AUCKLAND'S LONDON BAR, CELEBRATED (2000): Half a century of sound

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AUCKLAND'S LONDON BAR, CELEBRATED (2000): Half a century of sound

When the London Bar of the Civic Tavern celebrates 50 continuous years of jazz in a three-day festival you hope the organisers will have invited someone who was a regular all that time.

Ask around any of the musicians who have played there down the decades and one name keeps coming up: "Oh, whatzizname-now?"

This mysterious character appears in every conversation with jazz musicians, and it's hardly surprising. In the past 50 years the list of the famous and the briefly fashionable, the regulars and the one-off guests, is lengthy indeed. It's little wonder some slip the memory.

Civic Tavern owner Reg Newcombe remembers sneaking in, under age, in the early 50s to see bands that included pianists Crombie Murdoch and Julian Lee.

"It was always packed and it hasn't changed," says Newcombe, a jazz-lover who headed his own band at Mt Albert Grammar, the 18-piece Mt Albert Rhythm Boys which included the festival organiser Andy Brown.

"Some people have suggested getting rid of the jazz from time to time but there's no need to change. We still get good numbers."

And expect the numbers to turn out for the Guinness Jazz Festival, which opens at 5 this evening with Kevin and Joel Haines and Frank Conway.

Bassist Bob Ewing says the room is a good one to play in. Jack Randell, resident pianist for 14 years, says the sound and ambience improved considerably after 1974 when he insisted the stage be shifted from the corner to where it is today.

londonbar"It has a reasonably good sound," says Ewing.

"Because there's a bistro at the far end, people who don't want to be close to the music can move there, or if you want to pay attention you sit up the front.

"They tried jazz in the basement once, but that didn't work at all. I don't think you can throw people out upstairs," he says with a laugh.

"The London Bar is handy because it's right in the middle of the city, one of the few live-entertainment venues on Queen St, and people tend to drop in before a movie."

Randell, as with many jazz musicians, says no one was ever paid much to play there - he recalls getting $100 for 11 hours spread over three nights - but "we do it for the love of it, and the camaraderie."

Among the famous names who have shared the calling to play the London Bar have been Lyle Laurent, Neil Dunningham, Tommy Adderley (who started singing with Randell's band for nothing), Tony Hopkins, Linn Lorkin and Candy Alderton.

The bar also witnessed one of the last concerts by the gifted American guitarist Emily Remler who died during her Australian tour in 1990, a fortnight after exceptional London Bar concerts with drummer Frank Gibson jun and bassist Kenny Pearson.

And expat pianist and composer Mike Nock has made regular appearances.

The roll call of Auckland jazz musicians to play the bar includes many of our best: pianist Phil Broadhurst, drummer Frank Gibson jun, trumpeters Murray Tanner and Kim Paterson, saxophonist Brian Smith ...

And that guy, whatzizname-now?


The London Bar at the Civic Tavern closed in November 2009. It became a Thai restaurant. 

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