David Wenham is slightly embarrassed and apologetic.
As a guest on this podcast, about the one song in your life, he’s gently adamant that there have been thousands of songs that have come and gone through the years.
As a gig loving young man, Double J was the station he grew up with, so it’s with some consternation that he offers the story of a defining song that’s “not terribly Double J material at all.”
“It’s more a nostalgia thing actually,” he says. “It just reminds me of happy times in my childhood. And my father in particular.
“One of the best times of the year was Christmas, I’m not religious at all anymore but I grew up in a strict Catholic family and we’d go up to midnight mass at St Brigid’s, Marrickville. My mother used to handmake clothes, I was the last of seven kids and she used to make a new pair of clothes for each one of the seven kids to go to midnight mass, that in itself was pretty exciting for us.
“So, we’d get our new clobber and we’d go up to midnight mass. And it was always a relatively boring affair and always humid and sweaty and hot. In the church there was an incredible organ up the back and the church was famous for its choir. Once a year, the service would end with Handel’s ‘Messiah’. As much as I didn’t like any other piece of church music through the year, that piece of music was pretty amazing.
“The scents of the frankincense and myrrh or whatever in the thurible that was swung, the pungent odour of that incense throughout did something as well. But the music, when that played, it did lift you up, no matter how tired or exhausted you were for staying awake until two-o’clock in the morning as an eight-year-old kid.
“There was something special, there was something otherworldly about the blast of the organ from behind and these really powerful angelic voices booming and echoing in that building.”
David’s father was totally devoted to the church and tirelessly gave and worked with those less fortunate, receiving a papal medal for his services to the poor.
“When he died, the funeral at that particular church was packed and the line-up of bishops and archbishops who came to the church for my father’s funeral was pretty extraordinary,” he says. “It ended with Handel’s ‘Messiah’ which was great.”
But then things became a bit weird.
“After my father’s service, one of my sisters and I decided to go up to the Blue Mountains which is where my parents used to spend a bit of time. As we drove up the Blue Mountains, I just put on the radio, the first thing that came on was Handel’s ‘Messiah’. That was pretty strange.
“Then we got up to the hotel at Katoomba, we parked, as soon as we walked into the hotel… what was playing over the speaker? Handel’s ‘Messiah’.”
For someone who says he’s not into “spooky” stuff, he does concede these musical recurrences were “very, very strange indeed”.
“It just felt as though my father hadn’t particularly left at that point in time and he was actually just following us for that period of time for whatever reason, maybe to just comfort us, I think,” Wenham considers.
Over four decades on, the magnificence of this classical piece still transports him back into his eight-year-old self, standing in crisp new clothes in that stifling, packed church and, of course, it’s a wonderful reminder of his father.
“It does take me back, it’s a sort of a reassuring piece for me.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for David Wenham on Don't Look Back.