Matt Heath: Farewell to the Kings Arms

Publish Date
Monday, 26 February 2018, 11:58AM
NZ Herald
NZ Herald

The Kings Arms will be gone forever in two days. But you probably knew that. She's being knocked down and turned into apartments. As Ted Striker said 'What a pisser'.

For music lovers it's hard to imagine Auckland without the KA. Where the hell will see reasonably popular bands now?

It's been Auckland's home of rock 'n roll for about a thousand years. Entire music scenes have been born, lived and died in there. The Kings Arms has history oozing out its walls. Literally in the toilets on a Friday night.

For a solid retrospective of the place check out Chris Schulz's excellent article from Time Out last Thursday.

This is more my personal perspective as a mostly-failed musician and hugely successful punter.

The Kings Arms had a great vibe. Music, drinks, mates, girls and boys. There was never any trouble. Unless of course you accidentally stumbled into the sports bar. That could go bad.

The KA had the best sound in town. Particularly when Mark Peterson was running the mix. Surely the best ears in the country. Definitely the best beard. But the acoustics must have been helped by the odd shape of the room with a massive bar and lots of carpet too. It was like Auckland's live venue version of Sound City. Dave Grohl should've bought it and moved it to his house.

Why a gastro pub with chandeliers, a fireplace and a garden bar became a musical epicentre for young Aucklanders is hard to say.

Lots of places have had bands over the years. Normally the plan peters out quickly. Not the Kings Arms it started great and got better and better. The stage got higher at one point, they added a band room for drinking the beers you'd hidden in your guitar case, then there were the massive sound proof walls to shut up whining new neighbours.

Over time it became more than just a venue, The Kings Arms was a star in its own right.

Sometimes things changed slowly at the KA, sometimes fast. There were pieces of graffiti that remained in the bathrooms for decades. Yet when I wrote 'Matt Heath is Hot' in the ladies one night it was removed immediately.

For me the Kings Arms was goldilocks sized for upcoming bands. Spark Arena works for the 6000 to 12,000 audience gigs, and The Powerstation is fantastic for 800 to 1100 punters.

But for bands on the rise the KA was just right. It felt great with 150 people in there. It felt even better when bands got bigger and started pulling 500. My band Deja Voodoo once rammed 800 in there. That was too many.

Most people were wedged in the garden bar and couldn't see. They were the lucky ones. We should have given everyone their money back. Not because of the overcrowding. More the quality of the band.

I've seen some amazing stuff at the King Arms. Speaker fires, singers being carried upright to the bar across the crowd and served. I even met the mother of my children there. I wouldn't have my awesome young sons without the KA.

Every decent local contender has plied their trade at the Kings Arms. So many great gigs over the years. My faves gigs include The Datsuns, Bleeders, Foamy Ed, The Mint Chicks, The Warlocks of Firetop Mountain, Dictaphone Blues, The Big Brough Band, Missing Teeth, Hasselhoff Experience, Betchadupa, Ladyhawke and many others.

There's been some big name international acts too. The National, The Living End, Band of Horses, The Vandals, The Black Keys. I saw the White Stripes perform there in the early 2000s. To be more honest, I didn't. I wasn't there. I wish I had been. But I wasn't. Most people weren't. If everyone who says they were there that night were ,the KA would've exploded with humanity. She doesn't hold 10,000.

But it sure held a few this weekend. Super rammed and sold out with The D4 Thursday, Jordan Luck Friday and Elemeno P Saturday.

The Kings Arms was so important to so many people. Now she's being sacrificed to the housing crisis. If there's any justice the apartments will be haunted by jumping up and down gig going poltergeist. Maybe the new building will implode into a supernatural portal like the Freeling's place did in Orange County. But more than likely life will go on and people will eventually forget that there ever was a venue so cool in central Auckland. Pisser.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission.