NORTH & SOUTH
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
© North & South, Nicola Legat & Alistair Guthrie
A Mature Man
NICOLA LEGAT talks to
songwriter Dave Dobbyn.
NICOLA LEGAT IS A NORTH & SOUTH SENIOR WRITER.
PHOTOGRAPHY: ALISTAIR GUTHRIE
Once you sang to teenagers in school halls and to drunks in pubs. Once you were charged with starting the Queen Street riot. Once your record company sat on an album for over a year while you fumed in quiet desperation. Once you felt you couldnt write and drank in an attempt to release yourself from the creative block. Once you felt you couldnt bear to live here and went into exile in Australia.
Now you have a new album, The Islander, and are interviewed on Holmes and on National Radio by Brian Edwards, who is so taken with you that he invites you back. Then you turn up at a literary festival in Titirangi, where you charm the audience with your cackle and two lovely songs. You cause a ripple when you casually describe the country as being run by a stinking, right-wing Nazi government. Later, you are sought out and feted by Kapka Kassabova, the handsome young woman poet who recently won a Montana.
Come summer, though, youll be trekking off to Tutukaka and Gisborne, to wherever a sun-kissed crowd of young people wants to sing along to the chorus lines of your songs theyve memorised, because that in New Zealand is how youve had to make your way.
"Twenty proud years, more like it. Thats what Dave Dobbyn has given us so far, from Th Dudes in the late 70s, through several versions of DD Smash to a solo career that continues to deliver great songs and performances that always sound delivered on the emotional tips of his toes." Colin Hogg, Metro, 1998.
The Beloved Entertainer, as Herald rock writer Russell Bailey once described Dave Dobbyn, is one of lifes yakkers. On and on, a great stream of words, sporadically broken with a laugh like a burst of machine gun fire. Occasionally, the interviewer needs to politely ask whether he might like to stop and take a break.
It is Monday, and the Beloved Entertainer and the interviewer are installed before a window in the upstairs room of a Ponsonby café. Outside a filthy nor-easter is tossing the heads of the pansies in the sill-level planter box. For an hour and a half they have the room to themselves while he talks and smokes and drinks coffee and sucks Lifesavers. Then the early lunch crowd begins to arrive. Their fellow guests glance across from time to time at the tape recorder on the table and the familiar, weathered face but are far too cool to gawp. This is Ponsonby.
The Beloved Entertainer has embarked on a long dissertation which rambles over the Reformation, the decline of the health system, nationhood, sovereignty, class, the Hikoi of Hope and parenthood. Previously he and the interviewer have covered off the political system, Pacific Island social structures, architecture, Te Papa, sexual and emotional repression, Catholicism, the mind set of the immigrant, Samoan church choirs, lawnmowers and alternative societies.
Words. So many words. The interviewer has already seen him in action at the Going West literary festival in Titrangi the previous weekend. He and Chris Knox, the ideosyncratic musician, cartoonist and film reviewer, appeared together in a session designed by the festival programme directors to address the role of song writers as the popular poets of the late 20th century, who tell the nation's narratives accompanied by a rhythm section.
He arrived a little late, just as Ian Wedde, the poet, novelist, essayist and Te Papa curator was winding up a long cerebral offering on national identity. He came quietly into the room, carrying a battered guitar case covered in orange "fragile" stickers, and went straight to his comfort zone, beside the two sound technicians and their pod of equipment.
When it came his turn to take the stage with Knox he turned in a cogent performance for a distinguished audience which included historian Michael King, associate professor of English at the University of Auckland Peter Simpson, poet and performance artist Lynda Chanwai Earle and the novelist Annamarie Jagose. He and Knox talked politics, Dobbyn offering the view that the best music comes out of oppressed cultures and Knox quipping, "So there should be some great music coming out of New Zealand anytime now".
And when he pulled out his guitar and sang, as he was clearly itching to, the audience was spellbound. The Gibson filled the room, the air sparkled. Really, it would have been enough just to hear those songs; the intelligent words were a very nice bonus.
