Spotlight: The Tuning Fork Birthday Series feat. Arab Strap, Methyl Ethel + More

Kicked off last night with a headline performance by Tiny Ruins with special guest Finn Andrews, Tāmaki Makaurau’s The Tuning Fork are celebrating their ninth birthday in style with a jam-packed lineup of music and comedy mega-talents. Hitting the downtown venue’s stage this weekend will be Scotland’s Arab Strap, Perth producer / multi-instrumentalist Methyl Ethel (solo), Aotearoa rising stars There’s A Tuesday and Daffodils, and live comedy trio Frickin Dangerous Bro — the team of Pax Assadi (Raised By Refugees), James Roque and Jamaine Ross — plus a bevy of supports for each night. Back in full force following a two year rollercoaster ride for local venues due to the global pandemic, we caught up with The Tuning Fork’s booker and venue manager Finn McLennan-Elliott, who reflected on highlights from the past nine years, this week’s all-star Birthday Series, the Save Our Venues initiative and hints at more new projects for the near future…

The Tuning Fork Birthday Series 2022

Friday 3rd June – Methyl Ethel (solo) w/ Shannon Matthew Vanya

Saturday 4th June – There’s A Tuesday and Daffodils w/ Honeybee

Sunday 5th June – Drunken Piano presents Arab Strap w/ Swallow The Rat

Monday 6th June – Frickin Dangerous Bro and Friends

Tickets available via Moshtix

Chris Cudby: The last overseas artist I saw before NZ’s first lockdown was Alex Cameron with saxophonist Roy Molloy at The Tuning Fork, which was an unforgettable gig. What do you feel are some live music show highlights from the first nine years of The Tuning Fork?

Finn McLennan-Elliott: We’ve got to start by highlighting Billie Eilish’s two shows at The Tuning Fork before she went on to sell out Spark Arena. As the home of Americana for many years we hosted some of the top of the genre in Justin Townes Earle, Eilen Jewel, Jason Isbell and Tony Joe White. In recent years some crowd favourites were Idles and Orville Peck, both back in 2022 in larger venues in Auckland. Locally we’ve been lucky to play host to some of the earliest shows of Benee, Marlon Williams, Aldous Harding and Tami Neilson among others.

The all-star Tuning Fork Birthday Series welcomes international artists back to the Tuning Fork, including Scotland’s Arab Strap and Perth’s Methyl Ethel. How did your team cook up this lineup of overseas and local talents?

The Birthday Series at The Tuning Fork is our flagship event every year, and so we endeavour to book some of our favourite local acts and tie in with some of the best from overseas that are travelling through the Southern Hemisphere. We’re stoked to have Methyl Ethel and Arab Strap for their first performances in Aotearoa, a big drawcard for bringing them over. It’s especially exciting to be hosting internationals again after a very long two years, Arab Strap will be the first act from outside Australasia in over two years at the venue.

What are the circumstances that led to the Tuning Fork being founded / set up 2013? Have the aims of the venue changed over time or kept consistent since then?

The Tuning Fork started in a wing of Spark Arena with the goal of being a professional and technically excellent mid-sized venue for touring international bands. With exceptional green rooms, riders and attention to detail for bands the venue has become a favourite for acts, many returning over multiple years. We became a destination for Americana, alt-country and alt-folk acts but in recent years these genres have shared the stage with pop, rock and indie acts. Since the pandemic we’ve enjoyed pivoting our programming to focus on local acts and comedy. We’ve introduced three ‘club nights’, our Thursdays I’m In Love for discovering emerging bands, our Fork N Funny comedy night and an all-music Pub Quiz. We’re an all ages venue, and consider these are core pillars of The Tuning Fork.

Who are the core Tuning Fork team making shows happen there?

Finn McLennan-Elliott is the booker and venue manager, he is responsible for the day to day of the venue and all booking and programming. Lena Taylor is our marketing manager, and Gussie Larkin (of Mermaidens and Earth Tongue) programmes our Thursdays I’m In Love and Fork N Funny series. We have a great show day team of venue reps including Dayna Salvidge and Sam Kennedy.

Are there any specific challenges that come along with being located in downtown Tāmaki Makaurau?

We are lucky to be so close to excellent public transport but don’t have the direct community of bars and restaurants that some of our Karangahape Road venue siblings have. Having said that though, being connected to Spark Arena gives us a very strong support network to lean on in the form of Arena staff and facilities.

What about the challenges that came with operating over the past two years during the pandemic? It’s been a rough time for local venues, in Auckland in particular — do you feel things are ‘resetting’ back in place for shows eg. audience attendance?

We’re still seeing a bit of apprehension around gigs whether due to COVID or a change in financial situation for many. But we’re stoked to see people coming back in force to see their favourite acts. It’s been a long two years for venues, with countless small, seated shows and the risk and nerves of being open during the pandemic. A huge positive to come out of this is Save Our Venues, a tight knit collection of venues around the country all talking and sharing information with each other. This culminated in the first Aotearoa Small Venues Summit a couple of weeks ago. Many venues share the same issues, and coming together to connect on this, discuss and share issues will only forge a stronger network of venues for the country.

I’m gutted I couldn’t make it along last Thursday to catch P.H.F. and friends — how has the new monthly all-ages Thursdays I’m In Love emerging artists series been going? Due you have any more new regular events / special projects looming on the horizon?

Thursdays I’m In Love is our growing club night, becoming a fan favourite for regular attendees. We play host to some of the best new, up and coming and emerging acts in Aotearoa. We’re especially excited to be able to grow a community around this night and open up to all ages audience. Watch this space for even more focus on all ages audiences in July and October.