Crawley guitar man who made it big singing the Blues

Chris Finnen was 14 when his family left Crawley for Australia in 1967
Chris Finnen was 14 when his family left Crawley for Australia in 1967

Friday the 13th proved to be a lucky date for one Crawley lad who set sail for Australia on that date in January 1967.

Chris Finnen was only 14 at the time and no doubt nervous about how life in Melbourne would differ from that in good old Crawley. But he needn’t have worried.

Australia not only brought him more sunshine than he ever found in not-so-sunny Northgate, it set him on the road to stardom and his induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

A report in the Crawley and District Observer in 1966 described the family’s decision to leave the UK as part of what was known as the £10 Pom scheme.

The project started in 1947 as Australia asked for Britons to help populate its cities and build up its economies.

Families were shipped across at the cost of £10 each and had to stay for two years or pay the full fare home. The scheme ended in 1982.

Writing about Chris’s coming adventure, the Observer report read: “‘There were never such devoted sisters’. And true to the words of the song are Mrs Betty Finnen, of Boundary Road, Northgate, and her sister Mrs Mary Constable, of Malthouse Road, Southgate.

“For both women and their families are leaving Crawley for Melbourne, Australia, in the new year.

“Mrs Finnen moved to Crawley with her husband and sister in 1952. Her sister later married Mr Robert Constable – a resident of Old Crawley, who was born in Balcombe.

“Said Mrs Finnen: 2We have always stayed very much together and when the idea of emigrating came up we all decided to go at the same time.’

“The two men hope to work at the same firm – Selby of Melbourne – where Jock Finnen has already found a post as a transport manager.

“The two families sail for Australia on January 13 – a frieday – and hope to arrive in Melbourne a fortnight later.

“Eagerly looking forward to the trip are the four children – Christopher and Susan Finnen, aged 14 and 11, and Julie and Deborah Constable, aged 9 and 6.

“Christopher is a pupil at Hazelwick School. The other children attend junior schools in Northgate and Southgate.

“Mrs Finnen is a member of the Northgate Club and at their meeting last week she was presented with a cigarette lighter by the chairman Mrs G Rose .

“Members of the club wished her good luck in her new life.”

And so the story began.

Chris had been playing guitar since he was eight and earned the respect of his peers home and away, even performing for the Dalai Lama.

When it came to his induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, The Advertiser newspaper, in Adelaide, reported Chris was presented with the award while on stage at the Barossa Blues Festival, in November.

He was quoted as saying: “I’m not usually lost for words but I didn’t know what to say, so I said ‘thanks very much’ and introduced the next song and just played on! I can say far more in a guitar solo than I can sitting down to talk.”

Did you know Chris when he lived in Crawley? What about the other three children - did they stay in Australia as well or did they decide to come back to England?

Chris isn’t the only Crawley boy to make his name in music after leaving town. Former Hazelwick pupil, Mike Hazlewood teamed up with Albert Hammond to write Air That I Breathe, which became a huge hit for The Hollies.

The pair also worked together to write It Never Rains in Southern California and The Free Electric Band.