The following interview was broadcast on Saturday October 10th, 1998, on the Johnny Walker show on BBC Radio 2. If you find any errors please e-mail me. The interview starts with a playing of She Will Have Her Way.



Johnny:
...too soon, needs a bit of a sort of hook there to keep you hanging in - but he's here, and I wanna say hello to him and welcome him...Mr Finn...
Neil:
Hi Johnny.
Johnny:
...Neil Finn, formerly of Crowded House, on tour at the moment...
Neil:
Yes.
Johnny:
...doing his own thing...
Neil:
Yes I am.
Johnny:
Yeah...and a superb concert at the Albert Hall. I'm not just schmoozing you up, I had a thoroughly good evening, it was great.
Neil:
Yeah, it was a great night actually...it was a loose ocassion for a formal venue, but...- amazing place - I'd not set foot in it before. It's the first time ever.
Johnny:
So you deliver a few really good songs and everything, get everybody happy in the mood and then...then you got loose, really, didn't you?
Neil:
Well there was a bit of shennanigans - yeah, one thing we did was put some paper on the seats beforehand, 'cause we envisaged towards the end of the show a mass launch of about...a thousand or so aeroplanes. But in fact nobody was patient enough to wait til that point and they all started throwing them in the interval.
Johnny:
But I thought...was this planned, or...was it spontaneous?
Neil:
It wasn't planned for them to throw them in the interval but apparently, and I wasn't watching obviously because I was backstage, but it sort of provoked quite a good sort of surge and vibe beforehand, and people were...there were Mexican waves and aeroplanes going, and people were applauding good flights. I hear that your flight wasn't quite so successful?
Johnny:
I just about made two rows in front of me - [Neil laughs] , and I couldn't concentrate on the songs really because I was spending the whole time...you know, doing the origami there, trying to remember...it was a long time ago since I was good at folding darts.
Neil:
No, it obviously wasn't of much interest to you - you had other things, other fish to fry.
Johnny:
Mmm. But also the other spontaneous part was the gentleman on your right - left to us in the audience - was wearing this kind of Dwight Yokeham ten-gallon Nashville job.
Neil:
Oh yeah, Robert, yeah.
Johnny:
Robert.
Neil:
Robert Moore.
Johnny:
And then he came out with the idea, well whoever can get a dart actually in the hat, or nearest the hat would get a...a magnum, was it?
Neil:
It was a magnum of champagne, we'd been given backstage. And it was actually at that point I wondered that perhaps we were taking the whole paper aeroplane thing too far, and in fact what happened was nobody got the hat, nobody quite made the hat so we had a slight sort of...disappointment there, which was followed by the people that came up that were closest to the hat to receive the magnums happened to be Australians...
Johnny:
So you knew...
Neil:
So it was disappointing
Johnny:
So you knew the whole thing was rigged anyway?
Neil:
Oh, it was all rigged, yeah - life is rigged, and...but the thing is the audience booed - when I said they were Australian the whole audience went "Boooooooo!". Which was quite shocking in a way.
Johnny:
But it made you feel good to be a New Zealander.
Neil:
Well I was glad to be a New Zealander, but Robert, poor Robert had a sensitive moment, and he went offstage and wept.
Johnny:
Yeah.
Neil:
But I'm not sure...I didn't realise Australians were so unpopular in this town.
Johnny:
Nah, it's only because of the beers...you know you only get three quarters of a pint off 'em in the pub.
Neil:
Really?
Johnny:
It's very hard to get served a pint in a London pub that's not poured by somebody who's kipping on someone's floor in Earl's Court.
Neil:
Well the plot thickens you see, I don't know, I didn't know that.
Johnny:
Woah, no, you didn't know about that, did you?
Neil:
No.
Johnny:
Sorry, my earphones just blew up there.
Neil:
A sudden spasm.
Johnny:
Okay. Anyway, you okay, you comfortable?
Neil:
I'm very happy, thankyou.
Johnny:
Alright. We're gonna play you a really nice Jackson Brown song now. It's about four and a half minutes and we're gonna do a bit of sound-checking here.
Neil:
Alright.
Johnny:
Well let's play.


