Split Enz

It's hard to reduce legendary band Split Enz down to a single sound or image. Soon after forming in 1973, they began dressing like oddball circus performers, and their music straddled folk, vaudeville and art rock. Later the songs got shorter, poppier and — some say —better, and the visuals were toned down...but you could never accuse the Enz of looking biege. With Split Enz co-founder Tim Finn turning 65 in June 2017, this collection looks back at one of Aotearoa's most successful and eclectic bands. Writer Michael Higgins unravels the evolution of the Enz here.

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Split Enz - Spellbound

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Sam Neill narrates this documentary plotting the career of one of Aotearoa's most successful bands: from formation by Mike Chunn, Phil Judd and Tim Finn at Auckland University in 1971 to their demise in 1984, when Neil Finn walked away. The major players talk freely about good times and bad — art rock, the wayward genius of Judd (including a rare interview), Noel Crombie’s spoon playing and costume design, hard times in England and the punk backlash, the big pop hits after Neil joined, Tim’s solo album, an obsession with paper darts, and the pre-gig ritual of One For One.

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Bold As Brass

Split Enz, Music Video, 1977

'Bold as Brass', from the third Split Enz album Dizrythmia, finds the band moving on from the departure of founder member Phil Judd (replaced by a teenaged Neil Finn) and leaving behind their earlier, more complex art rock. This punchy, melodic Tim Finn/Rob Gillies composition is part off-kilter dance number, part call to arms. The video (directed by Gillies and Noel Crombie) matches the song's directness with sharp black suits and Tim Finn's combative approach to the camera — while allowing a nod to the band’s more theatrical past.

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Split Enz - New Faces

Television, 1973 (Full Length)

New Zealand’s first global pop success story made one of its earliest screen appearances on this TV talent quest. The episodes are no longer preserved, but a family friend of the Finns pointed his Super 8 camera at the television screen. The clips are combined with the band’s memories from 2005 radio documentary Enzology. Split Ends (the ‘z’ came later) competed in the 18 November heat with ‘129’, and a week later in the final, miming ‘Sweet Talking Spoon Song’. They lost to Wellington's Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band, with a pre-Simon Cowell Phil Warren judging the lads “too clever”.

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Kaleidoscope - Decade of the Enz

Television, 1983 (Full Length Episode)

In 1983, Split Enz, NZ's most successful rock group to date, celebrated 10 years together. TVNZ's flagship arts show Kaleidoscope marked the occasion by following the band on their 'Enz of an Era' tour as they reunited with former members (including Mike Chunn) for a concert at Auckland's His Majesty's Theatre (where they first made a major impact) and played the Sweetwaters Festival. Members talk frankly to reporter Ian Fraser about a decade of highs and lows, and there's priceless Dylan Taite-filmed tomfoolery from the band's early days in England.

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Radio with Pictures - Split Enz interview

Television, 1983 (Excerpts)

In this RWP interview, Karyn Hay gets Split Enz members Neil Finn and Nigel Griggs to explain some of the band's songs before a January 1983 performance at festival Sweetwaters. Both are tired of doing True Colours tracks; the album "has followed us around like a bad smell for a year and a half" says Finn. He also admits 'I Got You' was "probably only about the third lyric I'd ever written", and touches on the BBC banning of 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat'. Griggs admits he has no idea what Finn's 'History Never Repeats' is about; Finn praises Griggs' "incredibly good bass riff" on 'Lost for Words'.

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Six Months in a Leaky Boat

Split Enz, Music Video, 1982

Reflecting the nautical themes found on chart-topping album Time and Tide, the classic 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat' demonstrated that Tim Finn was far from out of good ideas, even though he was soon to leave the band he had sailed with for so long. Opening with scene-setting Eddie Rayner instrumental 'Pioneer' and images of boats at sea, the video soon reveals Tim Finn and band below deck, in sailor's garb. Finn's much-loved line about refusing to be overcome by "the tyranny of distance" was likely inspired by the 1966 book by Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey. 

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Grunt Machine - Split Enz (Spellbound)

Television, 1975 (Excerpts)

This simple but very effectively choreographed clip is one of the few pieces of music footage shot for 70s rock show The Grunt Machine that has been preserved. The extended instrumental intro allows Phil Judd nearly two minutes of pacing and hovering in the Avalon Studio shadows before he confronts the camera at his malevolent best. The soon to depart Wally Wilkinson is on guitar; time in Australia has cemented the band's stage personas, Noel Crombie's black and white costumes are a visual treat, and the result is a perfect document of Mental Notes-era Enz.

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History Never Repeats

Split Enz, Music Video, 1981

A classic music video for a classic song (from the Waiata album) that is very much of its time. Features Noel Crombie's art school-infused clothes, make-up and surreal sets, giant beach balls, a hula hoop, and a young and endearingly-geeky Neil Finn out front. The video was one of the first (the 12th!) broadcast on US MTV after it launched in August 1981.

