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The Finn Brothers - Royal Albert Hall on 30 March 2005

[This account is of record length so I hope to come back and edit it when I get a chance....bear with me 'til then by skimming!]

After the amazing, emotional and cathartic evening with the Finn Brothers on Easter Monday at the Albert Hall, when we all joined together to mourn the loss of their friend and former Crowded House and Split Enz drummer Paul Hester after he stunned us by taking his own life at the weekend, I spent much of Tuesday feeling that I had benefited by a therapy of sorts but half regretting that I had sold my tickets to Tuesday’s concert out of necessity. It helped that they went to a friend, in the way that one finds comfort in giving something precious to someone you know will appreciate it and look after it well, but I found myself that evening thinking I should be there, with the Finns and the Finn fans, pulling together to find a strength in the face of tragedy. I could not even look forward to the same experience at Wednesday’s gig as there was no guarantee that the Finns would choose to go ahead with all three Royal Albert Hall shows, which originally were meant to kick off their European tour with a happy blaze of glory. The Finn Brothers had been brave for two nights but undoubtedly wanted to get home to their families and be enclosed in the haven of others who knew and loved Paul before attending his funeral that Friday.

Fortunately for us, the Finns decided to play the third scheduled gig at the Albert Hall before returning home, initially rescheduling only a few dates of their tour. When weighing the pros and cons, they seemed also to feel that gathering in a giant, historic venue with thousands of people full of love and understanding who also, in a sense, shared their pain actually offered some benefits. It helped them get through something terribly difficult, gave them the strength to drag themselves on stage when weighted down by such misery and find the ability to sing, play and even make the odd joke--a huge part of any Finn experience is their delightful stage banter, although Paul used to be the real court jester. We surely would have forgiven Tim and Neil Finn for bypassing that on these occasions, but it does come naturally to them, so they fell into that familiar rhythm soon enough. It all helped--us and them, I believe.

I had excellent seats on the floor a few rows from the stage and thought I spotted Richard Hughes, the drummer of Keane, just in front of me, but now I think I just had Keane on the brain since their songwriter/pianist, Tim Rice-Oxley, had been there on Monday. I once again admired Bic Runga’s own strength during her set. She even found the courage to make a fond reference to her father, who had died just a few months before, and I know first-hand what crippling pain that loss can bring. She slightly altered her set for the better from Monday, and once again her basic normality diminished the sense of gloom that sought to fill the Hall.

On Monday, the boys had arrived in an unusual way that normally would be hilarious, and in this case provided a method for them to stumble onto the stage without having to face us just yet. They had diluted the misery by moving straight into a Crowded House tribute to Paul at the start, bringing on the other member, Nick Seymour, which was as comforting as it was exciting. In tribute to Paul, a snare drum and hat remained front and centre stage throughout that gig. Tonight, the snare drum was still at the front of the stage, but it was off to the right, near the corner, just in front of the grand piano, unacknowledged but always in our line of vision.

So there was still a silent tribute with perhaps a lighter mood in the Hall. It was only two days later, but the audience—much of which would have attended at least two, if not three, nights there—and the Finns now had experience of coping en masse and getting through the night together, so things could perhaps be a bit less solemn.

At 8.50pm, I heard the loopy Wurlitzer type of music again and watched patiently, already smiling to myself, as the spotlight searched the left of the stage where the artists normally climbed a few steps to come into our view. We waited an age, and no doubt those who had not been on one of the previous nights were looking out for band members, fully upright and wearing normal clothes. Nay. Or, neigh, to be more accurate. For what finally appeared was a pantomime horse, which danced around considerably more than on Monday, clearly more into the spirit of the proceedings, kicking out its legs in some sort of unison. After prancing around to the music, the horse collapsed to the ground and its felt fur fell in a heap on the stage to reveal Tim and Neil Finn, who emerged like a phoenix and moved to their respective mikes.

I’d noted on Monday that the delightful entrance had logistics problems in that, after such a booming start, we then had to wait for five minutes as the Finns fumbled with removing horse pieces from their person and tying on shoes. By Wednesday, they had mastered the problem (and the unseemly act of stripping as soon as they get before an audience!) by leaping out of the horse head and horse body, but remaining in their horse legs and feet, so they could rush straight over to their microphones and begin singing whilst strumming the acoustic guitars the roadies had brought them before collecting pieces of horse and removing them from the stage.

As they played Disembodied Voices—obviously launching straight into the show as originally planned before they had the need or the brilliant idea to add a prologue tribute to Paul, as on Monday—they did so in darkness. We sat surrounded by black as though the Albert Hall were filled with holes, nothing visible but the numerous exit signs at all levels and a few forbidden camera flashes. During the blackout, I warmed to the song more than I had before. I knew it was about the two brothers as children lying in their beds, talking in their darkness before they fell asleep. I had, at the four shows where I’d seen them play this song before, appreciated that singing it in low light conveyed the effect of voices that were disembodied, coming at us without a visible source. However, now the line ‘We could be anywhere’ really rang through strongly. Without the stimuli of our actual surroundings competing with that in our imagination, we could drum up any fantasy and find ourselves there, just as the Finn Brothers would in their childhood bedtime adventures. Mind you, most of us would surely choose as a fantasy sitting in the Albert Hall watching and hearing the Finns perform songs that we’d either recently adopted in our hearts or had loved for almost 30 years, so….

If you knew to look in the limited light, you could just barely pick out the shapes of the three members of the accompanying band standing by on their instruments just behind the thin black curtain behind the Finns, who occupied only the front few feet of the stage. Then, as Tim and Neil belted out the penultimate ‘We could be anywhere’ after the bridge, the backdrop dropped to the floor of the stage to reveal the three-man band, who burst into life as though their batteries had just been charged, and the busy roadies quickly gathered up the fallen scrim whilst the crowd roared with delight. The performers were all lit only dimly still, with vague white and deep purple lights, and it was only as the Finns walked backward to join their band for a bit that I was reminded that the Finns were wearing horse legs for trousers. There was Neil in the same smart outfit he’d worn on Monday—red waistcoat over elegant long-sleeved white shirt, without a jacket this time—but over brown felt horse legs. Tim was again donning a long-sleeved blue oxford shirt, delightfully paired for the occasion with a most flattering pair of this season’s designer…brown horse legs.

Disappointingly, the horse legs looked quite normal, just like brown baggy trousers, so it wasn’t as hilarious a sight as you would expect. Not until Neil backed well away from his mike at one stage so that you could finally see his feet without the amplifiers blocking our view, and rather than his stylish shoes, one saw ginormous circular horse hooves. Now that was hysterical. The Finn Brothers were standing before us, playing like a dream, but just like a dream, there was that slight twist of surrealism. They were wearing smart, dignified shirts (and waistcoat) over horse legs. Our own private singing centaurs.

