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Tim Finn - The Scala, King's Cross, London on 8 August 2010


[I've not yet had time to prune this review, and you can skip to the setlist at the end if you want to bypass my mental meanderings.  If you’d like to listen while you read to as near as I could replicate the set list (and related songs) given Spotify's limitations, open the Spotify playlist here and listen for free (with occasional brief adverts): http://open.spotify.com/user/braintracer/playlist/6PHpcT0htQZUeF50N197bn Spotify playlist: Tim Finn London

I think a sign of getting older is when you put comfort higher up the priority list, whereas it rarely crossed your mind in your youth.  These days, I consider some venues ‘out of bounds’ and will occasionally be disappointed when I learn the act that I want to see is playing there, so I think ‘oh, well’ and wait for their next tour, hoping they’ll chose a venue I can work with….and a day that works, too.  On weekends, particularly Sundays, there are so many engineering works on the trains and the Tube that the last time I made an exception and headed into town for a Sunday concert (Thomas Dolby at the excellent Union Chapel earlier this year), the long stressful journey took an age and I practically had to sprout wings to fly there (which might have been simpler).  So bearing in mind the risks of getting stranded in town by missing my last train after running from a late venue in an inconvenient location (particularly when I have work responsibilities early the next morning that they like me to be awake for) or the thought of standing for hours with a weak and painful back, unable to see my reason for being there because I couldn’t arrive several hours early to stake out a spot in a sweaty mosh pit with a sticky floor, I aim for the venues where I know I will have an excellent seat when I turn up at the last minute, where the gigs finish before the transport does, and everyone goes home elated and gets there safely.  Yes, I’m over 30.  Over 40 even. My days jumping around in a squished mosh pit are over, and I’m glad.

So when I heard that Tim Finn, who must surely be my favourite singer since my teens (long ago, as we’ve just established), was playing London, my initial elation deflated when I learned it would be one of these out-of-bounds all-standing venues that’s usually used as a nightclub, in a less than salubrious area (the venue’s website has an off-putting ‘safety’ section that simply says you should get the door staff to escort you to a taxi).  I had to apply my tried and true method of burying my head in the sand, pretending that the great Tim Finn wasn’t playing London at all so I was missing nothing.  It worked quite well for a while as I’m so busy and disorganised these days, but then Peter Green of Frenz of the Enz sent out a reminder saying there were still tickets available and that Tim, who is now 58,  rarely played the UK these days, a rather ominous implicit threat in there for those of a nervous disposition, even if it was just intended to push up the ticket sales.  It made me search my soul, search the online photos of the interior of the venue to consider a coping strategy, search my credit cards for hard-to-come-by space, and remember that we were talking about the incredible Tim Finn here, and solo.  I recalled that my unforgiving back in the 90s also caused me to miss a Tim solo gig in Blackheath for which I had tickets, and I decided now that I shouldn’t keep catering to my back’s obvious phobia of Tim Finn gigs.

So I booked.  My Finn fan friends still couldn’t make it as Sundays were impossible transport-wise, and as I did this last minute and thought I might be intolerant of distractions from less appreciative friends, I decided against dragging any as-yet-to-be-enlightened souls along with me. After all, this gig would be flavoured with the nostalgia brought by the songs weighted with my past love for them as a youngster so must be unfettered.  I figured my solo status might make me a bit freakish in the club, but Finn fans are friendly folk and various strangers spoke with me and made me feel quite welcome.

One criticism of the Scala in King’s Cross is it was impossible to get hold of a human to gain any indication beforehand as to what time Tim would take the stage, presumably so you’d come hours early and spend money on their drinks.  I made it there 30 minutes before posted signs said he was due to appear and found that Ticketweb had not left my pre-paid ticket at the box office (unless it was a scam where the box office lady pockets the cash when reselling the ticket), so thank goodness it wasn’t sold out, though it means the gig cost me £40, but would be worth it. Thinking there would only be scraps of spots left inside, I initially tried an awkward cramped spot behind a railing on a side tiered level, when I noticed there were barely any people on the ‘dance floor' in front of the stage. Where was everyone?  I worry that so many people find it difficult to get to/from north London on Sundays, and perhaps feared the venue as I had, that Tim might have felt less popular than he would have been if he were playing a different day and maybe different venue.  I’m certain he can command a bigger audience on these shores.

I took a spot about three rows behind the stage, thinking of sulking silently that I always end up behind tall people when Tall Guy turned around and said I should go in front so I could see.  Not quite insulted by the implicit ‘shorty’ name-calling, I declined his kindness as that logic might push him to the back of the room, and he and his friend asked me whether I was Kiwi or Aussie, having concluded that they were the only non-Antipodeans present. Most people were in their late 30s and 40s, with a woman of perhaps 50 with a cane sitting on the edge of the stage. If she can come and stand for two hours, so can I.  Polite Tall Guy and friend commented about the ‘special guests’ who were so thin they’d been invisible, and I hoped that the lack of support act might mean more interesting ‘special guests’ would join Tim during his set, but that didn’t happen, nor did it need to.  It was special enough.

