Christchurch Media Club

Also known as: The Winter Garden

Location: 191 Armagh Street, Central Christchurch

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Current Status: Demolished post-earthquake and replaced by the Margaret Mahy playground.

Active as a live music venue: 1927 – 2011

Bar Manager: Keith

Bookings:

Website:

Capacity: Around 300 in the main bar and 70 in the ballroom.

All-Ages: Occasionally

The Christchurch Media Club was a large building on Armagh Street, next to the notoriously seedy Centennial Pool. Broken up in to several parts – It had a mid-sized hall with hard-wood floors, a large performing stage and bar (used mostly for Media Club patrons, housing pool tables, darts etc), the smaller ‘Winter Garden’ ballroom where most live performances occurred – which was carpeted and decked out in ornate ceiling alcoves, plus a hallway, toilets and a small kitchen.

Though the main bar gave the appearance of an old tavern or sports bar, the venue had a storied history, with the Winter Garden Ballroom a notable part of Christchurch history.

Opened in 1927 as a cabaret and social hall, The Winter Garden was a sparkling venue in the Christchurch social scene. Originally a dance studio, the building was refitted for its opening with a sprung floor in the ballroom and the addition of a supper room and kitchen. The original décor was deep maroon suede, and there was a large mural depicting nymphs in a sylvan (forest) setting.

Christchurch Libraries

Sacred Heart Debutantes at the Winter Garden

This storied history continued through the 1940’s through 1960’s, with debutante balls and formal diners being a regular use of the dapper, ornately decorated ballroom. Remodeled in a ‘most delicate pink’ in the 1960’s, the venue surely reached it’s peak when the Queen dined here in 1964 – Christchurch Libraries noting:

During this time the venue boasted a 12-piece band – including drums, piano, saxophone, and clarinet. The band dressed in blue, Bermuda-style tuxedos.

Christchurch Libraries

However, as interest in ballroom dancing declined in the 1980’s the venue was purchased by the monolithic Lion Breweries, then passed on to the Trade Union Centre, who in turn leased it to the Christchurch Media Club.

Undercurrents in the main bar

By the 1990’s the lush interior was now vary faded and quite grotty, however it became a favorite location for local shows, particularly of the underground or experimental variety.

With thick carpet, a decent PA system, and comfortable couches – it was the easiest of places to put on a show, particularly if you got on with perennially grumpy barman Keith. It was also a great venue when it came to live music photography, as hopefully my own Flickr photo-stream shows.

Sandoz Lab Technicians in the Ballroom

The fringe music collective ‘Borderline Ballroom’ established themselves with shows in the smaller ballroom with regular shows over the course of the mid to late 2000’s. The Media Club was also a good choice for All-Age shows for a period, as the main bar was essentially a separate venue from the ballroom, as a result quite a few A Low Hum double-headers took place either in the ballroom or across both rooms.

The bar closed in 2009, however the Christchurch Music School MAINZ took over, using it as a teaching space and even hosting some All Age shows.

Unfortunately Christchurch lost one of it’s most beloved live venues when the Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 struck, however the site was incorporated into the wonderful Margaret Mahy Playground – one of the highlights of rebuilt Christchurch.

History

1927: Opened as The Winter Garden as a Cabaret and Social hall.

1960: Remodeled in light pink, ‘Sapphire Room’ added.

1964: Host to the Queen during her formal visit.

1984: Lion breweries buys the venue before on-selling to the Trade Union Centre, who demolishes half of the venue for car parking.

2009: Main bar closes. MAINZ takes over, using the venue for teaching purposes, plus putting on the occasional All-Ages show.

2011: Heavily damaged and eventually demolished post-Earthquake, replaced by the Margaret Mahy Playground.

Contact Details

Links

The Undercurrents

Excellent Christchurch guitar band that evolved from earlier group The Centre Will Hold. From that group Jamey Holloway (Guitar / vocals), and Nathan Bycroft (Drums) were joined by Nik O’Keefe (Bass, Vocals) and Marcus Winstanley (Guitar) to form the original line-up in mid 2003. This original line-up played in a low-key manner, with just Winstanley’s guitar adding an extra layer of Shoegaze type guitar into the mix (as he had done with previous band Barnard’s Star).

Eventually Bycroft left and after a short stint by Stephen McCarthy (Pine) the ever-versatile Simon Nunn (also of the Steffan Van Soest Hit Machine, Hi-Tone Destroyers etc) filled the drummers seat more permanently, and beefed up their sound quite a lot. Michael Summerfield (Palace of Wisdom, Cowboy Machine) joined on viola, adding a level of country/folk inflection to their sound. The group managed to win the 2004 RDU Round Up band competition, released an EP with the help of Michael Brassell (aka Michael J Hex) / Arc Life Records and set up All Plastics – a small recording studio.

