Finding the language   13 Jul 2006

Georgia Power

The weather may have been grey in Auckland when I spoke to Dave Dobbyn last month, but the singer was clearly in a sunny frame of mind. Throughout our conversation he displayed a positive outlook on every subject we touched on. He was characteristically enthusiastic about his imminent arrival in the UK.

"I love Old Blighty! And England is a dazzling place in the summer."

Dobbyn is aware that for an audience of London-based Kiwis there will always be an element of nostalgia that is bound up with the enjoyment of his music.

"I ride in on everyone’s homesickness – which is nothing to be ashamed of."

Dobbyn has visited the UK several times during his 30 years in the music business. When he came here for the first time many years ago after leaving the States, Dobbyn felt a strong connection with this country he puts down to his ancestry.

"It hit me like a sledgehammer that my heritage is English and Irish," he says.

Dobbyn adds that he is really looking forward to Toast. He has fond memories of performing at a TNT festival several years ago in Richmond. He played solo that day, and is excited that this time he gets to bring his band.

"It’s going to be a lot of fun!"

Asked how he will be spending his week or two in London, the art-loving musician replies that he plans to make the most of his time by reacquainting himself with a place he is "in love with" – the Tate Modern.

Dobbyn enjoys visiting foreign places. Last year he presented an episode of Intrepid Journeys in which he explored Morocco, a country he describes as "bloody marvellous".

On travelling in the desert, Dobbyn offers this sage advice: "If you are given the choice between a camel and a mule – take the mule every time."

Despite his affection for countries such as the UK and Morocc the place that holds the greatest fascination for Dobbyn is home. He never tires of his continual touring of New Zealand, and particularly loves to visit small-town New Zealand – the tinier and more obscure the better.

"There is a certain parochialism about New Zealand that I love. There’s just something about provincial New Zealand I find really attractive."

Comfortable with his position as one of the elder statesmen of New Zealand music, Dobbyn is an impassioned supporter of the younger generation of Kiwi musicians, some of whom he has collaborated with. Others such as Auckland-based band Stella have rehearsed in his offices.

"There is good music flourishing all around me."

Dobbyn is a great believer in the usefulness of working with other musicians. On his last album Available Light he assembled a large array of contributors.

"I wanted to create a sense of community," he says.

Dobbyn adds that when he is initially working on new material, he tends to "huddle on what I’ve got".

However, "as a musician, the sooner you throw it at a bunch of other musicians, the better".

"The older you get, the better you want to be as a musician. And the best way to achieve that is to work with others."

Perceptions of New Zealand identity and the country’s nationhood are two central themes of Dobbyn’s more recent song-writing.

"I think that the joy of being a New Zealander remains quite elusive to us. You get to a point as a songwriter where we have to comment on those things. It’s the spirit of what is going on that interests me. The notion New Zealand is getting of itself, as a nation of many nations ... as an example of peacefulness to the rest of the world. I’m intrigued by that."

On a more romantic note, he reveals his other chief source of inspiration: "My girlfriend was my muse. She became my wife – and she’s still my muse."

At Toast New Zealand Dobbyn tops a bill that includes Kiwi diva-in-the-making Hayley Westenra, and London-based Kiwi singer/songwriter Jayson Norris.

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