The stage was set up with a drumkit with two large kettle-like drums rather than the usual multi-snares (though I’m clueless about drums) and space for three singers, with several guitars just off the stage with the guitar tech who kept testing them.  He taped a set list out of our sight behind one of the amps, which the people near it checked out.  I like to know what sets were played at other gigs, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise of knowing what I would definitely hear that night (as I gather that Tim usually sticks to the set list rather than react to requests as brother Neil does).  I did suggest that we go pencil some things onto it though.  I’m not the sort to yell out requests, but if I did, the ones that sprang to mind were my favourite song  I  Hope I Never,  or close runner Stuff and Nonsense (they’re followed as favourites by Time for a Change and Semi-Detached, all of which demonstrate Tim’s apparent grasp of 17 octaves or so), but I also considered Young Mountain as that has become my ‘default’ song, the song I find myself humming without thinking whenever I wander around my world.  This was without considering Tim’s vast repertoire accumulated over 35 years; those songs just leapt to my mind, and fortunately two of them had leapt into Tim’s as well.

When he and his band of three merry men took the stage shortly after 9pm, my excitement made me forget to note down the song they played without introduction, but it was Straw to Gold from The Conversation, also on his 2009 anthology CD North, South, East and West, played in a more upbeat style.   It was a punchy opening, not a song I know hugely well but on the other hand, why waste one that leaves us breathless when we’re  breathless enough by his sudden presence?  His band was guitarist Brett Adams (who looked a bit like Eddie Vedder, who also has Finn connections) of The The Bads, who have played support for The Swell Season and Rodrigo y Gabriela; drummer Carlos Adura, who was young for the hat he was donning as you would expect it to be atop a man in his 70s who’s raking leaves from his lawn, but I read that as a sign that he embraces irony; and a young bright-eyed bassist called Tony Buchen (aka Buchman), with a friendly face and slightly spiky hair, who seemed too young to don his wedding ring (never mind have a co-production credit on Tim’s latest) but then maybe everyone’s starting to look young to me now. Tim, who played acoustic guitar all night, didn’t introduce the band until later, but they commanded attention, and it says something about the legend that is Tim Finn that he can attract and recognise such seriously talented musicians, who don’t fade away in his presence but know to appreciate that they’re there to support him.

When the song finished to warm cheers, Tim spoke near the mike (he seemed to take a while to get used to speaking into it), welcoming us and saying that he loved Sunday gigs—possibly sincerely; I just hope he wasn’t disappointed that the venue wasn’t packed to the gills since some people just couldn’t make it, but it was far from empty, and the enthusiasm filled the room.

Next came the always delightfully uplifting Finn Brothers single Won’t Give In, which met with euphoric cheers.  This delivery was fantastically rocking, with pounding drums from a clearly exceptionally skilled drummer. Brett harmonised well with Tim; he’s not Neil, but it worked wonderfully.   Tim looked like he’d stepped onto the stage from the pages of GQ, donning a sharp dark suit, a checked oxford shirt, and an expensive haircut worth applauding, but still retaining his (silver) flowing locks at least on one side.  Only his brown brogues gave away the fact that he wasn’t a finance wizard from the City.  The whole look made me think that he deserved to steal the slick ‘silver fox’ moniker that’s sometimes applied to Ralph Lauren, who can’t defend it against such competition.

Tim mostly sang with his eyes shut, always looking serious, only occasionally looking up with his eyes open in between lines as though seeing would prevent him from mining that great sound from inside him.  That sound, I’m happy to report, is back on track; he’s reaching high notes beautifully as he did 30 years ago, though his voice can generally have that slightly gravelly tone that shows mature character.  Near the end of this number, he didn’t quite run around madly as he’s been known to in the past, like a Great Dane bounding with energy, but he did practically Chuck Berry his way around the centre of the small, crowded stage.

We were hit then with an immediate cacophony of instruments, deliberate noise from the electric guitar providing a nearly unrecognisable—but for the clattering beat and snare drum---intro that settled into the old Split Enz gem My Mistake.  I was thrilled to hear a song from Dizrhythmia, one of the albums I picked up at an Our Price store in Kensington on my first trip to London in 1982, so excited to have access to many more Split Enz LPs than I could source in America (back when you were limited to what your local record store had in stock).  So My Mistake, Bold as Brass, Another Great Divide and a few others move me to a time of thrilled excitement through those memories, plus they’re inventive lively songs, this one suitably dizzying in its rapid delivery.  I’d have thought this ancient song would have more elitist appeal, as London gigs sometimes draw only converts who know only the more recent radio hits, but I was pleased to hear loads of people singing along with this one right from the start, and with particular enthusiasm during the bridge where they contributed to the ‘wo-o-wo-ho-oh-ho’ bit.  It’s possible, of course, that they just learned it from Tim’s recent anthology, as the song, even with its yesteryear quirkiness, has the power to win friends, but there was a lot of engaged fondness in the room.  Tim’s voice was fantastic and I was heartened to observe a hint of the dramatically mad old gazes from Tim’s early Split Enz days creeping into his performance.  Outstanding, and the happy whoops at the end confirmed I wasn’t alone in thinking so.

