A New Zealand original 

Most aspiring young musicians usually settle on an appropriately rock ’n’ roll instrument, like bass, guitar or drums. New Zealander Don McGlashan, however, opted for the French horn as a kid before settling on the unlikely — and unwieldy — euphonium.

“And add to that having freckles and red hair, and you’ve got a lot of conditions which would lead to getting your ass kicked,” says the ex-frontman — who’ll be utilizing a much smaller baritone horn when he plays solo in The City next week — of clever Kiwi combo the Mutton Birds.

“But I was quite good at athletics in school, so if anybody gave me trouble I just ran away,” McGlashan says. “And I was a very fast runner.”

Along with mandolin and guitar, McGlashan, 51, recently played euphonium on tour with his good friends Crowded House, who in turn featured him as their opening act.

But, why the awkward instrument choice?

“I had a very aggressive brass teacher in school,” McGlashan says. “He tried to get me to play trumpet, but my teeth were too crooked. And he needed a good euphonium player, so he managed to convince me that the euphonium was made for me and it would get me lots of girls.”

Girls? Check. McGlashan’s been married for the past 20 years.

“But I’m not sure the euphonium had anything to do with that,” he says, exemplifying the subtly wry wit bubbling through the Mutton Birds catalog and his two latest solo sets, “Warm Hand” and “Marvellous Year.”

New “Year” tracks like “Bad Blood” and “18th Day” are some of his finest efforts, constructed on oblique-chorded pop scaffolding and buttressed with arcane, picturesque lyrics.

As with the best New Zealand music, the hooks are there, but hunting for them is half the fun.

Never heard of the Mutton Birds?

“Hey, we did try in America,” McGlashan says, referring to exactly two stateside showcases in 1997 before their prospective label deal imploded and they returned to their adopted home of London.

Post-breakup, he headed home, where he’s currently working with side group The Bellbirds, and on several TV and film soundtracks.

“In New Zealand, I can write songs, collaborate with lots of people, and if I phone somebody up they’ll actually answer my call and come do a session,” McGlashan says.

In keeping with his new Zen-like attitude, the singer is taking a songwriting train trip from Chicago to Oakland this week, horn in tow.

“I don’t worry about illegal downloading or how many people turn up to the gigs anymore,” he says. “There’s too much to think about just writing songs and singing them to people!”


IF YOU GO

Don McGlashan

Where: Cafe Du Nord, 2174 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $18

Contact: www.ticketweb.com

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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