The Doors, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zepplin… the list goes on! Falcone Geddes takes a look at some of the most influential music artists that took to the Roundhouse stage in the 1960s.
We used to come here when it was dirty. Now it’s clean. And I’m dirty. – Peter Townshend at The Who gig at the Roundhouse in 2006
There was a constant fog of incense and dope, and the strong smell of patchouli oil. I remember very strongly being there when The Soft Machine played with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the spring of 1967. It was extremely psychedelic; I can attest to this because I was on acid at the time. – Mark Williams, former editor of the International Times
After the opening party in 1966, the writing was on the wall; the Roundhouse had established itself as a revolutionary venue for the UK underground music scene. The proof comes from the list of names who played at the Roundhouse in its early days. Having commissioned a (then) little known band called Pink Floyd for the launch party (of the Roundhouse and the International Times newspaper), the Roundhouse continued to employ artists who were about to make a name for themselves on the international scene.
In February 1967, just four months after the launch event, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s name was on the bill, along with The Flies. Jimi Hendrix had moved to the UK just a few months previously, where he formed the Experience. The gig at the Roundhouse was not his first in the UK, and some of the audience may have heard him play his distorted guitars before, but he was still new on the scene and likely caught many listeners by surprise. No set list survives today, though witness accounts claim they performed all three of the songs that would come to define their sound to most listeners: Foxy Lady, Purple Haze and Hey Joe. All three songs would appear that spring in the Experience’s seminal album Are You Experienced? Hey Joe, in particular, is remembered as a standout in the performance. Even though Hendrix had his black Fender Stratocaster stolen that night, the Experience would play at least one more gig at the Roundhouse in the spring of 1967, this time with the Soft Machine, who had also featured at the launch event.
In these years, the Roundhouse was to be the site of the UK debut of two bands which had already blown up on the other side of the Atlantic: The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. Both bands played at the Roundhouse on 6 and 7 September in 1968, playing two sets each on both days. On the first day, The Doors opened for Jefferson Airplane, with the roles reversed for the second night. Members of the Rolling Stones are rumored to have attended the show. The second performance of the second day by the Doors is regarded as one of the band’s best ever, with Jim Morrison himself quoted as saying “I think that was one of the best concerts I’ve ever done.” Recordings of these sessions exist to this day, and the footage was utilised in a famous Granada TV special on the band.
Shortly after, on November 9 of 1968, the Roundhouse would host Led Zeppelin’s first London gig under that name (formally known as the New Yardbirds), with John Lee Hooker also appearing on the bill, along with Deviants, John James, Tyres, Jeff Dexter and Lights. Zeppelin’s singer Robert Plant had married his girlfriend Maureen in London that same day and the reception was held at the concert. Rafael de Swarte, from support act Tyres, recalls an episode that night featuring John Lee Hooker: “It was a good gig, except at one point the guitarist was left playing nothing – his lead had come out. We looked around and John was peering around the curtain looking at us, with the lead curled around his foot! We never worked out if he was joking, clumsy or trying to get us to stop.”
Many more bands would come to perform at the Roundhouse in the 1960s, including the Who, the Rolling Stones, T-Rex and Fleetwood Mac, laying the foundations for punk and post-punk to enter the scene in the 1970s.