Another unlikely old friend was Crowded House’s Chocolate Cake, which I know never really took off as a single, but as I recognise some of the characters it describes and have always appreciated its offbeat nod back to the more avant-garde days of Split Enz. Before starting that tune, Tim checked how we were doing and said the band were a bit bewildered as it was summer here and winter at home, and they’d had a walk in the park today, as you do--and then realising that he wasn’t quite making a brave new philosophical pronouncement, he said playfully ‘yeah, I just wanted to tell you that’ and promised similar riveting stuff later, which got us laughing.  The crowd welcomed this song that works best live and again provided backing vocals with some firm ‘na-na-na-na-na-nas’….. Tim notably updated the lyrics in the chorus from ‘Tammy Bakker’ to ‘Barack Obama has a lot on his plate’.  Tony played a stonkingly spectacular harmonica solo that absolutely wowed us all, and I’m never that bothered about the harmonica, but this was real monumentally high-grade performance stuff that deserved its special applause.  After the guitar instrumental began playing the song out, Tim signalled to the band to take the sound down and cued us to answer repeatedly his ‘Can I have another…..’  with our own (shoutingly, not so beautifully)  ‘piece of chocolate cake!’  to which he added a lovely falsetto ‘yes, you can; yes, you can’, ‘til the group effort ended to hugely appreciative applause and whistles.

The jocular wacky mood was subdued then as the band moved into a slow song, with Tim’s moving vocals so delicate, sounding chokingly desolate, as he began Invisible from The Conversation, an absolutely astoundingly prodigious song—beautiful, hauntingly poignant, and so moving as it’s clearly about going through his mother’s possessions after her death.  The abstract portrayal of the now empty house full of familiar belongings also made me think of Loudon Wainwright III’s wonderful Sometimes I Forget (with Tim more of an impressionist in his composition), to which I can also sadly relate.  Tim’s song brought tears to my eyes as I remembered going through the same thing in a daze after my father’s sudden death, and I’m sure everyone would have been feeling Tim’s pain as it was expressed—through lyrics and voice now-- so stunningly, so affectingly accurate.  The beauty of Finn writing is that, like Lennon and McCartney, they can express so much by somehow stating things so simply, while never sounding twee.  ‘This is the end of knowing her; you’re going through her things, but you can’t find her there….to her belongings, you will always cling, but you can’t find her there. And all the ties that bind us are invisible. Everything reminds us of the things that we can’t see…..You never get to say goodbye but you have to let it go.’  Stupendous.

Tim backed away from the mike whenever he didn’t need to be there, and Brett powered up the mood with a strong, enchanting melody on guitar as Carlos’ delicate touch on brushed cymbals moved to a pounding crescendo at the end.   I don’t know how this song hasn’t been on incessant repeat on my iPod; it was a revelation.  A problem with the iPod age is that, whilst it’s great to be able to carry around 160GB of music at all times, it means that the days are gone of getting an album, holding it and lapping up the liner notes, inspecting the artwork and pouring over the photographs, credits and printed lyrics as you really get to know each song, playing the album again and again in a sequence chosen by the artist ‘til you know the songs by heart.  Now we download tunes out of context or rip CDs that get swallowed up into the iPod’s shuffle of tens of thousands of songs, so we don’t hear them much or get to know what might be close friends if we gave them more of a chance.  Or perhaps that’s just me.  This was easily my favourite song from a highly rated album, but it got lost in the sea and left my mind in a busy world.  I will now keep it close to me since we’ve been reintroduced.  Invisible is something remarkably special, and it touched us all. 

From the mournful loss of a loved one to the joy of a birth of a loved one….Tim said he wrote the next song (from The Finn Brothers’ Everyone is Here) when his daughter was born seven years ago, an incredible day for him and a magnificent thing that made him compose the tune as a thank you to the person who made it all possible.  I never fail to be uplifted by Tim’s delight at having found such utterly true, pure love of a strength few people get to experience.   It’s a good thing he didn’t marry Greta Scacchi or any others; he might not have been in the right situation at the right time when he met his Marie Azcona again, which has made him feel like The Luckiest Man Alive.  Again, his voice in wavering mode delivers an aspect of dramatic emotion that amplifies the heart of such songs, bounding from evocative heartfelt verses to an exuberant elation in the chorus celebrating something huge that many take for granted and others never find.  He sang the bridge (‘Feel the motion’ etc) in a near falsetto rather than the deeper tones of the recording, then did a bit of call and answer with Brett with Tony taking separate lines later to give the song a rockier feel.  This jubilant tune improves every time I hear it.  Joy hasn’t gone out of fashion after all.

Tim said he wrote the next song from Feeding the Gods after the Split Enz reunion show in Auckland in 2000, when a song by Antipodean band Dragon called April Sun in Cuba was played on the PA system beforehand  in the ‘soft summer rain’, and Tim was moved as he listened to the sound of Dragon’s singer Mark Hunter, who had died not long before, belting out the song as the crowd sang it back (the curious can watch Dragon perform the song on You Tube here; I have the song thanks to my dear Kiwi friend giving me the wonderful Great New Zealand Songbook package)….and it was also the last performance of the Finn brothers that their mother got to witness, so Tim said a lot of things came together when he wrote it.  The lyrics of Dead Man make a lot more sense now that I’ve heard that introduction.  It started slow yet pleasingly harsh, then moved to a sort of Pearl & Dean cinema tune (Asteroid) of ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba’ refrain, which the audience eventually joined in with.  But it wasn’t easy-listening; the music was filled with Nirvana-style rebellious abandon.  The bit of slide guitar added to this was even tolerable (I have a huge aversion to lap steel and slide guitar).  Tim’s voice hit the alps a few times, reassuringly still impressive at the youthful age of 58, and he brought the song to a gentle, touching end by singing a few lines from the chorus of April Sun in Cuba  (‘Take me to the April sun in Cuba…gonna treat me so right’), which earned some hearty cheers from Kiwis, but before we could react fully to the song, Brett began playing the so familiar and always welcome introduction to Persuasion.