"Ten years ago I didn't have the language and the feelings to talk about these things," he says later. His friend Neil Finn's "ferocious intelligence for these sorts of things turned me on. Speaking from the heart. The responsibility that goes with that to communicate what everyone's feeling. I'm not afraid of confrontation. The political makes me more driven. I feel I can handle anything right now. The sense of social injustice is bursting through."
He will shortly record a track for a compilation album organised by former Chills leader Martin Phillipps to protest against inequalities of access in the reformed health structure, an album which will extend the not especially strong but still discernible line of New Zealand protest music which includes John Hanlon's 1973 anti-Manapouri lake raising song "Damn the Dam", Blam Blam Blam's 1981 "There Is No Depression In New Zealand", Herbs' 1982 "French Letter" and the often angry lyrics of rap.
This is the Woody Guthrie-Bob Dylan continuum of which Dobbyn feels a part as a songwriter. "That's what I love about Dylan and the whole generation of people who grew up with that stuff. A sense of rebellion, of righting injustice... Dylan was spreading the stories of discontent right across America."
Still, if you are looking for street fightin' man talk you won't find it in Dobbyn's lyrics. The politics of The Islander's juicy stock of love songs, ballads and belting anthems are personal, about exploring New Zealand identity, and are more readily gleaned by Dobbyn's liner notes than by any close study of the songs themselves. "I went up to the Auckland War memorial Museum with my son Eli. A group of soldiers had just finished an Anzac ceremony, were hugging each other and crying, with their families around.
"On the steps, there's this brilliant view across the harbour to Rangitoto. I got this incredible feeling of outpost, that I was way out on the edge of the world. And we have been all this time, while fighting other people's wars. I was aware of how insular New Zealand can be but expansive at the same time...
"But there's something exotic about this place which we don't always see because we're in it. That exotic thing is a real mixture. I came to terms with the fact I'm a Pacific Islander a long time ago. There's nothing vaguely European about me apart from the colour of my skin. So I've called it The Islander as a stamp of identity."
Dave Dobbyn is a rotund New Zealander with curly hair and a name that evokes fewer images of cloven-hoofed devils of rock 'n' roll than of the four-footed beast with a taste for sugar lumps ... Dobbyn shares with his co-producer Neil Finn from Crowded House a taste for Beatle-esque pop and AOR ambience. Both artists have become increasingly influenced by cultural changes in their home country (where they're big stars), with Twist suggesting some of the organic, Polynesian atmospheres captured by crowded House on their last album but badly lacking any of the inspirational songwriting- British music magazine Vox, September 1995.
Big stars. Yeah. In 1994, not long after Dobbyn settled back in Auckland with his wife, Annaleijse and baby daughter Grace, after 10 difficult years in Australia, and recorded the Neil Finn produced Twist, Herald rock writer Graham Reid wrote: "What Dobbyn and the Finns can't fully appreciate is just how important their being part of it [New Zealand's creative community] means to others. Their presence back here has given a shot of pride to our self-perception ... Dobbyn and the Finns command a particular place in the affections of this country and prove again the embarrasement of musical riches this small country has produced."
He is a little guy, five foot five in sneakers, green eyed, a tangle of tawny curls falling away from a face on which the hard living latter half of his 41 years is clearly etched. he dresses with a just-picked-these-clothes-up-off-the-bedroom-floor nonchalance. His scrappy moustache straggles into a small goatee. He has, it is a surprise to note, very small hands.
The years of touring with Th' Dudes and later DD Smash, putting in the hard graft in manky pub lounge bars, have won him fans who've never left him. Dobbyn has never been too proud (or too well off) to play the resort towns. He has always loved being on the road, loved getting out into New Zealand.
