Wellington: A rock ‘n’ roll guide

Where to see music

San Fran© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

Officially the San Francisco Bath House (but widely known as just San Fran), this fine venue on Cuba Street is one of the coolest music and arts venues in Wellington, hosting the best in touring bands as well as local upstarts.

Right in the heart of Wellington’s bohemian enclave of Cuba Street, the venue also plays host to local wannabe stand-up comedians and bigger touring acts (such as NZ favourites Jeremy Corbett and Dai Henwood) and DJs provide the music for its often rock orientated club nights.

Recent internationally-renowned performers to turn up and play at the San Fran include Lou Barlow, Kurt Vile and rappers DJ Yella and Pusha T.

Location: 171 Cuba Street, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

Website: www.sanfran.co.nz

Bodega© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

The Bodega has established itself as one of the mainstays of Wellington’s nightlife after first opening its doors back in 1991.

Located on Ghunzee Street right on the edge of Willis Street and the city’s CBD, the tightly-knit Bodega boasts an impressive sound system and even more laudable big-act pulling power.

Indeed, along with the San Fran, the Bodega is usually the place to catch the best alternative rock or punk bands that make it as far as New Zealand’s picturesque capital city.

Recent bands of note to rock up in Wellington and perform at the Bodega include the Steve Albini fronted minimalist rock trio Shellac, Vancouver punk duo Japandroids and Portland/New Zealand psychedelic lo-fi outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Furthermore, downstairs at the Bodega is where you can party the night away in the Burgundy Room, with rotating DJs playing a whole range of music.

The Bodega is open for business six nights and weeks and boasts beers and wines of international and locally sourced calibre.

Location: 101 Ghuznee Street, Wellington New Zealand, 6011

Website: www.bodega.co.nz

James CabaretJames Cabaret

James Cabaret, close by the Basin Reserve cricket ground and at the foot of the scenic Mount Victoria area, is another decent live music and entertainment venue in the world’s most southernmost capital city.

Established in 1936, the venue has been a major player in Wellington’s culture, thought it has run into financial and ownership problems in recent times. Its acoustics and hospitality have seen it rated as one of the best venues by many Wellingtonians.

Notable bands to have pitched up at James Cabaret over the years include Scottish post-rockers Mogwai, Portland court-jesters Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and psychedelic folk collective Neutral Milk Hotel.

Location: 5 Hania Street, Mount Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

Website: www.jamescabaret.com


TSB Arena© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

Perched on Wellington’s fabulous waterfront, the TSB Bank Arena is the city’s premier indoor multi-purpose venue.

The TSB is utilised as an indoor sports arena, public exhibitions, trade shows, galas, award shows and most importantly for us, a decent venue for rock concerts.

With a maximum seating capacity of 4,002 (and 5,655 standing) it is a sizeable space to see a big name rock act, such as the Arctic Monkeys (who played here back in 2014) and Tame Impala, who graced the stage in late 2015.

The Arena has 2,186sqm of flat floor space which it uses for exhibitions, events and concerts. Its custom designed sports floor is primed for basketball or netball and can host international-standard sporting events.

Location: 4 Queens Wharf, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

Places of Rock ‘n’ roll interest

Ian Curtis Wall© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

This mural in the Mount Cook area of Wellington, New Zealand has been a noted memorial to the late Joy Division singer since 1981.

Less than a year after Curtis committed suicide following years of worsening epilepsy and depression, the words “Ian Curtis Lives” were painted on a Wallace Street wall, and eventually a wall nearby was painted with the tribute Ian Curtis RIP Walk In Silence.

However, the Curtis tribute site has endured a turbulent history of its own, having been a target of indiscriminate taggers and Wellington City Council throughout its existence. The mural has had to be repainted and campaigned for by defiant fans on several occasions.

Indeed, Wellington City Council’s anti-graffiti team’s paint-over in September 2009 caused enough of an outcry among locals for them to allow the wall to be restored once again. The council subsequently seemed to note the popularity of the wall and took no action on the re-chalking days later.

Local artist Maurice Bennett was the last person to restore the wall in February 2013, adding a new and improved design, Curtis’s correct birth/death dates and the original “Walk In Silence” motto (itself a nod to the 1980 posthumous single ‘Atmosphere’).

Curtis and Joy Division have proved to be remarkably popular in New Zealand, with their classic single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ hitting number 1 in the NZ charts in 1981, and entering them on two other occasions.

Location: Wallace Street, Mount Cook, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

Google Map


Hotel St. George© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

Probably Wellington’s most famous hotel, the Hotel St. George entered rock and roll history when The Beatles stayed there following a crazy 1964 New Zealand tour.

The city accommodation – which was converted from a bank by noted local businessman John Plimmer, knocked down and then rebuilt to eventually become Hotel St. George in December 1930 – sits just off Lambton Quay on Willis Street in the city’s CBD, and was essentially a refuge from screaming fans at the height of Beatlemania, but ended up being part of a near-tragic event.

The crowds outside the St George, were so large that the band had to be escorted in secretly through another entrance, before their management suggested the Fab Four make their way up to the third floor balcony to wave to the hordes and prevent them stampeding into the hotel.

John, Paul, George and Ringo were reportedly overwhelmed as a huge number of Kiwi fans trekked back to the hotel after a concert in Wellington, some keeping a night vigil. Four particularly eager girls managed to force their way onto the sixth floor and into the arms of a mortified Ringo Starr.

But most infamous was the “slashed wrists” scandal which almost overshadowed the entire down under tour, when a 20-year-old super-fan desperate to meet the band cut her wrists in one of the rooms utilised by a member of the band’s support entourage, following his refusal of an introduction to the world’s most popular band.  Headlines in NZ newspapers the following day proclaimed “Girl tries to die for Beatles”, and it is perhaps little wonder The Beatles never came back to New Zealand or indeed Hotel St. George.

Location: 124 Willis Street, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand 6011

Google Map


Slow Boat Records© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

The magnificent Slow Boat Records is a true Wellington institution.

The city’s longest running independent record store, it is situated right in the heart of Cuba Street, and its unmissable bright yellow sign has ushered in many a music aficionado over its 30-plus year existence.

The store has an impressive array of used and new CDs and vinyl across a whole range of genres, plus some cool posters, t-shirts and music related DVDs. Knowledgeable and friendly staff make browsing here a pleasurable experience, and the Slow Boat top 50 is a good starting point for any record collecting newbies looking for some decent guidance into what is indispensable.

Slow Boat has also hosted a number of live performances in-store over the years with John Peel favourites The Wedding Present, Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow and Neil Finn of local heroes Crowded House among those to play an intimate show here.

Major rock stars spotted perusing the vinyl in recent times include former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, The Smiths’ guitarist and Nick Cave.

Location: 183 Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zealand 6001

Website: www.slowboatrecords.co.nz

Google Map

Featured image courtesy of William David Wilson 

More to follow.