Not many people could improve upon a Richard Thompson composition but this is the ultimate thrill.  Catchy, moving, eminently loveable, just so damn beautiful.  Some of the audience sang along thankfully softly, harmonising rather than the awkward shouts of earlier.  Carlos seemed to be air drumming with his left arm, pounding an invisible drum that was dangling near his head, which I initially thought might be some sort of conducting duty (in the leading the band sense vs the lighting rod sense), but as neither Tim nor the others were likely to have eyes in the back of their heads, it puzzled me until I eventually noticed that Carlos played drums with a sort of blue plastic shaker wrapped around his sticks, which let him double up his percussion duties and multi-task whilst beating a drum.   On this song, Tim’s voice seemed to break a few times at fitting moments as though with emotion.  The song really picked up at the end, but Tim remained fairly still; he’s a calm Dad now, I thought.  At the end of the warm performance of this magnificent song, the audience went wild and Tim applauded us presumably for the outstanding vocal contribution.  Occasionally, after he finished songs, he’d flash a winning grin at us.

Tony then started the familiar introduction to Dirty Creature on the bass, which I felt Brett’s fuzz guitar interference spoiled a bit (but that’s another pet peeve), but the rest of the audience clapped along. Tim sang one verse a bit distractedly, then asked the band to start again, saying Tony’s bass had really messed up his ears.  It looked like a schoolmaster chastising the dunce pupil in the spotlight, so it was a relief when Tim said that it was his own fault, not Tony’s, blaming jetlag.  He got Tony to begin again before saying that Tim had better start the song himself, and then he sang each line of the first verse in a slow, jazzy style, as the musicians played around him, eventually kicking into the proper tempo, when it moved along wonderfully with the audience cheering, clapping and singing along.  Tim couldn’t help but return to his old histrionics when singing this one, with a few lunatic stares and demonstrative hand movements when describing this creature, which seemed to scream a bit through Brett’s guitar in the middle of the tune, before Tim sang a few lines almost a cappella.  Perhaps that was to give Tony a chance to rest before what he unleashed shortly after that.   It started as a busy, rapid bass solo with Carlos pounding away with him, but then he demonstrated that the bass guitar was not just background rhythm but a fierce instrument of its own in the right hands.  I now believe I’ve never before seen the bass guitar in the right hands.  Mark King and possibly Jack Bruce would have fainted with envy.  Seriously, you must check this out on YouTube (although the example I came across was nothing like as jaw-dropping as this).  You will have seen bassists have their rare moments to shine in life, but none will have delivered such a stonkingly energetic few minutes of rapid slapping like this.  I’m surprised his side of the stage didn’t catch fire.  At one point, he and Tim faced each other as though firing ammunition from the necks of their guitars. Brett added a subdued yet Jimi Hendrix style bit, Carlos whacked the drums exhaustingly, and the Scala saw a rock band ‘til the song drew to a close, when Tim finally introduced his amazing musicians to us as we cheered for them all.

Carlos and Tim then led us into the gentle beloved beat of the phenomenal old Split Enz jewel Charley, and almost immediately, Tim asked Brett what happened and kidded that it had all been going so f-ing well ‘til then, laughing as he added that they always say ‘it’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play’.  I guess Brett didn’t come in as soon as he was meant to, and I think he muttered a quip about giving it some space, but Tim kept chatting to make light of it and said ‘I f**ked up at the beginning, don’t forget; I was about a tone out’ and then referred to the various cameras and mobile phones regularly pointed at him and, in an accepting acknowledgement of the modern world, joked ‘put that on YouTube if you dare!’ but added that it would be the making of him.  He said he always liked to sing this song in England for some reason, perhaps, he said, because Split Enz always played it when it toured in its Dizrhythmia days. Lucky us; may he continue to enjoy this pastime.  I’ve been humming this song ever since the concert; I’ve always adored it, but it was such a treat to see and hear Tim perform it live right in front of me.  The jazzy steady brushed snare beat kept it easy without being too sleepy, and Tony, now on a different bass guitar and his fingers presumably bleeding, played with his head back and eyes closed, no doubt soaking in the astounding mood Tim fashioned as his voice hit lofty heights.  He, Brett and Carlos easily aced the powerful instrumental section, and as always it was a bewitching, heart-rending song.  It’s not what it says, it’s what doesn’t say….

Huge applause and significant whistling followed, with Tim proclaiming that he was ‘feeling it’, before introducing the next song from Imaginary Kingdom as ‘a can-do song’, which meant, of course, it was Couldn’t Be Done.  After the stretches of Charley, his voice sounded a wee bit tired on some of the initial verses, but always enjoyable, and it locked perfectly into place for the chorus as he fittingly projected the joyfully upbeat, catchy song.  Tony surprised us again by playing a stylophone (ie ‘the original pocket electronic organ’—perhaps ahead of its time given this age of computers in our pockets, everything minimised for convenience) on a couple of occasions, adding a new (or actually very old) sound to parts of the song.  Carlos did more air drumming with his left shaker-donned drumstick, and Tim was beaming quite a bit, those perfect teeth twinkling as he had fun with the song.  

