Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Dave Dobbyn, Don McGlashan plot church tour

High priests of local songwriting, Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan are heading out to play the nation's churches together. We sent them a pre-tour inquisition ...

Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan are joining forces for this year's acoustic church tour.
Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan are joining forces for this year's acoustic church tour.

Around here we're going to be calling the tour "DD Mass" ... think it will make the poster?

Dave Dobbyn: Maybe, if we were ever to contemplate a metal opera tour, festooned with hideous artwork and fiery props. But we'll get back to you on that one.

Don McGlashan: I think calling it a Mass might be false advertising. Very little of the show's going to be in Latin, and we won't be passing out wine or wafers, as far as I know.

To our knowledge you haven't toured or played together before. If not, why not? But if you have, when was that and please provide a memorable anecdote to prove it happened.

DD: We have played many a benefit together and if Don would call, I'd be a tad apprehensive until I'd figured what the cause was, or if a politician was on the loose. We did a songwriters' night at the St James once, where I murdered Anchor Me and tried to make up for it by re-enacting Hillary's conquest of Everest using a couch.

Tensing made the top of the couch first. I hope the audience has forgotten. Not sure if Don has.

DMcG: Well, we've done the odd benefit together. I also once joined Dave onstage in Taupo when we were on the same bill, and I played euphonium on a song on his album Twist. A beautiful song, too - called It Dawned On Me. I don't know why we haven't played together more. We've been good friends for years and Dave's always inspired me with his music.

We're assuming you will be swapping songs and singing harmonies and playing on each other's songs. Is it the sort of show that requires much rehearsal, adjustments of key, teaching each other long misheard lyrics?

DD: Yes, a week of rehearsal will be quite intense. I imagine Don will need to shepherd me somewhat. These days I'm better at knowing the songs well and almost over-rehearsing myself, just to nail the lyrics to my cerebral cortex. In May, I learned 30 new songs for the Stories Old & New tour and found it refreshing not to be tortured by the writing process and have a head full of other writers' songs. So bring on the church tour - I'm in a good learning headspace. Don is a performer of great precision, so my challenge is to keep up with him and know everything so well as to lose ourselves in the songs. That's when the music happens the most.

DMcG: Yeah. Can't wait to do that Royal song. Seriously, though, I've grown up loving Dave's stuff, but it'll be a whole other ball game getting inside the arrangements and learning how to play them. We're planning to rehearse quite a bit for this tour, and I'm looking forward to that very much.

It might be a church tour, but given your respective roots, are you also doing your bit for Catholic/ Protestant harmony?

DD: Hell no. I won't be that tribal. Besides, church culture is an endless source of humour. Don's razor wit will no doubt hone itself on and off stage, at the expense of all sorts I hope. But all in fun, peace, love and misunderstanding.

DMcG: I only know how to sing Protestant harmonies. I'm hoping Dave will teach me some Catholic ones.

Random common themes or subjects in your guys' songs: bridges, angels, rivers, rain, the sea ... what have we missed?

DD: Fire and light. Soil and trees. Sun and blood. Ice and drought. More rain and endless roads. Buildings and clouds. Cars and guitars. Trains and buses. Malls and pedestrians. Towers and skydiving. Mountains and deep space. Daughters and sons. I'm sure they're all in there somewhere.

DMcG: Well, not many people know this, but Dave, like me, has written dozens of songs about inanimate objects: heaters, toasters, nail clippers, toilet brushes and the like. However, he tends to suppress them for some unexplained reason. I'm hoping I can bring that side of him out into the light. No; I think bridges, angels, rivers, rain, and the sea are a good set of themes. They should keep us both busy for a few years yet.

Which song of the other's canon do you particularly admire and why?

DD: I've always loved Anchor Me for its vulnerability and because it is classic McGlashan with its spooky dramatic chord changes. I saw Don do Andy supporting Elvis Costello at the Civic. It made me cry a bit. It's a sign of great endurance for a song to do that.

DMcG: There are a lot that I think are great, but Maybe the Rain is one that springs to mind (speaking of rain). It's hard to write a decent protest song that has clarity, heft and humility, but I think Dave nailed it with that one. Lovely recording, too.

What does the other do in his songs that you maybe wish you could do in yours?

DD: I've admired Don's lyrical economy and his sense of mood in arrangement. I guess it's kind of quirky, but he has a way of dramatising the ordinary and making something new with it. Don is a sharp observer of people so I think he'd be more skilled with characters in songs. I've yet to populate my tunes with developed characters, probably because I'm still developing mine.

DMcG: One of the things we strive for as songwriters is to come up with something that sounds as if it's always been there; something that seems like it's grown up out of the soil. Dave's written a number of songs like that, and there's a grace and effortlessness about them that's truly remarkable. I admire that a lot.

Complete this sentence. The last time I actually went to church was ...

DD: For a joyful wedding at Knox Church, Parnell, during a thunderstorm. Everybody danced and sang. There was a conga line. Also I went to Dave McArtney's funeral. It was a beautiful honouring of a great man.

DMcG: A few weeks ago, actually. I try to get to our local Quaker Meeting when I can. I treasure the silence and down-to-earthness of it. But I'm still pretty wavery on whether there's an external God, other than human love. That may change as I get older, but that's where I am now. Dave's much more publicly celebratory of his faith than I am, and I applaud him for his openness and courage on that score. I imagine he and I will cover the subject of religion pretty thoroughly on this tour; whether onstage, in motels, or over breakfast on the Interislander. I'm looking forward to that, too!

Who: Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan's Acoustic Church Tour
When and where: Thurs, Sep 26, Hamilton Chapel of Christ the King; Fri, Sep 27, Tauranga Holy Trinity; Sat, Sep 28, Auckland Holy Trinity Cathedral; Monday, Sep 30, Napier Cathedral; Tues, Oct 1, Wellington Old St Paul's; Thurs, Oct 3, Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral; Sat, Oct 5, Dunedin Knox Church.
Tickets: On sale from Mon, Aug 4 from www.acousticchurchtour.co.nz

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