Many say the moment punk landed in the UK was the Ramones playing the Roundhouse in 1976, but the punk spirit continued from 1976 onwards. Zoë Jewell takes us back to when punk ruled the Roundhouse bill.
It was Sunday 5th September 1976. ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba was top of the charts and, that night, poppy pub rock band the Kursaal Flyers were playing what was billed as ‘A Sundae Outing’ at the Roundhouse. But fans arriving at 5.30pm would be treated to something extra – a powerful new sound bristling with energy.
The Clash were the support band, playing one of their first gigs just a few minutes away from their rehearsal studios in Camden market. In an audio recording of the set, we can hear a few songs that never made it onto their debut album and the guitar sounds of Keith Levene, who would leave the band that month.
The Roundhouse was at the heart of London’s punk and post-punk scene, hosting legendary bands that other venues were too nervous – or too old school – to book. Fans came from all over the country to see the likes of The Damned, Poly Styrene’s X-Ray Spex and The Stranglers, as well as American punk bands The Ramones and Talking Heads.
“I skived off secondary school in the Midlands and caught the train down to see The Stranglers – just managed to get the last train back.” – Adrian R Lee, gig-goer
Mind you, the NME didn’t see things quite so rosily in their review of The Stranglers’ gig, describing it as a ‘monotonous testimonial to The Stranglers’ apathy: repetitive dross that insults the instrumental energy and ability they project in the studios’.
But for most of the fans, these were the best nights of their lives. Steven Brandt remembers his first visit to the Roundhouse, to see The Damned supported by Motörhead and The Adverts in April 1977. “Two Hells Angels turned up. They surveyed the scene and one said to the other, ‘I’d love to put the boot in here!’” Steven scarpered sharpish and “spent the whole gig pogo-ing at the front of the stage. Happy Days.”
Manchester band The Buzzcocks brought their northern brand of punk down to London at their Roundhouse gig in 1978. Fan James A Smith, describes the performance as ‘sublime’ and Music Week magazine said they ‘headlined last Sunday’s punk night at the Roundhouse with an authority belying their experience.’ It was an incredible line-up, with Subway Sect and Siouxsie and the Banshees supporting the Buzzcocks, in the venue that had helped kickstart it all two years previously.