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The Finn Brothers - Royal Albert Hall on 28 March 2005 (Easter Monday)
[I should warn you that this was written by a tired mind after a terribly emotional gig….it is also incredibly long, even for me.]
When I purchased the tickets in mid-November for tonight’s Finn Brothers gig at the Royal Albert Hall, I had just seen them perform two of three nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. Those two evenings had lifted my spirits beyond anything I could have imagined, as they were my first evenings out since my father’s unbearable and sudden death. The concerts, in fact, came up as soon as I returned to work after a month’s compassionate leave when it was a struggle just to drag my sorrowful soul from each morning to each night, losing time as I was lost in my own head, brutally bombarding my brain with a million questions without answers, reliving far too many moments from the past, punishing myself for things I wish I had done differently or said differently, wishing I could shout ‘do over’ and fix even the tiniest things, and feeling fury that I had no warning and no chance to say good-bye.
It seemed a miracle that anyone could wrench me out of that, but my absolute favourite artists for about 25 years, the fantastic Finn Brothers, with their incredible music, marvellous talents, incomparable energy and delightful quick-witted banter, managed beautifully. Four months later, I found myself still struggling with my father’s death as well as the recent crushing loss of another two souls so dear to me, and as I thought about these plans on Good Friday, I wondered once again how I could take part in such jocular, energetic occasions. Little did I know that the Finns themselves would be facing a terrible struggle to take the stage in the light of their own shocking bereavement.
We learned on Easter Day that Paul Hester, the final drummer with Split Enz and one of the three much-loved founding members of Crowded House, who in public played the comedic clown of the groups, had taken his own life the day before on Saturday, 26 March. He was only 46 and left behind a family including two young daughters. He also left behind many close friends and fans who were baffled and stunned by the tragic news.
How could the Finn Brothers be expected to take the stage the day after they heard such grievous news? If they reacted remotely as I did to my father’s death, they would be crippled by all the extra brain activity I describe above and the sheer gut-wrenching pain. Still, cancelling three nearly sold-out shows at the Albert Hall when hundreds of people attending would not have heard the news would be a tall order. We learned that Monday’s show would go ahead, but the other two shows were in doubt, and we understood. But what kind of show were we going to see on Monday? Would there be a morbid atmosphere permeating the room? Our hearts and prayers went out to Tim and Neil, who would be devastated by the loss of their friend, and was it right to expect them to perform for us?
Fortunately, what happened at the Albert Hall was a therapeutic gathering of strong minds and similarly broken hearts, the same way that family gather to hold each other after they have experienced a loss. The concert was a tribute to Paul Hester without the Finns having to declare that, and although there were a few worryingly funereal moments early on, the surprise presence of the other Crowded House member, who could hardly stop beaming, was so reassuring. The emotional evening somehow managed to be fun on top of turning itself into some sort of audio-visual hug. Well done to the Finn Brothers for pulling off such a feat for them and for us. I don’t know how they managed it but I thank goodness they did, and I thank God that they are still healthy and well and with us, and long may they be so.
When I reached the Albert Hall, I unusually treated myself to two Finn Brothers t-shirts after narrowly resisting the Split Enz shirts I was pleased to see on sale, and bought a tour booklet, something else to applaud, although I didn’t open it until I got home. Bic Runga played a lovely and well-received support set, a small quiet girl in a giant hall. She could do with practicing drinking water during the applause so that she doesn’t create long awkward silences in front of thousands of people, but I suppose a lot of that was understandable nerves at facing towering layers of people in a historic building. She referred to the greatness of the Finns, whom she’d also accompanied on the American tour, and pointed out that this was the first night of the European tour, so we were going to have a great night. Somehow, her casual manner that was not focused on the pervading gloom helped me look forward to the concert that was to follow. It seemed to present some hope that the world wasn’t as black as it seemed at the time.
Bic also mentioned sweetly that she’d said to Neil backstage that she was really nervous about playing here, and he not-so-comfortingly replied, ‘Well, you should be!’ Again, that depicted a sense of normality for which we were grappling, confirming as well that Neil was coping well enough for the moment to behave as you would expect him to. It occurred to me during Bic’s set that she was also being particularly strong because, during the American tour, her father had died. As my own father had died just before I saw the Finns in November and I’d recently suffered two more losses, and now Easter brought the terrible news about Paul Hester, it entered my head that this was almost The Bereavement Tour, but I shook that out of my thoughts quickly. My mind was filled with too much sorrow to think sensibly, but I did note that we were clearly dealing with a lot of strong performers.
During the short interval that followed, my Keane-mad friend pointed out that the man who brushed past us twice in the Arena bar was Tim Rice-Oxley, the pianist and songwriter for Keane. I hadn’t recognised him because I was used to him being a blurry mass of hair bouncing back and forth over his piano like one of those novelty drinking bobbing birds, and here he was much tidier and standing upright, proving with his presence that the man has taste. No doubt the Hall was filled with other greats who had been influenced by the substantial talents of the Finns.
We returned to our seats a few rows back from the stage not really sure what we were about to face. Surely not all 5,000 people present would have heard the terrible news about Paul Hester, even through whispers in the bar at the interval. If the Finns came out and announced something about the tragedy even by dedicating a song to him, there would surely have been a massive gasp in the Hall that would have left so many people in uncontrollable tears at the shock that it might have caused a mass exodus. The rest of us weren’t sure what to feel; we were so sad, knew the Finns would be devastated, yet we were there waiting—not to be entertained for our money, but to be with them somehow and hope that we could offer them the same comfort we were seeking from them. I think that’s exactly what took place.
A black curtain that had limited Bic Runga’s stage area to a few feet from the edge remained in place, although the Finn’s band instruments were almost visible behind it, with about six mini Sharondeliers dangling from the light rigging (well, you could hardly hang them from the 135 foot high dome, could you?). Behind that was another screen that blocked off the bottom part of the glorious pipes of the Hall’s famous pipe organ. At the front of the stage, where Bic had played, were three microphone stands, three guitars in stands, and a snare drum on its own, instantly reminding fans of the days when Crowded House would play Sister Madly, when Paul would be invited to the front of the stage with just a snare, a cymbal and a couple brushes to spin magic on the up-tempo number that he pretty much owned. I’m told that a hat was placed in that spot when the performers took the stage, but it was not visible from my seat. Already, I was touched; this constant silent tribute was like setting an honorary place at the table for the principal guest who could not join us tonight, bless him. It was a stirring gesture, not one that drenched us in sadness but one that had us all surely remembering that indelible image of a laughing, bubbly Paul in his element on stage in those happy days.
When the lights went down to indicate that we’d reached That Moment, the cheers were the hugest I had ever heard before there was even any sign of the awaited artists and continued with impressive momentum for some time while nothing happened. Rather than beginning the show with film footage of the brothers as kids, as they had during the 2004 tour, we heard some classical sounding keyboard music that was on the dreamy side, as though written by Eddie Rayner, and a giant spotlight began searching the limited stage as if it were hunting an escaped prisoner of war. Nothing appeared in it for an age and the animated circle of light searching in vain made us laugh, something we needed. It settled on the left of the stage near the steps up from the dressing rooms, and eventually something appeared in the spotlight, but it wasn’t quite what we expected.
