Music : Thistle Hall , a community of noise

In 1996 I moved schools from Rongotai College to Wellington High School. At Rongotai I had been part of a small group of heavy metal listening friends in a school whose focus was definitely more geared towards sport. Wellington High was a gloriously different beast with a strong music tradition. Members of Shihad had graduated from the school 10 years earlier and the school’s rock quest bands were amazing and warmly embraced. In 96 one of those bands was Komos , a heavy mix of Soundgarden / Black Sabbathy riffing and indie melody and texture. They went on to change their name to The Phoenix Foundation and become indie music heroes. I was a bit inexperienced when it came to live music, having up until then got my fix from cassettes and cds, however I jumped at the chance to go see Komos play when the posters went up around the school corridors. The venue listed was Thistle Hall. The gig was in fact plagued by technical issues with the PA dying. PA or no PA in many ways my life was never the same after that night.

Thistle Hall is a community hall located on the corner of Cuba St and what was once Arthur St , now the Karo Drive Bypass. Built in 1907 it was originally a tea warehouse . In the 1920’s it became The Empire Hall and started to host dances , from the 1950’s the Wellington Association of Scottish Societies took it over and it was named Thistle Hall. Incidentally I used to live in a warehouse flat around the corner on Webb St that was once the British Isles Club. In the 1980’s it became an important music venue for the city’s punk scene. Being at the epicentre of the proposed inner city bypass the 90’s saw Thistle Hall become a hub for the Save Our Streets movement. In the late 90’s when I first climbed the stairs (that my mate Mike once famously tumbled down after a few to many) a new punk movement was embracing the hall. According to the halls website during this period the hall was saved through the actions of several volunteer women who administered and cleaned the hall. I well remember walking down Arthur St to the administrators house and picking up the key to set up for a show, I also remember the hall needing to pass her inspection that we had cleaned up after ourselves sufficiently.

During this period the Wellington punk scene was active and diverse. The Freedom Shop , a tiny shop selling anarchist, socialist and militant vegan literature was located just across Cuba St on the corner of Tonks Ave. The scene included everyone from the old school crust punks and anarchists who hung out at the Freedom Shop, skate kid pop punkers, second wave hardcore kids in hoodies and cargo pants, tattooed hip hop loving fusion metal heads through to the grindcore / death metal crowd. I used to love how everyone just got stuck in together to have a good time, even if it did mean enduring the odd pop punk set.

The shows were almost always all ages, usually bring your own booze . The sXe scene never really took off in Wellington beyond a handful of wee mild mannered middle class kids x ing up , certainly we didn’t have the macho misogynistic militant sXe element that cities further north seemed to. We were drunk and high but we were inclusive.

Thistle Hall is still going , earthquake strengthened and with a exhibition space on the ground floor where the signwriters once was. I don’t think they do gigs though , the post bypass gentrified upper Cuba area probably wouldn’t take kindly to raucous music at midnight and kids drinking on the street.

Checkout the video on youtube at the bottom of Police Lucifer playing Thistle Hall in 1998. I was in that crowd. The uploader said that night changed his life, I can certainly relate.


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