His early recordings were made in the mid-1990s at a Whanganui furniture warehouse that doubled as a rehearsal space. Augmented with solo recordings made at Palmerston North’s The Stomach they were released on the 1996 cassette album D W Browne. The following year, the CD Enter Me featured a selection of solo performances of original songs.
Derek was a showman, but not a show-off. At a gig in Whanganui, jamming with guitarist David Rogerson, the pair traded licks until Rogerson pulled off something particularly tricky. Derek stopped playing, shrugged, laughed, and said, “I can’t do that!” Modesty aside, he was no slug on guitar, and a very individual player.
By the late 1990s, Derek was based in Whanganui, fronting Marmite Blister.
Derek began as a solo covers performer, with an impressive repertoire of songs. By the late 1990s, he was based in Whanganui, fronting the idiosyncratic Marmite Blister, which formed after he placed an advertisement in the Wanganui Chronicle. One musician who answered the ad was drummer Neville Maas, and the pair spent weeks jamming. These jams turned into songs. Bassist Ben Litchfield joined, followed six months later by guitarist Dougal Laird. In 1997 and 1998, Marmite Blister played gigs around Whanganui, Taranaki, and Manawatu.
Even in the Marmite Blister days Derek’s songwriting and musicianship was exceptional. He developed song structures during rehearsal-room jams, and lyrics were pulled from a notebook of scribbled ideas. As a result verses didn’t necessarily correlate but the songs became lyrical journeys, united around a chorus theme. Titles like ‘Teach Me To Beg’, ‘Do I Do You?’, and ‘Mama Juju Drown Drown’ emerged from these creative sessions and reinforced the strangeness implied by the Marmite Blister name.
While playing in Marmite Blister, Maas was also drumming with the Gavin Burgess Band, which by the end of 1998 became his priority. Around this time, Litchfield’s rented flat burnt down, with his bass guitar inside. Marmite Blister folded.
Derek quickly reinvented himself as a troubadour pub entertainer, traversing the country armed with two increasingly battered Maton acoustic guitars. At a gig in a Whanganui bar he had the audience dancing with him on the tables to ‘Sweet Caroline’, and he coached them to shout the “Ba-ba-ba-baah”.
Moving to Auckland, Derek set about establishing dDub, which began with rehearsals in about 2001 as The D W Browne Band. They toured New Zealand in an old ambulance, recorded a live set on Great Barrier Island and, billed as dDub, released the Winter Tour Live EP in 2003.
DDUB BEGAN WITH REHEARSALS IN ABOUT 2001 AS THE D W BROWNE BAND.
Describing their music as a “non-stop rock-roots-reggae explosion [with] horns [and] harmonies”, dDub released two albums: Awake At Dawn (2006) and Medicine Man (2008). Awake At Dawn was so named because it was recorded over a series of late nights/early mornings sessions, taking advantage of low-cost studio downtime (it included ‘Juju Mama’, which had morphed from the early Marmite Blister song). Medicine Man was tracked at Roundhead Studios, and mixed over a month at Eden Post. ‘Hesitate No’, the opening track on Medicine Man, features on the New Zealand TV series Outrageous Fortune.
dDub built up its audience through years of solid gigging. The band was popular with the ski crowd and festival goers, and they established a regular winter tour circuit, which led to sold-out appearances at National Park’s Schnapps Bar, The Queenstown Winter Festival, and student gigs at Otago and Canterbury universities. The band also played New Year countdown slots at Rhythm and Vines and The Queenstown New Year’s Festival.
In the early days, friends and relatives provided accommodation, and the band’s transport was an old Toyota van. Later on they were able to fly to gigs. Through contacts made on the festival circuit, dDub booked an Australian east coast tour, playing between Brisbane and Melbourne, with support from the acts Dubdoubt (from Brisbane) and The Red Eyes (Melbourne). dDub was well received by the Australian audience with standout shows at Byron Bay Hotel and Bondi Beach Hotel. A photograph from the time shows Derek proudly posing in front of a gig poster with a “Sold Out” sign pasted across it.
Back in New Zealand in the autumn of 2009, the dDub team tried another approach: sponsorship. They teamed up with confectionary brand Cookie Time and launched a promotional campaign and publicity stunt unlike anything seen before in New Zealand.