It was a pantomime horse. You know, a funny big, happy looking cloth horse head with the back half of the horse being some poor soul bent over grasping the front, both clopping their brown felt-covered legs around like a silly animal. What an absolutely perfect start to the show! If they’d sent in a clown, we would have resented it and not been in the mood. This surprise lightened things considerably, as no one could help but smile, and things got even better when the horse danced around a bit and then collapsed in a heap centre stage, and out of the heap crawled Neil and Tim Finn! Somehow I had assumed it would be roadies leading the way for the Finns. The fact that they could don the silly and undoubtedly uncomfortable outfit themselves, clinging to each other as they took the stage before 5,000 sad but excited people, was reassuring, and no doubt also helped them face all those people if they weren’t sure how they were going to drag themselves on stage tonight.
There were logistical difficulties, of course, as the two brothers then had to remove the "horse leg" trousers and then put on their own shoes, which required time for crouching and tying etc, whilst roadies gathered up the now defunct bits of felt animal and took them away. Tim, always the showman, even after emerging from a semi-silly situation, wandered towards a mike, one shoe in his hand, and said with panache, "Good evening! We are the Finn Brothers!" The Hall filled with enormous welcoming cheers and it was hard to imagine how things would get better.
They instantly did. As Neil was still on the ground sorting out his footwear, Tim ever so quietly and casually said, "Hey, Nick" and gestured to someone off stage, and the remaining member of Crowded House, Nick Seymour, strolled onto stage all dressed in black with a bass guitar and walked past both brothers to take his place stage left. I cannot justifiably describe the mammoth approving roar this fantastic development earned, and many people stood up as they applauded him. I feel tearful again just remembering the intensity of this amazing gesture. So with Neil now standing with an electric guitar on the left of the stage, then the lonely snare drum to his left, then Tim and an acoustic guitar beside that, with Nick with his bass to the right, it occurred to me that we almost had the longed for Crowded House reunion, though I feel like we did have it as one member was certainly there in spirit. It sounds corny but for those of us who have worshipped all things Finn for decades and had the pleasure of seeing the powerhouse Crowded House live so often and now would never see dear Paul Hester again, Nick’s presence seemed to make everything bearable; it seemed that all was somehow well and we might just get through this. His consistent smile was instrumental in helping me cope throughout the trickier bits of this emotional gig, and I’m sure much of the audience felt the same.
Without another word, the three launched immediately into Crowded House’s biggest hit, the genuinely flawless Don’t Dream It’s Over. Again, this way of handling the tricky situation was perfect; it was a direct but unacknowledged tribute to the man who wasn’t playing the snare drum by those who loved him in the presence of masses who also adored him. The audience was much more subdued than usual as this song usually gets them singing boldly, but no doubt most of us were wiping away quiet tears and realising that this Crowded House reunion contained a giant gap beside the people who were feeling it most.
Neil looked particularly lonely as he was away from the other two, separated by the drum, and he became clearly quite choked when trying to sing the second verse, his voice breaking up with the heavy grief that undoubtedly infiltrated his whole system, and he was probably wondering then how on earth he was going to go through with the whole gig. He kept struggling through, singing a chorus that was really an unheeded message. That was even more gut-wrenching for us, but what got me through it was looking over at Nick Seymour who was beaming away, enjoying playing an old Crowded House song with his friends and former band mates again, and sending out a bouquet of encouragement to all around him. I can think of nothing that could have been more reassuring other than having some impossible wishes come true. During the brief guitar solo, Neil seemed to resume his composure and he sang the next line almost defiantly, "Now I’m walking again to the beat of the drum," and proceeded to lash out with his vocals, particularly on the parts about "Don’t let them win."
The song’s delivery was gorgeous but so distressingly sad, and when the men on stage continued with the "Hey, now" parts at the end, Neil’s grief slipped to the forefront again, and it was impossible to watch and be part of it without crying ourselves. More than once, I looked to Nick for comfort and thanked God that he was smiling away in a way that hushed my crying—well, half my face joined Nick smiling and the other half joined Neil in tears. But Neil would be okay, he was up there with his strong big brother, his old mate Nick—both of whom knew exactly how he felt and faced the same task, with his memories and 5,000 people who wanted to help him through it as we struggled with the puzzles and grief left by Paul’s untimely demise.
We applauded hugely when they ended the song—not the usual cheers as we were surely all grappling with the deluge of grief that had been pouring out of that song—and Neil turned away from us to drink some water and lingered facing nothing but the black curtain at the back.
Finding a renewed strength, Neil returned to his microphone and began playing on his electric guitar the introduction to another awe-inspiring Crowded House composition, Fall at Your Feet, and we applauded the song, an old friend. He did look so lost, far away from the others as he was beside the empty, lonely gap created by the snare drum. Nick returned to the bouncy, beaming person he always was at Crowded House gigs, joining Tim on backing vocals, and again, I feel it would have all been too much to bear without his uplifting presence and behaviour. After Neil sang the first line of the chorus, the audience joined in with more fortitude than we could muster up before. Many even added harmonies and the song was beautiful. Neil looked almost crippled with his sadness but again, whilst it was easier to join him, it helped to direct one’s gaze towards Nick’s bounciness at the other end of the stage. I got the feeling that he was almost acting like Uncle Nick trying to be strong and clown around to cheer up his young charges, but enjoying himself just the same, which was refreshing. He was playing with his old mates to a capacity crowd at the Royal Albert Hall, after all; that doesn’t happen every day. With Tim’s strength and near poker face in the middle gazing far ahead at the top of the seventh tier of the audience, the three men provided a fine balance, portraying our own emotions and the conflicts of misery with joy.
Tonight, all of the lyrics were more poignant; they seemed to be written for the situation—not just a terrible loss but a loss to suicide, which leaves behind loved ones full of intense mixed emotions including anger, guilt, bafflement, and naturally the wish that they could have prevented it. When Neil sang, "Whenever I touch your slow turning pain" leading into "and I’m more than willing to offer myself / Do you want my presence or need my help?" he really felt it, we all did, and he stopped playing the guitar, grasped the mike stand with an apparent desperation for support and said to us, "Will you sing it with me?" It was as though he realised that he had one giant group therapy opportunity to pull him through at least this evening. We were more than happy to join in as Neil wandered around, out of the lights to the edge of the stage near part of the audience, and we got through it together.
The song’s conclusion raised huge cheers in the audience that was now feeling stronger, feeling an important bond with everyone else in the Hall and particularly those on stage, and many people gave a standing ovation to deliver their effusive emotions more directly. Everyone understood, everyone was just coping. Tim joined Nick in beaming now, and by the time Tim looked over at his little brother, Neil’s face was breaking into a smile at the immense reception and warmth of the crowd who just wanted to help and share what they could.
