THE LIKELY LAD Love and Loyalty

(c) Chris Bourke 1988
Rip It Up March 1988

Reprinted with permission

By Chris Bourke

What is this thing called love? Dave Dobbyn, the eternal romantic but incurable melancholic, asks the perennial question on his new album Loyal, which contains songs for swinging lovers plus much more besides.

He confronts love, loyalty and the power of personal politics in Loyal, a low-key album that neatly parallels the stance taken on John Hiatt ('Have a Little Faith in Me') and Bruce Springsteen's recent works.

" 'The Tunnel of Love,' 'Tougher than the Rest' - some of my favourite songs come from that Springsteen record," says Dobbyn. "That's the guy saying to his lady, Here I am. It's relationship stuff. That's what Loyal expresses, a loyalty and responsiblity to the people I love. That's one of the reasons 'Slice of Heaven' is on the album, because it fits in with the loyalty thing.

"I feel great about being honest right now. Here I am, I'm 31, I'm a bit podgy, I'm unfit. But I'm not intimidated by things, I feel mentally fit every step of the way and I'm always writing songs. I can write a song in a restaurant on my own, sitting there with a piece of paper writing lyrics and putting the chords above them. Just hearing it in my head."

Chapel of Love

Instead, Dobbyn sits in a restaurant late at night to discuss Loyal before returning to work on a new video. He's home for a week, but it's more hell than holiday. With the album's release imminent, by day there are endless interviews to be done. At night, he oversees the editing of the video for 'Love You Like I Should' - often not emerging from the suite until the first light of dawn. But before going back to Australia for more talk and touring, there are two weddings to go to here.

Loyal has its moments of rock and roll, but it's an album for romantics, personal and affecting: "If the songs appear to be focused on Annaliesje, the woman I married, they are. She appreciates that, but she also appreciates that I'm not just writing for her, I'm just in love. And I'm becoming more and more in love with the idea of being in love."

Dobbyn is unashamed to be a composer of romantic ballads. "I won't change. I get a sense of frailty while I'm doing those things because I'm moved emotionally, but what the hell. What I feel most uncomfortable about is talking about it. I end up getting very personal. But all I'm doing is communicating something I've experienced to somebody else, a feeling that might connect.

"You know what it's like when you hear a song, sometimes you're moved to tears. I love the way it hits me, and I like hitting people with an emotional thing. Whether they take it to their heart or throw it away is up to them, but I'm prepared to be that honest about myself."

Open Up

Loyal has a relaxed consistency about its sound that reflects the confidence Dobbyn develoeed from the Footrot Flats challenge. When The Optimist came out in late 1984, nearly three years after DD Smash's debut Cool Bananas. Most of the tracks were so well known it was like a greatest hits, perfectly crafted but lacking spontaneity.

"There's a lot of contrived tracks on that album, lonely tracks like 'Tobacco Indian', which I'm still proud of, but at that stage I hadn't developed an empathy with people I could communicate with. It was like I wanted to show everyone my chops, to show that I was capable of singing and playing jazz or rock and roll and many different styles. Totally experimental.

"My direction on this record was much more focused. I'd found people I could commlunicate with Tho hardest thing about being in a band, especially a band where I wrote all the songs, was to have a democracy in it. I envy bands where there's a natural democracy - like the U2s of the world, who have a certain chemistry. I'm a different beast - I get so obsessed after I've written something that I want to communicate that with people really fast and get it on tape."

Shop Around

The key was the "workshop" approach to recording adopted with his co-producers Bruce Lynch and Mark Moffitt. "There was never a confrontation. They never said, let's economise this, or let's make this precise and contrive it. All we did, we did on the workshop floor, going through with Peter [Warren] on drums and Ian [Belton] on bass, or Ricky Fataar on drums and me on guitar. We went through the arrangement process getting the songs in shape on the shop floor. Thats what I feel proudest of."

Dobbyn remaints in awe of Bruce Lynch's arranging talents and he found insstant rapport with Moffitt, an Australian who worked on Tim Finn's Escapade and with Jenny Morris. Both can read and write music, disciplines Dobbyn is determined to learn, "so I can communicate not only with wonderful musicians like Bruce and Mark, but with whole orchestras - imagine having that power in your hands, it'd be wonderful.

"I want to have the enthusiasms Mark and Bruce do at their age. This is what I do, I'm not going away. I don't compare my talent to any of those people, but I won't go away. I can't do anything else."

With Footrot Flats Dobbyn came of age musically. "During the Footrots period I got all this gear and suddenly I had the mechanics to do things that were always sitting there, and I was exploding to do them. I learned a lot of things in a very short time. Writing discipline. During that period I became an arranger, something I'd never been. During DD Smash we bumbled through arrangement and were quite brash about it. It still worked."

