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by Harry Lyon

Noel Redmond: The Sound Lounge In Kerikeri

by Harry Lyon

Noel Redmond: The Sound Lounge In Kerikeri

With a population of somewhere around 6000 Kerikeri may seem an unlikely place to go shopping for a $4,000+ guitar – but it seems there are plenty of musicians living in the surrounding districts, of which Harry Lyon (yes, the Hello Sailor Harry Lyon) is one. These days living in the upper North Island, Harry says he was really pleased to find The Sound Lounge and surprised to find a comprehensive collection of new Duesenberg guitars for sale. He bought one, and has generously provided NZM with this look at the much-loved provincial music store and its owner/curator, Noel Redmond.

“Nestled in the centre of Kerikeri’s bustling CBD, The Sound Lounge is a place where people browse CDs and vinyl, budding musicians might buy their first guitar, creative people congregate, friendships are made, creative dreams are born, and there is always a friendly and helpful face behind the counter.”

The words above are those of local musician John Oszajca, one of many I found keen to add their voice of support for what is a valued slice of local culture, and its long time owner, Noel Redmond. Oszajca does a good job of encapsulating the music shop’s special appeal.

“The Sound Lounge harkens back to the days when shops like these were the heartbeat of nearly every city and town. Its unique and charming character has allowed it to thrive when other shops like it have long since closed their doors.” 

Alex Dixon, who plays guitar, dobro, and lap steel with The Windjammers, is another keen to sing its praises.

“The Sound Lounge in Kerikeri is now the only music shop servicing Kaikohe, Hokianga, Kaitaia, Russell and Paihia. For anyone from the far north requiring musical equipment, servicing and repairs, as well as advice, it has become an icon for locals and tourists alike. There is nothing quite like it anywhere in New Zealand. Great vibe, great atmosphere.”

The Sound Lounge is proudly owned by Noel Redmond, an affable Liverpudlian who first came to NZ in 1967. Liverpool then was at the tail end of the Beatlemania which put the city on the map, and instilled his own love of music.

“Of course, Liverpudlians were mad about the music and mad about the Beatles,” he reflects on his earlier years. “My father always played the accordion, being Liverpool-Irish, and we were very much in the Irish tradition.  In those days the charts were a mix of music; you had Ken Dodd, Engelbert Humperdinck, Val Doonican, The Beatles, Kinks, Small Faces and Stones.  I liked it all, so that’s where I developed my appreciation for a variety of music and what I try to reflect in the music I keep in the shop.” 

Settling first in Hamilton, Noel relished the emerging Kiwi pub rock scene in the mid-70s, remembering going to see bands like Midge Marsden’s Country Flyers, Street Talk and Hello Sailor when they came through town. Hamilton was a buzzing city in those days with busy pub venues, three or four music stores and a solid base of musicians.

In 1978 Noel returned to Ireland and spent 10 years living in county Carlow, about an hour south of Dublin. Again, he was drawn to music “…and those who crafted that trade”, and took up the guitar so that he could join in at what he describes as “guitar parties”. He happily admits he never mastered the art and instead mostly enjoyed being around the other musicians.  

Coming back to NZ in 1988, Noel moved to the country’s sunny far north. He was looking for a change from his work with the P&T when local music store The Sound Lounge came on the market.

“I had nothing better to do so I bought it. It’s the best thing I ever did!” 

Using his love for music and natural northern English charm, Noel learned the ropes of retail and gradually established the eclectic provincial shop as a cornerstone for music lovers and musicians alike. His quest to find and share music ranging from the new to the older classics is renowned by locals and the store’s regular visitors from throughout the country. 

“It’s all about the personal experience, discovering a new sound, an instrument that talks to you. From beginner to experts and everyone in between, all are welcomed,” explains Noel. “My focus is to get good quality recorded music, instruments and equipment, with good value for customers. I think I know how a customer wants to be treated – it’s the way I’d like to be treated.” 

Recognising from the start that there was a need for a place where musicians could gather he introduced the Sound Lounge Friday night jams, a get-together opportunity that has become an institution for local musicians. 

“Noel has managed to create a nucleus of people who have music as their focal point,” says Coopers Beach musician Mark Lewis-Wilson. “The Sound Lounge has had a significant influence on Kerikeri and the Far North in general. There is even a local band called The Sound Loungers!”

Having moved northward in recent years myself I was certainly pleased to find The Sound Lounge and get to know Noel.  An owner-operated music shop is a rare thing these days and he is key to its appeal. I usually call in if I need picks, strings and other bits and pieces, or just to chew the fat with him and noodle around on any instruments that look interesting. In April this year, I was pleased to find a comprehensive collection of new Duesenberg guitars for sale and set about trying some. I was really impressed by the Starplayer TV 25th Anniversary model in silver (that’s it in the photo with Noel and myself) and ended up buying it.

“Noel does something extraordinary. He actually cares and we love him for it. Building community through art is genius. Its ripple is uplifting, powerful and sustaining. Those who manage such creative spaces deserve our heartfelt gratitude. Thank you Sound Lounge,”  – Makareta Umbers and John Costa, Blue Pearl

An advert in NZ Musician’s Dec/Jan 2021 print issue (alongside Jarni Blair’s excellent review of a Starplayer III guitar), was the formal announcement that Noel and The Sound Lounge had become the NZ distributor for German-made Duesenberg guitars.

It does seem strange that a renowned top-end guitar brand boasting Ronnie Wood, Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, Mike Campbell and Johnny Depp among its devotees, might make a small provincial store its sole NZ agency. Sometimes you just need to ask, and it turns out Noel’s independent, family-owned community-focused music shop was a perfect fit for Duesenberg’s quality-focused brand.

“They said I was exactly what they were looking for,” he smiles happily, and the apparently unlikely business relationship has flourished accordingly. Noel finds the Duesenberg people great to deal with, saying he loves the care the company put into producing a quality instrument at realistically competitive prices. Doubtless, a considerable business gamble, adding another point of difference has proven good for his independent, family-owned community-focused music shop too. 

“Previously I may have sold a few top-end American guitars each year. Since November 2020, when I started with Duesenberg, I’ve sold in the double digits and increased the stock level threefold!”

Noel’s diversely-stocked shop has developed into a lifestyle that he quite evidently loves, but sadly one that he is necessarily now looking to hand on to someone sharing similar passions. 

“I’m happy being in the shop. It’s a good little business that is rewarding on so many levels, not just financially. With no two days alike inspiration comes from many sources, none less so than the people who visit and share their stories and musical likes. It has never been solely about the money and has great potential to expand. Unfortunately, due to my health, it’s time to sell and let someone else take over. I’d love to see someone who is passionate about music take it on and keep The Sound Lounge as a community hub for local musicians.”  

Editor’s note: The Sound Lounge is currently for sale. Anyone interested in buying this unique business should check it out at www.soundlounge.co.nz or on Facebook.