I could see why Tim was my teenage crush, rather than Scott Baio or John Travolta or the others.  It made me wonder, with a chill, what would have happened if the Split Enz videos weren’t some of the very few that MTV in the States had when it first began in 1981, as I fell for Split Enz through joyous exposure to those for I Got You, I Hope I Never, History Never Repeats and One Step Ahead.  I would run to the telly to watch the hourly rocket go off where they’d name three bands whose videos would be played in the next hour, and if Split Enz were one of them, my homework would have to wait.  It’s amazing how much time I spent whiling away the hours watching the same few videos over and over, but it was all so new and the music was so different from the tripe on the radio at the time.  Fast forward to the present where I was happily standing in the Scala watching one of those video stars (who is married to an MTV VJ), as the audience sang ‘no idea’ back to him a few times; it was almost a Country Bear jamboree.

On that note, Tim pounded out some serious strumming of his acoustic guitar until Brett played a hugely familiar electric intro that got the audience singing the spirit-lifting Woodface’s It’s Only Natural along with Tim (well, someone had to sing Neil’s part, after all), so he just said ‘You sing it!’ and let us loose for most of the first verse.  Thankfully, although we carried on singing loudly throughout the song, Tim didn’t do a Robbie Williams where he just strutted about the stage pointing the mike at the audience who had paid to hear him do a bit more, and he joined in quite quickly, his unique, tantalising vocals towering over our less melodic howls, although we did improve a bit when guided.  There was so much stomping going on as the band really rocked out, particularly Carlos, who was going a bit Animal on the drums, that Tim’s water glass on the floor of the stage tipped over, and a roadie rushed out to remove it before we were subjected to any nasty cuts from broken glass or electrocuted musicians from spilled water.  The band didn’t notice, as all three guitarists faced each other whilst rocking out, and our roars in the end could have knocked over more water if there were any glasses left standing.  

Tim went to remove his guitar by lifting the strap over his head, then stopped and said ‘It’s only natural...that I keep going like this’ and mimed the gesture.  Somehow the talk then turned to suggesting that everyone take their shirts off, but then he said ‘let’s not’, the reason being Brett, he said, which I like to think meant he would put them to shame, rather than anything ruder.  It descended into a bit of three bears style chat of why the shirts should not come off, eg  ‘I’m too hairy’, ‘I’m too flabby’, he’s just right’.  As Tony said he was sparing us from a very hairy chest given his Jewish heritage, Tim explored the background of the others and said he was Irish/Kiwi though they believed his father’s family was from Kent (a few of us cheered silently or out loud).  I don’t know if there’s a New Zealand version of Who Do You Think You Are? but the Finn brothers should definitely be on that, and it should be shown here instead of ones about Sarah Jessica Parker.

Having mentioned his father, Tim toasted Richard, who he said was 88 and still going strong, and the audience all raised their glasses to him, at which point Tim sent the guitar tech guy off to get him a little drop of something in place of, and stronger than, the spilt water.  Someone in the audience shouted out ‘God bless Te Awamutu!’, which Tim accepted, repeating the name of his hometown but pronouncing it so much differently, carelessly springing it from the back of his tongue as though it were spelt without Ts and with completely different vowels, ‘or TA as we like to call it.’  He then said he was going to perform a song from his Big Canoe album, which he never played songs from.  Why is this, I wonder; is it because it’s too much about people and things that matter too little to him now?  Was it too much the 80s power pop?  I like it.  I still have the 24-year-old (really?!) CD that my father brought back for me after a business trip to New Zealand, holding it up in hopes that it would meet with my liking, and getting that deliriously enthusiastic reaction that all parents must seek but rarely get from their children.  It’s still got the price sticker on it (on sale for NZ$34.99; CDs were fairly new then).  There are some lovely (see Don’t Bury My Heart and Carve You in Marble) and energetic (if not epic such as the one on the Bhopal chemical disaster) tunes on it, plus many with apparent tribal themes. 

Of all these, he chose So Deep, certainly an infectiously catchy song with some pretty poetic phrases in the verses, but it wouldn’t have been my first choice. Still, I was sorry when this announcement was greeted with absolute silence by the crowd.  Tim mentioned its co-writer Jeremy Brock before singing a new gentler, darker, more subdued arrangement than the thundering version on the album, now without the Phil Judd-arranged brass section and the mega-80s OTT women belting out backing vocals. This was more hypnotic than pop. The big drums remained, with Carlos pounding with mallets on what I thought must be small timpani drums, sounding like the huge kettle drums in an orchestra (but I know little about drums).  Brett provided some semblance of female backing vocals, and the song raised up to a full booming cymbal-ridden number full of atmosphere, managing to be quiet whilst loud, with Tim ending with some bestial cries (‘It’s sooooo deep’). I’ve since realised that this version is on the anthology (but with piano and some less desirable effects), which I’d not previously had a chance to play.  It worked well and has stuck in my head more than I would have expected.  The line about eating chicken curry with English tea leapt out at me now as an enterprise that once sounded odd to me, but as a UK resident now, I realise it’s not an unusual occurrence.  That version of the song was greeted with warm acclamation.

Tim said ‘cheers’ as he tried what he said was his first drink of the night, and someone asked (shouted) when he would be coming to Manchester.  Tim said, ‘Finally someone from Manchester has asked that question!’ and apologised that the guy had had to come down to London to ask that.  He said he loved Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, and spoke of someone they’d met the previous day who was a Geordie who ran a pub in Oxford who said he was (and here Tim put on a funny voice to imitate him:) ‘a humongous fan’. Tim conceded that his faux English accent had not been up to scratch  as it had sounded more like….he searched for words and Polite Tall Guy beside me offered ‘it was just some accent’, and Tim  congratulated him, saying if he had repartee as quick as that, he’d be a big star.  (I can sympathise with Tim on the accent issue.  When I try to do an accent from any part of the world, it comes out sounding Welsh, except when I do a Welsh accent, which always sounds Indian.)   People shouted out towns they’d like him to play, and he initially reacted positively to each place name as though he knew them well, however obscure, eg ‘Aberystwyth, Tadley--Split Enz were huge in Tadley!’ then joked that for the next half hour, we’d just be naming places.  All we had to do was buy a thousand copies each of his next album, he said, and he’d do a national tour.  ‘Release it here then!’ someone shouted.  He smiled, said ‘Don’t even start!’ and pointed out that all his albums were just a mouse click away, then said he loved playing with this band and he’d liked to come back next year, which met with roars of approval.  He said he was doing a record in November/December that should come out next June, so he might see us again next summer.   Happy news indeed.

The band started playing what almost sounded like the beginning of Neil’s Split Enz tune I Got You, but turned out to be a quick version of my second favourite song, Stuff and Nonsense, which I’m elated to hear in any format sung by this man, though I’ll always prefer the slow, painfully beautiful piano-based version.  This one is another new version I hadn’t yet played off the anthology album, which he does with Missy Higgins who was the support act for the Finn Brothers in 2004 (the better of the two support acts; actress Minnie Driver was the lesser). This moved towards sounding like the familiar ravishing vocals laced over an almost Voices Carry-like rhythm (of ‘Til Tuesday fame), the only unacceptable part for me being the whine of slide guitar a few times as though it were a country number.  But I was utterly ecstatic to hear the great Tim Finn perform this rare classic live with those outstanding vocals (and great backing voices from his band), and I didn’t even have to shout  out my request for it. 

We whooped and whistled in happy gratitude, and Tim quickly moved onto the ever so familiar start to the song that was not about the Falklands War as the BBC had suspected but rather, as I understand it, about a break-up with a girlfriend, Six Months in a Leaky Boat.  It was a rapid bouncy, bountiful version, with which the audience sang along throughout, driven by its energy.  Tim paused in the middle and asked us to pucker up, but rather than stage dive into the crowd and kiss each and every one of us, he was trying to concentrate on the whistling bit and encourage us to join in, which someone pointed out was tricky when you’re laughing as Tim was at his possible inadequacy here.  He worked really hard on it, pointing to someone aiming a camera at him and playfully shouting to ‘turn that off!’ as he struggled to pull off the whistle.  ‘My dad taught me how to whistle’ he added, starting that section over as the perfectionist thought even that was in the wrong chord.  ‘Let’s just all relax’ he said, friskily agreeing with a suggestion that it might have been the ‘whiskey that had done it’.  When he finally aced the whistle to encouraging cheers from the audience, Tim strutted away from the mike with a hilariously exaggerated Spinal Tap face of victory as though he’d accomplished a great feat of rock.   The ground began to shake as we all stomped along to the beat, and there was no soft Pioneer bit at the end nor any high da-da-da-da-da-da-da singing; the rocking part of the song just came to an abrupt end and, at 10.20pm, Tim thanked us quickly and rushed off the stage with the band.

As encores go, this was an agreeable wait, in that they can’t have had time to do more than wipe their faces with a towel before turning around and returning to the stage.  Boo Hewerdine never bothers even to do that, saying ‘this is the part where I should go off and pretend I’m done and you applaud so I come back’ and proposes that they all save the energy and he’ll just stay.  This was close to that, and why waste time?

Even better, Tim came back on to play my most favourite song in the entire world.  He began strumming the guitar and a Kiwi girl shouted out I Hope I Never! He stopped, pointed at her, and beamed charmingly, saying ‘You got it, sister!’ before returning to what he had been doing in the first place.  Again, it was a slightly quicker version, full of guitars (regrettably some more slide guitar) rather than the famous Eddie Rayner keyboards (which makes sense given the crucial missing ingredient), but it was and always will be stunningly gorgeous.  His voice reached heights that put him in an elite club in the 80s with the likes of Midge Ure of Ultravox and Freddie Mercury of Queen.  He still had it, and I absolutely melted. 

