On 4 July 1976 the Roundhouse hosted the Ramones in their largest UK gig, from that moment on, the venue provided the space for numerous other punk and post punk acts to play and experiment. At a time when music venues are closing down, Rose Williamson looks at how important space to create is.
The Roundhouse would close in 1983 and would not reopen officially as a music venue until the 2000s. Despite hosting some of the most radical and influential gigs for the music and culture of seventies Britain, it could not withstand the impact of the lack of artistic funding and absence of commercial sponsorship. Yet with the Roundhouse’s revival some time later, the closure in 1983 can perhaps be placed within a musical and historic narrative, even as a fitting reflection of the disillusionment that was being performed through the punk and post-punk music of the time.
4 July 1976, saw the Roundhouse host the Ramones in their largest gig to date, in support of the Flamin’ Groovies. The excitement of the audience and of the band themselves was testament to the fact that they weren’t only tapping into the anger and discontent, they were turning it into something new. Momentous in its simplicity, political in its refusal of politicisation, their acknowledgement and simultaneous creation of punk was changing music and the way it could be.
“Punk is nothing; it is now; it is disposable, but, for the moment, indispensable.” Sebastian Faulks, The Year Of Punk
In these brief moments, the Roundhouse helped create punk, or at least played its part, an NME review of the Ramones gig named it ‘the hottest, sleaziest garage ever’. The culture of the time meant that the bands and venues made perfect sense together, in terms of their individual disillusionment and temporality. Planning for the future would not or could not compute. As the Spectator reported in 1978, when the Ramones were asked how their music was progressing, they replied they could now play their set in 36 minutes whereas a month ago it had taken them 38.
It was the day to day reality of the gigs and the people that worked and performed there that made it one of the most important cultural hubs of London. The punk/post-punk transition then saw the Roundhouse host Talking Heads, John Cale, Ian Drury & Blockheads and even Kraftwerk in a 1976 gig that pre-figured the musical shift towards their electronic direction. They played a few weeks after the Ramones show, and though clearly a different musical type, synths and effects that were shifting the genre, they were still seen to fit within punk’s prevailing mood of dislocation.
If the Ramones and Kraftwerk could play within weeks of each other, both with groundbreaking results for music in Britain and the world, it was evident the nature of the genre was changing.
The Roundhouse also provided a network that facilitated artistic production for young people from working class backgrounds that otherwise may have lacked the resources for creative exploration, music and art.
A huge following for these punk bands persists today, and the gigs of the 1970s remain relevant. In turn, the revival of the Roundhouse was affirmation that there are fundamental aspects of our culture that are worth protecting and perpetuating. Important for our generation to remember, not only for our music but the places that house them, at this time of uncertainty for London venues.