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Boys in the band

March 7, 2011

Charles John Forrest left with 'first jazz band in Wgton' JPEG

I came across two photos recently that took me to the heart of Wellington’s music precinct of the 1920s (now the entrance to the Ground Zero of teenage boozing). One of the city’s earliest multi-storey buildings is the Hope Gibbons building, on the corner of Taranaki Street and Courtenay Place. Some bullish politicians might be happy to demolish the building, in the name of safety, progress and jobs. I would be happy merely to demolish the tacky bungy jump that operates outside. Because this is a landmark in the history of radio in New Zealand.

Here, in the 1920s, one of the country’s earliest radio stations began broadcasting. It was a partnership between Gibbons and Charles Forrest. A one-room station was built on the top floor, eventually becoming 2YB (and much later, 2ZB would broadcast from this building). It is said to have made one of the first broadcasts by a singer (Violet Gyles) and by a dance band (HJ Tutschka and his Dance Orchestra). According to Patrick Day’s The Radio Years (AUP, 1994), Forrest was then in his early 20s; a summary of an oral history with him done in the 1970s (and featured in Peter Downes and Peter Harcourt’s 1975 radio history Voices in the Air) can be found at the RNZ Sound Archives site.

Forrest may have been a musician himself, or perhaps there was a doppelganger in Wellington at the time. I was contacted by a descendant of Charles Forrest to find some information on two photos in her album. The pictures don’t give any clues as to their date, their provenance, the names of the bands or any musicians: all we know is that they are from Wellington.

In the photo above, Forrest the musician is the trombonist at left. On the back are the words, “one of New Zealand’s first jazz bands,” which along with the decor and lineup suggest this is the 1920s. In another band, below, he is in the back row, second from right. Perhaps the best clue is the illustration on the drumhead, which looks very familiar. As far as I can tell there are no musicians in common with the Radio Rhythmic Symphonists, who broadcast on Wellington’s 2YA and are pictured in a 1935 portrait featured in Blue Smoke and at the National Library’s digital photo site.

Charles John Forrest 1901-1948 with a Wellington band c1930s JPEG

If anyone has any further clues – for dates, locations, and the names of any musicians or the bands – I am very curious.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Janice Borg Caruana permalink
    January 16, 2016 1:07 am

    Hi. The bottom photo definately has musicians common to the Radio Rhythmic Symphonists. Top row rightmost is my great uncle George Love, trombonist, who also appears in this photo:

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