25 May 2024

Gareth Shute on his favourite Auckland venues

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 25 May 2024
Gareth Shute and Amee Robinson of The Ruby Suns

Gareth Shute with Amee Robinson, playing in The Ruby Suns Photo: Petra Jane

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

As a writer for NZ music history site Audioculture, as well as authoring four books on the subject, Gareth Shute is well versed about Aotearoa venues, past and present. 

Standing outside Galatos, just off Auckland’s Karangahape Road, he explains it’s “one of Auckland’s oldest still-running music venues. 

“It opened in 1908, by a Masonic group called the Druid’s Order, who had huge beards and wore big robes. They wanted to have dances at the hall, so they made a special parquet floor. 

“They would have concerts where you dance with a partner, then sit down and eat supper on your lap, then do a bit of gambling. Over a hundred years later, Galatos is privately owned.”

The cover of Auckland Live's Historical Music Venues Tour booklet

The cover of Auckland Live's Historical Music Venues Tour booklet Photo: Tony Stamp

Shute currently plays in the band Thee Golden Geese. He’s also performed in The Ruby Suns, and The Conjuors, and remembers a specific gig at Galatos when his first band The Tokey Tones played support for The Brunettes.

“It was one of my favourite shows, because it was themed like Back to the Future, so they had a whole bit where Jonathan Bree, their lead singer, pretended to hurt his hand, and said ‘can anyone play guitar in the audience?’

“Liam Finn got up, playing the Michael J. Fox role, and played a ripping guitar solo.”

For some years Shute ran a walking tour of historical music venues for Auckland Live. Speaking about The Studio, around the block from Galatos, he says, “it was built in 1914, and became the Vogue Cinema in 1940. When you go now you can see it used to be a cinema: it has a huge foyer, and a mezzanine that goes around the top. 

“K Rd used to be an up-market place, it had half a dozen cinemas, the George Courts department store, it was quite a flash neighbourhood. 

“Two things happened: in 1963 the first dedicated strip club opened in Auckland, which brought the whole strip club scene to K Rd. 

“That was followed in the late 1960s by the central motorway junction construction, where they demolished 15,000 houses, and moved out 50,000 residents. 

“So Newton Gully, rather than being like Ponsonby, turned into this vacant strip where they were doing a massive amount of construction. That’s when K Rd became the rough end of town.”

A page from Auckland Live's Historical Music Venue Tour booklet

A page from Auckland Live's Historical Music Venue Tour booklet Photo: Tony Stamp

Heading down The Studio leads to Auckland’s densest cluster of musical hotspots, including several in St Kevin’s Arcade.

It’s a place Shute calls “one of the hearts of Auckland’s live scene now, which goes back to the ‘90s when the dance club Calibre was here.

“Later on, Rowan Evans wanted to make a little dive bar for his family’s Coromandel winery, the Purangi Estate, and so he made The Wine Cellar. But local musicians started coming down, and so from 2005 he started squeezing them in, playing in front of the bar.

The Conjurors

The Conjurors (Gareth Shute 2nd from right) Photo: Supplied

“Back then I was in Broken Heartbreakers, so I played some early gigs there. It’s a bittersweet memory, because Sam Prebble was in that band (RIP). 

“When Calibre finished, Rowan was offered the space, and took it over as Whammy Bar.”

“Two of the people who used to go to Calibre, Jonah Merchant and Josh Moore, initially wanted to start an artist space, but the openings were so popular they started Neck of the Woods nightclub.

“They were hoping to do something similar to Calibre, and be as important to the dance scene, but have opened it up to all types of music. 

“Then at the back of St Kevin’s you’ve got Audio Foundation, where they have heaps of great experimental music. That was started by Zoe Drayton in 2004.”

While Shute is realistic about the challenges faced by Auckland’s venues, he’s also optimistic about their future.

“Rent increases have been one real problem. It’s interesting to look at something like the central rail network, and the disruption it’s caused to the central city. It meant The Bluestone Room closed after decades of being a music venue, going back to being the Top 20 club in the ‘60s, and Zwines in the ‘70s.

“Next door to there you’ve got Ding Dong Lounge still going, but they’re quite near a construction site.

“Looking long term, you think of that central motorway junction and how it ruined K Rd for a while, and made it the edgier side of town: that might actually happen to parts of the central city, I’m hoping, where rents go back down again, and you have some sort of interesting creative life.”