In the early days, the love of being on the road stemmed from the mighty sense of invincibility a 20-year old has when his band turns up in towns like Taihape, "putting on Italian boots with heels and walking down the main street and pissing the rednecks off". Loved the parties too, like the New Year bash at Whangamata where he first met the 17-year-old who would later become his wife. There were bonfires on the beach and riots: all in all, a classic Whangamata New year. It was raining, and so Th' Dudes dragged their PA into the motel unit, where they commenced a huge, sprawling, LSD-fuelled party which ended with a bill for $1000 in damages from the motel owner.
"There's nothing vaguely European about me apart
from the colour of my skin."
Later, the road was loved because it showed him New Zealand. He came late to the work of the photographer Robin Morrison, but when he did he was delighted to find the photographs of the little baches and coastal communities he cherished.
The road transported the songs and that instantly recognisable, at times audaciously high-pitched voice - one minute Randy Newman, then Tom Petty, then a Dylanesque whine unconventional rhythmic patterns, heavily-worked guitar licks and abundant freight of words.
The weight of media attention which surrounded the release of The Islander last August seemed to indicate that we can't get enough of Dave Dobbyn. The journalists who trekked faithfully to the interviews organised by his record label, Sony, discovered great thoughtfulness and yam-telling riches when they turned on their tape recorders.
He has told some of the stories many times over, but he has the knack of making them sound fresh and unrehearsed for each new audience. The oft-repeated tale of the months of despair he felt in the late summer of 1980, at the age of 22, when his first band, Th' Dudes, folded after three famously shambling, drug and alcohol-hazed years on the road never loses its energy.
Every night that Th' Dudes walked onto the stage was a kind of torture for a shy young man. Yet he loved the performance; needed what he describes as the transcendental connection with the audience. Deprived of that and lost without the support structure of the band, his rockn' roll dream in tatters, he took a room in an old house in Epsom with a pharmacist a psychiatric nurse and two medical students all of whom could have been useful to him given his state of mind and state of health. His bed was in the corner of a thoroughfare, and he spent hours coccooned there, wrestling with an amphetamine addiction, lurching out from time to time to write some songs and play guitar.
"The political makes
me more driven. I
feel I can handle
anything right now
The sense of social
injustice is bursting
He's been willing to put himself out into the public arena considerably more than our other great rock hero, the rather more reclusive Neil Finn. Where Finn stipulates that in order to keep his family life private he will only meet reporters in a unit in an Orakei motel, Dobbyn invites journalists round to the house to show them where he has just managed to wreck the upstairs bathroom wall trying to change the washers on the taps.
He has also shown himself to be more willing to wear his heart on his sleeve. He never shies away from the inevitable questions about his alcoholism and he is busting to talk about his exploration of what we are doing here. One might presume that this quest had not a little to do with the spiritual aspects of the Alcoholics Anonymous programme, were it not for the fact that when he quit drinking abruptly two years ago he did so unassisted.
"It's incredible how much of your parents comes through in you," he offers. "The part of me that's emotional, easily moved to tears - that's from my father. The anxious, worried, uptight person is from my mother. A lot of finding out who you are is accepting those parts of yourself, accepting those parts where you are a flat-out liar, looking through the cracks and saying 'this is honey'. Finding out the truth of your character is something that phoney. Finding out the truth of your character is something that comes out of work and working with other people."
Four days before he went back into the Radio New Zealand Auckland studio for his second chat with Brian Edwards, he was hoping that Edwards would get onto the subject of mandatory musical quotas so they could have a good old tussle over it. He knew that Edwards had previously made it clear that he considered musical quotas a form of censorship. Dobbyn believes they're essential to carry the culture.
He relishes engagement in such public debate. With his philosopher-priest older brother Kevin, a Marist missionary in Kiribati, he has talked about "how at a certain point in your life you are not afraid of your moral authority. I've got experience; I've got to do something with it ... I'm an incurable romantic and probably quixotic. But Quixote thought he was always a success. So that'll do me.
