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How Oamaru’s home-brewing bass player got up close to Peppa Pig

14 November 2019 - By Jock Anderson

From teaching English in Japan to handling merchandise licensing agreements for one of Britain’s biggest television names, Kieran O’Connell fancies being a brewer if he wasn’t a lawyer.

“Beer brewing sounds a good alternative career. I would like something that’s varied and working with my hands,” says Kieran, a keen home brewer, who was recently made principal in AJ Park’s Wellington office.

His family are from Oamaru, where his late dad Tony was production manager at the freezing works. His mother Sybil was a nurse.

NameKieran Michael (Kieran) O’Connell
BornOamaru
Age42
Entry to lawGraduated BA (Hons) and LLB from Otago University in 2002. Admitted in 2003.
WorkplacePrincipal at AJ Park, Wellington.
Speciality areaTrade mark and copyright.

He was initially a boarder at St Kevin’s College. “I am No 4 son after Nigel, Nick, Brian, me, then sister Rosie.

“You can imagine growing up in Oamaru where one of the first objectives in life is to get the hell out of the place.

Photo of Kieran O'Connell

“Everyone quickly went somewhere else, even to Dunedin. No 1 brother is in Sydney, No 2 is a lawyer and has worked between Dubai and Saudi Arabia for about 10 years, and No 3 is in North Carolina.”

Kieran went back to Oamaru about a year ago with a Thai friend and fellow musician he went to high school and university with.

“He grew up in New York and for some strange reason ended up in a catholic school in Oamaru. He came over and we travelled through to Oamaru. It was a good reminder that there is something about growing up in small towns.”

A dedicated bass guitar player with an Ibanez bass, Kieran would often – as a 17/18 year old - get calls from bands passing through to play support at Oamaru’s musicians and entertainers venue, The Penguin Club, in the old part of town. “I’m not sure you would get the same opportunities growing up in Wellington.”

“I haven’t played seriously for a long time. I played a bit in Wellington, and in Dunedin rock bands that were soon forgotten.

“We did a recording about 20 years ago. We played at the surveying ball because they wanted a cheap band and we were cheap. They paid us something like $200 for the evening, which gave us enough money to hire some good microphones.

“We recorded in the front room in the flat, it took us three days and we got about 12 songs down.

“In Wellington I played for about a year in a Bonnie Prince Billy covers band, which was quite fun but pretty obscure. I still harbour the dreams.

“I was influenced by the mid to late 90s Dunedin style, by Dunedin bands that have gone before and a lot of the American alternative bands of the time such as Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and the like. It all feels like ancient history now.

“I have my guitar lying around at home because I want to encourage the kids.”

“Music was what got me thinking about doing intellectual property law. That was the inkling. The thought being if you can’t make your money from doing music maybe you can make it from what sits behind it. That’s what started me down the path of IP.

“My life is around little children largely - Isobel (8) and Toby (5). I think about my weekend and by 8.30am we are at the local swimming pool, then Isobel’s got recorder lessons. I would be pushing for something a bit cooler but she loves it. Then both of them go on to hoop club at the basketball club.

“I play basketball in a local rag tag dad’s team that started this year - in the lowest social league that’s going.

“Living in Lyall Bay, Wellington, my wife and I picked up surfing in recent years. We took a lesson and it’s carried on. We are not religious surfers but we get out when we can.”

Kieran’s wife Emily, a policy analyst, recently moved to the Ministry for the Environment, after 10 years at the Treasury.

“My other hobby is I brew a bit of beer, after starting about two or three years ago. My beer is moderately good, drinkable, and my friends will happily drink it and be complimentary, which is a good start.

“I like hoppy beers like IPAs or APAs, and like the experimentation. One of the tricky things about beer brewing is it is about a month before you get to taste the product. It’s not one of those things where you can easily or quickly know what you did wrong, or change it.

“We have the ParrotDog pub in my neighbourhood, which has great beers.”

Breaking down school barriers

A focus for Kieran’s family for the past year has been involvement in a community push for better co-ed options at school, his wife Emily being one of those leading the charge to have all-boy Rongotai College change to co-ed.

