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They Will Have Their Way

The songwriting of Tim and Neil Finn has a timeless quality to it. As you get older, as seasons change and experience piles up around you, the songs you've known your whole life take on more meaning. Layers of metaphor and meaning unravel and no matter how many times you've dusted off a Crowded House or Split Enz record, there's always something new to discover.


There's something in the songwriting -a trait shared with few others: Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, Paul Kelly - the kind that inspire tribute albums to be written about them. It's unique; sometimes absurdly idiosyncratic and intensely personal but at the same time it touches something in you that allows you to relate to it entirely, as though the song was written just for you. For every person, every lifetime, there is a handful of Finn Brothers songs you hear and say, in all seriousness, "That's me. I just spent six months in a leaky boat".

 

 

The universality of these songs makes them a pleasure to listen to, and a pleasure to play; they've long been a staple of buskers and performers who throw a cheeky cover into a set list. This fact was celebrated with the 2005 tribute album She Will Have Her Way, and again with 2010's He will Have His Way, where artists were invited to perform a version of a Finn classic. Now, a co-ed celebration of the Finn brother's songwriting has been cooked up, and the They Will Have Their Way: The Songs of Tim & Neil Finn National Tour is underway. It gives the audiences the chance to experience the timeless work lovingly recreated and interpreted by seven artists from the original tribute albums. Sarah Blasko, Clare Bowditch, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby will join their male counterparts Paul Dempsey, Lior and Oh Mercy's droll front man Alex Gow.

 

 

"Sharing the stage with some of my favorite Australian songwriters, singing the Finn brothers songs, who are two of my favourite all-time songwriters, will make for a very memorable November. I am incredibly excited," said Alex Gow.

 

 

The tour follows the success of the two albums which have sold over 400,000 copies in Australia and New Zealand and introduced the songs of the Finn brothers to a whole new generation of artists, who put their own spin on it. The results were by and large, fantastic. The songs are written in a way that means you don't have to be that good to cover a Crowded House hit but with a little talent you can do something amazing with it. The tribute compilations spawned radio hits like Missy Higgins' Stuff and Nonsense, Little Birdy's rockabilly tinged cover of Six Months in Leaky Boat and Boy and Bear's transcendent reinvention of Fall at Your Feet, which catapulted the little-known band into the spotlight and remains one of the best things they've ever done.

 

 

Then you had slow burners, like Sarah Blasko lending her trademark soulful melancholy to Don't Dream it's Over, the strange percussive beauty of Sally Seltmann's vocal take on Four Seasons, and the new-wave disco breakdown of One Step Ahead by Amiel. The best of the records were always where the artists took a risk and made the song their own, like the Artisan Guns version of Private Universe or the deceptive fragility of Holly Throsby's Not the Girl You Think You Are.

 

 

"With any songwriter you respect, it's always daunting to tackle their work. You want to do the song justice, but also want to put your own stamp on it in some way, in terms of doing a cover," said Holly Throsby.

 

 

"It's a very fine art between being honest to the song and also to yourself. I think I invariably offended people with my song on the CD because it's a bit different from the original. That's kind of my approach to doing covers. You've just got to do what works."

 

 

Alex agrees, his laid back, stripped down cover of I Feel Possessed was the first track on He Will Have His Way. "It's not about making it as good as the original, that's obviously not the point - you're doing a cover so you do what you will with it just as the original artist would do".

 

 

By chance, when Gow got the call inviting him to be part of the He Will Have His Way he was in Santa Monica with producer Mitchell Froom, who worked on the first three Crowded House records.

 

 

"Mitchell and I went into his office and listened to the first three albums, the ones he'd worked on and a few other bits and pieces he'd worked on. There were a few that really appealed to me, 'Songs like Instinct and a couple of others I wanted to do, but Mitchell was of the opinion that he got the recording right the first time for the songs I picked out," Alex explains.

 

 

"Sitting there, I got the feeling he was really proud of those records but he maybe hadn't listened to them in a while so it was great to revisit them with him. I suppose he wanted to rework something that he could do differently to the way that he originally approached it, and the song that best lent itself to that was I Feel Possessed. Mitchell explained and it's quite obvious if you listen to it, that out of all the early songs that one is the most placed in the '80s in the arrangement for better or for worse. In any case, that's the one we decided to do."

 

 

Holly Throsby, who didn't have the luxury of an old Crowded House producer on hand when choosing her song back in 2005, went with a sentimental favorite from her childhood, Not the Girl You Think You Are, which turned out well, at least in the esteem of Neil Finn. Holly was chuffed to receive a congratulatory email from the original songwriter. "I've never met him, but Neil sent me a really lovely email just after the record was released saying how much he liked the cover. I was chuffed to get an email. The subject line was 'Good Singin' - no g. He's a very courteous man."

 

 

"I chose it because I had the Recurring Dream best of Crowded House CD as a kid, and my best friend and I loved that song, we used to sit and listen to it all the time. Later on she put it on a mixtape she made for me, so it had a sentimental attachment I guess."

 

 

That's the thing with Finn songs. They mean so much to so many people and are always around, on a mixtape, tucked away on the private end of your iPod, on the radio on late night drives. I wondered if it was daunting covering songs that in many ways have formed the soundtracks to our lives. Gow was characteristically dry-cool.

 

 

"I didn't feel any pressure working with Mitchell or performing one of my hero's songs. It was what it was, it is what it is." If a voice on a phone can shrug, Gow shrugged.

 

 

"I think if the Finn brothers were called up to do a tribute album, for whoever, say an Avril Lavigne tribute album -" Here Gow paused for a second, before continuing. "- I don't know why I just chose Avril Lavigne. I'm going to be curious for the rest of the day as to why I chose Avril Lavigne. She's obviously on my mind. They're going to approach it any way they want, so that's the way you've got to handle covering their songs."

 

 

The tour begins in Melbourne, on Saturday November 5 and Sunday 6 at the Palais, before hitting Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and finishing at the Sydney Opera House where Crowded House played their farewell show years ago. Each of the seven artists will be playing the song they owned for the tribute albums, along with a select wish list of other Finn brother's hits. As any fan of Split Enz or Crowded house will attest, the songs are best enjoyed in harmony, bellowed drunkenly into the night, and the artists will be making the most of each other's company on the night with duets and collaborations. Lior teamed up with Emma-Louise to put down a special recording of It's Only Natural. Holly promises some sing-a-long action.

 

 

"I'm sure that everyone will sing the song they contributed to the record. I do know that everyone is keen to do more songs and collaborations with each other, old time sing-a-longs, that king of thing. I think this show will have a real feeling of togetherness. The music lends itself to that."

 

 

It's an exciting prospect, especially when you consider the fact that three of the women on the bill, Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby form the songwriters supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper, a band that swaps songs, instruments and harmonies for heartbreakingly beautiful performances in the tradition of the Finn Brothers. Punters can look forward to a little of that magic.

 

 

"You get Sarah, Sally and I into a room together and we often can't help but sing together, so that sounds realistic."

They Will Have Their Way happens at the Palais on November 5 and 6. Tickets from TicketMaster.They Will Have Their Way: The Songs Of Tim & Neil Finn - the 2CD set album, will be released Friday October 28