire exits to prevent impoverished sweatshop workers from stealing-and, perhaps, as the song claims, to keep out unions. "Here's Bart Simpson, with his arms all melted and twisted/And here's one of Big Bird, with his feathers all matted and black/And here are the rows of young women/Wrapped up in bolts of white nylon/And the families from the countryside come to take their daughters back" coos McGlashan gently, in lamenting lullaby, over pretty strings, picked guitar, and lap steel. Implicitly implying the irony in the joy of toys for first world children causing the ultimate misery for globalization's neo-slave labor, this is powerful stuff for a pop record, indeed.
Tired of music bereft of intelligence, sufficient human spirit, or tunes you can't lose? McGlashan is a consistent wonder, and his rare LPs demand your dollar.
Warm Hand album review - Listener.co.nz (9th June 2006)
- Nick Bollinger
With his solo debut, Don McGlashan confirms that he is one of our most enduring artists.
A clever parodist or sophisticated piece of software could probably turn out a fair facsimile of a Don McGlashan song. It would take its title from a famous Auckland landmark, tell an aching tale of separation with an existential subplot and a sweet-sour melody. And don't forget the euphonium solo.
Of course, the reason McGlashan's music is so ripe for parody is that it has such a strong identity of its own. Where most modern pop sounds as if it was cloned from some long-established archetype, McGlashan is that rare musician who only ever reminds us of himself.
And there's no doubt about who we're hearing from the first bars of Warm Hand, McGlashan's solo debut and first set of new songs since Rain, Steam and Speed, the final album of his group the Mutton Birds, recorded in London six years ago.
Based in New Zealand again since 2000, McGlashan has made an album full of the physical and geographical details that have always given his songs their sense of place. In the opener, "This Is London", he starts by establishing the sounds of a suburb, the quality of light and time of day, creating in a few words an environment to house the song's emotional core. And in the tracks that follow, the location shifts variously to Manhattan ("Toy Factory Fire"), Auckland ("Harbour Bridge") and Tahiti ("Queen of the Night").
Rather than a belated follow-up to Rain, Steam and Speed, Warm Hand seems connected to McGlashan's pre-Mutton Birds work. Liberated from the rock'n'roll convention of brisk tempos and concise choruses, he has revisited the narrative, character-based style that characterised his pioneering work with the Front Lawn.
Most masterful is the narrative of "Toy Factory Fire" in which he takes on the voice of a corporate exec contemplating the incriminating evidence of an industrial crime. The slow build as the narrator reveals his moral flaws makes it, at seven minutes, not only a compressed epic but also the most effective kind of protest song.
A similar distance is covered in "Passenger 26", the monologue of a tour bus driver, which becomes increasingly spooky as it unfolds, its brooding riff a distant cousin of McGlashan's earlier "White Valiant". But the mood isn't all Kiwi-noir; there are also the glowing chords and uplifting melody of "Miracle Sun", set in the summer of Opo the Dolphin, the song's narrator a wide-eyed child.
If Warm Hand is full of signature McGlashan sounds - I swear I even hear a euphonium, though it is not credited - it borrows, less expectedly, from the palette of country music. Violin, accordion and pedal steel guitar solos rise out of the orchestration. Of particular note is the crystalline steel of John Segovia.
Even more crucial are the contributions of bass player Sean Donnelly. Not only does he give the album its sole non-McGlashan song, the poignantly fragile "I Will Not Let You Down", and provide much of the musical movement with his detailed, melodic basslines, but he also co-produced with McGlashan and Edmund McWilliams. And his influence can be felt in the rich sonic textures, which recall his own recordings as SJD.
Yet, ultimately, Warm Hand is not about newness, novelty or innovation. What it offers is a bunch of superbly crafted material to add to the songbook of one of this country's most enduring artists.
The Donald Gets Up Close And Personal - NZBC.net.nz (25th May 2006)
- Chris Bell
In 1993, "the worst industrial fire
And so we find ourselves a long way from home, and a long way from three-minute pop single territory. To listen to Toy Factory Fire is to spend seven minutes in the kind of place only writers as confident and skilful as Dylan, Gabriel, Costello and Zevon normally feel at home. And the second song on Don McGlashan
I can't talk convincingly about influences, but I can say that I'm reminded of several artists while listening to 'Warm Hand', and most are from another era: the first few bars of Harbour Bridge has shades of Ryuichi Sakamoto's score for Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, for instance, and the pedal steel on Courier recalls the main riff from Neil Young's Harvest Moon.