This song grew on me quite a lot that night, and during the lovely music near the end, Paul Stacey, seated near his drummer brother Jeremy, added some lovely Spanish acoustic guitar to replace the not-at-all-missed banjo that one hears on the album.

Immediately after the song ended to the tune of our thrilled cheers for that marvellous opener, Tim stripped off his horse legs in one fell swoop, clearly highly skilled at removing them now. Don’t worry, he had normal trousers on beneath them; we weren’t getting a Kiwi version of the Full Monty. Neil, on the other hand, leaned into the mike and proclaimed with some pride, "I’m donning the horse legs, Tim. I don’t know about you. I’m feeling good in these horse legs!"

Tim smiled and, as he fumbled a bit with his shoes after removing the giant horse hooves, told us that this was their third night, the end of their season at the Royal Albert Hall, which he said had been amazing, but "a strange week."

Neil piped in with, "Yeah, we’re pretty blessed to be in this room with you tonight, and we give thanks for that." The audience cheered heartily and I felt relieved that Neil recognised something that I had been focused on since the weekend, counting our blessings, one of which was that the Finns were not only still on this earth, thank God, to continue to give so much to the world, but that we were able to spend this crucial time with them—although I’m sure they would have been better off with their families at home, but failing that, it was somehow important that they were with people who appreciated them and what they must be grappling with in the news of the loss of their dear friend. Fortunately, since they were now working together again rather than focusing on their solo careers, they did have the support of family with them…and Tim’s strength guiding his little brother was clearly evident on both nights. To us, they were two fantastic singer/songwriters, Godsends who just happened to be brothers. To each other, of course, they were family in every deep sense of the word, people who had been together through so much for almost half a century, and that was invaluable. Their new album was a celebration of just that.

The boys were evidently more cheerful than on Monday. Time helps; it doesn’t heal, like people say, you never get over pain brought on by loss, but you learn how to live with it. It was early days yet but no doubt the Finns, having made the decision to go ahead with the Albert Hall shows, had welcomed a distraction for a few hours and decided to focus on delivering the best show they could, which would help them as well.

Next, with Neil in his horse legs now donning a red electric guitar that matched his snazzy waistcoat, Tim remaining on acoustic guitar, and Paul Stacey now standing a bit behind Neil, the boys struck up a booming beat and pounded their way through the breathtaking Anything Can Happen, a song that I grow more enthusiastic about each time I hear it; it is fantastically sharp. Neil, in particularly bouncy mode, jumped up and down behind the long tentacles reaching down from one of the Sharondeliers that hung over the stage from the lighting rig. His wife Sharon, who created these unique artsy chandeliers complete with bird cages, surely would have been proud to see them hanging in front of the nearly 10,000 pipes of the pipe organ at the Royal Albert Hall, with her strong, beloved husband jamming beneath them in between the lines of this smashing song with the powerful beat. We were seeing good ol’ Neil in his usual concert mode. Tonight would clearly be quite different from Monday. We had needed Monday’s show to be what it was then, when we were all desperate and dazed by the news, but Wednesday was something different. Our hearts were still heavy but they were no longer completely paralysed with shock, they were starting to beat again, slowly.

One mustn’t forget that, during these moments when Neil was backing away from the mike to jam a bit on his guitar like Pete Townsend, he was, from the waist down, still a panto horse. When he jumped up and down, he was doing so with giant round cartoon-like horse hoofs. It’s a shame he had no tail; I would have paid extra to see that.

When they drew that invigorating song to a close, all of us feeling its benefits, Neil placed the electric guitar in a stand and a roadie came to fetch it, but Neil stopped him and urged us to listen to it sing….the guitar was reverberating and Neil playfully ordered the roadie, "Leave it!" whilst holding out his hands like a conductor about to deliver the cue to a soloist to cut off its last note. With this newfound sense of playful joy, Neil smiled and finally let the roadie remove the guitar once it had finished its act.

Neil then admitted to being so hot that he was forced to remove his horse feet and trousers. Meanwhile Tim, who confessed on Monday to having been an Albert Hall virgin and revelled in the history of the 135-year-old structure, looked way up to the highest level of the venue, where there was standing room only over a fence that kept those in the Gods from falling about 100 feet, and he pointed out the "folk strolling on the upper promenade. They actually live up there!"

Then, making the first reference to the sad news, Tim softly added, "Neil and I are getting on a plane tomorrow, back to Melbourne, to take care of some sad business. We’ll take some songs as mantras for these times. This got me through a few years ago," he said, introducing the next number. Always the professional musician who leads the team on, he added as though for our benefit, "It’s in the good old key of D." Tim’s fond of discussing key issues….

I wondered which of his incredible repertoire of songs would be the mantra that helped him through hard times, and as a hundred titles spun through my head, he began singing a cappella the first line of one that hadn’t featured on my list: Six Months in a Leaky Boat. Within seconds, the band was booming behind him, and the audience erupted in truly huge cheers to welcome in this bopping old friend. Neil was again using the independent red electric guitar, a performer in its own right, and Tim was still acoustic, with Paul Stacey now based at the electric keyboard near his usual spot by his twin brother’s drum kit. Joining this band of brothers was Tim Smith on bass, to the right of the drum kit, an unassuming force who sometimes contributed backing vocals that, frankly, were rarely audible in this auditorium, but then we had two Finns in full voice filling most of the room. The joint was rocking; I’m afraid there’s no more fitting description. People on all levels were jigging about in their seats—in the more formal London venues, we rarely leave our seats or stand to dance, not ‘til the encores of truly great gigs, anyway. Still, this crowd was rowdier than Monday’s, which had been understandably more respectful of the Finns’ grief and needy itself.

During Tim’s stellar whistling solo, many members of the audience joined in, proof that the mood throughout the hall was a bit more upbeat. Neil followed that with a strong solo on his electric guitar, and whilst he hadn’t quite graduated to a level of calmer emotion that would allow him to lose himself in the indulgent, often over-long guitar solos we often experience at his concerts these years, it was good to see that he had climbed to a place where he could offer more than the bare minimum, again as though he were enjoying himself rather than just suffering through a necessity. He added so many notes that his elaborate solo almost changed the tune, seeming to declare that playing the Royal Albert Hall to 5,000 people who adore you can be a good thing even in the most troubling of times. As his brother busied himself with the his "da-da-da-da" part, Neil stepped back and looked up in wonder at everyone in the higher tiers of the venue who were getting into the magic far below on the stage. Such small gestures tend to thrill people who many artists ignore for their distance. Once the Pioneer instrumental part finished, Neil finally took us on a journey with a long, grinding, grungy, powerful electric guitar solo as red lights flashed over the stage. Tim wandered around the stage until he faced his brother as they started to end the song, then he moved towards Jeremy at the drums, a spot that Tim often seems to use as home base. They concluded the song to massive cheers.

