Crowded House: Farewell to The WorldThe Band

THE BEST PART OF BREAKING UP (David Hepworth - from Mojo Magazine)

On Sunday, November 24, 1996, 150,000 fans gathered in Sydney to see Crowded House play their final show. In a series of frank, in-depth interviews exclusive to MOJO, each member tells David Hepworth of the passions and resentments that fuelled their brilliant but turbulent career.

From my position in the wings, it's possible to see this show the way Crowded House see it. They have taken the stage just as the blue of the night is meeting the gold of the day and the view that confronts them has to be the most enthralling that ever a band gazed out on.

Straight in front of them is the building once likened to a number of nuns caught in a sudden gust of wind, the Sydney Opera House. Over to the right, a host of boats, ranging from the modest messing-about variety to tall masts that bespeak serious money, bob on the waters of Sydney Harbour between the city and the North Shore. Look left and you can see huge ferry boats ploughing in and out of Circular Quay. Light on water generally has a magic. This much light on this much water has a good deal more. Looming over everything, never further away than the corner of your eye, is the 52,000 tons of steel that comprise the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

And in every nook and cranny of this breathtaking panorama, from the Botanic Gardens at the top of the cliff directly behind the stage - where you can watch the view but not the band - to the main seating area on the Opera House steps up past the very peaks of that building's sails, where some foolhardy souls have climbed, to distant pockets the best part of a mile away across the water where there is a good view of the giant video screens and room to stretch out, there are people. Estimates of crowd size tend to be politically motivated but most sources agree that more than I 50,000 people have trooped down to Bennelong Point for this free farewell show, framed with TV in some people's minds and history in others.

For some of those people down in the crush, the journey has been longer than for others. Those who've come from Melbourne figure they should get a badge. Those who've flown from Perth feel even more special. Those true believers who've flown for four hours across the Tasman from New Zealand are used to making sacrifices for their national institution. But it is the thousand plus who have taken 24-hour flights from the US and Britain, scrunched up in cattle class, tickets paid for out of their own pockets, who ignore the crowd surfing, keep their own counsel and stand jet-lagged, sun-burned and rapt, unsure whether to take in the view, the music or the event. Similar thoughts are going through the minds of Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and Paul Hester of Crowded House, the men whose almost amicable divorce after 10 years has brought them all to precisely this place.

The last time I reported on Crowded House for MOJO was in 1994 from midway through an American tour, a tour which was clearly failing to ignite their Together Alone record in that territory. Their US label Capitol had not enjoyed the same success with Woodfce as its British arm Parlophone, and was sufficiently cool about Together Alone to suggest to Neil Finn that he add a couple of catchy singles to it, a request he refused. The four of them had just gone through a testing time making the record with British producer Youth in the isolated environment of beach on the North Island of New Zealand and were proud of it, with some justification.

Two days after I left Crowded House in Norfolk, Virginia, drummer Paul Hester, whose "mood swings" - the group's common euphemism for his periods of black depression - had been an issue ever since he formed the group with Neil Finn in 1986, announced he was leaving.

The other three completed the tour using a variety of drummers before recruiting old friend Peter Jones for dates in Europe and Australia. Upon their return home, Neil finished work on Finn, his collaboration with brother Tim, visited London to play showcases, and then abruptly canceled plans to return for a full tour. Finn was well reviewed but failed to produce any hits. Capitol in the States didn't even release it.

In response to Parlophone pressure, they planned their best of, Recurring Dream, for release earlier this year and added three new songs recorded with Hester and old producer Mitchell Froom in order to round out that phase of the band's life. A few weeks prior to Recurring Dream's release, Neil talked about the next chapter possibly involving an enhanced line-up and different textures, but there was no indication that Crowded House would not continue to trade. The group, with Peter Jones on drums, arrived in London to play a showcase and informed Parlophone that this would be their last UK show. The three-hour marathon at the Hanover Grand was more of an exorcism for the men on-stage than an entertainment for the audience, who seemed strangely removed from an act of closure which sparked only intermittently.

Hardcore Crowded House fans were of a mind that, without Hester, the group had lost some of its surge, and it was clear to every-one that the new group didn't make you laugh anything like as much. A few later, they did another, happier farewell show in the basement studio of n radio station GLR before travelling to Toronto to play once more.

Dream has since sold more than 600,000 copies in the UK alone, making it one of the best-selling albums of the year and causing EMI execs to weep at Neil Finn's decision to give up an apparently winning hand.

And now categorically the last goodbye, their so-called Farewell To World. This Sydney show started as the brainchild of their manager Grant Thomas, who had long been keen to see them play in front of the Opera House if the authorities could be persuaded. The band had resisted an apparently grand gesture. But once they had decided to split, the notion of a sponsored final show (a benefit for the Sydney Children's Hospital) in such a sublime setting with the possibility of worldwide TV exposure as a bonus made it a certainty.

The concert was scheduled for Saturday, November 2 3, the beginning of Australia's summer. Bill Clinton was in town, the West Indies were laying the first test at the Gabba, Michael Jackson had just gone to Adelaide with his new bride, it was Australian music month and the most picturesque city on earth awaited its crowning moment.

Unfortunately, the band arrived from a week's rehearsals and warm-up shows in Melbourne to find Sydney suffering under 24 hours of steady in. It's so bad that the riggers aren't allowed to continue their cabling for fear of electrocution and the whole vast enterprise has to be put back 24 hours.

Next Page - Paul Hester Interview

Back to Referring Page