Split Enz Biography

Originally formed in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1972 as Split Ends, this beloved and expansive unit evolved around Tim Finn (Brian Timothy Finn, 25 June 1952, Te Awamutu, New Zealand; vocals/piano), Mike Chunn (b. Michael Jonathan Chunn, 8 June 1952, Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand; bass/keyboards), Phil Judd (b. Philip Raymond Judd, 23 March 1953, Hastings, New Zealand; vocals/guitar/mandolin), Miles Golding (violin), and Mike Howard (flute). Their debut single ‘For You’/‘Split Ends’ was released in February 1973, but following a promotional tour Golding and Howard announced they were leaving. The band adopted a more electric sound with the recruitment of new members Wally Wilkinson (b. Paul Wilkinson, New Zealand; guitar), Robert Gillies (b. New Zealand; saxophone) and Geoffrey Chunn (b. Auckland, New Zealand; drums). They appeared on the televised New Zealand talent show New Faces and, after changing their name to Split Enz, added Eddie Rayner (b. Anthony Edward Rayner, 19 November 1952, Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand; keyboards) to the line-up. Their reluctance to perform on the traditional bar circuit left only the college and university venues, as well as the occasional open-air park concert, in which to enact their brand of theatrical pop. They featured an eclectic set, wore unusual costumes, facial make-up (which drew comparisons in their homeland to Skyhooks), and even featured a spoons player in the shape of percussionist and costume designer Noel Crombie (b. Geoffrey Crombie, 17 April 1953, Wellington, New Zealand), who became a full-time member in late 1974. Around the same time Geoffrey Chunn was replaced by Emlyn Crowther (b. Paul Emlyn Crowther, 2 October 1949, Dunedin, New Zealand) and saxophonist Robert Gillies left the band.

After three singles released in New Zealand, the band was well established in their homeland. They moved to Australia in early 1975, with all the members (except Judd) switching to using their middle names. Split Enz recorded their first album (Mental Notes) for the Mushroom Records label. At the invitation of Phil Manzanera, who had seen the band when they supported Roxy Music on tour in Australia, Split Enz (with Wilkinson fired and Gillies back in the line-up) flew to the UK. Manzanera recorded the band’s second album, which was mainly comprised of reworked versions of material from Mental Notes. Unfortunately, the band’s arrival in England coincided with the punk movement and they found acceptance difficult.

A number of personnel changes ensued, with Crowther and Mike Chunn making way for Malcolm Green (b. 25 January 1953, England; drums) and Nigel Griggs (b. 18 August 1949, Hatfield, England; bass). Tim Finn’s brother Neil Finn (b. 27 May 1958, Te Awamutu, New Zealand) was also recruited after one of the band’s main songwriters, Phil Judd, left during a tour of America. The other main songwriter Tim Finn adopted the leadership of Split Enz, and the new line-up recorded 1977’s Dizrythmia. Less theatrical than their earlier releases, the album went gold and the single ‘My Mistake’ reached the Australian Top 20. Waning European sales meant that the band was unceremoniously dropped by their worldwide distributor Chrysalis Records, however, and the departure of Gillies reduced the line-up to a sextet. A grant from the New Zealand Arts Council facilitated the recording of the band’s next album, Frenzy, which proved less successful than Dizrythmia. Split Enz regrouped and set about fashioning their most pop-orientated collection of material. True Colours, released worldwide on A&M Records, contained their most successful single, Neil Finn’s glorious ‘I Got You’, which reached number 12 in the UK. The album went on to sell over 200, 000 albums in Australia.

Reduced to a quintet following the departure of Green after 1981’s Corroboree (known as Waiata internationally), Split Enz lost their momentum. Despite the commercial success of Time And Tide on the Australasian market, the album failed to make much headway in Europe or America. Furthermore, the band ran into trouble in the UK when their ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’ was banned by the BBC, as its title was considered too provocative at a time when the British were fighting the Falklands War. Tim Finn took time out to record a solo album and was overshadowed as a songwriter by his brother Neil on the next Split Enz release, Conflicting Emotions. Tim Finn was not even present on 1984’s See Ya ’Round, with Paul Hester (b. 8 January 1959, Melbourne, Australia, d. 26 March 2005, Melbourne, Australia) brought in to the line-up to relieve Crombie of drumming duties. A final tour saw the Finn brothers reunited on stage following which the band was dissolved.

Neil Finn went on to form Crowded House with latter years Split Enz member Paul Hester. Tim also occasionally recorded with this band while maintaining a solo career, and has also joined his brother in the Finn project. Noel Crombie, Nigel Griggs and Phil Judd released two albums as Schnell Fenster, while Eddie Rayner worked with the Makers. In 1996, Rayner directed the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in a symphonic tribute to Split Enz. The resulting album ENZSO was a notable success, and a second project ENZSO 2 followed in 1999. The various members of Split Enz have regularly reunited for one-off shows and tours.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

Filter Results