(Given how much I cherished those moments, I decided to try to film a minute discreetly as a snip of a record for my own private enjoyment, being sure to hold my camera out of anyone’s way and keeping my eye on the man, not the camera so I would enjoy the pure beauty of the real experience. But as loads of clips will be on YouTube and Tim freely referred to the unofficial filming of his gig several times without asking us not to (other than the jokes about his apparently perfectionist self being unjustly displeased with his performance), I might put up this tiny bit on my site briefly here but will remove it sooner if anyone from the Finn camp is upset by it.  Its quality is now reduced because I foolishly shot it with the camera on its side, so I’ve had to reduce the screen area to ensure that the once perfectly framed subject is still in shot when I rotated it, and of course compressing it for the website has hurt it a bit.  But it sounds gorgeous, and I’ll treasure it always).    I also learned during this performance that I’ve thought for years that life was no fun when you're hunted by the things that you feared, when in fact it’s a matter of haunted, not hunted. Funnily enough, watching the original video for this song, which I’ll always love, I note that Tim actually looks vastly more handsome now than he did then, almost 30 years ago.  That’s not fair, is it?  I sure haven’t improved with age in that way.

Not long after the room filled with admiring whoops and cheers, the drummer started to count the band in for the next song, and Tim interrupted, saying ‘hang on—repartee’ whilst gesturing towards us with a smile, and we laughed.  He told us the next song was dedicated to ‘absolutely sweet Marie’, the love of his life, whom he’d met on a Thursday, when she told him her favourite song was Tin Soldier (I assume the Small Faces song, which many consider to be one of the top 10 songs of all time, which the composer says is about getting into someone’s mind, not their body).  I believe he said he’d brought along the lyrics in his back pocket because he was a soppy person, and then he paused to question whether we thought that was funny, which sounded like he was prompting us to laugh at a joke, but it was more like he expected to be mocked for it.  But we love him and we love his love, which he has the sense to value.  Naturally, this led to a performance of The Conversation’s Forever Thursday, an upbeat candyfloss song with an almost country flair primarily thanks to a heavy western Chris Isaak-style electric guitar, which Tim sang with his eyes shut as though he were recalling the excitement of new love, and he slowed the last line to emphasise it endearingly: ‘…when the words in the song were made real.’ 

We applauded but realised we were suddenly hearing the ultra-familiar, long beloved guitar intro to a favourite hit of yesteryear, but with a twist.  It was Split Enz’s I Got You, which of course is his brother’s song.  I’ve only ever heard Tim sing it from the painting on the wall of the video, as a carefully coiffed Neil wearing lipstick agonisingly sings the rest in a brown suit (but that was a new normal after their artsy costumes in the 70s).  The glorious performance continued apace, with us initially clapping our hands to the rapid beat until we decided we’d rather hear more and sing along to it.  It sounded great coming to us via Tim, not vastly different, although I wouldn’t claim that the Finn brothers were interchangeable. We were nearly overawed with joy, it was such fun, and Tim was bouncy and lightened during that number, though he still refrained from the mad I See Red type dance and push-ups of old.  During the last verse, the smiley young ace bassist got us all clapping to the rapid beat again.  Tim transposed the first two lines of that verse with two from the first verse and seemed to pause to curse himself but moved on---but hey, it's not a part he usually sings--and it worked fine (to paraphrase Eric Morecombe, he was singing the right words, just not necessarily in the right order).  We sang our little heart out on the chorus, and at the  end, we roared with approval as Tim waved and escorted his band off the stage again.  It was 10.35pm.

We began testing the strength of the flooring with our eager stomping, and in only about three minutes, the band were back.  Someone asked for Tim’s first solo single Fraction Too Much Friction, which would have been delightful, but someone else bafflingly said ‘That old chestnut’, which made Tim pause, repeat the comment and laugh, light-heartedly saying that it had stopped him from doing it as it was a ‘bit of a vibe killer!’. Shame, but there was plenty of stuff to love.  He interacted jovially with other shouts from the crowd, including Polite Tall Guy’s suggestion that ‘there’s never too much friction, Tim’.   People called out more requests, and he said ‘we’ll see’ but began to tell a story about his son, which made it all the more awful that people kept shouting over him and at him, although somehow he remained good-natured, pausing to react to each comment.  Seriously, if the man you paid to see and presumably admire is in the process of speaking to you, particularly about a sentimental subject, why shout out at him?  Listen. Be polite. Presumably everyone was a bit over-happy now (the adult equivalent of over-tired, the point at which your friends should wrench you from the party and take you home to bed). 

Tim carried on being more kind and patient than some audience members deserved, and made us laugh by jubilantly identifying one of the shouters as being from Birmingham (he knows his accents even if he can’t imitate them), and at one point said really playfully, ‘No, that’s not one of mine!’  I hadn’t heard what he was responding to, but I understand it was a request for Neil’s Fall At Your Feet.  Although if that had been requested later in the show after a second surprising song choice, it might not have seemed so mad.... 

Around the growing chaos, Tim kept returning to his story about adoring his son Harper, how they would draw pictures together and, in a sweet role reversal, how Harper would praise and encourage his father despite his obvious failings as an artist in the medium, I presume, of crayons.  He said Harper loved a book on the Titanic so Tim took him to see the 3D film Ghosts of the Abyss, where Tim had a mild panic attack when he put on the 3D glasses (perhaps he has inner-ear balance issues like me), but was calmed by Harper looking so chilled wearing his 3D glasses unfettered, eating popcorn.  On the way home, Harper had been thoughtful before pronouncing that he wished they could all go down together. Tim hit his heart to demonstrate how that had affected him, gaining some awww’s from the audience, and said he'd had to go and write a song about it, so this song was for Harper.

