Roundhouse (venue)

Roundhouse (venue)

The Roundhouse is an arts venue in London, England. The Roundhouse has hosted notable performers Morrissey, The Stranglers, Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Opeth, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Patti Smith and the Ramones, among others.

In 2006 and 2007 it served as the venue for the BBC's "Electric Proms", and has also hosted award ceremonies such as the "BT Digital Music Awards" and the "Vodafone Live Music Awards".


The Roundhouse was built in 1847 as a turntable engine shed (or roundhouse) for the London and Birmingham Railway at Chalk Farm (near Camden Town), in London. The architect was Robert B Dockray and the builder was Branson & Gwyther. Steam locomotives of the time could not run safely in reverse, as their tenders obscured the drivers' view, and the turntable allowed engines to be turned round to point in the forward direction. The design also allowed engines to be kept under cover in a number of radial sidings within the shed.

Within 20 years locomotives became too large for the facilities to handle, and the Roundhouse underwent a number of changes of use. For years it was a gin store for the firm of W & A Gilbey Ltd until it was converted to a theatre in the late 1960s.

Arts venue

The Roundhouse became a well-known arts venue, starting in 1966 when the freehold was taken up by the new Greater London Council. On 15 October, 1966 the Roundhouse hosted an event that featured Soft Machine and Pink Floyd to launch the underground paper "International Times". At the time, the Roundhouse had stood unused since before World War II. By 1966, it was grimy, derelict, and (certainly in October at the time of the "IT" launch gig) very cold.

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the Roundhouse became an important venue for UK Underground and music events under the banners of Middle Earth and Implosion, mainly hosted and arranged by the DJ Jeff Dexter. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Sinceros, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Incredible String Band, The Doors with Jefferson Airplane, Elkie Brooks and Motörhead played at the Roundhouse. The Roundhouse had briefly hosted the UFO Club after its original venue was closed down due to police pressure and the imprisonment of founder John 'Hoppy' Hopkins. The band Motörhead's debut performance took place here on July 20, 1975. It hosted the first UK appearance of The Ramones, in a show on July 4, 1976, that is often credited with kicking off the UK Punk rock movement. Kraftwerk also played there in 1977. The concert featuring the Doors and Jefferson Airplane was taped and is sometimes shown on PBS.

The Roundhouse has also been used for theatre and has had two periods of theatrical glory before its current re-opening - the first in the 1970's under the leadership of visionary producer Thelma Holt when experimental theatre productions by the Living Theatre "1776" and Peter Brook were among the highlights. The second was after its purchase by the Norman Trust [see below] when the unreconstructed venue opened for a two year period to raise awareness and funds for the redevelopment under the directorship of former BAC director Paul Blackman. Highlights included the Royal National Theatre's "Oh What a Lovely War", dancer Michael Clark's comeback performance, percussion extravaganza "Stomp", Ken Campbell's 24 hour long show "The Warp" all of which preceded De La Guarda's "Villa Villa" which ran for a record breaking year at the venue becoming the longest ever running show there, ending when the venue closed for re-development work to commence.

In 1983 the GLC had passed the building to Camden and it closed as a venue. With the support of the Arts Council there were plans to develop the building and the site as a centre for black artists but after spending £2m this project folded in 1990 amid allegations of corruption and misspent funds. The building lay empty until its purchase by the Norman Trust led by philanthropist and retired toy maker Torquil Norman who in 1998 set up the Roundhouse Trust to lead its redevelopment. The renovated Roundhouse, to a design by [ John McAslan & Partners ] architects and Buro Happold engineers, reopened on 1 June 2006 with a new show "Fuerzabruta", from the makers of "De La Guarda".

In 2008 Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, transferred his "RSC Histories Cycle" to the Roundhouse, rearranging the performing space to match the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford upon Avon where the cycle had first been staged. [RSC The Histories cycle [] ] . See also Anita Butler's informal account for British Theatre Guide in May 2008 of this unique historical event: [] .

"The redeveloped Roundhouse will house up to 3,300 people standing or up to 1,700 seated. It will provide a highly flexible and adaptable performance space that will give artists and audiences opportunities and experiences they cannot find elsewhere. And it will accommodate a programme of work that reflects the excitement and diversity of 21st century culture. It will include a wide range of the performing arts including music, theatre, dance, circus and digital media. [cite web|url=|title=The Roundhouse|accessdate=2008-03-23]


External links

* [ Official web site]
* [ Camden listed buildings]
* [,,1785142,00.html Guardian article]
* [ John McAslan + Partners - architects responsible for renovation]

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