Sir Dave Dobbyn begins his RNZ Music Mixtape vigorously stirring his hot coffee with a warning. “You may decide at the end of our mixtape that I am indeed stirring.”
“That’s one that you learn on the other side of 60, it’s quite fun asking a question and seeing what happens!”
He’s chosen a special list of songs for Easter and to reflect his Christian faith, and speaks passionately about the teachings of Christ as the “absolute truth” he is committed to.
“If you call yourself a Christian and you believe the word of Jesus it comes with the territory that you’re going to suffer because he suffered,” Sir Dave says.
“You have to be prepared for push back in such a strongly secular country as New Zealand.”
Dobbyn traces his interest in Christianity back to his Irish Catholic upbringing saying that his Catholic foundation “has always led me to a great search for meaning – true meaning that you can reach out and touch.”
He says he’s still working out what his knighthood means, which was announced in this year’s New Year’s Honours list.
“It’s a hell of a thing to take on,” he concedes.
“It’s a very humbling thing and it’s acknowledgment that maybe you’ve done a service to your community. Your role is to be of service and I’m still exploring what the hell that is. It’s probably to keep doing what I’m doing, which is to keep writing and playing songs.”
Though he admits that songwriting is a difficult craft and views his catalogue of songs as a series of failures.
“I’m guilty of thinking that the next song is the one I’m going to get right.
“It drives you mad and it’s supposed to drive you mad because you’re looking for excellence out of yourself and it’s very hard to find excellence inside of anybody.”
He says he’s also learned to let go of his songs once listeners have formed their own connection to them.
“If you look at the purpose of a song, you’re just having a conversation. You just want it to be a good one.”
“A lot of the time I have no idea why people like them. I’m just overcome by this squirming embarrassment.”
Sir Dave Dobbyn’s Mixtape
‘Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody’ – Abyssinian Baptist Choir
The purity of a choir, on a personal level, is the act of coming to the foot of the cross.
I just want to be there and just worship. You’re absolutely thrilled to be alive and thrilled you’ve been blessed with the simple things in life.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to people who are not driven by that kind of love. It all comes from a place of love.
That’s what you do. There’s a lot of non-worship in churches. It’s full of false prophets and false Jesuses, false religion, really.
There’s a lot of subterfuge going on out there within the megachurches.
‘The Mercy Seat’ – Johnny Cash
This Johnny Cash version of a Nick Cave song produced by Rick Rubin is mindblowing. The narrative of ‘The Mercy Seat’ is so important for Christians coming to a place of worship at Easter.
The narrative of a man wrestling his guilt is appropriate. There’s a lot of significance and resonance in the Mercy Seat. It’s the place where the guilty come to be judged.
In that song a man is coming to terms with his own crimes, with his own guilt and right up to the minute denying his own guilt, then saying at the end of it that he told a lie. It’s such a release, it’s a redemption story because the scales of justice somehow become weighed at the end.
It’s such a beautiful song. It gets me every time.
‘Golgotha’ – Emahoy Tsegue Maryam Guebrou
The reason why I’m offering this one is purely to see if the audience find it interesting.
The way she plays the piano is very adventurous and by turns it’s very solemn. There’s a kind of meandering exploration and innocence with the music.
‘The Cross’ – Prince
Prince is and was an enigma. But when this song came out it just stuck with me. It’s Prince’s version of confronting what the cross is.
‘Song Of The Years’ – Dave Dobbyn
Bill Manhire says only the poets can sing and I tend to agree with him.
Charlotte Yates brought together a bunch of poets and musicians, including Sam Hunt. I was a bit daunted by this because I’m not literati by any stretch of the imagination. But I took to reading through the collected works of James K Baxter which was a hell of a journey.
I felt really out of my depth and then along came ‘Song of the Years’. Baxter wrote it 1958 after he’d just quit drinking, so it’s kind of apt because I quit drinking two years ago. It’s made a huge difference.
The thing that moves me about this poem. It struck me as a really powerful piece. The lyric is so spot on and for anybody who is suffering from any addiction or whether they’re just being beaten down by the world, this poem will pull you out of yourself, because it certainly did for me.
‘Becalmed’ – Brian Eno
A song written by an avowed atheist that puts you in perfectly worshipful state. The first time I heard this it absolutely transported me. This is the magic.