MILESAGO - Groups & Solo Artists
Mike Chunn (bass) 1972-77
Only a handful of Australasian bands have achieved the success and
international stature of Split Enz. Their incredible twelve-year career took them from cult
status in New Zealand to worldwide pop stardom. They are acknowledged as New Zealand's
biggest musical export, and the first Kiwi band to achieve major international chart success
and they remain Mushroom Record's biggest-selling Australasian act.
Throughout their turbulent career, which included many line-up changes, Split Enz were always
"one step ahead", musically and visually, and they remained steadfastly original --
they must be one of the very few bands who can boast that every song
on every album and single was written by members of the group. They adapted their
look and sound to changing musical tastes, but never lost their originality or their integrity.
Their rapport with audiences forged a die-hard fan base that remains fiercely devoted to this
day. The official fan club, Frenz of the Enz, is one of the most durable, enthusiastic and dedicated
fan clubs in the world, and still has tens of thousands of members internationally.
The origins of Split Enz lay in the friendships that developed amongst a group of young Auckland, New Zealand students in the Sixties and early Seventies. Tim Finn was born Brian Timothy Finn, 25 June 1952, in Te Awamutu, NZ. Music was an integral part of the Finn household and as a child Tim also took piano lesson from a Catholic nun. After finishing primary school Tim won a secondary school scholarship to the Sacred Heart College boarding school, and it was here that he met Jonathan Michael (Mike) Chunn, who was to be an central figure in the early years of the group. They wrote songs and performed together there over the next five years. A large part of the Split Enz musical ethos was shaped by the Irish Catholic upbringing of the Finns, growing up in Te Awamutu and the Chunns in Otahuhu in the Fifties adn Sixties, and by the unique character of New Zealand at that time.
Mike Chunn: "... the rest of the world seemed like paradise and we were down here very dull and sort of brown and grey. But maybe in the end, it kind of works once you're out of it, because then small things had a very exciting nature to them. There was no TV, there was no pop music on the radio -- nothing."
The genteel character of New Zealand popular music changed irrevocably with the arrival of rock and roll, but for the future members of Split Enz it was The Beatles who proved the real catalyst. Music was never the same again -- they had found their calling. To quote Mike Chunn again: "John Lennon's rhythm guitar work, he was incredible. If you're listening to even something like I Want To Hold Your Hand it has just the sort of radical stuff you don't normally do on a guitar."
In 1971 Tim matriculated to Auckland University, where he began studying for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in philosophy and politics, and took up residence at O'Rorke Hall. Mike Chunn had also enrolled and used to drop in on Tim, who had befriended a group of art students including Phil Judd, Noel Crombie and Rob Gillies. All were to play important roles, and the relationships between them were the glue that bound Split Enz together.
But it was the close friendship between Tim and Phil that was the spark for the formation of the band. Tim later recalled:
"It was a fruitful time. Living at the old O'Rorke was interesting. I leeched onto Crombie and Judd, and learned about states of consciousness."
Phil Judd (born Philip Raymond Judd, 23rd March 1953) was at Auckland University studying Fine Arts. Tim and Phil quickly became fast friends. They moved out of O'Rorke Hall and began sharing a room in student accommodation -- Room 129 in a rambling house called Malmsbury Villa. It was here that the seeds of Split Enz were sown and it was a formative experience for the two young men -- both their room number and the evocative name of the house would later be immortalised in song. They soon started writing together -- Phil worked out the basic form and lyrics and Tim (who was strongly influenced by classic British pop like the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Move) provided melodies.
Mike Chunn: "The whole thing kicking in really was Phil Judd being at Auckland University. The thing at school was fine, but I couldn't see it really going anywhere until Juddsy came along with his songs and then boom!"
As the partnership developed and they began stockpiling songs, Phil and Tim decided to form a group as an outlet for their compositions; the material they wrote together in this original burst of creativity provided the bulk of the Enz repertoire for several years. They approached classical trained violinist Miles Golding, reed player Mike Howard and together with Tim's old friend Mike Chunn they formed a five- piece acoustic group called Split Ends in October 1972.
Golding's musical skills helped Tim and Phil to build complex and impressive neo-classical structures and arrangements for their material. After months of rehearsals, and with financial backing provided by their friend and fan Barry Coburn (who became their first manager) Split Ends issued its debut single, Split Ends / For You, in April 1973. In March, just before the single came out, Golding left the group to study in London, although they would meet up years later.
At Mike Chunn's urging, the band "went electric" and expanded, adding drums, lead guitar and brass. When the single was released, the band started a small tour of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, supporting John Mayall in April 1973. Mike Chunn's brother Geoff was called in for the tour after it was decided that part time drummer Div Vercoe, although an accomplished player, was "too cantankerous". The other new permanent members were lead guitarist Paul Wally Wilkinson and their university friend Rob Gillies who joined part-time on sax and trumpet. By this time, the band had become a full-time preoccupation for Tim, and he dropped out of university.
In late 1973 Split Enz took what they thought would be a sure fire shortcut to the top. They entered the New Faces television talent contest, and in preparation for their performance they recorded 129 and Home Sweet Home. Soon after, they also recorded Sweet Talking Spoon Song, which would become the second single. To the dismay of all they finished second-last in the contest -- Tim's 14-year-old brother Neil was watching at home that night and his father later said he was "almost in tears" when they lost; to this day Neill maintains that they were the best act on the show; he couldn't believe that they hadn't won. Remarkably, the Finn family still have the shaky, silent 8mm b/w home movie footage they shot from the TV screen the night the boys appeared; a portion of it can be seen in the "Spellbound" documentary.
All was not lost however -- their performance made a sufficient impression to secure them a 30-minute concert special for Television New Zealand, which was recorded soon after. Typical of the time, the performances were to be mimed to a pre-recorded backtrack, and they needed six songs, so the band put down four more tracks: No Bother To Me, Malmsbury Villa and Spellbound. It was at this time too that their original name "Split Ends" was altered to the patriotic Split Enz. In November 1973, EMI NZ issued the band's second single, 129 / Sweet Talking Spoon Song (the A-side immortalising their student digs).
