The following story is an excerpt from a script provided by Grant Stevenson. Mr Stevenson was the event organiser of the 2004 Wellington Town Hall centennial celebration. This script was written by Dave Armstrong and presented at the centennial event by Miranda Harcourt and Franky Stevens.
Now that Wellington had a large venue with world-class acoustics, stars from around New Zealand and the world could perform here.
“Internationally renowned Māori Contralto Princess Rangi Pai is a warm-hearted and sociable singer, though very emotional, temperamental, and to some extent unpredictable. And to be honest, rather difficult to accompany. Her own composition, the song ‘Hine e Hine’, written only last year after the deaths of her mother and younger brother, brought a tear to the eye.”
Te Rangi Pai’s beautiful song would be sung by men and women many times over the next 100 years.
In 1936, the Ngati Poneke group of entertainers, together with Maori from other areas, made their first of what would be several appearances in the Wellington Town Hall. A year later they would take the name of Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club.
During World War 2, Ngāti Pōneke would welcome and farewell troops, entertain foreign servicemen, and fundraise. In one vintage year during the war they would perform 265 times.
In 1967 Kiri Te Kanawa gave a farewell concert in the Town Hall, two days before sailing to England for study. She sang classical and popular favourites, and then, in front of her old school choir, she sang the song for which she would always be famous.
As well as the best adult performers, the Town Hall has seen many primary and secondary school musicians perform over the years. Every year since it was built, hundreds of school-age performers have descended on the Town Hall and performed for large audiences.
During the 1960s and 70s, more migrants arrived in Wellington. They came from the islands of the Pacific. Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and Niue.
Since then, the Town Hall has hosted Pacific Island events including weddings, concerts, and independence celebrations. One Pacific Island Community concert raised ten thousand dollars towards the construction of the Michael Fowler Centre next door.
As these new migrants performed, they introduced new sights and sounds that have became part of New Zealand culture.
As Wellington’s population diversified in the 1970s and 80s, so did the range of events at the Town Hall.
Classical musicians still took advantage of the excellent acoustics, but on any night, you’d be just as likely to catch a rock concert, community event or even a fashion show.
Later during the 1970s, concerns were voiced about the facilities at the Town Hall.
A visiting Austrian string quartet loudly complained when they had to play in freezing temperatures due to a Town Hall heating malfunction. Others joined in.
“Our Town Hall is a disgrace. The backstage facilities are atrocious and the seats are uncomfortable. At a recent concert my seat was completely adrift from its moorings.”
While the acoustics were superb for classical music, four times as many Town Hall concerts featured amplified music, and the auditorium wasn’t built for pop concerts.
The 1978 Punk festival at the Wellington Town Hall featured top New Zealand punk musicians such as Mal Licious, Mike Lesbian, Johnny Volume, and Des Truction.
The Scavengers enjoyed pelting their fans with garbage. After their triumphant Town Hall appearance, they went on to perform at a Wellington nightclub until Johnny Volume was hit by a flying jug.