Raglan bluesman keen to chill out again with a Dunedin Sound icon

His own musical genre may be worlds apart from the Dunedin Sound but legendary Raglan bluesman Midge Marsden’s a fan of – and keen to catch up with – The Chills, who play an already sold-out gig here next week on the second to last stop of a 10-show national tour.

Midge, who as he lives in Auckland these days is eyeing their final concert at The King’s Arms in the heart of the city, describes the Dunedin Sound as “a totally esoteric, jingly-jangly sound from New Zealand that’s still revered and followed all over the world”.

The Chills were one of the earliest proponents of the sound – which came out of the southern university city in the early 1980s and was championed by New Zealand’s own Flying Nun Records – and Midge recalls “once or twice” down the years meeting singer/songwriter Martin Phillipps, the group’s sole constant member.

He says one really memorable talk with Martin was at the 2001 world premiere in Dunedin of Jurassic Park lll, where he and others were invited by Kiwi actor Sam Neill to perform.

“I felt like an old rock ’n roller and said so to him [Martin],” Midge recalls. “He said hell no, we’re interested in this stuff [that you play]. They [David Kilgour of The Clean was also there representing the Dunedin Sound] mentioned Howlin’ Wolf and other blues singers who influenced them. I’d felt a bit intimidated being around this young breed but we found common ground and it was the exact opposite.”

Midge says while Martin is a “tortured soul” who’s had lots of lineups over the years, he admires all that he’s achieved.

While Midge remembers playing The Chills classics like ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ and ‘Pink Frost’ during a stint as a radio DJ, there has also been a direct connection with the Dunedin Sound through John Dodd, who Midge says “was in my band for some years, and lived in Raglan on and off too”.

John’s sister, Jane Dodd, was in the initial lineup when Martin formed The Chills following the demise of his punk band The Same. She also played bass at various times for other Dunedin Sound bands such as The Verlaines and the Able Tasmans.

The Chronicle wondered if Jane – now a well known contemporary jeweller – might have joined The Chills’ current ‘Vigorous and Far-reaching New Zealand Tour’, but she replied “I haven’t played with (them) for 35 years, except for two songs at their 30th party a few years back”.

The band’s discography runs to 40-odd albums, compilations, EPs or singles. Their 1990 album ‘Submarine Bells’ peaked at No 1 on the New Zealand charts, and the single ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’ from that album remains their one and only American chart appearance at No 17 (on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart).

A.T.

The Chills, with special guest Anthonie Tonnon, play at the Raglan Club on Friday week, May 12.