By PJ (Phil) Taylor
A dark day in New Zealand’s history when the life of an innocent soul was ended by a sinister assassin is the subject of a powerful new song.
The death of Ernie Abbott on March 27, 1984, shocked the nation when at work he picked up a suitcase containing a bomb that detonated and killed him in cold blood.
Abbott’s tragic death has played on the mind of Kiwi bluesman Darren Watson for 36 years and he felt compelled to remind the country that an honest worker’s life was cut short by an act of terrorism.
“Ernie Abbott was the caretaker at Trades Hall in Wellington, who picked up a suitcase he thought someone had left behind,” Watson says.
“Unbeknownst to him, some guy, and it’s always a guy, had decided to try and kill the union leadership of this country. Ernie Abbott picked up the case and died.”
Watson is a hugely respected blues-roots singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer starting out with dynamic rhythm and blues band Chicago Smoke Shop in the 1980s.
He’s delivered six well-received solo albums since heading out solo in the 1990s, including Too Many Millionaires that debuted at number three on the NZ Top 20 album chart in 2018.
“I’m really proud of this song,” Watson says, of his tribute to Abbott. “It has been a lifetime in the making for me.
“The events that led to the death of Ernie Abbott were formative politically for me as an 18-year-old.
“He was the sole victim of an attack that was meant to be a lot more devastating. He’s an inadvertent hero to me. It really affected me, so I wrote this song.
“It’s long, it’s slow, it’s a dirge. It’s a heavy song about a heavy subject.
“Maybe someone will have a pang of conscience… the person who did that will be brought to justice. We live in hope,” Watson says.
The killing of Ernie Abbott remains an official cold case, says the www.police.govt.nz website.
“He was the sole victim of the attack and, despite numerous investigations, police have always struggled to identify a motive for the bombing. No-one has been brought to justice for Ernie Abbott’s murder, and police need your help.”
The new memorial song is on Watson’s next album, Getting Sober For The End Of The World, out on October 1.
Watson’s coming to Howick to talk about it, his career, the history of blues music and to play live, on East FM, this Saturday, September 12, from 3pm-5pm (88.1FM, 107.1FM; www.eastfm.nz).
Smoke Shop was a greatly admired band that had NZ Music Awards’ nominations, radio hits, two albums, and tours with international artists Koko Taylor, The Robert Cray Band, George Thorogood and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Watson’s solo career has reached soaring heights, with NZ Music Awards’ nominations, many substantial albums, and Too Many Millionaires generating high-praise reviews in this land and around the world. It was recorded live-to-tape at Wellington’s Surgery Studios by award-winning engineer Lee Prebble, who has worked with the Black Seeds, Phoenix Foundation, and Dave Dobbyn.