Paul Hester

Extrovert drummer with Crowded House
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The Independent Online

As demonstrated by Keith Moon of the Who, the drummer at the back of a rock band can be a front man in his own right. Paul Hester, the drummer and backing vocalist with Split Enz and then Crowded House, was in that mould. He was extrovert and charismatic on stage and he was a natural mimic and comedian, preferring not to give sensible interviews.

Paul Newell Hester, drummer: born Melbourne, Victoria 8 January 1959; (two daughters with Mardi Sommerfeld); died Melbourne c26 March 2005.

As demonstrated by Keith Moon of the Who, the drummer at the back of a rock band can be a front man in his own right. Paul Hester, the drummer and backing vocalist with Split Enz and then Crowded House, was in that mould. He was extrovert and charismatic on stage and he was a natural mimic and comedian, preferring not to give sensible interviews.

He was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1959. His father, Mulga Mike Hester, was a bushman and his mother Ann a jazz drummer, who encouraged him to play. Paul Hester was a rebellious schoolboy and the teachers at his school signed a petition requesting him to leave. In 1980 he became a founding member of the group Cheks, which evolved in 1982 into Deckchairs Overboard.

In 1972 Tim Finn had founded a quirky group, Split Ends, in Auckland, New Zealand. Moving to Sydney in 1975, they became Split Enz. In 1977 Tim Finn's younger brother, Neil, joined the group and soon matured into a commercial songwriter. Hester auditioned for Split Enz in 1983 and became the group's last drummer before they disbanded in December 1984.

Neil Finn settled in Los Angeles, along with Hester and a bass player, Nick Seymour. On the strength of Finn's songwriting, they secured a contract with Capitol Records and made an album with a sympathetic but fairly inexperienced producer, Mitchell Froom. They had originally called themselves the Mullanes (after Finn's middle name) but in the end, they chose the name Crowded House to reflect the conditions in which they lived.

Their first album, Crowded House (1986), featured several excellent folk-influenced rock numbers. Capitol wanted to establish the band with an up-tempo single but soon realised that the wistful "Don't Dream It's Over" was a better choice (the recording was even slowed down for release). "Don't Dream It's Over" reached No 27 in the UK and almost topped the US charts, and was followed by a US Top Ten success, "Something So Strong".

The second Crowded House album, Temple of Low Men (1988), was moodier and more reflective. "Better Be Home Soon", was the most successful track, but was an attempt to replicate "Don't Dream It's Over". The band had fun with "Sister Madly", an up-tempo song which Hester would play with just a snare and a cymbal at the front of the stage.

The Finn brothers decided to write an album together, but this was abandoned when Tim instead joined Crowded House and they released the album Woodface (1991). For the video of "Chocolate Cake" , a whimsical attack on New York culture, Hester wore drag. Crowded House had their only UK Top Ten entry in 1992 with the sparkling, Sixties pop sound of "Weather With You". Woodface itself spent 86 weeks on the UK chart and although the album was dominated by the Finns' songs, Hester's own romantic "Italian Plastic" did not sound out of place.

Tim Finn left Crowded House in 1993 and was replaced by Mark Hart, a multi-instrumentalist from Supertramp. Arguably, Crowded House made their most artistically successful album that year with Together Alone, but it took its toll upon the band. The album was recorded in New Zealand at a secluded beach, Kare Kare, and the musicians included a Maori choir and log drummers. The whole band wrote "Kare Kare" and Hester's drumming was showcased in "Skin Feeling". The Brixton producer Youth found it difficult to settle and the band suffered internal friction. Hester later commented, "I thought, 'It's just for a bloody record, should this be happening?' "

Hester suggested that the band should work for just six months in the year, but could not persuade the others. Crowded House was touring the US in April 1994 when the news came of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Hester said, "I just thought, 'How could you do that to a kid and a girl?' " A few days later, when the band was in Atlanta, Hester, suffering from a migraine, said that he would complete the show and leave.

Crowded House had to persuade Wally Ingram (who was playing for the support act, Sheryl Crow) to be a temporary replacement. Then, another Melbourne drummer, Peter Jones, joined the band. Neil Finn told Mojo magazine in 1997, "It actually felt better because we had a problem we could identify with and overcome. We couldn't fight against Paul's moods, but we could find a new drummer and do a good show, just to show the bastard."

For the following two years, Crowded House had a chequered history and then both Tim Finn and Paul Hester rejoined them for a final free concert for 150,000 fans in front of Sydney Opera House in November 1996. Hester said at the time, "I'm not used to all this playing. I've been gardening for the last couple of years." At the time Recurring Dream - the Very Best of Crowded House was a No l album in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. A subsequent album of B-sides and outtakes, Afterglow, was released in 2000.

Hester enjoyed family life with his girlfriend, the photographer Mardi Sommerfeld, and his two daughters, and he opened a tea house in Elwood Beach, Melbourne. He often produced and played on records that were made in his studio, the Lodge, and he worked as part of the Fez, the Largest Living Thing and Tarmac Adam (with Nick Seymour).

He became a television personality in Australia with Hessie's Shed and then with a cable show on Music Max, Sessions. In 2004, the Finn brothers were guests on the show and Hester joined them for "Weather With You".

Hester was found dead on Saturday in a park near his home in Melbourne, having apparently committed suicide.

Spencer Leigh

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