If the Kings Arms, which closes today, was the physical epicentre of Auckland’s ’90s/2000s alternative music scene, The Fix was its pre-Facebook-invite guide. Steve Newall recounts the venue’s history through The Fix’s gig guides and talks to its editor Richard Cooke.
Auckland in the ’90s was a very different place: light on venues and outside of a few dedicated spots like Kurtz Lounge, Squid and Pod, yet to experience the explosion of live music that defined the turn of the millennium.
As we lose the Kings Arms today, and with Golden Dawn’s imminent closure adding to the sudden reduction in the city’s live stages, I found myself thinking about how its emergence and ongoing existence were chronicled by another former and equally essential institution: weekly gig guide The Fix.
Its calendar helped Aucklanders navigate the city’s most intriguing nightlife in the pre- (or nascent, at least) text message and internet era, and now serves as a years-long time capsule, a reminder of what it was like to live in the City of Sails between 1993 and 2005.
Unlike its imitators (The Package, The Fold, et al) The Fix was much more than just a gig guide. The personality of editor Richard Cooke shone through its pages (technically, one double-sided A3 page folded down to eight panels on either side).
It celebrated his passion for music, drinking, comics and more – shot through with an irreverent, shit-stirring, streak that would not infrequently attract a raised eyebrow, if not sometimes outright ire. Memories of the latter include the condemnation of covers as sexist by a feminist group; complaint letters from Michelle A’Court and Jeremy Elwood to punter authors Bob Kerrigan and Scott Kelly after their repeated mocking of local stand-ups (subsequently printed in the mag); and an advertiser that allegedly pulled their listing after cartoonist Chris Stapp took a swipe at the possibly ill-advised Amazon heroics that marked the passing of a much-loved New Zealander.
The Fix introduced Stapp’s artwork to Auckland, along with that of Wade Shotter, MF Joyce and Ed Gains, among others. On the music side, there was a sharp crew of reviewers including the likes of Stinky Jim, Steven Shaw and Brendan Short. Eventually, I’d join them (as well as being the mag’s delivery boy for a spell) – a stereotypically earnest, know-it-all young man whose output now reads as often exceedingly embarrassing to me (like many a former music reviewer, I’m sure).
For me, discovering The Fix was like discovering bFM. A portal into a better, more interesting, Auckland. And as we bid farewell to the Kings Arms, it seemed timely to go through the back issues that marked its tenure and have a chat with Richard Cooke about the old gal’s time in the pages of his magazine.
“At the time, The Fix was a weekly bloody headache, albeit one with many benefits,” says Cooke. “I met many of my best friends through the magazine and taught myself how to write and design. It really was an awesome project to spend my twenties doing, and I reckon I got out at about the right time.”
The first alt/rock gig at the Kings Arms took place when Lisa Gordon convinced her mother, Kings Arms owner Maureen, to let her band Gaunt Pudding play alongside Cane Slide on December 7, 1995. As you can see from the gig guide below, the Kings Arms is the last venue standing from that era.
“Much like The Fix, the Kings Arms grew into itself, working it out as it went along,” recalls Cooke. “Initially the musicians performing were all regulars at places like Java Jive, Alhambra, et al, folks like Glen Moffat, Al Hunter… but it didn’t take too long for the Kings Arms to realise that noisy, messy, rock n roll brought in a wave of young thirsty kids, and they swiftly (but gently) moved the old crooners on. All of which was a direct result of Lisa taking over the bookings. She quite literally made the Kings Arms rock. In a good way.”
“The Fix was just lucky to be around when the band explosion kicked off because, of course, that’s where my musical passion lay,” says Cooke. “Places like Pod, Kurtz, Squid, The Temple, and the Kings Arms obviously all of a sudden started booking live music a couple of times a week. Great for my magazine, not so flash for my brain cell count.”
By 1999, the Kings Arms was settling into becoming the venue it’s now known as. Until one night, when The Subliminals were mid-set, and there was a bit of a disruption.
“The madwoman! Ha!” remembers Cooke. “I think we’d just scored our first digital camera – a Sony something-or-other that you put a floppy disc into. Unreal. And the quality was nonsense, but it was quick and the beauty with a weekly was that you could be pretty damn current. So, I put her on the cover. She jumped up on stage, stole the microphone and started going mental – I think she’d misplaced her umbrella and was quite unhappy about it, she needed someone to blame so chose all us folks in black tee-shirts. That photo was taken just before she jumped on me. Anyways, she was also quite upset about seeing herself on the cover a couple days later.”
Did the ‘madwoman’ play a part in Cooke’s election prediction coming true? It’s hard to say, but unelected PM Jenny Shipley remained permanently unelected as Helen Clark swept to power the following week…
Some things never change. June 1999 saw the early gentrifiers make their first attempt at shutting down the bar’s live music. The short-term solution? Build a wall of shipping containers (long, long, before they became an aesthetic choice). “I lived very close to the Kings Arms. So the party moved back to mine – somehow I never got noise control complaints up there on K’Rd.”
Going through the gig guide listings gives so much context to the era. The bands, the cover charges, the price of booze, the chance to win a 14” TV by drinking Lion Red!
“It was probably the mid-’90s when I got the plaque above the barstool,” says Cooke. “Ha. I think I went to almost every gig by the time the 2000s came around. I also used to take my dog Bucket, can you believe it. Must have been when they sorted out the garden bar area – I promised Lisa he’d stay outside. Occasionally he did. “
“There have been so many gigs. My most memorable though were The Fix Christmas parties, which we always had at the Kings Arms. And where the Rock n Roll Machine and the Demi-Whores were regular features. I did meet the mother of my two kids at a Datsuns gig about ten years ago too, which is memorable for quite different and less music-related reasons than all my other favourite gigs.”
“So by the early 2000s the Kings Arms had lost any thought of quiz nights, and Al Hunter was but a distant memory. They were knocking out bands 4-5 days a week, and pulling top international acts as well. Maureen and Lisa were making constant improvements to the venue, and there was a really fun gang of regulars. Bloody heaven mate.”
So thanks to the Kings Arms and The Fix for all the memories. To cop a phrase from Richard Cooke, we’re late for the bloody printers!
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.