The next eighteen months saw Split Ends refining their material and performances. The TV special spawned a concert tour but it was without Phil Judd, who had decided he didn't like performing live. He was discouraged by negative reactions to the band, and also felt that their music was too complex for successful stage presentation. Taking the 'Brian Wilson' approach, he initially opted stayed at home to write and record new material while the rest of the band toured, although he made occasional appearances and eventually rejoined full-time.
Early in their career, Split Enz decided to treat records, live shows, publicity photos, stage design, costumes, hair and even makeup as a complete package, and they approached the task with tremendous wit and style. This came fairly naturally to a band who shared wide-ranging interests in literature and the visual arts -- Phil Judd, for example, was already an accomplished painter and he went on to do the superb cover paintings for two of the Enz albums. Others overseas bands were doing this, of course -- Roxy Music was one notable group who took a similar "multi-media" approach, with lead singer Bryan Ferry supervising the every aspect of their image, from publicity shots to cover designs. English progressive band Yes took their 'look' to even greater heights, working closely with British artist Roger Dean, who created their logo, the distinctive album covers and many other related designs. Other UK acts like Genesis, The Move and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were likely sources of inspiration, with their various uses of costumes and makeup. But certainly no group before or since approached the task with such skill, or carried it off with such flair.
Eddie Rayner: "I've never had a problem wearing Noel's costumes. But having said that, some of the concoctions he came up with used to make you look pretty horrendous at times."
In early 1974 Tim acquired a prized Mellotron, the remarkable keyboard instrument which had been the key ingredient in The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever some eight years earlier. To make best use of it, they made a vital addition to the lineup in February, recruiting Anthony Edward "Eddie" Rayner on keyboards (ex-Cruise Lane, Space Waltz). Eddie, nicknamed "The Prof", would stay with the Enz all the way through, and he was crucial to the development of their sound. A prodigiously talented, mostly self-taught musician, his ability to realise and enhance their arrangements added tremendous depth and polish to the already strong material, and in many respects his playing became the defining element of their sound. Combined with Tim's own ability on piano, the two guitars, bass, drums, percussion and assorted other instruments including trumpet and saxophone, they were able to encompass a huge ranges of styles and sounds, and they were always a force to be reckoned with on stage, as even their early live recordings attest.
Following the name-change, the group embarked on a series of radio-sponsored "Buck-A-Head" shows which were played in local theatres rather than on the pubs or clubs. Inspired by this fortuitous booking, Phil and Tim decided that, rather than slogging it out on the traditional pub circuit, they would play only theatres and concert halls, which were better suited to the band's already unique performance style. The theatre shows enabled them to stage a full theatrical presentation, and they began to develop elaborate sets, costumes, hairstyles and makeup, with Tim as the demented master of ceremonies, giving strange spoken soliloquies between the songs, and all manner of strange and whimsical happenings in every show.
In early 1974, encouraged by seeing a triumphant live performance, Phil Judd decided to return to live performance and began making occasional appearances, as as did their old Auckland Uni pal, Noel Crombie. The Buck-A-Head tour wound up in May 1974, but the next month Geoff Chunn and Rob Gillies both left the band. Paul Emlyn Crowther (ex-Orb) joined on drums in July but Gillies was not replaced at this stage.
Their music was in a broadly similar vein to British progressive bands of the time, albeit rather "poppier" and more melodic than many such bands. Family and Traffic were almost certainly important influences -- and though they always balked at the habitual comparisons to Genesis, there was a 'English-ness', and a definite eccentricity that was common to both groups, and which set the Enz apart from other local acts.
But, strong as theirsongs were, the band might have made considerably less impact had it not been for the unique visual identity they developed. That vital piece of the puzzle had fallen into place by the autumn of 1974, when their old university mate Noel Crombie became a full-time member. He performed on percussion -- and spoons -- and sang occasionally, but his primary role was as Art Director for the band. His talents enabled Split Enz to present a complete audio-visual experience, showcasing their accomplished performances of the intricate Judd-Finn compositions in a unique live show, complete with wild, colourful matching costumes, bizarre hairstyles and makeup, sets and special effects. Their "look" -- a mixture of the weird and the whimsical -- drew on influences like the circus, music hall, gothic horror, Expressionist cinema, pantomime, psychedelia, surrealism and modern art -- all filtered through the band's bizarre demeanour and crazed on-stage antics. The costumes and stage personae also proved to be a useful facade for a group of young men who were, essentially, rather shy personalities.
Like Eddie Rayner, Noel was a crucial addition to the band, and in many ways he became the 'heart and soul' of Split Enz. His designs crystallised the band's image, and spanned the entire range of their visual material -- stage costumes, sets and stage designs, posters, buttons, badges, handbills, promotional photos, tour programmes and album and single covers. He also directed all of their film clips (some co-directed with Rob Gillies). Some of Noel's finest costumes are now part of the collection of the Victorian Museum of Performing Arts.
His goofy and lugubrious stage presence -- a sort of surrealist, spoon-playing Stan Laurel -- also endeared him to audiences and Noel's trademark spoon solos became a favourite feature of Enz shows. His regular 'spot' grew out of one of the typical random events that marked their early shows, as Noel recalled in the "Spellbound" documentary. At one concert, they brought Eddie's auntie on stage to perform an impromptu tap dance during one of the songs. It was a roaring success, but they realised that they couldn't really take her on tour with them, so it Noel's spoon playing routine was substituted and soon became an essential part of each show.
In concert, the band was already in league of its own and their live performances from this era soon became the stuff of legend. An early NZ TV performance had a "desert island" theme; they brought in a load of sand and created a miniature indoor beach, complete with palm trees and a wading pool, with band members dressed as hankie-hatted tourists, reclining on deck chairs and sipping drinks. For a now-legendary live performance of their live epic Stranger Than Fiction, a woman friend was recruited to crawl across the stage during the song, under pulsing strobe lights, with a bloodied axe apparently embedded in her skull!
By the end of 1974 their following in New Zealand, though small, was extremely strong and very dedicated, but the chances of further progress there were obviously limited -- the only logical place to go was Australia. In March 1975, the band issued its third single, No Bother To Me, on the independent White Cloud label, and a few weeks later, Split Enz left for Sydney. By this time, all the band - except Phil - were using their middle names.
