Finn helps finance rebirth of Flying Nun cult record label

BY TIM HUME
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2010
finn
Neil Finn: New part-owner of Flying Nun.

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Music legend Neil Finn is the new part-owner of Flying Nun, having put up funds to help its founder buy back the cult New Zealand record label from an American music giant.

Finn, his wife Sharon and a business partner together own a quarter of the label, which founder Roger Shepherd re-acquired from Warners in December.

"I always admired what Roger managed to achieve with Flying Nun and I love a lot of the music," said Finn. "With him back in charge, I hope the catalogue is once again given the love and attention it deserves and that he gets a chance to work with some brilliant new talent because he's got such great ears."

Shepherd, who is the sole director and also owns a quarter of the new Flying Nun, approached Finn last year when looking for investors to help fund his bid to resurrect the acclaimed label to its former glory.

He said although Finn would not have a hands-on, day-to-day involvement, his expertise would inevitably be called on. "He represents an experience and insight into the industry that's not matched by anyone else in this country, because of the success he's had internationally."

While Finn's chart-friendly career and the underground Flying Nun tradition were two apparently distinct strands of New Zealand music, there had always been points of connection, he said. Finn would regularly call by Flying Nun's offices to listen to new music during its heyday, and his son Liam's first band was signed to the label.

Shepherd founded Flying Nun in Christchurch in 1981, growing a stable of influential bands which included the Clean, Chills and Straitjacket Fits, before leaving in 1999, vowing never to work in the industry again. The news last year he had rescued the label from the indifferent stewardship of an American recording giant was warmly received by fans.

But his 11th-hour decision to cut out local record label owner Ben Howe from the deal, scuppering a two-year "gentleman's agreement" to purchase the label together, led to a rift between the men and prompted others in the industry to urge them to resolve their differences.

Howe, the founder of Auckland-based independent label Arch Hill Records, has been blogging about the failed partnership. He says he "put considerable time, expertise and cash" into the proposal since learning in 2007 that Warners was open to selling the label. The pair agreed Shepherd would front the talks with Warner, while Howe would do the budgets, fund the expenses and help reintroduce Shepherd to the industry, in which "a lot had changed in the 10 years he had been away".

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Howe had been blindsided by a call from Shepherd last November, on the day he had flown him from Wellington for talks with Warner. "He said he was doing it on his own," said Howe. "It was a business decision and he wanted to look after his own interests."

Shepherd said the failed partnership was "really unfortunate" and offered to reimburse the funds Howe had invested in the partnership, which were "not substantial". "I know I managed it badly. Ben's got a right to be upset. But at the end of the day, it was a rather unfortunate, ugly commercial decision that had to be made."

He said he felt the pair were working towards a reconciliation, and did not believe their labels would be in competition. "I'd like to think we'll help each other sell each other's music, which is the way music-orientated record companies work these days."

- Sunday Star Times

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