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Interview: Don McGlashan Talks About Blam Blam Blam's Reunion Tour

Interview: Don McGlashan Talks About Blam Blam Blam's Reunion Tour

A.K. / Interview by Paul Kean / Monday 19th August, 2019 1:38PM

Blam Blam Blam are returning to our stages for an epic Aotearoa tour this month and next, including an Auckland headline event and a spot in The Other Way 2019 festival lineup. The New Zealand alt-pop icons will make stops in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Paekakariki too, giving fans the rare opportunity to hear such early 80s classics as ‘Don't Fight it Marsha, It's Bigger than Both of Us' and 'There is No Depression in New Zealand’ live. With the tour kicking off this Thursday, Blam Blam Blam co-founder Don McGlashan set aside some time to fill in fellow legend Paul Kean (The Bats, Toy Love) with what he’s up to these days, his forthcoming reunion tour with Tim Mahon and Mark Bell, and a bit about the early days of his foray into the New Zealand music world. Peep the interview below, and check out the tour dates right here…

UPDATE 19/12/19: Don McGlashan returns to local stages with his pioneering group The Mutton Birds this summer...

Undertheradar proudly presents:

The Mutton Birds 2020

Friday 24th January 2020 - Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin∞
Saturday 25th January 2020 - Beer & Food Festival, Christchurch
Wednesday 5th February 2020 - Cold Chisel, Tauranga
Thursday 6th February 2020 - San Fran, Wellington (Waitangi Day)* (sold out)
Friday 7th February 2020 - San Fran, Wellington*
Saturday 8th February 2020 - The Cabana, Napier*
Saturday 15th February 2020 - North West Country, Wine, Beer & Food Festival, Waimauku△

Tickets available HERE via UTR*
Tickets available via Ticketmaster∞
Tickets available via Eventfinda△

Undertheradar proudly presents...

Blam Blam Blam 2019

Thursday 22nd August 2019 - The Cook, Dunedin*
Friday 23rd August 2019 - Lyttelton Arts Factory, Christchurch* (sold out)
Saturday 24th August 2019 - Lyttelton Arts Factory, Christchurch* (sold out)
Thursday 29th August 2019 - Neck Of The Woods, Auckland
Friday 30th August 2019 - The Others Way festival, various K Road venues, Auckland 
Saturday 31st August 2019 - St Peters Hall, Paekakariki* (sold out)
Sunday 1st September 2019 - Meow, Wellington (early show - sold out)*

Paul Kean: I actually remember meeting up with you a long time ago in Auckland. Probably briefly outside the Windsor or something like that, when maybe Whizz Kids or... there were a couple of groups that came before Blam Blam Blam weren't there?

Don McGlashan: The Plague started in 77... The Plague would've still been going. I think the Whizz Kids were definitely going then, I was only in the Whizz Kids for the last little bit of it. I joined playing electric guitar and saxophone.

You looked like a school boy back then, how old would've you been?

[laughs] Yeah, I probably was. I had been playing french horn and I had a job in an orchestra. I learned how to play percussion in orchestras and learned to play hand percussion and stuff, but I never really learnt kit. In about 1980 when the Whizz Kids, everybody left. Andrew Snoid left to join either The Crocodiles or The Swingers, or both in quick succession, and Ian Gilroy the drummer left to join The Crocodiles and then The Swingers... Ian replaced Buster [Stiggs] briefly for one record and moved to Australia and toured with them.

That left three of us in the Whizz Kids, so we threw that name away and we got Richard von Sturmer, our dear friend who wrote a lot of the lyrics in the early days, he thought up a name, which is Blam Blam Blam. We ran with that. The other guys, Tim [Mahon] and Mark [Bell], they were both good players already and I just had to learn how to play the drums and sing at the same time.

From early videos I can see you've actually programmed a drum machine for 'Don't Fight It Marsha' is it? You're out front singing, dancing with beanie on.

I was pretty conflicted in that we only had two songs in the whole set where I got out front and we used the drum machine. I felt kind of exposed.

You definitely had the rhythm in you though. I remember with Blam Blam Blam you being the drummer.

