“The tyranny of distance didn’t stop the cavalier, so why should it stop me?” wrote singer songwriter and New Zealand music icon Tim Finn in his 1982 Split Enz hit Six Months in a Leaky Boat. Being born in a country nestled at the bottom of the world has done little to stem the flow of New Zealand musicians playing internationally and to this point Finn, Bic Runga and Dave Dobbyn are exemplars.
Between them they have penned a cluster of songs revered as pseudo national anthems. Consider Dobbyn’s 1988 ballad Loyal, which filled the airwaves after Team New Zealand selected it to front its campaign to defend the America’s Cup in 2003. Or, the aforementioned song from Finn, which captures the pride and longing many New Zealander’s experience abroad.
Ten years ago the artists united to tour New Zealand. Runga – the youngest of the trio – recalls in some towns, “I did feel that the audiences were asking ‘who’s that girl with Dave and Tim?’” She continues, “One reviewer put it quite well, he said that for every hit song I had, Dave and Tim had a hit album.” Now, for many, Runga is the singer whose sound defines the late ’90s following her hit album Drive, which became one of the highest selling albums by a New Zealand artist.
When asked why they work so well on stage, all share a similar perspective. Finn suggests, “There’s a chemistry that we have together. As people we are very different but we enjoy and respect each other.” He goes on to say that, “playing with the other two is like having a holiday from myself.”
Runga believes the trio work so well because they appreciate each other’s songs. “I learn a lot from Dave and Tim because it’s an unusual job being a song writer. If I didn’t have them as mentors I think I would experience a lot of confusion.” This role of mentor is something Finn seems to relish. When he embarked on the tour with Runga and Dobbyn in 2000 he had just returned to New Zealand after almost 25 years living overseas. Yet despite this distance his songs continue to resonate with New Zealand audiences.
“Five minutes before going on stage is one of my favourite times,” he says, there’s so much adrenalin and fear. It’s a very strong feeling, it’s physical and emotional and spiritual. I do believe that rock’n’roll has a healing power of sorts. If you go on with that attitude you can really lift people up.”
“More and more live music has become the most immediate, more urgent experience for me,” Runga concurs. Reuniting for the More FM Winery Tour 2010, the three have the same enthusiasm for performing live. The tour takes them back to the smaller towns they all enjoy playing.
“I love playing the regional centres and even more so now,” says Dobbyn. “So many have flourished what with all the little food industries and wineries, like those we’re playing.” The venues ensure the trio’s music continues to be appreciated by a wide demographic, Finn observes. “Audiences of all ages come and see us … you’ve got kids running around in the afternoon, 50-year-olds enjoying a glass of wine and a couple of teenagers. The music suits this atmosphere.”
It is also in these smaller centres where Finn’s lyrics ring true. “Aotearoa rugged individual, glisten like a pearl,” he sings, reminding us of the inspiration these fine musicians tap into for their beautifully crafted, heartfelt songs.