Slice of Heaven (D Dobbyn) – Dave Dobbyn and Herbs 1987
Dave Dobbyn was a working class boy who hailed from the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes, he commenced training to become a teacher but soon hooked up with old school mates to form the rock group Th’ Dudes who enjoyed success at the local level throughout 1975- 80, winning NZ Single of the Year in 1979 with Be Mine Tonight.
Dobbyn had to overcome extreme stage fright to ultimately become the front man for his new group DD Smash in 1980, who also enjoyed great success in NZ and charted with a string of pop hits throughout 1980-86 including the popular drinking song Bliss (’80), and their first album Cool Bananas which debuted at #1 in 1982. The albums Deep In the Heart of Taxes (’83) and The Optimist (’84) were soulful synthpop outings which also charted well, and for the first time Dave revealed the expression “slice of heaven” which Dobbyn would recycle some three years later as the title of his anthemic hit.
In 1986 Dobbyn had gone solo and was gaining notoriety for both his music and the fact that he had been charged with inciting a riot in Auckland’s Queen St following an incident at a Dobbyn concert in Aotea Square in 1984, he was subsequently cleared of all charges and landed the job of developing the soundtrack for New Zealand’s first animated movie – Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, based on the popular Murray Ball cartoon of the same name.
At the time New Zealand was experiencing a period of economic buoyancy and a flowering of nationalism, Prime Minister David Lange confidently strode the world stage and his government supported the Greenpeace movement in their defiant resistance to the actions of the French who were blatantly testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific, a very long way from the tranquil waters of the French Riviera. French government agents were arrested in 1985 after they blew up the Greenpeace boat the Rainbow Warrior at Marsden Wharf in Auckland harbor killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira; local Pacific Islander group The Herbs musically lead the protest movement with their hit song French Letter in 1982, and would join Dave Dobbyn several years later to record Slice of Heaven.
Dave Dobbyn had relocated to Australia by the time he wrote Slice of Heaven in 1986, but in 1987 he returned to the Marmalade Recording studio in Wellington with his producer, Aussie rock icon Billy Thorpe, to record the movie soundtrack, including the smash hit single Slice of Heaven, whose riff had been inspired by the Rolling Stones She’s So Cold.
Dobbyn and The Herbs would unite in the studio in an inspired way to record Slice of Heaven, the reggae-tinged backing vocals by The Herbs reminded Dobbyn of the sound of a Pacific gospel choir which he wanted to capture on the recording, their vibrato leant a pulsating feel to the vocals, and a ska ambience to the record.
Dobbyn reinforced the strong ska element in the song by using a walking bass line with rhythms on the off-beat, to this he added the wistful meditative sound of an E-Mu Emulator synthesized Japanese shakuhachi flute, which created the intriguing intro to the song; so completing the creation of this feel good Kiwi anthem. Lyrically the opening lines which repeat “…da da da ba…” numerous times, were catchy but unremarkable, however the song became NZ’s alternate national anthem and has been used extensively to promote tourism in New Zealand since its inception.
The promo clip was filmed in the Marmalade studio whilst the record was being cut and is interspersed with charming scenes from the actual movie itself, the clip was screened as a trailer before the movie Crocodile Dundee in Australian cinemas so the song was virtually a hit before it was added to radio station playlists.; unfortunately the original clip has been deleted by YouTube after 10m. downloads. Slice of Heaven blitzed the charts, #1 in NZ for 8 weeks and #1 in Australia for 4 weeks, it was the happiest song to sit atop the charts for a long time, despite its creator, Dave Dobbyn confessing to a chronic melancholic disposition.
The connection between the song, the movie, and Murray Ball’s comic strip upon which the movie was based caught the zeitgeist of a newly emerging Kiwi nation, it also endeared Slice of Heaven to New Zealanders who perhaps saw in Wal Footrot, the sheep farmer immortalized in Footrot Flats, all the endearing, staunch, uncomplicated qualities of NZ blokes.
Dave Dobbyn continues to be a musical icon in his homeland, charting hit singles and a succession of hit albums in NZ over the past 20 years – The Islander (#1) , Hopetown (#9), Available Light (#3), Anotherland (#2),and Harmony House (#5) – as well as chart-topping collaborations with such notable Kiwis as Neil Finn, Bic Runga and Jenny Morris.