[Jackson Brown song, "In the shape of a heart"]


Johnny:
Radio 2, Saturday afternoons, Johhny Walker show. Jackson Brown, "In the shape of a heart". Our special guest here that we're just kind of warming into the seat, making him feel welcome - hello - is Mr Neil Finn.
Neil:
Hi.
Johnny:
So what were you...when you were in New Zealand, I mean were you in a town, or in the outback, or were you miles away from anywhere, or...what was the radio like, what records did you buy?
Neil:
When I was growing up you mean?
Johnny:
Yeah - set the scene.
Neil:
A small town, 7000 people, Te Awamutu, farming community, my father was an accountant.
Johnny:
Hold on...Te Ar-mutu?
Neil:
Te Awamutu.
Johnny:
Te Aramutu.
Neil:
It means "Meeting of the Streams", supposedly. It could actually mean "Pile of Maggots", because they did that a little bit, when people asked them for a lovely name.
Johnny:
Is it the North or the South Island?
Neil:
North Island, a hundred miles south of Auckland, and...yeah, just a real kind of country upbringing - bikes and go-karts and all that kind of stuff. And a piano.
Johnny:
And what was on the radio?
Neil:
There was only one radio station in Hamilton, "1ZH", and they used to play a mix of things. Pretty...everything from Country to...kind of...Motown to, you know, British Pop music. It wasn't like...we didn't get any really obscure things - you had to actually discover those by going to visit people with, you know, weird record collections, but it was okay, you know? It was a soundtrack.
Johnny:
Yeah, what was grabbing you though?
Neil:
Well, the first songs I remember on the radio that caught my attention were things like "Elanore" by The Turtles and Beatles songs and Stones songs. We had a single of "Get Off My Cloud" which got high rotation in the house for a while alongside some...
Johnny:
[Johnny laughs] - Rotation in the house?
Neil:
...yeah.
Johnny:
'Cause I used to have...do you remember? You might not be old enough - but the days when you'd have a record player - or even radiograms - a huge big lump of wood. Ah, you can buy 'em now for a couple of dollars in the States. With the auto-changer - you put six singles on...
Neil:
Oh, no, we used to stack them up like that.
Johnny:
What I used to do was put one on - a high rotation song would go on there, and leave the arm off, and then it would come to the end...the old arm would lift up back on the rest and come straight back on and play it again.
Neil:
Yeah, they were brilliant.
Johnny:
Automatic repeat function.
Neil:
They were great. No, we had a little record player which we used to take to the beach too, and in fact we've still got it at home and it still works, so...they were built to last in those days.
Johnny:
Yeah, "Get Off My Cloud"...that was a great song.
Neil:
It was a brilliant song, yeah - but we had some pretty bad ones though too. We had that song, Pat Boone song, "Love Letters in the Sand", actually probably if I listen to it now I'd probably like it, but...and...[Neil sings - "Green, green, the grass is green on the far side of the hill, do-do-do do-do-do-do"]
Johnny:
Lemon Piper's, isn't it?
Neil:
Clancy brothers was it?
Johnny:
Ah, okay.
Neil:
I don't know - it was so long ago I'm amazed I remember it.
Johnny:
Were you a sensitive spotty teenager hiding in your room writing poetry, and stuff?
Neil:
Fairly spotty. Not too sensitive though. I had my moments, a few betrayls early on - you know when you're 13 and 14 you feel sort of things very deeply - I had a few melancholy moments...
Johnny:
Heartbroken.
Neil:
I used to listen, before I went to bed I put my stereo in my bedroom and listen to "Revolution no. 9" and "Goodnight" every night for a few months, that was my ritual.
Johnny:
Yeah, and probably like every other guitar player thought "One day I'll get that sound, that distorted guitar".