"I don't care who you are, you're going to be disappointed in daily life. The cure-all for that is to get on the stage. " Bob Dylan, 1997
Back in 1957, when Dave Dobbyn was born the third of the five children of tour-bus driver Terry Dobbyn and his wife Molly in Casdedine Crescent in the Auckland state-house suburb of Glen Innes, it might have seemed pretty clear what the future would hold for a white Catholic state house kid. A trade? Migration to the white collar classes via a job in the public service?
Except that Terry Dobbyn wanted better for his kids, and managed to send the four boys along the road to the private Catholic boy's high school, Sacred Heart. And except that Dave Dobbyn, the dreamer of the family, had already exchanged rugby out on the street with his brothers and the rest of the local kids for listening to the stack of old 78s in the living room radiogram which his father had salvaged when it was thrown out by the neighbours.
He remembers first hearing, at 10, the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album as "the music of my dreams".
In the fifth form, spent at a Marist Brothers' boarding school, Lavella College, in Tuakau, in the rolling countryside south of Auckland, he learnt to play the piano and guitar and formed a band whose first gig was at the nearby Kingseat psychiatric hospital.
When the band subsequently played a lunchtime concert at the Catholic girls' school Baradene, in Remuera, he played Lennon's Imagine on piano, too petrified to sing. But the girls - girls!! - clapped anyway. "The applause. I'm addicted to that applause."
By the sixth form, 1973, back at Sacred Heart, all his dreams were of playing guitar on stage in a band. He was at the ideal school to have this fulfilled - the music teacher played Bob Dylan to his pupils and the school's annual music competition encouraged performance and school-boy bands. But how he lacked the courage; h, was too timid to enter,
In 1976, after a miserable nine months working as a bank teller at the BNZ in Panmure, Auckland, Dobbyn was accepted for primary teachers training college on his second try. Almost simultaneously he was persuaded to join a band formed by two Sacred Heart old boys, Peter Urlich and Dobbyn's closest school friend lan Morris, the boy with whom he'd formed, to use Morris's words, "a club against the world". Th' Dudes, as they became known, quickly fulfilled Dobbyn's fantasy life. Suddenly, drugs were easily accessible. So were girls - a not insignificant fringe benefit if you were a reedy, non-sporty guy lacking self-confidence.
Following a debut successful night-club stint, Th' Dudes quickly made it to the comfortless den which at the time stood as the apogee of Auckland rock achievement: the front bar at the Windsor Castle Hotel in Parnell. Not long after, they won the legendary Battle Of The Bands contest.
The band was all-consuming; coming to training college each morning after the gig the night before was an increasing disjunction. Eventually, the college principal had Dobbyn carted off to see the college doctor, his wan mien having convinced his lecturers that he was injecting heroin.
Th' Dudes had been formed just for the fun of it, but now Dobbyn had stars in his eyes; he quit training college short of completing his first year and the band turned professional and full time.
Stripped right back, it was sheer poetry, pure magic, and showed as well as any of the fiendishly rocking tracks played earlier that maturing and getting old are two different things. - Bruce Stirling reviewing Dobbyn's January 1996 concert in Wellington in The Dominion.
The late 1970s was the era of the kid band. Disco, punk and rock 'n' roll all vied for attention and for the live acts there were plenty of venues, big audiences, two television rock video shows and considerably more radio play than in this current era of imported play-lists. For legions of young New Zealanders, Friday and Saturday nights were all about going out to hear bands play. Bands constantly formed, broke up and re-formed with new names and line-ups.
In this vibrant context, Th' Dudes charged at fame. They took their own electrician with them to rig up lighting and a sound system robust enough to take the noise they were generating. They carted pallets and crates from pub venue to pub venue to make themselves a stage. Front man Peter Urlich, the consummate showman, perfected an urgent Mick Jagger routine. Th'Dudes considered the decadent Hello Sailor, then the top-home, grown-up Auckland band, something to aspire to: like a Rolling Stone - drugs, tight jeans, bad girls and bad, bad behaviour.
