Tag Archives: tim finn

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era — The Early Years


My next book Rockin’ Fog City, will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better, we danced a lot more, and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977, leading directly to the decade that followed. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). They released a couple of albums with Tim and Paul at the helm, The band in costume, makeup and with Tim in front, the voice of an tenor angel, and moves a-quirky, all of which accented the music. Sometimes called “art rock” sometimes alternative, with elements of vaudeville, Split Enz of that early era was a strange brew of “music hall”, “performance art”, and just-plain-fun music, making them maybe the earliest progenitors of what became “new wave” music. As smart music lovers know, in 1977, Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, and history was made.

SplitEnz_MentalNotes_72dpiSplit Enz released their first album Mental Notes in 1975, and Second Thoughts in 1976, Recorded in London, their second effort is the first really listenable Enz album in this writer’s humble opinion. The record included several reworked songs from their debut, and some new bits. Contained in the result is a lot of what made this band great and what also makes anything the Finn brothers have done since, exceptional. Check out “Sweet Dreams” from that album for evidence of their supremacy. Check out the cast members – Ti

SplitEnz_SecodThoughts_172dpim & Phil, joined by Jonathan Chunn (bass), Noel Crombie (percussion), Emlyn Crowther (drums), Robert Fillies (Sax/Trumpet), maestro Edward Rayner (keys) and assorted luminaries. Get this all, who engineered this album… Rhett Davies (Supertramp anyone?), and who produced it… none other than Roxy Music guitarist Phil
Manzanera! The Enz had opened for Roxy Music on their first Australian tour, and had decamped from New Zealand to Australia to build their fan base. Phil was intrigued, and arranged their travel to London to record this gem. Second Thoughts were thunk, and the group’s fortunes grew from there.

SplitEnz_Dispythia_72dpiEnter younger brother Neil Finn in 1977 for follow up Dizrythmia (1977). Anyone ever have “jet lag” will get the title’s reference and applicability to the band’s experience at the time. At first, Neil plays into the vaudeville, circus atmosphere. Phil & Mike are there but abut to be gone from the band, as Neil takes over on guitar, and new permanent member Nigel Griggs on bass. They have the first “bigger” hit, “My Mistake.” While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was making quiet preparations to draw us into their loving circle.

Check out Tim’s performance of Dizryhmia’s “Charlie” in London

Split Enz V_1 Tim Finn

Fast forward if you must to the 6 minute mark of this video, though who does not have 6 minutes to watch the whole thing? At 6 minutes, Eddie takes center stage musically, features his amazingly beautiful grand piano chops, as Tim sings, “Sunlight, halo, you look wonderful, darling Charlie…, pale and deathly still… for heaven’s sake wake up….Charlie”

Clearly the songwriting partnership of brothers Neil and Tim was kicking into gear, as you notice the touching lyrics, Tim’s delivery, and Neil’s blooming chops on guitar, soon to be co-writer-lead-vocalist as well.

SplitEnz_Frenzy_172dpiFinally, catch the follow up – forth album Frenzy, the first to really push Neil to the fore, with his growing skills on guitar, vocals, and songwriting. Tim wrote most songs, and there are some gems. “I See Red” indeed!



Split Enz V_1 Band Frenzy

But, it’s still a bit of a distance to what was to come next, a honed down version of the band, ready to record 4 absolutely exceptional albums, starting with 1980’s masterpiece True Colors and ending with 1983’s absolute masterwork, and unjustly ignored diamond Conflicting Emotions (1983).

If you are not aware of the pedigree and history of Split Enz, you should be, my friends. But… be warned, while the first four albums, covered here, ending with Frenzy, may excite your eyes (see the videos) it might not be candy for your ears. It’s a tad quirky to say the least, while Tim and the band were finding their way to stardom.

Split Enz V_II NeilFinn_Portrait_cAG_144dpi


Ra Ra Riot and… Tim Finn?

