Tag Archives: Camden Palace

➤ Second time unlucky as fire ravages former Camden Palace nightspot

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Koko nightclub ablaze last night: 60 firefighters extinguished the flames within five hours

TWICE IN 40 YEARS Camden Town’s most renowned theatre has been set ablaze. Last night the 119-year-old former Royal Camden Theatre, currently known as the nightclub Koko, burst into flames at about 9pm during the course of renovation work. Video footage showed giant flames devouring its historic copper dome. London Fire Brigade reported 30% of the roof to be alight and despatched eight fire engines and 60 firefighters to tackle the inferno.

The venue was also damaged by fire during its last gasp as the post-punk Music Machine, soon after a Theatre of Hate gig in December 1980. Subsequent restoration saw it reopen in 1982 renamed the Camden Palace as Steve Strange and Rusty Egan made this the flagship for their New Romantic movement when they took it mainstream. Madonna played her first London date there by Rusty’s invitation.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

The rave scene saw Camden Palace through its second decade until it closed in 2004. Koko emerged after major refurbishment of its richly ornate interior by new owners who established a cool reputation for live music and with clubbing capacity for 1,500 people. However during further refurbishment in September 2018 surveyors deemed the building unsafe so the venue was forced to close.

Theatre historian Matthew Lloyd reports: “As of 2017 the theatre was to undergo a full restoration, including the replacement of the cupola on the roof. The Hope and Anchor at the back of the theatre was projected to become a boutique hotel at the same time, and would be a part of the whole complex, including a restaurant on the roof.” This £40-million state-of-the-art redevelopment was scheduled to finish in April this year but the latest fire is likely to impose a delay.

Opened in 1900 by the celebrated actress Ellen Terry, the theatre has enjoyed a dozen or so reincarnations as playhouse, music-hall and until 1940 as the Hippodrome and Gaumont cinemas. In 1945 the BBC revived the Camden Theatre name as its studio for recording variety shows and most famously The Goon Show (1951-60), starring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. Their Last Goon Show of All was recorded for radio and television at the studio in 1972, the year the building was awarded a Grade II listing. It had lain empty for several years and faced demolition, so the listing at least postponed that fate. English Heritage drew attention to the original architecture by W.G.R. Sprague, celebrated for his many West End theatres: a pillared façade “in baroque pastiche style”, and cantilevered dress circle and balcony with plaster work by Waring & Gillow in a mixture of baroque and rococo ornament.

Let’s hope Koko’s owners can wave a wand to revive the lustre of this iconic play-place.

➢ More about the Camden Theatre at Matthew Lloyd’s wide-raging history site named after his great grand-father Arthur Lloyd

POSTSCRIPT IN THE TIMES

➢ Another iconic building wrecked by fire during renovations – Richard Morrison in The Times’s arts column writes on 10 Jan 2020:
It’s striking how often historic buildings go up in smoke when there is renovation work happening, as there was at Koko… Recent examples are the 2018 fire that ripped through Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s superb Glasgow School of Art building as a £36-million restoration was being completed after a fire in 2014. Incredulous MSPs of all parties asked a series of questions that mostly cannot be answered… And the fire that devastated Note-Dame in Paris… rebuilding doesn’t appear to be going smoothly either… / Continued online

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Steve Strange in 1982: invariably being filmed at Camden Palace

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1983, Posing with a purpose at the Camden Palace

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1983 ➤ When The Face led the cultural agenda

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The Face No 39, July 1983 © Nick Logan/The Face Archive

◼ 1983 PROVED TUMULTUOUS for British youth culture. By December, London’s leading club deejay Jay Strongman declared “This was the year of Go For It”, after 17 new British pop groups lorded it in the US top 40 chart that autumn, while our spirited fashionistas were making waves around the world, with Princess Diana playing ambassador for the classic designers, and Boy George pushing the wilder extremes of street style. Among major features I wrote for The Face was February’s cover story The Making of Club Culture, and in the Evening Standard Posing with a purpose at the Camden Palace, a centre spread on the runaway megaclub hosted by Strange and Egan.

Nightlife was a burgeoning story as black beats took over dancefloors everywhere and Manchester’s tearaway megaclub was the Hacienda, despite the oppressive clean-up being imposed by the city’s infamous Chief Constable. Clubbers from across the nation swarmed in to create a grand coalition of all the cults – “your complete i-D line-up, minus the Worlds End spendthrifts”. In my January report for The Face one inmate bemoaned Hacienda music as  “too funk-based” though another, a flat-top lad called Johnny Maher, revealed his secret, despite having launched some new indie rock band minutes earlier. “I schlepp to funk,” he said.

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© Nick Logan/The Face Archive

In July The Face published a major piece of reportage, Art on the Run, prompted by numerous friends in fine-art education, and billed it as a “shock report” on the Conservative government’s debilitating squeeze on the art schools. Ironically in the same issue my regular Nightlife column identified the four hottest clubland teams as a Who’s Who in the New London Weekend: “Not since the Swinging Sixties had London nightlife reverberated to such a boom.” These clubs were the unofficial job centres that kept a generation in freelance employment and introduced the verb to vop into the language (derivation: “What are you up to these days?” – “Oh, a Variety Of Projects”). Some of that effort was fuelling the rise of computer games which in the June issue Virgin assured me was “the new pop industry”!

