Crowded House: Farewell to The World

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE - by Alix Clark

After 10 years of international success, Crowded House drop into Sydney for one enormous, melodious farewell party.

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At the start, they were just a bunch of musicians at loose ends. Nell Finn and drummer Paul Hester were out-of-work ex-Split Enzers talking about getting somewhere. Melbourne art student and sometime musician Nick Seymour approached a tipsy Finn at a Split Enz farewell party in Melbourne and asked to audition. "They thought I was a bit of an inner-city socialite and I don't think they liked the way I dressed," recalls Seymour, 37. "But I mean, they wore slippers and cardigans and I never said anything about it." Even so, "there was pretty much an instant, intuitive chemistry from day one."

The trio clicked so resoundingly that, from their first gig at the Byron Bay Piggery in 1985, they went on to tour the world and sell more than 6 million albums. But the doors will shut on Crowded House forever this Saturday, Nov. 23, when the band (originals Finn, Seymour and Hester and newer member Mark Hart) play for the last time to an anticipated crowd of 100,000 on the Sydney Opera House forecourt. "The opportunity to play in the classic setting of the Opera House appealed to the Ken Done in all of us," cracks frontman Neil Finn, 38, who pulled the plug on the band on June 4 while in the UK on a promotional tour for their fifth album, Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House. "I've recognised the need for some kind of ritual to mark its passing," he has said of the band's belated farewell.

Few were pleased about the bustup, but Hester, 37, dashed off a congratulatory fax to Finn: "Great move, Thang. Love Hess." Hester left the band without a permanent drummer when he quit halfway through the 1994 US tour. "I'd had enough of travelling and waving goodbye to people," he explains. When he heard of Finn's decision, he adds, "I thought it was great. Neil's been in a band for about 20 years; I think that's enough for a bloke."

Yet, aside from Hester, it seems Finn was the only one who wanted out. "I was very confused," says bass player Seymour. "I was all set to do a studio album and ready to take advantage of the position that we were in globally-to have the supreme success that I felt we richly deserved." Hart, 43, who began touring with Crowded House in '89 as a keyboard player and guitarist was also saddened. "I sort of saw it coming," he says from his Los Angeles home. "Still, it was a bit of a shock when it actually happened. I was looking forward to doing the next record." But Finn was resolute. As he told The Sydney Morning Herald at the time: "I didn't feel like I was getting enough out of it creatively to justify making the personal compromises that being in a band entails."

Whatever those sacrifices, they didn't affect the Crowdies' mutual affection. "They're some of my best friends," says Hart. And rather than let Crowded House die on a sour note, they will once more go live for the fans, some of whom will fly to Sydney for the one-off adieu. "I just want the two hours onstage to really rock," says Hester, who rejoined the band in the studio to record three new tracks on Best of. "It's 'just really an opportunity for us four guys to get onstage and play together."

The concert will also feature Australian bands You Am I and Powderfinger and will benefit the Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, and the Australian Cord Blood Bank. (All proceeds from sponsorships, merchandise sales and telephone pledges made during the national radio simulcast and a telecast a week later will be donated.) Elizabeth Crundall, CEO of the Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation, says that Crowded House "epitomise great success and now great philanthropy and support for the community".

The Crowdies themselves have some carefully thought-out theories as to why they took off in the first place. "We were short and we were reasonably good-looking as a bunch," jokes Hester. "We all fitted into one rental car," adds Seymour. And they had truckloads of talent. "Years before Oasis even dreamed of doing Beatles imitations," enthuses music critic Bruce Elder, "Neil Finn was writing songs that Lennon and McCartney would've been proud of." Their live performances, he adds, were "gloriously artless".

After the early piggery gig days (when they were known as the Mullanes, Finn's middle name), they signed with Capitol and moved to Los Angeles in late '85. There, an opendoor policy at their rented Hollywood home led to a name change: Crowded House. "We had this huge amazing house and this big telly and this big bag of pot," recalls Hester. "It took us ages to actually get down to working."

Tearing themselves away from US cable TV, they released an eponymous debut album in 1986, from which the haunting single "Don't Dream It's Over" reached No. 2 on the US charts. Temple of Low Men (1988) followed and in '91, Neil's brother and ex-Split Enz bandmate Tim joined the group for Woodface.

In 1994, they won the Brit Award for Best International Group, beating U2 and Nirvana, among others. Yet on the award night, the band were playing at the rural, pub-sized Barooga Sports Club in southern NSW. They were "absolutely huge internationally", says Seymour ruefully, "but we seemed to have lost the level of enthusiasm or the imagination of the general public in Australia."

Since the split, all four have put a new spin on their careers. Seymour has recorded an album with older brother Mark, lead singer of Hunters & Collectors, and is now with new band Deadstar. Hester lives with girlfriend Mardi Sommeifeld and daughter Sunday, 2, in Melbourne, where he co-owns the Elwood Beach House cafe with fellow muso Joe Camilleri, and is producing music. "It's sort of like my musical career is just beginning," he says gleefully. In LA, Hart is recording and touring with '70s supergroup Supertramp. And Finn, who lives in Auckland with wife Sharon and sons Liam, 13, and Elroy, 7, says he's working on a "sprawling Gothic, Pacific, psychedelic" solo album.

But right now, they're getting ready for the final blast together. "If you're not careful," says Hester, "before you know it you've done your set and you're offstage out the back going, 'What the f--k was that?' " Seymour isn't fazed. "I don't see much difference between playing that and the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, to tell you the truth," he admits. "I hope we play good," Hart adds quietly. "I hope we don't make too many mistakes."

And Finn? "We are going to announce that the break-up is just a publicity stunt."

Who Weekly Nov 25 1996

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