Show Chapters

Mainstreet


Adam Holt from the Ainsworths - and later, managing director of Universal Music NZ - playing with The Screaming Meemees, Mainstreet, Auckland, 1982. - Adam Holt Collection

At the time it was built in 1938, the Metropole cabaret near the top of Queen Street was Auckland’s largest ballroom, catering to 1500-plus patrons. Renamed the Peter Pan Ballroom in 1952 – after the original Peter Pan moved up from Rutland Street, taking over the £60,000 lease – it mostly catered for private balls, with the music provided by big bands. The venue went through several facelifts and owners before Tony Lipanovic purchased the lease at the end of 1978. Mainstreet Cabaret was born.

Phil Warren and friends, Peter Pan Ballroom, c. 1963. Warren is fourth from right. - Simon Grigg collection

As was the norm for licensed New Zealand nightclubs at the time, Mainstreet featured a resident band when it first opened as a cabaret/dance venue, around October 1978. Strange Brew was something of a supergroup featuring keyboardist and musical director Murray McNabb, guitarist Ramon York of Ragnarok (replaced by Chuck Morgan), bassist Neil Hannan (replaced by Alan Wade), and drummer Mike (“Tich”) Walsh. Jacqui Fitzgerald was the vocalist, with the others on BVs. Hannan remembers: “Mainstreet started booking rock and pop acts fairly soon after opening, when the ‘cabaret’ format proved to be ‘unpopular’ – and Mainstreet quickly transformed into the rock venue it became known for. The ‘resident band’ stayed on through this transition – but sharing the stage with the touring groups.”

Ian Morris and Peter Urlich on fire at Mainstreet, circa late 1979; at right is bassist Lez White. - Murray Cammick

In those first few weeks Mainstreet was still largely under the radar when Hello Sailor, fresh from the US, played their welcome home concert there, and it served as an introduction to the venue for most in the contemporary rock’n’roll audience – those that frequented the Gluepot and Windsor Castle. It was a Sunday night and that was another thing: changing liquor laws and Mainstreet’s cabaret licence allowed the club to operate seven nights a week. Sunday drinking was still very much a novelty and Mainstreet took full advantage; Sunday night entertainment became a regular feature.

The Dabs at Auckland's Mainstreet - Photo by Alison Van der Aarde

Strange Brew didn’t last long in those changing times and an advertisement in the May 1979 edition of Rip It Up announced appearances by Sailor, Street Talk, Th’ Dudes, Citizen Band and Sheerlux, all drawcards on the Auckland pub circuit, plus the likes of Schtüng, Living Force and Rick Steele’s Hot Biscuit Band. The venue’s musical policy was to emphasise variety.

Mike Chunn at Mainstreet, Queen Street, Auckland. - Photo by Murray Cammick

Mainstreet Cabaret became an institution within a year: the imposing cavernous venue was the final test of an act’s popularity. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. On July 1, 1979 a teenage waitress, Margaret Bell, was shot dead in the Mainstreet entrance in a drive-by shooting; the bullet was intended for a bouncer who had refused entry to Brian Ronald McDonald, who was sentenced to nine years in jail.

Hello Sailor at Auckland's Mainstreet Cabaret. - Photo by Murray Cammick

Hugh Lynn came on board as a minor shareholder in mid 1979, bringing international contacts and a direct line to other New Zealand promoters. In August, Mainstreet scored a coup when they presented two nights by The Knack, briefly one of the world’s top bands. It was a turning point for the venue.

Lipanovic: “It was packed both nights, 2000 to 2500 people, they drank the beer tanks dry and there was so much broken glass on the dance floor we changed to plastic containers after that.” Later that same week, one of Australia’s finest bands of the period took the stage: Midnight Oil.

In November, The Members played two nights; they were the first English punk band to visit New Zealand. The gig was even bigger than The Knack and, again, the beer tanks ran dry. The band itself was astonished at the reception, particularly the hardcore boot boys at stage front, gobbing at the visitors. “Bleeding disgusting,” Members singer Nicky Tesco said later.

Chris Knox with Toy Love at their second to last show, Mainstreet, Auckland, 19 September 1980 - Photo by David Pinker. (Karen Stevens collection)

Despite the inevitable presence of the troublesome boot boys (smashed toilet bowls a speciality), most of the era’s punk and post-punk bands played at Mainstreet. Toy Love was always a major drawcard but The Features, No Tag, Spelling Mistakes, Terrorways and many of the early Flying Nun bands also performed at the venue. International visitors too, including The Birthday Party, The Cure, Dead Kennedys  The Fall, Magazine, Siouxie and the Banshees, XTC, and Wreckless Eric.

