THE EVENING STANDARD, 18 APR 1998, Edition 2, Page 8.
They may have split, but it's hardly the Enz
By: SAUNDERS John
"HELLO, is that Eddie Rayner, who used to be in Split Enz? Paul McCartney here . . . Look, I was just wondering if you would like to come over to England and record the keyboards for my new album . . . "
Not too many Kiwi musicians get telephone calls like that, but at least when Rayner agreed to work on McCartney's Press For Service, he knew he had one thing in common with the great `Macca'. He can't read music either.
Rayner lived at McCartney's private studio for a month, and the whole experience was pretty amazing. Yes, confirms Rayner, McCartney really is a very nice guy. And yes, he's also the musical genius we imagine him to be.
Not reading music wasn't any big deal during those recording sessions, but it did turn out to be a problem for Rayner later on, when he started scoring Split Enz songs for the ENZSO project. Until then, his entire musical career had been in either Split Enz or Crowded House, and neither band wrote anything down.
"Luckily, I managed to cover myself by linking a keyboard to a computer. So I just play the sounds I want to hear from the orchestra, and the computer prints out the music . . .
"The biggest problem has been in knowing what instrument in an orchestra can play what, and what sounds good together. It took me about six months to score the songs, but it got easier as I went on."
Rayner has so far done ENZSO with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in Australia and the Nelson Symphony Orchestra in Nelson.
The arrangements are not particularly complex, though there are some passages that require more of a rock feel than most classical players are used to. They're also miked up, so it's more like a rock concert. Conductor Peter Scholes has conducted all the performances, and is also conducting the Wellington Sinfonia for this Regent Theatre perfomance.
Rayner plays piano onstage, and he's particularly pleased that fellow former Enzer Noel Crombie, who plays percussion, is available for the Palmerston North show.
"Noel was the man responsible for the image of Split Enz, and much of the band's character. The Finns had the musical aspect tied down, but Noel gave us that look, that feel. We called him the `Paekakariki butcher' because of the way he did our haircuts . . . "
"But we never thought of him as bizarre. Split Enz always looked at things from a fresh perspective, we were always slightly out of kilter. Noel played a key role in that."
Others on stage at the Regent include Sam Hunt, Annie Crummer and Dave Dobbyn, who is soon to release his new album, with Palmerston North's Alan Gregg playing bass. Rayner says the ENZSO show is in great demand, and as long as the punters are told the Finns won't be there, then he has no problem putting it on without them.
"The Finns tend to float, depending on where their own careers are going, and Neil has his new solo album Try Whistling This to promote. Dave and Annie can cover things perfectly well, so not having the Finns is not a problem. We performed without them in Nelson, people didn't worry about it. I find audiences are mostly into hearing the songs they know."
Rayner is presently working on a second ENZSO album. Tracks include Shark Attack, History Never Repeats, One Step Ahead and Six Months In A Leaky Boat. He's presently fishing for vocalists, and may go for a completely different crew.
After Split Enz broke up, Rayner did a stint with Crowded House, and he's now moved back from Australia to live in Auckland. Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn also live there, so they see quite a bit of each other. On the surface, Rayner seems pretty relaxed about being back in New Zealand again, saying this is the place he always wanted to raise his children, and Auckland has developed quite an international feel. Not too many sacrifices there.
Scratch a little deeper, however, and you get the impression of unfinished business…
"I've often expounded long and loud about New Zealanders' attitudes towards anything that culturally represents their country, particularly the Anglo-Saxon stuff. It's been said many times before, but still, there is this cringe value about New Zealand music. People agonise about things here. They feel very insecure about their own art, they're unsure about how good these people are. And as a defence, they tear people down, before they get anywhere, before they supposedly embarrass the country on the international scene . . . "
"And I find it very difficult to explain, this lack of support for the arts in this country. In Split Enz, we were first laughed at, then we were laughed with, and now we're part of folklore -- they even have statues of us in Te Papa. It seems that because the Split Enz thing has been acknowledged internationally, then New Zealanders can now say we must be okay. It's all pretty weird . . ."
Split Enz took the Kiwi flag to more venues internationally than any other band in history, although Pauly Fuemana is certainly making major inroads at the moment.
It could be argued that New Zealand's Flying Nun sound was at one point set to take the world by storm, but, strangely, it was bands from Seattle who took grunge guitar international.
Rayner says most international touring musicians he's met have been aware of the Flying Nun sound, and many have considerable respect for people like Martin Phillipps and David Kilgour.
"And when I listen to these Seattle sound bands, I feel they could well have been influenced. Yet music fans in New Zealand are much more likely to know of Nirvana than JPS or Straitjacket Fits."
Rayner also believes that fighting against the music industry establishment has worn down much of this country's top talent. Those who have survived have had to water down their unique sound.
"I would have to say that Don McGlashan is probably one of the cleverest guys, musically, that I've ever met. The Front Lawn were so unique, but he's given it away with the Mutton Birds, who are pretty much the kind that fade into the grey of all those average English and American guitar bands . . . they don't have a strong identity anymore, as the Front Lawn did . . ."
Rayner admits it's fun being back on stage again, particularly in a relaxed, friendly environment of ENZSO, where the music basically speaks for itself.
"People love seeing these icons standing on stage, performing the songs they know and love. There is definitely a strong affection out there for Split Enz, and everything the band stood for. It's bigger than any individual member, and it doesn't seem to be fading, more the opposite . . ."