Spanning an impressive 50 years, the Roundhouse is a performing arts institution with an immense historical timeline. Transformed from an old train shed into one of London’s most iconic musical institutions, the Roundhouse’s past trajectory is one of expansion and change, both witnessing and shaping the evolution of the capital's live music scene. Current Artistic Director Marcus Davey has played a key role in the Roundhouse’s most recent development, overseeing its reopening in 2006 and its curation of a wonderfully diverse live music programme, including events such the annual iTunes festival and Ron Arad’s Curtain Call. Under his direction, the Roundhouse has also cemented itself as a centre for young emerging musical talent, evident in projects such as the Roundhouse Radio and Roundhouse Rising festival which are committed to fostering and showcasing young artists and producers. In celebration of this momentous landmark, we asked Marcus to reflect on the Roundhouse’s 50 years.
Throughout its history, the Roundhouse has been home to groundbreaking musical acts such as Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac. During your time as artistic director, how have you made sure that the Roundhouse has stayed at the forefront of cutting edge music?
We spend a lot of our time and resources nurturing, encouraging and promoting emerging talent. Through Roundhouse Rising festival of emerging talent we have seen some exceptional young artists give their first major performances. As part of our ‘In The Round’ series enables us to present a line-up of incredible musicians, but it also means we can present emerging talent on our main stage. We also work with a wide range of professional promoters who present superb bands at the Roundhouse on a regular basis.
What musical moments stick out for you during your time at the Roundhouse? Do you have any favourite gigs or music events?
There have been so many, from watching James Brown rehearse his band, the Frank Zappa 70th weekend festival we created, the wonderful Tracy Chapman, Christine and the Queens performing with Elton John at this year’s Apple Music Festival… the list could go on for pages and pages.
Are there any artists or groups that you feel particularly proud to have brought to the Roundhouse stage?
In 2015 we brought together 280 young musicians together from all over the world – South Africa, Nigeria, Ukraine and the UK – to work with Jamie Cullum. The end result was deeply moving, bright, loud and unique.
In its fiftieth year, it is no understatement to say that the Roundhouse has cemented itself as a staple music venue in London's cultural landscape. Being such an important musical institution, in what ways do you think the Roundhouse has shaped London's live music scene?
Some of the most legendary nights in London took place during ’71. DJ Jeff Dexter’s iconic weekly Sundayafternoon gigs, Implosion, at the Roundhouse attracted some of the biggest and best names in rock. They were the kind of nights where you could watch David Bowie, Elton John and The Who for just 40p. Many have gone down as some of the most legendary artists to grace the stage at the Roundhouse and some of the best gigs London has ever seen.
The Roundhouse played a fundamental part in the formation of the UK Punk scene. Not only did The Ramones play their seminal London gig at the Roundhouse on 4 July, 1976 – the gig that was said to ignite the Punk scene in London – but the venue played host to The Damned, The Clash, Patti Smith and The Stranglers. And the Punk attitude still lives and breathes in the Roundhouse today.
Since its reopening in 2006, the Roundhouse has placed great emphasis on young people and emerging young musical talent, seen in projects such as Roundhouse Rising festival and Roundhouse Radio. Do you think the Roundhouse's role as a musical institution has changed in its history?
The Roundhouse has always played a huge role in the community. When it first opened in the 60s and 70s it was often more like a community centre – a place where people could come and listen to music and spend time with friends, or take part in a pottery class, or let children do painting lessons. It’s stayed true to this with our creative centre for young people. But it’s also remained one of the best musical institutions in the world. By making sure that young people are at the heart of our organisation we keep fresh, new and up to date. We are constantly changing but we keep the same ethos and values.
This year saw the return of Ron Arad's 360 degree installation Curtain Call, providing a space for immersive and interactive live music gigs. To what extent has art played a role in the way in which music events have been curated at the Roundhouse?
The Roundhouse is such an incredible space for an artist to work with – artists can really respond to the round space and make it their own. Curtain Call provided the perfect opportunity for musicians to respond to the installation in different ways. The staging, music and whole performance responded to the 360° setting. Every person in the room had a unique experience of the show – the space also brings the audience much closer to the artists than is possible in some other venues. Sometimes the space does frighten artists… they feel it is so different to what they are used to, its high ceiling, the roundness and the proximity to the audience are all new, but I feel that they rise to the challenge and often make something even greater than normal.
Looking to the future, are there any acts that you would like to perform at the Roundhouse who haven't in its 50 years?
We have been very lucky to welcome many of the world’s biggest names. There are really just a few of the great names that haven’t been here, but yes Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen are two names that haven’t been here yet. But more than anything I hope that the emerging talent being developed at the Roundhouse become the great artists for the next 50 years and that they will call the Roundhouse home.
What would you hope the Roundhouse to achieve in its next 50 years?
I hope the Roundhouse remains one of the best cultural and community hubs in the world – programming the best artists across music, spoken word and circus and also continues to inspire and transform the lives of thousands more young people. If the last 50 years are anything to go by the Roundhouse and all who come here have an exciting 50 years ahead.
Words: Georgia Tobin