A parade of roadies marched on stage, and it occurred to me that the Finns these days got as much pampered attention from staff as Van Morrison, but they were much nicer to their roadies, often introducing them and sometimes letting them join in the music-making. As they busied themselves with changing Neil’s guitar to an acoustic one and fussing over Jeremy at the drums, Neil told us that Tim was really good at feeding him titles and that he’d fed him this next one….

Tim, now seated at the piano, elaborated by mentioning where said "meal" had taken place, out at Devil’s Beach. He added that they hadn’t done this one for quite a while, keeping us in suspense as to what we would hear.

Neil said, "It happens to be a favourite of someone in the band" and he trailed off as he looked around at the three men behind him, completely missing Paul Stacey’s humble pointing towards himself. Neil was on another trail of thought by then, having drawn everyone’s attention to the band, and he decided that, "while we’re here," it was time to introduce Tim Smith on bass and Jeremy Stacey on drums. Turning to Jeremy’s twin on guitar, Neil began his introduction with a deep, theatrical voice, "Prone to whiskey abuse…" and similar descriptions before saying, "It’s not true. Mr Paul Stacey!" My mind flashed back to their final gig in London last year when they surprised Paul by projecting onto the screen at the back of the stage an unauthorised nude photo they’d snapped of him, for all to see. Perhaps he particularly enjoyed such jokes, or perhaps he just took them well.

As they started playing his favourite song, Paul Stacey sat at the keyboards doing nothing, only joining in much later, so I suppose he had a chance truly to enjoy the song from the Finn album, Where Is My Soul. When I bought that album 10 years ago, I must confess to having been somewhat disappointed by it, perhaps because I expected any combined effort by the Finn brothers to be something that could launch me into another galaxy. I enjoyed this song, but it was not one of my favourites. The song, like the album, proved to be a similar case as Crowded House’s second album, Temple of Low Men, which at the time was somewhat disillusioning yet some time later struck me as containing numerous sensational songs. As I recall even having to take time to come to terms with Split Enz’s Time and Tide, which was such a departure from the wilder Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band type of wacko-meets-pop of previous albums, it took some adjustment. Critics were raving about it whilst I was feeling somewhat betrayed. That was even with the albums all having a head start as they were created by Tim and Neil Finn, my all-time-favourites. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the Finns are always ahead of their time and that I’m an idiot philistine, a bit slow.

The bridge of Soul in particular, where Neil’s voice soars as he sings, "And I’ll go up with my conscience clean…" is overwhelmingly seductive, and the beginning nods towards the eternally delicious Don’t Dream It’s Over. Its lyrics are absorbing, and performed live, Tim adds (in addition to some delicate backing vocals) quite an abundance of arpeggios on the piano shortly before an impressive ad-libbed but clean-cut solo, and its verses create a haunting atmosphere. The audience remained quiet during the performance of the moody song, the camera flashes that were nearly incessant during the rest of the show ceased, and everyone focused on the gripping deep atmosphere stirred up on stage. Neil clamped his eyes shut for much of the song, Paul had little to do so it’s good that he likes to hear the song, and after Tim muttered a string of rhythmic musings about the location of his soul at the end, he seemed to catch his brother by surprise by reaching "Soul, you lose control" whilst Neil was still mid-groove.

They finished, we cheered, the roadie parade re-appeared. Tim, who had previously referred to mantras, continued in that vein by referring to the next song as an anthem from the Finn album that they’d released in 1996 [though I seem to have bought my copy in October 1995…?]. He remained at the piano as a roadie draped around Neil his red electric guitar, and suddenly Jeremy went ballistic on the bass drum whilst giving the cymbals a good whack. People whistled and cheered at this bold percussive display, the stage was bathed in shards of white light to whip up a spooky mood, and Paul provided additional rhythm on electric guitar. Eventually, Neil kicked in with the tremendously familiar, grungy riff to usher in the Finn song Suffer Never. Behind the band on the white screen, a film ran showing scribbled words such as ‘radical’ scrawled in a cursive text reminiscent of a heart monitor chart. Paul and Tim Smith joined Tim Finn in punctuating Neil’s lines with quick bursts of "say" (or whatever they actually say!) near the end, leading them all into a huge jam as the white lights flashed madly and the artsy film continued flashing meaningful words at us. This was the show we were meant to see, undoubtedly well-crafted and well-rehearsed before it had been shaken up by Paul Hester’s sudden demise.

The film ended with a few frames that proclaimed ‘This film was supported with a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission,’ which hinted that, rather than being made specifically as a backdrop for the Finns’ concert as so many big performers (such as Paul McCartney and Simon & Garfunkel) seemed to be doing these days, this film was perhaps a home-grown commodity that the Finns decided would suit their show in Europe, and the two worked wonderfully together.

Neil and Paul Stacey’s guitars truly erupted during the jam that ended the song, but it was good fun, even for those of us who aren’t fans of loud and long electric guitar pieces. Neil seemed to be enjoying himself again, or perhaps this was just his method of pouring out the demons lodged in his soul of late. He stomped on the pedal on the floor as though trying to squeeze out the last bit of sound, then rubbed the neck of the guitar up and down before crouching down on the floor and working with the pedal more directly. He led the band in creating a rising, cacophonous noise similar to that in A Day in the Life that seemed to be leading us towards the crest of an explosion—then suddenly stopped. We paused, stunned, then roared with dazed enthusiasm. It was a trick ending—Neil wasn’t done and he played a slightly quieter note and led the band gently back into the tune, singing a few more lines before bringing the song to a final close.

Now the twice shy audience wasn’t so sure of itself, waiting in silence for a while before cheering intensely once confirming that the song really was finished. A roadie dressed Neil with a black electric guitar as he drank from a water bottle. Without introduction, the band began playing notes I recognised immediately as the outstanding Sunset Swim, a recent B-side to Won’t Give In with an A-side soul. Tim, still at the piano, sang the verses of this charmer, bathed in an orange sun-like light as a variety of images flashed on the screen to his right. I adore how both brothers sing different parts that melt together in the chorus; it reminds me of Split Enz, with slight flavours of What’s the Matter With You. Tim Smith joined Tim Finn in the slow chorus lines, although I could never pick out his voice in the mix. Still, I’d be sorry if anyone drowned out the brothers Finn.

