Live and direct
Being there. Never is it more important than when it comes to watching your favourite band.
An underground club, a paddock in the middle of the South Island, the local RSA - New Zealand's entertainment venues are as diverse as the music itself. But no matter what the genre or where you are, watching live music is one of life's greatest pleasures.
DANCING IN PADDOCKS
For thousands of New Zealanders, a road trip with friends has become a summer ritual. The destination? A music festival at one of the country's more remote live music venues - a paddock.
State Highway 23 is a well-trodden route - the road to the top surf spot Raglan. But for three days in late January 2017, visitors to the small town weren't interested in the waves. Fans braved the wet and windy weather at the Soundsplash music festival, headlined by the ever popular New Zealand band Six60.
Returning after an eight-year break, the festival's diverse line-up and family-friendly approach captured a wider audience than the first roots and reggae offering in 2001.
Over on the east coast, the New Year's festival Rhythm and Vines has also evolved over its 14-year history. It's grown larger and lasts longer and this year the festival stopped people bringing in alcohol - the end of an era of BYO beers in your tent.
But that didn't stop the festival from selling out. More than 15,000 music fans made the trek to Gisborne to welcome in the new year with prominent New Zealand artists, P-Money, Savage, and the Jordan Luck Band. With its east coast location, the festival bills itself as the 'first place in the world to welcome the first sunrise of the New Year'.
More than a music festival, Splore promotes itself as New Zealand's greatest dress-up party. Splore organisers set the theme well in advance, and almost everyone dons a costume for the Saturday night performances. This year's crowd - dressed in a 'Strangely Familiar Family Reunion' theme and gumboots - made the most of the muddy conditions. The festival closed with a Sunday afternoon show and an audience of 'mud people' got down and dirty to festival veterans Fat Freddy's Drop.
We've come a long way since New Zealand's first music festival, inspired by the legendary Woodstock in 1969.
Woodstock captured the imagination of New Zealand music fans ... and music promoters. The legendary Phil Warren was quick to organise Redwood 70, only six months after the American event. More than 9000 people attended the two-day festival in Swanson, which was tarnished by crowd antics that prompted headline act Robin Gibbs from the Bee Gees to leave the stage and postpone his performance until the next afternoon. The bonfires, dogs, and Sunday morning communion (with wine in a glass) are something you wouldn't see at a music festival today.
Three years later, the Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival stepped it up with promoters Robert Raymond and Barry Coburn optimistically preparing for a crowd of 25,000.
The festival played an important role in our music history - Ngaruawahia was the occasion of early performances by the Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band, Dragon (before Marc Hunter joined the band), and also Split Ends (later Enz) who didn't have a happy experience.
But with only 18,000 tickets sold and unforeseen logistical issues, it was a financial failure.
It was a few years before anyone was ready to attempt another festival. Nambassa, in 1978, took an entirely different approach. Their focus on counterculture, crafts, and alternative living drew massive crowds - in 1979 numbers were estimated at between 45,000 and 65,000!
From the mid-1990s, the number of festivals grew rapidly. In 1999 there were five on the summer schedule, including The Gathering on the Takaka Hill, and a return of the 1980s festival, Sweetwaters. By 2008 there were 13 festivals to choose from, ranging from the Christian music festival Parachute to the intentionally intimate Camp a Low Hum.
Check out the video to see the evolution of festivals from the 70s to today, and watch the full video in the exhibition Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa.
You don't always need to go on a road trip to dance and mosh among huge crowds - shows in the city can be just as epic.
Located on the Wellington waterfront, Homegrown is a purely New Zealand music festival. With six stages spanning multiple genres, the hardest part for punters can be choosing who to see next.
Homegrown is also home to musical reunions. In 2017, rockers Elemeno P reunited for the first time in four years. As an annual event, it's also a chance for musicians to 'catch up with our peers and talk politics backstage'.
Now in its 10th year, the festival is still growing strong. In 2017, 49 bands performed to a sold out crowd of 20,000.
BIG NAMES FOR BIG CROWDS
Back in 1960, local acts also drew a crowd of 20,000 in a concert headlined by the Howard Morrison Quartet at Western Springs stadium. A year earlier, rock 'n' roller Johnny Devlin was the main act in a variety show at Western Springs that filled to capacity.
Johnny Devlin with The Beatles, 1964. ©Johnny Devlin
But before he became a headline act, Johnny earned his stripes as a support act for The Beatles. Likewise, Ray Columbus and The Invaders toured with The Rolling Stones. By touring with international artists, up-and-coming local artists get access to a stadium-sized audience.