Tim recognised the therapeutic power of how the evening had gone so far and addressed us through the mike with some enthusiasm, saying "Let’s keep singing together!" Neil found some strength and added, "Yeah, let’s get into it. Yeah!" They’d found a way to navigate this difficult path through the weight of the unwelcome emotions they were feeling, and were going to make the journey through the task before them with us helping to light the way. And it helped us to help them.
With Neil having switched to an acoustic guitar, the boys gently strolled into another perfect Crowded House number, the breathtakingly gorgeous Four Seasons in One Day. The audience immediately joined in, singing the whole way through, even adding impressive harmonies, and coping much better with—even buoyed by—apt lines like "The sun shines on the black clouds hanging over the domain". Nick wandered around the stage as he played his bass guitar, and the musical interlude before the final verse was filled by Tim playing an amazingly precise, beautifully nearly classical solo on his acoustic guitar. The Finns seemed to have found a new strength, and both looked incredibly elegant—Neil in a red waistcoat over a white cotton shirt under a grey suit, Tim in his trademark blue cotton Oxford shirt with low-slung pinstripe suit trousers. Nick was the man in black, a long sleeved v-neck knit shirt over dark trousers, his nature much sunnier than his clothes. They all looked tremendously smart and appealing, particularly considering that two had arrived dressed as a horse, and I was soothed by the fact that they somehow managed to take the trouble to get themselves together in the face of such a shock. If they could get their act together, and if Nick could manage to enjoy himself, then so could we.
The crowd did its best to convey its intense enthusiasm for what they had just heard (and helped perform), and Nick continued to smile but wiped his eyes. Tim stood hugging his guitar diagonally across his torso like an oil painting I can’t place (definitely not the Picasso though), and Neil decided he wanted to revisit that therapeutic place where we were all singing together, so he started up a reprise, singing "Blood dries up…" and cueing us to join in by again walking to the edge of his part of the stage, and we all signed up to this sanctuary. Neil stood alone in the darkness—well, clearly not alone—and sang a few added words that sounded like he was saying, "Don’t you worry!" a few times—perhaps to himself and to Paul as well as us, but clearly I can only guess. It helped, as did Nick’s endless beam, still going strong.
Bizarrely, when they finished the revisit to the song, a somewhat camp waiter appeared in the blazing light of the stage to which Neil had returned. The waiter must have belonged to the Albert Hall rather than the tour, and he was holding a tray containing a mug and what looked like a glass of thick milk. We all went silent, clearly musing over what we might be watching, as Neil sipped from the mug and then picked up the milk. Nick saved us again by leaning into the mike with the desired explanation, saying brightly, as though ribbing a friend’s habit, "It’s tea and Soya milk!" We chuckled, and that simple pronouncement and Neil’s smiling reaction brought us back into the familiar territory of Crowded House and Finn Brothers wisecracks and jolly banter. Neil crossed the slimmed-down stage to hand the mug from which he had been sipping to Nick, who said into the mike as though he were reading Shakespeare, "I shall drink from your cup!", and Neil returned and drank some of the Soya milk.
Feeling a bit lighter now, Neil said they were glad to be there. "We’re just feeling a lot of stuff," he added. "We’re glad you’re here tonight ‘cause we know you’re feeling it too." As we cheered in agreement, the boys put down their beverages and launched straight into the chorus of Paul’s song from Woodface, Italian Plastic. No one had ever sung the verses but Paul, so it was fitting that the men on stage tonight focused only on their usual part—and it sounded as though it were in Paul’s key, too, as no one seemed to reach it comfortably but their voices were strained with emotion. The catchy mass chorus they sang ends "Then you’re my Bella Bambina", although the end of the song refers to "Bella Bambino", and Neil interrupted their performance to share some fond memories of his friend, just the thing we needed. He said, "Paul used to get the gender confused—bambina/bambino." He told us that they had been surprised when the band went to Italy to learn that Paul had created a gay anthem there!
They started up the chorus again, accompanied by a few thousand voices, and we were all enjoying ourselves when Nick was suddenly waving good-bye to us, which seemed far too soon. He hugged and kissed each Finn as he passed them on the way to the stairs down to the dressing rooms, and he left to a standing ovation with 5,000 people roaring in delight that he had been there for us all.
The lights went down and Tim and Neil, alone on stage now, began singing Disembodied Voices in the darkness, and the audience continued to sing along, obviously as familiar with the new songs as the old. The brothers were then lit from below to accentuate the image of disembodied voices, and the lighting cues also cued us that the impromptu part of the show that had been added at the last minute as a tribute was now being replaced with the slick and rehearsed part that would have been presented to us had there been no terrible news at the weekend. Both Finns strummed acoustic guitars and Neil added a bit of a trill to give the song an exotic Spanish feel.
When they sang, "if we all disappear", then the lights went out, and suddenly the scrim behind them was backlit with purple lighting to reveal that their band was in place—Jeremy Stacey on drums, his twin Paul Stacey on guitar seated behind Neil, and young Tim Smith on bass guitar behind Tim Finn. As the Finns sang, "We could be anywhere", the black curtain dividing them from their band dropped to the floor as the band kicked in, and a roadie quickly gathered up and removed the curtain, prompting Tim and Neil to stretch their legs by wandering to the newly revealed part of the stage behind them, to be nearer their band.
The audience, now clearly feeling brighter and more able to enjoy a concert, cheered heartily after the song whilst a roadie gave Neil a red electric guitar that matched his waistcoat beautifully. He looked stronger, like he was up for a show now. Tim looked around the massive concert hall and commented on what an amazing place it was. He said it was his first time there, explaining "I’m a Royal Albert Virgin." They kicked naturally into their usual delightful sibling banter, with Neil joking about Tim’s pronouncement, particularly as Tim seemed to know more about the Hall’s history than the others, and then Tim mumbled something about the Monaco family. The audience was quiet, perhaps thinking, surely they weren’t making jokes about the gravely ill Prince Ranier? Neil then punctuated those thoughts by looking at his brother and saying, "Huh??" Then, perhaps grasping what his brother had intended to say, Neil pointed out to Tim that there was Monaco and monarchy. He joked that it was that age-old conspiracy where all our royal family come from Monaco. Tim laughed but then admitted that he didn’t know where this exchange was going. Neil said nor did he know, not at all, adding a rhyme he stumbled upon: "No, I don’t know at all / In the Albert Hall."
Again, the light cue took over as the stage was bathed in golden lights, reflecting with twinkles on the chandeliers created by Neil’s wife Sharon. The band, which largely seemed to remain in the background tonight whilst plugging away with admirable professionalism, created some truly booming beats that perhaps pounded the atmosphere into a more pleasant peace. The Finns’ stupendous performance of the phenomenal song from the new album Anything Can Happen gave me the urge to go slam dancing in the mosh pit—not very Albert Hall!—and it really lit up the room in every way. Neil seemed to really get into the piece, and his enthusiasm was matched by Jeremy who was beating his drums like a powerful madman. Tim wandered around the stage with his acoustic guitar as though exploring his new surroundings, virgin that he was, even bursting into life by bending his knees and turning as though he were shooting rockets from the neck of his guitar in a stance that mirrored a favourite performing position of Paul Simon. Neil punched out the vocals as though he were declaring that he wasn’t going to be beaten by the bad feelings that plagued him, even running at his mike once to shout into it, "I will take my chances!" with newfound defiance as though it were a war-cry on the desolation that surrounded him. Perhaps the massive cheers that followed were for that approach as well as the wondrous song that rocked the Albert Hall.
