James Cabaret back in business for festival

Soulman: James Bradley will perform at the James Cabaret during the New Zealand International Arts Festival.
Soulman: James Bradley will perform at the James Cabaret during the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

A classic Wellington venue will be revived for the New Zealand Festival next year.

James Cabaret in Hania St was a hub for musical performances in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but closed in October 2000.

The building, built in 1961, is owned by the Greek Orthodox Community, which has been using it as a community hall.

It was named after Wellington Greek dance legend Jimmy James, who set up a dance academy and cabaret in the building, offering lessons and dine-and- dance evenings.

Its 500-seat capacity made it the perfect in-between venue for those wanting an alternative to a small pub or the large Wellington Town Hall.

It hosted the likes of Headless Chickens, Salmonella Dub, The Finn Brothers, Fur Patrol, Supergroove, Infectious Grooves and Ani Defranco, and was the preferred venue for Shihad for years.

New Zealand Festival director Shelagh Magadza said reviving the venue was a no-brainer and she had insisted it was used during the festival.

"The town hall is closed for earthquake strengthening and the venue will create an intimate party atmosphere where audiences can enjoy music acts from New Zealand and around the world," she said.

"We hope it's going to be one of the highlights of the festival.

"It's also great to be bringing back artists such as Jon Toogood, in Silo Theatre's Brel, who toured the James Cabaret in the 1990s with Shihad."

When it was closed by the Greek community, the venue had to cancel bookings as far forward as 2004.

The weekend after it was closed all the fittings were auctioned, from the venue's New York-style skyline mural down to the floorboards.

Ms Magadza said she had fond memories of the venue before it closed.

"I went to the New Zealand International Arts Festival production Blue Smoke there in 2000 and also had an unforgettable night at Supergroove."

She said the size of the venue meant tickets could be kept under $50 and there would be a free DJ after the Saturday night shows. The acts playing at the James Cabaret during the festival are: American Charles Bradley, February 22 and 23; Brel: The words and music of Jacques Brel, February 26 till March 2; Australian group Suitcase Royal, March 5 till 7; Kiwi Candice McQueen, March 8 till 9; Irishman Paul Brady, March 9; American Neko Case, March 12 and 13; and Colombian Frente Cumbiero, March 14 and 15.




Born Dimitrios Skafidas in Athens, Greece, on February 15, 1915.

Arrived in Wellington in 1928. Joined the Phyllis Bates School of Dancing in Willis St.

Changed his name to Jimmy James when about 17 and started teaching dance. By 1941, he had established his own studio in Willis St, where he remained for 20 years.

Organised the first Jimmy James ball, in 1936, at the Adelphi Cabaret in Cuba St. The ball lasted into the 1970s.

Lived in Adelaide Rd with wife, Anne Blewman. Helped organise the first New Zealand dance championships, in Wellington in 1952.

Co-founded the New Zealand Federation of Dance Teachers in 1956 and was its president for 10 years. Taught dance in Wellington high schools in the 1950s and 1960s. Died at the Mary Potter Hospice in Newtown on July 4, 1992.

The Wellingtonian