When you think of underage or all-ages music venues, numerous unlicensed 1960s dance clubs for teenagers come to mind and later successes like Wellington’s Last Resort and Auckland’s Island of Real or The Venue, which was owned by a young Russell Crowe. But the all-ages venue that has hosted the most New Zealand bands does not have a roof – it is in fact a park, Auckland’s Albert Park. It is the ideal underage venue, as what parent would not allow their child to go to a park on a Sunday afternoon?
The use of Albert Park for people to congregate has rankled the Auckland City Council over the years, as the park is rightly considered to be a heritage area. Giant veteran trees and the nearby 19th Century merchant houses are precious heritage – but it is a tough old park, with flower beds designed with soccer balls in mind, as the park is also the University’s front lawn – the higher school of learning’s playground.
Liberating the park
Rock concerts first took place in 1969, when the anti-Vietnam war protest movement sought a bigger place to congregate than the designated free speech zone, Myers Park – the antipodean answer to the Hyde Park, London tradition of open-air political debate. The thousands of people that participated in the “Jumping Sundays” that liberated the park forced the police and the council to back down.
The council erected a “free speech” podium (it’s still there) opposite the University clock tower, counter-culture events were tolerated and by the mid-1970s they allowed the use of the 1901 band rotunda for weekly Sunday summer afternoon concerts, sponsored by Radio Hauraki, featuring one or two bands. By the end of the 1970s, bands moved from the rotunda to more professional staging, such as a truck trailer. Radio Hauraki abandoned the regular park concerts in 1980.
The park was used for student orientation events, occasionally by the Auckland University Student Union, but for the student radio station bFM, the park across the road was a natural home for a concert event. Free radio station concerts were not fashionable after the Triple M 89FM’s December 1984, Queen Street Riot debacle, but 95bFM reintroduced Albert Park concerts starting in the 1990s as annual, special events. The small station would lure top music talent from Dunedin to Cambridge and also showcase local alternative and hip-hop talent that appealed to the station’s inner city audience.
The musical accompaniment to the liberation of the park circa 1969 is recalled by radio man John Sweetman. “My most vivid memories are of the Jumping Sundays led by Tim Shadbolt – in the Bullshit and Jellybeans era. The main band was Frankie E. Evans Lunchtime Entertainment Band led by Dave Neumegan. I remember BLERTA doing a great show as we liberated The Park.”
The Frankie E. Evans Lunchtime Entertainment Band played (and still plays) old standards like ‘If You Knew Suzie’ and ‘I've Never Seen A Straight Banana’. The band’s name is taken from the US destroyer USS Frank E. Evans that was cut in half by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in 1969. The group returned to the park again, to play the 40th Anniversary of the Liberation of Albert Park on September 20, 2009.
I recall, as a young secondary school student, going with the Rev. Morris Russell of St. Matthews in-the-City church, as I took photos and he participated in the liberation conversation.
The pirates take over
The initial idea for the Radio Hauraki concerts in Albert Park came from local promoter Barry Coburn, who in 1973 approached the station to sponsor weekly summer shows. Coburn wanted to put the local artists he managed or booked (and others) in front of a sizeable audience.
The collective music community memory is poor on a good day and I had to ask friends to recall who they saw play in Albert Park as no accessible documents exist. Musicians who played included Hello Sailor, Th’ Dudes, Street Talk (1975), Dragon (1975), Dr Tree (April 1975), Think, Father Thyme (March 1975), Mother Goose (March 1976), Citizen Band, Living Force, Mark Williams (probably with Face), Suburban Reptiles (February 1978), Toy Love, The Plague, Tole Puddle, Stuart and the Belmonts, Brent Parlane, Beech and Australian imports Ted Mulry Gang (1976).
Harry Lyon remembers Hello Sailor playing the park first, in the rotunda, probably for the Students Association, accompanied by “Liz Tolley dancing and Richard von Sturmer’s Zazu Clowns”. Hello Sailor also played on a proper stage for Radio Hauraki. Some of the bands that punters recall playing in the park pre-date the radio station’s involvement – The Human Instinct, Mammal, Orb (Alastair Riddell), Cruise Lane, Fresh Air and Henry Jackson's Killing Floor blues band.
Longtime Radio Hauraki DJ Fred Botica recalls “Stewart and the Belmonts, who took their name from the Auckland Police drug squad.” This band was almost Space Waltz undercover, as in disguise were Alastair Riddell, Eddie Rayner and Brent Eccles. Hotlicks magazine reported that their April 4, 1975 setlist included: ‘Jean Genie’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Back In The USSR’ and the mash-up ‘Whole Lotta Love’/ ’Teddy Bear’s Picnic’.
