It was the first place we played when we moved to Wellington in 1980 – Negative Theatre had a regular Friday night gig at Rawa House, a restaurant up the very top of Cuba Street. It was an Ananda Marga operation and vegetarian, they were a little strange but they treated us well and it was a great way to get started in a new town – in the street that seemed to be the bohemian heart of the city.
Slightly further down the road, on the corner of Arthur Street at Thistle Hall, the Spines played our early gigs with the Gordons and the Clean around the time of the Springbok tour. A sub branch of the riot squad used to target these rock against racism nights and try and close them down with their long batons. They were hairy times – there was both a gang and skinhead presence in that part of the street in those days. I felt lucky to be seen as a muso – kind of a free pass with both factions and even though we weren’t really reggae or punk, I didn’t get hassled too much.
In the next block was the Sunset Disco where San Fran is today – we played there a bit when Neill first joined the band on sax. It was like our Hamburg – Japanese and Korean sailors on the dancefloor with working girls doing elaborate courtship moves.
I wound up getting a flat right next to it, upstairs in a decrepit room with no hot water. It looked back towards Marion Street over an empty lot where the punters spilled out of the disco and consummated the elaborate courtship moves. The Trades Hall bombing took place a stone’s throw away from where I was and must have slept through it.
There was an alleyway from Cuba to Marion that separated my flat from the Sunset that everyone called piss alley, to get home from the Cuba side you went down it and then up a fire escape. Late one night I was walking home up Cuba Mall with Michelle, who was going to stay with me – she was quite pregnant by this stage.
A group of men appeared out of nowhere and they started jumping on the rooves of parked cars and breaking headlights. They were well dressed and calling out to each other in some foreign language, drunk and smashing things up and then they saw us.
We took off and they chased us – god knows what was in their heads but we were both good sprinters in our day and we ran as a team – I held her and propelled us to piss alley where we totally lost them. We got up to my room, kept the lights off and we could hear them crying out in their ugly tongue trying to find us.
I stayed on there for a few months after that and painted my largest oil painting in that room and living there inspired a lot of my writing.