I loved drumming and I never got a chance to play drums much else. I moved to New York straight after Blam Blam Blam and I was a drummer in a dance company. We did these big pieces with two drummers working like motors for half an hour, just slightly shifting beats. But full on energy for about half an hour. I loved that. Six dancers and two drummers.

Quite dramatic sort of stuff? The drumming was just solid drumming. It was called Laura Dean Dancers And Musicians, the dancing was really rhythmic, lots of spinning and lots of stamping. It was really physical and repetitive. Apart from that, I never got to play any drums since that because then there was the Front Lawn, which was essentially standing up and telling stories and playing guitar. Then there was The Mutton Birds.

What about From Scratch?

From Scratch was kind of weaving its way through that. I was a member of From Scratch from the age of about 18. Blam Blam Blam kind of submerged From Scratch because we got so busy with the Blams, we were touring as much as you guys were, up and down the country. At the end of Blam Blam Blam I did one tour with From Scratch to Europe, France, England and the States. And I stayed in the States and I joined the dance company.

Wow you've had such an exciting career. I know I've engaged with you through Silver Scrolls, when you were the curator or convener of the music programme for that, down in Christchurch here. You've been involved with APRA. You've done so much and you seem to be constantly doing these different projects. You're a full time musician, is that how you see yourself? Are you surviving from that?

Yeah I don't do anything else, I've been really lucky. You've got to duck and dive a lot in a place this small, but I've always been lucky that the core of it is just trying to do my writing and trying to get my songs out. Sometimes I can't get anything out for three or four years coz I'm busy doing other stuff. Overall I think the longest gap's been six or seven years between one of my albums of my songs, probably because I've been working on films or something like that. Generally I've been able to do lots of other things and they're all different kinds of music.

You're sounding young, which is good. Just wondering what Mark and Tim are up to? What have they been doing with themselves, outside of Blam Blam Blam?

They've carried on doing lots of music. Mark's been involved in quite a few bands, he was Jordan Luck's main guitarist for a long time and still works with Jordan sometimes. Still carries on with his writing, still a beautiful guitarist, I meet so many young guitarists who say they were influenced by him.

'Don't Fight It Marsha' what a fantastic song that is. I've had that going through my brain for two weeks now.

He's always played like that. We've known each other since when we were about twelve, Mark and I. He played acoustic guitar, so when he decided he wanted to play electric guitar he built one, and it was called the Fender Plastercaster... we used that on some of the first Blam recordings. We did an EP that had a song called 'Blue Belmonts' on it [1981's Blam Blam Blam EP]. All that fantastic rhythmic stuff he did, that's on that weird old guitar. He's a really beautiful player. He played on my first solo album [2006's Warm Hand], did a bunch of tracks on that and we've just stayed in touch.

Tim's been playing more and more lately. After the Blams he moved into organising music for other people and was a big mover and shaker and facilitator in South Auckland. He helped get the Proud compilation up and running, that first fantastic compilation that had Otara Millionaire's Club, Sister's Underground. Tim was behind that.

I remember seeing him being connected to that. I always wondered what had happened to him, because I heard these rumours about a vehicle accident with Blam Blam Blam.

We had an accident in early 82. It was on a tour with a band called The Girls, might have been touring with The Newmatics as well, it was a big tour. We were just outside of Whanganui and the van rolled. Tim was quite badly injured, his picking hand was quite compromised.

He's taught himself how to play in a different way, he plays with his thumb now. He's playing really well. He went into a whole other slice of life and has become a really successful real estate agent. Because he's got the gift of the gab and he loves people, so he's really good at that. Luckily, we can get him out of that world and back into music every so often. He loves doing it.

Sounds like you might be able to buy yourself dinner with this tour, because you've been selling out shows, which is fantastic.

Looking like it. The Others Way sort of surprised us. This cool as cool festival, based on K Road, everything's a new act. They surprised us out of the blue by saying "come on do a reunion." We thought that'd be fantastic and when we put it on Facebook that we were going to do it, everybody said "can you come to our town?" So Tom my manager said "I'll give it a go." He started booking acts and we're playing at The Cook in Dunedin and we're playing in Lyttelton...