The initial response from Aussie audiences was pretty mixed, and it's fair to say that their music and image was simply too "out there" for the average pub rock listener of the day. At the time, Skyhooks and Kush were probably Australia's most overtly theatrical rock bands, and the influence of the "glam" period could also be seen in acts like Hush, who used costume and makeup. Even Sherbet and AC/DC had briefly toyed with glam stylings, but they wisely dropped the idea before long.
But Split Enz were in a another league altogether, and most Australian audiences had seen nothing like them before. The Enz certainly weren't helped on arrival by being billed, inexplicably, as "New Zealand's raunchiest rock & roll band". They got a frosty reception in Sydney, although they found a slightly warmer welcome in Melbourne, where local bands and other performing groups had more of a history of blending experimental and theatrical elements with rock music.
The Enz soldiered for about nine months. It was tough going, especially for Phil, but, as at home they quickly amassed a small but fiercely loyal cult following. How long they might have lasted without a change of fortune is anyone's guess, but happily, their immediate future was assured when they were spotted by Michael Gudinski, who recognised their potential and signed them to a management and publishing deal and a recording contract with his Mushroom label.
Their reputation as a top-notch live act and their association with Gudinski gained them several very important support slots to local bands like Skyhooks and with major overseas acts in 1974-75 including Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Flo & Eddie and Leo Sayer.
The association with Mushroom was fortuitous. The company had struggled to survive for tis first few year but had recently hit the big time with the record breaking Living In The Seventies album by Skyhooks and they were well on their way to being a major player. Mushroom's management and staff were young, keen, aggressive and willing to take risks -- exactly the kind of company Split Enz needed. Although he is often criticised (with some justification) for the treatment of artists on the Mushroom roster, it is to Gudinski's credit that he stuck by the Enz through thick and thin, and in the long run his faith in them was richly rewarded.
In two weeks during May/June 1975 they recorded their debut album Mental Notes at Festival's Studio 24 in Sydney. It was produced by David Russell, who was also their tour manager in 1975-76. Russell, a fellow Kiwi, had a distinguished rock'n'roll pedigree -- he was the bass player with legendary NZ rockers Ray Columbus and The Invaders (1962-65), and went on to play with Ray Brown and the New Whispers (1966) and Max Merritt and The Meteors (1971-74). The engineer was Festival's distinguished staffer Richard Batchens, whose credits include The Cleves, Lobby Loyde, Chain, Blackfeather, and Sherbet. Ever the perfectionsists, the Enz were reportedly unhappy with the result, feeling that their inexperience in the studio, combined with a (supposedly) unsympathetic production team had led to an unsatisfactory result. Tim still regards the album as "deeply flawed" although he acknowledges that time has revealed its unique qualities.
The public and the critics didn't share such misgivings -- it was a notable success on its release in July, selling a very respectable 12,000 copies in Australia, reaching #19 on the album chart for one week, and peaking at #7 in New Zealand. As Chris Woodstra says: "...the album encapsulated the band at its artiest and most ambitious". It was also a critical breakthrough and it remains an impressive work. Rock historian Ian McFarlane describes it as "a remarkable album, full of otherworldly .. songs about death and madness." Along with a handful of other '70s classics, like The Dingoes and Madder Lake's Stillpoint, it remains one of the most original and accomplished debut albums of the period, and it's a fitting close to that exciting era of progressive music in Australia and New Zealand. Much of the material is derived from Tim and Phil's fascination with the work of the renowned English writer and artist Mervyn Peake -- notably Spellbound, the epic track Stranger Than Fiction (their concert centrepiece) and Titus (named after the hero of Peake's 'Gormenghast' trilogy). The songs themselves still hold up extremely well, and there are some wonderful lighter moments between the heavier material -- Phil's delightful ode to his newborn daughter, Amy, and the delirious Maybe. Tim Finn later expressed reservations about his rather mannered vocal performances and the awkwardness of singing songs written by Phil, but the songs and performances are excellent throughout, with a standout feature being the terrific keyboard work of Eddie Rayner.
In September they released their first Australian single, Maybe. But by this time plans were being made to try and crack the group in the UK and it was decided that changes needed to be made. In November 1975 Wally Wilkinson was unceremoniously booted out and Rob Gillies was brought back in on sax and trumpet, this time as a permanent member. They returned to New Zealand briefly before embarking on their "Enz Of The Earth" national Australian tour, which wound up in February, 1976. In March, Mushroom issued the band's second Mushroom single, Late Last Night, accompanied by a promotional video (again directed by Noel) which gave them their first major Australian TV exposure on Countdown and other Aussie pop shows. Molly clearly loved them, and over the next few years they became solid favourites with the show -- and its huge national audience.
The decision to try their luck in England stemmed from their support slot on Roxy Music's first Australian tour in 1974. The Enz had caught the attention of the visiting musicians, who were only just becoming known in Australia but were already one of the most successful 'art rock' bands in the UK. In the 'Spellbound' documentary, the Enzers recall seeing the entire band lined up in the wings watching them as they played their set. Roxy's guitarist, Phil Manzanera was particularly impressed, so much so that he offered to produce their next album for them in London. They managed to secure a UK record deal with Chrysalis, and in April 1976, Split Enz flew to the UK to cut their second album.
Recorded at the Basing Street Studios in London, Second Thoughts was issued in Australia in July '76, and issued in the UK as Mental Notes in September. It comprised Late Last Night, four re-arranged and re-recorded tracks from Mental Notes, three new songs, and a new version of one of the earliest Judd-Finn compositions, 129, retitled Matinee Idyll (129). This song was released, backed by Lovey Dovey, as a single in December 1976. (During the recording they caught up with original member Miles Golding, who was then living in London, and attended a recital he gave at the Australian Embassy.)
The band's bizarre appearance and crazed on-stage antics at first baffled the UK press and audiences, and critical reactions were far from favourable, but as in new Zealand and Australia, their excellence, originality and enthusiasm again won them a cult following, from which the fan-club Frenz of the Enz began to develop.
