Local music venues are things to treasure. Each one holds a thousand memories of shared concert experienced. The best have those experiences burnt in to their very fabric – sometimes literally (though in these smoke free days less likely).
So it was with great sadness when we heard last year that one of Auckland’s most iconic venue, The Kings Arms Tavern, had been sold after a period of speculation. The land that the venue sits on is now worth a considerable amount of money and was sold to property developers and the area zoned for mixed use. In a city with a serious lack of places for people to live, it’s a sad inevitability that property prices increase and gentrification begins.
That’s progress. That’s how cities grow and live and change and evolve and become new things.
Things have always been this way. I’m an incomer myself. A person with a family from another country, now settled in New Zealand. A place where i’m proud to call home and where I have gained my citizenship, pay my taxes and, I like to think, where I give back to the communities in which I’m now involved.
Change is a difficult thing. It’s as much about loss of the old as it is about building the new. While I’m glad i live in a house, just a few years ago the site it is on contained strawberries. Someone would have been sad about losing those strawberry fields (which didn’t last forever), but my neighbours and I have somewhere to live.
The tensions come when it’s different people who lose the old from those who gain the new.
And that’s how it is with the Kings Arms. Once in an area which was busy by day, but empty by night it was perfect for a music venue. A music venue, especially one made of wood, is always going to leak sound to the neighbourhood. And that’s a problem for those now living nearby who want a quiet life. If they don’t appreciate music, or at least the same type of music, when they’d rather be sleeping or watching Netflix, then they’ll complain about it.
I made the point in this newspaper article that people who move in next to a music venue shouldn’t be surprised when there’s music drifting through the air in an evening. And I think that’s right. I used to live and work under the flight path for Heathrow Airport. Back in the day we even had Concorde fly over our house which was deafening. It was noisy and annoying, but we knew about it when we moved to the area.
Which brings me to Saturday night. I was at a concert at the Kings Arms Tavern featuring Greenfog, Bloodnut, Cough and Windhand. It was loud. but it was before midnight on a Saturday night. I saw the promoter close all the doors to keep the sound in the building as best it could be (which made for a rather hot and sweaty night – no bad thing!).
And at 11.45ish lots of police officers arrived and the venue was shut down because of a noise complaint. The police filed in silently, beautifully choreographed in the now near complete dark. They formed a human shield across the back of the venue which was being used as a merchandise stall (t-shirt sales etc)- not traditionally the loudest part of a music venue “did you hear that t-shirt fall on the ground? The flap was deafening”
I took some pictures of the police in the dark and they didn’t seem to be mind so i took one with my flash. And then a few more (without) flash of the police entering the venue as i left. The police were just silent and stood round the perimeter silently. It was a bit eery actually. Reminded me of the Dementors from Harry Potter 🙂
It turns out a neighbour had complained to Auckland Council about the noise the night before, and the venue was put on notice not to be noisy again within 72 hours. Unfortunately this coincided with a particularly noise ‘doom rock’ concert which I was photoing on the Saturday night. So the venue was closed and sound equipment was seized, which meant the police had to come along too.
I haven’t heard a bad word said about the Police who attended the venue. There were lots of them which seemed a bit of a waste of resource. But I guess they didn’t know if ending the concert abruptly would cause a drunken riot. It didn’t. Doom metal fans are a nice bunch. But it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.
I’ve seen a press release from the promoter which suggests there were some failing from the Kings Arms staff, and there’s lots of online chat about the attitude of the new neighbours.
Everyone in this seemed to think they were doing the right thing from their perspective. The various musicians were nice and loud, the promoter put on a great show. the venue seemed well staff, the venue’s sound guy was great as usual. The neighbour complained because they thought it was too loud, the council agreed and shut down the venue, the Police had to implement the decision, the punters were disappointed but accepted their fate reluctantly.
Personally I think the issue may lie with Auckland Council as they issued the shut down notice. Presumably they had some discretion here. Or if they didn’t, the law should give them some discretion. Particularly as the Kings Arms only has a few months left before it is gone for good.
Right now the area is still mainly non-residential. That balance will shift over time and by then the venue will be long gone. Council should be letting residents know that the venue is here for now and operating legally.
While that would be inconvenient for the current residents it’s not going to last forever. It will be gone, just like the distance echoes of the legendary musicians who have played this amazing venue during its life time.
postscript: of course the other issue here is council zoning of areas and making sure that there are places where live music can thrive. Auckland Council does some amazing work promoting music through its own venues and through things like summer in the park etc. It should make sure there are places where people can go and listen to music without fear of police invasions (albeit very nice, polite police people!)