By 1979 kids in other bars in other parts of town were listening to punk, and Chris Knox's Toy Love was doing its spectacular antipop star schtick, but Th'Dudes were utterly unembarrassed about looking like a classic rock act. In any event, the band was genuinely talented. For a callow youth, Dobbyn was writing songs of some calibre; "Be Mine Tonight", which still gets regular airplay, was judged best single at the 1979 recording industry music awards.
"When we first heard it on the radio we thought, 'You bastards, you bastards, you beat us to it'," remembers Mike Chunn, these days the director of New Zealand operations for the Australasian Performing Rights Association, the music writers' and music publishers' agent and trade union. Chunn, who had been at Sacred Heart a couple of years ahead of Dobbyn, was at the time not long out of Split Enz and playing in Citizen Band. Although Citizen Band's members were older than Dobbyn, Urlich and Morris by about five years - "and some were married and one even had a beard" there was great rivalry between the two bands for radio time, venues and audiences.
"The more I thought
about it, the more I
knew I belonged here.
In Australia I had this
By the time Th' Dudes came to an end, with Ian Morris calling it quits early in 1980, it was clear that Dave Dobbyn needed to be in a band more than any of the others. The rest of Th' Dudes had been shocked by the hard grind of working in Australia when they toured there with the British band The Members in 1979 but Dobbyn was not deterred, and not long out of action. By the winter of 1981 he had a clutch of new songs and had gathered a band around him. Success was rapid. The first DD Smash album, Cool Bananas, was released early in 1982 and sold exceptionally well, the first New Zealand album to enter the charts at number one.
Within a year DD Smash had made the obligatory move to Australia, into that great maw which has swallowed whole many an ambitious New Zealand band.
Ten difficult years followed, Dobbyn battling with his record companies, and he and Annaliesje, whom he had married in 1983, struggling financially. Still, out of the DD Smash touring days and then the time he was, simply, Dave Dobbyn, came the songs "Bliss", "Whaling", "Loyal", four albums and a whole swag of New Zealand music awards: top male vocalist, top group, album (Cool Bananas) and producer of the year in 1982; top male vocalist, top group, single of the year, album of the year (Live: Deep In The Heart Of Taxes), and most popular artist in 1983; most popular song, 1986; top male vocalist, single of the year, producer of the year in 1987; top male vocalist and album of the year (Loyal) in 1988.
New Zealand continued to be a rewarding touring environment. The band was loved enough that it could come back home a couple of times a year, tour to packed venues and make enough money to subsidise life in Australia.
In the early summer of 1984, DD Smash returned for a tour which included a disastrous end-of-school-year outdoor concert in Auckland's Aotea Square. John Dix tells the story in Stranded In Paradise, his encyclopaedic history of New Zealand rock 'n' roll: "By the time DD Smash took the stage at 7.30 there was an estimated crowd of 10,000 there. Halfway through the first song there was a power failure. During the next 10 minutes sections of the crowd grew restless, in particular one drunken group on the walkway alongside the Wellesley Street Post Office. They began urinating and dropping beer bottles below. Several police then arrested the culprits, resulting in a handful of onlookers, presumably drunk, throwing hordes at the officers.
"That was when the Riot Squad was called in. Up on stage, Dobbyn noticed the fracas and, between songs, said something he'll long regret: 'I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.'
"For the first time, everyones attention was drawn to the disturbance at the back. Scuffles were increasing. DD Smash had a battle of its own - to keep the crowds attention on the stage. Backstage, police officials conferred with organisers. The concert was called off It was 8pm. The Queen Street Riot had begun."
In lower Queen Street practically every shop window was smashed and goods looted. Prime Minister David Lange called a commission of inquiry and Dave Dobbyn was charged with inciting a riot.
He flew back from Sydney in June 1985 to appear at the Auckland Magistrates Court where he was represented by prominent criminal lawyer Peter Williams. The judge was Mick Brown and the fearsome Crown Prosecutor, David Morris (now a High Court judge) was, Dobbyn later discovered, "the man who clinked Arthur Allan Thomas three times".
