Don McGlashan: Free Flight

Saturday 23 September, Paisley Stage, Napier
By Jamie Macphail

Don and I are almost the same age, we grew up in New Zealand at the same time, and the expressions he uses in his songs, the humour, the references are so very familiar. This doesn’t, of its own, give them any more merit than something less familiar, but it certainly engages me on a different level.

So much about the personal appreciation of music has to do with context. Of course we can appreciate opera written centuries ago, or tribal beats devised in a village totally remote from our own reality, but there is something about hearing music that comes from a place we know, from ‘someone like us’ that gives it a profound resonance.

It was almost a two hour set of songs on Saturday night. Just Don, alone on stage. This, for me, was the best imaginable way of experiencing the man and his songs. Just him and the songs. It was mesmerising; one of the most engaging nights of live music I can remember.

Much of the art I enjoy from New Zealand shares a similar thread.  It takes the ordinary and shines a light on it, not something grand and romantic, no great love story, but the everyday story, the everyman story.  Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s novels – my favourite line, the opening line of The Scarecrow: “The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut” – Taika’s movies, Dick Frizzell’s paintings, Peter Cape’s songs (think “Taumaranui, Taumaranui, on the main trunk line…”) … and Don McGlashan’s songs.

“Anderson Park is still in the dark and I stop to put gas in the car.

I stand in line behind a barefoot man who’s buying cigarettes and a chocolate bar..”

(From Lucky Stars)

Part of the delight in Don’s songs comes from the fact he invests so much of himself in to the lyrics, he tells us his stories. Song For Sue, written after the death of a close friend, is such an intimate song, we feel his love and his grief.  He talked about needing to write it quickly, to capture the emotion, explaining that when you take a long time to write a song, things have changed, emotions have been modified along the way.  Song for Sue is raw, beautiful, haunting, still lingering in my mind two days after hearing it for the first time.

As the show came to an end at Paisley Stage, with a room full of folk sitting comfortably in this homely, convivial environment, Don sang Anchor Me. Almost everyone joined in. It was a beautiful sharing of music, and as I sat there I realised that Don has achieved what every songwriter must aspire to, he has written songs that many of us have come to see as not “His” songs, but “Our” songs.

PS: As a postscript, Don mentioned that when he finished writing Song For Sue, written for Sue Paterson who died in July of this year, it was important for him to perform it quickly. He played it on RNZ within days of finishing it. Here it is.



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One thought on “Don McGlashan: Free Flight

  1. Don Mcglashan is the absolute master of the everyman story. I first saw him in The Front Lawn when I was 16 and looking forward to seeing him at The Hollywood in Avondale for my 50th birthday, since I couldn’t get to his Napier gigs.

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