Great North – The Golden Age (Great North)


Kiwi couple Hayden and Rachel Donnell have upped stakes and moved to London in an attempt to build their career. Before they left New Zealand, they recorded The Golden Age, a beautifully realized collection of songs that address regret, loss, redemption, and what Hayden calls, “the tyranny of nostalgia”.

As chief songwriter, Hayden Donnell spends plenty of time looking back. Song titles such as Things We Never Did, Better Days, Wasted So Much Time and The Golden Age are excellent indicators of where Donnell’s mind is at.

This is a band that has spent the past decade or so on the road, “rocking for the losers, rolling for the drunks”, to quote a lyric from album closer Waiting For The Pentecost. Those many hours on the road, confined in a van, with the radio on, inform almost all the songs here.

Also notable is the loss of dear friend Sam Prebble, who committed suicide in 2014. The song, The Late Bus Home, serves as an elegy to their fallen comrade and features some of Donnell’s most poignant lyrics.

“You were always aching for the open road. And if you love someone, you’ve got to let them go”.

Hayden’s voice reminds me quite a bit of Don McLashan, and the juxtaposition of his voice within the framework of this Americana music sounds like a perfect mix of The Muttonbirds with Springsteen and/or Petty.

Rachel Donnell provides harmonies throughout and sings lead during Until The Road Runs Out, reminiscing about listening to Dancing In The Dark and drinking cheap wine. Hayden answers in the second verse, declaring his loyalty to both the band and their relationship.

The album was co-produced by Hayden along with Jonathan Pearce (The Beths), who also plays electric guitar and organ. Also featured are pedal steel player Matthew Hutching and Alex Freer on drums.

An all-star choir of sorts featuring Reb Fountain, Dylan Storey and Brendan and Alison Turner join in at the end of Waiting For The Pentecost, sending the album out on a high note.

Sam would be proud.

Marty Duda