The Mutton Birds
|Dominion Road||The Mutton Birds|
|Nature||The Mutton Birds|
|She's Been Talking||Envy Of Angels|
|Come Around||Envy Of Angels|
|Envy Of Angels||Envy Of Angels|
|Pulled Along By Love||Rain, Steam & Speed|
|Ray||Rain, Steam & Speed|
The Mutton Birds (l to r): Alan Gregg, Ross Burge, David Long, Don McGlashan
Contributor: Richard Warran
The Mutton Birds hailed from New Zealand and were probably the greatest band from the Land of the Long White Cloud that you may never have heard of.
Named after a type of seabird – muttonbirds are shearwaters, eaten by early settlers to NZ – the songs of the Mutton Birds are as good as anything by Crowded House. Their singer and main songwriter, Don McGlashan, has received two Silver Scroll awards (the NZ equivalent of an Ivor Novello) for his songwriting.
I was first introduced to the band while backpacking around the world in the early 90s, arriving in Auckland after a few months in S.E. Asia. Went into a record store after a couple of days, Truetone Records in Newmarket, and asked the sales assistant for the best new album by a New Zealand band that I probably hadn’t heard of. I bought Salty by the Mutton Birds on cassette as my only form of musical listening was my Walkman. This album became the soundtrack to my travels around the two islands; somehow the music just seemed to fit the landscape around me.
If there was ever a New Zealand sound then this band, and others like The Chills, Split Enz, The Feelers, Bic Runga, somehow evokes that. I was away for a couple of years and still listening to a rather worn copy of Salty.
I returned to the UK at a similar time as The Mutton Birds decamped to London to bring their sound to these shores. They signed to Virgin Records and spent the next few years recording and touring to great critical acclaim but little commercial success. Three great albums were released in this period: Nature (a compilation of songs from the first two albums, The Mutton Birds and Salty), Envy Of Angels, Rain Steam & Speed plus a couple of self-released albums, Too Hard Basket and Live In Manchester.
I followed the band over this time and saw them perform perhaps a dozen times around the country over the years; always a great live band, the best of their gigs always being at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as it was always bursting at the seams with expat Kiwis who knew the words to every song.
Lack of commercial success and perhaps the lure of home for most of the band saw them decamp back to Auckland after a few years of trying their luck in the UK. The Mutton Birds split shortly after this with Don McGlashan going on to enjoy solo success in New Zealand and coming back to the UK every couple of years for a few gigs.
The Mutton Birds original line up reformed in 2012 to tour New Zealand and for one show at their favourite UK venue, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. All of us there that night sang along to every song and were again reminded just how good this band were. I doubt they will ever release any new material but for me, during that time in the 90s, there wasn’t a better band around. Go listen you won’t be disappointed
TEN ESSENTIAL MUTTON BIRDS SONGS
Dominion Road and Nature from the album The Mutton Birds (1992).
Ngaire, Wellington, Anchor Me from the album Salty (1993).
From Envy Of Angels (1996), the title track and Come Around and She’s Been Talking.
Ray and Pulled Along By Love from Rain, Steam & Speed (1999).
And a special mention of their great cover of Don’t Fear The Reaper from the soundtrack of Peter ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Jackson’s 1996 horror movie, The Frighteners.
Extracted from Don McGlashan’s biography on his website (see link below)
Don McGlashan was born in Auckland in 1959. From 1980 to 1982 he was drummer and singer with Auckland band Blam Blam Blam with a string of top 20 singles and an album Luxury Length which went to No.4 in NZ. After a year living in New York – and touring the world as a drummer with an avant-garde dance company – he returned to NZ and founded The Front Lawn with Harry Sinclair, an acoustic group that combined theatre and songs. They toured all over Australasia, Europe and America from 1985-90.
From 1991 to 2002 he was singer and main songwriter in the Mutton Birds, releasing 4 NZ top ten albums and two top five singles, including the No.1 single, The Heater. In 1995 the Mutton Birds signed to Virgin Records and lived in London until 1999, touring all over the world. Two of the band’s UK-released albums received 4-star reviews in Q magazine, and Envy Of Angels made the Sunday Times 10 best records of the year list. Parallel to his songwriting and performing career, Don has scored over a dozen feature films and five TV series, including Jane Campion’s feature An Angel At My Table (1990).
In 2001 he was awarded the Auckland University Literary Fellowship for his song writing. In 2002 he was named one of that year’s five New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureates. In 2006 he released his first solo album, Warm Hand, which reached Gold status in NZ and received wide critical acclaim. In 2008 he composed the music for the film Dean Spanley (starring Peter O’Toole) and he toured the USA and Europe with Crowded House.
In 2009 he was part of Seven Worlds Collide, a collaboration with musicians including Neil Finn, Johnny Marr and members of Wilco and Radiohead, and he also released his second solo album Marvellous Year with his band the Seven Sisters. In 2012 he lead the reformed Mutton Birds on a NZ tour and a show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
In 2013 he featured in Songs From The Inside, a Maori TV documentary series in which songwriters go into a prison and help inmates to write and record their own songs. He also toured Australia, UAE and the UK in a duo show with fellow NZ singer-songwriter Dave Dobbyn. In 2015, his third solo album Lucky Stars was released.
Richard Warran lives in Haywards Heath, famed for being a rather dull but close to Brighton and London commuter town. He has a passion for music and travel sometimes combining the two and can often be found at gigs in the above two cities. Find him on Twitter @rickwarran1.