Iconic NZ artist plays Halifax for the first time in his storied music career

By Steve Gow

Don McGlashan only toured across Canada once and that was in the mid-90s with his celebrated band, The Mutton Birds — an admittedly somewhat bittersweet memory for one of New Zealand’s best-known songwriters.

“The furthest east in Canada I’ve been to was somewhere in rural Quebec that somebody thought would be a good idea for The Mutton Birds to go play,” recalls McGlashan of the rugged tour to promote the band’s sophomore album, Salty — then a certified platinum hit in New Zealand. “(But) we were met with a stony silence brought on by a complete language barrier, as well as a stylistic barrier.”

It would be an auspicious start to what would become a gruelling van ride across the country, which would grow even more taxing due to the meticulous sound technician they hired for the tour.

A former member of global 80s hitmakers Split Enz, the fastidious technician insisted on fixing any substandard sound system at each venue before letting The Mutton Birds take the stage. Sometimes it would delay the start of a show by hours and that Quebec gig was among them.

“These people didn’t speak English, they didn’t like our music, they were all dressed in some sort of lumberjack gear and it was three hours late,” remembers McGlashan. “And they didn’t at all appreciate that the sound system sounded a lot better when we left.”

With that experience a distant, faded memory, McGlashan is now focused on seeing a region of Canada that he wasn’t able to visit then, but has heard much about since moving part-time to Vancouver to spend more time with his Canadian wife and grown kids.

As such, the singer-songwriter has booked a vacation to Nova Scotia in June and has lined up an exclusive show in Halifax while he is here.

“It will be sort of a busman’s holiday for me,” says McGlashan, who plans to spend up to ten days in the province. “I was just going to just be coming over and going for a wander around a new city with my notepad and hope to come out of it with some songs, but I’m going to be doing that plus doing a gig.”

On June 15, McGlashan will take the stage at The Carleton and showcase a range of songs that could span everything from his earliest days in the hugely influential ‘80s post-punk band Blam Blam Blam, to the ever-popular Mutton Birds archives, as well as tracks from his most recent hit solo album, Bright November Morning — which went straight to number one upon release in New Zealand.

“My grumpy, outsider status — I had to put that aside for a little bit,” laughs McGlashan about the shock of achieving his first number one album at the age of 62.

“There’s sort of an old stand-by that artists have, which is if you don’t do as well as you had hoped or your manager had hoped, you can always just say that the public doesn’t understand you,” continues McGlashan. “But when the public suddenly makes you number one, you can’t fall back on that anymore and it’s actually quite alarming.”

It’s not that McGlashan hasn’t experienced that level of success before. Although his name is not well-known in North America, McGlashan has won many awards for his work, and The Mutton Birds even had a number one hit on their hands with “The Heater” while several other tunes flirted near the pinnacle of the Kiwi charts.

More recently, McGlashan has toured and recorded as a guest member of Crowded House, worked on film and television projects, and his four solo albums have all been very successful with the 2015 release, Lucky Stars, even earning top-rated reviews from both the New Zealand Herald and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald.

“Someone described me as prolific in New Zealand a while ago, which I thought was very funny because sometimes it’s seven years between records and that’s not prolific in anybody’s work,” says McGlashan “It’s just that I’ve been doing it for so long that if you view my catalogue looking backwards, it looks like a lot.”

That said, McGlashan is excited to be breaking out as much of his creative catalogue as he can when he plays The Carleton.  After a long extended stretch of being unable to tour (primarily due to the pandemic), the Auckland native is certainly itching to perform new and old songs in front of a live audience again.

“Shutting me up will be the hardest thing I think — making me stop playing songs,” says McGlashan. “I have been missing performing my songs, and there are a lot of reasonably new songs because I’ve been working on a lot of the new album, (but) mind you for most of the people coming to the gig at The Carleton — everything will be new.”

For more information on Don McGlashan at The Carleton, visit the website.

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