The Time and Tide of Tim Finn

BY PETER MCALPINE

Tim Finn is one of New Zealand’s premier songwriters. He has been the driving force for much loved 1970s super group Split Enz and an integral member of Crowded House. He has had a career spanning many decades. However even after all this time though, he’s still playing shows and festivals. The crowds keep him going.

“When I play a festival there are people there of all ages, many of whom have never seen me play,” says Tim.

“So I try and reach out with mainly well known songs.

“I mix in a few others that I am currently enjoying playing, try and turn us all into one big throbbing mass of humanity.

“Between Split Enz and Woodface and my solo work and Finn Brothers albums there are usually enough hits to get the party started, but I never take it for granted.”

Finn was originally from the small north island town of Te Awamutu. He says he has been back to play in recent times “about five to six years ago. Neil and I played a charity show there.” Spilt Enz formed when Finn was at university. The band went on to have such hits ‘I hope I Never’, ‘I See Red’ and ‘My Mistake.’ They had a particularly strong following in Australia. After leaving New Zealand, Melbourne became a second home.

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“Our first ever show was in Melbourne supporting Skyhooks and AC/ DC at the Festival Hall.

“I can still remember Bon Scott swinging over the crowd on a rope, dressed as Tarzan.

“We were booed off, mainly by the sharpies of whom Magda Szubanski was one (sic) and has told me belatedly that she secretly liked us.

“The mid- seventies reefer cabarets are also worth a mention, everyone in the crowd ‘paralytically’ stoned. Noel Crombie dressed as Santa Claus, rocking his homemade electric guitar.”

As with all rock stars, Tim has crossed the globe countless times. So much so that these days he only travels with his wife, Marie Azcona and their two children, son, Elliot, and daughter, Harper.

“I only like travelling with my family nowdays…although I still do the odd short tour and still love performing.

“We travelled through the Basque region of France and Spain a while ago. Biarritz is an amazing town: beautiful buildings, great wines and huge surf.

“I went to Bougainville on a film soundtrack and had never been so far off the grid.

“Challenging, but rewarding.”

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Spilt Enz, in the 70’s, were thought to be going against the grain, especially when compared the staples of the Australian pub rock scene, AC/ DC and Skyhooks. Critics described them as avant-garde, eccentric and at times, wildly original. But Finn disagrees.

“Not really, we were aware of ourselves as all of the above, in some ways reacting against what was going on around us.

“Of course we eventually found kinship and comradeship with all the bands from that time.”

When asked about his legacy, Finn is humble.

“Naturally the songs…although I still get people coming up with a gleam in their eye to talk about a gig from 1975 or whatever.

“We never forget a great live performance.”

Split Enz greatest success came in 1980 with True Colours and the number one single ‘I Got You.’ The album went onto critical acclaim and helped launch the band internationally. After several years trying to build a fan base, the success was a relief.

“It felt like a huge weight was lifting…After struggling for eight years to find our audience we could finally pay our roadies a decent wage and engage with a widely enthused and energized crowd on a nightly basis, which fed back into the songwriters and pulled us out of ourselves.”

Fast forward to 1991 when Tim was asked to join Crowded House by his brother Neil. The two brothers went on to collaborate on the album Woodface. It was Crowded House’s third studio album. The album went on to be a huge success, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. In just two weeks, the brothers write classic songs such as ‘Weather with You’, ‘It’s Only Natural, ‘Four Seasons in One Day,’ and ‘Chocolate Cake.’

“The songwriting was definitely memorable, and (at) the gigs we played (as) as a semi- acoustic foursome (Neil Finn, Paul Hester, Mark Seymour) on the promo tour.

“We knew the songs were good, but you never know how they are going to be received, and here we are years later, still playing them and enjoying their subtle detail.”

Finn was asked about the difference in songwriting methods between Neil and himself.

“It’s hard for me to say what the differences they are.

“I know that I can sing a 4th not without including in the chord and Neil finds that grating.

“I write the same way I have always done, on a piano or acoustic guitar.

“Playing some chords, waiting for a melody, and then a title, or if I’m really lucky a few phrases.

“Then it’s the finishing that is painstaking and requires craftsmanship and patience.

“Some songs wait 20 years to get finished, others come in a rush.

“I definitely don’t believe they are created as an act of will.

“There has to be inspiration, and that is everywhere if you are open to it.”

The chemistry has produced two Finn Brothers albums, both are more experimental than most regular rock offerings.

In 1989 Tim starred in a romance film, shot in Italy, La Donna della Luna (The Moon Woman) and also had a small part in the Australian film the Coca Cola Kid. He speaks frankly about his involvement in film.

“I acted in an indie New Zealand film a few years ago called Predicament.

“It just seems to come along once every 20 years and that’s fine by me.

“Squeezing in beside the director and watching the monitor, getting to know the A.D, the grips, the sound guy…however no plans to get an agent, but if you need me I’m here.”

It seems like for Tim Finn, the tides are changing, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop picking up his trusted acoustic guitar and taking the time to reach out his scores of old and new fans alike.

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