Lyttelton's such a lovely place. It's like a village over there, it's a nice community, I love going over there... I'm really looking forward to coming over and seeing you play.

I should let you know that I've just seen some beautiful animation stuff that you've been involved with [Kiri and Lou] – with the Christchurch crew down here.

Fantastic, aren't they great... I think the way it got started was, Harry Sinclair, who you know I collaborated with in The Front Lawn years ago, he's been living in Los Angeles directing TV and film over there for a long time. He had an idea for a kid's TV pilot, just five minute episodes, with a five minute story and a one minute song. He's produced and he got the resources together to make a pilot. Harry wrote the script, he got Antony Elworthy who was from Christchurch originally and has worked on quite a lot of animated films overseas, the most recent being Isle Of Dogs.

Ah yes, that's brilliant.

He's been a lead animator on quite a few films. He's come back to New Zealand because it's a good time to move his family back here. He's living in Christchurch. He and Harry put together this animated thing. I did the score for it, I wrote a song for it. I'm living some of the time in Vancouver at the moment, we have a little flat in Vancouver. Jermaine Clement was being a giant in a George Lucas movie or something, being a human-eating giant [playing Fleshlumpeater in The BFG]. He got out of human-eating giant character and hung out in our flat for half a day and we recorded the vocals for this thing, because Jermaine's doing one of the characters.

It just sat around for a while. Fiona, Harry's producer, took it to quite a few different places. Eventually got it sold and now it's being produced by TVNZ and CBC in Canada and a Chinese company, it's been sold to Finland and it's been translated to Mandarin.

Wow that's so fantastic! And it's all been produced here in New Zealand by New Zealanders.

It's all New Zealand stories, essentially it's for four to six year olds... They're stories about friendship and being shy and about wanting to be the best at things. There's lots of stuff that is really important to little kids and luckily for us we've never grown up very much, so it's reasonably easy to get to that stuff. I've been having a ball writing the songs... We're up to forty episodes.

I think this needs to be shared more with New Zealand, I don't think we know what's going on here. I sat in my office at work and I must have watched six or seven of them, I was just so absorbed.

Did you watch 'Look Before You Poo'? That's one of my favourites. It's a cautionary tale. Kiri is playing hide and seek and there's a bunch of little birds who always sing her backing vocals. They turn up and say "Can we hang out with you?" And she says "Go away I'm hiding, you're too noisy." To cheer themselves up they sing a cautionary tale song that their mother taught them, which is all about the importance of looking down before you poo. [laughter]

This may be my last collaborative thing on film maybe, this Kiri and Lou thing. That's just so much fun. That's wonderful because it's going back to square one, it's going back to collaborating with Harry who I worked with when I was 25, as if we never stopped working. It's a wonderful way to keep me feeling young.

There's one thing I did want to ask you. Is there a question that you've never been asked that you've always wanted to answer in an interview? Have you got anything you want to say yourself, that you don't get the opportunity to in interviews? Or do you manage to put yourself in the situation of winding it around to something you want to say?

It's not really a question, but I've been thinking a lot about Blam Blam Blam lately, what a blessed time it was for all of us and what a blessing it was to not have the internet, and not having a lot of people to compare ourselves with. We had a few records and we loved those records and we sort of breathed them in and slept with them under our pillows and we listened to them. We weren't continually looking over our shoulders at anybody else.

That was this fantastic feeling just to be in a van, arguing about music and coming up with this thing that we listened to and we thought, that doesn't sound like anybody else particularly. You must have felt the same, the marvellous blessed solitude of creativity. Having a bunch of like-minded crazies to travel around the country with and argue about music and make a bunch of music, and have a bunch of people come along and listen to it. It's never been like that since, because after that I'd grown up a bit and there was much more thought put into things. I'm going to relive that feeling when we travel around the country with Blam Blam Blam.

Like I've always said, we've gone in and out of fashion several times, and it feels like 80s is back again, wooo! But we go on with new music all the time. It's so good to talk to you Don. You go and have your tea and have a great time on tour.

Look forward to seeing you in Christchurch Paul.


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