25 February 2010

Murder on Manners St

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.

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.