Because of the Covid19 pandemic travel restrictions, London Shoes has had to vary its approach to publishing regular articles on its website-facebook-twitter portals. Its done this by either utilising photos extracted from previous blogs, to create new topics – or alternatively, venturing out ‘locally’ to cover-off topics of historic interest within its London Bor. of Havering base.
This week’s publication is one such example where I’ve trawled through archived photos to create a totally different subject matter from that which these photos were originally taken to support.
So – this posting is Part 3 of the existing London Shoes feature entitled “London’s Lost Music Venues” – and what an interesting instalment it is too, as it looks specifically at 2 of London’s unique ‘Roundhouse’ music venues:-
The “Chalk Farm-Roundhouse”
To be fair, these 2 iconic & historic venues, can’t really currently be classed as ‘Lost’ as they once were, because a lot of time, effort and finance has been invested in them over recent years to try and reinstate them to their previous standing and popularity.
So – kicking-off firstly with the ‘Chalk Farm-Roundhouse’ – a magnificent surviving example of Victorian civil engineering!!!
The ‘Roundhouse’ venue in Chalk Farm-London NW1 is situated between Chalk Farm tube station and the very popular Camden Town district of London.
The construction of this circular building was commissioned at the very begining of rail transport, by the famous railway engineer Robert Stevenson (he of “Stephenson’s Rocket” fame). The original building was a rail engine terminus for holding, & maintaining the train engines, and more importantly for ‘turning them round’ to face the other way, to complete a return journey to and from the London’s mainline Euston Station a couple of miles down to track. It was completely circular building 160 ft in diameter, with a cone-shaped louvered roof supported by cast iron girders. Inside it consisted of 24 ‘bays’, and a huge turntable wheel that engines could be rolled on to, then spun round and rolled out to a bay for either servicing or storage. Each bay had an inspection pit to allow engineers to work underneath the engines.
At the time of its opening in 1847 the ‘Round-House’ at the Chalk Farm railway sidings was considered to be one of the finest examples of Victorian civil engineering – and thousands of people would visit Chalk Farm for a day out, just to see it.
Sadly, because of the rapid advances in rail travel and the rail network at that particular period in time – the effectiveness of the ‘Round-House’ as a train maintenance shed, only actually lasted for around 20yrs, and by 1870 it was considered useless as by then, all the trains were now far too big for the ‘turntable’ and the bays.
The empty building was then purchased by “Gilbey’s Gin” in the early 1870’s – who, for the next 80 odd years, used the Chalk Farm Roundhouse as their main distillery, warehouse and depot.
In the early 1960’s, the building was bought up by the then ‘Greater London Council’ who wanted to use it to create a permanent cultural centre with a theatre, cinema, art gallery and workshops, committee rooms for local organisations, library, youth club, restaurant and dance-hall.
Throughout the 60’s, the Chalk Farm Roundhouse gained a reputation for its staging of controversial ‘underground’ art projects and revues that had been banned from mainstream theatres, such as the Andy Warhol’s production “Pork” – the ‘nude’ play “Oh Calcutta” – the ‘rock’ version of Othello “Catch My Soul” are just a few of the well-known ‘dodgy’ reviews that were performed there.
During the 1960’s, the Chalk Farm Roundhouse also became one of London’s leading music venues with legendary bands such as The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who – plus hundreds of other bands of the day, all playing there on a regular basis. In the mid 1970’s the Roundhouse became the ‘go-to’ venue to see ‘punk’ and ‘post-punk’ bands such as The Clash, The Stranglers, The Damned, Patti Smith, Blondie, The Police and The Ramones (who I saw perform there in the late 70’s!!).
However, after enjoying almost 20yrs as a music/arts venue, the Roundhouse started to become a little too costly a business to maintain, and sadly, in 1983 it closed down.
The Chalk Farm Roundhouse then remained unoccupied and neglected for several years – although it was a regular haunt throughout the early 1990’s for illegal ‘raves’ and other illicit gatherings.
However, in 1996 the building was purchased for £6m for the purpose of creating a venue to ‘enhance the lives of young people through creativity’. A ‘Roundhouse Trust’ was set up to help raise funds to renovate and maintain the site – big hitters such as Bob Geldoff, Suggs (from Madness) and Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) plus many more, were all involved in the re-generation of the Roundhouse.
The Roundhouse re-opened again as an arts venue in 2006 – and one of the first artists to play the venue was the late great George Michael who held a free concert for NHS nurses as a thank you for the care given to his mother, who had recently died of cancer. Since its re-opening in 2006, the Chalk Farm-Roundhouse has become one of London’s main centres for all aspects of the ‘arts’, not just music.
In fact, I visited the Chalk Farm Roundhouse as recently as March this year, just a couple of days before the formal Covid19 pandemic ‘lockdown’ restrictions were imposed – when I went to see the band ‘Holy Holy’ perform the late David Bowie’s material from his iconic ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ & ‘The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars’ albums, plus many more Bowie classics – a brilliant gig and experience.
