Recollections from DOUGAL SPEIR

It was about September 1995 and we were playing at Cactus Jacks, an establishment long since disappeared from the Wellington music venue scene when we were introduced to this bubbly fellow with what sounded to me like a “Sowf Lundin” accent. His idea was to first play at an afternoon concert we had arranged in a couple of weeks time and second to start up a sort of a jam night at any local venue that might accommodate on an early week night. After a couple more brackets and a few drinks it sounded like a good idea so Pip Payne, Dave Head and I made it our mission to search out a suitable venue. Ironically the venue we were able to talk into letting us carry out Pips’ idea was called “The Venue” which was situated in Manners Street above the Dukes Arcade (a site infamous for the patronage of the establishment that used to reside there).

Pip Payne was the real mover and shaker of the three of us whereas Dave and I saw it as an opportunity for another night out and a chance to enjoy ourselves under the banner of “Band”. As I recall the venue owner Tex (it just gets better doesn’t it!) agreed to let us have our musical way on a Tuesday night and he would throw a couple of drinks at the musicians (in our case this turned out to be taken literally at a much later date) and so the Blues Club was born. We provided a scant array of backline gear such as drums, bass and guitar amps and a bit of a sound system helped by the fact that we were playing there a lot and didn’t have to move the gear much. Musicians were invited through word of mouth to come and have a play either on their own or with friends (yes musicians have friends, I think). This proved to be a reasonably popular night by all accounts. There never really was a forecast of longevity at “The Venue” and for one reason or another it was decided to look elsewhere for another venue.

The exact time escapes me but I would think it was around mid 1996 when Bill Direens was brought in as the next club venue and it would take place on a Thursday Night. During this time the club attracted a lot of top class musicians who gave their time for free and really made the night a memorable gig for not only the punters but also other musicians. It also became necessary for a management structure to take shape. Other stuff started becoming apparent as well, such as a sound person, booking agent type of person and it was obvious that eventually people’s good will would cease and some form of monetary reward would be sought hence the move to the Hotel Bristol.

A lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into the club and a lot of musicians have played for a lot less than they would expect to get normally and it has been this kind of effort that has kept the club going. Unfortunately all three of the venues mentioned in this little blurb (apart from the Bristol) have bitten the dust and that’s sad as it means there are three less live music venues to visit and enjoy the particular type of artist that can be seen at the Bristol every Thursday night. I have not mentioned specific people as it would double the size of this blurb. Suffice to say that from small beginnings the club has survived over ten years in a sometimes ambivalent market and with the support of club members, committee members, the Hotel Bristol and Joe public. I reckon there is no reason it can’t survive another ten years.
Dougal Speir

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  1. When LA bluesman Taj Mahal came to town to do the Just Juice commercials, and to visit his kids Diva Mahal and Iman Star who were living in Wellington, he went down to Bill Direen’s one night. He told Carol Bean, a past friend of his from LA and close friend of her sister Terry Bean, that what he heard was “the best damn live blues music he’d heard in a long time”. He was surprised and pleased to hear it so far “down under”.

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