Eddie Rayner: "There were fantastic gigs, and once we all streaked across the stage - stark naked. I remember playing in London and seeing Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten sitting in the front row. They used to come to our inner London gigs and they'd look at us quite quizzically, and they ripped off our haircuts!"
Between recording and touring they also found time for entertainment. One notable incident is recounted in Mike Chunn's book, Spellbound. Somehow he and Eddie managed to get into a London concert by Sherbet (who were in the UK at the time, promoting their hit single Howzat!) -- dressed in drag!.
Eddie Rayner: "For some reason we had this harebrained idea that we could go in dressed in drag-- I guess that's just because we were young and stupid -- and it was really good fun as it turned out."
But making it in England, even with the patronage of the likes of Phil Manzanera, was proving to be hard work indeed, and pressures were building within the formerly close-knit group. In November Emlyn Crowther was sacked (the familiar "music and personality differences") and replaced by their first non-Kiwi member, English drummer Malcolm Green (ex-Love Affair, The Honeycombs, Jimmy James & the Vagabonds) who answered an ad in Melody Maker, and began rehearsing with the Enz in December 1976.
The Enz kicked off 1977 with a new non-album single titled (rather prophetically) Another Great Divide, coinciding with their return to Australia/New Zealand in January 1977 for the "Courting the Act" tour. Chrysalis issued Mental Notes (the American title for Second Thoughts) in the USA, and at the end of February they set off for the US to support the album. The 23 day/40 show tour was a hopeful first attempt to establish themselves in America but it marked the end of an era in the band and proved to be the last tour with founding members Phil Judd and Mike Chunn.
Mike decided to leave at the end of the US tour, partly because he wanted to spend more time with his family but also because he suffered from agoraphobia (apparently exacerbated by his experimentation with psychedelic drugs). And tensions were now running high between Phil and Tim. Although they received a standing ovation in San Francisco, audience reactions in more remote areas ranged from bemusement to outright hostility, and unfortunately, Phil was extremely sensitive to such negative feedback. Also, like Mike, he had a young family back in New Zealand and he was tired of the endless grind of touring. Things came to a head after one infamous concert when Phil, having trouble with an out-of-tune guitar, stormed off before the end of the set. When Tim challenged him backstage about what had happened, Phil punched him. The tour ended in April, after which Phil left the band.
The Enz were due to begin their third English tour later that month, so Tim now took charge and hastily reorganised the group. On 4 April English bassist Nigel Griggs (ex-Octopus) replaced the departing Mike Chunn. Before leaving, however, Mike gave a crucial piece of parting advice -- he suggested that the replacement for Phil Judd should be Tim Finn's younger brother Neil.
At the time Neil was playing in Afterhours, a local Auckland band -- which, incidentally, gives a perfect indication of of how interconnected the Enz musical family was -- Afterhours was led by Mike's brother, former Enz drummer Geoff Chunn, plus Neil and Mark Hough, (aka Buster Stiggs) who later joined The Swingers with Phil Judd.
Some critics evidently viewed Neil's appointment as nepotism, and voiced concerns that the untried youngster might not be up to the task, but Mike Chunn's advice to the band was simple: "He's hopeless now, but he has potential." Neil officially joined on 7 April 1977, and in the 'Spellbound' documentary he recalls the awkward experience of his first day with the band. Fresh off the plane, he arrived at the rehearsal studio to find that the only one there was newly appointed bassist Nigel Griggs, who had also just arrived for his first day with the group. As it turned out the rest of the band had gone out to get lunch, leaving Neil and Nigel to make their own acquaintance.
Although Neil didn't contribute much during his first six months with the band (he was still mastering the guitar) he made up for his lack of musical skill with plenty of onstage enthusiasm. Although fresh out of high school and almost totally inexperienced as a performer, Neil adapted quickly, and from Frenzy onwards he began to develop a strong presence within the group. It was perhaps fortuitous that Neil was not an accomplished player at first -- in effect it forced the group to simplify the music and the arrangements and helped steer them in a new direction.
The new line-up imparted renewed drive and enthusiasm to a band that was by then teetering on the brink of collapse, tired and dispirited and desperately in need of a change. They had been touring for years on the same basic repertoire, most of it written or co-written by the departed Phil Judd and much of it dating back to the band's formative days. The pressure was on, but Tim rose to the challenge and began turning out great new material that would form the basis of the next two albums.
Later, Neil began contributing his own material, and he also became the second lead vocalist, thus taking some of the performing and writing pressure off Tim and broadening their repertoire. Although at first a novice guitarist, Neil proved an excellent singer whose voice was the perfect complement to his brother's. Most importantly, he was totally immersed in the spirit of the band, having watched it begin and grow from its earliest days. Over the next three years his singing, playing and especially his writing skills increased exponentially, and although Tim remained the leader, by 1980 Neil was playing a vital role.
As noted above, the Enz initially met with scorn from the fashion-fixated UK music press, due in large measure to the polarising effect of punk on the English music scene. The Enz' theatrical trappings and complex music were suspiciously reminiscent of the "dinosaur" progressive rock bands so reviled by punks and the new wave of music critics. Gradually though, as the Enz fine-tuned their image, and the punk scene gave way to the less strident, more stylish and more musically substantial 'New Wave' scene, Split Enz began to draw larger crowds in the UK.
For their band's next album they chose to record at London's prestigious Air Studios with producer (and former Beatles engineer) Geoff Emerick. The recording spanned June and July. Dizrythmia (a title taken from the medical term for jet-lag, circadia disrhythmia, meaning 'upset body rhythm') made no appreciable impact in the UK, but was was very successful in Australasia, and gave them their first simultaneous hits on the Australian and New Zealand singles and album charts.
They returned to Australia in August, coinciding with the release of the album, and began a 28-date tour Australasian tour in October/November. The album reached #18 in Australia. The first single, the quirky My Mistake (August), peaked at #18 during October, bolstered by the national tour and aided by another great promotional video. In New Zealand Dizrhythmia reached #3, and My Mistake peaked at #21.The second single, the jaunty Bold as Brass (December) was one the truly great Tim Finn songs -- it was a melodic pop gem, laden with hooks, with a strong and bouncy backbeat by the Green-Griggs rhythm section. It was perhaps even better than its predecessor, but sadly it failed to chart in Australia. The single was accompanied by a specially-made video, co-directed by Noel and Rob.
