AUCKLAND ROCK VENUES (2003): Pull down the shades

 |   |  5 min read

AUCKLAND ROCK VENUES (2003): Pull down the shades

It was Joni Mitchell who said it first - and Counting Crows thought it bore repeating: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

It wasn't exactly paradise which disappeared under the wrecking ball in Auckland city, but for rock fans plenty of places that took them pretty close to heaven.

When it comes to knocking down buildings, Auckland has an impressive track record. You call them historic, developers call them targets.

But did we really require a few more chintzy apartments, a furniture shop and a hair salon? That's what we got instead of the Gluepot, one of the great rock venues. Yes, a few said the old Gluepot wasn't up to much - but they hadn't seen internationally acclaimed toilets like CBGBs in New York or Oasis playing a basketball court in Manchester.

The Gluepot had history sweated into its walls, legendary concerts took place there ... and now you can buy upmarket couches and get a blow dry. Thanks a bunch.

People who should have known better said the same of the stately His Majesty's just off Queen St (where Split Enz played their legendary Radio Hauraki Buck-A-Head concert in May '74, and Elvis Costello opened by striding up the aisle singing Pump It Up). It went under the jackhammer so we could have another hotel and retail complex.sailor

It's a little sad to try to find where rock'n'roll noise came from in this town. We looked, but they paved paradise . . . and put up parking lots.

Oddly enough in this city of cranes and construction, the place which housed one of the earliest rock'n'roll clubs - certainly the most influential - is still there.

It is Trades Hall on Hobson St, which was the location of the Jive Centre in the late 50s. It was here Raetihi-born Johnny Devlin, New Zealand's own Elvis who incited screaming and riots, played to packed houses and recorded his first single, a cover of Elvis' Lawdy Lawdy Miss Clawdy in 1958.

The Jive Centre and those who played there are featured prominently in the first episode of Whirl. The dapper Merv Thomas must have a hideously ravaged portrait in his attic - and the building doesn't look much changed after 50 years either. Now it houses a property developer's office, and where once kids jived to rock'n'roll it is a silent workplace for people bowed over computers.

The noise will come back next year. It is going to be a food hall. At least it'll still be there.

Other famous 60s rock venues haven't been so lucky. Long gone are the Beatle Inn in Little Queen St (opened by the late entrepreneur Phil Warren and where the late Dylan Taite played as drummer Jet Rink in the Merseymen). Round the corner was the Shiralee (later the Galaxie) where the Underdogs and La De Das played. That whole area is now the Downtown Centre.

The Embers in Chancery St - more a folksy club for secret dope smokers - is a parking building, the Peter Pan which became Mainstreet in the punk and new wave era is gone to developers; wave goodbye to Mojos, Monaco, Surf City and the Crypt.

Not all the Sixties venues are gone. Yes, they paved the Platterack to put up a parking lot - and did the same to the old Radio New Zealand studios across the road in Durham Lane. But the historic old stone building that housed the Top 20 (later the 1480 Village, Bo Peep and Granny's) is still there.

But the place which Max Merritt opened in January '63 and where Larry's Rebels, the Pleazers and the La De Das started their careers is now gutted and is a workers' lunchroom, and dwarfed by surrounding hotels and parking buildings. In the back of the same building was Zwines, one of the great punk clubs of the late 70s where the Scavengers held a long residency.

It's still there, broken and deserted; the guy in overalls and hard hat reckoned it's only because no one knows what to do with the place.

Developers unfortunately knew what to do with Kurtz and Frisbee's Leisure Lounge on Symonds St - they were bowled and replaced by low-rise retail and apartments just like most of the main arteries around the city. No surprises there then.

The Rhumba Bar in Victoria St made way for a bank. The Wynyard Tavern on Symonds St where the pre-Split Enz, called Split Ends, played their first gig in December '72 is gone. Don't go looking for Charley Gray's Island of Real in Airedale St where Hello Sailor, Th' Dudes, Citizen Band and Suburban Reptiles played.

The beautiful Globe up the road has gone too. It's apartments now. Oh good.

Of course the history of rock and pop in this city was written all over town: bands such as Lika Street Choir and the Hi-Revving Tongues played dances at church halls around the suburbs (just as Citizen Band would do a decade later, and D4 two decades on from them), the Blue Stars ran the Gallows on Remuera Rd next to the firestation, and the Surfside in Milford rocked with a safer kind of pop.

In the 80s and 90s a lot of places just came and went, like Punch and Judys in Fort St, the Albion, Cactus Jacks, the Dog Club, the Foundry on Nelson St, Bob Bar in DeBrett's and Pod in Imperial Arcade. The short-lived club on Queen St called The Club is now a gentleman's establishment, although a suspiciously large number of attractive women seem to go there.

Some places were only live venues on occasion (Phil Warren's Crystal Palace in Mt Eden where the Chicks opened for Australian singing sensation Normie Rowe in the mid-60s, the Esplanade in Devonport, Royal George in Newmarket) and some are deeply imprinted in the memory, from the Monmartre in the 60s to the Windsor Castle in the early 80s.

There was Russ Le Roc's venue called The Venue. Ever the imaginative one, eh Mr Crowe?

The Java Jive in Ponsonby just keeps going, although these days nothing like in its heyday. Then there was the The Galaxy, then Powerstation, on Mt Eden Rd, home to more concerts than anyone could recall: Everyone played there, from Shihad to the farewell of the brief two-Finn Crowded House and the Five Bands for Five Dollars nights which gave lots of big-hair 90s rockers a chance to strut their Lycra. It's now called Oracle and hardly has a band there these days. A shame.

Some venues lasted a while and became legendary (the Edinburgh Castle in Upper Symonds St, Squid and the Box/Cause Celebre on High St) but it is sad to report most of the places where the rock'n'roll noise was first made have been buried, their importance only in the memory of those who were there. But those people too are being buried.

Still, while we might have lost a number of great rock clubs and bars - and we are down to a meagre few these days - one institution has weathered all the vagaries of fashion and redevelopment: the Supertop, built as a temporary structure opened as a rock venue by Midnight Oil in February '88.

What does it say about our city when concrete and steel, historic pubs and swanky nightclubs disappear but a windy tent on a concrete pad survives for 15 years?

As that old song said, "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got till it's gone ... "

Elsewhere recommends Auckland rock photographer Jonathan Ganley's recently posted photo-history of these old venues. inspired by this article he generously says: See here. And weep.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Cultural articles index

MARK CROSS PROFILED (2013): The outsider looking outward

MARK CROSS PROFILED (2013): The outsider looking outward

Odds are Mark Cross was among the oldest in the audience at the recent concert by American nail-hard metal rockers Tool. And probably the only artist. More than a decade ago he heard Tool's... > Read more

FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO INTERVIEWED (1999): Cheer up, it will all be over soon

FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO INTERVIEWED (1999): Cheer up, it will all be over soon

The phone call is an hour late and catches Felipe Fernandez-Armesto at dinner with his father-in-law. Apologies are cheerfully rebutted by impossibly rounded vowels which roll across the global... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

GUEST WRITER ANGELA SOUTER returns to Malaysia for a different experience again

GUEST WRITER ANGELA SOUTER returns to Malaysia for a different experience again

How often do we go back to countries we have visited previously? Sometimes life is too short and money too tight, but my husband and I decided to go back to Malaysia recently and sample more... > Read more

Venice, Italy: The face of a footnote

Venice, Italy: The face of a footnote

The narrow lane leading from Venice’s Piazza San Marco -- the Merceria as it is called -- is narrow and crowded. But it has always been so. This was once the main street in this city of... > Read more