As Neil moved to the grand piano on the right of the stage, Tim counted in the band and stood centre stage with no guitar for his star number, Dirty Creature. I’ve no idea what people new to Finn Brothers music would make of this showpiece, though understandably Tim didn’t race about in a mad I See Red dance tonight, though he couldn’t resist some interesting shuffling. The killer rhythm took over and the lights dimmed to a murky green surrounded by darkness—the perfect atmosphere for a swamp creature. The only other light was a spotlight on Neil playing the piano beautifully in between Tim’s verses, and Tim stood at his own mike making what looked like uncharacteristic and worrying pelvis thrusts until I realised he was just pounding his foot repeatedly in a stance reminiscent of the Ramones.
When Tim was overtaken by the rhythm and lit by a strobe light, he pushed his arms in a sort of "Abracadabra" demonstration, then wiggled around quite a bit, bending and twisting as though his feet were glued to one spot in the floor. Then as Neil’s piano took over, hitting cacophonous chords to add to the chaos they were conjuring up for us, Tim was lit from the back, which pushed an enormous dancing "creature" in the form of his shadow onto the seven tiers of the audience at the back of the Hall. He shook a tambourine violently until it dropped to the floor, stepped over it as though he hadn’t noticed, and pushed all his energies into a Pete Townsend windmill arm swing without the guitar. Then the demon that had possessed him during this number released him and went on its merry way, presumably running for its last train home. Someone in the audience screamed, "We love you guys!" and we applauded to reiterate that sentiment as much as thank them for their theatrics. A welcome smile spread across Neil’s face.
Some of the band members occasionally shuffled what seemed to be sheet music on stands near them, which they perhaps had because it was the first night of the tour, or perhaps because they had a vastly altered set list since the Finns had added the Hester tribute at the last minute and would surely want a shorter show. In fact, there was still a question mark over whether they would be able to perform the next two nights here, which was understandable, although I was already regretting having had to give up my tickets for Tuesday but was already looking forward to returning on Wednesday to be with these guys, although I would certainly not begrudge them if they felt they had to go home instead.
Tim, as always, filled the silence with some rhyming mumble I didn’t entirely catch; it sounded like, "While we are grieving…on the silent breathing." Suddenly a boombox kicked in, most likely a blasting percussive rhythm programmed into Paul Stacey’s keyboards. Neil returned to the left of the stage and donned an acoustic guitar (an ever-present stream of roadies regularly delivered him various instruments from the massive queue of guitars that was visible just off stage) as Tim took his place at the grand piano on the opposite end of the stage. Without playing yet, he merely gripped the bench and joined his brother on vocals for their first single off the new album, the powerfully subtle Won’t Give In, and the rest of the band joined in shortly after the first line. The Finns harmonised wonderfully, Tim picking out the odd notes on the ivories when he wasn’t busy clutching the bench or using his hands to demonstrate the content of his words.
It was comforting having the brothers sing in unison, and here again the lyrics were particularly moving tonight, with lines like "Once in a while, I return to the fold / And the people I call my own. / Even if time is just a flicker of light / And we all have to die alone." When they sang, "Everyone I love is here", it rang true…. During the build-up at the bridge when they deliver, "All at once, they show you how to get real / Come on now" and so on, Tim seemed moved to stand, clutching his mike with his left hand whilst continuing to play the piano with his right. They both seemed to sing the song with a certain determination, and when they neared the end, Tim called out to Neil to carry on singing and asked the others to "take it down". He stood and conducted us, the house lights went up—one of many times as we were very much included in the show—and we clapped to the rhythm as Neil wandered to the edge in darkness again to touch base with the audience. We began singing simple "la-da-da-da" parts on command, and Neil voiced what was on everyone’s minds in a sense, twice ad-libbing the line over our rhythm, "Make us forget".
We did our best, and the band then "took it back up" and rocked out, with Neil recklessly bashing around, racing from one side of the stage to another, spinning with his guitar and wires, and I was amazed that he didn’t trip over something and go flying into the audience. Perhaps he wanted to, but he was safe, and it seemed to help him to expend some energy. When he came to a stop, he looked over at his brother on the piano, and they smiled at each other as though they were egging each other on.
When the song ended, and we in the audience were finding the heat hard to bear although the weather wasn’t particularly warm, so I can’t imagine how those on stage were coping, Neil moved to a mike and breathlessly said "Thank you, people of the Royal Albert Hall!" before pointing out that he was still out of breath, probably more from his whirling dervish imitation than his singing. He quickly introduced the band, but without any wisecracks or commentary as was almost tradition, and we cheered for each musician. Neil did say that he felt proud and privileged to be playing there tonight, implying that most of the honour was in accompanying such a fine band.
Tim, always one to move things on, quickly said from the piano ‘Here’s one for our mum"—another bereavement, the person to whom they dedicated their Everyone is Here album—and began singing their tribute to her, All The Colours, a song I had played numerous times after my father’s fatal heart attack. It is sad by nature, and whilst I was pleased they hadn’t played the Crowded House song Hole in the River during their opening Hester tribute set, as that would have been too intensely unbearable, I was not too sure how we were going to get through such a deliberately mournful song as this one. But of course, the song is also a celebration of her life and full of hope that one must carry on. Still, Tim’s voice seemed to break up as he sang it, but bear in mind he was singing lyrics like "I can never forget the day we said goodbye….And all the colours there to gather you up, and carry you up", and "Now we’re left here to get on with our things / Writing it down and working with wood and strings"—exactly what they were doing tonight, carrying on with music in the face of such sorrow.
As he sang, the screen behind him came alive with a dizzying film of geometric images, busy patterns and, of course, colours. Neil played the beautifully coordinated red electric guitar and bassist Tim Smith joined the audience in providing backing vocals. The Finn brothers hid their faces from us as they sang—Tim with his eyes closed for most of the brief number, sounding incredibly sad, and Neil with a mop of fringe screening him off as he looked down for the whole song. They finished the song tenderly, and as we cheered what we thought was the end, the band moved into a rehearsed coda, Tim tinkling a few more keys on the piano and the band coming in to perfect time to play three beats three times before we let loose with our applause again.
A roadie traded Neil’s red guitar with a black one that didn’t match his waistcoat at all, and Tim, still at the piano, turned to us and asked, as though he were chatting to a friend, "How are you doing?" He added, "We’re doing all right," dropping the last two words to make it clear that they weren’t great, and making a comme-ci, comme-ça gesture with his hand. "I’d probably rather be here than anywhere else," he added, "with my brother and everyone." We applauded their courage for going through with this difficult evening, really. I know what he meant. I’m sure they’d rather be at home, but if they couldn’t be at home, being with your brother and close friends on stage at the Albert Hall, which was packed with thousands of people who knew and felt your sorrow and adored you, wasn’t the most terrible second.
