Post researched and written by Amanda Mills, Curator Music and AV Collections
October 2022 marked 50 years since the formation of Split Enz, one of the most significant bands to emerge from New Zealand, and one which launched the careers of Tim and Neil Finn, Phil Judd, Noel Crombie, and Eddie Rayner. Before the ‘Enz’, they were ‘Ends’, with their original line-up of Brian (Tim) Finn, Phil Judd, Miles Golding, Mike Chunn, and Mike Howard – a five-piece who favoured acoustic folk-pop music. Idiosyncratic, creative and unique, they were unlike anything in the Aotearoa New Zealand music scene. Time, exposure, and evolving music styles meant their sound and image changed over the years, moving through art-rock, prog-rock and post-punk with a distinctive flair for stage (and costume) theatrics.1973 was a key year for Split Ends and began on January 6 with a performance at the Great Ngāruawāhia Music Festival. To say they weren’t the favourite act on the bill is an understatement. Split Ends were booed offstage by 18,000 Black Sabbath fans who did not appreciate their sound, which, according to Phil Judd was (at the time) a “lightweight, puny-sounding acoustic affair” (RNZ, 2005). The experience at Ngāruawāhia was disappointing, but the band were on a trajectory, recording early songs ‘Split Ends’ and ‘For You’ at Stebbings Studios before starting a New Zealand tour. The band line-up was also evolving: Mike Howard and Miles Golding exited the band and were replaced by Geoff Chunn on drums, and Wally Wilkinson on guitar. Honing their sound for the rest of the year, Split Ends’ spot on the New Faces television talent show cemented them as a band to watch, although they came second to last in the final – one judge told them they would be ‘too clever’ to succeed. They may not have won, but they made an impression and were given a 30-minute concert feature on New Zealand television. At the start of 1974 they changed their name from ‘Ends’ to ‘Enz’, signifying a change in style and sound, a move which Tim Finn in 2005 noted as “graphically it sticks in your mind with a z at the end” (RNZ, 2005). A move to Australia, and an emphasis on band visuals (costumes, hairstyles, and movements) saw them sign with Mushroom Records, and they released their debut album Mental Notes in 1976. A glorious, strange album, Mental Notes was voted no. 1 on Rip it Up’s canonical list of 100 best New Zealand records in 2000. Band members including Eddie Rayner, Noel Crombie, Neil Finn, and Nigel Griggs joined at different points, while others including Phil Judd and Mike Chunn departed. The changing line-up and a continuing move towards a leaner, pared-back image and sound in the 1980s gave Split Enz hit singles and albums both in New Zealand and Australia. Their 1980 album True Colours was massively successful, charting locally at no.1 for eight weeks running. Split Enz were now an international success as True Colours also went double platinum in Canada, selling over 200,000 copies there. The lead single ‘I Got You’, a no. 1 single in Australia and New Zealand, also reached no.10 in the UK singles chart – the band’s performance on Top of the Pops seen by an estimated 11 million people. 40 years later, the 2020 reissue (and remix) of True Colours would again reach the New Zealand no.1 album chart position, confirming their place in New Zealand music history. While Tim Finn left the band in early 1984, Split Enz disbanded after their Enz with a Bang tour that same year, but occasionally reformed for one-off shows or tours around New Zealand and Australia. In 2022 Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner formed Forenzics, a musical project that took different melodic or rhythmic strands of Split Enz songs and created new works from them.
During the University of Otago’s 2022 second semester, Humanities student intern Emma Aplin worked on a project examining Split Enz, and the materials across Hocken that relate to the band. As well as listing these sources, Emma worked with Music and AV curator Amanda Mills to create the current foyer display highlighting materials about Split Enz, from publications to recordings, posters and ephemera. We found many gems, including a scrapbook of 1980s music donated to Hocken’s archives, and the One Step Ahead newsletter which looks at Australian and New Zealand music and film in the early 1980s (Split Enz feature regularly). To compliment the display is an introductory panel, written as part of the student internship, and a Spotify playlist (curated by our intern and Music/AV curator) celebrating 50 years of the Split Enz, and the band members’ subsequent solo work, or work in other bands.
Footage of Split Ends’ 1973 performance on New Faces can be seen on NZ on Screen here https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/split-enz-new-faces-1973
The Hocken Collections’ 50 years of Split Enz Spotify playlist, curated by HUMS intern Emma Aplin and Hocken Music Curator Amanda Mills can be found here https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2SAIUZqig5ZFXjFy8lAC78?si=ad40406de0f84347
Music Curator Amanda Mills talked to RNZ in early January about the display, and the Hocken’s Collections of Split Enz material. The interview can be found here https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/summer-days/audio/2018873218/history-never-repeats-50-years-of-split-enz
RNZ, 2005. Enzology Part 1 – Beginning of the Enz (1950s-1975). Available online https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/enzology/audio/2534636/enzology-part-1-beginning-of-the-enz-1950s-1975