Smash Palace, Gisborne. - Photo by Rachel Reid

Smash Palace has become central to the Gisborne music scene over the past few decades. It’s a striking venue with a full-sized aeroplane over its garden bar, and it has regular live shows. Though it’s much more than this: the venue also fosters the local scene through Build-a-Band nights and giving bands airplay on its own radio station and YouTube channel.

Winemaker Phil Parker opened Smash Palace in 1990 to promote his winery, which was based behind the venue on Banks Street. He named it after the 1980s film Smash Palace starring Bruno Lawrence. It was located in an industrial area but drew customers in with its unique decorations. Most striking is the DC-3 aircraft suspended over the outdoor seating, but there is also a vintage Morris Minor car by the front gate and all manner of paraphernalia hung over the bar – including a bicycle with a numbered spinning wheel which can be used for prize draws.

Smash Palace. - Photo by Rachel Reid

The bar was already regularly functioning as a live venue when the current owner Darryl Monteith took over in 2015, but his background as a musician meant that he was driven to make it a lynchpin of the local music scene. Monteith first began playing music at 15 years old and played in a run of bands in his hometown of Hamilton during the late 80s and early 90s, most notably Joe 90 and Whisperscream

Monteith realised he could provide a lot more for local musicians than just a place to perform.

“The thing about a place like Gisborne is that we have very little connection to the actual music industry because we’re just so isolated from it. We’re totally misunderstood and ignored really. For me personally it has been a highlight just being able to connect the local musos with the broader music industry … We have our own radio station, Smash 107 FM, which is also broadcast on One of the reasons I wanted to do that is there is just so much great music that’s been released over the years here in Gisborne that because of the disconnect with the industry never made it any further.”

Smash Palace. - Photo by Rachel Reid

Smash Palace also pushes the local scene forward through its YouTube channel. Monteith’s aim wasn’t just to share the bands’ work but also to give them a chance to see themselves onstage and upskill themselves, as he explains.


“When we took over Smash Palace, my mission was to develop it even more as a music venue than it already was. Straight away I invited a load of bands but found some of them were boring to watch because they’d only been in the practice room for years. They played like they were still rehearsing, except with people standing in front of them. That’s really why I started the YouTube channel. That goes back to when I first started by just holding my phone up and filming the bands. Now we have a four-camera livestream with really good audio. That way the musicians can see themselves so they can learn how to be more entertaining and put on a show. You can really see the evolution of the bands getting better.”

Monteith has seen some great local bands come through the scene, who never gained a following outside the city. One prime example is Skankamelia who were known particularly for their ode to the East Coast (‘Home’) and Monteith says that even now when you mention the name to people who saw them, it puts a “far away gleam in their eye”. He says Gisborne has always produced great punk bands like Minus Title and Nervous Surgeons and funk-infused reggae bands like Superfly Killa and Supreme Brother Sound.

More recently, one of his favourite local acts has been Sit Down In Front. The band’s name is a humorous reference to the fact their lead singer Cory Newman plays in a wheelchair due to his cerebral palsy. They were such fans of Smash Palace that they shot their music video for ‘Rain’ on location.


‘Rain’ by Sit Down In Front

Smash Palace also tries to encourage new musicians. One approach was placing some new acts within the mini-festival he ran for four years, ExNE – East by Northeast (a play on SXSW). He also runs a pub choir where locals are encouraged to come along and join in singing as a group. 

Darryl Monteith performing at Floodstock 2023, Smash Palace. - John Flatt, Lightseeker Photography

There is also a regular night where musicians can come along to jam with one another. Monteith explains: “We do a thing on Thursday nights called ‘build a band’ which has been going for seven years now. Basically, we build bands out of the audience, but fortunately the audience is always loaded with great musicians. What we’re finding is that there are these musical dynasties here – families who have multiple generations of musicians, so the latest crop are the great-grandkids of past musicians from the district. They can all sing and they can all play so that’s really exciting.”


‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ by Uni-Fi at ExNE

Monteith has enjoyed watching the Gisborne music scene gaining ground over the two-and-a-half decades in which he’s lived there, with Rhythm and Vines giving opportunities for local acts and, more recently, the arrival of the Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. He continues to play music himself too, as a member of The Ashes/Kings of Kaiaua (the name has varied depending on whether they are playing covers or originals).

HLAH performing at Smash Palace's 30 year anniversary. - John Flatt, Lightseeker Photography

Monteith is proud to be part of the legacy of Smash Palace. “One of the really good memories for me was the celebrations when Smash Palace reached 30 years old. That achievement was pretty amazing in itself, but it was also great getting Head Like A Hole to come up for that, and having Sit Down In Front open for them. Having Black Slate – the British reggae band – here for a show was pretty cool too. Jon Toogood and Jordan Luck have been here multiple times and it’s always amazing, and great to connect with that level of professionalism.

Gin Wigmore and band at Smash Palace, 2023 (L-R): Dave Goodison, Matthias Jordan, Gin Wigmore, Adam Tobeck, Hannah Elise, Joe Walsh. - John Flatt, Lightseeker Photography

“Also having Gin Wigmore play here for two nights in a row was pretty momentous for us. That was the first time we’ve dealt with Live Nation and that was a really good endorsement of the work we’ve been trying to do to put Smash Palace on the map as a touring destination.”



Smash Palace website:

Smash Palace YouTube channel:

Mindfood article on the Smash Palace Pub Choir: My story: Singing The Blues Away At My Local Pub Choir