Neil introduced the next song with the humour from his happier days, saying it was about b*llsh*t parties and all that went on before, during and after them. Tim picked up on that, adding "Shagging, ragging, bruising and boozing", which made Neil smile and add "Leering and shearing"—I think he said shearing, perhaps that’s a New Zealand pastime of which I’m happily ignorant, and Tim laughed before making his brother do the same by spontaneously adding, "Very endearing!" They’re poets and they don’t—oh.
As Neil leaned over his guitar and prepared to start the song, he was surprised by Tim stomping past him. It looked as though Tim just got up from the piano and stormed off stage, when in fact he suddenly remembered—or saw a roadie’s cue—that he was meant to be on the acoustic guitar by then. As the roadie worked on draping the guitar around Tim just offstage, Neil chuckled a bit and described how looking up just then to find his brother suddenly storming towards him made him think that he was in trouble, that he’d done something wrong. "I felt like I was four again" he shared with us, telling us about an old rule in their house that anyone in trouble with a sibling could always go to the cupboard—or that’s what it sounded like he said, I couldn’t quite follow the tale but it was, to quote a wise man, very endearing!
The two siblings were now kidding around together with no need to hide in the cupboard. The screen then filled with more film of geometric images, moving lines and the like, and the Finns began playing Only Talking Sense. Maybe, in the light of the first line of the song ("There’s a wild thing in the woolshed and it’s keeping me awake at night") and Neil’s previous description of shearing going on at parties, then his comment above about the hiding place from siblings might have been to do with a woolshed and not a cupboard….
I sat back and looked at these two men backed by their three-man band, with Sharondeliers dangling just above them and, above that, the pipe organ’s pipes were looming, and I noticed that, of all the many times I’d been to the Albert Hall over the years, the Finns were the first performers to make the stage actually look small, even more so than when half the nation were jammed on it for the last night of the Proms. Looking closely at their band, I noticed that one of the Beardy Twins, Jeremy, was now playing what looked like a hi-hat with his hands, but I assume it was something like a steel brass drum instead, although I couldn’t hear that instrument’s distinctive sound. His brother Paul was playing the electric keyboards beside Jeremy’s drum kit during this number, and I also noticed that Tim Smith was, apart from being a splendid bass player, as Sheryl Crow knows all too well, becoming a bit of a (married) dish—I guess hanging around Neil had improved his mop-top haircut enormously and he no longer looked 12 years old. Inappropriate of me to say, I know, but it was a bit of a relief that we had all reached a place where aching sorrow was no longer dripping from every note that left the stage, raining down on us mercilessly. Paul Hester was always in my thoughts, but we seemed to be moving towards celebrating him rather than just focusing on the gnawing hole he had left.
After we applauded heartily when they finished that number, Neil gave his guitar to a roadie and appeared to sip some more Soya milk, so Tim tinkered with the acoustic guitar in his usual need to fill the silence. It seemed that he wasn’t just killing time when the band joined him, two black curtains came down to cover the screen behind Jeremy, and Paul Stacey started bearing down on an electric guitar. Neil eventually took a seat at the piano and turned the unrecognisable introduction into the familiar and beloved World Where You Live. When we recognised the first line of another sublime Crowded House favourite, the audience cheered colossally, many people joining Neil on vocals. Although the spotlight was on Neil who was stage left, Tim remained centre stage strumming away at his guitar, often walking to the piano to lean towards his brother between verses as though to check on him and give him encouragement to keep going. Tim continued travelling about the stage during the song, and the audience once again proved its skills at harmonising. Perhaps we should consider entering next year’s Pop Idol or X Factor contest. Surely we weren’t partially applauding ourselves and cheering for a good-old fashioned London sing-song when we roared with delight at the end of that tune.
Neil once again decided to extend the group therapy by starting the song up again, leaving the roadie who had brought on his next guitar standing awkwardly for a moment before going back off stage ‘til he was needed. Neil played the piano some more and sang the chorus, then added things that we would faithfully repeat along the lines of ‘Oh-oh,’ then ‘Oh-wo-oh-oh’. The house lights went up again as we parroted Neil whilst Tim conducted us a bit, until the latter succumbed to fatigue and sat on the drum platform and dabbed himself with a grey towel. Neil brought the reprise to a close with a piano part of which Mozart would have been proud, and we roared our approval.
Tim once again looked bewildered when a roadie appeared with a guitar for him, so much so that he almost bashed into the chap, and then joked around with him as though he were deliberately stepping in his way. He told us that they had to do a song for their Dad, as he was 82, so solid, played about 80 rounds of golf each week, and liked the odd bit of booze. We cheered for their Dad, and then Neil, who was seated at the piano still and thus facing across the stage to where the roadies and the many guitars were lined up to its side, decided to mentioned the names of everyone there who was on tour with them. He added, "Peter Green’s not here but he should be here!" The monumental applause that followed shows what remarkable work Peter Green does for the fan club—and in all the other roles that have been thrust upon him—and it was, in fact, Peter who broke the terrible news about Paul to most of us on Easter morning, which was certainly preferable to learning of the tragedy on the news or through rumours we might not have believed. Although he sometimes toured with the band, Peter was home in Australia. Tim added, "I miss Peter tonight!" Neil repeated that sentiment before adding, "but he’s doing good things" before musing that there comments would get back to him, and that "There’s a lot worse that’s got back to him in the past!" Tim joked that we should withhold that information from Peter and ordered us not to go on the internet. (Oops, sorry, Tim.)
They then launched into the tribute to their father from their recent album: Part of Me, Part of You. Neil sang from the piano, Tim sang over his acoustic guitar, Tim Smith provided backing vocals as well as bass, and the audience also joined in on vocals—which, again, says a lot for the strength of their new album, if so many people know all the new songs.
A rare moment of silence followed our delighted applause after that number, and Neil walked across the stage to pick up—not his Soya milk or tea, but a tumbler of straight whisky, which he sipped and took to the front of the stage with him (aren’t you not supposed to mix drinks? Soya milk, tea, then whisky—I hope he wasn’t planning to drive anywhere). He placed the whisky by the mike where he would stand when playing guitar but returned to the right of the stage to sit at the piano. Tim started strumming his acoustic guitar from centre stage, and it appeared just to be more background music to kill time, but then it morphed surprisingly into his song Many’s the Time (In Dublin), a magnificent composition that he recorded on his glorious 1993 album Before and After. Liam O’Maonlai of Hothouse Flowers and Andy White provide backing vocals on the album version of the song they co-wrote with Tim, which was remarkably slick compared to the disappointing and vastly under-rehearsed album the three released later as Alt.
