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Byron Bay Bluesfest

Neil Finn

 Millions of people are born in London, or Chicago, or Barcelona, but Neil Finn is not one of them. On 27 May 1958, he was born in Te Awamutu, New Zealand. At that time the country was as culturally isolated as it is geographically remote from the rest of the world. Musical entertainment in the Finn household and was often a homemade affair.

 
Neil and his elder brother Tim would be called upon to perform at their parents’ frequent parties, their mother Mary leading the fray at the piano.
 
Tim, six years Neil’s elder, unwittingly kicked it off, like a bike whose power nobody can guess at. With Phil Judd, a mate from Auckland University, he planted a strangely---shaped acorn called Split Enz, which grew into a multi---coloured jester of a band. Split Enz were everything New Zealand music of the time was not: uncompromisingly original, madly impassioned, artistically unfettered. They dressed bizarrely for gigs, and their stage act was outlandish and theatrical. To schoolboy Neil, they were heroes, up there with The Beatles and Elton John.
 
Neil’s presence in Split Enz altered the band’s dynamics. He penned “I Got You” for them, a simple pop hit, catchy as cricket. In contrast to their earlier prog rock bombast, it became a hit worldwide, and a rash of great songs ensued from the brothers Finn. Somehow, however, for all their artistic successes in the studio and onstage (their live performances have achieved near---mythical status amongst fans), Split Enz never quite hit the jumbo time. Australasia loved them, and so did Canada; America and Europe didn’t quite get it. Perhaps, though, that is not the point of a band like Split Enz--- they were always going to be too vital, too difficult, too clever, for the mainstream to embrace them fully.
 
In 1984, more than a decade after its inception, Tim left the band. The rest of the Enz briefly considered soldiering on, but decided finally to disband. Neil was left facing the difficult decision of what next to turn his talents to.
Recruiting Split Enz’ impish drummer Paul Hester and Nick Seymour on bass, Neil put together the core of Crowded House. Almost instantly he pulled out an enormous single--- “Don’t Dream It’s Over” was classic Neil, its huge chorus propelling it up the American charts. It remains far and away the band’s biggest American success, reaching #2 on the Billboard chart. The follow---up “Something So Strong” made #7.
The second Crowded House album Temple of Low Men contained “Better Be Home Soon”. Meanwhile, Crowded House were steadily building a loyal worldwide following on the strength of their stage shows. For the third Crowded House album, Neil and Tim collaborated on songs together, and 1991’s Woodface seems both a logical resolution of the brothers’ work, and a consolidation of the Crowded House sound. Woodface is stuffed full of top--- notch Finnery: “Weather With You” and “Four Seasons In One Day” are impeccably lovely; “It’s Only Natural” is perfect skinny pop; the band wig out on Tim’s funky “Chocolate Cake” and get away with it. The album was a great triumph in the UK and is often cited as one of the great albums of the 90’s.
 
“Fingers of Love” features on Together, Alone, the last Crowded House album proper. The record’s atmospheric sound--- scapes reflect the New Zealand surroundings in which it was recorded, and the influence of unorthodox British producer Youth.
 
 In 1995 Neil and Tim cut an intimate album together, Finn. It seemed Neil had leanings towards a career outside Crowded House, and in 1996 he brought the band to a close. A “best of” album, Recurring Dream, was released to huge success and in 1998 Neil embarked on his solo career, with the provocatively---titled album Try Whistling This. Conceived in New Zealand and toughened up in New York, it showcases a darker and more experimental side of his talents.
 
1996 saw the concert of the decade at the Sydney Opera House, Crowded House farewelled the world in the best possible way. Passing through LA in the year of Pre---Millennium Tension, he hooked up with Tchad Blake, who mixed Neil’s debut solo album Try Whistling This (1998). “Neil, there’s some people I’d like you to meet”, Tchad bellowed.  Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, once upon a time the flower fairies of Prince’s paisley court, smiled at Tchad and the New Zealander. It was the start of a fruitful collaboration--- Wendy shares writing credits with Neil on five tracks on the new album, ‘One Nil’.
 
1999 turned to 2000. The Millennium Bug was a non---event, and meanwhile the new album was coming on apace. For the last leg of the album, everyone came over to Auckland. Also present were Jim Moginie, of Australian band Midnight Oil and drummer J.J. Johnson from the States. “I haven’t discovered fully what the Neil Finn sound is,” he reckons, “but I’m enjoying the exploration.” Neil then branched out into soundtrack composition, for the New Zealand film “Rain”.
 
In 2001 Neil invited some friends down to NZ to perform at the St James Theatre in Auckland under the name of 7 Worlds Collide. The performers included Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway (Radiohead), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Lisa Germano, Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing), Tim Finn and Betchadupa. The album / DVD of the live performance was released and profits went to the Doctors without Borders charity.
 
2004 saw the second Finn Brothers release “Everyone is Here”. Both Neil and Tim share writing and performing credits and included were the songs “Won’t Give in” and “Nothing Wrong With You.
In 2006 Neil reformed Crowded House, recruiting Matt Sherrod on drums and the band released their first studio album in over 13 years “Time On Earth” and began a world tour lasting almost 18 months.
 
In 2010 a new studio album was released “Intriguer”, both “Time on Earth” and “Intriguer”, topping the album chart in Australia. “Time on Earth” delivered the hits “Pour le Monde”, “Don’t Stop Now” and the song the Dixie Chicks made known globally, co---written by Neil, “Silent House”. “Intriguer” featured “Saturday Sun”, “Either Side of the World” and “Amsterdam”.
 
In December 2008 several of the “7 Worlds Collide” line---up reconvened in Auckland to record the album “The Sun Came Out”, a charity album for Oxfam. This time the band Wilco and singer---songwriters KT Tunstall, Don McGlashan and Bic Runga, Liam and Elroy Finn were included.
 
2010 and Neil embarked on a new project, Pajama Club, with his wife Sharon and Sean Donnelly (SJD) and Alana Skyring, formally of The Grates. The band released a studio album in 2011 and toured internationally, on the back the lead track “Tell Me What You Want”. The album gave Neil another opportunity to experiment creatively. The band played Laneway and Womad Festivals early in 2012.
 
In 2012 and 2013, with wife Sharon (bass) and sons Liam (guitar) and Elroy (drums), Finn travelled in two bursts to producer Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road studio in upstate New York, to record songs composed at his Auckland studio, Roundhead, for what was to become his third solo album, “Dizzy Heights”. With Fridmann (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips), and in collaborations with young New Zealand musicians Connan Mockasin and SJD, Finn assembled a textured, heady sound, furnished and elevated by woozy strings and soaring vocals. “I didn’t want to make it a solo record in a stripped back singer---songwriter sort of way,” says Finn. “I had a feeling Dave would be good at adding some odd shapes to the music. Which I always welcome – making things a little more expansive … He is good at subverting things, and making things sound a bit messed up and not as obvious, rather than being too tasteful, which is always a temptation.”
 
Dizzy Heights came out globally through Kobalt in February 2014, and he toured the album extensively around the world, including several sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House and London’s Royal Festival Hall. Neil Is currently working on a new record.  


 

 

 

 

 

neilfinn.com/

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