Neil sometimes mouthed his brother’s part at the beginning of the chorus before singing his own part. In the lights of the false sunset, the organ pipes were glowing above and behind them, and the song shone just as much. Tim, whose voice not long ago seemed to have suffered from so many years in the business, demonstrated as he hit the high note at the end of the bridge that it was once again a force up to any challenge. The audience applauded when it seem the song had ended, but Neil carried on playing even though Tim had risen from the piano to move to the centre to pick up his acoustic guitar. Finally, Neil decided to draw things to a close, and the major applause took hold and the orange ‘sunset’ light was extinguished.

In the dark, one could make out the Finn Brothers facing each other. One of them called out, "All together" as the lights came up a bit. Neil, now donning the beige and red electric guitar, looked at us and smiled, saying in a syrupy voice as though it were a novel idea, "Shall we all come in together?" Tim encouraged us to count them in, and the house lights went up as we shouted, "1-2-3!", cueing the brothers to come in with one of the most recognisable guitar riffs of the past two decades, which introduced Weather With You. The audience cheered frantically and clapped to the beat. Tim created some funny noises at the beginning by singing into a box that was strapped to his mike stand—like a melodica without the keyboard but thankfully not employing dire electric distortions like on Cher’s last tiresome single.

Just before the brothers began singing the verses, Neil leaned towards his mike and started singing softly in a deep voice, "Just one person…it’s almost perfect. There’s only one person missing." There were similarly subtle touching tributes throughout the evening. The Finns eventually sang the usual lyrics in unison, joined by the audience throughout. When we finished our sing-along, we roared in euphoria.

Paul Stacey rose from the piano and returned to his guitar spot on the other side of the stage as the roadies came on to take away Tim’s guitar as he took Paul’s place at the piano. Neil said, "Let’s pause for thought here, a little sip of water in the Albert Hall." He did sob before exclaiming, "Look at us!!" as though he were finally waking up to the fact that he could enjoy the accomplishment of filling the Albert Hall three nights in a row.

Tim added that it was a long way from Te Awamutu, where they just had St Patrick’s Hall at the school, a town hall and a woolshed or two. (It sounded as though he said bull shed, but since woolshed is mentioned in the lyrics of Only Talking Sense and we’re talking New Zealand rather than Spain, I’m going to go with woolshed.) Neil joked that a woolshed was "a bit like this." Tim, in poetic mode, histrionically rattled off, "The sunset stretched out on the sky like a fleece torn from a newborn lamb."

Neil smiled cautiously at his brother and responded with, "I don’t know where you’re going with this, Tim, but I like it!"

Tim began to introduce the next song as being a good reason to buy their new single. Neil offered, "But we’ll try it out for you now, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it."

He started singing one of their B-sides, the Fountains of Wayne-ish Way Back Down, from their first—not their recent—single off the new album, with Tim joining him on the bright song that sounded less contrived than the recorded version. They made it really rock, getting heads nodding throughout the audience. The film on the screen behind them came up with "Len Lye’s Tal Farlow", which identified the film at last. Len Lye was a New Zealand-born filmmaker/artist who, in the 1950s, made geometrical scratch patterns (or as I so poorly put it, heart monitor chart) to accompany Tal Farlow’s inventive jazz guitar playing. Lye returned to the project in 1980 but died before he could finish it, and his assistant completed the production of the film with guidance from Lye’s wife. So the Finn Brothers were now applying Len Lye’s Tal Farlow, with its varying moving lines designed to accompany a varied rhythm, to their own stage show. In the middle of the tune, both Finns sang a Beatlesque "Bah-bah-bah" before Paul Stacey played a subdued electric solo near Tim Smith, who was incredibly smiley during this number. This live version was truly commanding compared to the slightly gentler version on one of the Won’t Give In singles. It really came to life, uh, live.

We applauded brightly when they finished, and Tim remained at the piano as he introduced the next song, Luckiest Man Alive. Neil changed to an acoustic guitar as Tim said, "We’re missing our families this week and this is for them." Then Tim engaged in some vocal aerobics, huffing and puffing to the point that I thought he might instead begin singing Homesick, which could surely also describe him tonight, but he stuck to the song he introduced, with Paul playing them in on electric guitar. Tim was bathed in white light as though he were an angel, his voice tremendously clear, more solid than on the album version, singing deeply and wonderfully well. The song came across much more naturally and sincerely, less like a polished production with a near Beach Boys meets Four Seasons section in the middle, more of a genuine celebration of being blessed with love in his life. Neil wandered around when he wasn’t joining in on backing vocals, usually going to face the drummer, but seemed to delight in providing vocals when called for. The audience cheered appreciably at the end of the song, which had really wowed us much more than I would have expected.

I noticed during that song that the Finns never watch each other to make sure they come in on cue when they’re harmonising or otherwise singing in unison. It could be because they’re both professionals who have been performing for almost as long as I have been alive. It could be that they’ve rehearsed until they are infallibly sharp. It could be that they are blood brothers who perhaps are so in tune with each other, they feel when the other will open his mouth and sing. I feel it must be instinct.

Neil beamed and someone in the audience shouted something indecipherable to him. Tim coaxed the man with, "Huh? Say it again, man." Another indistinguishable bolt from the audience. Tim twisted the request for our amusement: "Billie Jean?"

Leaping into their traditional talents for banter, Neil eagerly boasted, "Oh, I know that one!" He began to sing, "Billie Jean is not my lover." He stopped suddenly, no doubt thinking of Michael Jackson’s current child abuse trial, and said, "This is taking on a dark tone" so said he thought he’d leave it. Tim piped in with, "I know what you mean, but a song is a song is a song and it has its own lustre." An interesting view from a fascinating performer. "You could argue that," Neil agreed.

He moved on to philosophise about the neighbouring areas—Bond Street with lots of money, and closer to us in Kensington: an educational district with museums, where one could go to see the rewards of "lots of pilfering from the empire." Tim joined in with a "Yeah?" as they were always supportive of each other, never leaving the other awkwardly hanging even when they weren’t sure were the other was taking the conversation.

"Yeah," Neil confirmed, as though they were Dudley Moore and Peter O’Toole. "Yet right out there, there’s a man out eating ice cream in the Park." "Yeah?" responded Tim, prompting us to laugh more. Neil turned to us and explained, "We talk like this sometimes" in a similar way as the Fawltys explained Manuel’s behaviour with "He’s from Barcelona."

