11 May 2014

Pike families applaud Dobbyn's tribute

9:47 pm on 11 May 2014

About 50 family members of the men killed in the Pike River Mine disaster were in Wellington at the weekend for the first performance of a tribute song written by Dave Dobbyn.

The New Zealand songwriting legend was commissioned to write the song called 'This Love' for a concert entitled 'Dreams Lie Deeper'.

The concert at the Michael Fowler centre on Saturday night was a tribute to mining communities worldwide but with a focus on the 29 men who died following a series of explosions at Pike River Mine in 2010.

Radio New Zealand Arts Reporter Nick Butcher was at the concert, that received a standing ovation.

Dave Dobbyn has never shied away from playing the social critic... remember, his 2006 song Welcome Home, inspired by anti-racism protests and immigrants such as asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui?

'This Love' was themed on love, hope and justice for the men whose bodies are still to be recovered from the depths of the underground mine.

Dave Dobbyn on Saturday night.

Dave Dobbyn on Saturday night. Photo: RNZ

Dave Dobbyn has always written from the heart, but being commissioned to write a song was a first in his career which has spanned more than three decades.

And instead of a three minute pop song, it was a nine minute epic backed by the 160-strong Orpheus choir, the Wellington Brass Band and Wellington Young Voices.

To get inspiration, Dobbyn spent time in Greymouth, meeting the Pike River families, and visiting the mine portal to get an intimate sense of their loss and outrage.

He said during the first visit he felt nervous and apprehensive about the project, but said the community spirit on the West Coast was incredible and got in his veins.

Dobbyn said the story of the 29 men was now etched in New Zealand history, and the more it was told, the more outraged people got over the events and controversy surrounding the disaster.

He described 'This Love' as almost a gospel song, about love, loss, hope and justice for the men and their families and he said he could feel their pain when he sang it.

The songwriter said he liked the pressure of being commissioned to write a song, saying he tried to do it with respectful humility for the West Coast people.

It was during a few days of retreating to his bach at coastal Mangawhai in Northland to angst over his piano, that a melody began to appear that would turn into the song he was looking for.

Dave Dobbyn (left) during rehearsal talking to music director, Mark Dorrell.

Dave Dobbyn (left) during rehearsal talking to music director, Mark Dorrell. Photo: RNZ / Nick Butcher

Mark Dorrell is the music director of the Orpheus Choir and worked closely with Dobbyn on the piece.

He had the challenge of arranging the final version of 'This Love', for the choir to also sing, after receiving the raw track, which he says was tough but immensely fulfilling.

Fifty two family members of the men who died in Pike River Mine travelled to Wellington for the emotional and chilling performance of 'This Love'.

Dave Dobbyn at the Pike River concert.

Photo: RNZ / Nick Butcher

Carol Rose is the mother of Stu Mudge who was 31 when he died in the mine.

She said the families were incredibly grateful for Dave Dobbyn's tribute song to the men, saying he preserved their innocence by telling their story.

Mrs Rose described her son as a bit of a rascal who was just beginning his life.

Bernie Monk lost his 23-year-old son Michael in the mine disaster, and said he loved the song, and shed tears during it.

He said it felt like the 29 men were among the nearly full house when 'This Love' was performed.

It was the children in the choir, he said that reminded him of the innocent faces of some of the young men killed in the mine, who went underground expecting to be kept safe by the mining hierarchy, but were never seen again.

Dave Dobbyn at Pike River concert.

Photo: RNZ / Nick Butcher

Meanwhile, the Mines Rescue teams should be inside the Pike River mine by mid-June.

The lawyer for the families, Colin Smith, said the plan was to go the length of the tunnel from the portal to the point where there was a rockfall - about two kilometres from the entrance.