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The Roundhouse is a former engine shed (or roundhouse) now used as an arts and concert venue in Chalk Farmmarker, Londonmarker. Built in 1846, it ceased to be used as an engine shed by 1867, and underwent various uses before being abandoned just before the Second World War. It re-opened in 1964, now as an arts venue, when the playwright Arnold Wesker established the theatre company Centre 42 in the building.

The Roundhouse has hosted various notable concerts, including the launch of the underground paper International Times in 1966, The Doors in 1968 and Greasy Truckers Party in 1972.

The owners, Greater London Council, handed control to Camden Council in 1983 when Centre 42 ran out of funds, and the building remained unused until a local businessman bought the Roundhouse in 1996 and arts events returned. It was closed again in 2004 for a £29.7m redevelopment, reopening on 1 June 2006 with a new show Fuerzabruta, from the makers of De La Guarda.

Since 2006 it has served as one of the venues 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.

History

The Roundhouse was built in 1847 as a turntable engine shed (or roundhouse) for the London and Birmingham Railway at Chalk Farmmarker (near Camden Townmarker), 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 following bands played at the Roundhouse : The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Sinceros, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Incredible String Band, The Doors with Jefferson Airplane, The Clash, Elkie Brooks and Motörhead (the latter led by vocalist and bassist Lemmy Kilmister played at The Roundhouse its very first gig on July 20, 1975!).

The Beatles themselves originally planned to play three shows at the Roundhouse in December 1968 as part of their recording sessions for their album Let It Be but this project never came to fruition.

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 20 July 1975. It hosted the first UK appearance of The Ramones, in a show on 4 July 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 Theatremarker'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(Bluebird Toys) 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 Avonmarker where the cycle had first been staged.. See also Anita Butler's informal account for British Theatre Guide in May 2008 of this unique historical event: [80553].

"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.


On March 23, 2009, it was announced that Bob Dylan and his Band will perform a special show for visitors of bobdylan.com on April 26, 2009 at the Roundhouse.

In July 2009, iTunes EU hosted a music festival which saw 65 artists take to the stage including bands such as Oasis, Placebo, Bloc Party, Mika and Fightstar. Fans also had the chance to go and see their favourite bands perform live at the roundhouse by winning concert tickets throughout the coming weeks on the iTunes EU Facebook page. Some of the shows that took place at the roundhouse were recorded and broadcasted on ITV2, including two songs performed by Mika on the final night which were broadcast live.

References

  1. http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/about/history
  2. http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/about
  3. http://www.international-times.org.uk/ITarchivePart1.htm
  4. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/14398/The-Doors-The-Doors-Are-Open-The-Roundhouse-London/overview
  5. http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/users/staffba3/mana1.html
  6. http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/about/history
  7. http://www.nfct.org/about-the-trust.html
  8. RSC The Histories cycle [1]


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