A press release announced, “Cookie Time today officially adopted roots/rock band dDub, kicking off a range of activities to promote dDub’s music during New Zealand Music Month. Held at Radar Records in Christchurch, the lunchtime adoption was formalised with the signing of a specially tailored New Zealand adoption certificate, witnessed by Ray Columbus.”
Cookie Time supplied its consumers with free MP3 downloads of dDub music by placing stickers promoting the downloads on 350,000 cookies on sale during Music Month. They also released limited edition “Cookie Sandwiches” – dDub CDs sandwiched between two Chocolate Chip cookies – and sponsored a free outdoor concert in Christchurch.
After Medicine Man, dDub continued to record. “There was material for a third album and some of it was released as singles,” recalls Matt Shanks. Among the tracks recorded were ‘Who’s Side You Working On’, ‘Send It On Back’, ‘Falling’, ‘We Are The Ones’, plus – to support Dyslexia Action Week – Don McGlashan’s ‘The Closer You Get The Bigger I Look’.
MATT SHANKS: “DEREK WOULD BEGIN WITH VOCAL MUMBLINGS AND THEN DEVELOP LYRICS … IT WAS VERY JAMMY BACK THEN.”
Shanks, a long term member of dDub, describes the group’s songwriting process as witnessed in the dDub rehearsal room. “Starting with bass, guitar, drums and sometimes sax we would jam grooves and develop the good ones. Derek would begin with vocal mumblings and then develop lyrics … It was very jammy back then – the songs weren’t so structured.”
Derek continued to write and record solo material throughout his time with dDub. In 2009, an album was completed but not released, although some of the material was performed at Prana Festival in Coromandel.
Always a perfectionist, Derek intended to re-record tracks and add new material to revive the album. At Revolver Studios in 2013 he made some recordings, wanting “to get a really nice vibe with the songs this time”.
In 2018 an album of his folk-influenced material was recorded at The Lab, with drummer Alistair Deverick (Boycrush) and bassist Matt Shanks. Engineered by Ollie Harmer, at the end of the year the album was in the final stages of overdub when Derek became ill. He was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer in November; only a couple of months earlier he was still fit – and able to climb trees – in his work as an arborist.
On 23 April 2019 Derek, at the age of 48, passed away, having approached his illness with grace, resolution, and fortitude. In his last weeks he re-entered the studio to record new material. (Three months after Derek died, his wife Veronica Herber – who managed him for much of his career – announced that an album of the final recordings, Dreaming House, would be released on digital platforms in mid-July.)
Music video director Ivan Slavov posted the following anecdote on Facebook:
“So Derek knocks on my door, I was pretty low and depressed and having panic attacks at that time ... He has a huge smile on his face, and I noticed his house bus taking up half the street, Rose Street in Pons-snobby, he says ‘mate I am here to give you a token of my appreciation for all you have done for me.’ He gives me a hug, it was all that I needed.
“He smelled of the sea and his embrace was genuine and warm, it was all I needed to lift my spirits ... But then he hands me an envelope full of cash. ‘Here is half of my royalty, if it were not for you my song would not have done what it did, you put all you had in the video, and more, so here is half of the money I received’ ...
“That’s who Derek is, a true man one of the saints, one of the ones that inspired us. Here is a broke musician living in a stinky bus, handing me, living in f.ing Pons-snobby, cash ... If that doesn't give hope and love, I don't know what does ...
“Ride that wave, we are right behind you Derek, I love you brother ... ”
Thanks to Neville Maas, Matt Shanks and Ivan Slavov for contributing to this story.
Derek Browne - vocals, guitar
David Hodkinson - bass
Chris Grant - drums, vocals
Anthony Hunt - keyboards
Andrew Hall - saxophone, vocals
Neil Cording - trumpet
Mike Young - trombone
Dixon Nacey - guitar
Steve Fulford - guitar, vocals
Matt Shanks - bass, vocals
Tala Ofamooni - drums
Duncan Taylor - trombone
Ben Campbell - saxophone, flute
Tim Atkinson - saxophone
Finn Scholes - trumpet
Jono Tan - trombone
Rota Barrington - drums
Andrew McDowall - trumpet
Andrew Watts - trumpet
Eammon Deverall - saxophone
James Toplis - keyboards, percussion, vocals
Haydn Godfrey - trombone