Neil:
Er, yeah...actually I must admit when I was about 12 I sort of listened to the radio and thought "I could do that, that doesn't sound that complex", and it was only later I discovered that actually simplicity is hard to do.
Johnny:
Exactly. Neil Finn is here, he'll playing live for us a little bit later on. Johnny Walker here, Saturday afternoon on Radio 2, our special guest is Mr Neil Finn, who's kind of on tour at the moment, played the Albert Hall, also went to Bradford and...Cardiff was it, you went to?
Neil:
Cardiff afterwards, yeah, after the Albert Hall.
Johnny:
And the Festival Hall on Monday. And there's a thing in one of the paper's today - the difference between Tony Blair and William Hague is Tony can get a table at any restaurant in London and poor old Mr Hague can't. And I don't know whether William Hague's trying to get tickets for Festival Hall Monday night, but Tony has, and he's got some.
Neil:
Really? Yeah, I know I'm trying to think of some appropriate songs for him, but...
Johnny:
Must be kind of tricky to judge, that, because obviously not up to speed with politics in the UK.
Neil:
Not really, no, I'm not sure if I'll be venturing into politics. I probably shouldn't do a thing really - just play a show and let Tony like it or not. But it's nice to see him along - it completely reminds you of where we're at in terms of the generational thing. Seems inconceivable, ten years ago that a Prime Minister of any country would come to a show.
Johnny:
Yeah, I don't think John Major would've beaten a path to your door - Maggie Thatcher certainly wouldn't.
Neil:
Ah, you never know, now she's loosening up a bit now.
Johnny:
Never mind loosening up, she's falling asleep. But be careful about the Bill Clinton stuff - it's just my warning to you. 'Cause you know, well Tony and Bill are as close as that.
Neil:
Oh yeah, I know they are, yeah.
Johnny:
Claire Short, who's another member of the Labour Government, rather put a foot in it critisising Bill, so...
Neil:
Really?
Johnny:
Yeah, just be a bit careful 'cause Bill's a friend of Ton'.
Neil:
Oh, God, it's complex though, isn't it? I think I should just forget about it.
Johnny:
Just forget about it, yeah. Or otherwise...we could arrange for him not to be let in, is another way of doing it.
Neil:
I'll leave you in charge of the Security posse then Johnny.
Johnny:
Okay - "Where's you're pass? Sorry, can't come in, it's more than me job's worth". Alright, let's go way back to the first ever hit you had with your brother Tim, which you played at the Albert Hall, long time since you've probably played this one, so just kind of set this up for us - so, did Tim start the band and you were kind of the nagging brother who said "Oh, come on, I want to be part of this"?
Neil:
No no, I was not expecting the call when it came - he...the original guitar player from Split Enz, Phil Judd, left, and they ummed and ahhed for a while and tried a few musicians out in England - they were there at the time - and then put a call through to me, I was 18 at the time and said "Do you want to join?", and I was shocked because I didn't know how to play electric guitar at all in those days. So I went over and had a baptism of fire for six months, but learnt a lot very fast through necessity. And then "I Got You" came along and I just started to write a few songs for the band, and Tim and I were having sessions where he'd throw me a title and I'd throw him a title and we'd go off to our respective rooms and write a song. And he gave me the title "I Got You", and I went in and I wrote it, and I thought the verse was pretty good but I thought the chorus was only a bit average and I should change it at some point, but in fact it was never changed and it became...it just goes to show I don't know a hit when I hear one really.
Johnny:
And here it is.


