Crowded House are the reason we’re in Australia

 

If it weren’t for Crowded House we wouldn’t be living in Australia. Kinda. Sorta. Pretty much.

Marjorie and I came to the band late, not long before Together Alone came out, when I picked up Woodface somewhere on CD and we instantly realised that tracks such as It’s Only Natural and Fall At Your Feet were a kind of music we’d been yearning for but had never really managed to find except in our own heads. We lived in Vancouver, Canada at the time and when we moved there in 1988 from Northern Ireland we were simultaneously perturbed by the prevailing poodle bands on the charts and heartened by the fact that every time we turned on CFMI classic rock radio while driving we heard the likes of Steely Dan, Van Morrison and other artists who seemed forgotten back home, swept away by the punk that we ourselves had loved and followed.

We were both “pop music literate” and knew that Neil had been in Split Enz. We loved I Got You when it was a hit in the UK. I’d heard Better Be Home Soon in the car on this “classic rock radio” which seemed unique to the New World, and been struck by its Beatlesque qualities. And we both knew Don’t Dream It’s Over, of course, and had admired it vaguely from a distance. And I recalled seeing them once on the MTV VMA awards (see video) and being astounded that they seemed to be a real band, playing real instruments and singing a real song. With a Hammond organ! In the 80s! Ever since then I’d made a mental note to buy one of their albums, but it simply didn’t happen until I picked up Woodface at a bargain price in 1993.

Live in Canada

Sadly, drummer Paul Hester had quit the band just two weeks before we first saw them in Vancouver and Seattle, but they were still a revelation live, a band who played smart, concise pop songs in the spirit of the “jam bands” – they never played a song the same way twice and you never knew what was going to happen at any moment. Neil Finn was edgy in the sense that at any moment he felt the freedom to do whichever option popped into his head, whether it was to morph into a random cover, play an extended free-form guitar solo, swap instruments with the drummer, write a song on the spot based on the support band’s setlist, have the band jam along to a demo CD that an aspiring musician threw onto the stage…

Crowded House backstage pass! Yeah! Wow! Cool!Crowded House backstage pass!

We managed to score backstage passes for their Seattle show. The show was great but being backstage afterwards wasn’t the most exciting of experiences. However, I guess there was a certain thrill of anticipation and the pass itself is quite nice!

I was hacking gently into the hospital computer system at my work and discovered that the network was hooked into a mysterious entity, The Internet, involving such things as “gophers”, a search engine named “Veronica” and something called “email”. Much to my surprise I found that there was an active group of Crowded House fans exchanging information, and that I was even able to set up an email account on my home computer using Vancouver’s Freenet text-based email service. Marjorie and I joined this community, known asTongue In The Mail, and in fact we’re still in it (although it’s been partly superseded by the Frenz forum, which I also use).

Trip to New Zealand

At one point in 1995 Crowded House were about to tour New Zealand and there was a vague feeling in the ranks that they might split up soon and this could be their last outing. I vividly recall saying to Marjorie, “You should

Marjorie's Ticket for the show in Palmerston North, New ZealandMarjorie’s Ticket for the show in Palmerston North, New Zealand

go and see them!” while realising that this was completely unfeasible. However, she took me at my word and three days later she was in New Zealand! She’d made arrangements to meet up with various people we’d met online, and she traipsed around after the band. Some of the people she met were close to the band and managed to get her backstage where she met, not only the Crowded House members and Tim, but Mr. and Mrs. Finn senior. This was, needless to say, quite a bit of fun. She had coffee with Mike Chunn (Split Enz bass player) and Dave Dobbyn and generally was made very welcome on the other side of the world. Even back then we felt really old and grown-up, having two children and being well settled down, so it seemed almost ridiculous that Marjorie should be on such an adventure. We’d sometimes play our own gigs at Vancouver’s rock clubs, look around and think “we’re old enough to be these people’s parents and I’m sure they think we’re like old fogies from another era!” Of course, looking back, we were only in our early 30s and nearly 20 years later we’re still running after bands and and still playing to people who now could practically be our grandchildren!