This live version was not quite as polished as the recording, with Neil taking the very deep part O’Maonlai sang, adding the occasional "I was only trying too hard" where he thought it might work. It sounded wonderful, but Neil seemed to lack confidence as though he understandably hadn’t had time to learn the backing vocal part, looking unsure of where he should come in and appearing to kick himself mentally when he almost sang the line as Tim moved on to the bridge. He needn’t have worried; although both men appeared to struggle a bit with the vocals at some point, with Tim singing the very highest notes with the most ease. Neil’s contribution was lovely and it was magnificent to hear Tim sing such a welcome blast from his past. In fact, the audience had applauded as soon as Tim sang the first line; it was a surprising yet welcome inclusion in the set list and will surely continue to go down a storm if it is a permanent inclusion on the tour’s set list. Although the Finns seemed a bit under-rehearsed on this one but pulled it off stupendously, the band was ingenious as always, with Paul now also on electric guitar.
I can never help but smile when Tim declares that "I’ll be your dancing King". During the brief instrumental part, he demonstrated that by bending to the ground and then, once upright again, turning to the side and kicking out in what appeared to be a combination of an Irish dance and a Prussian goosestep. Then he turned and made his way to the piano to be close to his brother, going behind the instrument before nudging his brother so shift over, and Neil obliged so that Tim could sit on the far end of the bench, playing guitar with his back touching Neil as Neil gently continued on the ivories. It was a terribly moving image, an admirable display of brotherly support and togetherness that many people can only long for. Tim then returned to centre stage and swayed slowly. The song was a marvellously soothing and delicate break from some of the more heart-pounding numbers—much like a sorbet to cleanse the palette between courses.
As our applause finally died out, Tim was so fired up, he began pacing the floor. Neil moved to his right where an acoustic guitar was handed to him, and Tim took his brother’s place at the piano. He called out to his brother, "Play us one, Neil!" As Neil began to play an introduction to the next song on guitar, Paul Stacey provided the string section via his electric keyboards, and we were all thrilled to recognise their old song but newest single, the stunningly majestic Edible Flowers. Tim’s command was a bit confusing, though, as he always sings the deep verses on this song whilst Neil takes care of the soaring chorus, and here no one was singing, so Neil threw the ball back to him by saying, as though he’d just had a brilliant idea, "Tim, I think that you should start it!" Tim explained that the tempo was too fast, so he halted the proceedings and then counted in the band slightly more slowly, and they played the introduction again, a bit more relaxed. The performance was absolutely gorgeous. Whilst Tim sang his bass part, Neil and the others were in darkness, but one could just make out a roadie slipping onto the stage with a big Bill Haley-type electric guitar (forgive my highly technical language) and joining in beside Paul. Standing in the shadows, he was clearly not meant to feature as part of the show, but Neil turned to him kindly to acknowledge him.
The whole stage was then bathed in a murky purple light, and as the second verse came around, Neil looked as though he was planning to sing it, but then Tim took it as always; it might have just been that Neil was finding it difficult to concentrate on the business at hand whilst his mind was wandering to more pressing matters during his less demanding parts. I can relate to that; I find that I get lost inside my head most moments of most days since my father’s death. In fact, that event in particular makes me take nothing for granted and to appreciate absolutely every tiny thing that gives me a modicum of pleasure—or in this case, big things that give me a monumental amount of joy. Watching the Finns and hearing this outstanding piece performed so perfectly on such an emotional night, I faded into slushy thoughts about how thankful I was for these two marvels who had brought me so much happiness and provided so much therapy through an astonishing number of songs over so many years, with the ability to cheer me up or join in my commiserations even when I was a teenager. I was so grateful that they were still making music and, better than that, were a few feet away from me on stage performing live.
Like everyone else, I admired their courage and was particularly grateful to them for turning up tonight and performing so beautifully. If they had cancelled, not a soul would fail to understand, but I am sure that we all greatly appreciated the fact that they had come along, and each time we pounded our hands together, we were trying to convey our towering gratitude. In any case, long may they live happy, healthy lives.
As we all cheered the celestial wonder they’d just treated us to, someone in the audience called out what sounded like Tony the Tiger saying, "Grrreat!", although I don’t think it was really him (mind you, I did say earlier that I didn’t think the Keane guy would be the only celebrity in the Hall that night.) It came over as more of a drunken grunt of sorts, so Tim and Neil smiled and turned towards the audience, taking it in turns to stomp towards the mike and grunt like apes of various evolved states. It was good to see them having fun as though it were a normal concert; things were a bit more relaxed now.
In support of that theory, the respectful silence between songs now dissolved into a mass of keen requests from the audience, most of which seemed to be for Angel’s Heap. Tim said "okay" but apparently not in agreement, just to move things on, and Neil put us at even more ease by saying that there was a "lot of good stuff happening in this room." Tim, perhaps still in subdued awe of the landmark event of playing the Hall, marvelled about the many pictures hung backstage that depicted previously great performances that had taken place there. He explained that he was now starting to live a lot of things vicariously through his seven-year-old son Harper (a name that always makes me think of the ferry—sorry, that’s the American in me actually remembering some history lessons), and Harper was really into all things Titanic-related. Then, in an apparent effort to explain that his child wasn’t naffly following an icky Celine Dion-related populist trend, he added that Harper got there at the first.
"At the front of the boat, you mean?" Neil quipped.
Tim smiled but continued with his tale about how Harper would often bring new things into Tim’s life, like an interest in the Titanic. Clearly, he meant the real thing rather than anything to do with Leonardo DiCaprio (I just accidentally typed "DiCrappio" and then couldn’t for the life of me remember his real name, but I assure you it wasn’t a judgement.) Tim said that, backstage, there was a photo of the Titanic memorial orchestra concert, which he said was the greatest ever orchestral event, in 1912.
It’s true—there was terrific admiration for the orchestra that continued to play as the ship sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912, and the biggest benefit concert performed by American Musician’s Union members was a Trades Union Congress (TUC) backed event at the Albert Hall in May 1912 in which seven full orchestras took part, and clearly it was a photograph of that evening that had sparked Tim’s interest and made him think particularly of his son.
Neil mumbled that it was a little known fact that most of the passengers on the Titanic were from New Zealand, a dubious fact repeated with more playful conviction by his educator brother. Tim then leaned over his acoustic guitar into the mike and suddenly sang the first line of Six Months in a Leaky Boat. Amongst the cheers of delight at hearing this beloved Split Enz number was laughter at Tim’s unusual introduction to it. The boys delivered a lively, incredibly fast paced performance on a stage brightly lit with orange lights. Neil spent all of Tim’s whistling solo crouching on the floor adjusting a guitar pedal, allowing him to launch right afterwards into a magical, thumping baritone sounding (what do I know?) electric guitar solo at the appropriate part on the guitar that matched his waistcoat. Clearly there were no indulgent long solos tonight, just what was required, but Neil still played with astonishing skill as well as energy scraped up from goodness knows where to grant us such a memorable evening.
When the boppier part of the song ended, the Hall erupted into whooping cheers as the band continued into the Pioneer-like addendum to the song, with Paul Stacey playing a beautiful part on the electric piano as Tim remained strumming the acoustic guitar before filling the venue with some impressively lovely "Da, da, da,da, do-do-do" parts as the soothing music drifted away. The band then pulled together to raise the volume for a lengthy big finish that had us cheering for an absolute age. Neil then surprised them all by adding one last note from the electric guitar that sounded like an electric shock echoing throughout the venue.