Between November '77 and February 1978 Split Enz toured solidly throughout the UK and Europe. At the turn of the year Rob Gillies left (or was fired). In spite of the earlier falling out, Phil Judd returned, briefly, in early 1978 after Tim and Eddie heard some of his new material, but he apparently found himself out of step with their changing direction, and left the band for good after about a month.
1978 was probably the toughest year for Split Enz -- they lost their Chrysalis contract and spent most of 1978 without a UK record deal, a booking agent or a manager. The debts mounted and, unable to get gigs, they were forced to go on the dole. But they continued writing new material at a frantic pace and rehearsing constantly. Prospects looked bleak, but they were not quitters, and it was at this point that the New Zealand Arts Council came to the rescue with a five thousand dollar grant. This was a crucial break for the "new" Split Enz. They immediately booked a tiny 8-track studio in Luton and with the help of 18-year-old English engineer David Tickle they knocked out recordings of 28 new songs in less than five days. These legendary sessions -- the "Rootin', Tootin' Luton Tapes" -- displayed both a newfound edge and considerable commercial potential. Around the same time, they recorded a new single with Tickle, a startling new song of Tim's called I See Red.
With renewed purpose, Split Enz entered Manor Studios in November 1978 to record a new album with producer Mallory Earl. Even the cover of Frenzy marked the change in the group -- the crazy costumes and makeup of Dizrhythmia were gone, and the painting depicted them in casual clothes, standing in front of a farm shed in a bucolic New Zealand landscape. The album included re-recordings of many songs from the Luton tapes, but the band felt that Earl had failed to capture the magic and raw energy of the demos. Many of the other Luton songs were never re-recorded, and were left as demos, although some eventually surfaced on A&M's American version of Frenzy, released in North America in 1981). That same month, Mushroom issued I See Red as a single in Australia. It was a frantic chunk of power pop with buzzsaw guitar and manic farfisa organ, bearing the clear influence of English "New Wave" acts like XTC and The Buzzcocks, and marking a significant change in their musical style, away from the ethereal, densely arranged epics of yore, and back to Tim's first love -- simple, concise, accessible, high-energy guitar pop. It didn't chart in England but I See Red got a lot of attention and considerable airplay, and is credited as being the song that began the turn-around in their critical reputation in the UK.
Although they were still doing it tough, Split Enz had turned a corner and they knew it. Charged with new energy, they went home for Xmas 1978 but, before they headed back to the UK, they decided to play some local shows. Just after Xmas there was a serious setback when their equipment was destroyed in a suspicious fire at a rehearsal studio. But undeterred, and using borrowed equipment, Split Enz played what proved to be a pivotal show, stunning friends and fans alike with their towering performance at the second Nambassa Festival in January, an event still spoken of in reverent terms by those who witnessed it.
I See Red eventually peaked at #15 in February 1979, and Frenzy produced one more terrific single Give It a Whirl (May 1979) -- the first Enz single to be written by Neil Finn. Neither the LP nor the second single charted, but one album track, She Got Body She Got Soul, was later reworked for the soundtrack to the musical feature film "Starstruck". A self-produced, non-album single Things / Semi-Detached was released in October but also failed to chart.
The combination of the dramatic changes in the English music scene, the relatively poor commercial performance of Frenzy and their precarious financial state forced the Enz to re-assess their music and image. The Luton tapes and the Nambassa show had proved to the band that the more melodic 'power-pop' side of their music was a winner, so they worked hard on making the songs for their fifth album much more commercial, melodic and accessible, while they reined in the more outre aspects of their image. The wild makeup and hairstyles were also toned down (well, sort of); Tim's performance persona (a demented cross between Harold Lloyd and an escaped lunatic) was shelved, and Neil began to emerge from behind the the horn-rimmed glasses and painted-on freckles of his original "loony schoolboy" image.
The fact that both Neil and Tim were good looking, telegenic and natural TV performers was not lost on Mushroom's marketing staff, and their teen appeal was pushed hard in the videos for the new LP. Although the trademark Enz weirdness was never far from the surface, Neil's generally optimistic, upbeat songs provided an prefect counterpoint to Tim's edgier and more melancholic pieces. They now performed (more or less) as themselves, and Noel's emblematic new costume, album and stage designs were stripped back to simple, striking geometric patterns which were both timeless yet perfect for the period.
For their their fifth LP, True Colours David Tickle was brought to Australia, and this time they captured everything they had hoped for. It was a triumph especially for Tim, amply justifying his belief in the new direction, and it also marked the emergence of Neil as a significant pop songwriter. His first true pop masterpiece I Got You seems in retrospect an obvious choice for first single but remarkably Mushroom had misgivings about it. But release it they did, and it proved to be a massive success.
True Colours and I Got You (January 1980) simultaneously topped charts in both Australia and New Zealand during March. The album quickly earned a place as one of the all-time great pop records. Structured very much like the Beach Boys' 1965 pop classic Pet Sounds, True Colours featured a killer complement of upbeat pop songs from both writers. The album opens with Tim's manic Shark Attack, followed by I Got You, Neil's punky What's The Matter With You? and then the first of Eddie's two sterling instrumentals, Double Happy and the album's centrepiece (and one of Tim's finest moments) the achingly beautiful ballad I Hope I Never. There was an echo of the older, more ethereal style on Tim's Poor Boy, although Eddie's arrangements gave it a distinctly modern edge. It was probably the best pop album ever released in Australia up to that time and demand kept it at the top for ten weeks, and the single for eight. I Got You went on to become the highest selling single in Australia for the year.
Mushroom supported the album with an energetic and imaginative marketing campaign, which included several 'world firsts'. They created a video version of album (the first of its kind) with film-clips for each song. They released each new pressing of the LP in different coloured jackets, and even produced a special laser-etched edition, which harnessed laser technology to etch geometric patterns into the actual playing surface of the album, creating prismatic effects without affecting the music playback. True Colours more than justified Gudinski's long-held faith in the band and was a huge commercial success -- it went on to sell over 250,000 copies in Australasia - the equivalent of a copy in one out of every ten homes! A&M issued the album in the UK, Canada and the USA. I Got You reached #12 on the UK charts during August and True Colours #42. The next single, I Hope I Never (b/w Hypnotised and Carried Away) was released in May and reached #18 on the Australian charts during June.
At last, the band was out of debt; they were also now one of the biggest acts on either side of the Tasman, and they were finally making inroads in the UK and the US. They toured extensively behind True Colours, and the 1980-82 period was perhaps the peak of their performing career. As the New Wave and New Romantic trends emerged in the UK, it seemed that rock fashion was finally catching up with the theatrical niche the Enz had always inhabited.
Their next album, released in Australia only as Corroboree and everywhere else as Waiata (Maori for `a gathering for a tribal dance'). It continued their winning streak, although the band later acknowledged that it was in essence a less successful attempt to re-capture the magic moments of True Colours. By this time their relationship with producer David Tickle was also becoming strained and it would be their last collaboration. Another galling event was A&M's refusal to release Waiata in America with Noel's original white-brown-black cover design (reportedly protesting that "brown is the colour of shit"). Much to Noel's chagrin, they changed it to a feeble pastel blue, completely ruining the effect.
Although not as well received by some hard-to-please critics, the public had no such qualms, and it was another Australian and New Zealand #1 album, led by the "one-two punch" of Neil's One Step Ahead (#5 in November) and History Never Repeats (#4 in April 1981). Significantly though, the album's third single, written by Tim, I Don't Wanna Dance (June) failed to chart. History Never Repeats made #63 in the UK during May.
Tensions were also beginning to build within the band again and mid-year Mal Green left to work on solo projects, Noel took over as drummer, and the band headed off on a world tour. On their North American tour, Split Enz were billed equally with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, a testament to their growing popularity there.
Tim: "Endless memories of amazing gigs. Iggy Pop walking backstage in Buffalo and calling us the future of rock and roll."
Hot on the heels of the Enz breakthrough, co-founder Phil Judd launched his new band, The Swingers. After the Enz he had returned to NZ and joined the Suburban Reptiles as a part time member. When they split up he recruited drummer Buster Stiggs (Mark Hough, ex-Afterhours) and bassist Bones Hillman (later of Midnight Oil) and formed The Swingers. The band's debut single, One Good Reason (April 1980) reached #19 in New Zealand, after which The Swingers relocated to Australia and signed to Mushroom Records.
Issued in January 1981 the band's next single, the irresistibly infectious Counting The Beat, came out of nowhere and smashed its way to the top, immediately leaping to #1 in both Australia and New Zealand. It was the fastest selling local single since Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock in 1971. From total obscurity, suddenly The Swingers were the hottest band in the land. Unfortunately though it was not to last. The next single, It Ain't What You Dance (June 1981) went Top 5 in New Zealand, but bombed in Australia. Their Practical Jokers album, recorded at John Sayer's Music Farm studio near Byron Bay, yielded two further singles One Track Mind (August 1981) and Punch and Judy (April 1982) but failed to ignite any further audience interest, although it contained some excellent material. The Swingers made a cameo appearance in Gillian Armstrong's successful pop film musical "Starstruck" and they played on the singles Starstruck (April 1982) and Monkey in Me (May) with Jo Kennedy. Judd broke up the band in May. In 1983 he recorded a solo album in the USA, Private Lives, which was released on Mushroom, plus two singles, Dreamin' Away (August 1983) and Rendezvous (November).
In late 1981, after months of intensive touring, Split Enz retreated to the studio to record what regarded by many as their most personal and creative album. Much of the material had come out of what was a dark period for Tim -- in January that year he had married English dancer Liz Malam, but the marriage collapsed in October and he suffered a nervous breakdown, an ordeal he eloquently recounted in Six Months In A Leaky Boat.
Time & Tide was made with hot-shot English producer/engineer Hugh Padgham, renowned for his work with producer Steve Lilywhite on landmark recordings by artists like Peter Gabriel, XTC and Genesis Padgham -- who is credited with inventing the "gated reverb" drum sound that became Phil Collins' trademark -- had a much more relaxed style than Tickle and the Enz found him ideally suited to their needs.
Time and Tide, released in April 1982 became Split Enz's third successive #1 album in Australia and New Zealand. The advent of MTV in America, and its interest in new wave acts helped the band's growing cult status in America -- both Dirty Creature and Six Months in a Leaky Boat (as well as earlier videos) got heavy airplay on the channel, although this failed to translate into US chart action.
Tim's highly personal songs were offset by Neil's more upbeat tracks, but on the charts it was Tim's show once again. The funky Dirty Creature was #6 in April and Six Months In A Leaky Boat went to #2 in June. Never Ceases To Amaze Me (August) was issued as the next single but did not chart.
Initially, Six Months in a Leaky Boat looked like it would at last furnish the major UK hit they they had been hoping for, but this failed to materialise when (after the controversial sinking of the Argentine warship 'General Belgrano' by the British Navy) the BBC placed the song on a covert "blacklist" of songs that supposedly contained negative references to the Falklands War. Although the BBC vehemently denied the blacklist at the time, they finally admitted to its existence in 1999. The year ended with the release of their first `Best of' collection Enz of an Era which went to #8 in Australia (December) and sold 30,000 copies in New Zealand alone.
Early in 1983, Tim took a break to record a solo album, with an all-star session group including producers Mark Moffatt (Divinyls, Ross Wilson) and former Beach Boy Ricky Fatarr, and legendary session singer Vanetta Fields. Escapade, released in June, was a major success in Australasia, spawning several hits singles including Fraction Too Much Friction and the joyous, gospel-tinged Made My Day. Tim won the 'Best Songwriter' gong at the TV Week/Countdown Awards, and Split Enz won 'Best Album' (for Time & Tide) and Most Popular Group awards. For all of its success, though, Tim's solo album distracted him from the Enz (Gudinski later said he would have prevented it if he could have) and it delayed the recording of a timely follow-up to Time & Tide, effectively stalling the momentum they had built over the previous three albums and making the chances of a lasting American breakthrough even slimmer.