Simon Nunn eventually found himself committed to his regular gigs as a professional musician, so young drummer Matt Scobie (Black Market Art, T54) was brought in to replace him, and long-time bassist Nick O’Keefe also left, replaced by Vaughan Watson (Pumpkinhead, Squirm). The group has continued a low-key existence, with only a handful of shows a year and recordings few and far between.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Undercurrents (Blue Stripes) EP [2004 Arc Life]
  • Undercurrents (Big Ears) EP [2005 All Plastics]
  • Undercurrents EP (Black Birds) [November 2006 All Plastics]
  • Heavy Sky [July 2010 All Plastics]

See-Also

T54

Rock Power-Trio from Christchurch City, announced in late 2011 as one of the revitalized Flying Nun records new signings. Led by guitar-slinger Joe Sampson, with productive drumer Matt Scobie (Undercurrents, Black Market Art, Planet of the Tapes) and bassist Sam Hood the group only formed in 2009 but quickly shot to prominence in their home-town before ‘making our way to Dunedin in July 2010 to record 6 songs in Dale Cotton’s home studio’. They’ve since released those recordings on Jasper Bryant-Green’s ‘Gold Sounds’ label, plus a 2nd EP in late 2011.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Drone Attacks [December 2010 Gold Sounds]
  • Scammers [October 2011 Self-Released]

See-Also

Undercurrents, The Hatemen and French for Rabbits

French for Rabbits
French for Rabbits

 

Ok my 2nd show at the new Dux!

 

An unusual mix with the mellow and lovely duo French for Rabbits playing to a small audience, which then grew a bit when the show-offy ‘punk’ trio the Hatemen ran through a short set, and was actually pretty solid by the time the Undercurrents had reunited on stage.

All 3 groups were fun, the new Dux felt like a bit of a barn at first, but its really great having a mid-sized venue in Christchurch.

 

Undercurrents
Undercurrents

Click here for the rest of the photos.

Barnard’s Star [August 2006]

When I remember Barnard’s Star what comes to mind are the places I saw this wonderful Christchurch group perform and how the venues added to the overall experience. I think my initial exposure to the group was at the Venus Cafe, a long since departed coffee shop – one of the first ‘hip’ such joints to hit the scene in the mid 90s. Located on Lichfield street above what was for a period the Liquor Lounge and also a gay bar whose name escapes me; Venus was often filled with University and late High School types, wasting away half a day sipping on a huge hot chocolate, along with a scattered few yuppies apparently ‘slumming it’ – I distinctly remember seeing a press review of the place which noted that half the crowd couldn’t afford to order anything.

Still, the Venus Cafe put on some wonderful shows; from the table-climbing antics of The Black Panthers to the reserved but eclectic sounds of the Dialtones and Barnard’s Star themselves. I can remember bassist Helen Greenfield wrapped in a big woollen coat, plunked on the floor playing bass guitar whilst surrounded by band mates – guitarists Nick Guy and Marcus Winstanley, and original drummer Frazer Talbot. The idea of Barnard’s Star was formed by Nick and Marcus during a music lecture at Canterbury University in 1996. The band became more that just an idea at a party a few months later. Although only two members (guitarists) at their first jam session, the band soon acquired a bass player (Helen) who couldn’t play but informed them that she was joining anyway.

That’s how Barnard’s Star was Started. (The name Barnard’s Star was only supposed to be a working title, too) we soon realised that we needed a drummer and Started looking. That’s where Frazer came in. Frazer Talbot, an enthusiastic young drummer, joined us after we’d auditioned him in a garage out at Nick’s parents’ place in Marshlands. With a drummer on board we started to write new songs and think about playing live.
– Helen Greenfield

Barnard’s Star was an ever-evolving outfit, who made some huge strides over the course of their short life-span. From Nick and Marcus’s original idea in 1996 the group mutated through mellow but rather sonic walls of guitar to more ethereal sounds – with the electronic input of Talbot’s successor Tyrone Thorne allowing the group to become more production-orientated. This diversity is quite present in their recordings as the sparse, minimalist early singles differ quite dramatically from the polished, free-flowing later EP – which was self-recorded, mixed and remixed by the group, eventually surfacing on the Beat Atlas imprint in 1999.

