In 1985, Kiwi Eddie Rayner, best known as the keyboard player in Split Enz, travelled to Hastings in Britain. About a 20-minute drive from the city was a windmill on a hill overlooking the sea. Next to Hogg Hill Mill, as it is still known, were several small buildings containing a recording studio and rehearsal space. The owners were Paul and Linda McCartney.
Rayner had been invited to contribute to McCartney's next album Press to Play.
"I went and stayed with Paul for three weeks with Phil Collins and Pete Townshend and Carlos Alomar and Eric Stewart. It was these guys and it was fantastic," he says and laughs, "and there's me."
Alomar is a sought-after session guitarist, best known for his work with David Bowie, while Stewart was a founder of 10cc. Rayner says he didn't feel nervous. "I always had the belief in my ability to be able to foot it with them musically. But I've always been kind of really - what's the word - 'daunted', I guess, by the kind of level of existence these people live in that it doesn't relate to mine."
It's something he was reminded of while reading a book by musician and producer Brian Eno. "It was a diary over a year and as I read it I thought, 'Man, what a life compared to my little one'."
The existence these musicians could afford was, says Rayner, "fabulous, other worldly almost. You kind of cross over into it for a while and it is fantastic. But I like to live simply and I do. I have a lot of friends who are not in the music industry."
But Rayner's career reads like a who's who of the New Zealand music industry, let alone his work in Australia. The short version goes like this: he was in Space Waltz, who had a hit in 1974 with Out on the Street. The same year, after some deliberating - "I heard their first couple of songs and I didn't really like them and then I saw them on the telly" - he joined Split Enz. His contribution became an important part of the band's sound.
Rayner went on to work with Crowded House, including playing with them on tour. At the same time he's played or produced numerous Kiwi artists, including Ricky Morris, Margaret and Peter Urlich, Tim Finn, The Exponents, Mahara Tocker, Suzanne Lynch and Fred Dagg. After 20 years overseas he was the driver of the ENZSO concerts and recordings in the mid 90s where Split Enz's back catalogue was performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and guest singers.
He's never stopped - he was musical director for three seasons of NZ Idol and his latest has its debut this weekend as Eddie Rayner Project. Rayner's band includes Rikki Morris and Jim Hall on guitar and vocals, drummer and percussionist Pat Kuhtze and Eddie Gaiger on bass and vocals.
Rayner says the band's name was his bandmates' idea. But it sounds justified when much of the set will be Split Enz songs and music of the Split Enz era.
But does this mean Rayner will feel like he's doing cover versions of his own work? "It's funny you say that. It's the burden for everyone who records and makes albums or has hits.
"As soon as people get to know and love your material, you are constantly having to rehash it, and making it new is not really on the agenda because people don't want to hear different versions.
"Audiences want to hear the versions as they were arranged and performed with the same feel and sound of the original production. People often get disappointed if they hear versions they don't expect or want to hear. We are very aware of that and are trying to reproduce the records reasonably faithfully."
Last year, in Auckland, Rayner roped in former Split Enz members Mike and Geoff Chunn, Emyln Crowther and Wally Wilkinson who played alongside the 15-piece ENZEMBLE dance band with guest vocalists for three concerts of Enz songs.
But Rayner says his new band isn't simply the smallest version of what started with ENZSO. "People could be forgiven for thinking I can't let it go. I'm proud of everything Split Enz achieved and what I contributed. It was a huge part of my life, the whole Enz experience, so it feels right for me to at least acknowledge it on occasion by going and playing the songs. The songs are good enough and people want to hear them."
But Rayner says this doesn't mean Eddie Rayner Project's raison d'etre is to cover Enz. Expect the band, as it grows, to play and possibly record new work. "This is just a taster."
And this Eddie Rayner Project continues to be one of just several projects for the musician, composer and producer. He's working with several other Kiwi musicians, as well as a project previously shrouded in secrecy which we will hear in November: the album debut of Aussie movie star Guy Pearce.
Two years ago Rayner produced about 10 songs performed by Pearce that were recorded at Neil Finn's studio. "I think the album may have been going on for a long time. Guy's a very busy man, but he's also an amazing singer. He has a beautiful voice.
"I first saw him performing in Tim [Finn's musical] Poor Boy in Melbourne a few years ago. One thing led to another and he asked me to produce some songs for him. It was a great experience."
Eddie Rayner Project perform in a double bill with Kiwi veterans Mi-Sex today at Auckland's Studio, tomorrow at Wellington's Bodega and Saturday at Dunedin's Sammy's.
- The Dominion Post