Like many people in Auckland’s musical community, I was saddened to hear the Kings Arms being announced as a Special Housing Area in April 2016. It was inevitable the site would be developed for apartments one day – it was too good a location, too underdeveloped as it was, and increasingly struggling with noise issues – but it was still sad for me.

The Kings Arms was bought by the Gordon family circa 1988 and became a music venue a few years later. For the last 15-odd years since I turned 18, it’s been the best music venue in Auckland for local bands, and many of the less-famous international bands. When I formed my first band in 2005, the KA was absolutely top of my list of places I wanted to play; we never made it to one of the coveted Friday or Saturday night slots, but even just playing there on a weeknight was amazing. The KA had (and still has) the best sound and the best stage.

The first gig I played at the Kings Arms was on 28 December 2005. This was just a few days after an awesome Japanese band called Guitar Wolf had played there. We were so excited. I got my aunt to take various ‘promo photos’ of us in the surrounding area. I really can’t remember why we thought a picture of us up a tree was a good idea.

Rock and/ or roll

I played there a few more times over 2006-2009, including this one in mid-2006 where I did a powerslide over to my amp (captured in the photo below, although obscured by that girl’s head), but forgot I was wearing ripped jeans. So that was essentially carpet burns on my knees, which was kind of painful but still worth it. As a poor student at the time, my car which I left parked on the road outside didn’t have a WOF, and I got a ticket, but I wrote a nice letter and was able to get it overturned. Good times.

My music career was short-lived, but I’ve been to more gigs at the Kings Arms than I can count in the years since. And I’ll keep going to them up until the KA shuts its doors for the last time in February.

Some of the many, many famous gigs in the Kings Arms’ long and storied history

The Special Housing Area announcement spawned a 6,500-signature petition, which vaguely said that “we got to do something” and called on Auckland Council to “save the Kings Arms”. However, as Russell Brown pointed out at Public Address, the Kings Arms was on private property – owned by the Gordon family who ran the bar – and any decision about it was essentially up to them.

There’s a lot of sadness in the music community at the Kings Arms closing, some misunderstanding, and some anger. I share the sadness, but I’m grateful for all the good times I’ve had there, that it survived as a bastion of live music for so long, and that I’ve had plenty of time to say goodbye. The KA isn’t going quietly into that good night; it’s going out in a blaze of glory, as it should. If you’re interested in getting to the Kings Arms before it closes, there are heaps of great shows in the next five weeks or so, covering a wide range of genres. Coming from a rock perspective, I heartily recommend the ones over Anniversary Weekend and a reunion show for The D4.

What comes next?

The Kings Arms building is from another era – a time when bars were huge, covering hundreds of square metres, often a beer garden too, and masses of carparking. It’s a rabbit warren of a building, with the main bar and beer garden, and a smaller sports bar which also has its own balcony. Then there are several flats upstairs, presumably a relic of the time when taverns often had on-site accommodation.

Overall, it’s a 2,114 square metre property, with about 680 square metres of floor space. Hardly an intense land use just outside the city centre. The carpark has space for at least 30 cars, and in all the years I’ve been to the Kings Arms I’ve never seen it full. There’s nothing special about the building, and it’s an underused site; the Kings Arms is special because of what goes on inside.

Like so many great venues before it, the Kings Arms property will have a new life, although the building itself will go – making way for around 100 apartments. We all know Auckland has a huge housing shortage, in the tens of thousands of homes, so we’d need hundreds of developments like this to make a dent in it. But every little bit counts.

How else could we get more gigs and have great nightlife in Auckland?

Live music venues have always struggled in Auckland, and the rest of New Zealand too it seems. The venues struggle to make a buck, and often close down within a few years. Just in the last decade, plenty have come and gone; most of the places I played in the mid-2000s aren’t live venues any more. The Kings Arms had a very good run.

For live music to work, people need to show up in large numbers, and keep coming back. In most cases, the venue is a bar and can only survive if people are spending money at the bar; in other cases, the venue and the musicians may have another arrangement to share the revenue. Either way, having a community of people who support live music is the first step. The same goes for any other performing arts.

The second step is having venues which are on good terms with their neighbours and surrounding properties. Noise complaints can disrupt gigs or even get them cancelled, and the best way to keep everyone happy is to avoid the situation in the first place.

