The Adam Eckersley Band exuded confidence from their entering the Wests Diggers stage and the six-member outfit continued tightly wound and highly polished across the full ninety minutes of their set. Opening with the Golden Guitar-nominated, CMC hit ‘Long Enough to Disappear’, Eckersley and band were clearly deserving of this, their first ticketed show at the Tamworth Festival. Although he confessed to an attack of nerves early in the piece, Eckersley cut an impressive figure throughout. A bona fide guitar hero, Adam shifted effortlessly from blues-slide to lead and licks without ever losing the strong sense of fun that marks him as a showman. A consummate harmonica player and a front-man of obvious charm and humility, Eckersley would have been at home in any number of classic southern and blues rock acts from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Charlie Daniels Band to The Allman Brothers, or even Neil Young’s Stray Gators.
Joining Adam on the night were drummer Benny Elliott, keyboardist and Hammond organist Dan Biederman, musician and filmmaker Duncan Toombs on guitar and banjo, Lachlan Davidson of Davidson Brothers fame on fiddle, and Scott Greenaway on bass. A notably egalitarian bandleader on the night, Adam distributed solos liberally between the acclaimed band members. Hammond organ parts were an especially enjoyable element, with Dan Biederman imparting something of the well-worn gospel tradition to proceedings.
In what had been a worryingly clean-shaven festival to that point, it was also nice to see that, of the six band members on stage, only Duncan Toombs was not sporting some variety of face-pelt.
A distinctive southern rock by-way-of blues and roots vibe pervaded much of the AEB’s set, with rockier songs such as ‘Sister Sunrise’ and ‘Sex and Money’ butting up against plain-sailing numbers such as ‘Why I Drink’. Eckersley’s lyrics centre on appropriately classic rock themes, ranging from hard living to good loving and admiration for an exotic dancer (‘Should’ve Known Better’). In a set that featured very few covers, Eckersley also delivered a warm rendition of Zac Brown Band’s ‘Keep Me In Mind’.
Toward the middle of the set, Eckersley invited wife, Brooke McClymont to join him on stage for duet ‘Give Her the World’, which was penned by Eckersley on tour in Nashville. This was followed with a song co-written with Brooke, ‘Tomorrow Night, Same Again’.
As Eckersley noted toward the end of the set, we had heard the entirety of the band’s forthcoming debut record, The First Album (out in March). That material exhausted, Eckersley closed the night with a very entertaining cover of a song about alligator poaching, Jerry Reed’s 1970 hit ‘Amos Moses’ – which neatly rounded out a set that had eloquently underscored the band’s southern rock leanings. This was certainly one of the hottest tickets at this year’s festival, and The First Album will no doubt be a contender for any number of accolades in the months to come.
The term ‘country music’ is loosely and sometimes curiously applied to everything from Taylor Swift and The Eagles to George Jones and Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers. When you hear the Adam Eckersley Band crunching through nimble rockers, fiddle-led stompers, reflective acoustic tunes and blistering country-rock, it makes for reflection on what a broad church country music is.
It also makes clear that Eckersley is already setting fire to the pews.
“Yeah, well … I wouldn’t exactly say there’s a hell of a lot of pedigree here, but country music was the first music I was playing when I started playing the guitar. I moved a lot, and spent a lot of time out around Cobar, and the far west of New South Wales. Garth Brooks hooked me into the country music thing.
“I was digging doing some country gigs, but I got into the guitar side of things, doing more the guitar hero stuff — Hendrix, Clapton, Led Zep, Buddy Miller, Charlie Daniels Band, JJ Cale, James McMurtry, Jerry Reed — all the older, cool country stuff with that jam aspect to it. I like it whether it’s blues, rock or country.”
So we can blame it all on his roots then. Which are, naturally, impeccable. He writes what ZZ Top might call great “beer-drinking, hell-raising” music. “There’s a fair bit of my songwriting is tongue-in-cheek, and they’re fairly blokey subjects,” admits Eckersley. Not bad for a guy who left school at 15, and was a qualified mechanic at 20. He used those skills long enough to purchase his first PA system and a van. Both van and PA saw action in small towns across Australia, with more road than reward, while Eckersley honed his talent along the whetstone of ‘dues paying’.
At 29, he’s already seen the world and has toured endlessly in Australia and the US, both as back-up guitarist for the McClymonts (he is married to singer Brooke McClymont)
“We were at Country Music College in Tamworth together – she didn’t like me very much then…”), while developing his own band, the Adam Eckersley Band. There was even a stint on Australian Idol in 2009.
“All that did for me was solidify in my mind that I wanted to be playing real music to real people without all that bullshit. It was an interesting experience, not necessarily a pleasant one.” Out of all of this joyful madness, the thrill of playing the Grand Ole Opry, and clocking up a busload of road miles, came the songs. The songs began to emerge during Australian co-writing sessions with songwriters like Lindsay Rimes, Brooke McClymont, and Brian McFadden (who co-authored the excellently titled ‘Don’t Shit On My Blue Skies’).
The First Album is also heaving with international heavyweight co-writes, from Adam’s time in Nashville and Atlanta, and as the resulting album shows, the band shares a similar healthy disregard for the conventions of razor and “short back and sides” as for musical borders and boxes. The indisputable truth is this: Eckersley and his heavily bearded band of cohorts play hard. The proof is in the can.