The Dead Kennedys at Mainstreet.

The Spelling Mistakes' Nick Hanson, with Warwick Hitler in the background, Mainstreet - Photo by Anthony Phelps

Prime Movers – Nick Crowther, Chris Matthews, Kevin Howlett - Mainstreet late 1982 - Photo by Alison Van Der Aarde

Jed Town's musician pass to Mainstreet Cabaret, Auckland. - Jed Town collection

In the years to come every New Zealand act of note and most major Australian attractions played Mainstreet, plus a host of artists from further afield, including The Cure, Motorhead, Simple Minds, and UB40. On successive nights in January 1983, John Martyn, Taj Mahal, Toots and the Maytals and The Church headlined shows: all four acts had appeared at the Sweetwaters Festival a few days earlier.

Of the New Zealand acts who played during his tenure, Lipanovic cites Th’ Dudes as the biggest drawcard and, yes, on one occasion, the tanks ran dry. Th’ Dudes immediately established themselves as Mainstreet favourites. Drink more bliss, indeed.

Jan Preston and Harry Lyon of Coup D'Etat, Mainstreet, 1981 - Photo by Murray Cammick

Hello Sailor, who had headed the vanguard of New Zealand’s pub rock, experienced the changing of the guard when they played to a near-empty room in 1980, shortly before they split up, prompting a disgruntled Graham Brazier to throw his saxophone onto the deserted dance floor before staggering off-stage.

A format emerged throughout that first year with three, sometimes four bands playing each night. At the beginning of 1980 a second club was established in the labyrinthine building – Jazz Alley, featuring Space Case with Murray McNabb, Bruce Lynch and Frank Gibson Jr; guest players included Kim Paterson, Brian Smith and American trumpeter Bobby Shew.

Kim Paterson, second from left after playing drums for American trumpeter Bobby Shew at Mainstreet Cabaret. Bassist Andy Brown is at left and Murray McNabb (not pictured) was on piano. Also pictured, Ray Edmondson (second from right), years later known as the masked jazz-hip hop performer "Killer Ray". - Kim Paterson collection

Th’ Dudes made regular appearances through to their demise in May 1980, when they signed off with three shows at the club. Hundreds queued to gain entry on the final night and Ian Morris famously performed the entire show in the nude. Dave Dobbyn stripped down too, but kept his pants on. The band was joined on stage by various guests – including members of the Features and the Terrorways – and even by Th’ Dudes’ road crew.

Th' Dudes' final gig, at Mainstreet. A shirtless Dave Dobbyn is joined by the always reliable road crew, Glenn Nacey and Keith McKenzie. - Murray Cammick

Although the final Hello Sailor gig wasn’t the group’s finest moment at Mainstreet, subsequent bands featuring members of the quintet – Brazier’s Legionnaires, Pink Flamingos, Coup D’Etat and DD Smash – all became Mainstreet drawcards. With Harry Lyon and Dave McArtney in the ranks, the Legionnaires evolved into a reunited Hello Sailor and their 1983 Radio With Pictures Mainstreet special (below) remains the best video footage of a live Sailor performance.

 

The bands that played Mainstreet reflected the fads and fashions of the era – the electronica of Car Crash Set, Herbs’ Pacific reggae, and the young pop bands signed to Simon Grigg’s Propeller Records, notably The Screaming Meemees, and a little later the Flying Nun bands.

1983 party featuring Car Crash Set. At Auckland's Mainstreet to a capacity crowd, this was the band's debut live performance. - Nigel Russell collection

Nigel Russell, Simon Mark-Brown, Dave Bulog, Mix It Up, Mainstreet, October 1983 - Nigel Russell collection

A major change came in 1982 when Lipanovic sold the lease to Hamilton nightclub owners Graeme Soljan and Chris Cole, who kept the name and general format through to its eventual closure. In 1983 TVNZ’s Radio With Pictures began broadcasting periodic Live at Mainstreet specials, also released on vinyl by Mushroom Records. Dave Dobbyn’s Live: Deep in the Heart of Taxes won a New Zealand music award for the best album of 1983, while other albums in the series were double bills: Legionnaires/Dance Exponents, Coconut Rough/The Narcs, Mockers/The Idles and, in 1984, a reformed Blam Blam Blam with the Netherworld Dancing Toys.