Frank Gibson’s jazz group Dr Tree also rocked the park that day when vocalist Alan Hunter (now Al Hunter) joined the group for their last song. Hotlicks editor Roger Jarrett wrote, “The final Hendrix number drew a suitably, superb guitar solo and a no holds barred rocking vocal from Alan Hunter.” (April 1975)
Punks made it on to the Radio Hauraki Albert Park stage in February 1978 with the Suburban Reptiles playing to an audience of stunned-mullet-style hippie faces. There were a few fashionable dancers in front of the stage. Punk was not on the Radio Hauraki playlist but Barry Jenkin would soon be playing it on his Radio Hauraki evening show.
The Summer Series digs in
The long-running 95bFM Summer Series outdoor concerts returned to Albert Park in 2014, after taking a year off in 2013 following an underwhelming relocation in 2012 to the tree-free footie field known as Silo Park on Auckland’s waterfront.
The use of Albert Park in recent decades has been complicated by the fact that the park sits in the CBD where there is a ban on drinking alcohol in public places. As the radio station and its listeners enjoy a beer in the hot summer sun while listening to music, the station seeks an exemption to this law, to sell beer in the shade of the big trees.
Pat Fife, who produced the concerts for 95bFM for nine years from 2002 to 2011, found managing large line-ups to be the easy task. He told AudioCulture in 2014, “Bands were good at showing up even though they were getting paid little or nothing. Partly I guess because it was the biggest crowd many had played to, and also because they didn't want to risk getting offside with the only station in town playing their music.”
“The only issues I have really encountered have been with the police,” Fife told AudioCulture. “The inception of the Summer Series pre-dated liquor bans in the CBD and because of that, we were permitted an exemption to the liquor ban, which was opposed by the police. After the exemption had been granted by the council, the police got their noses a bit out of joint and went on to inform us that even though the ban had been lifted within Albert Park it still existed on all streets surrounding the park and that offenders attempting to take alcohol into the park could have it confiscated and be arrested.”
Fife attributes the event’s trouble-free history to, “the way it was run and probably more so, the fact that it is held during the day.”
In the 21st Century, musicians to play the Summer Series include The Naked And Famous (2010), The Mint Chicks (2003, 2010), The Checks (2004, 2005), Die! Die! Die! (2011, 2014), Dimmer (2003), The Datsuns (2002), The Phoenix Foundation (2005), The Drab Doo-Riffs (2009, 2011), The Black Seeds (2002), The Hasselhoff Experiment (2002), Connan & the Mockasins (2006), Pine (2005), Voom (2007), Jakob (2005), Goldenhorse (2003), Pan Am (2002) Cassette (2006), Lawrence Arabia (2008), Motocade (2007), Ryan McPhun and The Ruby Suns (2006) and Slim (2002).
Funkier stuff and hip-hop to play the park includes Scribe (2008), P-Money Showcase (2002), Dawn Raid (2002), Nathan Haines (2009), Tyra & The Tornadoes (2008), MC Tiki Taane (2008), PNC (2007), Frontline (2006), Savage and Alphrisk (2005), Ill Semantics (2002), Tha Feelstyle (2005), Concord Dawn (2005), Cornerstone Roots (2006), Batucada Sound Machine (2004, 2005) and Rhombus (2003).
Summer series repeat offenders include SJD (2002, 2005, 2007), Opensouls (2003, 2006), Sola Rosa (2004, 2006), Minuit (2004, 2006) and returning Mint Chick Kody Nielson with Bic Runga (2011). The Checks and Die! Die! Die! played at three Summer Series concerts, if you include their 2012 performances at Silo Park.
When Scribe played the Summer Series in 2008, organiser Patrick Fife got a call from the police. “They had received ‘intelligence’ that the Killer Bees were going to turn up at Summer Series and ‘deal to Scribe’ who was on the line-up that year. They wanted Scribe taken off the bill. After careful consideration I informed them that I regarded the risk to be sufficiently low as to not warrant his removal from the line-up. They got the pip and took on, a ‘don’t come crying to us’ attitude and didn't even bother turning up on the day as they had every year previously. The Killer Bees did not show.”
Attendees on stage for 20th Century 95bFM Summer Series concerts include Shihad (1994), Nothing At All! (1996), Chris Knox (1995), Hallelujah Picassos (1995), Urban Disturbance (1995), Garageland (1998, 1995), Able Tasmans (1995), Breast Secreting Cake (1995), Pumpkinhead, Dead Flowers (1998), Mary (1998), Hijack (featuring 3 The Hard Way) (1998), Tufnels (1995) and Future Stupid (1995).
Going up in smoke
Another organisation to bring people and music into Albert Park is NORML with their annual, nationwide “J Day” on the first Saturday of May. The R18 gathering is to promote the legalisation of marijuana and the day usually features music of the reggae persuasion.
This event turned 22 years old in 2014 and it seems to fit in with the council’s strategic management plan for the park: “The range of activities permitted in the Park is limited to ensure that it remains predominantly an open space for passive recreation.”
In 2017, Albert Park began hosting St. Jerome’s Laneway festival. In 2018 and 2019 the festival remained in Albert Park, with local and international acts performing over four stages.