Describing a venue as an institution can seem a touch hyperbolic, but in the case of Auckland’s storied The Kings Arms, it rings true. Since it became a music venue close to three decades ago, The Kings Arms has served a vital role in the city’s music culture, all under the watchful eye of esteemed publican Maureen Gordon. In that time, what began as a country and folk haven has become more associated with harder and heavier music styles like rock, metal, punk and hip-hop. Along the way, The Kings Arms has played host to performances from the likes of The White Stripes, The National, Kurt Vile, St Vincent, and virtually every popular New Zealand band to emerge within its lifetime, in the process serving as a crucial stepping stone between underground beginnings and mainstream success.
Early in December, Maureen issued a press release explaining that The Kings Arms had been sold to developers. Citing rate increases as having become unsustainable, Maureen expressed sadness at the sale, while telling www.stuff.co.nz’s Amanda Saxton, “it's been a lifestyle for my family - and for the young music goers of Auckland." Although The Kings Arms looks set to continue as a venue for the next sixteen months, we thought this would be a good opportunity to ask some New Zealand musicians, event promoters, and DJs to offer up remembrances of their experiences with the venue. Before The Kings Arms shuts for good, we need to start thinking about the qualities that made it so enduring, and how we’re going to combat the impact of its closure on live music in Auckland.
“I remember being in garden bars with my olds as a kid, drinking a raspberry lemonade or some shit, somewhere that might've been The Kings Arms. Everybody [was] laughing about something I didn't understand, [and there was] that weird burning smell, and your dodgy uncle Kingi who's not really your uncle lets you have a sip of his beer, you know? I can't think of another place like that left for our generation. You can’t beat that kind of environment. Scungy little dungeon clubs are one thing, but for me, [because] I'm a low key nervous wreck, I like space. We put on shows at The Kings Arms because we knew that no matter the turnout, the energy would always be good. Feng Shui or whatever Feng Shui is in the morning. At the same time, I'm happy for the lady that sold it. Get dis mar-nay.”
Pennie Black (Pennie Black Artist Services)
“As far as I can remember The Kings Arms has always been there, and survived - long after Squid, Bob's Bar, Punch & Judy's, POD, Luna and many other venues I can't remember. When I first started going there, no stage existed. It was a space at the front of the lounge bar, they still served jugs and had leaners, it was free to get in, and I don't even remember the garden bar or a fence. I do remember going there weekly to catch up with friends and see local bands, though - the occasional all night party when we took whoever was left at the end of the night, home to our flat to continue in the band room. I've attended weddings, receptions, Christmas parties and memorials at The Kings Arms, witnessed break ups and hook ups, and been a punter, client and account manager for them. I guess what the most important thing for me is the music. Seeing your local and international favourite acts up close, almost in your lounge, too many of them to name.”
“I’ve got two stories from The Kings Arms. One of them was DJ Dubhead’s 50th birthday party. He had all these local reggae bands playing at it. At the peak of the night, he got up and sang ‘The Tide Is High’ in a classic reggae style with one of the bands. I don’t know if a lot of people know, but back in the eighties, Dubhead used to sing with a punk band. If you see him DJ late at night after a few beers, he will sing along to every record he plays at full volume. The other one was, I went and saw the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion play there. They’re one of my favourite bands ever, and they were amazing. After they had played, Jon Spencer was sitting in the merch booth selling and signing t-shirts. I went over, chatted with him and bought a shirt. That’s the sort of place The Kings Arms is, it’s a small family owned venue where you can go to a friend’s 50th one week, and check out one of your favorite bands play another, all right smack band in the heart of the city.”
Marika Hodgson (Session Musician)
“There has been many a time we've gone back to The Kings Arms hoping our instruments are still somewhere in the backstage room because we got irresponsibly drunk and left without what we came with the night before. Without fail, the instruments are always there. It's just that kind of place. The Kings Arms is great because you can get carried away enjoying the night and hang out with your mates, and the next day, everything is all good.”
Parks (of Ladi6)
“My experience with The Kings Arms was interesting for me because we (Ladi6) never played there that I can remember, which I guess is kinda sad. For me, the memories I do have are very cool because every time I went there it was as a fan and a punter. That venue was never tainted by any of the pressures of playing a show, and I always had fun. I saw a lot of cool music there, and I thought that for a long-standing classic bar-style venue it had a really great sound system. I can't recall all of the great things I've seen, but I just watched Black Milk there a couple of weeks back. I had the best time hearing a set of new fruity Detroit rap beats through that awesome P.A. It’s sad to think that may have been the last times I’ll go there!”
Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
“I remember one of the times The D4 played there. It was kind of during the general peak of their popularity, so the place was sold out and their crowd was going crazy. Dion went into the crowd and was being held aloft in a kneeling position above everyone ripping one of his solos and one of the main PA speakers just bursts into flames. Pretty incredible. I also remember when The Coolies started playing again I think I was at their first show getting back into it but they initially called themselves Fist or something. Anyway, it was a really good show. They kept fucking up. Kept making mistakes and had to restart the show. There was way too much smoke machine, and they were complaining about it and waving their arms around, and every time they played it just sounded so fucking cool. Me and Michael Logie were there, and we kept looking at each other just going ‘What the fuck?? This is amazing!’”
Matthew Crawley (The Golden Dawn: Tavern of Power)
“I have many happy memories of The Kings Arms, and it's safe to say it's an institution that will be missed. Along with my old touring war-buddy Jim Rush, I've put on some shows that I still have to pinch myself to believe. Random highlights include The Gossip, Of Montreal, Broken Social Scene, Lydia Lunch, Wire, Camera Obscura, Band of Horses, Architecture in Helsinki, and the first New Zealand show for The National, before they made other people a lot of money at incredibly massive shows! We'll struggle to find a rock'n'roll hideout quite like it I reckon... Thanks, Kings Arms xoxo.”