Enthused with this music, Glen received his first guitar for Christmas in 1977. In 1981, coaxed with a $10 reward from his father, he made his stage debut at the Napier City Country Music Club, singing ‘Streets Of Laredo’.
Accompanying his parents to country music events in Hawke’s Bay and further afield, Moffatt was influenced by the likes of Scots-born Jim Toner, mentor of many country music musicians and singers in the Bay, John Hore Grenell, and wild man Ritchie Pickett.
“I actually met Ritchie when I was around ten,” Moffatt says. “My earliest memories of Ritchie are at country music events, standing at the bar with my father, drinking rum or something.”
Pickett’s 1984 album Gone For Water encouraged Moffatt to start writing songs. “I’d never heard anyone singing about New Zealand before, with New Zealand place names and New Zealand subjects. To begin with I wrote my own words to John Hore songs before starting to write my own melodies.” In 1986 Moffatt's song, ‘Like Father, Like Son’ was a finalist in the NZ Country Music Association’s Song Of The Year.
Twelve months later, schooling over, Moffatt started work as a cadet reporter at Napier’s Daily Telegraph while playing guitar in Hawke’s Bay pub bands. Inspired by Pickett and “new country” stars like Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle, Moffatt began writing country songs in a similar vein.
In 1990, with Ian Turbitt, Simon Beattie and Tamihana Johnston, he formed The Colonials to play an all-country music repertoire, both covers and originals. As a sideline, Moffatt also performed in an acoustic trio, These Things Happen, which specialised in three-part harmonies a-la The Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
In 1991 The Colonials released a DIY cassette, Living In Overdrive, featuring three Moffatt originals, and during an Auckland holiday, Glen was inevitably drawn to the Kings Arms, where Al Hunter held court. Moffatt wasn't the only musician taken with the “new country music” – The Warratahs and Ritchie Pickett were spreading the word but, in Auckland at least, Al Hunter was king and his long-running Saturday afternoon residency at the Kings Arms did much to introduce Aucklanders to “alternative country”.
“Al had this amazing band,” Moffatt remembers, “Cath Newhook, Bruce King, Red McKelvie, Alastair Dougal. I was pretty much in awe from the first time I saw them.”
Hunter’s covers introduced Moffatt to an older generation of country songwriters, the so-called “country outlaws” like Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
Like Pickett before him, Al Hunter impressed Moffatt with his songs name-checking New Zealand towns. Hunter’s covers introduced Moffatt to an older generation of country songwriters, the so-called “country outlaws” like Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Inspired by what Hunter was doing, Moffatt shifted to Auckland in late 1991.
“It seemed like a good time,” Moffatt says. “Al Hunter was at the K.A., The Warratahs were making waves, Ritchie was out there doing it. I had youth on my side and I had this dream of creating a New Zealand version of something else. You know, like Herbs’ Pacific Reggae. I had this ambition to create a new country music, born here in New Zealand. But after three albums and hundreds of gigs I became bitter and jaded like everyone else!”
Moffatt advertised for musicians, with little long-term success, and hung out with the Hunter crowd, occasionally invited on stage to sing a number or two. He played in Red McKelvie’s social soccer team, bringing him into further contact with Auckland’s music fraternity. Sending out press kits with performance options (solo, duo, full band) he secured the occasional gig and also found himself playing with McKelvie. “He phoned me on the day, urgently seeking a second singer but, looking back, I think it was my P.A. he really wanted – I arrived in Auckland with a P.A. and no gigs. Red could get the gigs.”
McKelvie, well established as an on-call guitarist for concerts, tours and recordings, occasionally fronted his own bands and in 1992 he invited Moffatt to form a new band playing Cajun music. With McKelvie playing accordion and Jono Lonie on fiddle, Moffatt was obliged to learn pidgin French for the band to complete an authentic sound. Given its instrumentation, the band proved most popular on the Irish Pub circuit, with occasional gigs at the Java Jive Cafe.
The Java Jive was a popular late night café bar in Ponsonby and it was here where Glen Moffatt built his reputation. His appearance at the Sunday Night Country Music Nights led to the formation of Glen Moffatt and Guns For Hire and a three-year residency at the venue, featuring a nucleus of players including Jeremy Dart, Alastair Dougal, Rob Galley, Gordon Joll and Murray Pomare. Occasionally, Moffatt would fill in for Al Hunter at the Kings Arms.
In 1994 Moffatt contributed two songs to the New Zealand country music compilation, Deep In The Heart Of The Pacific, recorded at Mike Donnelly’s Montage Studios. Donnelly and Bernie Griffen, Donnelly’s partner in Sun Pacific Records, suggested a full album and Somewhere In New Zealand Tonight, produced by Stuart Pearce, was released in June 1995.
Somewhere In New Zealand Tonight is rightly regarded as a classic of “new” New Zealand country music.
Somewhere In New Zealand Tonight is rightly regarded as a classic of “new” New Zealand country music. It sits comfortably alongside the albums of two of his heroes, Ritchie Pickett and Al Hunter. The title track remains Moffatt's most famous song.
Sales weren’t spectacular – most copies selling as merch at his performances – but it introduced Glen Moffatt to a wider audience and he was named as a finalist in three categories at the 1996 NZ Music Awards – Best Country Album, Rising Star and Songwriter Of The Year.
In 1996 the new owners of the Java Jive opted for a new programme, putting an end to Moffatt’s three-year residency. Moffatt took to the road, performing in both islands, some times solo or with guitarist Rob Galley, sometimes with a full band. 1998 saw the release of Moffatt's second album, A Place To Play, recorded at Neil Hannan’s Scoop De Loop Studios and released on Scoop De Loop Records (which has remained Moffatt's record label).
In the new decade Moffatt was back in the studio for album number three, If That's What You Want, credited to The Glen Moffatt Band and released in 2001. Another change of ownership saw him return to the Java Jive for another Sunday night residency.
Moffatt’s first Australian performances were in 2002 at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, sharing stages with Bill Chambers and The Topp Twins. Moffatt and Chambers had met earlier at the Geraldine Country Music Festival. “I was surprised and flattered that Bill had heard and liked my CD. We’ve remained friends and occasionally play together, and written a few songs together.”
In August 2002 Glen Moffatt and family made the jump to Brisbane, where he has been based since, occasionally returning for NZ tours with Chambers and the late Ritchie Pickett. He has reached the finals of the Star Maker Quest at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and has performed throughout Queensland with his band, The Tallboys, and occasionally with country covers band The Smokin’ Crawdads. His fourth album, Superheroes & Scary Things, was released in 2014.
When Glen Moffatt was part of The Colonials in Napier in 1990 and 1991, bass player Tamihana Johnston’s 13-year-old son Jason would occasionally fill in on drums. Now grown, Jason Johnston is the drummer in the internationally acclaimed Jakob.
Scoop De Loop Records