Eddie: "I think we started to get a bit jaded, we got a bit sick of a lot of Tim's songs at that point. So Tim went off to do his thing."
In March 1983 Noel Crombie briefly stepped into the limelight and issued a quaint novelty solo single, My Voice Keeps Changing On Me. The same month, the new Enz single, the portentously titled Next Exit, was released as a stop-gap until the band could record a new album. Ominously, it didn't chart..
Prior to this time, Tim had been the primary or equal contributor, but on the next LP his contributions were overshadowed for the first time by Neil, who wrote the majority of the songs. The aptly titled Conflicting Emotions (November 1983) was a somewhat patchy effort when compared to the previous three albums, and it was (perhaps inevitably) a commercial letdown, reaching only #13 on the national chart in January, after three successive #1 LPs. Still, it was a strong album overall and contained some real gems. Their solid, inventive playing and melodic instincts remained intact, and Neil's songs fared well commercially -- the jazzy Straight Old Line (October 1983), the glorious Message To My Girl (January 1984) and I Wake Up Every Night (April 1984) all appeared as singles and Straight Old Line peaked at #31, but the album's highlight, Neil's beautiful, wistful Message To My Girl made it #6 on the national chart in February. It remains one of Neil's most popular and enduring songs, and one which he still performs.
For the "Conflicting Emotions" tour, Tim again felt that the band needed a change in the rhythm section, so Paul Hester (ex-Deckchairs Overboard) was brought in on drums, and Noel returned to percussion .. and spoons. However titles like Escapade, Conflicting Emotions, Next Exit and Fraction Too Much Friction made it increasingly obvious that Tim was unhappy; there were growing tensions between him and Neil and the success of Escapade made it clear that there could indeed be life after Split Enz. Finally, in June 1984, Tim ended months of speculation by announcing that he would leave before the next LP was recorded, in order to promote the release of Escapade in Europe.
The remaining members surprised everyone by deciding to continue, but their next album See Ya 'Round proved to be their valedictory -- it seems that, all along, Neil really felt that it was impossible to continue Split Enz without Tim. The album came out in November 1984 and naturally Neil's songs dominated proceedings. Hester, now a permanent member, contributed one (albeit fairly forgettable) number but the best of the new material showed Neil gaining even greater depth as a writer. The singles were led by one of Neil's most passionate songs, his stirring, bittersweet farewell to Tim and the Enz, I Walk Away which was released in September. It was followed by the dark-toned One Mouth is Fed in November.
Then came the moment they and their fans had dreaded, and it made the headlines in the daily papers. Split Enz announced that they were breaking up. They buried the hatchet, reunited with Tim and embarked on their rapturously received "Enz with a Bang" Australasian farewell tour in October/November 1984.
Split Enz played its last show on 4 December 1984 in Auckland, a fitting close to the career of New Zealand's most famous group. A double album recorded on the tour, The Living Enz, appeared in December 1985.
After Split Enz ...One of the most remarkable features of Split Enz is the large number of successful and/or interesting groups and projects that spun off from it. Samples of many of these have been collected on Raven's recent 2CD compilation Other Enz.
Drummer Emlyn Crowther returned to NZ, and played with a various bands there; in recent years he has been doing concert sound for The Mutton Birds. He also makes the "Hotcake" guitar distortion box, which is used by many musicians, including Neil Finn and even Oasis.
By the time The Living Enz appeared Neil Finn and Paul Hester had launched a new band, The Mullanes. (Mullane is Neil's middle name and his mother's maiden name). The original members were Neil, Paul, Nick Seymour (younger brother of Hunters & Collectors' lead singer Mark Seymour) on bass and Craig Hooper (ex-The Reels) on guitar and keyboards. Although a terrific musician, Craig's place in the band never really gelled and he left amicably within the year. After Craig's departure, the group found its true identity as a trio. Neil had been writing furiously, and once they scored a record deal with Capitol, they headed to LA to record their first album. Realising "The Mullanes" was unlikely to be a world-beater, they renamed the band, famously taking the inspiration for the new name - Crowded House - from the small rented LA house, where the band, their families and friends were crammed in together during the recording. The album and the singles Don't Dream It's Over and Better Be Home Soon became huge international hits, definitively breaking them in America, again due in large part to the wonderfully evocative videos, which were picked up by MTV.
The success of Crowded House at last gave Neil the US success that Split Enz had never quite managed to achieve. From then on Crowded House remained one of the most successful and respected groups ever to come out of Australasia. To the delight of Enz fans, Tim joined the group for the making of their third album, Woodface, and featured prominently on the record, although he eventually left again after the subsequent tour, by which time Crowded House was fast heading towards the end of its life. Relations within the band were always volatile -- Nick Seymour walked out (or was sacked) on several occasions and tensions between Paul and Neil apparently often ran high. They came to a head in 1997, when Paul walked out on the band mid-tour in the US, and returned to Australia. By this time they had also recruited former Supertramp sideman Mark Hart as the fourth member, and initially Neil replaced Hester with another drummer, but it wasn't long before he announced the end of the band. Not unlike the Enz With A Bang!" they patched things up with Hester and performed their internationally televised "Farewell To The World" concert before a huge live audience on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in December 1997.
Meanwhile, Tim Finn hit the solo trail once again, and cut a new solo album, Big Canoe. Although an excellent work in its own right, their generally dark mood reflected the personal turmoil he was going through at the time, and they notably failed to excite anything like the same response as the first album.
In 1987 Phil Judd, Noel Crombie and Nigel Griggs got back together in a new band, Schnell Fenster with Michael Den Elzen (guitar; ex-Broderick Smith Band, Tim Finn Band). Their quirky guitar pop was imbued with the same edgy weirdness that Phil had brought to early Split Enz and The Swingers; like the Enz they presented a unique image, again thanks to the artistic talents of Phil and Noel. Schnell Fenster issued two fine albums, The Sound of Trees (1988) on EMI and OK Alright, A-Huh, Oh Yeah (1991) on WEA, plus five singles. Their material and performances were excellent, and the singles were supported by brilliant videos created by Phil and Noel. Although Whisper, from the second album got strong exposure on TV, the band never really had the attention they deserved from their labels or the media, and so never achieved their considerable potential. Both albums are highly recommended.
