The Finns of Te Awamutu - roadside stories

Musicians Neil and Tim Finn are Te Awamutu's most famous sons. Tim's band Split Enz – a theatrically costumed arthouse ensemble – morphed into a successful pop group after 18-year-old Neil joined in the late 1970s. The brothers were later both part of the internationally successful Crowded House.


Archival audio: Excerpt from the Split Enz song, 'Haul Away'.

Narrator: Before the 1970s, the Waikato town of Te Awamutu was probably best known for its roses and surrounding fertile farmland. But today most New Zealanders associate the town with two of the country’s most popular pop musicians – Neil and Tim Finn of Split Enz, and later, Crowded House.

The Finn brothers grew up in Te Awamutu. As a teenager, Tim attended Sacred Heart College in Auckland, where he played in bands with future Split Enz members Mike and Geoff Chunn. Split Enz began in 1972 when Tim, now studying at Auckland University met Phil Judd, an arts school student who shared Tim’s musical aspirations.

The first incarnation of Split Enz, which included a violin and other acoustic instruments, had a folk sound. But as the band evolved, they developed a far more original and experimental sound, and stood out among other New Zealand bands for playing their own songs and avoiding the pub circuit.

But it was their striking theatrical appearance as well as their original music that earned the group a cult following, especially at New Zealand’s universities. Extravagant costumes, weird hairdos and unusual stage props, often created by Noel Crombie, who joined the group as a percussionist, clearly signalled something new and strange on the Kiwi music scene.

Early success in New Zealand led to tours of Australia, then Britain and the United States. But the band found it hard to survive, and regular changes in the band’s line-up also made it difficult to refine a distinctive sound. An even bigger challenge was the explosion of punk rock which could not have been more different to the art rock of Split Enz with its long highly theatrical songs and complex symphonic arrangements. As the infamous punk Sid Vicious told the English magazine New Musical Express, ‘Split Enz is everything which is wrong with music’.

A key change occurred in 1977 when an unhappy Phil Judd left the band and was replaced by Neil Finn, who was only 18 years old.  An accomplished musician and songwriter, Neil’s appealing lyrics and melodies helped the group to finally achieve mainstream success.

In 1980, Split Enz produced their breakthrough album, True Colours. It topped the charts on both sides of the Tasman and Neil’s hit single ‘I Got You’ reached the British Top Ten.

Their 1982 album, Time and Tide, had a nautical theme and a catchy hit song called ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’. Though the song was about missing New Zealand, or Aotearoa as it’s called in the song, ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’ was banned by the BBC as the Royal Navy were currently in the midst of the Falklands War and it was assumed that the song poked fun at them.

In the following year, the band produced a number of successful albums, though the Enz never repeated the success of True Colours. After they split up in 1984 Tim Finn continued his solo career and Neil Finn achieved international acclaim with his group Crowded House.   

Te Awamutu is proud of the success of the Finn brothers. The town’s museum has held several exhibitions featuring Finn family memorabilia. 

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E. L. Staley

Posted: 21 Jan 2018

AWESOME information about the Finn brothers bands. I Loved (abd StillLove) the8i0s music. These two bands, the Cars, Blondie, Duran Duran, ...the BEST !