Simon Finn - Biography
By NIck Castro
Simon Finn was a nearly forgotten psychedelic folk, or sometimes called outsider folk, artist from the late 60's UK folk scene. His early music is often compared to Syd Barrett and Incredible String Band, though Finn manages to carve out a niche for himself, wholly original and unique from other artists of his time. Unfortunately, due to poor representation and the lack of rehearsal undertaken prior to his initial record, along with legal troubles brought on by the album's cover art, the album was pulled from the shelves and sales were dismal. Finn faded into near obscurity for the next 30 years before reemerging once again, and surprisingly releasing a slew of ferocious, poetically charged, and lyrically poignant albums to an growing audience, much larger than any he had known in the 60's.
Finn's story began on the streets of London, when, as a teenager, he lived, homeless, and thriving off of his good looks, guitar and the generosity of the girls he knew. Finn was born in 1951, and moved to London when he was 16 to lead the archetypal beatnik lifestyle, which he successfully pulled off for years, busking around town and picking up what semi professional gigs he could find. Often playing coffeehouses and restaurants. His first proper job was opening for Al Stewart in 1967, soon after procuring a residency position at a local restaurant and pub. Finn would sleep where he could by day, then travel by night, playing his guitar where he could, and earning what he could. He thought his luck was about to change, and it slightly did, when he met producer Vic Keary, who was intrigued by Finn's strange brand of acoustic music. Many of Finn's lyrics belied his young age, due in large part to Finn's ravenous hunger for literature. Finn recorded a demo for Keary and Keary began to shop the record around to labels, even putting Finn on a weekly stipend, which Finn was grateful for, but there was no interested parties to be found, and the record inevitably ended up shelved as Finn and Keary parted ways.
After the failed attempt at finding a record deal, Finn went back to busking and took whatever odd job he could find to support himself. In 1969 though, he once again came across Keary, who now had a proper recording studio set up near Camden. He invited Finn to bring some musicians and make a record for his new Mushroom label. Just a few weeks earlier, at a pick up gig, Finn had met fellow musicians, David Toop and Paul Burwell, whom he invited to join him on the session, though they barely knew the material. The resulting sessions, which comprised Pass the Distance (1970 - Mushroom), are charming, and even brilliant in their own ways, but unfortunately far too strange to have been picked up on by any meaningfully sized outside audience. The songs themselves are fully developed and top knotch, touching on heavy topics, such as Christian hypocrisy. Toop, later to become famous for his work in the avant garde, jazz and art music scenes of the 80's and 90's, can be heard adding strange overdubs of out of tune guitar and all other strange manner of sound devices, sometimes so reverb laden that they are nearly unrecognizable. These disparate elements are what, in large part, led to the utter worship of this album by psychedelic record collectors.
Original copies of the Pass the Distance are painfully rare, selling for several hundreds of dollars, even in bad condition. One of the reasons for its extremely limited release was the fact that they chose to use the artwork from a current Clarks shoes advertisement at the time, which Clarks was not happy about. Clarks issued a cease and desist order and Mushroom was obliged to comply. The album, already doomed from poor distribution, was now condemned to obscurity. He spent the remainder of the 70's becoming heavily involved in organic farming, as well as working on his novels and learning karate, which he is now a black belt in.
Finn managed to write a few independently published detective novels throughout the 80's and 90's, relocating to Montreal, where he currently resides. His Pass the Distance album was reissued and he began to play with Current 93, a maneuver that catapulted him into popularity with the current resurgence of outsider folk. This action subsequently led to him recording a new album, Magic Moments (2005 - Durtro/Jnana), with Joolie Wood, violinist of Current 93 and Sundial, for the Current 93 record label, Durtro/Jnana. This new album finds Finn in a more mature and stripped down setting, but with the same stylistic passion of his early works. Most of the fans of his debut album were pleasantly surprised that the magic of his early songs was still present in his current work. Finn's dark sense of lyrical wit had not dulled, but rather sharpened and honed. His song, "Walkie Talkie", reminiscent of Al Stewart's, "Terminal Eyes", was issued on several compilations. Finn has been touring the world since the release of this album, to a growing audience of adoring fans.
Finn's newest album, Accidental Life (2007 - Ten to One), finds Finn reunited with Keary and Toop once again to create wholly unique album, which while still brilliant, may disappoint fans of his first album, as his songs are much less melodious and seem to be becoming vehicles for his poetry, often invoking elements not dissimilar to Leonard Cohen at times.
Finn is still very active on the live concert scene, and one of last of his kind, due in part to his extreme physical health. He is now revered for his early work and finally getting the credit due him.