Save The St James

Save The St James

Originally built in 1928 for Vaudeville performances, the St James Theatre is a historic part of Auckland city.

Words By Jessie Booth | Photos by Jacko @ Darkroom

After fire damage in 2007 the St James has since closed its doors, but due to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the theatre can’t be demolished. Besides this fact, it is feared that it will be mothballed – its doors closed to the public as this historic building collects dust and is nothing more than a hidden, unused treasure. So last night’s gig ‘Save The St James’ was a chance to create awareness amongst theatre buffs, supporters and media groups while soaking up some local talent inside this historic place of entertainment.

We walked a red carpet into the warm arms of the St James foyer last night to the sounds of Hopetown Brown. Besides the foyer’s tiled make, the rosy lighting that blanketed the room, together with the reverberating sounds of trumpet, stomp boxes, bass clarinet, and clinking glasses, created a joyously unique feel.

During the time the doors were open, you were free to roam the Saint James theatre itself. This gave patrons a chance to walk the stage and see the extent of the theatre’s damage for themselves. Golden plaster carvings that framed the stage were well chipped or even had full pieces missing. Signs of chipping were merely covered up in another layer of gold paint instead of proper restoration. From the stage, you could see a hole in the ceiling, from where it is said that both sunshine and rain could leak through. Pianos that sat back of stage were being played by patrons and thank god the usual ‘Chop Sticks’ and Fur Elise remained absent during these tinkerings.

The Drab Doo Riffs were stripped back to vocals, guitar and harmonica, and though the lyrics were not particularly clear, I don’t think that in this instance it was important. It was all about the feel, the mood and the ambience. Tami Neilson graced the stage with style. Her band were simply and uniformly dressed (a very professional look and not cheesy as you might have expected) and started an intro before she even stepped foot on the stage. When she played ‘Walk’ the boys from Hopetoun Brown joined in and it was so satisfying, saucy, soulful and ‘in-the-pocket’. If you weren’t swaying your hips and dropping your lip, you obviously didn’t have either to do so with. ‘Lonely’, which was originally written by her father, to her mother, brought a tear to my eye. Her set was full of emotion and soul, and if you haven’t yet seen Tami live, I would strongly urge you to.

Lawrence Arabia was on next with a contrasting feel, stripping it back to ‘man and his guitar’. The difference in timbre was refreshing, with his clean-cut vocals and trebly Telecaster cutting through the crowd. Houptown brown seemed to be the house horn section of the evening, also joining Lawrence on stage. It was a thin sound following Tami but not without character. If you have heard him before, you will understand the unique taste of music he can supply. The band Voom had some unusual harmonic structures, kind of a Radiohead feel almost, with a rocky, uplifting vibe, and Tina Turntables provided the tunes between sets.

Jessie managed to steal Karl Stevens away for a quick chat.


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