Marjorie's photo of Crowded House in New ZealandMarjorie’s photo of Crowded House in New Zealand

But that’s beside the point. Marjorie had a stopover in Melbourne on her way back to Canada. Neither of us had ever been to Australia before, but Marjorie simply fell in love with this city. Another internet friend took her round to see some of the Crowdie sites, such as Paul Hester’s café and Neil Finn’s old house where he wrote many of the Woodface songs.

When she returned to Vancouver, Marjorie simply said “We should move to Melbourne, it’s really nice!” Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when you have two small kids and an elderly mother-in-law (Marjorie’s mother) who lives with you. But we got the permanent residence visa application forms and had a look at them. We’d already emigrated once so the forms weren’t daunting in the least. We figured out that I, as a medical scientist, would have a reasonable chance of being accepted, but that if you were over 35 you had extra “points” taken off which would effectively scupper your chances of getting a visa.

Just up the road from where we lived in CanadaJust down the road from where we lived in Canada

And anyway, Vancouver is “really nice” too, to say the least! It consistently vies with Melbourne for the title of “The World’s Most Livable City” and it’s undeniably beautiful and comfortable. And we loved the Canadian people and had many close friends. So we filled out the forms but didn’t bother sending them.

However, two weeks before I turned 35, I mentioned that if we didn’t do it now we’d never get a visa. So we sent of the forms just so that we could say we’d had a go. Very shortly afterwards we got a letter saying that we’d been accepted into Australia! No interview or anything! And with that piece of paper in hand, we decided we may as well go and see what it’s like to live in Australia.

We moved in 1996, two boys and aging mother-in-law in tow (she’s still living with us 16 years later!) and have never regretted it, despite occasionally longing for real mountains, snow, the smell of cedar and the warm hospitality of Canadians… not that Australians aren’t hospitable, but they’re different.

Move to Australia

We stopped over in Auckland on our way to Australia, and were wined and dined very generously by ex-Split Enz members Paul Crowther and Mike Chunn. (We’d previously met Paul Crowther at a Mutton Birds show in Vancouver’s Railway Club when we popped in after our own gig over the road.)

One of our ENZSO ticketsOne of our ENZSO tickets

As soon as we arrived in Melbourne we heard that there was to be an ENZSO concert in the Rod Laver Arena. Exasperatingly, we couldn’t afford to go but I got a job after only two weeks and the first thing I did was buy tickets. Due to a slight misadventure we arrived slightly late and it was a very bizarre feeling to walk into a packed arena-sized venue and hear a full orchestra playing Six Months In A Leaky Boat with the audience lapping it up!

We’ve seen an amazing run of Finn-related events here in the hometown of Split Enz and Crowded House. The most memorable – sorry, unforgettable – were the warm-up shows for the Sydney Opera House Farewell To The World mega-show in which we got to see Crowded House with Paul Hester two nights in a row, up close, at the intimate Corner Hotel, thus more than making up for having missed out on seeing him with Crowded House before he quit them. It was very much a “who would have thunk?” experience for us.

We saw two more impromptu reunions of core members Finn, Seymour and Hester, one at “Hessie’s Shed” in the Espy Hotel, St Kilda and one at the TV recording of a Neil Finn solo show. And then, tragically, Paulo was gone, his life snuffed out by his own hand in this very city. But that awful incident doesn’t erase our memories of the sheer, joyful, uninhibited exuberance that he personified on stage.

Ticket for Corner Hotel warm-up show, 1996Ticket for Corner Hotel warm-up show, 1996

We got to see another Crowded House warm-up at the Corner Hotel, this time for their comeback tour. And it was surprisingly magnificent! Neither Marjorie nor I have warmed hugely to the two albums by the reunified band (save for about three great tracks on the first one which are up there with their greatest work), but the live shows have been almost as good as ever. And it’s typically admirable of Finn and Co. that they haven’t just done the get-together-and-play-the-old-hits-for-the-money-on-a-nostalgia-tour thing, but they’ve done it as a real band, written new material and simply carried on from where they left off. We may never get another Woodface, but on the other hand, perhaps we will!

~ DC Cardwell

 

NOTE: This is a quick, rough piece that I wrote as a comment on another blog, but it got too big so I posted it here instead. I may well come back to it , tidy it up and expand (or maybe contract) it later on. It’s also subject to revision by Marjorie if I’ve got some of the facts wrong!

About DC Cardwell
Singer-Songwriter. Please go to http://www.dccardwell.com

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