Landmarks in New Zealand music, an occasional series: 2
The fuss over bringing buses back through Wellington’s Manners Mall bemuses me. Manners Street was always better when it was two-way. The mall has never worked as a destination or town square. With McDonalds and a cheapjack cinema complex, pebbled stone pavement and some over-paid designer’s idea of street furniture, it’s just been in the way. Even when Chelsea Records was there – and, more recently, Sounds facing off against a CD shop whose name I’ve forgotten – it was a place where you did your business, while others did theirs, then got out.
In the late 1970s Manners St was fading as the city’s great music precinct. Chelsea was just a late arrival; there were already three music instrument stores in this narrow, two-way street of pedestrian-friendly proportions. Begg’s had been there forever, Shand-Miller’s since the 1940s (Shand and Miller were both dance band leaders), and the Golden Horn had recently shifted there from its original pre-war home in Upper Cuba Street. Run by another dance band leader, Norm Hull-Brown, it was a musician’s haven, smelling of rosin, sheet music and French polish. Back on Manners St in the 1930s a jazz musician called Jack McEwen held court at his record store on Friday nights, hosting leading jazz buffs such as Arthur Pearce in listening and jam sessions. Official documents at Archives NZ show that the “riot on Manners St” during the war has been grossly exaggerated, though it did inspire an early Mockers single.
The western half of Manners, seen in this picture, began with Perrett’s Corner on one side and the Duke of Edinburgh hotel on the other (the latter a hangout for arty bohos in the 1960s). Then came the Roxy, where double-features of B-movies seemed to run 24 hours a day. Beside it was Begg’s, where in the late 1940s Ruru Karaitiana would call in to tinker with ‘Blue Smoke’ on the piano (and I was once snarled at by an assistant, “This is not a library” ).
In the eastern section of the Mall, about where Dick Smith – the electronic dick – hosts a special breed of surly, disinterested shop assistant, there was a third-run picture theatre called the Princess. This was a tiny place reached by a narrow staircase, and even lower on the fleapit pecking order than the Roxy. Here, my dad – who never went to movies - took me to The Godfather on its second run in the mid-70s. He would have been intensely smoking the end of a cigarette as the pimply, bow-tied manager said, looking down at me incredulously, “How old is he? It’s an R16.”
My dad looked him right in the eye and wasted no time. “Have you read the book? He has.” Pacino couldn’t have done it better.