Two weeks ago ‘London Shoes’ published a music related blog on ‘Jazz at the Movies’ that was performed at “The ‘Other’ Palace Theatre” – and a bit like when you’re waiting at a bus stop, it just so happened that, (totally unplanned), 2 ‘music’ related blog opportunities have cropped-up alongside each other.
Last Saturday, London Shoes headed off to Dagenham in the ‘London Borough of Barking & Dagenham’, literally spitting distance from where I grew up and roughly 15mins away from Romford where I live now.
The purpose of this particular ‘London Shoes’ visit, was to attend a special music event, in celebration of a historic milestone of a specific venue where, quite simply, “legends” were made.
The building in question is the “Dagenham Roundhouse” pub – a venue I used to frequent regularly during my early teens in 1972/73/74.
The Dagenham Roundhouse (not to be confused with the Chalk Farm Roundhouse in NW London – another legendary music venue), was built in 1936, on the western edge of the ‘Becontree Estate’.
The ‘Becontree Estate’ was built between the years 1921 to 1935 – and, at that time, was the largest council estate in the world; housing 100,000 people in 26,000 newly constructed council houses.
The ‘Roundhouse’ pub was specifically built as an ‘estate-pub’, which was deliberately sited on the edge of the estate, to keep potential drunken behavior and resulting trouble, away from the main residential area.
The Dagenham Roundhouse pub was built in a distinctive art-deco style – completely out of character with all the other buildings in the area – and it was very much the go-to place, for locals to sink a few ‘cheeky’ beers with your mates, work colleagues & neighbours.
In 1969 the pub started hosting ‘live’ music, and became known as the ‘Village Blues Club’ – referencing the area of the Becontree Estate known as ‘Dagenham Village’.
The ‘Village Blues Club’ very soon became one of London’s top rock music venues – in the days long before bands played large venues, arenas and stadiums etc.
The ‘Village Blues Club’ ran until 1975, and throughout its 7 year tenure, it hosted all the top bands of that era – many of which went on to be colossal in the history of rock music.
Bands such as Led Zeppelin – Status Quo – Jethro Tull – Deep Purple – Thin Lizzy – Rory Gallagher – Slade – Mott the Hoople – Uriah Heep – Fleetwood Mac – Wishbone Ash – ELO – Stealers Wheel – Cockney Rebel – Queen – Dr.Feelgood – Groundhogs – Judas Priest – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Stray – Hawkwind – Genesis – Atomic Rooster….plus many many more, all played the Dagenham Roundhouse back in the day
As mentioned earlier, it was very much my ‘go-to’ place in my early to mid-teens, often accompanied by my now bruv-in-law Vince, and I have such happy memories of the place, seeing bands such as Deep Purple – Thin Lizzy – Focus – Status Quo – Rory Gallagher – Slade – Atomic Rooster plus many more, throughout the early 1970’s.
However, by 1975 the world had become a different place – music, bands & gigs, had become a more ‘corporate’ organised affair – and with that came more money and bigger venues – also, public protection organisations such as the ‘Noise Abatement Society’ had a much stronger influence on matters than they had before – and all of this plus many other factors, sadly saw the demise of the Village Blues Club at the Dagenham Roundhouse.
The final gig at the Roundhouse was held in November 1975 where the band ‘Sailor’ (who had the hit single ‘Glass of Champagne’) were the headline act.
Through the ensuing years, the Village Blues Club area of the Dagenham Roundhouse pub became a snooker hall – a pentecostal church – a bingo hall – a furniture warehouse – a bedding retail shop – before finally becoming abandoned.
However – in 2008, some 35+ years since the club had hosted its very last ‘live’ gig – a ‘Village Blues Club-Nostalgia Group’ was set-up on Facebook – which attracted the interest of all the ex ‘Villagers’ that had attended gigs there throughout the years – and as a result, old memories were shared and old friendships were rekindled in the old place.
In May 2012 a Village Blues Club ‘Reunion’ gig was arranged by an ex-Villager Ken Ansted.
Although the original ‘hall’ was unoccupied at that time, it was in need of some serious major repairs – and so this very first Reunion event was held in one of the bar areas of the Roundhouse pub, where the band ‘Stray’ (who had played the Roundhouse many times in the past – and were still gigging!!) played a ‘live’ set of all their old numbers to an enthusiastic throng of ex-Villagers.
In subsequent years, these annual Village Blues Club Reunions have simply gone from strength to strength, and have got bigger and bigger in terms of attendance and headline acts, with some ex-Villagers travelling from all parts of the world, just to be there and re-live their memories of the old place.
These annual Reunion events are now so popular that the original Village Blues Club ‘hall’ attached to the pub has now been completely renovated – and is now used for these events.
The Roundhouse pub themselves now run weekly live music events, mainly with performances by top tribute bands – and so the history of the venue has turned full circle, back to what is once was – a top ‘live’ music venue.
To date, there have been a grand total of 13 Village Blues Club Reunion events held at the Dagenham Roundhouse – and I have been fortunate enough to have attended all but 1 of them – watching bands such as :- John Coughlan’s Quo – Dr.Feelgood – Stray – The Pink Torpedo’s – Son of Man – Groundhogs – Wishbone Ash – Atomic Rooster.
All of the ‘Reunion’ bands, or the musicians within them, are linked in some way to the Dagenham Roundhouse, as they have all played the Village Blues Club at some stage throughout its history.
So – last Saturday saw the 13th Village Blues Club Reunion, an event that was historic in its own way as it was also the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Village Blues Club in 1969.
The gig was headlined by ‘Atomic Rooster’ – a band that had originally played the Roundhouse in 1972 & 1973 – and the support act was an excellent local band called ‘Landmarq’ – who knocked out some fine self-penned progressive-style material.
From a personal perspective, Atomic Rooster’s ‘Death Walks Behind You’ album (released in 1970) was the very first record of so called ‘progressive’ music that I had ever bought (I was about 13 at the time) – and I will always remember the album fondly, as my dear old mum had flatly refused me to place it in the record rack that stood next to our radiogram in our front room – mum would say that the album cover was ‘pure-evil’, and she felt that it might give the wrong impression of us to any visitors.
The 3 members of ‘Atomic Rooster’ that played on their 1970 ‘Death Walks Behind You’ album are sadly no longer with us, but the band today, comprises of band members throughout subsequent years.
Atomic Rooster did an excellent job of knocking-out their 2 biggest hit singles of the early 1970’s – ‘Tomorrow Night’ & ‘The Devil’s Answer’ – plus a great selection of tracks from the many albums that the band released in their heyday.
For this somewhat historic event for the Dagenham Roundhouse, I was accompanied as always by my bruv-in-law Vince (an ex-Villager himself) and my ex work colleague at Barclays, Tony (who isn’t an ex-Villager, but has attended many of the previous Reunions with me& Vince).
Me, Vince & Tony – along with all the other ex-Villagers and old ‘heads’ in the packed house, thoroughly enjoyed the music that ‘Landmarq’ and of course the headline act ‘Atomic Rooster’ were banging out, and had a great time soaking up the whole nostalgic ‘vibe’ of the evening – and lets hope there will be many more future Reunions to come.
So – the Dagenham Roundhouse pub & its Village Blues Club (1969 – 1975) – not only a part of music history but also a part of my history.
Hope ‘Shoes’ followers enjoy the accompanying photos
And remember……..let’s keep music ‘Live’