Anyway, here’s what I’d like to see happen with Auckland live music:

  • Good soundproofing. The Kings Arms poured tens of thousands of dollars into this, but they were disadvantaged from the start in a rickety old building where one of the major attractions was the ability to spill outside into the beer garden.
  • Handle ‘reverse sensitivity’ issues better – maybe venues could get resource consents to let them go a little louder – or venues which predate surrounding homes could get more leeway, like Eden Park or Western Springs do. Maybe we could have an “entertainment district” where more noise is allowed.
  • Don’t make gigs so bloody loud. People shouldn’t have to wear earplugs or stand twenty metres back to enjoy the music. That’s not just a I’m-getting-old rant; I was often embarrassed about the volume when I was playing gigs in the mid-2000s, and wanted people to be able to come up close without being deafened.
  • Start gigs earlier in the evening, especially if it’s a weeknight. Local concerts in Auckland are notorious for starting late; shows can go well past midnight, and people have work the next day. By contrast, I went to a concert in London on a Wednesday night, where the main band was on shortly after 8 and finished by around 10. Caught the Tube home by 11. Everyone wins.

Honestly, I reckon the best thing Auckland could do to improve its live music scene would be starting those shows earlier. The potential audience is much larger if people know they can stay in town/ central after work, head to a gig, and still make it home for a decent night’s sleep.

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24 comments

  1. I pretty philosophical about this. If there is one constant with band venues, it’s that they come and go. My father laments the loss of the Gluepot pub in Ponsonby, now flash apartments and a skincare clinic. My grandfather used to speak of rowdy nights at the Pirate Ship dancehall on Milford beach, now a beach reserve with a playground and public toilets.

    At a functional level these sorts of venues need a lot of cheap space in a place that’s convenient to get to, but without too many neighbours. Therefore they’ll shift around from crumbling neighbourhood to crumbing neighbourhood. They are, along with flats of art school students, an indicator species for future gentrification. If you have a place that is convenient and cheap with plenty of floor area/land going spare, then it is only a matter of time before it’s not going spare anymore, and not cheap anymore.

    The real question is where next?

    1. Yup, exactly. The other thing is that these days with the bars being smaller, and on smaller bits of land, the venues are more central. That’s great for accessibility and public transport; the KA wasn’t fantastic for this. A few of the venues I’ve found myself going to in the last few years include Whammy Bar/ Wine Cellar, Backbeat, Ding Dong Lounge. All in town. Quite a few bars in the suburbs have live music occasionally, but it’s generally covers bands, and few of them can be described as “venues”.

      That’s within the shrinking pool of live music events, and live rock music events specifically. But there will always be venues, as long as people want to support them.

      Their comings and goings have more to do with trends in music tastes, drinking culture, individual operators etc than with development trends… although in the long run, it does happen, e.g. the Gluepot as you said, the Masonic, the Mon Desir…

  2. Good soundproofing. The Kings Arms poured tens of thousands of dollars into this, but they were disadvantaged from the start in a rickety old building where one of the major attractions was the ability to spill outside into the beer garden.
    Handle ‘reverse sensitivity’ issues better – maybe venues could get resource consents to let them go a little louder – or venues which predate surrounding homes could get more leeway, like Eden Park or Western Springs do. Maybe we could have an “entertainment district” where more noise is allowed.

    This is all excellent stuff, but it is only half the issue. The other side of the coin is to stop allowing developers to build shoddy apartments with single glazing, no inbuilt aircon and paper thin walls. The number of bars and clubs and pubs closed because someone in a flimsy townhouse/apartment 2km away complained they could still hear them because it is hot and they’ve got the sliding door open is enormous.

    Late night culture – the people who come out after 10:30pm – is a thing in proper cities. Starting gigs early might suit some genres, but it doesn’t suit the party till 6am clubber, a segment whose needs have been scandalously marginalised in the ten years in the name of noise, Laura Norder and the children. So soundproofing all round to keep everyone happy, IMHO.

      1. This is why we need several entertainment districts where permissible noise is higher. It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to build for noise, but saying ‘this area can produce more noise, neighbours can deal with it themselves’ seems a lot more reasonable.

  3. Very poignant read- especially on a day we here of the passing of the Fall’s maveric genius Mark E Smith. Yes all things must pass but its also great to remember what once was. The Container Drivers might be an apt tune to play tonight.

  4. Home by eleven!!
    Crikey the young of today – no staying power. Most gigs I’ve gone to, by eleven it was just warming up.

  5. Agree with gigs earlier in the evening so much better when they start a little earlier.

    Also that girls eyes secret superhero or villain lol

  6. As a former sound engineer I am all for lowering sound levels. In ear monitors for the bands will make huge difference in small spaces like KA and hopefully will become more widespread. FOH speakers now tend to be more directional so less sound is getting wasted out of the dancefloor but there’s still a big bunch of old school engineers and musicians with devastated hearing that make it their pride to be as loud as it goes.
    Btw the old sound guy with a big beard at KA could put together a great sound, with the gear he’s got. Way too top heavy but it’s understandable once you factor in hearing loss (Hi freqs are the first to go)

    1. I went to my first ever gig at the kings arms. Too loud, didn’t enjoy it (despite it being my all time favourite band). Ringing ears for 3 days!