There’s certainly a lot of feeling behind his songs.  He sang Imaginary Kingdom’s Unsinkable, which had a chorus that caught my mind and keeps growing on me. It was calm, subtly delivered, with Tim’s voice in emotional mode, although it was hard to make out the lyrics as the drums, which featured strongly in the song, and electric guitar were often overpowering.  The long music at the end certainly portrayed the depths of the sea vividly (if not an imitation of the travelling Tardis), with many ship sounds emerging from the electric guitar.  It was an odd part of the evening to play such a lesser-known sleepy song, but it was wonderful and we applauded.

Afterwards was more of a lively encore type of song, particularly popular as people would be calculating at this stage how many more minutes they could stay before having to run for the last train, especially on a Sunday.  Tim launched into ‘that old chestnut’ Shark Attack, a blistering number that certainly got the crowd going again, but he still failed to race about, knock things over, and drop to the ground for some spinning on the floor.  Our boy’s grown up, I guess! He’s now a refined GQ gentleman.  It was still a full-on delivery, we lapped it up, and at the end, he touched fists (the modern high five) with Carlos. 

Without much pause, the band moved straight into a bit of electric guitar meandering that was too distorted for me to recognise where it was going,  particularly with the rumbling ‘kettle drum’ accompaniment, so it was a thunderbolt when it turned into another Neil Split Enz song, History Never Repeats.  It started with an eastern feel, and I admit that its original jangly guitars are a prime source of the joy so I almost missed them, but it was a privilege and a joyous surprise to hear the song at all.  Tim faced the drummer for a bit, directed the others to calm the music at certain points, and then sang the song with fantastic fun, true to the original style, but still punchy and powerful.  There was a bit too much mad snare and cymbal beating, but the instrumental build up to the bridge was marvellous.   It was exciting stuff.

We roared with delight but realised this really was the end, and the four outstanding musicians on stage came together for a bow, then walked off.  It was 10.50pm, they’d played for over an hour and a half, a whopping 21 songs, including two of my all-time favourites by anyone.  The setlist was exciting and full of surprises, loads of phenomenal classics and those that gave us insight into his blissful family life, in what turned out to be an intimate setting with enormously talented musicians who were all in amazing spirits. (I only later reflected on the songs he didn’t perform, so many great songs from his impressive vast catalogue, almost nothing from Before and After, not the title track he wrote for the forthcoming film Predicament [which you can now stream here] in which he stars with Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement, nor, I belatedly noticed, Weather With You, which Finns always play, and which I always feel should be sacrificed for something better, even though the audience does love it. But none of that was truly missed.)

What a perfect, utterly awesome gig.  Absolute heaven, and I can’t believe I'd had any doubts about going along.  Thank goodness I’d rethought it; it would have been a tragedy to miss it.  I rushed off immediately, trying not to climb over people in an obvious bid to leap up the crowded stairs so I could race away to get the maze of tubes trains that were running in time for my last train. During my journey on the Tube through Oxford Circus, a sort of rockabilly Woody Guthrie with real ability got on and began singing.  All of us Londoners ignored him as we’re trained to do, as normally an over familiar speech would follow about how he needed money for one night in a hostel so he could get a job the next day and he’d never asked before, but this was someone who just wanted to busk in a new way and flog the CD he had clipped to the neck of the guitar.  I couldn’t stop smiling at him.  Music is an awesome thing; it penetrates souls, lifts spirits, chronicles life-changing moments, shares suffering, moves us and lets us relate to each other on a level we would otherwise never reach.  I can think of no one who demonstrates all of that better than Tim Finn.  He had shared with us an intimate conversation about the loves of his life and the importance of family, and he tolerated everything lobbed at him by what I can only excuse as drunken fools in an unfailing good-natured way, as a truly worthy friend would.  I certainly hope he does come back next year as he nearly promised, and I’ll be there, maybe even if I have to go to some all-standing, late night club in Aberystwyth on a Sunday to see him.  I recommend you do the same.

I’ve set out below the pure set list for those who don’t want to sift through my mental meanderings above, and don’t forget that I’ve set up a playlist that you can listen to for free that covers all of these songs that are available in Spotify, plus some others I mention.  That is here: http://open.spotify.com/user/braintracer/playlist/6PHpcT0htQZUeF50N197bn Spotify playlist: Tim Finn London .

Set List
1. Straw to Gold
2. Won’t Give In
3. My Mistake
4. Chocolate Cake
5. Invisible
6. Luckiest Man Alive
7. Dead Man
8. Persuasion
9. Dirty Creature
10. Charley
11. Couldn’t be Done
12. It’s Only Natural
13. So Deep
14. Stuff and Nonsense
15. Six Months in a Leaky Boat

Encore One
16. I Hope I Never
17. Forever Thursday
18. I Got You

Encore Two
19. Unsinkable
20. Shark Attack
21. History Never Repeats.

Copyright © 2010 by TC (apart from Tim Finn lyrics, of course). All rights reserved.

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(Apologies for my poor quality photos; I avoid using the flash and autofocus assist lamp, and Tim was very active and thus blurry, plus I had to manoeuvre around heads without getting my camera in people's way.)


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at London's Scala on 8 August 2010

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