Dobbyn, who was eventually acquitted of the charges of behaving in a manner likely to cause violence against person or property and using insulting language, got through the trial by drinking. He felt the loneliest man in the world, and was convinced that he never wanted to come back to his home town.
Life back in Australia picked up immensely when he was selected by Murray Balls associate scriptwriter Tom Scott to write the soundtrack for the cartoon movie Footrot Flats in 1986. The project offered a years well-paid, professionally rewarding work. And that poppy little single which now backs a bread commercial, "Slice of Heaven," sat at number one for two months in Australia and four months in New Zealand.
Despite that, the Australian market remained intractable. The record companies wanted albums full of sparkling "Slice of Heaven", clones or Jimmy Barnes-style machismo. Dobbyn was in a darker, more introspective frame of mind. He and his manager could not plot a way forward for his career. He should not, he knows now, have been in Australia at all.
After Graces birth in 1994, Dobbyn and Annaliesje decided to return to Auckland. "The more I thought about the more I knew I belonged here. In Australia I had this big emptiness."
Neil Finn was already back in Auckland and told Dobbyn about the "something special happening here." Dobbyn decided he wanted to be part of it.
This is for the traveller on a blinding desert road
good fortune smile upon you and may love be your only load
and this is for the only one who could quell my burning rage
and anyone whos been a broken man and anyone seen better days
- Dave Dobbyn, "Beside You", The Islander
There is no broken man now, no drinking, just as there is no longer any of the shyness which almost paralysed his talent in his late teens.
This is the portrait of the artist as a mature man who declares "none of the hedonism of rocknroll has a part in my life now." Up early in the morning without a hangover. Spending intensive, committed parenting time with the children - Grace, five and Eli, three. In the studio most days early - "though I still demand the time to stare at the walls and call it work People dont understand what you do the rest of the time youre not in the studio recording. You are out digging for gold." Planning a 1999 theatre tour. Loving life in the old inner-city Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn. "Once we started living in our own house, and getting into whats going in the community, I just woke up feeling great, feeling like I belonged. Its like salmon swimming upstream. It was spiritual. A lot of your energy comes from your stomping ground I had to end up in this place."
It thrills him that his neighbours include the Cook Island family next door and the brain surgeon across the road, that he is back in the neighbourhood where he visited his parents when he was a boy. Multi-ethnic, sure and most definitely boho, but desirable real estate nonetheless. His father who died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 62, would no doubt think it fine that his son has moved back, and moved up a class.
"The old man worked hard to give us a private education. He thought it was the most precious thing he could give us and he was right." Dobbyn says. "It was a matter of pride to advance the family. He took that seriously and Im the same with my family."
But if that makes Dobbyn sound like hes becoming a conservative old fart, he is still in full possession of a wackiness which places him out on the anarchic fringe. Phone his house and you get this answerphone message, conducted in one long breath in crazed Ozarkian drawl: "Hello and welcome to the chaos. It is the late 20th century and indeed we have the second millennium on a sour note two millennium ago Jesus Christ was born it started off very well it is all downhill from here and now we end with the Presidents penis in view of the whole planet." Beep.
He is in a position to be a role model and mentor , and he knows it, he welcomes it, just as he revels in being caught up in a creative community which includes his friends Neil Finn, Sam Hunt, Kerry Brown and Mike Chunn. He is working on the soundtrack for a movie executive-produced by Jane Campion. He has a recording project with Ian Morris.
"The music is just
in him. When he
he sings, you are
In November he and Neil Finn toured together in the United States for a month, performing with such luminaries as Sheryl Crow, Pearl Jams Eddie Vedder and Grant Lee Phillips. In February, hell play at the WOMAD festivals in Adelaide and Auckland.
At 41, some young musicians no doubt consider him a dinosaur, except that hes exceptionally active, still has so much he wants to achieve, so much he wants to master. And his generation, the members of the kid bands of the late 70s, is now powerful in the music industry.
