Most music venues of the 1970s and 1980s are long gone but the Windsor Castle Tavern is here to stay. The Parnell venue is classified as a Category One Historic Place, not because Dave Dobbyn, Toy Love, Street Talk and Mi-Sex played there, but due to a history that dates back 120 years before rock bands started banging on its doors.
The Windsor Castle Inn got its liquor licence in the fast-moving 1840s. The New Zealander noted on April 17, 1847, that Thomas Johnson was a new applicant for a Publican’s licence. A week later, on April 24, the same newspaper reported that the licence was granted. When the Inn was destroyed by fire in 1850, on the same day that the bad news was reported on July 19, 1850, The Southern Cross newspaper also had the good news: “Licence at once to be transferred to another house of the Licensee in the vicinity.”
The original construction of the Windsor Castle Tavern as a brick building dates back to soon after the 1850 fire, with the current façade added in the mid-1880s.
During the 1970s the old houses on Parnell Road were transformed into the Parnell Village, a retail, restaurant and tourist attraction, by Les Harvey, a property owner with a love for preserving old Auckland buildings. He had set out to buy the street and he did, owning near to 200 properties in Parnell, according to the Auckland Star in 1988. Harvey’s eccentric conservation of the street was part chic and part cheese but it became a tourist destination and when it was against the law to have a shop open on weekends, Parnell was licensed to trade on Saturdays.
The Windsor Castle got started in live rock music when Hammond Gamble’s blues-drenched Street Talk started a regular Tuesday night in 1974.
The Windsor Castle got started in live rock music when Hammond Gamble’s blues-drenched Street Talk started a regular Tuesday night in 1974. It soon extended to a lengthy Tuesday to Saturday residency that ended mid-1977 when Hammond Gamble headed for the UK.
The Lane family ran the hotel and in 1977/78, son Kevin Lane booked multi-week gigs by bands like Hello Sailor, Rockinghorse, Th’ Dudes and Flight 7-7 – to attract a drinking crowd to the lounge bar – like Street Talk. Before heading for Sydney (and fame), Mi-Sex played July 10 to 15, 1978 at the Windsor.
Saturday afternoons at the Windsor Castle in 1977/78 featured jazz bands like Colin Hemmingsen’s Cohesion and Bruce Morley’s Little Big Band.
Saturday afternoon punk matinées
In 1979 the chic streets of Parnell gained the legendary Saturday afternoon punk gigs – local residents needed a little punk with their pâté. “The afternoon gigs at the Windsor came about because Des [Truction] kept hassling the owner Kevin Lane for a gig there for The Scavengers,” recalls the band’s guitarist Johnny Volume. “In the end he said we could have Saturday afternoons probably thinking no one would come and it would shut us up. It took off better than expected and soon there were queues down the street to get in – $1 entry from memory – and everyone wanted to play Saturday arvo.”
Parnell, with its twee refurbished old houses, was already fashionable with tourists and weekend shoppers. The fashion accessory I recall from Windsor Saturday afternoons was the straw, as young punk girls drank their beer with a straw.
Des Hefner [née Truction] recalls, “Dollar jugs and a straw ... way to go!” Brent Pasley of The Newmatics said in 2013, “Some of the best gigs were on a Saturday arvo at the Windsor. Great way to prime for the evening’s events around the city.”
The weirdest way of drinking beer I recall was Jonathan Jamrag of Proud Scum drinking from the stage carpet after he spilled his jug. The photo I took that day was used as the cover of the punk compilation Move To Riot that accompanied the second issue of the magazine Mysterex (May 2002).
I photographed some strange things at the Windsor Castle – Paul Kean looking like a hippie, an all-girl beer fight, Phil Judd loading a van and Chris Knox writing on Nigel (Spelling Mistakes) Russell’s white shirt, “I wish I was in Toy Love.”
Although a $1 door charge on a Saturday afternoon may seem low, it was hard to extract in 1979. “I used to feel sorry for my sister Fiona [Young] doing the door, trying to extract $1 from all that lot,” reflects Simon Grigg.
For Fiona Young one of her best memories is, “Insisting Iggy Pop pay the door charge.”
The Windsor’s crowd circa 1979 was part art school punk, part hairdresser, part fashion designer, part Dunedin and part westie punk.
The Windsor’s crowd circa 1979 was part art school punk, part hairdresser, part fashion designer, part Dunedin and part westie punk. The bands were also a mix with Johnny and the Hookers doing pub rock in the tradition of the British band Dr. Feelgood, with The Terrorways and The Spelling Mistakes doing the raw anarchic punk thing and bands like The Swingers and The Techtones doing the post punk, new wave/ pop thing and of course Toy Love doing the raw anarchic post punk thing. Even the Kilgour brothers played a Windsor Castle Saturday matinée – before they “discovered” Flying Nun. They gigged with two female band members – Debbie Shadbolt and Jessica Walker.
