In 1966 the underground newspaper The International
Times, staged its' now legendary launch party at The Roundhouse.
The event took place on 15 October of that year and became
London's first ever all-night rave. Pink Floyd and Soft machine
played (the Floyd's first official gig), Yoko Ono provided
the art installation and guests included Paul McCartney and
Jane Asher, Marianne Faithful, Monica Vitti and Antonioni.
The event triggered a series of subsequent all-nighters featuring
Pink Floyd, Geno Washington, Cream, The Who and The Move.
The Rock 'n 'Roll Guide to Camden reports: "Despite the
fact that the Roundhouse was cold, wet, filthy with minimal
lighting, a rickety balcony and only two toilets, the event
was a big success. Around 2000 people turned up and everyone
was offered sugar cubes as they came through the door - the
cubes were rumoured to be coated with LSD and, although it
the case, some people managed to trip out on them regardless.
Someone made a giant jelly, moulded in a bath tub, but Pink
Floyd's van ran into it while they were setting up their
gear, so few people saw it in its original magnificence.
Among the guests were Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, Marianne
Faithful, Monica Vitti and Antonioni, who was working on
his latest movie Blow Up. There was a psychedelic plam reading
and fortune telling tent and prizes were awarded for the
shortest or barest fancy dress costumes - the winner was
Marianne Faithful, in a highly unconventional nun's habit,
but Paul McCartney, who went as an arab, dressed in white
robes and headdress, left empty-handed."
By 1968 the Roundhouse was well on its way to becoming an iconic rock venue. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin (the Roundhouse was their London debut - Robert Plant had married his girlfriend on the morning of the gig prompting him to claim in later years that he had spent his honeymoon at the Roundhouse), John Lee Hocker, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac had all performed here by thee time The Doors came to play their first ever London gig on 6th September.
1969 was a year that also included great performers like Cat Stevens, T-Rex and Deep Purple. Peter Townsend smashed his guitar and burned his amp for the first time - unintentionally on this occasion - at the end of The Who's performance of My Generation.
The year also marked the occasion of the first police raid on a theatrical production when, in the course of the Living Theatre's production of Paradise Now, the audience, either alarmed or allured by the nudity of the performers, were unable to keep their seats and rushed to the stage. From here they were beaten back by members of the police force who said that they were in direct contravention of the GLC fire regulations.
By the time David Bowie played his first gig in 1970, the dream of the Roundhouse as a theatre for the people had become a reality. The Stones had sold 5000 tickets for two shows at the venue, the English Bach Festival had been staged here and The Who had dedicated their December 20 performance to their new support act - a Mr Elton John. There were cinema and poetry events, exhibitions and a weekly rock show for children, as well as innumerable rock concerts.
The growing Roundhouse reputation for cutting-edge theatre continued with the infamous nude revue Oh Calcutta! (starring Anthony Booth - now even more famous for being Tony Blair's father-in-law).
In 10975 the Roundhouse's main music venue competitor, The Rainbow, closed down leaving the field wide open. The Roundhouse could now get the biggest and best concerts for their Sunday Nights Series. It began to form a relationship with Virgin Music to programme other nights in the week. Lemmy, who was unceremoniously dumped from Hawkwind at the edn of their American tour, formed a new band - Motorhead - and brought them to the Roundhouse for their first ever gig.
By 1976 the Roundhouse was at its' peak. It introduced Saturday afternoon Jazz Sessions, The Stranglers played here. The Clash performed their fifth ever gig. Over the next couple of years, the Roundhouse continued to be one of the key places to see punk bands: The Jam, The Damned, 999, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Adam and the Ants and so on.
The Rock'n'Roll Guide to Camden reports: "The Sex Pistols never played at the Roundhouse but they did rehearse here for a brief period. By that time, John Lydon and Glen Matlock were arguing continually and Malcolm McLaren finally gave the pair of them 20 quid to go to the bar and sort out their differences. After several pints, they realized that they had a mutual love of The Doors and they ended up using the riff from 'Hello I love You' as the starting point for their own 'Submission'"
But things were about to change. When Thelma Holt was appointed Theatre Director of the Roundhouse in 1977, she decided to exploit the natural shape of the building by using it as a theatre in the round. This meant re-positioning the stage and reducing the venue's capacity from 940 people to 600. By 1978 various significant factors, such as licensing restrictions, sound complaints from local residents and the reduced capacity, had forced the Roundhouse to stop putting on rock shows and devote itself to theatre.
Quote from Frank Murray in The Rock'n'Roll Guide to Camden: "I worked at the Roundhouse during the period that straight music put all the great shows on. Most of them were punk, people like Sham 69 and The Clash, but there was always a problem with noise. In order to sort out the problem you'd have to do something with the structure of the building, which you weren't allowed to do because it is protected, so it was a real Cath 22 situation. During the week, the Roundhouse was a theatre, a great theatre, because Thelma Holt has a real vision. I remember during one performance, a woman in the audience got so emotionally involved with the plight of the character that she ended up talking to the actor onstage. That happened a few times. The Roundhouse was Europe's Fillmore."
Although Blondie, Elvis Costello, The Police and Adam and the Ants all played here in 1978, by the end of the year the Roundhouse had undergone huge structural and artistic changes. Expended to include the main house, a studio, a restaurant, a gallery and a bar, it marked the end of punk and agit.prop and the start of opera and highbrow drama. In October 1982 it was announced that the Roundhouse would close on 27 March 1983.
Article adapted from "Those Tourists Are Money: The Rock and Rock
Guide To Camden" by Ann Scanlon