Tim took them back to the matter at hand but stopped to ask, "Who starts this one? Oh, the drummer!" Jeremy tapped his drums gently as Tim created some ravishing work on the piano, singing the tantalizingly sublime Edible Flowers—their new single but an old song--joined by Tim Smith and the audience on backing vocals. Paul Stacey played keyboards and Neil strummed away at his acoustic guitar, with the electric guitar provided by a silent dark mystery figure in the shadows near Paul who slipped on after the first few lines. He was presumably a roadie, playing one of those big white 50s-looking Gene V type guitars. The stage was lit in purple, so fitting for the violet mood of the staggeringly gorgeous song. When Neil sang his first line in the chorus, it seemed to take the lighting director by surprise as he remained in the dark for another line. I perhaps imagined him singing "I’m hardly hear at all" more deeply and quieter than usual as though it were an admission, and Tim’s backing vocals during the chorus were formidable. Neil added backing vocals to the second verse and again remained in darkness. In the end, the audience was initially subdued, no doubt just trying to soak up every bit of this celestial treasure, truly one of the most resplendent songs of all time.

Before our amazed applause tapered off, Jeremy started hitting the cymbals, which cued our silence. Tim joined his brother at the front centre stage with an acoustic guitar and started to play, then stopped abruptly to ask us why we stopped cheering as though he were hurt, and we chuckled. By now, the guitar-playing roadie had removed himself, although he returned shortly with that same white electric guitar, and Paul was at the keyboards whilst Neil also had an acoustic guitar. Both Finn brothers gently sang in unison the first verse of yet another stately song from their recent album, Nothing Wrong With You, which could be an anti-racist anthem. The audience loved this song so much, they cheered during it, and suddenly three young women rushed the stage. They stood a few feet from the Finns and started dancing, which actually looked quite out of place--not just because we were in the stuffy Albert Hall, but it simply didn’t seem appropriate in the light of the overriding emotions this week. Okay, I know things were much more upbeat than Monday, but it still had only been three days since learning the news of the performers’ close friend’s sudden, baffling and unhappy death, so jiggling about in little tiny plunging tops in such an exhibitionist way seemed incongruous with that undercurrent of grief. I know I sounded prudish then, but even the Finns seemed to stand well back from them for a while as though wary of their intensity.

Neil’s mind was focused on one matter, it seemed, and after they sang the words of the title near the end, he added, "That’s right, there’s nothing!" He backed away from the mike when he wasn’t singing and seemed to break away to jig a bit. When the song ended and we cheered, Neil started beaming, which was heart-warming to see. Tim pointed like a rock star towards the private dancers in a show of acknowledgement that must have brightened their night, as intended.

"Let’s get the lights on in this place!", Neil demanded, though he used to dread turning up the house lights in his Split Enz days, I understand—and, after inspecting the 5,000 people before him, called out, "Yeah! Look at you! Amazing!" He then seemed to kick some sort of toy up into the Gods, towards the 135 foot high dome, but as soon as most of us realised what he had done—most unexpected—the toy disappeared from view, perhaps because it was so thin and tiny against the massive backdrop of people in tiers leading up to that incredible height. A roadie appeared and began reloading some sort of device near Neil on the floor before Neil stomped down on some sort of lever, and another toy arrow shot up into the Gods.

Perhaps disappointed with our subdued, bewildered reaction as we struggled to see what was going on, Neil asked, "Are they actually visible to you?" Not really—they left the stage too quickly for us to clock them and then they did seem to disappear, as I said. Tim imitated the apparent look on our faces, saying, "What’s happening?!?" Neil explained, "It’s called Stomp Rockets. We played with it for seven hours on Christmas day. It was bought for Harper, Tim’s son."

"…’til the oldies took over," Tim added.

Young Tim Smith couldn’t resist joining in and joined the roadie in the unusual tour duty of reloading the toy rockets. "Whack it in, Tim," Neil encouraged him. Each time a rocket went flying way above our heads, Tim would shield his eyes with his hand and try to follow its course up towards the dome with an interested gaze. At some point, a chap behind us called out to indicate that he wanted to try to catch a rocket, but Neil somewhat coldly joked that he wasn’t going to aim it at a chap with specs as they’d fall off and he’d get hurt and there’d be all sorts of fall-out. (Mind you, he has been touring America so perhaps the litigious culture there taught him to be wary of aiming Stomp Rockets at bespectacled members of the crowd.)

Tim Finn advised us that a roadie called Mickey actually "got one off the back," which Neil explained more clearly with, "Mickey has the record. Anyone want to come up and try?" The young, free-spirited woman who had been sitting directly in front of me had long since abandoned her seat to join the other two dancing queens near the stage, and she was the chosen volunteer when Neil stressed that he just wanted someone to jump up on stage quickly. Presumably not having dressed for doing any climbing, she struggled to lift herself onto the stage as Neil conceded that there was really no easy way up, that she’d just have to "feel the fear and do it". She did, Tim Finn called for a drum roll, and as the woman walked towards Neil to reach the Stomp Rockets, he backed away so quickly that he almost fell over backwards.

Her one attempt at Stomp Rocketing was fairly unremarkable, but perhaps mastering them requires practice (you know, the British take on that old joke—how do you get to play Stomp Rockets in the Albert Hall…?). She was almost ignored by the Finns who just didn’t seem to be into the whole one-on-one with fans thing on a night when their thoughts were deeper and focused on the family they should be with. As she started to leave the stage, Neil found some old stage etiquette and at least thought to ask her name. My friend was unimpressed that he hadn’t given her a kiss on the cheek, which would surely have brightened her life and given her a tale to dine out on for years. But it was not that sort of evening, really. The show was a momentary distraction from—and not an abandonment of—their grief. These guys were holding up brilliantly but they were still in mourning, so they gave us a remarkable show but without every single frill.

Neil got the audience to applaud Jayne as she exited, and Tim joked that she should hang out with Mickey as they’d be very happy together, but Neil doubted they’d get through Christmas lunch. Jane having returned to the audience, Mickey was then invited on stage to show everyone how it was done, and he did stomp out a rocket that seemed to impress the world, although they really were nearly impossible to see from the floor.

After that brief interlude, Neil moved to the piano as a roadie presumably removed the launch pad of the toy that was hidden behind the amplifiers.

Jeremy then took us back to reality by joining his guitar-playing brother and the strong bass rhythm of Tim Smith in bashing out a thumping beat that was instantly recognisable as that of Dirty Creature. Tim Finn, a towel draped on his shoulder and a tambourine in his hand, wiggled his hips as he sang this fun Tim classic. He didn’t go as mad as he would during I See Red—the hyper dancing was left to one of the girls standing in front of the stage—and he mainly just jerked around a bit funkily in one spot before later doing some determined slow walking in a tight circle. Neil’s torso did a bit of dancing as he played the piano, hitting a lot of lower keys to add to the bass effect, and Paul sat at the keyboards on the other side of the stage to play during the chorus before returning to the electric guitar for the verses. When the strobe light kicked in and the guitars and drums dropped out, the girl in the audience was still the wildest dancer, and Neil was beaming towards his brother and band from the piano, a smile so very welcome on this night. Tim seemed to think he should make some sort of contribution to the dance near the end and made a minor effort that looked more like washing his hair followed by whipping the ground with his towel. Still, he remained unusually contained and controlled throughout. The audience cheered wholeheartedly at the end of the song.

