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  • Don McGlashan - Gig Review: Don McGlashan @ Artworks Theatre, Waiheke Island - 26/08/2023

Don McGlashan - Gig Review: Don McGlashan @ Artworks Theatre, Waiheke Island - 26/08/2023

28 Aug 2023 // A review by Roger Bowie

Don McGlashan warmed up the Waiheke Artworks centre on Saturday night with a magical journey through the past 40 years of the art of The Don. The newly appointed (but not yet anointed) Hall of Famer was in modestly ebullient form as he thanked his Lucky Stars in his opening song. And how appropriate is that little oxymoron: modesty reigns even during ebullient moments, that’s the character of The Don.

A moth called Anita opens the show with her ethereal music she mis-names as songs when the expectant audience presumes the mic is there to be sung into. Well, it is, but not until later, except when required for a voice-as-instrument segment of one of the pieces, which is what I shall call the soundscapes which emerge and grow in loop-de-loop intensity as she layers her violin with whatever else is in the box, plucking and bow-ing in harmony and sometimes not. I might call this prog-classic, if I’m allowed to; complimentary wordsmithing to anchor me in this enchanting sonic journey to the Don. Anita Clark performs as Motte, which is a fitting analogy for flitting sounds which the audience gradually warms to and figures out when to clap. Motte’s music has a veil of improvisation over what are no doubt carefully choreographed structures (although her first album was pure improv) and provides a perfect opening to anticipate and contrast what is to follow. Anita Clarke plays a lot with other people but don’t ignore her solo, as Motte, it’s intriguing and fascinating if you allow yourself to imagine.

Don McGlashan is gliding into iconic, almost patriarchal status in New Zealand’s musical heritage. His narrative is ours, his perspective the everyday, the mundane, the tragic and the joyful, snapshots of Kiwi normal, and the occasionally not so. I was absent in the 1980's, so did not know Blam Blam Blam, or The Front Lawn, but when I returned to New Zealand The Mutton Birds were in unelected power, an essential part of the 90's soundscape with four great albums, the third of which, Envy of Angels, provided my introduction. And then four solos albums from 2006 until last year’s Bright November Morning, so what a treat to see and hear a performance which represented all four components of his career, if not a greatest hits, definitely a set-list of greatest moments.

There’s only 120 odd people filling up the Artworks tonight, so everywhere is intimate as Don tunes and loops up with Anita back on stage on violin and backing vocals. This is the nature of his current tour, called “Take it to the Bridge”, in memory of James Brown being carried off stage shouting the phrase and also in homage to Don’s many thematic involvements with structures and objects in his songs. Charles Kingsford Smith flew under one as well, as did Fred Ladd under the one in Auckland harbour in 1967, but I think they are different bridges from the ones which inspired the tour.

Speaking of objects, 1992’s A Thing Well Made is about a man selling guns in what was euphemistically called a sporting goods shop back in the day, in admiration of the perfectionism deployed to make such things, except in this case one of the inanimate objects was the AK 47 he shipped down to Aramoana. We have gun shops today, with bars on the windows and reinforced doorways. Go figure.

Bathe in the River was originally written for the 2006 film No. 2 and was performed by Mt Raskill Preservation Society featuring Hollie Smith before appearing in Don's 2009 (second solo) album Marvellous Year. Hollie Smith went on to create 2021’s Te Reo version, Korukutia. Miracle Sun appeared in 2006’s debut solo album Warm Hand, as did Toy Factory Fire, introduced as his anti-capitalist song, about the 1993 Kader Toy Factory fire in Thailand, where close to 300 workers perished in a building which was locked and unprotected in safety terms, a horror indictment of corporate indifference and unwitting complicity from those who consumed in far off richer lands. 

Don McGlashan writes songs about everyday people and everyday things, with occasional focus on events and history and historical figures such as Kingsford Smith and (walking beside you) Shackleton, but he writes plainly and directly, often mundanely, in straightforward, almost conversant language which would not ordinarily qualify as poetic until they are empowered by the song. That’s part of the everyman nature of the man, the essence of his humanity, the ingredients of an icon.

Take Nothing on the Windows: I originally thought of this as a sad song when I reviewed the album, but Don challenges this common assumption so I listen differently and see the positive in the character whose life is unravelling but finds some kind of redemption in tearing down the curtains so the light can come in and allow him or her to rejoin the world, even through the dust.

We go back to 1981, with Blam Blam Blam’s big hit, Don’t Fight It Marsha, It’s Bigger Than Both of Us. And slightly forward to 1989’s The Front Lawn, with the sad song to brother Andy back-to-back with the upbeat Tomorrow Night. Magic.

White Valiant from The Mutton Bird’s debut album in 1992 isa sinister tale told from the perspective of a driver picking up a hitchhiker and perhaps imagining the aftermath as the search for a victim focuses on a car, you know it’s a white car…

And as the pace quickens on the home stretch it’s the classic from the same debut album, from a half-way house half-way down Dominion Road. About a man seen from a bus, looked like he’d had better times.

From Salty, The Heater is about Frank upstairs with his plain electric heater which oddly personifies as a mythical ancient figure evoking Frankincense and gold… perhaps frank is not in his senses… but this was a number one hit! They could all be hits. 

One song from the final Mutton Birds album, another single, Pulled Along By Love, inspired by watching the commuters pour out of London Tubes. And it’s over…until it’s not… and the evening closes with the other classic from Salty, and we are anchored in admiration for The Don.

If you already have tickets for Don McGlashan’s Take it to the Bridge tour then you are in for a treat, and perhaps some of the songs we didn’t hear will find their way into future sets, there are so many of them there could be different sets for every show. And if you don’t already have tickets, you know what to do, but quickly, they will all sell out. And if you can’t do that, do as I did all afternoon while writing this, bathe in the history of The Don. There will be no depression in New Zealand if we all do this……

Set List

1. Lucky Stars (2015)

2. Go Back In (2022)

3. Charles Kingsford Smith (2015)

4. A Thing Well Made (1992)

5. Miracle Sun (2006)

6. Bathe in the River – Korukutia (2009)

7. Nothing on the Windows (2022)

8. Toy Factory Fire (2006)

9. Don’t Fight It Marsha, It’s Bigger Than Both of Us (1981)

10. Shackleton (2022)

11. White Valiant (1992)

12. Andy (1989)

13. Tomorrow Night (1989)

14. Dominion Road (1992)

15. The Heater (1994)

16. Pulled Along by Love (1999)

17. Anchor Me (1994)


About Don McGlashan

Don McGlashan is one of New Zealand’s best known and highly regarded songwriters.

Don was a member of Philip Dadson’s From Scratch music/performance art group from 1979-86. The group performed worldwide and Don helped record three albums while a member.

In 1980, with guitarist Mark Bell and bassist Tim Mahon, he formed Auckland band Blam Blam Blam. His song Don't Fight It, Marsha, It’s Bigger Than Both of Us was named 'Song of the Year' in the 1982 New Zealand Recording Industry Awards.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Don McGlashan


Bright November Morning
Year: 2021
Type: Album
Lucky Stars
Year: 2015
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Marvellous Year
Year: 2009
Type: Album
Warm Hand
Year: 2006
Type: Album
An Angel At My Table OST
Year: 1991
Type: Album

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