Growing up in Auckland’s North Shore, Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair deferred their chosen careers when they returned from their OEs. McGlashan was a musician. He had already drummed for the Auckland post-punk trio, Blam Blam Blam. He penned the music for the iconic and ironic ‘There Is No Depression In New Zealand’. Sinclair’s background was in theatre, studying at Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris.
The pair pooled their talents to form a musical theatre duo, The Front Lawn, in 1985. The duo’s songs were used in elaborate stage shows – unfortunately, there is little surviving footage. The Front Lawn’s three short movies have been preserved – the third, Linda’s Body, also features Jennifer Ward-Lealand, a member in the band’s later years. A young Bret McKenzie worked as an usher in their shows – he’d later form his own theatrical musical duo, The Flight of the Conchords. It’s reasonable to assume that McGlashan was largely responsible for the duo’s songs, but Sinclair also contributed ideas and played the concertina.
The pair also released two albums, with low-key arrangements and songs that stand up outside of their theatrical origins. They’re distinctly New Zealand, referencing the Hutt Valley (where I was born and still live) and Oriental Bay. The Front Lawn are unusual as a revered 1980s NZ guitar band not on the Flying Nun label.
The Front Lawn broke up in 1990, with McGlashan and Sinclair reverting to their chosen careers. McGlashan played with his alt-rock band The Mutton Birds through the 1990s and is one of New Zealand’s most respected songwriters. Sinclair has enjoyed success as a director and actor. Despite some acclaimed movies, he’s best known for his cameo as Isildur in Lord of the Rings.
McGlashan and Sinclair joined forces again in 2020. They’re working together on the animated children’s TV series, Kiri and Lou.
The Front Lawn Album Reviews
Songs From the Front Lawn
The first Front Lawn album is the stronger of their two records. It’s not an accurate representation of their stage shows – some of these songs weren’t used in the theatre shows, and they’re more fully arranged here. McGlashan and Sinclair are augmented by Six Volts, an experimental Wellington band – guitarist David Long would go on to join McGlashan in The Mutton Birds. They fill out the arrangements without falling into rock clichés – there are no brash rock songs, but instead songs like ‘Tell Me What To Do’ travel into esoteric territory.
McGlashan’s songwriting is most striking on the clutch of folk-tinged numbers in the centre of the record – McGlashan told Audioculture that he absorbed a lot of Irish music during his OE in New York. Best-known is ‘Andy’, a lament for McGlashan’s deceased brother, accompanied by an accordion. ‘Tomorrow Night’ utilises a verse from ‘Skye Boat Song’, while ‘Claude Rains’ was inspired by Casablanca. Elsewhere, the pair’s theatricality is more pronounced on songs like the conversation of ‘How You Doing?’ and ‘I’ll Never Have Anything Else’.
Songs from the Front Lawn is a unique record. It showcases McGlashan’s growing songwriting talents and standing proudly even outside the context of the pair’s stage shows.
More Songs From The Front Lawn
There’s little information available about this record; it’s easily one of the most obscure albums covered on this site. The Front Lawn broke up in 1990, but this record didn’t emerge until 1993. Based on the credits it seems likely that the duo reconvened in the studio to record these songs in the wake of The Mutton Birds’ success. They don’t seem to have originated in the same sessions as their debut – David Long and Neil Duncan are the only musicians to reappear, while Ward-Lealand is absent. The liner notes thank the “large German woman who kept us warm on the long train journey from Gdansk to Stuttgart”.
The pair’s skewering of suburban life is most blatant in ‘Wedding Song’, where the protagonist marries a washing machine – the duo would perform with a working washing machine on stage. The single ‘The Beautiful Things’ also fetishes household appliances. There’s a debt to Talking Heads on ‘Found Another Body’ – it sounds like a track from the new wave band’s own second album, also titled More Songs….
There aren’t as many great songs on this record as in their first, but I’m glad that The Front Lawn released them anyway.
Five Best Front Lawn Songs
The Beautiful Things
More from Aphoristic Album Reviews
Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:
I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections: