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Neil Finn, at soundcheck before November’s St James’s Church concert

Lorde may have recently won a Grammy, but she’s not the biggest pop star New Zealand has come up with – not yet, anyway. Since the late 1970s, Neil Finn‘s been the biggest name in Kiwi pop, first as one half of the brotherly pair behind Split Enz, and later as the lynchpin of Crowded House.

Finn’s career has been anything but linear; since Crowded House called it a day in 1996, he’s recorded solo records, revived a songwriting partnership with his brother Tim, made a record with a supergroup including Wilco and members of Radiohead, and even formed a band with his wife Sharon. Each record has seemed like a clean slate.

Since I began my music soundcheck project in 2004, I’ve shot Neil Finn several times; in 2008 I caught up with a revived Crowded House playing a gig in Moscow (where the band have small but loyal following) and also in a London Dingwalls gig a year later, with members of Wilco and Radiohead joining him for a trawl through his back catalogue. He’s been hugely supportive of the project and let me shoot away from all angles; I even shot with Sharon’s digital camera from behind the venue curtain during the Moscow gig for the encore.

Last year, Finn announced he was working on a record in New York, produced by Dave Fridmann, the man largely partly responsible for the psychedelic sound of The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev; the record became his third solo record, ‘Dizzy Heights’, which was released earlier this year.

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Guitar and twinkling Christmas tree lights
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String players in the background

Like most of my soundcheck material, this was shot on pushed Fuji Neopan film, rated at 6400, on a pair of Nikon cameras and a 50mm and 85mm lens. Churches are particularly atmospheric with this kind shooting; with no flash and a minimum of stage lighting, the background is filled with pools of deep shadow. This being the lead up to Christmas, the backdrop had something else which made for great photos; a giant Christmas tree. Very festive.

A few of the crew recognised me from earlier shows, and were happy to let me pad around even before Neil himself had made it to the venue. And aside from his pared-down band for the night – drummer Chris O’Connor and pianist Victoria Kelly – there was a string section aswell. It added an extra texture, the barely distinguishable forms of the players emerging out of the ghostly gloom.

Finn is one of the musicians I’ve shot again and again for this project, along with Lambchop, singer-songwriter Josh Rouse, Boston’s Buffalo Tom and Calexico. Each gig is different, and part of the challenge and reward of shooting shows in this way is homing in on the details and the moment s that make them special. Certainly, the setup for this gig was unlike any I’d shot before.

Finn’s returned to the UK in the last week or so to tour ‘Dizzy Heights’. I can’t make it for his forthcoming London show, but I’m looking forward to snapping away from the sodelines again, Christmas tree or no Christmas tree.

Check out more shots on the show’s Flickr set, and below.

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Wonderful – if you click the links on this post, you can read my review of the gig itself on my blog – it was a magical night! Cheers http://eyewillnotcry.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/neil-finn-dizzy-heights-a-distorted-review/