So – although the Roundhouse building itself might not have spent much time fulfilling its original purpose, this iconic landmark has certainly ‘lived’ a life and seen some action – and hopefully will now continue to do so for many years to come.
The 2nd ‘Roundhouse’ music venue is the possibly lesser known ‘Dagenham-Roundhouse’ which, at one time, was viewed as being East-London’s premier ‘live’ music venue – and a place where I spent many memorable evenings in my early to mid-teens, as it was located just down the road from where I grew up.
The Dagenham Roundhouse pub was built and opened in 1936 and was located on the outskirts of the massive ‘Becontree Estate’.
The Becontree Estate was a colossal council estate built between 1921 & 1932 – and with 27,000 houses it was the largest social housing complex in Europe and one of the largest in the world.
The estate residents were mainly folk who had been re-housed from the east-end slums, and most were employed at the huge Ford Motor Company plant in Dagenham, or they worked for the many local ancillary industries & businesses connected to Ford’s motor car production.
The Roundhouse pub was designed as an art-deco structure and was deliberately built on the outskirts of the estate in order to keep any potential trouble away from the estates residential areas.
Between the years of 1969 to 1975 the Dagenham Roundhouse was home to the “Village Blues Club” which operated from the hall attached to the pub.
During those years all of the top bands of the day played the Dagenham-Roundhouse Village Blues Club – in a period of time before the advent of big corporate sponsored area/stadium gigs.
The very first Village Blues Club gig at the Dagenham Roundhouse took place on 23/3/1969 where the headline act was a band called ‘Blodwyn Pig’ fronted by ex-Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams. The entry fee that night was 7s 6d – 37.5p in today’s money.
The final Village Blues Club gig at the Dagenham Roundhouse took place on 8/11/1975 when the band ‘Sailor’ was the headline act. Readers of a certain age may remember Sailor as having the top 10 singles ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and ‘Glass of Champagne’.
In its hey-day the Dagenham Roundhouse-Village Blues Club, was the ‘go-to’ venue for live rock music in east London, where the weekly gigs hosted bands such as:- Led Zeppelin – Status Quo – Deep Purple – Thin Lizzy – Rory Gallagher – Jethro Tull – Procal Harem – Humble Pie – Mott the Hoople – Pink Floyd – Fleetwood Mac – The Groundhogs – Wishbone Ash – Hawkwind – ELO – Man – Atomic Rooster – Genesis – The Average White Band – Stray – Focus – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Cockney Rebel – Queen – Slade – Dr.Feelgood – Motorhead…..to name just a few of the more commonly known ones.
I personally look back and consider myself lucky enough to have frequented the place between the years 1971 o 1974 where witnessed some of these legendary bands and performers in the intimate surroundings of the Roundhouse – and when these bands got bigger, and the small venues started to become less popular (& less economically viable) I then went on to see a number of these bands at lager venues such as the old Empire Pool-Wembley and the Hammersmith Odeon and the Rainbow Theatre-Finsbury Park.
Following its closure in 1975, the Village Blues Club hall took on a number of different uses. It became a snooker hall, a church, a bedding warehouse, before it fell into disrepair and eventually became abandoned.
However, the venue’s popularity and the nostalgic memories it held for the music fans that frequented the place, never died.
In 2008 a Dagenham Roundhouse–Village Blues Club Facebook group was created which soon accumulated many followers (and still does to this very day) – all sharing their experiences and memories of great times spent watching all the bands play the Dagenham Roundhouse.
In May 2012, an ex-Villager by the name of Ken Ansted, with music business connections – organised an official Village Blues Club-‘Reunion’ event, which was held in one of the bars of the Roundhouse pub, rather than the old Blues Club hall, which was standing abandoned and in need of some serious renovations.
Topping the bill for this prestigious Village Blues Club ‘Reunion’ was Del Bronham’s band ‘Stray’ who held the accolade of being the band that played the old Village Blues Club a record number of times – 13 in total.
This 1st Reunion event was well attended and created a lot of interest locally and with the media.
It proved to be so popular, that further ‘Reunions’ were organised and held throughout the subsequent years – sometimes 2 per year.
The 10th Reunion event in May 2017, saw a return to the original Village Blues Club hall at the back of the Roundhouse pub – which had now been cleaned-up and renovated back to its former glory. Headlining that significant gig that night were the brilliant r&b band ‘Dr. Feelgood’.
To date, there have now been a total of 13 Village Blues Club Reunion gigs at the Dagenham Roundhouse, where bands such as:- Stray – The Groundhogs – The Green Ray – The Pink Torpedoes – Landmarq – (Son of) Man – Atomic Rooster – Wishbone Ash have entertained the old ‘Villagers’ plus all the other attendees.
A 14th Village Blues Club Reunion gig was scheduled for March 2020, where Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash were booked to headline – but with the arrival of the global Covid19 virus pandemic, the event had to be cancelled, but has been rescheduled for January 2021 – hopefully this time it will go ahead.
____See below – all of the photos supporting this ‘Roundhouse’ blog____