Don’t miss Col Finley performing at the Maleny Show
After a successful fundraising concert last month, singer/songwriter Col Finley is “Staying Above the Blue” and sings special birthday tunes for the Maleny Show. Creating music to combat personal demons, Col celebrates a quarter of a century of music making.
by Dale Jacobsen
By any measure, Col Finley’s story is one of success. The Maleny singer/songwriter is highly regarded in the music industry, having recorded five albums over a 25-year career and performed at prestigious events across Australia and the US. But it came at a high price.
“I was a police-dog handler with the RAAF—young, fit and healthy—but my heart was with my music. After six years, my sergeant said I was a much better singer/songwriter than dog handler, and he encouraged me to leave the RAAF and make music my career.”
Aged 24, Col hit the road, touring Australia and proving his sergeant right. As a young front man to a band of seasoned musicians, he lived the stereotypical life of a muso on the road.
Col admits he abused his body and his mind. “I felt a bit jittery before each performance, so having a drink calmed the nerves. After the gigs, we’d light up a joint to relax. I didn’t realise that the drugs and grog were masking a condition and had become a major part of my life.
“Drugs, sex and rock’n’roll; you know the story. I had a son during that time, Clay, but left when he was four as I was not the sort of bloke a kid should have around.
“We remained estranged, meeting only briefly, until three years ago. He’s now a terrific 20-year-old, and I’m very proud of him. The father has become the mate.”
Col hit rock bottom before he began to climb out again. He owes his life, quite literally, to his best friend and wife, Nellie (Janelle Braden), herself a singer/songwriter.
“We met when I wrote a song for her album she was recording in 2002, and our friendship grew. Nellie’s family were dairy farmers along the Mary Valley and I lived in Tamworth. I’d often ring her in the middle of the night to talk my way out of a dark place. Eventually, she moved to Tamworth to be with me.”
But Col was still on the drug treadmill, overusing the dangerous synthetic form of marijuana. Nellie came home unexpectedly one day to find Col unconscious on the floor. His body had shut down. He was rushed to Tamworth Base Hospital.
“I came to with Nellie sitting by my bed, holding my hand, crying. I woke out of my fug and realised that this beautiful woman, carrying our first child, was more important than all the drugs and grog. I was released from hospital and have never touched drugs since.”
They married in Tamworth in 2009, and when sons Levi and Diezel were just toddlers, bought a 31-foot caravan and toured as a family band for three years. “Watch out Australia, here we come!
“It was all about showing the kids that Australia has more to offer than what they found in books and TV. Nellie and I performed as a duo, but the kids were always on stage, trying to sing over us. We learnt to turn their mics down. The crowd loved us and we loved the life.”
Three years ago, the family settled in Maleny so Nellie could be near her family. Col met fellow muso Paul ‘Richo’ Richardson. “We were sitting on the verandah having a coffee when the conversation got around to depression and anxiety. It turns out we both had similar backgrounds.
“Part of my recovery had been to make contact with the Beyond Blue organisation, so Richo and I decided to record an album as a fundraiser.”
Col wrote Above the Blue, a song that soared in the charts and became the title of the album. “With a mix of country, blues and roots, it is designed to lift listeners ‘Above the Blue’,” explained Col.
This idea turned into a hugely successful venture. They launched the album at an event sponsored by Maleny Apex and local businesses in Maleny in November 2015. The project raised over $15,000!
“Apart from a small amount that included legal fees, it all went to Beyond Blue,” Col said proudly.
All of the money had come from Maleny. This got Col, Richo and the ATB Team thinking: imagine if all that money was returned to the same community. What they could do with it!
The result is the new-direction Above the Blue 2, an on-going project to raise funds for local needs in mental health. Col and Richo’s dream is becoming a reality.
“This is just the start,” said Col. “This community has helped us so much, our aim is to give something back—to help those who, like us, need a little direction and help.”
Meanwhile, Col will be in the studio, recording 25 of his songs for a new album The Collective, to celebrate his 25 years as an independent recording artist and readying for Country Rocks the Mountains at Maleny Show, June 2 and 3.
Experience Golden Guitar Winner Luke O’shea, Indy Band of the Year Col Finley Band and International Recording Artist Chris Staff who is currently #1 on the National Country Charts – it is all free once you’ve paid the main gate admission.
For more information on Col’s music and events, visit: http://www.colfinley.com.au