Neil then spoke to us with moving words, saying "Thank you for letting us feel like we’re part of something and that there’s some good in the world. Thank you! We wouldn’t have missed it." How rewarding, as I’m sure they had considered missing it and now felt that they had taken the right decision by performing, and we all helped each other through. Naturally, the audience roared heartily.
Tim, always progressing and sensibly drumming up fond memories to push the sadness out, linked to the next song by speaking of his memories of Paul Hester’s behaviour—which I think they were saying was somehow playfully difficult or required several takes somehow--when they were cutting this track. Neil smiled and then said, "He was the best drummer I’ve ever played with!" Jeremy Stacey, behind his drum set, nodded firmly in agreement, and the audience vociferously agreed.
We still had no idea what track they were fondly recalling recording, until Neil’s beige electric guitar along with Paul Stacey’s electric guitar and Tim’s acoustic led us into the incredibly familiar and eternally breath-taking Crowded House classic, It’s Only Natural. Tim Smith’s bass was particularly notable on this track, and the audience, now feeling braver and more a part of things, actually drowned out the Finns’ vocals. Neil began dropping out of a few lines and just let the audience seamlessly take over. I must admit that I usually only lip sync at such events but found myself belting out the tune with everyone else in what turned out to be a surprisingly welcoming, almost party atmosphere—if not something like a wake where the mourners were trying to cheer each other by living it up the way the missing person would have.
During the brief instrumental part, a strobe light was projected onto Tim again, but he seemed to be taking a break from dancing. Again, the lyrics took on a new poignancy as the audience sang to the Finns, "It’s only natural that I should want to be there with you." The whole performance was dazzling, terrifically smooth and unexpectedly blithe. Neil went a bit wild at the end, letting his tense energy take over, and in his racing about, started screaming to the beat into the mike, "I’m only natural!"
After that, much to our surprise as we were lost in the moment, the band ran off the stage to massive cheers. It was 10.15pm and they had been playing for an hour and 20 minutes on a night when they must have wondered whether they could pull off 10 minutes.
With 5,000 people roaring, cheering, clapping and stomping to a determined rhythm, we were apparently impossible to refuse, so the band returned a few minutes later. The posters outside the auditorium had said that the band would finish at 10.30pm, although they started 10 minutes late, and that seemed generous with their time on such a dark day. So perhaps we expected another song or two, as clearly the band would not want to stay all night in the circumstances. Tim and Neil walked out of the corridor leading to the auditorium with their arms around each other’s shoulders, but dropped that stance before they reached the now green light of the stage. We all leapt up to give them a standing ovation on their return, and decided to remain standing throughout the encore. Neil on his red and beige guitar (sorry to keep distracting you with my impressive technical knowledge of guitars) started one of the most familiar modern guitar riffs, that introducing Weather With You, with Paul Stacey sitting at the piano now, and Tim strummed the strings of an acoustic one. Many people rushed down front and filled the aisles so they could dance and be a bit closer, and the many Albert Hall pages clearly thought it was more than their jobs were worth to try to enforce the fire rules, so they let everyone remain in place. We clapped along to the rhythm, causing Neil to muse aloud, "How many claps does it take to fill the Albert Hall?"
Barely pausing for us to cheer for the several hours we clearly intended to after that song, the guys fittingly began Homesick from their recent album, singing, "Homesick for the people that I live with / Homesick for the spirit I’m missing." Neil was now at the piano and the aisle invaders were boogeying quite busily until the song slowed at the end to an enchanting dénouement, topped off by Tim Smith’s harmonica, with Tim Finn standing beside him during his final blast.
The Hall was filled with thousands of persistently standing people now at several different levels, which must have been an awesome sight. Neil crossed the stage to join his brother on acoustic guitar and said, "It’s nice to see you on your feet!" The two then teased some trickly notes out of their guitars that led into the stupendous Nothing Wrong With You, which sounded to many souls who couldn’t help but apply this criteria to everything they heard tonight, as though its lyrics were catered for a lost soul like dear Paul. Paul Stacey manned the keyboards for this tune and Tim Smith initially leaned against the piano before joining in for the resounding battle sounds of the chorus, which the Finns sung with tremendous power and intensity. We joined in, singing and dancing, a type of symbiotic survival in the face of gloom. When the song came to an end, Tim picked up a glass of something and toasted us for our contribution as we applauded them for theirs.
Neil then wandered from one band member to another, apparently discussing a newly devised game plan for what would happen next. What happened next was a delicious thrill: Nick Seymour returned to the stage.
Neil told Nick with a touching sincerity, "I’m so glad you’re here!" which Tim echoed. Nick smiled and gazed around at the standing masses and mused, "Look at all the lovely people!" Tim Smith gladly handed over his bass guitar to Nick, who moved to the centre of the stage, and Smith crossed the stage to pick up an acoustic guitar as Tim Finn sat at the piano. Neil began singing a much covered masterpiece written by Nick’s brother, the Hunter and Collectors’ Mark Seymour, Throw Your Arms Around Me, with which the entire audience, including non-singing me, sang along with the chorus of, "And we may never meet again, so shed your skin and let’s get started, and you will throw your arms around me."
Tim surprised me by singing the second verse, and Neil seemed to be encouraging Nick to take a verse. The crowd was thrilled when Nick joined Neil in singing at the end of the song. One of the band pointed to the edge of the stage near the "guitar centre" as the pantomime horse was standing there, trying to join in the now nearly happy proceedings, but it didn’t come out and dance again. It just wasn’t made of the same stuff as before!
The applause at the end of that song seemed eternal and yet not long enough, but it gave Neil time to discuss with each of the others what they would do next. As usual, Tim decided to kill time with music, singing his own tune—in honour of the semi-equine friend almost on the stage—"You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink", which made us laugh.
In preparation for the next number, which was mostly gently up-tempo to keep with our newfound mood but not excessively so like I See Red might have been, the talented Tim Smith moved to the piano as dear Nick remained on bass, moving behind the Finns and lurking in the back. We clapped our hands to the beat and Neil and Tim strummed acoustic guitars whilst singing in unison Sweet Dreams in the twangy hillbilly accent that always accompanies this fun early Split Enz number. Even this ancient Phil Judd song seemed touched with a new tenderness, particularly with the chorus of "I can’t get over it, thank God the storm’s passed over. / I’ll settle down, I guess. / Sweet dreams every once in a while." Still, everyone seemed to be having fun with it, and Neil and Tim even faced each other at one point and rocked wildly from side to side in a mock dance of their early Split Enz days, the type of silliness they would have enjoyed whist wearing clown suits, make-up and Eraserhead hairstyles. They seemed to be entertaining each other as much as anything, which was a joy to observe. Nick clearly felt it, too, as his beam had returned across his face whilst he joined in on backing vocals. Paul Stacey was picking at his electric guitar with enormously nimble fingers as Jeremy was jamming along. Everything was a party until Neil sang sombrely, "Yeah, it’s all very well to cry now" and the song became more moving, although nothing could melt the charm and genuinely restorative bond of the evening.
