MUSICIANS IN CAR GET NOSTALGIC: A FINN ROAD TRIP DOWN WIND BACK WEDNESDAY



On Friday, the 1995 album, Finn – originally self-titled for the not exactly mysterious duo making it, though now credited to The Finn Brothers - will be reissued, for the first time on vinyl, by the bespoke label Needle Mythology.


Already highly regarded for their packaging of vinyl releases (as someone who’s bought both Stephen Duffy’s I Love My Friends and Catherine Anne Davies+ Bernard Butler’s In Memory Of My Feelings, I can confirm that is not just PR talk: these are beautiful sets even before you hear the music), the label founded by writer/broadcaster/critic Pete Paphides is a hard-core fan’s delight.


The new Finn will see the original album with new livery, liner notes and bonus material, and an accompanying record of demos Tim and Neil Finn made in 1989, when they first contemplated a duo album, several of whose songs would end up in the Crowded House album, Woodface. That album did rather well you may recall.


In anticipation or preparation, Wind Back Wednesday gets in the back of a Valiant Safari in 1996 with the brothers Finn (and photographer Stuart Spence) for a trip not just down memory lane but down Highway One from Auckland to Te Awamutu and back, via some friendly relatives.


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MID-AFTERNOON, ON A DAY WHEN THE WIND feels like it has come straight from the wild west coast of New Zealand, reaching deep into farm country around the town of Te Awamutu. On Teasdale Street, outside the home in which Dick and Mary Finn brought up their four children, Carolyn, Tim, Judy and Neil, the two brothers are chatting with locals again, shuffling their feet.

The brothers turn to leave, Neil half-way across the street before Tim steps off the footpath.


That's when Tim sees her, Mrs Gifford, a neighbour who still lives next door.


“Sorry, I didn't recognise you,” Mrs Gifford says, as she scurries towards him. “Are you still on that, um, circuit?”


Tim admits that yes, he is still a musician. Mrs Gifford nods. “Well, as long as you're keeping the wolf from the door.”




“I took a ride, in an angel's heap.” (Angel's Heap, Finn).


The faded blue Valiant Safari station wagon probably saw its best days 30 years ago. But with its three gears, long, low lines and serious surfer cool, Tim and Neil Finn wouldn't have it any other way for this journey. They're going back to Te Awamutu, where both of them were born, grew up and later escaped: to Split Enz, a solo career, Crowded House . . . lives.


For the first time in the 15 years since his parents moved out, at the height of the Split Enz True Colours mania, Neil is going to see the family home at 78 Teasdale Street. His plan: spy out old haunts, maybe even run into some long, long lost faces.


“I want to find Linda Simonsen, the Icelandic beauty whose calves I admired for at least three years,” he says from the back seat. His brother is beside him, a guitar between them. Behind them, an icebox has a six-pack of Guinness, which Tim reaches for during the day. Neil, always in control of himself, passes.


Tim's eyes light up at the mention of this early lust, but Neil disappoints. He never did ask Linda out. But as the Safari slides by a scattering of off-white sheep, their heads down and bottoms up, he finds himself in the Te Awamutu memory groove.


“The first time I kissed a girl and felt her breast, I had a broken arm,” Neil, 37, says. “So I was trying to do this with one arm, which was extremely difficult, and she had to undo the bra herself. My adolescence wasn't exactly filled with successful sexual experiences.

“The longest relationship I had at school was two weeks. But there was this one girl who had a really unusual kissing style: her tongue twirled round and round. It was like the spin cycle in the washing machine.”



On Highway One, it's true confession time. Tim – 43, recently single again, emotionally more balanced than during his infamous black periods – admits he hadn't kissed a girl by the time he left Te Awamutu for boarding school, aged 12.


“But I had extensive doctors and nurses sessions, in various locations, with Lindsey,” he tantalises. “My favourite experience was when we were under my bed one day. We both had our bottom halves fairly well exposed, then my mother started vacuuming the room. When she got to the bed we were squashed up the far corner.”


Neil cracks up and Tim joins in as they egg each other on: let's look up Lindsey, let's look up Linda, her calves are probably huge now.