Mike Chunn, in his capacity as New Zealand director of APRA, is a strong lobbyist for a mandatory air-time quota for New Zealand music (which Ireland, Canada, South Africa and Australia all have but we, for some extraordinary reason do not, dooming our music industry to lilliputian status.) Ian Morris is a highly-regarded engineer and producer.
The entrepreneurial Peter Urlich, who ran a string of successful nightclubs in the 1980s, keeps the hearts of smart young Auckland women around town beating with his current guise - a suave, smoke-filled bar crooner act. And those other Sacred Heart contemporaries, Neil and Tim Finn, are, well, Neil and Tim Finn.
Dobbyn works the mainstream, and some might argue that he is at times derivative: echoes of Dylan and Neil Young can be heard, for example in The Islander. But transcending that, there is the edge of that extraordinary voice, the hallmark instrumentation which make the songs unmistakably his. And there is the love of the land, the excitement about the evolution of a new culture, the concern about the future of Aotearoa which mark him as one of our thinkers, one of our poets.
"The music is just in him," says Ian Morris. "When he performs, when he signs, you are hearing Dave Dobbyns soul."
Two generations of New Zealanders have lived with his music as a soundtrack, from "Be Mine Tonight", in which a young voice at full throttle sweeps up abruptly into the opening bars, through "Slice of Heaven", where his collaboration with Herbs introduced a cross-cultural Pacific sound to a mainstream audience, to the stellar 1994 album Twists "Language" which is dominated by the hallmark Dobbyn guitar thrum.
"In New Zealand music history he is the total musician. He is one of the finest most unique guitar players in the country, he has a voice the equal of anyone else in the country, he writes songs almost as well as everybody else in the country and on stage he is a true entertainer," says Mike Chunn, who was running Mushroom, DD Smashs record company, at the time of the first DD Smash album. "He is maybe a little bit less than all the others that are individually the best but the sum of his parts makes him a leading light. I think hes a true genius."
Ian Morris argues that his talented great friend ought to be heard internationally, no question. "But it takes so many things. It needs the hunger. It needs someone on your side in those places."
So, when the history of New Zealand music in the late 1980s and 1990s is written will Dobbyn, because he has not achieved international success, be judged to have laboured in the shadow of his friend and musically, the more famous Neil Finn?
"Are there more people out there that would go to see Neil Finn than would go to see Dave Dobbyn? Im not so sure," says Mike Chunn. "Dave inside New Zealand has a huge presence, huge. Like Don McGlashan [formerly of the Muttonbirds] he sings of real things. Neil could never write a song like the The Palace, Daves song about the Civic Theatre, or Shaky Isles. Dave is more referenced to here. Neil lives in a more ethereal world. Dave and Don McGlashan have that huge feel about the country."
"I see him more like the Van Morrison of New Zealand. I dont know if that would offend him - I hope not." Chunn continues. "He will still write songs that people want to hear because his music does not fall victim to fashion. He could reach 83 and still pack people into the Town Hall."
Recognition of that song writing skill came with Dobbyns November win of the APRA Silver Scroll for The Islanders "Beside you".
This summer, Dobbyn will no doubt pack out the venues as he tours the country with a band in January. He doesnt mind playing again in his old stomping ground; the audience here is important to him, he wants to connect with it. But he had a small taste of playing in New York and London clubs following the release of Twist in 1994 and has not abandoned international aspirations.
"I used to get really frustrated about it. But I know what it takes to rise above everything else thats going on. The more something is distinctly individual and distinctly from here, the more it will ring true. Thats all you can do. Im not chasing it, but it would be bloody nice to go and fill a pub in Ireland or a club in London."
Because what happens there, as in any live performance, is what keeps Dave Dobbyn going. "Most people would think that standing on the stage on your own with a guitar would be an incredibly vulnerable place to be. I find it the most incredibly powerful place to be. Even though you are throwing yourself into the unknown, when a song works, its because of the inclusiveness, that dialogue between the audience and the writer. Its fantastic. Ive always loved it."
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