As we cheered the treat that had just ended, Neil gave up his guitar and Tim Finn moved to the piano as he spoke of funnelling good vibes upwards into the venue’s famous dome. Neil turned to us and said, "I feel we’re all related somehow. Something brought us here," the implication being that we were there for Paul tonight. "A common psychic connection," he suggested. "A CPC…."
Tim, as usual, picked up on his brother’s banter and suggested that perhaps it was their (living) Dad’s spirit on a long reach setting. Tall talk but true, he said.
Neil then came out with, "By the way, Tim, I’ve never asked you this, but on the Finn album cover with the two sperms on it, have you ever wondered which one was you?"
We chuckled and welcomed the long familiar Finn sibling banter that we didn’t think we’d witness tonight, as Tim quickly replied, "That brings us to which of us was the ass end of the horse!" They carried on in that winsome, reassuring style as Neil changed to an acoustic guitar. Whilst Tim sat waiting at the piano, he said, "I’m glad we gathered up our rags and dragged ourselves here tonight," which surely summed up the whole evening for everyone.
Neil was now strong enough to hit the subject head on, saying "Paul Hester is gone and we’re pretty f**ked up about it, but all we can do is play music and remember him." The audience roared in unstinting support. I couldn’t help but worry that that might have been the first that many people present had heard of the news, but in any case, we were all in it together, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.
Taking his own cue, Neil strummed his guitar gently and Tim joined in on the piano, singing the wonderful Better Be Home Soon. The audience really belted out the lyrics along with them, and the band joined in, with Nick still on bass and Tim Smith playing acoustic guitar. The stage was bathed in pink and blue with a bit of dry ice even rising in the back. Nick and Tim Smith were smiling widely, clearly enjoying themselves, and during the instrumental, Neil wandered over to be with them as though keen to take part in the fun.
Of course, this final track on the second Crowded House album that often seems more upbeat than it is was another song with some lyrics that could make one smart tonight, but at this stage, it was about joining together to share happy memories of someone special, thus somehow diminishing the grief of his loss, if just for a few hours.
Although I knew that they needed to return to real life for a bit and most of us needed to run like mad for our last trains on a limited Bank Holiday timetable, it was almost heartbreaking to see the band finish. It seemed the spell might break as soon as they stepped off the stage. The guys all hugged each other, then wrapped their arms around the shoulders of the others to form a row before taking a unified bow to the roars of a thousand thrilled souls who had been truly touched by the whole evening, the most emotional concert most of us will ever have attended. They left the stage ten minutes before the Albert Hall’s 11pm curfew. And I’m pleased to report that the spell did not dissolve at that stage; it’s still enveloping me and, I hope, each of us with a protective coating that has helped cushion the shocking blow of Paul’s sudden and baffling departure.
As I took out my Crowded House CDs to play when I got home at 1am, I noticed that Paul was the only member that appeared upside down on the Temple of Low Men album and worried that some people might get a bit odd like they did with the whole Beatles ‘Paul is dead’ issue—and then I went cold when I realised the words I’d just said to myself. I went even colder when the next CD I looked at, the cover of the brilliant debut Crowded House album, had Paul depicted as an angel floating up away from the other two who were firmly on the ground. I know that’s just coincidence and I shouldn’t have been stretching my mind so late at night after such a momentous occasion; I was getting carried away.
My primary thought is that I still can’t help but admire the Finns and Nick for appearing just one day after hearing such tragic news. They were so brave, I don’t know how they got themselves to the Albert Hall and got so nattily dressed, but thank God they did, we all needed to be with them, and I think it helped them a bit, even though I’m sure they just wanted to jump on a plane home. Their strength was inspiring; it is all too easy to fall apart and feel ungrounded when people who are terrifically close to you are suddenly gone. I also had someone terribly close to me take his own life on the day before Easter, albeit back in 1990, but I still spend a lot of time wondering about it and aching because I couldn’t stop it. All death brings streams of painful and dark emotions but someone's suicide really is so difficult to face, as along with sorrow and regret comes anger, guilt and confusion.
I never knew Paul, but it sounds like he was yet another creative creature battling with moods and depression. He might not have even planned his final action, perhaps he was just feeling a bit down, filling himself with wonder and grasping the idea that he could do something so definitive without fully considering the consequences. Perhaps he just wandered into a moment he didn’t feel he could wander out of, possibly simply getting lost in the poetry of wonder about what something might be like, forgetting to distinguish poetic imagination from reality and climb back out of his thoughts to the harsher world where people have little control over what happens next.
Whatever took over his mind at the time, he did what he felt he had to do but he misjudged everything, as you do in the throws of depression, where I assume he must have been. Someone who takes that step usually imagines that those around him will be better off without him, but really their friends and family are doomed to spend the rest of their lives undervaluing themselves because they think that that person didn’t feel he could turn to them, or they might have said a cross word the last time they spoke, or they didn’t recognise the signs they were convinced in hindsight must have been obvious, they didn’t ring him that evening to lift his spirits to a point where he’d never drop to this depth again, he didn’t value them enough to stick around for their sake, etc….I’m not speaking personally of Paul, I just know how it feels generally when someone is in this situation. I’m sure Paul meant no harm, but he has left a profound gulf across the world, particularly at home for those who were closest to him, and my heartfelt thoughts are with them. He probably just saw it as something he did, whereas those left behind may see it as something he did to them. I hope true love can be forgiving.
Henry Thoreau wrote, "A person who chooses to die or to risk death demonstrates that there are values, principles, maxims, that are more valuable to him than is life itself. In short, he places his immortal self above his mortal self. Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are." Paul’s best was intoxicating and he certainly will enjoy a level of immortality, although that doesn’t help those he left behind with this pain.
In my father’s eulogy, I tried to demonstrate that Daddy was doing great, it was just the rest of us who were devastated, and he wouldn’t want that. I took Richard Bach’s words rather out of context and perhaps twisted their meaning to make my point: "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly." In this case, we could sympathise with the caterpillar. Maybe Paul saw a butterfly and felt the need to be one. We suffer his loss whilst he does not; one can hope he is now happy and whole.
However, I expect my mental meanderings—which are quite abstracted and affected by sorrow and fatigue---are intrusive to those who knew him; I have no right to speculate about what he was thinking. A legion of fans, friends and family miss him terribly, and I am so grateful that he touched our lives and left behind a legacy of music and video footage for us to remember him well. I am also enormously thankful that Tim and Neil Finn, Nick Seymour and their band found the strength to take the stage in London just two days after this terrible event so that we could all march through the initially impossible days together. It’s a start on the long road to recovery. My heartfelt gratitude is unquantifiable.
If the Finn Brothers go through with it, I look forward to Wednesday’s gig, not for the pure entertainment value, which is always monumental, but for the solace of the spirit-lifting support group in this dreadfully difficult time.
Copyright © 2005 by TC. All rights reserved.
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have visited this page reviewing the Finn Brothers' performance
at the Royal Albert Hall on 28 March 2005
since 30 March 2005