Communication Breakdown

"I grew up imitating singers - Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Mick Jagger - and imitating the characters I saw on TV. I still imitate those American characters and accents. Guys like Peter Garrett don't - he sings in an Australian accent. He'd be the first to admit that as a singer he can't sing 'Happy Birthday,' but the message comes across."

The mimic and actor has always managed to combine an amalgam of influences with his own inimitable self, but now he's as concerned with the message as the medium. "It's the same message U2 are spreading around the world, and Bruce Springsteen. There's a fraternity of care there that one can't deny. It's kind of an illusion right now, but it strikes me as being the most powerful thing in the world. Because communication has become so instant and so powerful ... are we out of tape? 'Cos you gotta hear this..."

He's off on a tangent. The message of the people, says Dobbyn, isn't getting through because those controlling the channels of communication are twisting it for their own ends. In Australia, you get your news through the filter of Sun king Rupert Murdoch, and now the English press magnate Robert Maxwell is about to distort things with his Mirror approach.

"More and more I find it strikingly abhorrent, and that's why I'm much more selective, media-wise: the untruths coming down caused by the media barons and oligarchs."

Hidden among the seductive melodies on Loyal are these themes, from the personal issues of relationships and responsibility to politics of a wider dimension. 'Love You Like I Should' covers this ground; written in 1985, it's always seemed to reflect the frustrations of that period: the year of the scapegoat "And the powers that would be / Can't change the freedom in me." Or the slinky 'Ain't No Doubt, ' with its "deep mistrust of any politician / Turn off their tissues of lies ... mistrust any man in power / Ain 't that the nature of the beast?"

TV Eye

"It's important to me to have the lyric sheet with the album, 'cause people have told me I can be indistinct," says Dobbyn. "The lyric from 'Love You Like I Should' is directly related to another song, 'I Wanna Know You,' which is about television and how it numbs you." With its captivating lilt, 'I Wanna Know You' would make the perfect followup single neatly juxtaposing the personal and political: I've been watching you daily / in the hands of injustice. You've learnt to feel nothing / You're numbed by the tragedy."

"It was originally called 'Powerless', but that seemed to be a cliche. Looking at the TV set, watching the riots in Seoul and Soweto, people getting stiffed all over the place,and the whole world is numbed to it. Here I am in my lounge ignoring this devastating news."

Dobbyn wants the unexpurgated version so a current obsession is John Pilger, the Australian freelance journalist (and author of Heroes) who battles BBC censorship of his TV documentaries. "They place disclaimers in front of them - 'These are the views of John Pilger' -which is like putting disclaimer up front of Barry Manilow. They're obviously threatened by it. On the TV news people are denied the truth by those in control, the Murdochs, Maxwells, governments who own TV stations. And the more that happens, the more it develops peoples' complacency."

"Heaven and hell are here," he sings on 'Hell Takes No Holiday.' "One man's liberty takes another's life." "While you feel free," says Dobbyn, "there's some other sucker out there chained, gagged and tortured for your liberty, on your complacency."


"What I like most about music right now is the sense of community about things. Everyone has played with the toys and the imagery. Your metal merchants can still thrust their cod-pieces towards you and you can get off on that, and you've got your struggling artists, and your soulful 'I don't know what I am', and your gay music. Basically what we've got is a communication that we're not exploiting, we're not modem-ing to each other.

"The more I educate myself the more I think that knowledge and communication and emotion has to be spread. And music is a big part of that. You get a guy like Robbie Robertson coming back, or U2, giving a testimony of spirit. That's what it's all about - testimony of community, but still to be individuals."

In the distribution of information, Dobbyn sees his job as "stimulating people emotionally. And I'm happy to do it without becoming Dan Fogelberg. I'll never become Dan Fogelberg - you can come along and see one of our live shows and I'll rock your socks off. But I'll make you cry at the same time."

Done with freedoms, political and personal Dobbyn returns to the theme of love and ioyalty. "You can't control what love does," he says, romance under his skin. "Sinatra: 'If somebody loves you, that somebody loves you - all the way.' That's what Liesje and I sing to each other: 'All the way'.

"Do we dance? All the time. Not often in public, but at home we dance to tracks. To the Robbie Robertson album, and at my insistence to 'Broken Arrow.' Liesje thinks it's too sad, but she knows I'd just dance there on my own, in tears, just loving it."

Dobbyn laughs at himself. "I'm just an open book!"


(c) Chris Bourke Rip It Up March 1988

Reprinted with permission

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