The twilight of Parnell punk
By 1980 underground rock’s energies had largely shifted from the Windsor Castle to the Rumba Bar in Victoria Street and the Reverb Room at the top of Symonds Street. Both were upstairs bars that allowed bands to play loud, original material. The Windsor had been plagued by the bootboy element, who turned up to fight and trash the venue rather than enjoy the bands and this led the Parnell pub to stop booking punk bands – it remained a live music venue until the mid-1980s when the gentrification of Parnell turned the pub into a pastel-coloured yuppie bar.
Ironically, the Windsor public bar next door remained an extremely rough pub for another year or so. There bikers, badasses and other Auckland lowlife would gather to drink and fight – I once dropped in for a late afternoon pint only to find a bottle shattering against my table. I looked up to see one woman, who had ducked the intended Steinlager bottle, floor another with a right hook Sugar Ray Leonard would have been proud of. Hard to believe these kind of wild Westies once drank in Parnell but, hey, those were the days!
The Reverb Room
The Reverb Room was situated up a steep flight of stairs above a Polynesian pub that was even rougher than the Windsor Tavern. From this salubrious establishment brawls would spill out onto Symonds Street – once, on the bus back to Mt Roskill, I witnessed one guy kick another fallen guy in the head as traffic whizzed around them. When I saw Once Were Warriors many years later in London I thought "yup, this is how it was". Anyway, the Reverb Room began as Liberty Stage – one of the few Auckland music pubs willing to book punk bands – and, at some point in 1980 it was renamed. The booking policy stayed much the same – here the more marginal bands got a shot at playing.
The Reverb Room never attracted the attention other venues of that era did, but as a music pub it was one of the best.
Perhaps because of its location – the part of Symonds Street it stood in felt dark and desperately isolated in a way the Rumba Bar and Windsor Castle didn’t – the Reverb Room never attracted the attention other venues of that era did. But as a music pub it was one of the best. For starters, it had a high ceiling, a big stage and powerful PA. It became the venue of choice for many of the new Dunedin bands to make their Auckland debut: my first experiences of The Chills, Look Blue Go Purple, Bill Direen and others all happened there. It had a threadbare atmosphere and suited bands that wished to emphasise more angular, experimental rock. I’ve no recall of when or why it closed.
I do recall the police regularly raiding it and dragging underage punters out (ie me). Why they bothered with such a policy when the Reverb Room attracted an arty, trouble free crowd while the Auckland weekend was ripped with violence and drunkenness I’ve no idea. A general policy of harassment to anyone or any venue that stuck outside the suburban norm seemed to be underway. The Reverb Room never suffered from the KC or skinhead violence that plagued XS (at least when I was there).
One evening a tough, middle-aged guy from the downstairs bar came up the stairs to see what was going on. He was impossibly drunk and as he came lurching into the Reverb Room he began swinging his huge fist at any and everyone. The audience was pretty sparse that night and as the visitor staggered around the venue the band kept playing (it may have been one of The Clean’s early Auckland dates with John, a briefly promising Epsom band, in support). Anyway, the terminator was so drunk and taking so long to telegraph his punches that everyone simply stepped out of his way as he came near. Finally, after having exhausted his aggression, he staggered back down the stairs and returned to the pub below.
Ready to Rumba
Being centrally located, the Rumba Bar put on more regular live concerts than the Reverb Room. Its location meant it attracted large crowds and they often put on a Saturday matinee. For those of us who had grown up on a "Sat movie mat" at the Avondale Hollywood this was most appealing. It was only a few dollars to get in – no ID needed to be proffered and it attracted a young, enthusiastic audience.
The police seemed unaware that the Rumba hosted a matinee so they never turned up to disrupt our pleasure.
Also, the police seemed unaware that the Rumba hosted a matinee so they never turned up to disrupt our pleasure. Considering a lot of us were considerably younger than 20, this meant we had a ball – little Auckland punks running about all excited by the bands and our friends and all the possibilities that youth offered.
On a truly superficial note, I must note that the anti-Springbok Tour protests were great for us underage pub-goers as the police were sent off to battle people who wanted to fight the power rather than turning up to harass kids who wanted to listen to bands play Raw Power. Speaking of which, the best thing about the Saturday matinees is that a bunch of Christchurch Stooges freaks called The Androidss regularly played the matinee!
The Androidss were a Christchurch band who had shifted to Auckland at the very beginning of the 80s. They featured brothers Steve (guitar, vocals) and Eric (drums) Marsden and four other members. With three guitars and keyboards, they could crank out a big sound, one very much inspired by what Iggy Pop had created in Detroit and Berlin. One of the highpoints of their set was when they would launch into an epic version of ‘The Passenger’. This would get the dancefloor heaving as the band rode that chunka-chunka guitar riff. The Androidss played several covers while featuring some excellent original material. Bryan Staff took them into the studio and cut the single ‘Auckland Tonight’/‘Getting Jumpy’ – released on Ripper in 1981, it’s up there with Suburban Reptiles' ‘Saturday Night Stay At Home’ as one of the best singles of the Auckland punk scene.
