Songs of fire and ice

03:38, Feb 14 2013
LEADING LADIES: Performers at Opera in the Park, from left, The Ladykillers (Jackie Clark, Tina Cross and Suzanne Lynch), Julia Deans, Anna Pierard and Madeleine Pierard.

Don McGlashan will work at a slightly slower pace than usual when he takes to the stage for Saturday's Opera in the Park. Naomi Arnold reports.

Don McGlashan played his southernmost gig recently - in Antarctica.

The November trip saw the singer- songwriter stumbling out of the "very sociable" McMurdo Station bar Gallagher's in the small hours of the morning.

CLASS ACT: Don McGlashan is back from Antarctica.

It was Thanksgiving, and the Americans knew how to throw a party.

"It was going off. It was amazing," McGlashan says. "Also very dislocating, because you're in the middle of the night doing this show and it's all dark and there's lights on stage and smoke; and you open the door and it's blazing daylight."

The extraordinary trip was the result of a "serendipitous" dinner party chat when he found himself sitting next to Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Lou Sanson, and he's now a dedicated Antarctophile.


"A little light must have gone on in the cosmos somewhere," he says. He got a call the next day saying a gap had opened up in the artists programme, and how soon could he be ready?

Very soon, as it turned out.

"It was an amazing experience on many levels," McGlashan says. "Aesthetically, it's the kind of environment you're never going to be in again; the history of the place, the amazing stories of heroism and adventure, and the amount of really fascinating science that's going on down there.

"My dad was a civil engineer and a geologist, and I just wished he could have been with me. But the part of him that's in me was absolutely fascinated by all the discussions with the scientists that I had."

Hours after he'd arrived, he ran a 5km fun run with Mark Binns, the chief executive of Meridian Energy. Then a big Thanksgiving dinner, then the McMurdo gig for 200 Americans stationed at their base.

"The whole week was like that," he said. "The place is so interesting that you don't want to sleep."

His week on ice also included a gig at the nearby Tatty Flag, Scott Base's bar, for another 60 people. Other activities included a trip across the ice in a Hagglund troop carrier to visit an ice cave in the Erebus glacier and the historic expedition huts, and compulsory field training, including learning to put up a polar tent and build an ice cave. That's come in handy back in Auckland, he jokes.

On Saturday night he'll be stepping up to sing at Nelson's Opera in the Park, which is back after a two-year hiatus. The popular event also features Julia Deans, soprano Madeleine Pierard and mezzo-soprano Anna Pierard, and Tina Cross, Suzanne Lynch, and Jackie Clark as The Ladykillers.

McGlashan, whose musical pedigree includes performing with The Plague, From Scratch, The Whizz Kids, Blam Blam Blam, The Front Lawn, The Mutton Birds and The Bellbirds, will sing some of his greatest songs, accompanied by the Vector Wellington Orchestra.

"It sounded like fun," he says. In the past he's collaborated on a yearly orchestral show Gone to the Beach, which has provided a few arrangements for this Saturday night, including Queen's English, Anchor Me, Nature, and Bathe in the River.

"It's an interesting mix of old and new."

He has a long working relationship with Opera in the Park conductor Marc Taddei, on films Matariki and Dean Spanley as well as "spooky" sound effects for the TV series This is Not My Life.

"He's a fantastic guy to work with."

He's also looking forward to being a part of the audience, and enjoying a slightly slower pace than he's used to as a touring solo performer; and hearing Julia Deans whom he describes as "luminous".

"I'm just loving her work at the moment."

McGlashan is living in Devonport as a recipient of this year's Michael King Writers' Centre residency, working on new songs exploring song structure and aspects of New Zealand history.

The sketches and ideas he nutted out during his week on ice are going to take a while to filter through into songs, he says, and it's high time he spent a focused stint working on his as-yet unnamed new album. It's an intensive process, sometimes painful.

"I'm really enjoying the discipline of writing every day; being tougher on the ideas as well," he says. "Starting a song, working on it for a long time - and then having the discipline to kick it out."