With that, Neil leapt up from the piano and hopped quite madly over to the roadie that was bringing on a beige electric guitar for him. How lovely to see him in such spirits. He then raised his hands to the Sharondeliers above them. "I look up at these beautiful birdcages and think of my wife Sharon," he told the audience. There were titters from members of the audience who weren’t familiar with her craft and assumed this was leading into a joke. Neil explained with pride, "She made them! She’s back in Auckland and I miss her and I’ll see her soon." He trailed off as though the last part were a promise to himself that something good would happen soon. It was a touching moment, and a reminder that there is nothing like family to comfort you in a crisis.

The Finn Brothers faced each other in the centre of the stage, mirrored images as they even had the same electric guitars, and they picked out yet another so familiar introduction to a bubbly song from Crowded House’s Woodface, one I had immediately taken to immediately upon hearing it back in Summer 1991: It’s Only Natural, always upbeat but seemingly slightly slower than usual. The audience roared in approval, and now a dozen more people ran down front to dance, something the ushers at the Albert Hall used to forbid, but tonight they left them to it. Once others noticed that those people weren’t being sent back to their seats, loads of people flooded to the tiny space between the front row and the stage. The Victor Meldrew in me moaned to myself that it seems the only times I ever get fantastic seats, when I finally take them after months of excitement at how great the view of the performers will be, I end up seeing little of the performers because people from the seats way behind me run down and stand in front of me, blocking my vision of anything. I spent the first part of the show thinking I’ll brave some photos later, and I could have taken perfect pictures then, but now it was too late, they would all have the backs of heads in them. Still, I acknowledge I’m being a bit curmudgeonly and these people were just trying to have fun. It did seems a bit inappropriate, though, since there was still a slight feel of delicate mourning for Paul Hester. It wasn’t a normal anything-goes, fun concert, although nor was it the shocked melancholic hush of Monday’s concert, when the rush to the stage of scantily clad dancing girls with big eyes for the Finns would have been completely injudicious. As it was, everyone started to feel they could let go and join in, and more and more people rushed forward to take part in the fun more up front.

Still, I have to say that Neil and Tim initially acted a bit intimidated, like they didn’t want to be faced with a mob at this time. Rather than interact with them, leaning towards them on the edge of the stage and getting them involved, as both were prone to do in the past, they held back and stood a safe distance from the crowd, looking above them much of the time. During a particularly rocking instrumental part for this song, Neil leaned back and aimed his guitar neck towards the dome as though he were firing it into the ceiling, clearly having gained a taste for setting off rockets in the Albert Hall. They stretched out the song with lots of extra music afterwards, which sounded great, but the boys remained by their microphones, which were a decent distance from each other, and still made no move to interact with the now peppier and closer and crowd, almost as though their space was being invaded. Tim was dripping sweat like a rock star, and in that vein, they ‘rocked out’ before bringing the glorious song to a close.

Before we had much of a chance to convey our adulation through cheers, Neil moved straight into the well known introduction of the long adored early Split Enz hit, I Got You, which naturally set the hall alight. Tim quickly changed to acoustic guitar and the whole band joined in, including Tim Smith on backing vocals, with everyone in the audience clapping to the beat. So many people were singing along, the volume was considerable. Neil played a really elaborate electric solo during the brief instrumental in the middle. During the last verse, the boys took turns a bit on the vocals. Neil sang the line, "There’s no doubt…" and Tim finished it with, "Not when I’m with you." The effect was a distinguished impression of solidarity, but it might have been that Neil just needed to clear his throat during a line when Tim would be singing backing vocals anyway. But it sounded magnificent.

Neil actually stopped playing for a second, leaving Tim leading the song on his acoustic guitar, and Neil looked up at the tiers of the Hall, which was filled to the top with people who adored him, and he smiled widely. They finished the song, Neil pointing his guitar arm straight up to the dome again as he played the last few notes. The audience made their appreciation quite obvious as the band left the stage, and as a sort of legacy, Neil left his electric guitar on the stand singing on its own, having recreated the reverb from before. It was 10.15pm.

This thrilled, determined audience showed no moments of weakness or fatigue as they clapped, stomped and cheered for 10 solid minutes with no sign of flagging. The band returned for the encore, Tim almost hugging the roadie he passed who was fumbling with the guitar pedal, as he made his way to sit at the piano. Neil, playing acoustic guitar, beamed wildly during the instrumental parts of their soothing, utterly lovely rendition of Won’t Give In, a warm song that helped assert the virtues of being close to family in hard times, so appropriate for this week. Looking at us as he smiled mid-way through, Neil said, "Sing it with us!" Tim hushed the other musicians with an abrupt "Shhhh!" and a wave of his hands, and we sang as instructed. Neil said it sounded good filling up the Albert Hall. The music kicked in again to join us, and everyone looked delighted; the mood was exquisite.

The song having picked up again, Neil returned to his reckless backward run, twirling around the stage and hopping backwards full of angst. Thankfully, surely down to sheer luck, he tripped on nothing. Tim, who was meant to be the wild one who was often possessed by the Dance Demon, could no longer bear just to watch and he left the piano to run over and hug his brother, then they sort of danced like daredevils together. Not like a waltz or a polka, you understand, with any sense of effeminate grace; it was more like a bear attack, to be honest, but somehow quite touching.

This song drew perhaps the biggest cheers all night, and that was a hard contest, but the whoops were surely as much for the brotherly antics as the sparkling song.

Neil then quickly referred to their "dear friend Paul who died on Saturday night" before welcoming onto the stage Nick Seymour, and naturally the hall went completely insane as the remaining former Crowded House member joined them. As he came on full of the reassuring exuberance he wore on Monday, Nick kissed Tim Finn and Tim Smith on the cheek, and Tim Smith handed his bass over to Nick as though it were an honour to do so. For a moment, though, Tim Smith looked a bit lost as to what to do with himself and he disappeared briefly until he found a tambourine to play.

Someone in the audience with a natural amplifier for a voice shouted out, "We love you guys!!" and we cheered as Tim Finn called back, "We love you, too!"

Neil and Tim both started strumming an acoustic guitar with Nick joining in on bass and they moved into Crowded House’s first single after Tim left the band, Distant Sun. Nick moved up front to join them, and we all sang along with the whole song and the hall was filled with a warmth it may never have known before. Nick was full of happy laughter as the song ended, while Neil seemed to be struggling to decipher a signal from a roadie off-stage.

When our cheers died down, Neil said that the next song was a request from Peter Green. Tim piped in immediately to say "We miss you, Peter; we’ll be seeing you soon."