But being the opening act is not always the greatest experience. When The Red Hot Chilli Peppers played at the Mt Smart Supertop in 1992, local musicians MC OJ and the Rhythm Slave were first support act, followed by Head Like A Hole - at the height of their naked phase.
Head Like a Hole, 1991, photographer Mark Roach. ©Head Like a Hole
Fifteen-year-old Mark Easterbrook travelled down from Whāngārei for what was to be his first 'proper' gig. 'The local opening acts got a fairly hostile reception from a fairly aggro crowd. At one point the promoter came out and abused the crowd for their behaviour and threatened to stop the show, which just made it worse.'
Mt Smart Stadium was also home to the Big Day Out for many years. The city festival was headlined by international acts, but always had a healthy amount of local acts to check out in a stadium setting. With your EFTPOS card safely stashed in your Doc boots, you were set to dance under the dripping ceiling in the Boiler Room or crowd surf to the soundtrack of Shihad.
Big Day Out flyer, Auckland Museum Ephemera Collection
Big Day Out tickets, Auckland Museum Ephemera Collection
Now, New Zealand acts fill large venues that were created with overseas bands in mind. Six60 and Devilskin play their own shows at Vector Arena, while Lorde has sold the venue out.
While a stadium show can be unforgettable, it turns out a living room can be just as exciting, and even better for the bands. There are no venue hire costs and the living room or backyard location inspires a sense of community - though it helps if you have a few well-connected flatmates to start with.
With 21 rooms, 'The Big House' in Parnell is one such residency. In 2005, then-Big House resident Mikhal Norriss was about to head overseas and planned a farewell bash. She was working at 95bFM at the time so she booked The Fanatics, Deja Voodoo, and Bleeders to play, organised staging and PA gear through her contacts and then emptied out one of the rooms to be the 'band' room.
Mikhal instantly switched from party mode (dressed as Courtney Love with smeared makeup, wonky wig and petticoat) to taking charge and getting people out. Emergency services set up ambulances to check on everyone and amazingly the worst injury was a dislocated shoulder.
HITTING THE DANCEFLOOR
Sometimes the greatest parties take place on the dance floor.
When Connan Mockasin, Liam Finn, Lawrence Arabia, and special guest Mick Fleetwood performed at the Crystal Palace in Mt Eden in 2016, they were in a sense re-enacting what the venue once was - a spot for local bands to perform covers of international hits, and provide the audience with some tunes to dance to.
By 1965 Auckland was clearly New Zealand's entertainment capital. The era of large suburban dance halls was over, replaced by smaller clubs where the audience was just as interested in watching the band as they were in their dance partner. The Jive Centre on Hobson St and The Monaco on Federal St were just two of the clubs in the central city.
Barbara Dean, left, rehearsing with fellow C'mon Go-Go dancers. Courtesy of Barbara Dean
Barbara Dean started as a go-go dancer at The Monaco in 1967. The resident band - initially Larry's Rebels, followed by The Classic Affair and later The Dallas Four - would play live dance music on Friday and Saturday nights from 8-11pm. Compere Keith Adams kept the crowd rocking.
Hugh Lynn was entrenched in Auckland’s live music scene. He was a trained dancer, a compere at the Top 20 and the Oriental Ballroom and in 1965 his talent as a bouncer prompted Hugh to start a business, Eden Security, providing the muscle for club owners and promoters like Phil Warren.
Hugh Lynn in the Top 20, 1967, Hugh Lynn collection, courtesy of AudioCulture.co.nz
Phil Warren was one of the big players in the club scene. He was involved with the Oriental Ballroom, The Monaco, the Crystal Palace, Teenarama, The Beatle Inn, and more. The crowds were mainly female patrons, but behind the scenes it was all men.
Phil Warren with unknown friend, at the Monaco Club, 1959. Phil Warren collection, courtesy of AudioCulture.co.nz
Cathy Howe, who was named top recording artist of 1963, found that being the only female vocalist was very challenging.
FROM BANDS TO DJS
Phil Warren also owned a club halfway up Wellington's Plimmer Steps, which under new ownership and a new name, Exchequer, was one of several venues that in the 1980s changed nightlife in the capital.
Exchequer, Dr Johns, and Clare's replaced their resident bands with resident DJs. By 1985, Exchequers was the city's most popular club, with the 'godfather of Wellington DJ scene', Tony 'Tee Pee' Pene, on the payroll. Club owners were very aware of the American influence on the scene. Not long after he had persuaded Pene to leave Dr Johns, Exchequer owner Nick Mills sent the budding DJ to the United States to hone his skills.