RaRaRiot_Independent_72dpiMy friend Tim from Seattle recommended Ra Ra Riot to me a couple of years ago. He’s one of those guys like me who still make mix tapes (okay, CDs now, soon to be Spotify lists?). We do this each year to introduce friends to our favorite music, to recommend new or old bands, and their albums or singles. Ra Ra Riot, a danceable type of “indie rock with strings” outfit hails from Syracuse, New York. They struck me immediately as an infectious upbeat act featuring talented musicians, electric and acoustic instruments and vocalist, multi-instrumentalist Wes Miles. This remarkable singer is able to hit soaring soulful notes in a high tenor register, and has a beautiful falsetto technique, clear and strong. The musicians joining him include Mathieu Santos (bass), Milo Bonacci (guitar), Rebecca Zeller (violin) and Kenny Bernard (drums).They have been together for ten years, and just released their fourth album, Need Your Light. Take a listen to opening track “Water” to catch their sound. Then try the older track Tim included on the CD mix, “Boy” from their 2011 album The Orchard. It’s definitely more like the band Capital Cities than The National!


In concert at the Independent theater, in San Francisco, March 27, 2016, the band was in top form, clearly healthy, joyous and well rehearsed. The set list included most of the songs from the new album, and they sounded terrific live, remarkably close to the studio RaRaRiot_NeedYourLight_72dpirecordings, but with that extra presence and pumped up energy live performance can bring. On stage, a guest cello player filled in for departed member Alexandra Lawn, adding heft to the strings led by multi-instrumentalist Zeller. And, yes they played “Boy” to enthusiastic dancing and applause.


Standing there listening to the band, I was thinking about how few indie rock and recent alt rock bands have this kind of cheerful sound. Been listening to a lot of Radiohead, Muse, The National, and others who are really moodier and darker. It had me thinking about the 1980s music scene, and the dark and light ends of the spectrum, represented most notably by the likes of The Smiths (dark), and Bow Wow Wow (light). Given Wes Miles’ voice, I was reminded most of the band Split Enz and the solo work of their founder, Tim Finn.


RaRaRiot_SplitEnz_ConflictingCover_72dpiNew Zealand band Split Enz began very differently than it ended. They started out in 1972, featuring Phil Judd and Tim Finn as leaders of an art rock, vaudeville act, adorned in outrageous costumes and matching stage antics. Once brother Neil Finn joined in 1980, they transformed their music to focus more on a rock, pop and new wave sound. The two Finn’s and their band created some of the most adventurous music of that era, producing four fabulous albums True Colors (1980), Waiata / Corroboree (1981), Time and Tide (1982), and their masterpiece Conflicting Emotions (1983) at which point Tim left the band to start a solo career. For those down under, and for fans like me, the two brothers together were like Lennon/McCartney, such were their compositions, and the contrast in their perfectly paired voices. Neil led the group to produce one final album, appropriately titled See Ya ‘Round (1984) then going on to form the popular band Crowded House. Neil is certainly one of the greatest singer/songwriters on the planet. But for now, let’s focus on Tim who came so strongly to my mind during the Ra Ra Riot show.

TimFinn_EscapadeCover_72dpiTim Finn’s compositions and lead vocals on Conflicting Emotions and his first album Escapade (1983) are soulful and inspirational. His soaring tenor voice is one of the most dazzling instruments in the business. That first solo album, which is very light, breezy compared to his other work, was followed by the more assertive, instrumentally varied albums Big Canoe (1986, my favorite), and self-titled Tim Finn (1989) for which he hired nearly all of Peter Gabriel’s early 80s band (did you not know that, I bet not!)  Best to take a listen to the title track from Conflicting Emotions (if you don’t like the mysterious intro, meant to invoke emotional confusion, skip to minute 1:30), or the song “In A Minor Key“ or “I Only Want to Know” from Escapade. Fantastic.


Last time I saw Tim Finn live was also at The Independent. It was an amazing show from start to finish. This enduring talent continues to record and perform today. The Ra Ra Riot concert at the same venue ten years later, was similarly inspirational and I will be following them going forward, starting at this summer’s Outside Lands festival, where they will be on the bill with Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Air among many others. Highly recommended.