[I Got You plays]


Johnny:
From a great album called "The Best Of Split Enz", and "I Got You". Why did you revive that one, Neil Finn?
Neil:
I hadn't played it for years and years, because in Crowded House it didn't seem appropriate really, but...yeah, I just sort of got a yearn for it again, and the band were all keen to play it - it's probably 'cause they grew up with that song as a bit of a staple, and they cajoled me into it really. But I'm enjoying it, it's good.
Johnny:
So then Split Enz split...
Neil:
Yeah.
Johnny:
...and then there was Crowded House, and then Tim was in that, your brother, and then he wasn't in that, and then he was in that, and then...so I mean brothers - it's tough, isn't it?
Neil:
Families are complex, yeah.
Johnny:
Of course they are - there's a big learning dynamic going on. We've had Ray and Dave Davis over here, always bashing each other up, from The Kinks.
Neil:
We don't bash each other up. We've had one scrap in all the years, we actually get on really well, but there's a popular conception that we must be, you know...
Johnny:
Like the Gallagher brothers?
Neil:
Yeah, at each other's throats all the time. But I think that's just Cain and Abel, it's the oldest story in the Bible, people just assume it's all like that, you know? But we get on really well, and we keep sort of playing music together periodically, and I'm sure we'll do it again.
Johnny:
Alright. Well, a song, a live song, from yourself on guitar would be nice now.
Neil:
Well, I'll do a song which is a cover actually, but I've played quite a bit on stage - and people yell out for quite a lot, so...it's called "Throw Your Arms Around Me" and it's written by Mark Seymour - Nick Seymour's brother, from Australia.


[Neil plays Throw Your Arms Around Me live on acoustic guitar]


Johnny:
Neil Finn, playing live on Radio 2 this afternoon with a Hunters and Collectors song - another Australian band, that's "Throw Your Arms Around Me". You alright for time, just to hang on...?
Neil:
Oh yeah, I'm not going anywhere.
Johnny:
Alright. And it's Radio 2 at four twenty-five. The new single from our guest Neil Finn.


[Sinner plays]


Johnny:
The new single from our guest Neil Finn, from the album "Try Whistling This" - and that's called "Sinner". I mean the big thing I thought when the concert started at the Albert Hall, I thought that "Yes, the sound is great" - you know, and it sounds a terribly old fashioned thing to say but you can hear what you're singing about - and I mean the thing about Crowded House always was great melodies, great songs, and really good vocals, and is that something you said, "Right, this is what we want this group to be"?
Neil:
Uh, well, I dunno if it was concious really...we just kind of...we learnt how to sing together with Crowded House because we did a whole lot of acoustic shows before anybody was really interested in the band. We went round America initially, playing in a whole lot of restaurants basically, before invited guests, and stripped ourselves down to a snare drum, bass and acoustic guitar which...we've actually probably done your show, in that same format.
Johnny:
I remember, yeah, just playing a BBC program box, for the drums...
Neil:
Yeah, Paul used to really like BBC rubbish tins actually, found out they had a really good tone. But that's how we learned to sing, because we didn't have much else going, so we...and I didn't even know that Paul and Nick could sing really. But we got better and better at it because of that, and it became a feature. Good vocals. But I think always the sound guys that I've had, it's always been really impressed on them, and that the vocals should be able to be heard. I would like to go and see people sing and be able to hear what they're singing.
Johnny:
I mean I think it's a great idea to quit at the top - quit while you're ahead, but why? Because I mean you know that thousands, millions of people were disappointed - "Oh no, Crowded House - they're so good, why on earth have they split up?". You know, "It's part of my life that's now going".
Neil:
Well, there's many different reasons - I wasn't being perverse, if it's of any comfort to anybody, but Paul Hester had left the band, and the chemistry was altered, and not necessarily better - for me, I felt...and we rehearsed to do another record and I didn't get inspired or excited by it - and a lot of the songs I had lying around didn't seem to suit. But also I guess I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be responsible only for myself and not to this great sort of machine that Crowded House became, so...every ten years or so I think I'm in the mood for a change. I don't know what I'm going to do next time - I'm going to have to split myself in half.
Johnny:
No, your son will take over - it was a joy to see 15-year-old Liam on stage doing a very respectable job with guitar. Did you persuade him to get up there or did he say "Oh come on dad, how about me being in the band?"
Neil:
He just fell into it really. I've neither discouraged nor encouraged, but he's found his own way into music, he's kind of writing his own songs and getting better all the time - he played drums on the album on a couple of songs, and when we were rehearsing for the tour there was just thigs that needed to be done, and I didn't have somebody there for him - he stepped into the breach and before I knew it he was doing the whole set really, so it was quite natural. He's not overawed by it, he had a bit of a horror moment at the Albert Hall where his guitar stopped in the middle of a solo, so...it was good for him to go through that, though.
Johnny:
Yeah, I mean it's part of learning it, isn't it? What to do when it goes wrong.
Neil:
Yeah, although most 15-year-olds would probably not have to deal with those kind of moments at the Albert Hall.
Johnny:
Wild baptism of fire is the phrase that comes to mind - but what about 8-year-old Elroy there, there's quite a gap between them, so I guess there's not that competitive jealousy there might have been if they were born, you know if there was less years between them really.
Neil:
Not hugely, no - I mean they're still competitive...you know, they get on each other's nerves 'cause they're together all the time, but no, Elroy's not that interested in being a musician at this point I don't think. Which would be quite nice, 'cause I mean another set of brothers coming through would be just, you know, too much. Doing the same job, so I think he's more interested in hanging out - you know, he'll have a sports car and a...a sort of a dillatonic lifestyle when he gets older I think.
Johnny:
Yep. Alright. Well, Neil Finn will be playing at the Fest...is it the Royal?...I guess it's the Royal Festival Hall, is it?
Neil:
I'm not sure actually.
Johnny:
I don't know actually, I can't remember.
Neil:
Festival Hall...
Johnny:
Festival Hall...
Neil:
...south of the river.
Johnny:
...south of the river, Monday night. And then for the record buyers who want their CD's signed then get in the queue at HMV, Oxford Street, Wednesday - what's that, lunchtime? Afternoon?
Neil:
Yeah, I'm going to play some songs down at the HMV store at lunchtime, on Wednesday, and get amongst the punters, the buyers...squashed in between the classical racks and the jazz rack...
Johnny:
Alright, well lets have a rehearsal now of what you might play.
Neil:
Okay, I'll play a song now, called "Last One Standing", which is the opening track of the record.