“Wellington has a lot of single sex schools and a lot of schools where kids travel quite a way to get to single sex schools.

“One of the conversations is for better community-based schooling - wouldn’t it be nice for kids to get on their bikes and continue to go to school with the kids they have always gone to school with.

“Instead they get separated out at 13 when they go to high school, then spend five years of their lives away from each other and then expect to enter the work force or go to university having this time in their lives away.

“Another aspect is considering what the future of schooling will look like. It feels like we have an imported schooling model from England and the puritanical 20s.

“The question is if you were designing a schooling system nowadays what would that schooling system look like. It probably wouldn’t look like what Wellington has currently.

“It will be a slow burn. Originally the project focused on Rongotai College because that is the local community school, but subsequently it has broadened out to be a discussion about life as co-ed. So we’ll keep plugging away.

“I think it’s a good thing to be involved in and I think it’s an inevitability that at some point we will look back on it all and wonder why there was so much single sex schooling.

“I had no intention of doing law at university. I intended doing English and psychology and thinking about advertising - something creative.

“I got into second year law and carried on. It probably didn’t click for me until the third or fourth year. I enjoyed the discipline of the research and the argument but it was never one of those subjects that I knew as a high school student that this was the thing I would pursue.

“If you grow up in Oamaru there’s probably not many kids who even thought about doing law. It was the influence of who I was surrounded by at university that broadened my mind a bit.

“I like the problem solving of law. I get to work with clients from very small, very start-up, very hand-holding clients who are really looking for your guidance through the whole thing. Right through to quite big businesses. It was probably the influence of the older brother than I even contemplated this path at the beginning.”

Culture shock in London

Kieran and Emily spent nearly two years in Japan teaching English in a high school in Kyoto.

“I had done a few years working at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and an opportunity came up in Japan.

“We went over on the JET programme – a cultural exchange programme run by the Japanese government. We turned up in Tokyo with about 3,000 other people from all over the world and in two days were on a bullet train to Kyoto. We had a really great time, teaching English in a local high school.”

The couple then went from Japan to London which Kieran says was “quite something”.

“Going from New Zealand to London is a cultural shock. And there is some talk of the cultural shock coming back from Japan - you get a reverse culture shock.

“But going from Japan to Bethnal Green in the heart of the East End of London was quite something and so diverse compared to Japan.”

He spent a year in London working for popular British preschool animated television series Peppa Pig, on licensing merchandising agreements. “I had never heard of Peppa Pig beforehand,” he says of the programme that is now screened in about 180 territories the world and has taken China by storm.

Kieran says the Peppa Pig owners also had a sports company and the rights to distribute B-grade martial arts films. “Martial arts movies was their bread and butter. Then they were bought out and began distributing the blockbuster Twilight.”

“Apart from Japan and London, I’ve travelled to Thailand, Laos, South Korea, China, Italy, France, Hungary, Germany, Australia, New York, North Carolina, New Orleans, and through work to Chile and Malaysia.

“I’m not overly into reading and might have a book that takes me a year to read. I read for escapism or over a holiday, both fiction and non-fiction.

“I like good TV shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, thegolden age of TV stuff, but there’s not much of that recently.”

Kieran and Emily’s pets are limited to three goldfish “who possibly have names”.

“Our favourite New Zealand holiday spot is a wee camping ground we discovered last year at Opoutere, in the Coromandel, where we have a cabin we have first right of refusal on.

“Next to the camping ground is a reserve and beyond the reserve is the beach. It feels like a tranquil wee place.”

The family headed to the Abel Tasman National Park for Labour Weekend – coming out by water taxi.

“Maybe once a year we can get away with the kids and do a good trip like that, the country is sensational. I would like to be able to knock off the great walks while the kids are in their childhood years.

“John Lennon would have to be a dinner guest. Hugely talented, hugely interesting and opinionated. I would love to talk music with him – a fascinating conversation. And Thom Yorke from Radiohead.

“I cook and would have to check their diet beforehand. My wife is vegetarian and most of my cooking has a vegetarian component to it. With a bit of home brew – an IPA or APA - and some local wine.”

Last updated on the 14th November 2019