Another brick in The Wall

Israel’s preeminent Pink Floyd tribute band, Echoes, honors 40th anniversary of landmark album

Another brick in The Wall (photo credit: Courtesy)
Another brick in The Wall
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Back in the day, there were fiercely opposed Fab Four camps. You either loved Paul (McCartney) or stuck by the more acerbic John (Lennon). But when it comes to choosing a favorite album of this or that beloved band, for many it can be akin to saying which of your offspring you love the most.
Then again, by and large, fans of Pink Floyd, the group that many say changed the sound and feel of rock music, the band that offered an unprecedented listening – and visual – experience, tend to connect more ardently with various temporal and/or stylistic junctures of the British rock outfit’s oeuvre. Some prefer early Floyd offerings, from the mid-1960s, when the mercurial Syd Barrett was the primary creative mover and shaker, while others go for flagship releases such as The Dark Side of the Moon and its follow-up Wish You Were Here, from the mid-1970s. And there are those who, possibly due to relative tenderness of age, got into the Floyd sound later on when Roger Waters or David Gilmour were setting the artistic tone for the rest of the gang.
According to Shai Zrihan, the members of the Echoes band have their own individual predilections.
“Personally, I like the early period, with Syd Barrett. But, in our band, we have a variety of partialities. Some like the later era, after Waters, the time of [1994 record] The Division Bell,” notes the 40-year-old bassist-vocalist and group cook and bottle washer.
“But we all really connect with everything Pink Floyd did.”
In this part of the world, it was 1979 blockbuster The Wall that really got Israelis into the Floyd thing. As Zrihan was born in the year the double album came out, he couldn’t have joined me at the 1980 concert at Earl’s Court in London, where I witnessed the amazing special effects – gigantic balloons in the shape of a stern-looking schoolmaster and a pink pig, not to mention the gradual building of the eponymous structure on the stage – that went with the stirring music.
Despite missing seeing the British boys do their thing in the flesh, Zrihan and the other five members of the Echoes Floyd tribute band are well and truly immersed in the music. They have been putting on pretty convincing renditions of Floyd material, up and down the country, for over a decade and will provide local audiences with something close to the real thing when they perform all the numbers from The Wall in their hometown of Beersheba (Performing Arts Center on January 6 at 9 p.m. at Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv (January 14, 9 p.m.) and The Congress Center in Haifa (February 6 at 9 p.m.).
Zrihan says Pink Floyd has always been front and center in his evolving musical consciousness.
“My father was really into Pink Floyd and, when I was around 13, I started going through his record collection and I began listening to them.”
It was love at first spin.
“I started with Pink Floyd albums – beginning with The Wall. They really grabbed me, and I am still there,” he laughs.
But it wasn’t just a matter of placing needle on vinyl and drifting away on clouds of ethereal delight. The youngster soon realized that he wanted to try reproducing those very same sounds and vibes himself.
“It was around that time that I began thinking of learning to play an instrument. I don’t know if it was specifically because of Pink Floyd that I started playing myself, but that was the time that my musical tastes began to form, and they were an important part of that. When you are 13 or 14, you don’t really think of the possibility of playing Pink Floyd, but their music was always there.”
Echoes, the Beersheba outfit, has been around for some time itself.
“We have been together since 2003. That’s what we do. It’s our great love.”
The group’s moniker comes from a long track from the British band’s 1971 Meddle album, in fact so long that it accounts for the whole of Side Two of the LP. While the work may tend toward the voluminous, the name itself is definitively user friendly.
“I remember someone suggested The Great Gig in the Sky [a track from The Dark Side of the Moon], but we thought that might be a little long to fit on posters,” Zrihan chuckles. “Echoes is a legendary creation, something really great. We thought it fit the bill.”
If you’re going to start a new creative venture, it helps to have, at the very least, a degree of familiarity and some simpatico element between the component members. Echoes had a head start on most.
“We have had, more or less, the same lineup since the start,” says Zrihan. “We are all from Beersheba. Most of us are childhood friends. We grew up together.”
They were also all into music, all played some instrument or sang and, it transpired, all dug the Floyd.
“We decided to rent a rehearsal space and play music together, and then we said let’s try playing some Pink Floyd,” Zrihan recalls. “That’s how it all began.”
And so it was. Zrihan, guitarists Usher Ben Ishay and Yossi Shitrit, keyboardist-programmer Hillel Shir and drummer Itamar Abuhazira began to explore the Floyd back catalogue on a regular basis, until they managed to do the source material justice. Their ranks swelled and ebbed intermittently, as per the project in hand, with various vocalists, such as Kobe Elias, Meirav Zohar Vasker, Yonit Tzarfati and Anat Haliva putting in their pennyworth at different junctures. All told, there will be nine instrumentalists and vocalists on stage in the upcoming shows.
Zrihan says things went pretty well with the rehearsals run outs, and the recreational activity began to gather pace.
“We were all enjoying it, and we decided to continue with the get togethers.”
Gradually the idea of sharing their passion and accruing expertise with the outside world began to take shape. However, they really wanted to do their idols justice, and were not about to get out on a stage until they were good and ready.
“We rehearsed for three years before our first gig,” notes Zrihan. “We’d meet up, every Thursday, at a studio and we’d play four, five, six hours at a go. We’d run though the music again and again, because we loved it so much.”
Zrihan happily confesses to being totally sold on Pink Floyd, and it is the same with rest of the gang.
“People ask us why we don’t play other music. It is not a matter of doing cover versions, or playing just to perform, or making money.”
All the members of the bands have daytime jobs. Zrihan, for example, earns a crust as CEO of a high-tech company.
“We love this music. If you asked us, we’d want to buy a ticket to be in the audience of our own shows,” he laughs. “We are the biggest fans of this music.”
Over the years, Echoes has also performed readings of The Dark Side of the Moon and 1970 release Atom Heart Mother – with a full orchestra and choir. Part-time status notwithstanding, Zrihan says the band is not about to settle for anything less than perfection.
“We are totally committed to the music, and this project,” he states, adding they are going the whole multisensorial hog.
“We could have done the music years ago. We do the whole of The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, [1977 record] Animals and Division Bell. The reason why we haven’t done The Wall until now is that the set is an integral part of The Wall.”
As aforementioned, having attended the original show, I can vouch for that.
That sounds like quite an undertaking.
“We thought about the logistics of all that. In the end, we decided to go for something that suits the 21st century. We’ll have a giant screen – 15 meters wide and 5 meters high – onto which we’ll project video art that includes constructing the wall, digitally. It is synchronized with the music, and there is serious light production, too. This is not just about an experience of the music. This is a crazy production,” he laughs.
Zrihan says he and his comrades in Pink Floyd arms hope they can give the production more runouts further down the line, although it won’t be easy.
“This is a very complex project,” he notes. “You know, Pink Floyd themselves lost money on The Wall shows, because of the scale of the production. That later led to conflict in the band.”
Not that Zrihan is comparing the Echoes venture to the feted British outfit.
“We don’t have a big production company behind us, but we hope we’ll be able to play this music at other venues sometim