Tony 'Tee Pee' Pene, Rhys B collection, courtesy of AudioCulture.co.nz
Up north, soul and funk reigned supreme for most of the 1980s in the South Auckland club scene. Cleopatra's in Panmure was one of the best venues for live music. Every weekend locals would fill the clubs to see the soulful Ardijah, The Yandall Sisters and Annie Crummer.
By the end of the decade, the South Auckland scene had blended in with the new explosion of electronic music taking place in central Auckland. This gave rise to a club like Box and Cause Celebre where rappers and jazz bands played in one room, while DJs and electronica producers played next door. There were also large dance parties where hip-hop acts rubbed shoulders with dance music producers - held at rented warehouses or venues like the Powerstation.
The DJ booth at the Box, photographer Karl Pierard, courtesy of AudioCulture.co.nz
Listen to Box and Cause Celebre co-owner Simon Grigg and DJ Sir-Vere remember the good times at the Auckland Museum LATE discussion in 2015.
Meanwhile, the drum 'n' bass scene was also developing down in Christchurch, at clubs like The Ministry. MC Tali was a student when she heard the music that was to set her on the path to becoming a drum 'n' bass MC.
'A swirling wind sound coursed out of the bass speakers. Then a haunting voice cut through the darkness. Then the beat kicked in and I felt my mind stand to attention. The beat was minimal, punctuated with laser like sounds, and these husky feminine vocals that sounded slightly off key, cut across the track – loud, understated and raw.'
MC Tali has been in the scene ever since. She recently MC'd at Neck of the Woods in central Auckland, a venue which was opened to provide a home for underground music. Similar to late 90s venues, the bar features DJs and increasingly live music from a range of genres - hip-hop to electronica to rock.
Neck of the Woods music director Dave 'Hudge' Hudgins says live music prompts all kinds of audience response.
ALL AGES, ALL PLACES
Being too young or too far away isn't always a barrier to seeing your favourite band.
There's one factor that limits access to many live music venues - the legal drinking age. From 1910 to 1967 this was 21 years old; it later dropped to 20 and again in 1999 to 18.
Most early rock 'n' roll fans were too young to go to the clubs where their favourite bands had a residency. Noticing the groups of bored young people, one Christchurch mother decided to organise Sunday afternoon dances at the Railway Hall in Sydenham. With music provided by her 15-year-old son Max Merritt and his band The Meteors, the Teenage Club attracted dance-goers from all over Christchurch.
Rock 'n' roll music could also be heard coming from church halls as parish leaders grew concerned by the perceived behaviour of young people in their community. Church-run youth centres with live music and dancing were where some of our early rock 'n' roll bands found their first audience.
The Māori Community Centre on Auckland's Fanshawe St hosted early performances by Howard Morrison, Prince Tui Teka and Kiri Te Kanawa. The centre was a gathering place for musicians in the 1950s - particularly Māori who were recent arrivals to the city. It was renowned for its talent quests and many performers honed their showmanship at the community centre before going on to join one of the era's Māori showbands.
Underage fans found they were welcome in some clubs. Venues like The Shiralee, The Monaco and the Surfside opened to accommodate the growing number of Beatles-inspired bands and their younger fans. Phil Warren's short-lived club, the Beatle Inn, allowed entry only to under 18 year olds - turning the idea of R18 on its head!
All ages venues continue to be a way for teenagers to see live music. In Palmerston North, The Stomach and later Great Job! normalised all ages gigs to the point where Great Job! founders Harry Lilley and David Stevens think it's abnormal to have R18 shows that exclude so many people.
School halls and auditoriums were another unexpected venue for local music and the iconic school talent quest soon began to feature rock 'n' roll performances. But it wasn’t just high school bands rocking the school auditorium. Throughout the decades, many of New Zealand's top bands played lunchtime concerts at high schools.
In the winter of 1979, Th' Dudes played a number of school lunchtime performances to 'a captive audience of record buyers who are too young to see them play in pubs'. With the band receiving 75 cents of the $1 entry fee, the income was a 'nice supplement' to their regular pub work. Watch their performance at Auckland's Kelston Girls' High:
While hundreds can fit into a high school hall, if you want a big crowd of all ages one of the best places to perform is a local park.
In 1983, Split Enz performed in New Plymouth as part of their Enz of an Era tour. The Bowl of Brooklands is an outdoor stage with a large grass amphitheatre, set against the backdrop of Pukekura Park. Music writer Scott Kara was in the crowd. He was only 10 years old but it made a lasting impression.
RECORD STORE SHOWS
It's not surprising that bands also take to performing in record stores. When touring in the 1990s, Supergroove would perform in local record stores to drum up interest for their gig that night. Real Groovy Records in Auckland has been hosting bands in-store for years - turning audience members into record buyers.