I must admit to being strongly predisposed
There are some world-class melodies on this record, from This Is London to Sean Donnelly's I Will Not Let You Down and the deceptively simple and beautiful piano on Miracle Sun (that one will sound tantalisingly familiar to Kiwi telly-viewers). But McGlashan doesn't overwork anything; there's a pleasing sense - or at least the illusion - of the first-take about most of his lead vocals. In my 'preview
So far, 'Warm Hand' has largely
To silence the cries of "Call yourself a reviewer!" from the Rip It Up, Q and NME readers among you, I'm duty-bound to gripe about something. The CD booklet contains no lyrics. As our Director-General
When I asked a friend whether he'd heard 'Warm Hand' yet, he referred to the recent Listener Q&A
As one so often infuriated by works of art (and otherwise) - each clamouring to be watched, listened to, read, learnt about or commented upon - I sympathise with his choice: you do reach a point where your 'hard drive' seems choked to the crashing point. But sometimes all you need is a good defragmentation. 'Warm Hand' does it for me. Let it clear some good space in your head, too.
Warm Hand album review - NZ Herald (14th May 2006)
- Russell Baillie
Don McGlashan's first album under his own name arrives at a time he's got a top ten hit under somebody else's. From his soundtrack to the film No 2, Bathe In the River sung by Hollie Smith, is McGlashan's first blip on the pop radar since the Mutton Birds quietly called it a day at the turn of the century, having given it a good go across four studio albums here and Up Over.
The band was a major chapter in McGlashan's musical life. But they were one of many which have stretched back to Blam Blam Blam - surely the duxes of our post-punk Class of 81 - through the performance troupe the Front Lawn, to soundtracks and occasional dabbles in the world of art music.
Yes, he's been many things in his 25-year career, and pulled off a creative rebirth every time. So it is on Warm Hand, an engaging if slightly underfed album which reminds that not only is McGlashan among our finest songwriters, he's our greatest musical storyteller.
It's his narrative songs of people and places - supported by his tunesmith's ear and sympathetic players - that have always resonated.
He's made art of the pop song as an out-of-body experience, his characters (often reprehensible) and landscapes (often recognisable) drawn in a few vivid strokes.
As the Mutton Birds years progressed, fewer of McGlashan's songs seemed to come with a good yarn to them. Here though, they're in the majority, which makes for an album that unfolds like a mishmash of short stories as it swings from New York to the backblocks of New Zealand to 19th-century Tahiti.
If anything it's over too soon - its 52 minutes consists of 10 tracks, including a musical interlude. That's right before album highlight Miracle Sun, a quietly majestic song set against the summer of Opo the dolphin. Like the rest of the tracks, it's big on atmosphere, strings and musically open-ended. But a hoped-for reprise of its glorious chorus never comes - interestingly, there's also a radio edit of the song which could turnit into the classic anthem it's clearly fighting the temptation to be.
There are songs which hark back to the Mutton Birds years - homesick opener This Is London and Harbour Bridge which puts another pin in the map of McGlashan's Auckland with yet another song of airports and goodbyes.
And again McGlashan captures the latent menace of the New Zealand countryside (caught before in the Blams' Call For Help and the Mutton Birds' White Valiant) on Passenger 26 with its tourist bus driver giving one of his fares a true Kiwi Experience.
Elsewhere there's also a Big Apple PR guy rationalising his involvement in a Third World tragedy on a song (Toy Factory Fire) that evokes the politics of Naomi Klein's No Logo; a drug trafficker (Courier) and one of the Bounty crew saying goodbye to paradise (Queen of the Night).
There is just one reflective first-person ballad - I Will Not Let You Down, although it's written by studio collaborator Sean "SJD" Donnelly who adds harmonies to the song which will make a beautiful bookend to McGlashan's Anchor Me. But even with moments like that, and all its tales well told, Warm Hand feels like a transitional kind of set. Long-term followers will be riveted, but it still feels like the definitive Don McGlashan solo album is at least another chapter away.
Don McGlashan at St James - NZ Herald (22nd September 2003)
- Russell Baillie
So much for solo. It's coming to the end of Don McGlashan's first hometown show as a solitary singer-songwriter and he's looking anything but lonely up there.
There are 11 people on stage. True, for most of the night there have been three - McGlashan, Sean James Donnelly (SJD to fans of his albums) on bass, harmonies and laptop-tapping, and Tatiana Lanchtchikova on accordion and piano.
But right now the eight members of the Brassouls - a good-time horn and drum section, sort of New Orleans by way of New North Rd - have marched through the audience to play on three songs.
The last of these, appropriately for this Auckland Festival show, is Dominion Road, and it's quite a traffic jam with a lot of happy honking on the melody lines.
The arrangement breathes new life and brassy spittle into the old Mutton Birds hit, something McGlashan's preceding set has also frequently managed.
