10 Dec 2016

The Kings Arms Tavern, favourite memories.

From RNZ Music, 4:00 pm on 10 December 2016


It's official: for the tidy sum of $7.4 million, the legendary Kings Arms Tavern has been sold. It is not yet known what the plan is for the 19th century Auckland pub, and probably won't become clear for another year. However, the chances of it remaining in its current form appear slim.

The Kings Arms, September 2011.

Photo: Petra Jane/http://petrajane.com/

In its 30-odd years as a live music venue, The Kings Arms has seen some pretty crazy shit.

"Gosh" I hear you say, "if those walls could talk". Well walls cannot talk, but people can - and with that in mind RNZ  asked the few The Kings Arms regulars who could actually remember their nights there to do just that. 

Gareth Shute, writer and musician

Thinking of The Kings Arms conjures up the image of heavily-bearded soundman Mark Peterson setting up the stage and patiently ignoring another young band whose drummer has decided to bash away through sound check.

Or the old bar manager, Harry, looking stressed as always, catching a hipster smuggling in his own beer in a shoulder bag. There are probably too many great shows to mention, but sometimes it was just as much fun when a band fell apart - like the Reduction Agents gig that saw the whole drum kit trashed and the floor tom kicked off the stage (leading to the Lawrence Arabia song, 'Bloody Shins').

Bands must've played every corner of that place - I saw Billy Childish set-up on the floor in front of the stage, the Nudie Suits in the nook by the fireplace, and Tiny Ruins out on the deck. When the DHDFDs played down by the pool table, their singer managed to crawl up on the ledge above the back doors, which was a Kody Nielson level of commitment to stage climbing.

As a musician, I've played some Kings Arms shows to nobody on a weeknight and others headlining to a packed crowd on a Saturday night (most notably: my last show with the Ruby Suns).

The disappearance of The Kings Arms will mean that there isn't an intermediary step for bands who are too popular for dive bars like Whammy/Wine Cellar, but can't yet fill up a larger venue like the Powerstation. The bar will leave a gaping hole in the Auckland music scene, as well as in the memories of all who played and saw shows there.

Gareth Shute and Amee Robinson of The Ruby Suns

Photo: Petra Jane

Daniel Rutledge, Newshub entertainment journalist

My favourite memory of The Kings Arms has gotta be the Les Savy Fav gig back in, I think it was 2010, 2011? I had no idea who that band was before I went along and I was taken along by friend who, just on the way in, was like, "just before we go in you should be aware that the singer of this band is pretty crazy, jumps into the crowd a lot."

I was like ok, sounds kind of punkish. That in no way prepared me for how full on and extreme this gig was. The lead of Les Savy Fav is basically, I thought he was kind of like GG Allin, but not sinister, like a fun clown version of GG Allin. So the whole night he was jumping through the crowd, pashing people. He took a guy into the toilet at one stage and came out covered in toilet paper. He went outside to the carpark and instigated a body pile on himself. All the while singing. He had a long lead microphone and he was just continuing to perform all night long in the faces of everyone. It was insane.

The Les Savy Fav gig really played up some of the curious qualities of The Kings Arms Tavern that you can only get there. It's like a classic pub, it's not really a venue designed for gigs yet so many amazing gigs have been held there. I think that sort of band will be that insane anywhere you see them but seeing them specifically at The Kings Arms Tavern, the weird way that crusty old beautiful pub is laid out, It's a once in a lifetime memory. I'm really glad that I got to experience it, and very sad I won't have similar ones in the future.


Grant Robertson, Labour Party MP

The day I remember the best about The Kings Arms was going to see The National play there. My friend and I came up from Wellington without any tickets at all and arrived along at The Kings Arms early to be told, "no, there are absolutely no door sales, you're stuffed".

And we were fairly gutted by this, and this was before The National were big, obviously because they wouldn't be playing at The Kings Arms if they were seen as a major touring band. So we went and sat in the bar out the back and started to put a little bit of money on some horses, and we put some money on a horse called Dublin Boy, partly because my friend is Irish, and it paid out a whopping sum of money. And we were sitting there starting to feel that our day was getting little better, listening to the sound check going on next door, when one of the band's people came through and just sort of announced to the bar that there would be 20 door sales. We took off and lined up in front of the door and were joined by half a dozen other people and little by little we managed to find our way in. And I still would say to this day that is one of the best gigs I've ever seen. Seeing The National in an environment like The Kings Arms, which is big enough to allow a reasonable crowd in, but small enough to have that intimate experience with a band. I don't think I've ever experienced the energy of a live show better than The National there, and [it was] probably made all the more sweet by the fact that we didn't think we were gonna make it until a horse called Dublin Boy changed our luck.

The other really memorable night there was the tribute concert for Chris Knox after he had had his stroke. That was a phenomenal gig, absolutely incredible performances, and again seeing a musician like Neil Finn play there was amazing. Seeing him in that small venue just made you realise what a world class musician he is. He was absolutely superb, he was just so classy, just so good. And I was actually standing with Chris during part of the gig, and seeing people play his songs, play their own songs, and then turning to see Chris standing there that was a hugely memorable night where the music community came out to support Chris and it was just brilliant.

And then finally it's where I launched my leadership campaign when I ran for the Labour party in 2014 which is perhaps not such a great memory in the sense that I didn't win, but it was a great venue and Jacinda [Adern] and I had a great day in the sun there and the Sami Sisters played. It was kind of nice for me, a place that I'd been for so many good gigs to have a political event there as well.

Mikhal Norris, iHeart radio

One of my favourite Kings Arms memories is seeing the D4 play. The room was so full of people, it was almost sweating from the ceiling and half way through the show the speaker started smoking. They were rocking out so hard that the speakers literally went on fire. I also went to two very good friends' wedding at The Kings Arms, Phil and Renee, they both met at bFM I understand. It was the first wedding they ever had at The Kings Arms and it was pretty special.

Auckland band The Coolies at the Kings Arms, 2007

Photo: Jo Galvin

Charlie Smith, drummer in Dead Favours and Fire at Will

An American band Red Fang was on tour. They came across from Australia and they got held up at customs in Australia and they posted online asking if people wanted them to play the Sunday or if they still wanted to play that Friday night, but they weren't going to get onstage till about 3 o'clock in the morning. So everyone commented in and they went ahead with the gig on the Friday.

Beast Wars opened for them, they played an extended [set]. They probably played an hour and a half or something, and they just added all these local stoner bands to fill out the night and then I remember the band came on about 3am. They basically walked straight on. Mark, the in house sound guy who was an absolute legend at that stage, just got them all sorted, they went straight on stage, they played a killer set. I remember falling into a taxi outside The Kings Arms and shaking the guitarist's hand as I fell in. That was just an awesome memory of seeing one of my all time favourite bands play.