‘The Finn Brothers’, Tim and Neil Finn, are a musical duo who have been writing music since their childhood. They are best known for their success internationally with bands ‘Split Enz’ and ‘Crowded House’. And in 1993, both brothers were awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) from the Queen, for their contribution to music. Tim Finn is a singer songwriter, known for his music with New Zealand’s 70s & 80s rock band ‘Split Enz’. He is also recognised for his solo work, his temporary involvement in ‘Crowded House’ and his partnership with Neil in ‘the Finn Brothers’.
Neil Finn is also a singer songwriter and is one of New Zealand’s leading musicians. He was the lead vocalist for 1985s rock band ‘Crowded House’ and earlier, ‘Split Enz’. Neil became well-known in the late 70s when he replaced vocalist Phil Judd in ‘Split Enz’, his brother’s band. He then became popular internationally when ‘Split Enz’ broke up in 1984, and he formed his own band, ‘Crowded House’. In 1987, when ‘Crowded House’ released their hit single, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, written by Neil, the band achieved success all over the world.
Brian Timothy (Tim) Finn was born on June 25th, 1952 and Cornelius (Neil) Mullane Finn was born six years later, on May 27th, 1958. They lived in Te Awamutu in the Waikato, (New Zealand) and both boys attended local St Patrick’s Primary School, then Sacred Heart Boarding School in Auckland. Tim had won a scholarship to attend the Auckland school but Neil realised boarding school wasn’t for him, and returned to study at a local college in Te Awamutu. Music had always been encouraged in the Finn house, with many evenings around the family piano.
This is where the brother’s started making music. It was while Tim was at Sacred Heart Boarding School that he joined small musical groups, eventually forming his own band, ‘Split Enz’. This band came second at ‘The Sound Out 72’ Talent Quest held at the Te Awamutu Racecourse. In December 1972, they played their first professional gig at Wynyard Hotel in Auckland. Then, a chance to play for a large audience came with the ‘Great Ngaruawahia Festival’. They took the opportunity to perform at an art band opening, for heavy metal band ‘Black Sabbath’, but were booed from the stage.
However, the boys were not discouraged, but instead worked to improve their music and image. They changed their band name to ‘Split Enz’, and in 1975, entered a talent show called ‘New Faces’, bringing them to the public’s attention. The Finn Brothers’ did not actually write songs together until late in 1989, where they composed more than a dozen songs. The material that was written for the proposed ‘Finn Brothers’ side project, was instead used in ‘Crowded House’s ‘Woodface’ (1991) and ‘Together Alone’ (1993) albums, as well as Tim’s solo album, ‘Before and After’ (1993).
The brothers did resume their composing partnership in 1994 and in just four weeks, completed the album, ‘Simply Finn’, releasing it in 1995. After insisting for the name ‘Finn’, the duo decided against it as did not want any confusion with another band of similar name, so agreed on ‘the Finn Brothers’. Neil’s band, ‘Crowded House’, didn’t follow the traditional route to stardom – the expensive, large-scale tours – but instead played acoustic gigs, playing to small crowds in restaurants and record stores. Chris Woodstra wrote on All Music1, that their unconventional approach created a ‘buzz with the (music) industry.
By doing multiple talk shows, ‘Crowded House’ became popular with American and Canadian audiences, attracting them with their ‘charm, wit (and) wacky antics’, Woodstra wrote. 2 By February 1987, the ‘Crowded House’ album reached number twelve on the American Top 40 Charts. This album had the single’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, which peaked at number two, and ‘Something so Strong’, which reached number seven. In Australia and New Zealand, the self-titled album was extremely popular it sold over one million units (multi-platinum).
The Brothers, Neil and Tim Finn, began writing music together in 1989, however Chris Woodstra from All Music wrote that Neil found the ‘new material unsatisfactory’3. This created the opportunity for both brothers to work in the band that Neil founded, ‘Crowded House’, as they once did in Tim’s band, ‘Split Enz’. ‘Crowded House’s’ single ‘Weather With You’ was very successful in Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), and this helped the success of their ‘Woodface’ album, which achieved a platinum number of sales (one million) in the whole of the UK (United Kingdom – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales). Crowded House’ then led several headlining concerts in the great Wembley Area’, which was then followed by both Neil and Tim being awarded OBEs from the Queen of England – the honour was ‘bestowed for their contributions to the arts’. 4 In 1995, the Finn Brothers finally released their long-awaited album, naming it ‘Finn’, which charted at number fifteen in the UK. They then changed both their name and the album’s title to ‘The Finn Brothers’. Neil officially left ‘Crowded House’ in June 1996, causing the band’s split and end.
