bFM’s music documentary series Inside Track recently looked at the Hamilton music scene. Yay.
It was interesting listening to it, because it sounds like things changed quite dramatically around the time I left Hamilton.
Back in my Hamilton gig-going days (1993 to 1996), there were two main venues – the Wailing Bongo at Waikato University, and the Exchange Tavern on Victoria Street.
The Bong’ could comfortably accommodate popular touring bands (Supergroove, Shihad, various Flying Nun artists), but also worked for local bands. For example, Mobile Stud Unit’s Superstar Extravaganza packed out the Bongo bar with all local bands in 1995.
The Exchange was a much smaller venue, decorated in ye olde Hamiltonia style. It suited local bands more, but I remember Garageland packing the place out in 1995.
There are other venues like the Hillcrest Tavern (more mainstream) and the Downunder Bar (bogans) and Governor’s Tavern. And the vile Outback Inn was rumoured to host bands, but the only music I ever heard there was cheesy European dance music. And Kenny Rodgers’ “The Gambler”.
Anyway, according to the people interviewed on the Inside Track doco, the Waikato Student Union was taken over by a group of right-wingers who promptly sold off the Wailing Bongo and student radio Contact FM. Without a venue and a means of promotion, the scene took a few blows.
But despite this, there are still a whole lot of really good bands coming from Hamilton. In the documentary, Geoff from the Shrugs says that because Hamilton is so small and everyone knows everyone, you can’t be a rock star – everyone will see through it all – so the only thing left is to be a musician.
Another thing that comes up in the documentary is the feeling that some people look back at the live scene in the mide ’90s as a golden age, and wish things were like that now.
But back then, there weren’t always good bands playing. Sometimes all there’d be to see was some lame bogan rock covers band. Sometimes staying at home was a better option than going out.
My main complaint with growing up in or near Hamilton was that it was so boring. There was nothing to do. But the good thing about this is that rather than relying on some vibrant arts and culture scene to entertain me, I had to learn to make my own fun.
I think this is situation is still around in Hamilton, and it’s still one of the reasons people get together and form bands and create music. Because it’s Saturday and there’s nothing better to do.