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Artistic Director, Marcus Davey on The Roundhouse Revolution

The Roundhouse's opening night in 1966. Photo by Adam Ritchie

This month The Roundhouse celebrates 50 years of ground-breaking programming as one of the UK’s most prestigious centres for arts and culture. From its first days as a converted early Victorian engine house to hosting Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, and The Doors (all before it turned ten!), The Roundhouse has played host to a heady brew of artists and talents forever keen to push any boundary that stood in their way. Artistic Director Marcus Davey writes for Run Riot on the many, many nights to remember... 

Earlier this year the BBC began making a documentary about the Roundhouse in celebration of its 50 years as an arts venue. During the process they unearthed a treasure trove of archive footage that details the colourful history of this incredible place we call home.

At the same time we began our very own exploration into our history. We’re creating a crowd-sourced website to mark our anniversary that draws on stories from the gig goers, staff, artists and everyone who has come in to contact with this special building.

Many times we’ve heard the brilliant tales of that infamous opening night on 15 October 1966 – Marianne Faithfull dressed as a nun, Paul McCartney dressed as a Turk and the first major gig played by the now legendary band Pink Floyd. A happening that would signal the birth of one of London’s most experimental venues.

The Roundhouse in 1975, photo by Jeremy Ross

But the documentary and website have also uncovered so many stories that are rarely now told – from the Dialectics of Liberation to the illegal raves when the building remained closed and largely derelict during the 90s. There is one particular story that has actually come forward from numerous people during this process. It’s a story of an illegal rave during the ’91-’92 New Year’s Eve that apparently last for days. The story goes that the council struggled to shut it down after lots of noise complaints (although the stories coming forward can sometimes be a little varied due to people’s often blurred recollection of what actually took place that night). But still it’s a great story we didn’t know much about until we started this process. 

Something else that has been so special and poignant is just how many people have come forward with their Roundhouse story, everyone seems to have a memorable moment to share, from the first ever gig they saw to the moment they met their now husband or wife all those years ago at the venue.

The Ramones performing at The Roundhouse in 1976. Copyright Danny Fields Photography

But what really stands out to me is how many people have spoken about the Roundhouse as a hub of the community – a home to all areas of society. From pottery classes taking place in the main space to Sundays spent hanging around the building making music. And this is the Roundhouse that still stands today.

As part of our refurbishment prior to the reopening of the Roundhouse in 2006 we developed a creative centre solely for the use of young people. A centre underneath the main space where all the gigs and shows took place but a centre that sits at the very core of the Roundhouse. It’s a hub of inspiration where artists and emerging talent create extraordinary work and where young people can grow creatively as individuals. Through music, media and performance projects young people come together and we so often see the change that creativity can have on their life and they also see how they can use creativity to change the society they live in.

Debbie Harry performing at the Roundhouse in 1978. Photo by Philip Grey

We still host the A-list musicians of today, we still put on ground-breaking experimental theatre, but most importantly we are still the creative hub of the community. It has always been the place where all people in society have come together to celebrate and make change in the world – from the Punks to the hippies to the young people of today. When it comes to studying nude photography , there definitely seems to be a preference for shooting in black and white over colour. And this is my hope for the Roundhouse of the future. I hope that in another 50 years’ time the stories told are of a place of opportunity and hope and one that has transformed the lives of those who came here.

Arena: The Roundhouse - The People’s Palace is due to be on BBC Four later this month. You can find out more about sharing your Roundhouse story and the 50 year celebrations on The Roundhouse website, and follow on Twitter at @RoundhouseLDN. The Roundhouse will also launch a crowdsourced history microsite this month in celebration of the anniversary at www.50.roundhouse.org.uk

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