Every country has a musical act who’s popular and part of the national identity, but who is little known internationally. Australia has Paul Kelly, Canada has The Tragically Hip, and New Zealand has Dave Dobbyn. Dobbyn’s beloved songs like ‘Loyal’, ‘Welcome Home’, and ‘Whaling’ have cemented Dobbyn’s place as a national treasure.
Dobbyn, however, wasn’t always national treasure material. In 1984, Dobbyn’s band DD Smash headlined a free concert in Auckland’s Queen Street. Shortly after DD Smash’s set started, the power went off. Some of the 10,000 crowd members started throwing bottles, riot police arrived, and Dobbyn allegedly told the crowd “I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.” The concert was cancelled and the audience rioted, causing $1 million of damage.
Dobbyn began to rehabilitate his image with his first solo album, Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale; the 1986 soundtrack to the animated film based on New Zealand’s most loved comic strip, Footrot Flats. ‘Slice of Heaven’ is the most well known song from the soundtrack, and it’s a unique blend of 1980s synthesised flute and the Polynesian backing vocals of Herbs.
Dobbyn streamlined his sound for the 1990s, and it’s easy to forget how creative some of his 1980s arrangements were. The combination of a synthesised Japanese flute (made with an E-mu Emulator II) and the Polynesian backing vocals of Herbs gives ‘Slice of Heaven’ an utterly unique sonic palette.
Murray Ball, who drew Footrot Flats, and John Clarke, who voiced Wal Footrot, have both passed away recently, but Dobbyn’s still around and still New Zealand’s songwriter.