Maureen Gordon 1931-2017

Maureen Gordon, the former owner of the Kings Arms Tavern, was the matriarch of one of Auckland's great live music venues.

For more than quarter of a century, she earned the deep respect of a music industry whose denizens of the Newton pub were mostly two or three generations younger than she was.

But Gordon, who died last week, aged 86, was not always surrounded by noisy pub bands. Her early life revolved around music of a far different stripe. Her parents enrolled her as a boarder at St Mary's College in Ponsonby, where she came under the tutelage of Dame Sister Mary Leo.

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Her operatic talent was such that she won the New Zealand Aria competition and travelled to London to further her studies.

Although she loved London's dance halls, she eventually returned to New Zealand to marry Peter Gordon.

Peter worked as a pharmacist at first, but eventually they settled in Drury, where he became manager of the Jolly Farmer Tavern. For Maureen, it was a return to the family trade - her parents had owned the Avonhurst private hotel in Symonds Street.

Maureen and Peter owned a series of businesses, including a sandwich bar in St Kevins Arcade and the Carpenters Arms in Greys Avenue. In the late 1980s, the Kings Arms became part of their lives - first with Peter acting as a licensee to the brewery, then, in 1993, as outright owners.

But Peter died shortly after they took possession of the pub. Maureen, reasoning that "I just had to get on with it", set about transforming the KA from a pub which put on Al Hunter's country music on Saturdays to a major music venue, which hosted local and international acts alike.

Like so many of her ventures with Peter, it was a family business. While Maureen was "front of house", her daughter Maria ran the back office and son Simon worked the bar.

Another daughter, Lisa, developed the tavern's identity as a music venue - and was also a member of Gaunt Pudding, the first of countless indie bands to play at the Kings Arms. Long-serving staff were treated as family too.

Over the years, the Kings Arms would become a vital home for more than one music scene. For several years, it was the centre of Auckland's punk rock scene, and more recently, the city's extreme metal bands.

Maureen may not have cared for the music, but she took the musicians as they came and would often pause for a chat. Overseas bands like the American group Dead Moon regarded catching up with Maureen as a highlight of their tours.

She was faced more than once by the difficult realities of running a music venue in a changing city. After the occupants of new apartments complained of the noise from bands playing in the pub's garden, she first brought in shipping containers as a sound barrier and then invested in a "sonic wall" as a permanent solution. She would not, she told her staff, be beaten by the council.

The property was sold this year to developers - and if anyone deserved to enjoy a comfortable retirement, it was Maureen. Sadly, it wasn't to be, but, as she told the Herald's Sarah Stuart in 2015 on the topic of retirement, "I don't recognise that word."

Everyone who works in hospitality or entertainment understands what Maureen achieved as the boss of the tavern all those years. She did it by being tough, fair, broadminded - and kind.

Music venues are special places - they send us back out into the world with heads full of memories - and long-running venues are more special still. Many, many thousands of us owe those memories to Maureen Gordon.

• There is a funeral service for Maureen at 1pm at St Michael's church, 6 Beatrice Rd, Remuera. The service will be followed by a gathering at the Kings Arms.
The final show at the pub will be played by Al Hunter on Sunday, February 25, 2018.