Peter Green runs the Frenz of the Enz fan club, an impressive enterprise really, and he clearly fills many more roles than that designation implies. He was largely responsible for breaking the terrible news of Paul’s death to his friends, the fans and the press and protecting Paul’s family from too much attention whilst dealing with many thousands of messages sent from people all around the world. He never bowed out despite many pressures; he was always there helping others, and the Finns’ tribute was clearly heartfelt; their thoughts were with him.

Fittingly, they began performing the Crowded House tune Better Be Home Soon. At one point, Neil ordered that the amplifiers all be switched off, and he sang one line off mike, standing in the darkness at the front edge of the stage out of the reach of the lights, strumming an unplugged acoustic guitar.

I understand from a friend that, on the previous night, Nick had initiated a discussion about the acoustics of the Albert Hall by talking off-mike, insisting that that was possible because that was what it was built for. It’s a fair point; in 1870, the auditorium would not have been built with shoddy acoustics on the understanding that towering walls of speakers would compensate to fill the hall with sound and recent refurbishments would only have improved its original sound design. So during Tuesday’s show, Neil decided to explore Nick’s theory and turned off all the amplifiers and mikes and began singing Don’t Dream It’s Over in the dark, unplugged. Clearly, it worked wonders and gave Neil a taste for it, so he decided to toy with that function again tonight. It really does work; I remember Elvis Costello closing his show with Steve Nieve back in 1999 by singing a cappella and off mike when he’d just passed the 11pm curfew, and we heard every word (it also wowed me into realising what a mighty singing talent he was, rather than just a mighty songwriter with a passable voice.)

So here he was performing Better Be Home Soon without any electricity other than that he created himself. It was briefly quite extraordinary but the audience joined in on the singing so quickly, the benefits and "wow-factor" were almost buried in our own voices. Still, it’s an irresistible sing-along song, so who could blame the audience? They did sing softly so the effect was still tangible, and singing together helped with the conjoined comfort-at-the-wake sensation.

By now, Tim Finn had moved to the piano, Tim Smith was playing acoustic guitar beside Nick Seymour on bass, and the latter two could barely stop smiling. They seemed to be kidding around together, which was pleasing to see--it was good to be cheerful again. The audience sang the gentle song quite beautifully, even providing harmonies, and then the band joined in, Nick beaming, Paul on an electric guitar, but one could barely hear them. The prominent sound at the time was Neil’s voice; he sounded phenomenal even without the mike. When we finished the lovely song, Neil was smiling almost as much as we were and Nick held up a camera and took pictures of us (taking pictures of him….). It was a magical madrigal experience.

Neil introduced the next number with, "You can help us out with this one, if you like", and the band started to play Paul Hester’s song Italian Plastic. We did like, apparently, as we joined in immediately. On Monday night, the band only sang the chorus as I think it would have been too much to sing Paul’s part on the verses, but then again, they would usually sing harmony during the verses. So Tim and Neil found the strength to take over tonight, singing the whole song with us helping them along. When they sang, "I say we’re having fun," Neil left us to sing the next line, and he again moved into the shadows on the edge of the stage.

Perhaps because he was caught up in the emotion, Neil threw the rest of them by singing the wrong line when they reached the chorus for the first time, singing "When you stick up for me" rather than "When you wake up with me", but the others just dropped out and smiled until they could find a mutual spot to carry on with the song using the same lyrics. Everyone really belted out the chorus together, the audience singing at the top of their lungs. The hall was filled with an impassioned happiness in tribute to Paul.

At one point, Neil, who was on the acoustic guitar as was his brother, quietened the proceedings and said, "I think there’s a little accordion solo in there, is that right?" Tim and Nick reacted by humming on cue, vaguely as though they were said instrument. Again, Nick could barely stop smiling, which meant there was little hope for the rest of us. The whole performance had an easy, convivial feel. Sadly, they left the stage after that.

Although it was 10.35pm and the schedule posted around the corridors outside in the Hall said that the Finn Brothers were expected to finish by 10.30pm, we remained hopeful and continued to stomp and cheer for their return. Lucky for us, the guys responded, although Nick was missing. Tim returned to the stage fairly quickly, taking his seat at the piano, his brother taking up the acoustic guitar. I absolutely could not believe my luck when they began playing my all-time favourite song ever, which I have never heard played live before: I Hope I Never. I was in heaven. Normally, when I come across it on my Walkman or stereo, I stop whatever I’m doing, turn up the volume, and melt away into it. Now, I was in the Royal Albert Hall with Tim Finn gracefully singing the mind-blowingly beautiful song a few yards in front of me with the quintessential acoustics of the Albert Hall. It was dreamlike.

Tim’s voice, incidentally, was faultless. Over the past few years, it has sounded as though, although he had once been in an elite group of singers with incredible vocal ranges such as Midge Ure and Freddie Mercury, Tim’s voice may have suffered from maltreatment or overwork over the years. Now, he hit every soaring note without faltering, he didn’t have to adjust any part to suit a weaker range. That towering crystal voice was reverberating in this setting straight up to the dome so far above us, but heaven was down on the floor. This was more than I could ever have hoped for and it elevated my mood beyond what I would have thought possible. The ethereal beauty of Tim’s voice singing live this splendid song that had finally lured me permanently to the Finns’ world 25 years ago was pure magnificence. Even the audience singing along at the end didn’t spoil it for me as Tim’s voice was commanding and immense. He mastered every challenge of the melody with confident finesse.

As we shrieked our approval, Tim, acting casually as though unaware he had just woven a magic Technicolor dream, casually moved centre stage with his brother, picking up an acoustic guitar. Neil, now sporting a red electric guitar, called off stage, "Hey, Nick, it’s time for a family song." Neil then introduced Tim Smith on the bass—again—and Nick Seymour came on and relinquished Tim of his bass, so the versatile Tim Smith moved to the piano. Toying with Smith, Neil referred to his "red hair—he says he’s not Scots but we suspect he is."

Tim Finn, as always, hurried the business along, preparing the others for the next song by mentioning that A and D were good chords. The audience recognised Tim Smith’s introduction on the ivories as Nick’s brother Mark’s song, Throw Your Arms Around Me. The song took on a different vibe somehow with Paul’s overwhelming absence, which weighed on Neil in particular again, and the stronger sound of the electric guitar gave the usually subtle, harmonious song a rock beat feel. Tim took the second verse as Neil backed away to chat to Nick Seymour. Neil then returned to join his brother on vocals, and Nick Seymour and Tim Smith also piped in, as did many of us, singing "And we may never meet again…" with the additional poignancy that Paul’s absence added to so many of the lyrics sung tonight. Then the boys played a massively electric rock-out, which eventually ended with Tim and Neil facing each other, before Neil said into the mike, "We just don’t want it to end—that’s the trouble!"