      I learned the fragility of hearing. Earplugs solved the problem for the next gig.

      1. The irony is that nowadays many sound engineers wear earplugs as well (the kind that dampen all frequency equally). The problem is that if you turn it down instead, then the band will feel less powerful and they won’t book you for the next gig.

    2. Thanks for that, Ian. We have a huge problem with too-loud amplification. It has spread to many Council-sponsored events. Worse, the problem of the deaf sound engineers setting the volumes too loud has a parallel in schools: the teachers putting on music for the kids to do gym or dancing or singing to are of course more deaf than the wee children they’re exposing to it. I’d had such a guts-full of this with my older son, that when my younger son found the music too loud at school too, and the senior teacher treated me like dog turd on her shoe for requesting it to be lowered, it was a major factor in my deciding to homeschool him for a few years.

      In the Amazon, researchers have found there is no “age-related” deafness. Our deafness comes with age only because of our exposure.

      1. I have mixed many shows for kids (wiggles kind of stuff) and I was always conscious that little ears are much more sensitive than mine. Also in these occasions a dB meter should always be on hand to protect the kids and the venue from complaints. I had parents complaining to me that it was too loud and then I would show them the readings. 86dB I think was the peak, while a theatre full of screaming kids can easily reach 100dB alone.

        1. “while a theatre full of screaming kids can easily reach 100dB alone”

          I guess you have to choose whether to even take the children to anything where too many children will make it so loud! 15 minutes of that will damage an adult’s hearing. 🙂 Furthermore, I understand that classrooms often exceed safe levels, even without any particular activity going on.

    3. Interesting point. Went to the Midnight Oil gig at Vector last year. While it wasn’t lacking in volume, noticeably, the next morning I didn’t have the ringing ears sensation.

      1. Large scale concert PAs (line arrays these days) are able to send the same SPL 5m or 50m from the stage so it doesn’t really matter how far you are and the sound is going to be consistently even and good everywhere in the venue and it has become the most important thing for sound system engineers (the person that sets up and calibrates the system usually local NZ). Then the system gets handed over to the sound mixing engineer (usually supplied by the touring band) and they might do a great job or they might be rubbish, tired, deaf or stupid. Still there might be a limit that the system engineer put in to protect the speakers. One day I think technology will take over completely and sound levels will be kept more in check

  7. Warming up at eleven ?

    I remember the good old days of the Galaxie in Custom Street opening at one minute past midnight –

    the well named Midnite Rave. Bands like the Pleazers, La De Das and Underdogs come to mind.

    The venues in those days were not allowed to open on Sunday (something to do with religion) but come

    one minute past midnight it was all on ! This happened on suitable long weekends, like Anniversary, Queens

    Birthday, and Labour Day. Great memories !

  8. Ahhh. The sanitisation of Auckland central. I lament the passing of the Gluepot too.
    Now just a bland bourgeoisie cafe culture of better than thou twats or drunks of dodgy intent.

  9. In some cities, industrial building are used for this purpose.

    No body lives in industrial zoning and those factories are can be use for business at day and use for gig at night.

    In Auckland heavy industrial warehouses near Penrose train station, provides such opportunities for large shows.

    Light industrial near Eden Terence, Arch hills and silo park also provides opportunity for smaller shows.

    Alternatively carparks can also be used for this purpose. For example wolfe st carpark.
    Shopping malls carparks are also possible, similar to auckland night market at westfields.

    The reason why such places are not used for this purpose is because our restrictive zoning laws.

    Our industrial zoning does not allow such activity, especially when alcohol are involved.

    Our zoning rules shouldn’t be so monolithic.

  10. I’ve seen some of my favourite bands play there, but as a venue it’s really not great – the narrowness and positioning of the bar and fireplace have ruined all my experiences there and I longed for better venues to enjoy the music I love.

    I’m not glad to see it go, so much as optimistic that we’ll get a better venue to make better memories at (with better transit access)

    It’s really no better or worse than the Tuning Fork alongside Spark Arena.

    As an aside, that whole area is really bizarre – there are bajillions of apartments, probably thousands of people, but no grocery store. I couldn’t find a dairy either. A couple of ‘business hours’ cafe’s along newton road was it. Losing out on a CRL station is a real blow for the area and it’s always going to be a bit worse than surrounding areas as a result – I guess the LRT would help, except there is no station for that area – just a big gap between K’rd and Dominion/New North.

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