Concert time . . . The Oamaru Savage Club big band performs at the club's concert at the Oamaru Garrison Band hall earlier this month. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Oamaru is a small town but it is home to hundreds of different clubs and organisations. The Oamaru Mail has decided to find out more about some of them. Daniel Birchfield starts with a visit to a group that is much more gentle than its name suggests.

Say the name “Oamaru Savage Club” and you might conjure up images completely opposite to what the club actually does.

Its members prefer to call it “The Variety Entertainers”, a group that provides live entertainment every second Friday each month between April and October at the Oamaru Garrison Band Hall on the corner of Isis and Severn Sts.

President Bob Winter said the club offered all forms of entertainment for its members.

“We entertain, we sing, we tell stories and we play music.”

Comedy skits are also standard fare.

The Oamaru Savage Club was formed in 1929 as a male-only club.

It started to allow females to join its ranks in 1980, but they weren’t granted full membership until 2000.

According to written accounts by Andrew Halliday, the first Savage Club was established in England in 1857 by George Augustus Sala and 11 other members.

It was named after Richard Savage, a poet who had occasional success with his poetry and plays.

His name was selected as it “showed there is no false pride in us”, or “anything pretentious”.

Savage died in 1743 and was regarded by some as a bit of a shady character.

Mr Winter has been involved with the club, in both Oamaru and Waimate, for over two decades and said it was the enjoyment of music that first drew him to the club.

“I’ve always played the piano. “I got involved in the Waimate club probably about 20 years ago.”

Vice-president Alistair Grant said club members also performed at other South Island clubs, such as those in Timaru, Waimate and Ashburton, which would also come to Oamaru.

“We have what we call inwards and outwards raids. We’ll go out to the other clubs and put a concert on.”

The club also performed at the opening of the renovated Oamaru Opera House in 2008 and received a standing ovation, which Mr Grant said was one of the club’s highlights.

As well as putting on its own concerts about eight times a year, the club also does performances for rest-homes in Oamaru.

Mr Winter said the club had changed over the years, but kept close to its roots.

“Years ago, it used to be very Maori-oriented, but it’s not that way now.

“It’s just sort of gone away from that.”

He believed music and other entertainment platforms being widely available online had played a part in a drop in club membership over the past several years.

“That’s probably having a little bit of an effect. When I was new to the Oamaru club, we had more than 100 members, and like a lot of other clubs, most of them are over 70.

“But if you enjoy music, and a lot of people do, I think it’s a great club.”

The club was trying to attract younger members, which Mr Winter admitted had been difficult.

He believed the club was the ideal place for children to show their talent.

“It’s great for kids . . . we always encourage them and don’t judge them.”

Mr Grant said from time to time school groups performed at the club, but wanted parents to encourage their children to come back and perform on a more regular basis.

Mr Winter said anyone was welcome to come along and see what the club had to offer.

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