Almanac Music: Jon Toogood – Stag and Hunter, December 4, 2015


It’s four days later and I’m humming ‘Lucky Man’ by The Verve (a band from Wigan, England) whilst waiting in a coffee shop in Newcastle, NSW and it’s all because of a former handy junior cricketer from Wellington, New Zealand. That’s what great musicians do.


Early on, a confession. This is my first attempt at a gig review. Musical references have made their way into the sporting blogs I’ve done recently, including an album from The Streets (aka Mike Skinner) which provided the platform for an A-League season preview, but this is my first crack at music in one piece in its entirety so be gentle.


Kiwi rock god (early hyperbole alert) Jon Toogood performed at the Stag and Hunter in the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield on Friday night with a week left in his current acoustic tour and I went along looking to catch a snapshot of his live work since I last saw him fronting Shihad in 2002.


Early on I was reminded of just how old I was when it came to music, the second such occurrence* in my life, when one of the bar staff mentioned his sound-check but that they ‘didn’t know much about him.’ I immediately took this as invitation to launch into an abridged history of his work. When I mentioned the 2002 secret gig in Wellington which I saw the response was “wow, I was only six years old then.” *slumps back to table feeling old.*


Unlike a good music reviewer I’m going to bugger up the linear time of when songs were sung at the performance but hopefully you will get the general gist of the gig and jump into a YouTube/Spotify deep-dive on his musical repertoire if you aren’t familiar with it. If you are you probably have the FVEY album on your mobile device already.


Toogood, 44, was at his comical best to kick off the show shouting ‘he’s bullshit’ out and asking to bring back the warm-up act (Magpie Johnston from near Singleton in the Hunter Valley) as he himself was being introduced. He then let rip into the show which started with more recent stuff, he has been part of a project called the The Adults, but in the first stanza he did get to Shihad classics early-ish with Pacifier getting a run. Prior to blasting out the epic from The General Electric album Toogood did jokingly note he was against the short-lived name change of Shihad to Pacifier. It’s something he has spoken about before but it was still comical in the context as this wasn’t a straight Shihad show as we were to find out.


Toogood has gone through many phases in his musical career, some unique, others you get the feeling he shared with other musical acts so when he referenced he had an “Oasis is f**kin cool” phase it was exciting to see how he would weave other artists into the show. The Verve and David Bowie was to come but he also took the crowd on a New Zealand musical journey which included talking about Th’ Dudes. Regaling how the band of Dave Dobbyn (the ‘Slice of Heaven’ guy) tried to ‘crack it’ in Australia before scampering home after less than a month it clicked to a degree and was a reminder that Shihad had to grind to be accepted in Australia let alone before they thought about heading to the USA as they did in the early 2000s.


Remembering that Toogood’s Shihad used to play the mega-normous musical festivals like the Big Day Out it was great to see him pull off songs (some his own plus others) in the acoustic environment. Playing some Australian classics, Reckless by James Reyne got a run, was a crowd-pleaser but I Got You from Split Enz also featured (after a vote about which was the cooler Finn brother.)


Having lived in Australia Toogood humorously weaved in a thank you for the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for ‘giving him loads of material.’ The political references are pointed in the songs, maybe not as heavy at something like England Uprise by Nizlopi but strong nonetheless. Toogood is a strong advocate for social justice issues and has been a part of recent collaborations to support charities such as Team Ball Player Thing which was used in advance of the 2015 Rugby World Cup as a pseudo-support song for the All Blacks (there I go slipping back into sport.)


For the political references it’s the ability to weave those messages with songs like Pacifier, which Toogood mentioned was inspired by personal and mental health issues around himself and others he knew, and not miss a beat which makes him such an exceptional performer.


The following is an extract from an interview given to New Zealand Music site Rip it Up ( in 2010 which explains the thinking behind Pacifier. As you read think about the level of detail he goes into and then remember he has done this in various outfits for over two decades creating music and then you get some sort of an insight into how much Toogood is invested in his music and how much of a top quality artist he is at his craft.


“Again, this was about another extremely talented person. But this song was not about them wrecking themselves. This was about them being extremely creative and that talent being a bit of a curse because of a mental illness. It was nothing to do with drugs. Well, maybe it was a little bit, but it was more about how inspired people, like genuinely inspired people, tend to not function too well in the real world, because their heads are on another planet. They’re just vibrating on a different level from everybody else, which makes their art or whatever they do really fucking amazing. But it also means that when they try and incorporate that into what everyone else is doing, just a normal day to day life, it doesn’t work out so well. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety all my life, probably not to the same extent as the person I was talking about, but I could empathize. It’s about trying to put perspective in somebody who has lost perspective.”

Don’t look so worried you know
There ain’t no hurry
Cause life’s supposed to ebb and flow
Now you’re all clear to go
And when you’re out there
No, they can’t catch you
Precious star, you are the best at what you are

Having run through some of his major musical influences from the past Toogood rounded out the evening with the Motorhead classic Ace of Spades. It was a surprising choice maybe not for the choice of group as you can see the influence of the band that formed in the late 1970s to some of Toogood’s work but that it was such a high-tempo song and to pull it off in an acoustic format was a tough ask. Toogood didn’t let the crowd down.


We came to see Toogood but also got Aschroft, Bowie, Dobbyn, and the Finns plus Clarke, Kilmester and Taylor at the end. Not bad for $25.


*It’s circa 2005 and I’m heading out at a work program when I was based in Gloucester, England. A colleague grabs a CD from my glove box and puts it in. The work experience student, probably about 15 years old, goes “who are they?” It was the Matchbox Twenty album ‘Yourself or someone like You’

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.


  1. Far out. Shihad at the Punters early 2000s. That’s when I knew I was too old for proper live gigs. Immense and intense.

  2. Hamish Neal says

    Sounds like some great times Peter

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