Finn show looks at Kiwi heritage

The singer songwriter explores our culture

Last updated 05:00 09/12/2013
Tim Finn

Cloudland: Tim Finn will present his one-man show White Cloud in Cambridge next week.

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Can Pakeha New Zealanders develop a strong sense of whakapapa and kinship to the land where they live? Maybe so, Tim Finn tells Mike Mather .

Themes of cultural dislocation, relocation and reconnection will be explored in Cambridge next week, when Tim Finn takes to the stage for White Cloud, his one-man song-and-spoken-word show.

The show, at Cambridge's Gaslight Theatre next Thursday and Friday, will feature 13 new songs by Finn, each dealing with what it means to be a New Zealander of Irish, English and/or Scottish descent.

It will also include readings from family memoirs, text by playwright Ken Duncum, and projected images edited by film-maker Sue Healey.

The veteran songwriter and musician's production had its debut in Wellington last year, in a version that incorporated a band and a small group of actors. This time round it will be the former Split Enz and Crowded House singer alone in the spotlight.

"It's me trying it out as a one-man show," he told the Times. "It will be in a smaller venue in the Gaslight Theatre, a much smaller space than Bats Theatre in Wellington [where White Cloud debuted].

"It's an emotionally powerful show and we originally had a vision for it that was more intimate than that earlier version. It is a work that, because of its nature, should be more mobile."

White Cloud had its origins a couple of years ago, when Finn saw a production of Duncum's play Horseplay.

"I loved it and was prompted to reach out and see if we could work on a project together. Growing up as Pakeha in the North Island of New Zealand was our common ground and Ken suggested we start there . . . [He] sent me a piece he'd written called Have A Little Faith and I caught the tone. Encouraging, tender, forgiving, with mystery and melancholy at the heart of it. I was in."

More than a decade before, soon after his mother died, Finn had started writing a song called White Cloud Black Shadow.

"I remember thinking about it one day while walking along a street in Auckland. Seemingly out of nowhere an Irish 20p coin dropped on the ground in front of me. I looked around and saw no one. That little tinkle on the pavement was Mum telling me to get on with it. And mother is a big part of it for me. Land as mother. Land as female, fertile and generous, complex and inspiring. I finished the song. Ken suggested that broken into four sections it could serve as a kind of backbone to the show."

Finn's production notes for White Cloud provide deeper insight: "Mum was born in Ireland and we grew up feeling very Irish, but with no real connections with anyone back there, and a great love of being here, growing up happy in Te Awamutu. A complicated kind of happiness with Catholic duality pulling us to and fro. Dad was born here of English parents. So our roots in this country are still not deep. Ken's family goes back five or six generations, and this allowed us to explore the emotions of both the newly arrived and the longer settled. Some families have a rich trove of written and pictorial evidence to their name. Others, like cloud shadows, sit lightly on the land."

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A turning point was when Finn scanned some old family photographs into his computer.

"Enlarged and pixilated on the screen, they took on an entirely new life. One in particular of Mum on her honeymoon, Mt Taranaki ghosting behind her, had me haunted. The songs flowed.

"The time feels right for me to explore living here, memories and present day feelings side by side with neither gaining the upper hand. To write songs about a place that I struggled for many years to get away from, only to find I might as well try to escape myself."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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