For the release of his 2016 album Absolute Truth, Lawrence Arabia treated fans to an early morning performance in the basement of Auckland record store Flying Out, broadcast live on 95bFM.
But there's one day a year where indie record stores really take centre stage - international record store day. Stores in big and small towns across the country celebrate with in-house performances that are open to fans of all ages. Dave Dobbyn, Orchestra of Spheres, and Anika Moa performed at Wellington's Slowboat Records in 2016. Anika performed 'Chop Chop Hiyaaa!' from her album Songs For Bubbas 2 - attracting some of New Zealand's youngest music fans.
DOWN AT THE PUB
For those over the drinking age, some of New Zealand's best known watering holes were also some of the best places to see live music, and were compulsory stops in the national touring schedule.
1967 was a watershed year. A referendum on licensing hours ended half a century of 6pm closing. For the first time in two generations, it was possible to watch music in the evening with an alcoholic beverage in hand. Hotels began to introduce live music to attract patrons and keep people entertained well into the evening.
But there was no immediate revolution in the music. The traditional format of a resident band backed up by guest appearances remained the standard offering. Disdain for the counterculture meant that many of the more ground-breaking acts had to play outside of bars, at places like university halls or community centres. During the 1970s, Lion booked bands for its bars directly so 'unacceptable' groups - who played originals or challenging covers - were locked out.
But by the late 1970s, many pubs had introduced professional set-ups - a soundperson with a mixing desk and later lighting rigs. Local pubs in the main centres were soon to witness the birth of some of New Zealand's best-loved bands.
In Auckland, two rival venues - The Gluepot and Mainstreet Cabaret - turned their back on the resident band format, instead embracing a mix of New Zealand and international acts.
The Gluepot - then the Ponsonby Club Hotel - introduced live entertainment following the licensing law change in 1967. The Radars were the resident band for almost 10 years, supported by an array of Māori showbands. This all changed in December 1977 when local band Hello Sailor filled the pub, beginning almost two decades of legendary performances by bands including Th' Dudes, Mi-Sex, Screaming MeeMees, The Chills, and a number of international acts including a 30-minute set by Mick Jagger in 1988.
With the enviable status of holding a cabaret licence and its later opening hours, Mainstreet Cabaret was also in demand as a live music venue. Mainstreet was brought to the wider public's attention by the Radio with Pictures TV show 'Live at Mainstreet'. The venue was used to record a number of live albums including the 1983 album, DD Smash Live: Deep in the Heart of Taxes, and in August 1984, Mockers: Live at Mainstreet.
Another venue with a cabaret license was Napier's The Cabana, which Midge Marsden infamously described as 'New Zealand's finest rock 'n' roll finishing school.'
In the early 1970s Cabana's manager Dick Kellett gave touring bands free accommodation, meals, and access to the house bar after the hotel had closed for the evening - a lucrative offer for struggling musicians on the road.
Liam Ryan of the Narcs recalled a tour where the band played to a crowd of 600 at the Cabana.
In Christchurch, The Gladstone cultivated up-and-coming bands such as the Gordons, The Clean, and The Verlaines in the 1980s, but by the 1990s, Dux de Lux was the Garden City's top live music venue.
Dux de Lux sous chef, Tristen Anderson, saw countless gigs at the Christchurch venue before it closed following the February 2011 earthquake. It was a favourite spot for young touring bands because it offered a guaranteed payment, rather than relying on door takings.
The importance of venues which both pay for and make a space for live music continues today. In Auckland, bars like Wine Cellar, Whammy, and the Golden Dawn 'Tavern of Power' regularly host local, national, and sometimes international bands.
One of Auckland's oldest and most adored live music venues is set to close in the coming year - The Kings Arms in Newton. With its city fringe location, capacity for a mid-sized crowd, and high-quality sound at a relatively low cost, the pub has been the perfect spot for international touring bands and a coveted stage for local musicians for the past 30 years.
Check out Fur Patrol performing 'Lydia' live at The Kings Arms:
Whether you're a promoter, a venue owner, a band, an aspiring musician, or someone who just loves music - there's something about seeing it live and direct.
GET THE SOUNDTRACK
Check out the Spotify playlist to hear all the songs featured in this article, plus a selection of live performance recordings. What would you add to the mix?
VISIT VOLUME: MAKING MUSIC IN AOTEAROA
Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa is the first-ever major exhibition of New Zealand music, on now at Auckland Museum.
There's opportunities to DJ, VJ, dance, step into the recording studio, or jump on stage in a rowdy 70s pub - inspired by The Gluepot. You'll also see the gig posters, instruments, and momentos from seven decades of New Zealand music. Get there now.