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.
Auckland Museum's Volume exhibition told the story of Kiwi pop music. It's time to turn the speakers up to 11, for NZ On Screen's biggest collection yet. Turning Up the Volume showcases NZ music and musicians. Drill down into playlists of favourite artists and topics (look for the orange labels). Plus NZOS Content Director Kathryn Quirk on NZ music on screen.
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”.
The decade of fondue and flares also cooked up colour television. Our black and white living room icons — from Selwyn Toogood to Space Waltz — melted into a Kiwi kaleidoscope of Top Town, Grunt Machine, and Close to Home. And 'our stories' and rights fights — boks, hikoi, nukes and 'nam — echoed onscreen (Sleeping Dogs, Tangata Whenua). Ready to roll?
Neil Finn formed Crowded House in 1985 with Melbourne musicians Paul Hester and Nick Seymour, after the end of Split Enz. In 1987 Finn-penned single ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ reached number two in the United States, helping overcome the disinterest of New Zealand radio. Third album Woodface (which included 'Weather with You') saw the United Kingdom become their largest market. In 1996 a weary Finn broke up Crowded House to go solo, only to revive it for two further albums after Paul Hester's death in March 2005.
One of Auckland’s pioneering punk bands, Suburban Reptiles represented the art school end of the punk movement. Confrontations with unsuspecting audiences and promoters soon had them in the headlines. Singer Zero (aka Clare Elliot) was arrested for swearing on stage. The band's debut, ‘Megaton’, was the first 12 inch 45 released by a New Zealand artist. They followed it with ‘Saturday Night, Stay At Home’ — one of the great Kiwi singles of the punk era. Phil Judd (ex Split Enz) joined towards the end after producing some songs for the band. Judd and Buster Stiggs went on to found The Swingers ('Counting the Beat').
A couple of years before Backstreet Boys ruled global pop charts, there was Purest Form. This 1994 cover of the Split Enz song was the biggest hit for the New Zealand vocal harmony group (who a year earlier had gained amusement park immortality, by lending their smooth sounds to a Rainbow’s End commercial). Co-produced by ex-Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner, ‘Message’ peaked at number two, and won Single of the Year at the 1995 NZ Music Awards. The song’s no-frills music video sees the crooners walk and cartwheel down a beach in a catalogue of 90s fashion.
Born of a dispute between TVNZ and record companies over video payments, True Colours tended to feature New Zealand bands in a studio setting, plus the occasional video. This first episode sets the template. Former Radio with Pictures host Dick Driver and Phillipa Dann (from pop show Shazam!) introduce a magazine-style show of live music, news and interviews. Ardijah open proceedings here, with their mix of polynesian R&B and funk. Later Tim Finn gets the interview treatment. The dispute was eventually settled and True Colours ended after seven episodes.
With departed founder member Phil Judd now back in New Zealand, this English-written Tim Finn rocker took Split Enz even further into pop territory and away from their art rock roots. Echoing 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 distinctive suits designed by member Noel Crombie, Neil Finn looks ridiculously young, and endings don’t come much more abruptly than this.
This Elemeno P video sees the band performing inside a storage freezer in an ice cream factory. "There was no legitimate reason for shooting in a freezer," recalls director Greg Page ('Exit to the City', 'Super Gyration'). "I just enjoy torturing the bands I work with." The location was secured through Flying Fish Executive Producer James Moore, whose family owned an icecream factory in Otara. Page recalls the challenges of filming in below freezing temperatures here.