23 February 2010

Landmarks in New Zealand music

First in an occasional series

1ZB Durham stThis building was the Auckland home of the National Broadcasting Service, on Durham Street West. It was it one of the country’s best examples of art deco, especially the fittings inside. But it also contained a grand temple of music making: the 1ZB Radio Theatre.

Here, twice a week, singers such as Mavis Rivers and Esme Stephens performed with big bands twice a week before a live audience. Bandleaders such as Julian Lee, Dale Alderton and Crombie Murdoch wrote new arrangements each week. While its heyday was in the 1940s and 1950s, the Radio Theatre was still playing host to live broadcasts in the late 1970s by bands such as Hello Sailor and Th’ Dudes.

Across the lane, when I first moved to Auckland, Record Warehouse was a hip retailer with a great line in New Zealand singles. In nearby Durham Lane, Benny Levin ran his music booking agency (in Roger Watkins’s Hostage to the Beat, there’s a great photo of the La De Das crossing Queen Street between the two locations). Zip through a few back alleys and you came to Rip It Up in Darby Street. 

Not even 50 years after Auckland’s Broadcasting House was built, it was declared a mausoleum and demolished (around the same time the nearby His Majesty’s Theatre was destroyed in the dead of night). The recent news that Abbey Road might be sold caused a flurry of outrage; in the States, the CBS radio theatre that hosted the Beatles’ first broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show now hosts David Letterman. While the nation considers the benefits or otherwise of public broadcasting, we can hear a song from the Samoan woman whose talents were nurtured in the 1ZB Radio Theatre, before she was wooed to Hollywood and signed by Frank Sinatra.


CarolM said...

I remember as a small child, my father Eric Bell played the Novachord (as well as the piano) in the 1 ZB orchestra. He also ran a Musical Quiz from the station ( I remember him opening all the replies at home) fond memories

Chris Bourke said...

Thanks for writing in Carol - I wrote a bit more about Eric Bell and the Novachord over at my "Blue Smoke" blog about early NZ popular music. https://bluesmokebook.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/keyboard-capers/