[Neil plays Last One Standing live on acoustic guitar]


Johnny:
Neil Finn, playing live, on Radio 2. Well thanks ever so much for coming in, it's great to see you.
Neil:
Thankyou Johnny.
Johnny:
And well done for...mixing your new songs with sort of Crowded House favourites in the show - it works beautifully.
Neil:
Thanks, yeah...I've got to fill that set out.
Johnny:
Yeah, and you've got a couple of free bevvies. Cocktail party an No. 10 - I was just thinking, maybe just a little chorus of the Four Seasons' "Cherie"...that could go down quite well.
Neil:
The Four Seasons?
Johnny:
"Cherie", yeah - [Johnny sings "Cherie...Cherie baby, oh Cher..."] - I think so.
Neil:
Yeah alright.
Johnny:
Honourary knighthood be on the way.
Neil:
I'll check that on the list.
Johnny:
It's maybe worth thinking about. Song of the night at the Albert Hall was an oldie, but everybody loves it..."Don't Dream It's Over". Where did you write this? On a bus somewhere? Somewhere romantic or...?
Neil:
I wrote in my brother's music room actually - Tim's music room, on his piano, and was actually being quite unsociable because there was a whole bunch of people turned up to have afternoon tea there, and I sort of shut myself away and wrote that one and it all came out in one go.
Johnny:
It's an inspiration...great song.
Neil:
Thankyou.
Johnny:
Thanks a lot Neil.
Neil:
I'll see you soon.


[Don't Dream It's Over plays]


Johnny:
Written and sung by Neil Finn, during the days with Crowded House. Certain high spot in their career. And that's it for this afternoon, you've been listening to the Johnny walker show on BBC Radio 2.



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