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Smash Palace co-owner Darryl Monteith finds a home for his vision of a hub for local musicians and their fans.

From working in a dairy factory to working in radio, and touring with rock bands, to taking up employment in tourism, Smash Palace co-owner Darryl Monteith has found a home, as he explains to Mark Peters, for his vision of a hub for local musicians and their audiences . . .

While packing milk powder at the Waharoa Dairy Factory near his hometown of Matamata, a young Darryl Monteith saw an advert for an open day at Radio Waikato and went along.

That visit was his first step towards a career of 30 years in radio that brought Darryl and partner Kerry Donovan to Gisborne in 1998. The couple eventually decided to make the East Coast town their home and in 2015 took over live music venue, Smash Palace. And it is here Darryl combines his love of music, community engagement and business.

“Music is my passion and business is a way to get things done,” he says.

“The challenge is how to be an artist and a business person at the same time and how to find opportunities to combine and balance the two.”

The road that brought Darryl to Gisborne and, ultimately, Smash Palace, began with that open day at Radio Waikato, later followed by offering to help out for a week without pay at 1ZH in Hamilton.

“At the end of the week they gave me a copy test. A year later they contacted me and said it was one of the best copy tests they'd had, and ‘do you want a job?'

During his early years in radio Darryl worked as a creative writer while playing in bands in the same period. After nine years with various radio stations in Hamilton, he took on the role of creative director for Radio Bay of Plenty in Tauranga then as manager of Radio Forestland in Tokoroa. It was around this time he met Kerry. Kerry was the creative director of the opposition in Tauranga, says Darryl. The person she was replacing in that role was a mutual friend.

“The friend said ‘I've got a friend coming to town. Can you look after her?'

“So I did.”

In 1998, he and Kerry moved to Gisborne where Darryl worked as station manager at 2ZG. Under his watch during his 13 years there, Gisborne went from having one station – 2ZG – to having four radio stations that included Radio Hauraki, ZM, Newstalk ZB and Classic Hits.

Radio was always an exciting industry, he says, but after 28 years in it he sought a fresh challenge.

“Radio got to the point where it was either leave Gisborne or do something else. We realised we wanted to stay in Gisborne.”

So he took the “something else” option and spent the next four years with Tourism Eastland.

“That was a hugely creative environment. Tourism is the same as hospitality in terms of making people happy.”

When he and Kerry bought Smash Palace, Darryl found, as he did with tourism, the hospitality trade entailed a steep learning curve. But after years of playing frontman for a touring band, he found he enjoyed hosting people and going out of his way — “to give people the best night they've had for ages.”

“One thing we wanted to encourage was to open up to a diverse range of people. The music reflects that. We're not a particular genre venue. We're all over the place — rock, reggae, heavy metal, blues, DJs, punk, country.

“Music is an international language. Music breaks down barriers. It unifies people around love for a song, a group, a sound.

“When I performed as frontman I saw my role as a conduit to raise the energy in the room. Music does that. The best thing is when the audience gives that back to the band. You get this spiral upwards. That's the ultimate. At Smash we get that a lot.”

Smash would normally get that a lot except it is very quiet there at the moment.

New Zealand's lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has put pressure on all of the country's venues' ability to survive but a lifeline has been extended to Smash Palace in the form of a nationwide, Boosted Live campaign called ‘Save Our Venues'.

A team of artists and industry movers and shakers that includes Reb Fountain and Banished Music's Reuben Bonner aim to raise $500,000 to help keep nominated live venues afloat during these turbulent times. Venues are the lifeblood of New Zealand's music industry, says the Save Our Venues webpage.

Without venues, local shows won't happen, rising stars won't have stages to perform on, communities won't have spaces to congregate.

“We're grateful to be nominated,” says Darryl.

“We were staring into the abyss.”

Providing a venue is not just about the artists but the art itself, he says.

“If we don't have that art we don't get to share it. The thing, I noticed when we took over Smash was there were a lot of proficient musicians in this region and they got that way in the practice room.

“Without venues to present their art in public it's a shame if no one gets to hear their music. The creation of performing arts requires isolation and looking inward. Actual performance is the opposite of that — it's about confidence, gregariousness.

“That's the key part of a venue — to have bands play as much as possible.”

Had English rock band the Beatles not honed their performance skills at various clubs in West Germany from 1960 to 1962 we would have had no Beatles, says Darryl. In this light he sees Smash Palace as a stage that both gives acts an opportunity to present and develop their music, maybe even aspire to making a living from it, and to bring people together.

Bringing people together is key to Darryl's various projects. When he proposed to host a battle of bands event at Smash he had second thoughts about making the event a competition. Instead, he came up with ExNE, East by North-East, a showcase of local talent that is videoed and released online.

“ExNE was going to be a battle of the bands but then I thought ‘why not make the video the prize for everyone?'

“That has been the catalyst in that it fostered the idea we're all brothers and sisters and not playing music in competition with one another.

“We can all win. If we don't, nobody wins.”

CHILLING: Darryl enjoys a quiet beer in a quiet moment, but right now he’s quite keen for the extended quiet moment of the lockdown to end and for bands and people to fill Smash Palace with music and life again. Picture supplied
ROCKING: Along with a career in radio, then four years in tourism, Smash Palace co-owner Darryl Monteith has played in numerous bands and is a big supporter of local music. Picture by John Flatt