Tim, who lives in Sydney most of the time, is in New Zealand to film the video for Angel's Heap, from Finn, the first album from the brothers as a duo.


Five years ago, they wrote an album's worth of songs intended for a joint project, but instead both the songs and Tim (temporarily) became part of Crowded House. Now comes Finn, on which every instrument on the album was played by the brothers, apart from one song featuring a close friend, Dave Dobbyn, on bass.


But don't come expecting “Tim and Neil Unplugged''. Instead of just acoustic guitars, this is a mix of sweet pop and murky beasts, island-inflected melodies and scratchy and dangerous sounds. It has its antecedents in Split Enz and Crowded House (and the Beatles) but could not have been made by any of them.


“It was very enjoyable, the whole thing,” says Neil. “We also hadn't told anybody that we were making the record, well virtually. We hadn't told the record company or consulted with anybody. We just decided we wanted to make it and we paid for the studio ourselves, and went in and just did it, so we didn't really have any sense of anybody's expectations.



''And the sound of Te Awamutu, had a truly sacred ring.”(Mean To Me, Crowded House)


THE street looks pretty much as it would have 30 years ago, the occasional car sweeping by plain houses fronted by hedges and flowers. The first surprise is the house number. 78 Teasdale Street is now 588 Teasdale and Finn manor has become the Te Ata Rest Home.


They walk towards the house down the long steep driveway and Neil realises the orchard is gone. It had plums and peaches they would pick and drop down into their mother's outstretched dress. Now it's a carport.


And the pool . . . the pool he remembers scrubbing down each week with a hard brush, the pool in which, according to Tim, the “seven foot tall” Father Jude McCarthy set the record for swimming its width with just a few long strokes.


The pool has been filled with concrete and turned into a car park.


The smile has gone from Neil's face: “It's weird standing here.”



Inside, the house has been extended, rooms reshaped. The tiny room that the brothers shared for a few years is now a broom closet. Neil looks up, and it's almost a smile. “The ceiling is the same. They haven't changed that.”


He walks into a common room in which half a dozen residents are seated. Normally reserved, Neil is ever gracious, “on show” with autograph hunters and fans wanting photos, and he cheerfully greets each of them. They stare back at him, eyes blank or glazed over. Any other time it would be a surreal but amusing moment but now it is just extremely uncomfortable.


As Neil leaves, the clouds that have been threatening for some hours finally close over, the drops spitting against the Red Robin bush at the top of the driveway. It matches his mood.


“They've completely f---ked it,” he says, not looking back as we drive off.


Tim is subdued too, but less depressed. “There's something deeply ironic in this,” he says. “For us it was a place of fecundity and life and youth. Now it's a place for people who are winding down.”


We stop at a nearby park, across from the Te Awamutu Croquet Club. Tim has been quiet since we left the house. As he looks around at the children playing on the tennis courts, he says: “It's so strange. These are our people, but I always wanted to get away from this place.”


He thinks about that and adds: “I should qualify that. It's quite moving being here. I'm all churned up inside. There was so much of our childhood here, which was wonderful.”


Mucking about on the swings and see-saw – “where we were sent when we had an overload of sugar,” explains Tim – they could almost be the pre-teens who ran around the rotunda on Saturday afternoons. There is a great deal of affection there, an ease in each other's company and in the shared passions and history. Which makes it all the more intriguing that it took them until 1990 to write together and another five years to record together, alone.


“I think to write songs with somebody, you've got to – at least for that hour or two that you're with them – there has to be a true meeting of equals, kindred spirits and all of that,” Tim says. “When we were together in Split Enz, we were protecting our roles and also finding out our own style, our own voice.”


Neil settled back in Auckland three years ago and Tim has bought property in inner Sydney after several itinerant decades. But the shift in their lives is more than just physical.


There clearly is less anxiety for Neil about matching the brother he still idolises and accepting he is a more than adequate father/husband/brother/musician. Tim, too, is at ease with not having to be the leader in a band or family, recognising the complementary skills they each bring to song writing.


“If there ever was jealousy or guilt, it's gone now,” says Neil.



