Billy Bragg on Dunedin and its music from Q Magazine 4/11
Article from April 2011 Q Magazine
I had to smile when I read Keith Richards' claim that Dunedin was the most depressing place on Earth. Writing in his autobiography, he describes a wet Sunday he spent there on tour with the Stones in 1965 as the longest day of his life, a day that seemed to go on forever. Dunedin is the second largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. I've been there three times in my career and on each one of those visits, I've had a similar experience to Keith.
That is not to say that Dunedin is a boring place. In the '80s it produced bands like The Chills and The Verlaines - there was even talk of a "Dunedin Sound". It is home to the University of Otago, a big college town. That's why Keith and I both went there - where there are lots of students, there will often be lots of music fans.
But there is something special about Dunedin, something that gives it a unique position in the touring schedule of any British band: it is the most remote city in the world from London. There is another town to the south, Invercargill, but as this is also 75 miles to the west, Dunedin takes the prize.
And if New Zealand as a country suffers in touring terms from "Norwich Syndrome" - it's not on the way to anywhere, so why bother going? - then Dunedin has it squared. The only place that it could claim to be "on the way to" is the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole, not on the touring itinerary of many UK bands.
If course nobody tells you this when they book you a Dunedin show. The first time I toured New Zealand, in 1987, every day was a revelation. I'd never been to the Antipodes before and wandering around Auckland the morning after we arrived was like being in some kind of paradise. It looked like home but it felt more like the tropics. Wellington was more of the same. It was only when we flew down to the South Island that I began to realise how far away from home I was.
Coming into land at Dunedin Airport, I was suddenly struck with a queasy feeling of dej? vu. Something familiar about the green hills that surround the airport reminded me of arriving in Inverness in the north of Scotland. It had never occurred to me that it was possible to go so far south that it would begin to get cold again.
I guess everyone must have a place where they get the Dunedin Blues, a place so remote from their home that they are unable to shake off the feeling that all of the people they love and the things they hold dear are so very, very far away. Like a man on top of a tall building who can't get his balance, I was dizzy with distance, unable to shake off the weight of the land mass that stood between me and my home. The rest of New Zealand, the vast island that is Australia, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East, the whole of Europe - I could feel their presence bearing down on me while I was in Dunedin.
The fact that I've been there, not once but three times, I wear as a badge of honour. I hope to get back there again someday. British artists can play the megadomes of South America and the huge festivals in the Far East, but unless they've done a show in Dunedin, they can't really claim to have done a world tour.
April 2011 - Q Magazine