Mike Turnbull recently released his brilliant new album, Two Kingdoms (our review here). It is an album packed with folk tales each accompanied by a rich and full soundtrack. His love of Cumbrian legend and landscape comes through strongly and affectionately shows that there’s a lot more to Cumbria than majestic lakes and fells as he expertly embellishes each wonderfully woven tale with a warm, richly compelling, thrilling sound.
Mike joins us on our Why I Love column to write about one of his biggest influences, and as Mike puts it, the master of the middle eight; Neil Finn. Phil Cooper of The Lost Trades has previously written about why he loved Crowded House and Neil Finn for us (read here), but Mike’s take focuses on Neil Finn himself.
It’s the early nineties and I’m wandering in and out of shops. In every one I hear the strains of a song… ‘walkin’ round the room singing stormy weather…’ perfect close harmony vocals. Then in the next shop… ‘There’s a small boat made of china…’ and in the next, ‘everywhere you go, always take the weather with you…’ and now I’m suddenly in love with this tune, harmony vocals, open string guitar riffs and simple, almost folk-like production on this pop-rock melodious offering.
It’s 1992 and this Antipodean band was taken to our UK hearts. I hadn’t realised that Neil Finn and brother Tim had already had massive success before Crowded House with Split Enz in their native New Zealand and throughout Australia, Canada & the US from 1978 – 1984. So, something new? They certainly were not!
Neil Finn has been my guilty pleasure, songsmith influence ever since. Quirky guitar riffs, effortless harmonies and chord changes to melt your heart. He is also the ‘master of the middle eight,’ where the mid part of the song may usually be a pause in the format of a song, and most songwriters do that, but it usually sounds formulaic and predictable before limping back to a Verse/chorus. Neil’s mids however seem to burst out of the box unexpectedly and spin off in another direction. That elusive genius twist where extraordinary melodies shoot away into the stratosphere then, bang! Back into a verse, killer chorus or solo.
This is Neil’s forte and ‘Tall Trees’ from Woodface is a great early example. Just as you think the mid is a lovely melodic guitar break, Neil’s vocal takes a dream-like twist into ‘…and the roses you grow, have a powerful scent…’ before a more driven, unexpected guitar solo. It’s sheer melodic porn within an already upbeat melodious framework.
A constant creative musician, Neil has toured tirelessly ever since Crowded House with his solo work. ‘Try Whistling This’ with the hit ‘She Will Have Her Way’ in 1998 and the fabulous ‘One Nil’ in 2001 being the first two solo albums. His lyrics and lines are intelligent, picturesque and intriguing all at the same time.
I’ve always thought every phrase he sings could be another song title! ‘One Nil’ featured the songs ‘Rest of the Day Off’, ‘Turn & Run’ and ‘Anytime’. The tour culminated in gathering together some ‘friends’ (Eddie Vedder, Johnny Marr, Lisa Germano and most of Radiohead!) for a week of concerts in Auckland 2001 – 7 Worlds Collide. (Well worth checking out this live DVD – a great showcase of Neil’s work up to that point).
Then in 2004 a long awaited second Finn brothers album ‘Everyone is Here’ was released. (their first ‘Brothers’ album ‘Finn’ was in 1995 with the wondrous ‘Last Day of June’ ‘Only Talking Sense’ & ‘Angel’s Heap.’ The brothers Finn have a natural bond musically. The result is a collision of charismatic chord changes, melodies and harmonies, which is pure magic.
Crowded House had a resurrection from 2007 (and to this day too) but Neil also paired up with wife Sharon to form Pyjama Club in 2011 which culminated in an album and tour. 2014 saw the next solo album ‘Dizzy Heights’, where Sharon remained on bass for the album & tour. A more stripped back pop-rock collection of songs but with that unmistakable Finn magic shining through.
In 2017 Neil released his next album ‘Out of Silence’. A collection of more piano led songs and much more mellow & reflective in general. 2018 brought Neil and Liam, his eldest son, together for their own album ‘Lightsleeper’
Although my direction in songwriting has found me in the modern folk world, I cite Neil Finn as my most significant influence. That first ‘Woodface’ obsession changed me and definitely put me on the road to really think about how to approach the songs I write. An underrated guitarist and pianist, (masked by his songwriting and vocal melodies I guess) Neil is never afraid to push the boundaries, but there’s always a sense of grounded instrumentation, where melody is king, those magic mids happen and production is embraced to respect the music created.
‘Into The Sunset’ is my favourite Neil song of all time… and this is why I love Neil Finn.
Our thanks go to Mike Turnbull for this excellent homage to a brilliant songwriter; one that has stood the test of time and is still releasing quality music. You can check out Two Kingdoms from Mike Turnbull through his Bandcamp page.