Larry Young of Sunset Promotions started booking the Saturday afternoon gigs in 1979, making them a regular weekly event. When he gained the confidence of the management, he also did the evening bookings up to 1981.
For the April 1979 issue of RipItUp, five bands that played the inner city scene were gathered together for a photo shoot at the water reservoir on the corner of Ponsonby Road and K’ Rd. The five bands were Toy Love, Sheerlux, Gary Havoc and the Hurricanes, The Terrorways and Johnny and the Hookers. Louise Chunn did the RipItUp interview and wrote, “To Chris Knox, expatriate Dunedin boy and don’t ever forget it, Aucklanders don’t dance, they pose rather fast. And anyway Toy Love don’t want to have people showing enthusiasm or approval through dancing. ‘We’d rather stun them,’ says Knox. On the other hand, Terrorways and the Hookers, in true 60s style want to be dance bands.”
These new bands would progress through the Larry Young finishing school from Saturday afternoon gigs, to evening sets early week and some would even headline on weekend nights. Young recalls one band that did not make the grade. “Jonathan Jamrag of the punk band Proud Scum emptied a kleensack of shredded computer paper on stage and set fire to it. The management, quite rightly, asked me to ban them from ever performing at the Windsor again.”
Although this incident was blamed on Jamrag, he denies being the culprit and the bar owners may have been equally aghast by his attempt to imbibe beer off their floor.
Punk fans were not big spenders on the bar but Larry Young does not recall violence being an issue. “The Windsor was extremely well geared to handle any trouble with the punk audience,” said Young. “Sippi the bar manager was a really nice Tongan guy who employed largely Tongan bouncers. They had a good rapport with their public bar patrons, who could be called upon, if required to assist.”
“I recall a Nazi-like squad of police who came round in trucks and threatened the owners a few times about underage drinkers. So that was an issue,” said Young in 2013.
The lounge bar was not flash – it was just a lean-to, later addition to the historic hotel – a once vacant lot that was a car yard. With a lane/ courtyard behind the stage, bands could back their van right up to the doors beside the stage. The perfect music venue, no stairs to carry gear up or down.
When Parnell resident (and singer) Debbie Harwood did the Windsor Castle door at nights, she remembers, “People climbing in the windows of the toilets to the right of the stage. The louvre windows in the toilets were what those little bastards climbed in, to avoid a $4 cover charge.”
It was only while researching this story that it was pointed out to me – that by the end of the 70s – The Windsor Castle lounge bar was getting run-down. I guess the young and inebriated do not care and do not spend much time looking at a venue’s carpet. In fact, if your footwear does not stick to the carpet, it is as good as new.
Windsor Castle management got into conflict with NZ Breweries over further investment in the bar. Young was told, “The Lanes had proposed to Lion to expand the entertainment facilities by building a proper stage (not beer crates) and a mezzanine floor looking down on to the stage. They would have put in their own lighting and PA system. This would have been groundbreaking at the time. I think the brewery turned them down. The Lanes realised that when they came to the point of selling the business back to the brewery, the brewery would not be paying any goodwill for the increased level of trade the Lanes had created.”
Being a bit run down made the Windsor Castle a more suitable place for live music.
Instead, The Lanes invested in their other bar, the Exchange, on the opposite side of Parnell Road. In 1978 the Exchange had been briefly promoted as a live music venue with quarter page adverts in RipItUp magazine. Being a bit run down made the Windsor Castle a more suitable place for live music.
With their focus on the Exchange, the Windsor Castle was, for over a decade, managed by Hilton Currie, the husband of Janice Currie (nee Lane), Kevin and Tom's brother-in-law.
Doug Hood, the man who engineered many early Flying Nun recordings, took over booking the Windsor Castle in 1981 while still working at the Live Sound gear hire company. Hood continued a booking policy of emerging bands (Screaming Meemees, Penknife Glides, The Furys, Vivid Militia) and Windsor stalwarts such as ex-Street Talk players Mike Caen and Andy MacDonald in Blind Date, Brazier’s Legionnaires and The Neighbours. Herbs made their Windsor debut with a Monday to Wednesday booking May 18 to 20.
With the Windsor Castle only having a 250 legal capacity, the local acts that grew in popularity would move to bigger venues such as The Gluepot (400 legal capacity) and Mainstreet Cabaret. The Chills would go on to play the Galaxy (now the Powerstation).