They were enormously generous words in the circumstances, but then tonight they were able to enjoy the accomplishment of a residency at the Albert Hall amongst adoring fans, and once they walked off the stage, they would be stepping back into reality and having to face some tragic truths head on, though at least they would be safely surrounded by friends and family once they got back home, which would help immensely.

They carried on plucking away at their guitars, playing some peaceful music and Tim rhythmically muttered incomprehensibly into the mike for a bit before eventually and heartbreakingly drawing the song to its finish and the show to a close.

Sadly, the members of the band all downed their tools and began turning towards the way they would exit. Then Neil surprised them all by staying put and singing a cappella into the mike what sounded like a combination between a barbershop quartet standard and an Irish traditional folk song. In fact, it was the latter—the Finns are Irish, after all—and the much recorded song, Parting Glass, is often performed at the end of parties or shows in Ireland. As the others watched, bemused, and perhaps wondering if he were just going to sing a couple lines and then lead them off, Neil persisted with it, singing with spots of tears on his face, "…They’re sorry for my going away / And all the sweethearts that I should have / Would wish me one more day to stay…."

Nick Seymour and Tim Finn were gathered behind Nick near what was Tim Smith’s mike and formed what looked like a chorus as Shakespeare might use to sweep in a new scene, but they just smiled at Neil, and Tim in particular seemed to be watching his brother, bemused, to see what he would do next.

Eventually, the sound of a strong, striking harmony could be picked out, and I began scanning the stage for its source, but Tim wasn’t near a mike (although we’d learned that that wasn’t necessary, hadn’t we?), and it seemed unlikely that someone else would know the clearly impromptu song. I slowly realised that Nick Seymour was the person providing the gorgeous harmony, which was a useful reminder that he was a skilled singer in his own right. That reminded me that, in fact, all three founding members of Crowded House were strong singers. I remember hearing some outstanding harmonies when they performed live before and after Tim’s residence with the band, and I recalled an astounding a cappella performance of Throw Your Arms Around Me by the three original members on the sofa of a chat show years ago.

Comrades together again, Nick and Neil closed the plaintive tune with, "But since it falls unto my lot, that I should rise and you should not, / I gently rise and softly call, Goodnight and joy be with you all." They knew their parts so well on this tune, it was clear that they had sung it together many times in Crowded House; I just didn’t recall it.  Neil's impromptu decision to sing it now was genius as it was so fitting.

When Neil and Nick finished, every one of the men on stage formed a row, linked by their arms around each other’s shoulders before taking a joint bow. They then broke off into pairs and hugged before moving warmly onto to the next person, like that part in a church service when you’re meant to tell your neighbour, "Peace be with you." After that, most of the boys shuffled off quietly without much of a fanfare, so it was hard to believe that it was the end, though it had to be as it was 10.55pm and they’d already outstayed their intentions. Neil lingered behind, glancing at the vision of the crowd that had perhaps helped him through a few difficult days, and he seemed reluctant to depart. Sadly, he also left right afterwards, and we divided up the support group, each of us having to leave to face the sad reality of the world outside on our own.

The boys flew home for Paul’s funeral that Friday, planning to return to the tour after a few minor schedule changes. Then the news came that Neil had been diagnosed by a doctor as understandably suffering from stress and mental exhaustion, and he was told to take it easy for a while before returning to the untold demands of a tour in an undoubtedly tortured mental state (based on my own experience of a loss), and the dates that weren’t postponed were cancelled. No doubt even those fans disappointed by the fact that they would not now be able to see the mighty Finns understood perfectly and felt that the Finns were doing the right thing.

However, the developments did leave some people wondering whether the brothers had made a mistake by going ahead with the three Albert Hall shows—had it been too much for Neil? I clearly am not in a solid place to judge but, as someone who was part of the magical experience on two of those three nights, I feel like it is still fair to suggest it was therapeutic for all of us, including Neil. He didn’t seem keen to rush off at the end, although that could have been because he then would have to face the misery head-on, having lost the distractions that the performances provided.

But I still maintain that it seemed like a group healing session, a wake where several sides of the family came together to mourn Paul together and provide support for each other. We fans needed to gather together and hold each other vocally, to cry openly without the disapproving glances of our colleagues or people passing us on the street, and there would have been no place else in London that would have been fitting for such a necessary occasion. In addition, the concerts were an extraordinary tribute to Paul.

I think a lot about Paul in that park, even though I didn’t know him; it can’t be helped when he had been a part of my life in some way for so long. Some people have been angry that he would leave his young daughters behind, a sentiment that Paul himself was reported to have expressed upon hearing of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. But when you suffer from depression, you can only focus on somehow alleviating the pain, and often nothing seems to work and there seems no escape, and you mistakenly convince yourself that those who love you will be better off without you. Many of us have had dark evenings where we may feel barely able to cope with keeping our head above water, as though we don’t have the strength to deal with the overwhelming demands of life, but fortunately, somehow the next day when it’s light again, most of us will already be working on solutions to the newest problem that seemed unbearable the night before. So long as we remember that the brighter day always follows—or as Ron Sexsmith sings, "Even the longest night will lead you to daylight"—most of us will be fine. But those suffering severely from depression can’t always maintain that faith, and any type of relief holds more appeal.

So sadly, Paul didn’t reach that next day. He should have, but he didn’t. He took his dogs for a walk on a sunny afternoon in the park and didn’t leave it again. I can’t shake from my mind the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, where the protagonist stops in the woods to watch them fill up with snow, the horse he’s riding wondering what made him stop. He is initially drawn to the alluring, tranquil woods…but then remembers his commitments and continues on his way: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep."

People have differing interpretations of that poem, but I have always seen it as a man stopping on his journey of life and being tempted by the woods, which represent the easy way out, stopping his troubles by taking his own life. But he realises he has duties and obligations that he must fulfil—something keeps him from choosing that easy option, so he carries on.

I think of Paul, who was also with animal companions and nature, being unable to resist being drawn into the woods. I hope others in that position realise that there are better options to choose but I hope that Paul is at peace now, and I wish his friends and family all the strength that positive thoughts can take their way in coming to terms with their tragic loss. I hope that strength will help them forgive Paul, if they are struggling with their anger, and help them find a way to deal with all the darkness this mysterious incident has brought into their lives. Mostly, I count my many blessings, and these include being thankful that Neil and Tim Finn (and Nick Seymour and so many others) are still with us, writing and performing and, I hope, living happily ever after…ideally with plans to return to London many times in the future.

Copyright © 2005 by TC. All rights reserved.

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at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 March 2005

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