Dave Dobbyn was a working -class boy who hailed from the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes, who commenced training to become a teacher but soon hooked up with old school mates to form the rock group Th’ Dudes, (below, Dobbyn is far right) a pub rock band 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 (below) 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.
By 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 after they blew up the Greenpeace boat the Rainbow Warrior at Marsden Wharf in Auckland harbor, killing Greenpeace crew member Fernando Pereira, and local Pacific Islander group The Herbs musically lead the protest movement with their hit song French Letter in 1982.
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. Below Dobbyn with The Herbs.
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; along with the unaccompanied a capella that starts it all off and Tama Lundon’s falsetto refrain, which combined to give the song its wow factor, and elevated it to a feel good Kiwi anthem status. 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, often sung after All Blacks victories, or in support of NZ Americas Cup campaigns, it has also 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. 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.
Two years after Dave Dobbyn had topped the charts with the anthemic Slice of Heaven in 1986, he released his second solo studio album Loyal, and continued his journey from the pub rock of DD Smash and onto more contemporary pop rock. The liner notes claimed that the album “confronts love, loyalty and the power of personal politics” and although Loyal does have its moments of rock and roll, it was really an album for romantics, with a soft centre at its heart, as the songs were unashamedly focused on and inspired by Dobbyn’s wife Annaliesie. Dobbyn himself admits to being a romantic, albeit a slightly depressive one, and enjoys composing romantic ballads “I get a sense of reality when I write romantic songs… I feel most uncomfortable when I’m talking about love, in song I can communicate personal feelings and hopefully connect with other people.”
Dobbyn wrote the album’s title song in Sydney with an opening harmonic progression that literally fell out while he was testing a new guitar, he co-produced this mid-tempo song with Bruce Lynch and Mark Moffatt, and the blending of acoustic strumming, subtle percussion, and a sing-a-long chorus, imbued it with an anthemic quality that would resonate with Kiwis, because it further underscored the staunch qualities of New Zealanders, and the everyman appeal of Dave Dobbyn.
Although it only charted #19 in NZ, it has consistently been voted one of the top three most revered songs in the country in the decades that followed, Loyal the album was a #9 hit in NZ, despite the unprepossessing image of a squat, ginger ringletted Dave Dobbyn apparently standing in front of a public toilet.
The music video was a clever, continuous one-shot take of a couple splitting up and vacating their home, Dave appears with singer Debbie Harewood as they divide up their belongs and move from room to room, a prospective buyer and real estate agent appear, the couple briefly dispute ownership of a plant, which she gets, but no one seems to take the family dog. Critics of the video felt that it was inappropriate given the “loyalty” theme of the album, and that there was an uncanny resemblance between the dog and the curly mullet of Dave Dobbyn, his patterned pullover also came in for criticism- but hey it was a product of its time, with 80’s reality stamped all over it, incidentally Dave did park his convertible Volkswagen illegally in the street.
Dave Dobbyn continued to be a musical icon in his homeland, charting hit singles and a succession of hit albums in NZ over the next 20 years –The Islander (#1), Hopetown (#9), Available Light (#3), Anotherland (#2),and Harmony House (#5) – as well as chart-topping collaborations with Neil Finn, Bic Runga and Jenny Morris. Below Dave and Annaliesie Dobbyn 2017.