In August 1982 the booking of the Windsor Castle was taken over by Paul Rose (Propeller Records) and Ian Kingsford (manager of The Mockers), dividing the week into a Wednesday/Thursday booking and a Friday/Saturday booking. Saturday September 4 was billed as the “New Windsor Castle Grand Opening” starring The Wastrels. For the event, Lion Breweries had provided new second-hand carpet, paint and a band-room. There was a generous sprinkling of The Mockers in amongst headliners including The Screaming Meemees, The Dance Exponents, Hammond Gamble, Danse Macabre, Graham Brazier’s Legionnaires, The Narcs, The Pink Flamingos, Citizen Band, Herbs, The Body Electric, Willie Dayson Band, Alastair Riddell, Hip Singles, Midge Marsden and Coconut Rough. Bands who played mid-week included Car Crash Set, The Dabs, The Diehards, Big Sideways, Miltown Stowaways, Terror Of Tinytown, Diatribe and The Pleasure Boys.
The Windsor Castle became a home away from home for touring Flying Nun acts.
From 1984 to 1986, the Windsor Castle became a home away from home for touring Flying Nun acts. Weekend headliners in 1984 included The Chills, The Verlaines, The Great Unwashed, The Bats, Skeptics, The Expendables, Tall Dwarfs, Fetus Productions and Doublehappys. The legendary Flying Nun nationwide tour, headlined by The Chills (with Children’s Hour etc) also touched down on Saturday March 10, after playing Auckland University the night before. The Johnnys tour took them to The Windsor Castle Friday May 24 and Saturday May 25.
The Nun-heavy booking pattern continued in 1985 but spiced up by weekend appearances by Car Crash Set, Peking Man and Jive Bombers. New headliners from Flying Nun included Netherworld Dancing Toys, Sneaky Feelings, Look Blue Go Purple and Bird Nest Roys. The B-side of The Chills’ single ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ – ‘The Great Escape’ was recorded live at the Windsor Castle on October 12, 1985 by Doug Hood and Bill Latimer of the Lab Recording Studio.
The eclectic booking policy continued in 1986 with a mix of acts including return visits from numerous Flying Nun bands and The Dance Exponents plus new weekend headliners Ardijah, The Tombolas, Everything That Flies, The Warners, Seven Deadly Sins, Died Pretty (Australia) and Skank Attack. The venue disappeared from the RipItUp gig guide at the end of 1986.
The Windsor in the 2010s
The Windsor Castle has been revamped a few times as the Fat Ladies Arms and in 2002 as Gault at George Restaurant, with chef Simon Gault. In January 2007 the old venue/lounge bar became the Blowfish Sushi Restaurant and famed UK DJ Carl Cox played at the opening party.
In the 1970s, the ground floor consisted of four smaller public areas – the Public Bar, the bottle store, the Club Bar and the Lounge Bar. After remodelling by the George Restaurant, those four spaces became two.
The Wrightson family took over the building lease in 2009 and they put the “Tavern” back into the Windsor Castle Tavern. The corner restaurant is now a traditional “pub” again with the “gastro-pub” bonus of having a wood-fired oven and great kitchen appliances installed by George Restaurant chef Simon Gault.
The old venue area was rebuilt as the classy Juice Bar, borrowing the logo from the family’s long-established music TV channel, Juice TV. Daniel Wrightson views the venue as, “an extension of the channel – not a rock bar or a hip-hop bar, but like Juice TV – we cover everything.”
The Juice Bar was a large, professional music venue that bookers would have dreamed of having, back in the day, but the area is primarily used for special events. Concerts that took place at the Juice Bar included the opening Tim Finn performance that was recorded live for iTunes record on Friday Sept 25, 2009; Dave McArtney & the Pink Flamingos played a series of shows Sundays Nov 22, Nov 29 and Dec 6 in 2009; The Fourmyula reunited on Thursday, March 18, 2010; and Evermore played Friday, October 26, 2012.
A third, outdoor bar was created at the rear of the building, the Cabana Bar, where bands once unloaded their gear. The Windsor Castle Tavern had a fiery start in 19th Century, went through a blues-rock-alt phase in the 20th Century and in the 21st Century, the Tavern is it seemed to have a new life.
Update: The Wrightsons sold the business in the late 2010s for family reasons. As of mid-2023, sadly. the Windsor seems to be closed, and derelict inside. There are plans to develop the building into apartments keeping the structure intact.
When the original Windsor Castle Inn was built in 1847, the road was called Manukau Road. At a later date it became Parnell Road.
Publican Thomas Johnson’s application for licence renewal in 1849 was granted unanimously: “Owing to great improvement made on premises, and the benefit conferred on the neighbourhood by the erection of a blacksmith's forge and baker's shop, by the applicant.” New Zealander newspaper (April 28, 1849)
Almost next door to the Windsor Castle is the five story high 1937 building that was formerly the Heards Candy Factory, the original home of the popular Malted Barley Sugar confection and Black Knight Licorice.