“There's a mirrored lake before me, but I'm frozen when it's time to jump /It's like maybe I'm afraid of what I'll find when independence comes.” (Only Talking Sense, Finn).


Neil Finn is an intense man. He has a lovely smile, but uses it sparingly. His sense of humour is sharp but there is a low- level anger there. It's more a wariness than any unfriendliness, or maybe he is self-composed and waits for others to make the running.


The intensity extends to his work, where he is notorious for staying in the studio until the guitar sound or the lyric or the fifth harmony is perfect. Finn then, despite having a swag of great songs, is an atypical Neil album.


“We wanted to do it quickly and we didn't want to double- guess or labour over anything, because a lot of albums that we made, both of us in the last few years, have been quite heavily laboured on, and it seemed like it was an opportunity to do that,” Neil says. “We just kind of worked them through to a point where they had a vibe and a performance that we could get all the way through to the end, and there was a real spirit.”



However, Finn is not a permanent arrangement. If anything, they are at pains to make sure little is fixed. Crowded House is recording its fifth album and Tim, apart from his solo work, was back on the road in America with ALT last December.


There is a maturity in this relationship that can see the limitations as well as the benefits of working together and apart. It is best explained by Tim, who is much more voluble than his brother, ready to dissect his life and psyche with disarming frankness. While Neil's songs hint at darkness, Tim's openly declare it.


“It's really a primal relationship,” says Tim. “And for Neil and me, it's a pivotal relationship in our lives, in a positive sense. There's only a few others that are as important. When we come together and work, it's really interesting, you know, and we don't do it that often, which is good. I mean if we were together all the time in the same band it wouldn't work, you know, it didn't work.”


Neil agrees, and reveals he, too, is thinking about going solo. “I've been in bands for 20 years. I'm actually of the mind now of not being limited by that,” he says. “I'd like to think now I can do that and not be restricted by having to be just the classic Crowded House situation, although Crowded House could stretch to become different too.


“Now that Paul Hester, the original Crowded House drummer has left that situation, I feel less inclined to see it as a set thing, you know, which is good, a liberating thing to some extent.”


“So, where is my soul, where is my soul.”(Where Is My Soul, Finn)


In the late afternoon, we leave Te Awamutu and head north- east to Cambridge, where parents Dick and Mary live. Energy levels pick up when Mary brings out the pikelets. The tea is brewed, the scotch poured and Dick has his jazz albums out, all lovingly maintained and annotated.


Both brothers cite their mother's interest in singing, particularly their singing, and their father's passion for '30s and '40s jazz, as major influences. But just as important is the attitude their parents brought to life in the 1950s and '60s: aspirations, the solid core of family love, and cheekiness.


“Dad has this really graceful side,” Tim says. “And men in his generation couldn't be graceful, they had to be uncomfortable. But Dad, when he danced he really danced. You could see that graceful side of him.


“It was really inspiring. Another chink in the armour.”


There's plenty of laughter at Cambridge. Dick poking fun at Australians, Mary cheerfully defending herself from Dick's mock-indignation at being bossed around, the boys enjoying the interplay.


Talk of Teasdale Street reminds Mary of Tim falling in love with a nurse when he was 18, hospitalised with peritonitis. A romance that lasted a few weeks, despite Mary and Dick buying Tim a new suit for the first date.


In the spirit of the day's confessions, Tim reveals this love was doomed during that first date.

“She said to me, `I promised my mother that when I walked down the aisle I would be a virgin',” Tim says, the incredulity still there, 25 years later. “I was thinking, this is the first date and you already are talking marriage?”


Everyone is still high on the memory when the Valiant Safari turns back to Auckland late in the evening. Neil is at the wheel, taking us down the back roads. Tim slouches in the passenger seat, listening to R.E.M. There is the feeling they won't be back in Teasdale Street in a hurry.


“It's in here now,” says Tim, tapping his head. “There's nothing there in Te Awamutu any more.”


But it is not all disappointment.


“It would be poetic if, in 30 years, we ended up at the Te Ata Nursing Home being wheeled in in a state of bewilderment. Sitting out on the veranda.”



Finn, by The Finn Brothers, is out July 29 on Needle Mythology. https://needlemythology.com/shop/