Phil's link with films (going back to "Starstruck") led him to write the award-winning soundtrack for the comedy film Death In Brunswick, starring fellow Kiwis Sam Neill and John Clarke in 1992. (Clarke, another hugely successful NZ export, is a noted comedian and writer, who created the character "Fred Dagg", and is famous for his collaborations with Brian Dawe on their long-running weekly political satire spots on TV's "A Current Affair" and "The 7:30 Report" and of course their acclaimed Olympic sendup "The Games"). Phil has also written classical scores, and in 1992 he approached his then-record company Warners, hoping to record his first symphony. Predictably, they were not interested.
Eddie Rayner was "absolutely devastated" when Split Enz broke up. After the farewell tour, he started doing session work and production for Aussie acts like Machinations, and in the mid '80s he did several early tours with Crowded House, although he turned down Neil's offer of a permanent place in the band -- a decision he later regretted when they hit paydirt in the USA. Eddie was a member of the original lineup of Schnell Fenster in 1987, then formed The Makers with Brian Baker (guitar/vocals). They issued two albums on WEA, The Makers (1990) and Hokey Pokey (1993), plus six singles. It's a mark of his international stature that Paul McCartney invited Rayner to collaborate with him on a couple of songs for his Press to Play album during this period.
After leaving in 1974, Geoff Chunn continued to write songs and perform as a solo artist including occasional supports for Split Enz. He formed Afterhours with the young Neil Finn, and Mark Hough (aka Buster Stiggs), but the band split when Neil got the call to join the Enz in London in 1977. Geoff then formed the Citizen Band with brother Mike, Brent Eccles and Greg Clark, and had some success. Citizen Band split up in 1982, and Geoff went on to run a restaurant called "Kenzie" in Parnell, Auckland.
Mike Chunn played bass in Citizen Band with brother Geoff, Brent Eccles and Greg Clark, and had some success, but he left after they failed to make it in Australia. (Eccles remained behind and worked in several Australian bands and for commercial radio). From there Mike went into band management, had a stint as Mushroom records general manager, worked as an accountant in London for three years, became general manager of publishing at Sony, and then general manager of the Australian Performing Rights Association. Mike has also written the only book about the group, "Stranger Than Fiction: The Life and Times of Split Enz", published in 1992.
There have been a number of Split Enz re-formations over the years, including a 1989 Australian reunion tour, a one-off 1992 show in Sydney for the New Zealand Tourist Commission, their twentieth-anniversary Australasian tour in 1993 (which resulted in the live album and video Anniversary) and another concert reunion for the millennium celebrations in New Zealand in December 1999.
Interest in the band remains high, as evidenced by Enzso, the Enz-related orchestral outing which proved a great (and well-deserved) success in 1994. A long cherished project of Eddie Rayner's, "Enzso" placed some of the best Split Enz songs into a lush orchestral setting. Although such works have usually been less than satisfactory (e.g. the numerous and uniformly awful orchestral renditions of music by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) the strength of the Enz material and Eddie's superb arrangements made it one of the best records of its kind ever made. With the blessing of Tim, Phil and Neil, Eddie created rich symphonic arrangements of seventeen Split Enz songs, opting for moodier and more expansive numbers like Stranger than Fiction, Stuff and Nonsense and I Hope I Never rather than the obvious pop hits (which are generally ill-suited to such treatment anyway). Eddie recorded the songs with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (the -NZSO part of the punning "Enzso" title) in December 1995, with vocals by Neil Finn, guests Annie Crummer and their old mate Dave Dobbyn (who later supported Tim & Neil on the Finn tour). The Enzso album was a big and gratifyign success -- it made its debut at #4 on the Australian chart in July 1996. It attained platinum status selling 70,000 copies in just ten weeks, and staying in the Top 40 for 15 weeks. Enzso re-entered the national Top 40 in February 1997 when Eddie, Tim, Neil and Noel undertook the Australian Enzso tour backed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
After the end of Crowded House, Neil made a long-awaited a duo album with Tim, simply called Finn, which they promoted with a superb concert tour in 1995. Neil released his critically praised first solo album Try Whistling This in 1998 and toured widely to promote it, accompanied by his son Liam, now a teenager, and himself an able guitarist. He also compiled two anthologies of Crowded House material, the 'Best Of" collection Recurring Dream and a rarities album. More recently he has recorded a second solo LP, One Nil, and mounted a series of acclaimed concerts with an all-star group that included Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Johnny Marr of The Smiths.
Tim has continued releasing solo albums although less successfully than Neil. His third self-titled solo album came out in 1989, followed by Before-After in 1993, Say It Is So in 2000 and Feeding The Gods in 2001. He also collaborated in the group Alt with Liam O'Maonlai & Andy White, touring and releasing the album Altitude in 1995, wrote the music for the Sydney Theatre Company dance production "Steel City" (1998) and recorded the live album Together In Concert with Dave Dobbyn and Bic Runga in 2000.
A second Finn Brothers album (produced by the great Tony Visconti) and a tour are due in late 2003.
A fitting postscript to the Enz story was the release in 2002 of the superb Split Enz DVD. It is the definitive document of the group and an exemplary release in this format. As you would expect it's superbly designed and stuffed with great features, including 18 digitally remastered video clips (plus another video clip as a hidden feature), live videos including Enz with a Bang and BBC Sight & Sound, the marvellous "Spellbound" documentary, an interactive discography, a photo gallery and a poster gallery.
All of the major Split Enz websites have comprehensive discographies -- a visit to Frenz.com will link you to them.
|REFERENCES / LINKS|
Annemarie de Bruin
Twenty Five Years of Split Enz (1997)
Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara & Paul McHenry
Under The Wheel
Any of the major search engines will guide you to scores of Enz and Enz-related sites - here are a few to get started on: