Is Don, Is Good

25 July 2012 | 4:30 am | Nic Toupee

"There used to be a superstition for New Zealand musicians about touring Australia. I think it began when Chris came to Australia with his band Toy Love and didn’t have a good time."

Whether or not you've heard of Don McGlashan, this interviewer's recommendation is that you go and see him. Why? Being completely honest, it's not even about his musical ability – it's because he's witty, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. And, frankly, these qualities are all too rare in our minstrels these days. But for those who need more convincing – perhaps some sonic suggestion – this is the point at which one might want to look up his band The Mutton Birds.

Formed in 1991, The Mutton Birds were one of New Zealand's most successful bands of the '90s, taking the Flying Nun label jangle-pop blueprint of the '80s and adding a little grunge and a little REM. But by the end of the '90s, after living overseas, the band came back to New Zealand and members all moved on to different projects.

In 2012, after years of solo and collaborative work, film soundtracks and even scoring the fireworks for the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony in 2011, McGlashan has been juggling solo shows and a Mutton Birds reunion, which has seen him back on rock'n'roll duties around New Zealand, plus a tour to the UK. He's headed to Australia on a solo tour, but we're missing from the Mutton Birds' itinerary. It's only reasonable to ask McGlashan: WTF?

“We couldn't guarantee that we'd get enough people,” he admits ruefully. “We did a fantastic New Zealand tour in February which really went well, and we're doing a single English show: because we lived there for four years, we've still got a decent fan base in the UK. We've never lived in Australia, so we can't say whether anyone would come.”

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He admits that in their heyday, they weren't exactly strangers in Australia, but he's not sure if the band's laurels are still robust enough to sit on.

“We used to tour Australia a bit, and got played on triple j and RRR, but… we're not sure. If anyone is interested in organising it for us, they can come to my gig at the Toff In Town. I'm easily recogniseable – I'm the one on the stage,” he jokes. “Come up and talk to me – maybe not in the middle of a song.”

McGlashan is bringing his solo show to town: something a little easier – and cheaper – to organise. However, contrary to standard pop procedure, he's not here to promote an album, or anything, really. Like an errant friend making good, he wants Australia to see he's staying in touch.

“I'm trying to get over there more often,” he explains keenly. “In the last few years I've been able to get to Australia twice a year and every time I come the interest builds a bit. It's comparatively easy to book a solo gig, and fewer phonecalls to make. It seems too easy so I phone myself sometimes to ask if I'm available,” McGlashan quips. “I think it was probably around this time last year I last came over, so it's been long enough. I like coming to Australia, and it's bucking against the old superstition…”

McGlashan alludes to a mythology about Australia as the harsh foreign land, which spread not in the 18th century with Bourke and Wills, but in the 1970s with Chris Knox.

“There used to be a superstition for New Zealand musicians about touring Australia. I think it began when Chris came to Australia with his band Toy Love and didn't have a good time. He came back and told people Australia was a difficult place to play, thus beginning the long drought where NZ musicians went to England instead. It was also a sort of arrogance bands had then, a sense that only by going to England would you really be understood,” he explains, before concluding hopefully, ”I'm sure it's probably all changed by now.”