That very same month, the album ‘Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House’ was released and topped both the UK and Australia charts. On 24th November 1996, after a small number of ‘final shows’ in various locations, ‘Crowded House’ played their official last show to onehundred-thousand fans at the Sydney Opera House, raising money for the Sydney Children’s Hospital. Tim Finn was said to be influenced not only by bands popular at the time, such as ‘The Beatles’, ‘the Move’, and ‘the Kinks’, but also by traditional Maori Waiatas (Folk songs), his Catholic upbringing and their local Church’s communal songs.
From this wide range of musical muses, Tim had the ear and the determination to make good music. And so, he founded ‘Split Enz’, and led the band through the making of several albums to international success. Neil Finn started his musical career by singing with his brother, and performing little concerts to family and friends. He fell in love with the piano, learning all his favourite ‘Beatles’ tracks, and then, eventually, composing his own music. Early in the 1970s, Neil started studying risingmusicians, such as Elton John, David Bowie and Cat Stevens.
He drew inspiration from their music, and also from his brother’s band ‘Split Enz’, who was becoming very popular in the Australian music scene. His brother, Tim, even allowed him to perform as a solo act at his band’s concerts, where Neil would mix ‘his own originals with some well-chosen covers, accompanying himself on piano, guitar, and mandolin’, Chris Woodstra wrote in All Music. 5 In 1985, Tim’s band, ‘Split Enz’, broke up, and over the next ten years, ‘Crowded House’ had become more and more popular, and had surpassed ‘Split Enz’s success, worldwide.
Their single ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over reached number two on the U. S. Charts, but in 1996, at the peak of ‘Crowded House’s career, Neil decided to leave the band in order to pursue a solo career – wanting to make his own music after experiencing this in his ‘Finn Brother’s side project. When in ‘Crowded House’, Neil Finn’s music was critically acclaimed as carefully crafted, with his precise eye for detail and a rare talent for composing, especially catchy melodies. This set Neil apart, as this balance of good writing for instruments and for vocals is not done by many other artists.
The Brother’s album, ‘Simply Finn’, showcased a more ‘casual and simple side to their music, compared to their prior songs, with both ‘Split Enz’ and ‘Crowded House’, which were very pop audience directed. This album highlighted their musical talents, with them playing ‘nearly all the instruments themselves, ranging from the primitive to the exotic’, said Chris Woodstra in All Music. 6 Both the Finn Brothers, Neil and Tim, have always proven that they have a flair for writing quality songs, and are now held in high-regard.
Their ability to combine enticing melodies with thought-out lyrics, to create many likeable and memorable songs, is never questioned. For example, in ‘Crowded House’s hit single, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, Neil said in a Goldmine Interview, that the song originated from feeling ‘kind of lost, but also ‘sort of urging myself on: Don’t dream it’s over’, don’t give up. 7 The lyrics from the second verse really show me how topical the themes that Neil has written about were when he wrote the song, but also how they still apply to today:
‘In the paper today, tales of war and of waste, But you turn right over to the T. V. page’ This is talking about how ordinary people, but also the world (on a larger scale), feel as though they cannot help those in distress, so chose to ignore the ‘tales of war and waste’, the stories of real concerns to our world, which is in no way helping these issues. The Chorus follows this verse telling us to not give up, ‘Don’t dream it’s over’. ‘When the world comes in’, when the world starts taking action and making changes, those people will benefit and find freedom once again – the people doing horrible things to others, ‘We know they won’t win’.
This song was performed as a cover by Paul Young at the Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert in 1989, which shows us how well written this song is, as it can be interpreted and applied in many different situations. From founding ‘Split Enz’ and ‘Crowded House’, to leading both bands through to selling more than half-a-million albums in Australia alone, (7x Platinum), The Finn Brothers achieved distinguished solo careers. Both Neil and Tim Finn have earned international success, respect from their peers, praise fromcritics, and a devoted fan base that awaits their every release.