Ekko Park is Joe Walsh on vox and guitar, Joel Halstead adding guitars and BVs, bassist Callum Tong and Nick Douch on drums. Their debut album ‘Tomorrow, Tomorrow Today’ pushed the rock band into the final running for the Rock Album of the Year Tui at the recent NZ Music Awards. They didn’t take home the Tui on the night but before the awards provided NZM with this tour diary from their trip to Ireland and UK in September and October.
We’re sitting in Auckland’s International departure lounge enjoying our last Kiwi beer(s), before the long trek in the skies towards Abu Dhabi on our way to Ireland. Excited, expectant and a little anxious about our first overseas headline tour. A tour that takes us to a whole new audience. A tour that has been 18 months in the making. A tour that takes us to shows in Belfast, Dublin and London. Today’s the day…
We’ve arrived and checked in, overlooking the famous River Liffey that splits Dublin in half. We’re four pints of Guinness in to our first Irish ‘session’ when we realise that we can see The Grand Social’ from our seats here at the bar. Across the road is exactly where we will be playing this coming Saturday night. Thinking back, this moment provides the realisation we are now on tour!
Show #1. After a few days of jet lag, sightseeing and catching up with old friends, our attention turns to the 90-minute drive up the motorway to Belfast. Although now a dead set Kiwi, this will be our singer Joe’s first gig in his hometown since 1998. We head straight to Voodoo (the venue), to get a feel for it and get in to tour mode.
In we stroll, and Nick (our drummer) is immediately convinced he knows the barman. Funnily enough the barman thinks he knows Nick. He is in fact the drummer of the now defunct Belfast band General Fiasco who rocked Auckland’s Powerstation a couple of years back. Turns out it was one of the highlights of their short-lived career.
After wicked sets from Aussie singer/songwriter Stephen Park, and local rockers, The Crossfire Hurricanes, it’s time for us to hit the stage. The crowd has been building throughout the night which has helped settle any first night nerves. We’re lucky enough to have our Kiwi soundman Kyle join us today. So here we all are, Team Ekko, in a foreign land for the first time, lights down, intro tape on… show time.
Voodoo is a really great sweaty rock’n’roll venue. Massive PA and good-sized stage to get your groove on. The show itself is like a big party. So many of Joe’s old friends, who have also brought new friends, as well as an exciting bunch of newcomers to the band who simply came on the back of Voodoo’s great live music reputation. All primed and ready to check out “…that New Zealand band that’s in town.
The morning after the night that was the first show. Breakfast ordered, flat whites are being scrutinised, the show debrief begins. We are starting to get a taste of the new international interest in Kiwi music – praise the Lorde! A fine way to start our tour.
Before the journey south to Dublin, we experience the famous Black Taxi Tour of Belfast. A close up and personal journey through the tragic, challenging and eye-opening landscape of Belfast, its history, its troubles and its ingrained segregation and almost tribal inner city suburbs.
Joe has told the band many stories about growing up here but once you see it first hand, you get a grasp of the true nature and reality of the ’troubles’. We finish the tour by signing the Peace Wall. Truly a morning of our lives we will never forget. It’s remarkable to think that this all lies within a few minutes walk of such a vibrant and welcoming city. We would advise that all Kiwi bands add Belfast to their tour schedules!!
It’s show day in Dublin – however, it is also All-Ireland Hurling Final day. Imagine RWC final day in Auckland and you’re about half way there. A massive tide of Kilkenny and Tipperary fans descend on the city. It’s buzzing. Not only do we have to load in up two flights of stairs, we now have to battle Dublin’s cobbled laneways and 90,000 excited and sun-stroked hurling fans.
After the smooth sailing Belfast show, the pre-gig wheels fall off in Dublin. Miscommunication, confusion and general all round tour madness sees the show actually start when we thought we’d be sound checking, and finish before we thought we’d start… you see what I mean? Madness! Though as the old cliché goes, bad soundcheck = killer gig.
Tonight is no exception. Intro tape starts, the worries and stresses leave and the big crowd comes forward. Such a memorable show. Many a singalong, including an audience started “I’ll say goodbye even tho I’m blue” – a sign that many of the crowd’s Kiwi ex-pats were thinking of home, this could have been a sweaty Saturday night at the Kings Arms! We finish the show joined on stage by legend of the Dublin music scene, Mr Ger Eaton, for a rousing version of Bowie’s Suffragette City.
Needless to say, two shows in two nights with some days off after, inevitably meant to things getting a little out of control in Dublin post show – the venue turning into a massive dance party whilst we try to load out. After an hour of this madness, we relent and become dance party extraordinaires.
Saturday night blends into an all day Sunday session that sees us frequent some of the oldest and most unique bars in Dublin. We have some of the best pints and best laughs at The Gravediggers Bar, just outside the city. Nick gets to play hurling with some locals and we get treated to some Dublin Coddle. Yet another day we won’t forget in a hurry.
We then venture further south to the stunning city of Cork and catch up with Joel’s old band mate and ex-frontman of Auckland rockers Augustino, Mr Sean Clarke. Trekking our way around West Cork, we see some stunning landscapes, historical towns and villages and some of the most welcoming people on the planet. Although it’s fair to say, long hair, skinny jeans and an AC/DC T-shirt isn’t the chosen attire of the local males!
One barista welcomes us to his cafe with the line, ”Oh look, the funny bus has arrived!” We wind up this leg of the trip with a ‘lock in’ in the famous DeBarras Bar in Clonakilty, which was Noel Redding’s – of the Jimi Hendrix Experience – favourite bar. The walls are lined with memorabilia and photos from Noel’s career and of musos who have enjoyed a drink with him in the bar. From Bowie to Springsteen to McCartney. Two regulars come in with their guitars and an impromptu ’trad night’ begins. We take turns singing songs and passing the guitars. Turns out, one of these guitars was bought in Auckland at Bungalow Bills. What are the chances? This trip is steadily turning in to a collection of days and nights we will never forget.
Next up the 50-minute flight to London. After the obligatory open double decker bus tour of the city we quickly get into band mode and a night of criss-crossing London picking up backline ensues.
First thoughts, what an exciting venue. Small but it has serious swagger. You can feel that there has been some serious music played in this room. We have been brought here by SJM Concerts, one of the UK’s top promoters, and we immediately sense that the bar has been raised.
The opening band, We Are Dust, are absolutely owning the stage. Part Bright Eyes, part Veils, this is one of the most unassuming yet exciting sets I’ve seen. Next up, former Auckland local Jonny Love, who has relocated to London.
It’s almost time for us to hit the stage. The room is packed with people who have travelled from as far away as Germany and Wales, as well as ex-pats, local London music enthusiasts and its nice to see fellow Kiwi band Rival State here. This almost feels like a showcase of sorts for us as there are some industry heads in to check out that band from New Zealand… again… say it with me, praise the Lorde!
A packed house at London’s Camden Barfly. What a way to finish our first headline tour. We did it. We took a leap. The music business today is about taking leaps. Do it. We did. When was the last time you did something for the first time?