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Telethon - Split Enz (Maybe)

Television, 1975 (Excerpts)

Split Enz are here caught at a pivotal moment in their career. They're just back from their first trip to Australia where they recorded acclaimed debut album Mental Notes, from which the 'Maybe' single is taken. But the album is yet to be released in New Zealand, where they've taken time out from a national tour to appear on the first Telethon. Within nine months they will be in the UK on the long path to becoming NZ's first international music success. The costumes are the "zootsuits" designed by Noel Crombie, who contents himself with being a lurking presence in pale blue.

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Homegrown Profiles: The Finns

Television, 2005 (Full Length)

This episode of C4's music series Homegrown Profiles looks at the long and distinguished musical careers of Kiwi music icons Tim and Neil Finn. The programme covers the early days of Split Enz, Neil joining the band at the age of 18, and Tim leaving in 1984; plus Neil forming Crowded House, Tim's short stint in his brother's band, the Finn's solo careers, and their two albums recording as the Finn Brothers. Jane Yee's interview with the brothers is revealing and fascinating, and includes great early Split Enz footage.

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I Got You

Split Enz, Music Video, 1980

This Neil Finn number finally turned Split Enz into chart-toppers in Australasia, and gave them an entree to the vital North American market. It was graced with Noel Crombie's most ambitious video to date and became an MTV favourite. Curtains on the outside? Just one of the many innovative design elements in a clip, which explored Neil's inner torment as he withered under the scrutiny of giant eyes, an Orwellian flat screen television, and his creative paranoia at being shunned by the rest of the band — unable to infiltrate the clique. Heavy stuff!

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I Hope I Never

Split Enz, Music Video, 1980

After hit song 'I Got You' proved definitively that art rockers Split Enz could be chart-topping pop stars, their 1980 album True Colours yielded a second classic single. This time it showcased Tim Finn's vocal range. The music video is set in some stately mansion after the last champagne of the night. Finn wanders into the back garden as he mourns the pain of being "haunted by the things that you feel", while the rest of the Enz stand around as part of the tableau. Annie Crummer later covered the track for Eddie Rayner-led project ENZSO.  

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One Step Ahead

Split Enz, Music Video, 1980

After Neil Finn-penned single ‘I Got You’ took Split Enz to number one, another Neil Finn song was chosen to announce follow-up album Waiata (aka Corroboree). The video — which screened in the early days of music channel MTV — is surprisingly understated, while retaining touches of familiar Enz weirdness. After walking past coloured silhouettes of the rest of the band, Neil arrives on a set designed on a theme of black, etched with lines of colour. Tim mimes enthusiasm while sitting on the floor, keyboardist Eddie Rayner moonwalks, and the Enz step on out of there. 

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Message to My Girl

Split Enz, Music Video, 1984

‘Message to My Girl’ finds Split Enz in a time of transition — foreshadowed here when the Finn brothers walk past each other in opposite directions. Tim has just completed his solo album and will shortly leave, while Neil is coming into his own as the band’s new leader. The track is an unabashed love song to his wife. The accompanying video was shot in two extended takes, with the only edit obscured halfway through — and staged in what looks like a theatre set storage area. New drummer Paul Hester makes his debut but no Noel Crombie suits this time, just civvies.

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I Walk Away

Split Enz, Music Video, 1984

Although not the final Split Enz single, 'I Walk Away' is the song where the band say their goodbyes. Last album See 'Ya Round (1984) featured compositions by every member aside from the recently-departed Tim Finn. On this track brother Neil addresses the challenge of letting go of what you know. The opening shot echoes the image on the album cover, which features Split Enz poking their heads through a cutout illustration. The sun sets more than once, but the band play on; Noel Crombie and Paul Hester double up on drums, and the cathartic finale speaks of joy as much as sadness.

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I See Red

Split Enz, Music Video, 1979

With departed founder member Phil Judd back in NZ, this UK written Tim Finn rocker took Split Enz even further into pop territory and away from their art rock roots. Of a piece with the most energetic New Wave of the time, it was accompanied by a video with an appropriately frenzied performance which former member and Enz historian Mike Chunn rated as one of their most infectious. The band are wearing Noel Crombie’s art-school designed suits, Neil Finn looks ridiculously young and endings don’t come much more abruptly than this one.

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Nambassa Festival

Television, 1979 (Full Length)

The three day Nambassa Festival, held on a Waihi farm in 1979, is the subject of this documentary. Attended by 60,000 people, it represented a high tide mark in Aotearoa for the Woodstock vision of a music festival as a counterculture celebration of music, crafts, alternative lifestyles and all things hippy. Performers include a frenzied Split Enz, The Plague (wearing paint), Limbs dancers, a yodelling John Hore-Grenell and prog rockers Schtung. The only downers are overzealous policing, and weather which discourages too much communing with nature after the first day.