Tommy can you hear me?
The TV show Droppa Kulcha shot an excellent video to accompany ‘Auckland Tonight’ that captured the flavour of Queen St on a Saturday evening – much of it was shot at Tommy’s, the burger joint veteran vocalist Tommy Adderley had opened near the top of Queen St. We would often drop into Tommy’s in the early hours to get some grease to eat. The White Lady burger truck – always situated at the bottom of Queen St – probably made a better burger but you got to sit down and hear some good tunes on Tommy’s jukebox. And you got to observe Adderley at work.
Someone directed Keith Richards to Adderley's latest venue where alcohol was available, albeit illicitly.
He was a strange, wizened looking character, old before his time, and had, over the years, done a lot to provide small, inner city venues for Aucklanders to hang out and hear music in. His favourite tale – he told this to Metro, not me – was of the time when The Rolling Stones came to town to play Western Springs in 1973 and NZ drinking laws meant nothing was open on a Sunday, so someone directed Keith Richards to Adderley's latest venue, Granpa’s, where alcohol was available, albeit illicitly. That night Adderley had a band playing and the guitarist said to Keef, “I hear you play one of these” and passed his instrument to the Stone, who did the right thing and got up and jammed.
Also working at Tommy’s burger joint as a short order cook was Eric Android. He shared with Tommy a taste for opiates and when he was arrested for dealing heroin and sent to jail it was the end of The Androidss. A pity they did not leave more recorded music behind.
Steve Android was a friendly fellow who also supplemented his musical income by dealing – as he and Eric have both passed on now these tales can be told. I recall asking him how Eric was getting on inside and he replied that brother was doing great “and they’ve fixed his teeth up!” Once I dropped around The Androidss’ Grey Lynn house – back in the early 80s you could still rent large villas cheaply – on a Saturday evening and while chewing the fat with Steve there came a knock on the door. It opened to reveal another notorious NZ rocker who needed a fix because “the police raided my house last night and I had to flush what I had”. Back then rock and roll still felt like an outlaw profession – dumb as much of this behaviour may have been.
Once the police came up the Rumba’s stairs and, confronted by The Gordon’s sonic attack, immediately retreated back to Victoria Street.
Pump up the volume
Anyway, the Rumba Bar – which sat atop another bar in Victoria Street, this time the bootboys' main watering hole – would get packed across the weekend. I recall The Gordons regularly playing there and at a volume and ferocity surely no NZ band had matched before. They would have strobe lights flashing as they pumped Motorhead-levels of volume through the PA. Once the police came up the Rumba’s stairs and, confronted by The Gordons’ sonic attack, immediately retreated back to Victoria Street. As soon as Boodle Boodle Boodle took off The Clean began playing the Rumba and queues would stretch up Victoria St – somehow, someway, they became the NZ band of the moment without radio play or media hype. Word of mouth was strong enough then to win a hot band a broad audience.
When did the Rumba Bar and the Reverb Room close? I’ve no idea. Early 80s for sure. I recall seeing The Gordons at The Windsor Castle around 1983 and they were, by then, a much tamer band – touring their second album, I believe. Perhaps it was the dissipation of the Auckland live music scene that caused these bars to close. Or perhaps Mainstreet and the Gluepot sucked up all the punters over 20 who were willing to regularly pay to see live bands. Or the police threatened withdrawal of liquor licensing due to the underage audiences. Or the owners just figured there was an easier way to sell beer than via rock music. Whatever the reason – and it’s likely to be a mix – these two venues provided space for cutting edge New Zealand rock to roar like a wounded buffalo. Thinking back on it – how exciting those gigs could be – I wanna be in Auckland tonight. Oh yeah!
From Phil Moore, former manager of the Reverb Room
(as posted on Facebook, 30 November, 2013):
I was the manager of the bar. My father ran the private chain that owned the Edinburgh Castle pub and put me in charge because the guys that had run Liberty Stage were stealing from the till. I started a week prior to my 18th birthday so there was an irony to kicking out underagers (I only did that if they were obvious or wankers).
The pub ran until around 1983. There was a fight where some skinhead started throwing bottles up the stairs. He then came back again after the bar shut and stabbed a roadie who was packing up the bands van outside. I chased the guy and the cops (who had been sitting in their car having a chinese take away) caught him and arrested him. The police then asked the pub to shut the bar. They basically said we could shut it or they would.
My heart wasnt in it anyway, it started as a weekend job to pay for my car and by the time it stopped I was 22 and too old for that shit. Hope you enjoyed the beers ... you can't buy a steinie for a buck now!