Bennelong Point, Sydney. 1975
I was with my family, on one of those school holiday trips we used to do when I was young. We’d just been to King’s Cross. Thirteen-year-old Catholic schoolboy me found its carnality confronting; a particularly strong memory is a photograph, captioned “Princess Bareskin”, of a nude woman, full-frontal, which I stumbled upon in a shop window at the end of an arcade when I’d briefly wandered off by myself. Odd what one remembers.
My family and I were now standing in front of the Sydney Opera House. It was a melancholy grey day, the sky was forbidding, and a strong wind whipped white caps onto the small waves rippling the surface of the harbour. The day reflected my mood, as I was still brooding over the excessiveness of the Cross.
My attention turned to a framed square board in front of the iconic building. Behind glass, in white lettering against a black background were the words: TONIGHT. ROCK CONCERT. SPLIT ENZ. 8 PM. The image of this sign, backed by the building and the harbour, has stuck in my mind ever since.
I knew who Split Enz were – their heavy theatrical make-up, colourful outfits, and general flamboyance and eccentricity had already made an impression upon me. I was intrigued that, being a rock band, they were performing at the Opera House, but I suppose, in retrospect, that their extravagant theatricality was a highly fitting match for the venue.
As to the song to go with this time and place, I confess I’m a little stumped here, as various early Spilt Enz tunes are going through my head as I write this – but quite possibly the very quirky, British sounding, Bowie-esque Maybe, a very early single written by Tim Finn and Phil Judd, which also appears on their debut album, Mental Notes, is as good a fit as anything could be: Maybe she’ll come along / Sweep me off my feet … Maybe we’ll get it on – ooh la la!
For those who came to know Split Enz years later, during their commercial phase, Maybe will doubtless come across as a real oddity – but the band were prog rock before they were pop rock, and, to my way of thinking, considerably more interesting in their earlier period.