That's whether it's dusted off the Front Lawn's Tomorrow Night or Andy, or delivered a twitchy semi-electronic version of the MBirds The Heater - which comes with its own only-in-NZ rock'n'roll moment: McGlashan coolly swinging his Telecaster guitar behind him to pick up his euphonium.
There was quite enough of McGlashan's back pages rendered in new colours to keep the set familiar but fresh. Though as he encored truly solo on the bittersweet Last Year's Shoes, it was enough to make you wonder if the performance needed just a few more intimate voice'n'guitar numbers to sharpen the focus. Oh well.
But apart from it all going a bit James Last towards the end, the most striking thing about the show was the yet-to-be-recorded new songs.
Friday night's Mercy Peak episode might have been inspired by Dominion Road B-side White Valiant. But on first listen some new ones, especially the possibly titled Passenger and Miracle Son, sound more first-draft feature films with their vivid close-ups against some evocative and unnerving musical atmospheres.
Those works-in-progress made this something far more memorable and satisfying than just a Don-plays-the-hits night.
But when he - well, they - did that, it was the perfect heart-starter to AK03's pop programme.
True Colours - The Speakeasy at St James - NZ Herald (3rd June 2003)
- Russell Baillie
On the surface of it, this final night of the True Colours concert series was the most low-key. Acoustic guitars abounded, ivories were tinkled, volume levels barely went into the red.
But in its own strange way, it was the most unpredictable of the shows, and the one which touched some spots the other ones couldn't hope to reach. Yes, one of those was the much-tweaked nostalgia nerve.
Especially for those who were there not just to see the trans-generational bunch of well-known singer-songwriters, but a reunion performance by mid-70s Auckland folk-rock group Waves.
The stage took on the look of a guitar showroom for their bracket which formed the middle of the evening's three parts. And while Graeme Gash confessed to a certain trepidation about playing in public, he and fellow singer-guitarists David Marshall and Kevin Wildman and bassist Michael Mason were soon happily dusting off the gently meandering songs of their era, complete with rich harmonies, deft fretwork and more eco-consciousness than a Green Party weekend retreat.
It was a quiet, revelatory performance sparked by the energy of old mates surprising themselves at how good they could still sound. Enough to make you think surely there is room for Waves on those classic hits formats between Crosby Stills Nash and Young and the Little River Band.
Either side of Waves was the get-together of songwriters which youngest participant Liam Finn quipped might be collectively known as "Anika and Liam's and their four Dads".
This song swap-meet was MC-ed by bFM's Hugh Sundae. And while we weren't expecting a lecture series, it might have been nice if he had occasionally strayed onto the subject of the songs themselves. A lengthy and tedious discussion with Chris Knox about the merits of the controversial film Irreversible (Sundae fainted, we were thrilled to learn) was a self-indulgent default to that radio dayjob.
But that, and the intrusive throb through the walls of the St James' top-floor Grand Circle nightclub marring the sound during the final hour, didn't stop this being a memorable show.
Each of the six performed a couple of their songs with accompaniment by the others, which meant what some of the songs lacked in rehearsed performance they made up for in the all-in backing vocals.
Best comedian was Dave Dobbyn, long a dab hand at this unplugged solo stuff, who felt a re-enactment of Hillary's ascent of Everest on a nearby couch was needed in between leading the all-star choir through the likes of Beside You, Whaling and, inevitably, Loyal.
Best utility player was Don McGlashan. Having performed with Blam Blam Blam on Friday, he contributed guitar, harmonica, ukulele, drums, euphonium, harmonies and jokes about misheard song titles - we'll never hear his Anchor Me quite the same - to proceedings.
He also delivered the night's most magic moment. Having done a nifty folk club take on Dominion Rd, he then sang the fraternal lament of Andy from his Front Lawn years - his audible deep breath after the line "If you were still alive you'd be just short of 33" was throat-lumpening.
Best new song on first hearing was True Romance from Martin Phillipps while it was heartening to see Mr Chill in good voice on a couple of oldies, too.
Both Moa and Finns played to their melodic strengths.
But the performance which clinched the night - if recorded for television you could have called it Grey Lynn Idol - was Knox's.
Not only did his physical cavortings frighten Moa, he mounted a one-man audience invasion with front-row table dancing. And in the finale of Not Given Lightly he stopped the number for a short sharp lecture on rock song structure before interpolating the lyrics of his fellow musicians' anthems into the last chorus.
Not something you see every gig, that. They really must do it again some time.
Who: Dave Dobbyn, Don McGlashan, Martin Phillipps, Anika Moa, Chris Knox, Liam Finn, Waves