 

  

With a little more backstage space than most New Zealand rock acts were used to, the Mainstreet dressing rooms boasted the usual scribblings on the walls and witnessed its fair share of mischief in the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll genre.

Tony Drumm, Mainstreet, Auckland, late 1982. - Photo by Simon Grigg

In 1984, All-Stars Play The Blues – a revue assembled by promoter Paul Walker – finished a successful national tour at Mainstreet: singers Beaver, Midge Marsden and Sonny Day, guitarist Mike Farrell, keyboardist Paul Hewson, saxophonist Walter Bianco, bassist Neil Edwards and drummer Dennis Ryan. Special guest on the tour was Wilko Johnson, formerly of Dr Feelgood. Also at hand that evening was guitar superstar Stevie Ray Vaughan, who joined the band with Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton replacing Ryan. Sadly, as well as Vaughan, four of the New Zealanders in the line-up died prematurely: RIP Sonny Day, Mike Farrell, Paul Hewson and Beverley Morrison.

Midge Marsden at Mainstreet.

A strange postscript to the Mainstreet story was the very final gig in 1985. After all of the fittings had been stripped ready for the building’s demolition, a handful of very alternative bands, part punk, part dada, performed in the shell, using generators for lights and sound. The following week I watched the demolition from the cafe opposite, along with Graham Brazier and Lisle Kinney, exchanging Mainstreet stories. As we departed, looking across at the rubble, Brazier suddenly exclaimed, “Fuck! I never did pick up my saxophone!”

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Links and further viewing

All-Stars Play The Blues, 1984, featuring Sonny Day, Midge Marsden and more

Beaver Live at Mainstreet, All-Stars Play The Blues, 1984

Sonny Day performing Betty Lou's Getting Out, All-Stars Play The Blues, Mainstreet, 1984

Wilko Johnson - Back in the Night - backed by the All-Stars, Mainstreet; 1984

 

 

 

    

Nick Crowther and Kevin Howlett, Prime Movers, Mainstreet, late 1982 - Photo by Alison Van Der Aarde

Rob Galley and Dave McLean with The Furys, Radio Hauraki Greenpeace II Concert, Mainstreet, Auckland, December 1981 - Simon Grigg collection

John No-one, Mainstreet Cabaret, Queen Street, Auckland, 1979. - Photo by Wayne Hunter

An advert for the Nervous EP's launch party at Auckland's Mainstreet, August 1981

The Screaming Meemees' Michael O'Neill and Tony Drumm at Mainstreet, Queen Street, Auckland, c 1983 - Photo by Murray Cammick

Dick Driver in Splash Alley,  the Into The Eighties Tour in early 1980. The venue is Mainstreet in Auckland. - Photo Grant Philpott, Karen Stevens Collection

Blam Blam Blam at Auckland's Mainstreet on the final show of The Screaming Blam-matic Roadshow. The blond dancer is The Screaming Meemees' drummer, Yoh - Photo by Karen Stevens

DD Smash at Auckland's Mainstreet, 1982 - Simon Grigg collection

Toy Love at Mainstreet. - Murray Cammick

Mainstreet band pass for Chris Burt of Techtones, April 1980. - Chris Burt collection

David Mitchell poster for The Chills, Expendables, Exploding Budgies at Mainstreet, Auckland 1984 - Mike Corless Collection. Design: David Mitchell

Beat Rhythm Fashion at Mainstreet, Auckland - Photo by Murray Cammick

The Screaming Meemees backstage at Mainstreet, Queen Street, Auckland, 1981 - Photo by Murray Cammick

Peter van der Fluit in the dressing room at Mainstreet, Queen St., Auckland, 1982.

The Spys, early 1981 backstage at Auckland's Mainstreet.

Chris Moore, Splash Alley, playing at Auckland's Mainstreet in upper Queen Street in early 1980. - Photo by Grant Philpott

Mark Bell at the 1984 Blam Blam Blam reunion, Mainstreet, Auckland, January 1984 - Photo by Glenn Jowitt. Simon Grigg collection

Chris Knox at Mainstreet, December 1980 - Photo by Mark Gallop

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