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Brighton hotspot 1983: Ian, Oliver Peyton and Kate hosting The Can (Photo Shapersofthe80s)

My Nightlife column in The Face’s October issue featured Brighton’s trendiest hotspot (seconds before the very word trendy passed its sell-by outside the Greater London stockade). The Can was presided over by a young Oliver Peyton with Andy Hale as the deejay breaking funk there. Years later Oliver thanked me for this exposure and said he would never have come up to London and started opening restaurants without The Face’s prompt! (One of the few people who have ever thanked me for writing about them! Cheers, Oliver.)

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Jay Strongman in 1983: ruling London’s three hottest turntables

By this fertile year’s end I had FIVE indicative pieces of reportage published in the December issue of The Face including a detailed rundown on the new dance music by club deejay Jay Strongman, plus news of the imminent Westwood/ McLaren break-up which I’d scented from body language backstage at their Paris runway show.

The launch of the first London Fashion Week that same October confirmed that British street style was being feted in the international spotlight, yet it begged the question how on earth had this suddenly come about? Click through to our inside page to read the feature investigation that set out to answer such questions, by asking decision-makers in the industry to identify the best of Britain’s young designer talent under the headline Eight for ’84. . .

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From The Face No 44, Dec 1983 © Nick Logan/The Face Archive

First published in the Evening Standard, Nov 4, 1983

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1978–87 ➤ British nightlife snapped by Ridgers as it came out of the closet

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Underground publicity: Derek Ridgers with lavish poster treatment for his photo-book published jointly by Damiani and Transport for London. (Pic by Shapersofthe80s)

❚ THIS FRIDAY AT THE V&A MUSEUM, London photographer Derek Ridgers will try to explain the power of his touching yet confrontational images of London youth taken in the transformational decade of the 1980s. His newly published book 78–87 London Youth can be viewed online. He is best known for these documentary portraits taken on the streets and in the clubs by night, though he has also snapped celebs from James Brown to The Spice Girls, Clint Eastwood to Johnny Depp, as well as Tony Blair, gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, artist Julian Schnabel, writer Martin Amis, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and more.

The recessionary 70s had precipitated a drone age of rocketing unemployment in the UK, threatening no jobs for school-leavers, ever. Yet from this black hole burst a passionately tribal youth culture that was to create the Swinging 80s, an era of optimism, marked by hedonistic good times and a flair for exhibitionism that played up to Derek’s camera. Ambition and self-improvement were the ultimate goals of the young then, in sharp contrast to the cynical narcissism of today’s lost children.

➢ Derek Ridgers talks on photographing the 80s at the V&A’s late evening, 6.30pm Friday July 18, with yours truly in the chair. Derek will be signing his book afterwards

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Twinkle Bunty comments on this Sacrosanct club pic by Ridgers posted at Facebook: “Just trotted over to Foyles and bought Derek Ridgers’ fab new book. Thrilled to find this pic from 1985 of me and Billie Madley proving that the 80s were ALL about the eyebrows. Mine were jet black Rimmel and Billie’s were red BIRO.” Another from ‪Laura Whitcomb: “When you shaved that eyebrow it was epic… That Westwood shirt and suit and of course those ear muffs your obsession – and the inimitable final touch of a Fosters with a baby blue straw.” Plastic bath cap: Billie’s own.

❚ IN OCTOBER 1982, I INTERVIEWED DEREK RIDGERS while writing the massive survey of London’s newly exploding nightlife phenomenon which became The Face’s cover story, The making of UK club culture in February 1983. Direct from my original notes, here is Derek’s perceptive analysis which helped inform my thinking about the turmoil that was transforming British youth culture…

Derek talking: “The depression of the late 70s made the future oh so inevitable. But from the Blitz club period onward [1979], the feeling has been different. A reaction of ambisexual kitsch. It’s an honesty with the way you look and what you want to do. There’s an enthusiasm to investigate the possibilities. There’s no sense of inevitability.

“As a photographer, I go as the casual observer and stand in the shadows. When I first went to those Tuesday nights at Billy’s [1978] it was like walking into a Hieronymous Bosch painting – furtive but lively, very decadent reflecting what they were into, and yet with a sense of oneness, a dedication that’s never been equalled since.”

In 1980 the Blitz leaders had moved on to another Covent Garden club called Hell which Derek said “was similar but more decadent because they tried to keep it to themselves. In its final weeks, only out-of-towners were going to the Blitz, because by then the media had blown away the furtiveness”.

Click any pic to launch slideshow

In 1982 Steve Strange and Rusty Egan began fronting the 1,600-capacity Camden Palace and the Pose Age went public. Ridgers said then: “At the Palace poses are adopted, yet it’s probably more interesting than the Blitz or Billy’s because it’s more honest… 90% are regulars, 9% out-of-towners, and 1% could be any type of person who’ll choose to go clubbing there, but go nowhere else except their own pub. Sometimes they’re out of their depth and try to dress as they think is expected – they bring with them an unconsidered primitiveness.

“Men are wearing dresses now but not pretending to be women. They are proud to be men – that’s fairly modern.” In autumn 1982 Boy George was in the charts with Culture Club’s first single. “George wants to look pretty, rather than handsome. He asks me whether I find him attractive and I have to pretend he’s a girl and give him an appraisal – which I don’t mind. I don’t feel threatened.”

“What’s important at the Palace is feeling special, being noticed – in a sea of other people. A good club has become a place to go for the right social reasons, rather than just to hang out.”

➢ View more Ridgers portfolio at his website

ESSENTIAL READS

➢ Blitz kids and the birth of the New Romantics – my overview for the Observer Music Magazine

➢ 69 Dean Street and the making of UK club culture
– for The Face magazine, here at Shapersofthe80s

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Cover star Tuinol Barry photographed by Derek Ridgers in 1983. Sadly, Barry was to die young.

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