We planned to record an album but that never eventuated it has a very cool working title Sonoluminesence. Not sure what happened with the band; we dissolved very slowly. Tyrone went overseas and is now working in London. Marcus, Nick, and I are still in Christchurch doing our separate things. It’s a shame really. I was listening to the EP recently and thinking (a) how great it is and (b) how it hasn’t dated (which, in my opinion, is the sign of a great record) – even though it is getting on to 7 years since it was recorded.
– Helen Greenfield

The second show I recall (which Helen also noted as one of their best) was supporting Dunedinites HDU and Cloudboy at the Lumiere Theatre – one of the most bizarre and sorely missed features of Christchurch cultural make-up. A compact movie theatre with a trippy lobby area filled with strange memorabilia and oddities (not to mention some great pinball machines and stacks of Spaceman Candy), the Lumiere was known for its bizarre feature events. They put on events like the ‘Incredibly Strange Film Festival’ and shows such as this which left the audience stuck in two minds whether they wanted to sit in the back and watch the bands play whilst ‘The Brave Little Toaster’ was projected behind them, or somehow squeeze up the aisles and attempt to dance somewhere near the front. What a wonderful place – one of my other exposures to the venue was a movie double header of ‘Microcosmos’ and ‘Baraka’ with Christchurch stars The Puffins creating their own live soundtrack to the features.

Making a superb support choice, Barnard’s Star outshone their southern counterparts at this show, incorporating all the articulate guitar-work of HDU with the whimsy and warmth of Cloudboy to really show what Canterbury is capable of (apparently the groups soundcheck was delayed by the HDU boys watching the finale of the rugby – another event in which the Cantab’s trumped their southern counterparts). Marcus Winstanley related that the band were a lot louder than most people anticipated – as he would mix the shows from the stage and had a tendency to push the levels. They would take on a bombastic, sonic nature; in fact Chris (from defunct local popsters Degrees K) related that their Harbor Light EP release alongside Roy Montgomery was something of a religious experience due to their shear volume.

[We played with] The Puffins, Bailter Space, Roy Montgomery, The Verlaines and Bilge Festival, Kate In The Lemon Tree, HDU and Cloudboy, Le Mot Cafe and Sea Worlde [a group who would later evolve a little, move north and change their name to the Nouveau Riche].
– Helen Greenfield

The primary recorded artifact of the band is an involving, pulsing self-titled EP, recorded at The Research Center with help from Mike Richardson (who also helped set up the groups Beat Atlas label) and mastered at Kog. The Research Center was the Former Rotherham District Hospital; a bizarre converted rural hospital manor which also served as the studio for The Puffins unreleased album sessions, and set in a secluded farmlet in North Canterbury.

It’s a top notch recording that connects as a single entity, flowing through 5 glorious, long and eclectic textural tracks, rich with tone and character. Using vocals as just another layer in a dense mix of pulsing synths, shoe-gazer guitar, digitally manipulated sounds and robotic bass. Unfortunately the EP never really had a chance as a radio favorite, with songs like the magnum opus ‘Jupiter Spirals‘ and the My Bloody Valentine reminiscent ‘Arc Infinity‘ clocking in at ten and a half and 8 minutes a piece.

After the group eventually faded away to their own pursuits, a handful of tracks surfaced on a variety of compilations – the last of which ‘(Terabytes, Terawatts) And Terra Incognita‘ is probably the most removed recording in their output, having gone through a great deal of revisions and remixes in its life-time it’s an ebbing electronic creation; drastically different from the material the group produced just a couple years earlier. In fact, Tyrone is currently working on a couple further remixes, though whether they finally see the light of day remains to be seen (and heard).

These days Helen Greenfield and Nick Guy perform on the fringe of Christchurch music circles as part of the Southern Oscillations collective and in solo guises as Mela and Lytteltronics, Helen has also recently joined synth and guitar duo Thomas:Parkes, and Nick is one half of the Torlesse Supergroup alongside legendary guitarist Roy Montgomery. Though Tyrone has moved to London after a spell with the Sydney-based ‘Swingingingtastybag’, Marcus Winstanley has continued to be a feature of the Christchurch music community, currently performing with Mini-Snap, The Dialtones and The Undercurrents, whilst also finding time for production sound work.

So a genuine Christchurch group who made a dramatic impact both as a live outfit and with their outstanding recordings and production work who expanded the limits of what a local band could be. I thoroughly recommend tracking down their EP if you’re interested in the outer limits of guitar, melodic electronics, or just plain great, involving music.

Contact geometric@clear.net.nz for a copy of the EP (whilst still available).