Dunedin: Anything could happen

By Gavin Bertram

Many of the landmarks of the fabled Dunedin Sound of the 1980s can be visited on a relatively short and intriguing walk.

Dunedin's oldest pub, the Empire Tavern. Photo / Gavin Bertram
Dunedin's oldest pub, the Empire Tavern. Photo / Gavin Bertram

Every city with a rich popular music heritage deserves a walking tour that takes in the places where it happened.

Considering how condensed central Dunedin is, it's surprising no such tour has been formalised. So here is a straightforward self-guided walking tour of some key and lesser known landmarks associated with the Flying Nun and Xpressway acts of the 1980s and early '90s.

Empire Tavern, 396 Princes St
Where else to begin but at the venerable Empire Tavern, which is arguably Dunedin's oldest pub having opened in 1858. During the early 1980s under managers John and Maureen Simpson the Empire was the epicentre of the city's emergent original music scene. It was host to The Clean, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings, The Verlaines and many others until the mid 1990s.

Sammy's, 65 Crawford St
Around the corner is Sammy's, another entertainment venue that has served Dunedin well for over a century. Opened in 1896, it was first known as the Agricultural Hall before becoming His Majesty's Theatre.

Under the reign of Dunedin hospitality family the Chins, Sammy's has hosted many larger shows from local, national, and international acts. In November US indie legends Neutral Milk Hotel will perform there.

Fish St Studio, Cnr of Fryatt and Fish Sts
Across the over bridge, next to the Farra workshop, Fish St Studio used to be. It was a base for Bruce Russell's Xpressway Records label, which built a following internationally with artists like Alastair Galbraith, the Dead C, The Terminals, and Peter Jefferies, whose 1990 album The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World has just been re-released on American label De Stijl. Xpressway served as an interesting counterpoint to Dunedin's Flying Nun acts for a five year period from 1988.

Cromwell Chambers, 9 Dowling St
Chris Knox's first great band, The Enemy, pioneered punk rock in New Zealand and inspired the Dunedin Sound wave of bands, including The Clean. Both acts had practice rooms in Cromwell Chambers on Dowling St, near the Queens Gardens.

Records Records, 215 Stuart St
Sadly no longer, Roy Colbert's great Records Records remains on the Lonely Planet's list of top things to do in Dunedin. For over three decades Colbert's shop in the magnificent Stuart St Terraces just up from the Octagon was a hub for Dunedin's music community. Colbert was referred to as a Patron Saint on a collectable Flying Nun card for the role he served in advising young musicians including The Chills' Martin Phillipps, Straitjacket Fits' Shayne Carter, and The Clean's David Kilgour.

Dunedin Town Hall, Moray Place
Sure, The Beatles played there in 1964, and the Rolling Stones in 1965, but in terms of Dunedin music the Town Hall is best known for The Chills' transcendent, triumphant homecoming show in July 1990. That came on the back of the Submarine Bells album topping the New Zealand charts, and the band were given a Civic Reception before playing to an adoring full house, with the 3Ds and The Bats in tow.

Beneficiaries Hall, Cnr Filleul St and Hanover Sts
A less salubrious venue a few blocks away was where The Clean performed for the very first time in 1978. The young trio, featuring Peter Gutteridge (later of Snapper fame) were remembered as being chaotic by Chris Knox of The Enemy, who The Clean supported. "They were not really playing their instruments coherently, but you could hear something extraordinary there." Just up the rise is the house where The Enemy once resided.

Plume, 310 George St
In the early days of the Straitjacket Fits, Shayne Carter lived above the George St shop where Margi Robertson's fashion store is now. The band practised in a shed out the back, and that's where great songs like 'She Speeds' and 'Dialling a Prayer' from the band's 1987 debut EP Life in One Chord were put together.

Captain Cook Tavern, 354 Great King St
Just down Albany St is Captain Cook, whose future is in doubt, having closed under a cloud in June. First opened in 1860 the pub has been at the heart of social life in Dunedin's North End since. The upstairs bar became a key venue for the initial Dunedin Sound acts, and those who immediately followed, including The Rip and The Doublehappys.

Coronation Hall, 1 Balmacewen Rd, Maori Hill
Only recommended for walking if you like tackling hills, the Coronation Hall up Maori Hill was where The Chills first performed in November 1980. That night they played with The Clean and Bored Games, and the hall became a venue for many self-promoted shows by young bands that couldn't yet play in pubs. With a nice sense of history, the original line-up of The Chills reunited for two songs at the Coronation Hall on the band's 30th anniversary in 2010.

Further afield:

Chicks Hotel, 2 Mount St, Port Chalmers
Port Chalmers place in Dunedin music is often overlooked, but it's been home to Xpressway, and many other musicians. For the last five years Chicks has been one of the best live music venues around.

Lovers Leap, Sandymount Rd, Otago Peninsula
No visit to Dunedin is complete without a trip to the Peninsula. Lovers Leap is a spectacular place to visit, enhanced by the fact the area was used to film the classic Chills' video for 'Pink Frost'.

- nzherald.co.nz

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