Life In The Roundhouse Theatre – 60’s Style

Life at the Roundhouse was never dull back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as we experienced at first hand the hassles of Rock and Roll concerts and  how to cope with the rather strange world of British Royalty.

As I have written, at the Roundhouse we had rock concerts each Sunday.  These were quite large events, which ran from about midday to midnight, and typically had audiences of around 2000 people (we removed all the seats from the auditorium for these concerts) and of course attracted not only the main audience, but all the peripheral hangers on of the world of Rock and Roll – drug dealers, groupies, fans, fast food sellers, ticket touts and so on.  Some of these were a problem for us, others not.  So I thought you might be amused to read about how we dealt with some of the other groups of people who such concerts attracted.

Groupies:

As is well known, Rock and Roll attracts groupies, what might be less well known is that by and large these girls tended to be very young indeed, many were between 13 and 16 year old.   Whilst my security guys on the concerts had very strict instructions not to let any of these little girls back-stage or into the dressing rooms, nonetheless, the groups themselves mostly managed to find ways of getting these girls back-stage, and other girls knew exactly how to sweet talk the security guys into letting them back-stage.

Basically what all these girls were looking for was to have sex with as many Rock musicians as they could manage, and most of the musicians were very happy to help them in this ambition.  A sort of symbiotic relationship thus.   By and large the actual sex happened after the concert was over, and the bands had taken their chosen girls off to their hotels with them – Back-stage at the Roundhouse was not really conducive to good sex to be honest.  So one part of our post-concert work was chasing away the girls who had been rejected for one reason or another by the groups, and who were left sadly littering up the dressing rooms after everyone had gone away.

I always found this a depressing business, trying to persuade stoned and very young and unhappy (they had been left behind by the bands after all) little girls that they had to go home and try again the following week.   Frequently they sort of hung on grimly in the hope that one or other musician would return to claim them, which of course never happened, so it could take a long time and a lot of hassle to get them to leave.

And as I said, they tended to be well below the age of consent, which appeared to worry no-one back then, but which I suppose is giving many an elderly Rock musicians sleepless nights now given the changed attitudes to such goings on.

Hot dog wars:

From the depressing to the ridiculous.   Outside the Roundhouse during these concerts there were a group of guys selling hotdogs from carts, most of whom we knew and liked well enough, and who cheerfully gave us free hotdogs as a sort of “license” fee for setting up their carts on our property.

However, after these concerts had been running for some time, a sort of mini-mafia in the hotdog world realised that good money was to be earned at the Roundhouse each Sunday, and decided to chase off the original sellers and set up their own guys there each weekend.

 

So suddenly we found that the original hotdog sellers were being beaten up and told in no uncertain manner that they should keep away from the Roundhouse, and the new guys moved in.

Once we realised what had happened, we told these new guys to go and let the original guys back.   This they refused to do, and threatened us with the same sort of physical violence they had dealt out to the original guys.   This was a bad mistake on their part, as they rapidly discovered.

One of my stage hands was a charming, and normally very gently guy called Jon Cadbury (yes, he was part of the chocolate family) who felt very strongly about this injustice as he correctly saw it, and decided to take action against the new comers.

I happened to be present when he launched his one man assault on the new-comers, which consisted of simply going up to the guys who were selling the hot dogs and asking them politely to go away.   When they refused, he simply picked up their cart and dumped it on top of them.  I forgot to mention that John was an extremely large and strong young man.

This tactic worked, and once he had done this a few times, they got the message and disappeared, and the original guys returned and all was peace in the world of hotdog selling outside the Roundhouse thereafter.

The Rolling Stones:

I think it was in 1974 when the Rolling Stones held the first of their last concerts at the Roundhouse.  They had announced that this tour, that was going to kick off at the Roundhouse would be their last tour and that at its end, they would retire gracefully and lead the lives of country gentlemen thereafter…  Well….er… yes.

So, on the appointed day ( a day before the concert took place) the Rolling Stone’s Organisation turned up.  This was an enormous crew of American technicians all of whom talked a sort of Astronaut talk for some reason…  Saying things like “could you pass me that implement for driving nails” when they meant “pass the hammer”.

This pompous way of talking which our American cousins indulged in back then amused us all no end, and we had great difficulty in not taking the piss out of them and their over serious way of working.

Anyhow, it was a major fit-up, with hundreds of lights, speakers balloons and I seem to remember, that huge tongue thing above the stage, most of which the Stone’s own guys did, while we stood by and watched in amused wonderment at the sheer scale and cost of the entire operation.

During the set up none of the Stones were to be seen, and only actually turned up about 30 minutes before the concert began – all their instruments and so on having been tuned up by their numerous roadies.

Charlie Watts I sort of knew from before, (See Post travelling-with-charlie-wattsbut apart from seeing the Stones performing at Royal College of Art dances before they were famous, I had not had any contact with the rest of the band, so I was surprised at how small and skinny Jagger turned out to be.

Almost at once there was a crisis however, which it seemed none of the Stone’s huge entourage could deal with. This was that Keith Richards was sitting in his limo out the back of the Roundhouse refusing to come in unless someone could give him some speed.  Apparently no one from the Stones had thought of providing this, so I was suddenly confronted with a panicking Jagger who asked me if I could help..  Not really a problem obviously as the place was crawling with drug dealers for such a concert…   So I organised the needed speed, Richards swallowed it and the concert duly went on its happy and noisy way.

After the concert has finished and every one had gone, I wandered out to the car park behind the Roundhouse, and discovered Richards’ limo still there, the chauffeur leaning patiently against the car as Richards dashed round and round the limo… trying to get rid of the speed induced energy.  I stood there for a good 15 minutes chatting to the chauffeur, who told me this happened all the time with Richards…   Finally he slowed down enough to get into the limo and was driven away, still jerking around in the back of the enormous black limo.

The only other amusing thing about the concert was that during the concert, the cops who had been working outside the theatre trying to keep the crowds off the roads and generally keeping things under control outside all came crowding into the theatre to watch the concert. and about 5 or 6 of them found their way up to the lighting control box where I was sitting with my lighting guy, who had constructed what was probably the biggest joint ever made – it was about a meter long – and was tied up above the lighting desk ready for him to smoke during the gig.

Instant paranoia obviously, but if any of the cops noticed it, they showed no sign of doing so, he didn’t get to smoke his super joint during the concert as had been his intention.

Royalty:

On several occasions members of the Great British Royal family attended various shows, which caused all manner of silly problems for us.  The first time I was confronted with preparing for some Duchess or other who was going to attend a show I was introduced to a very tall and sombre man, who turned out to be a Major in the army and who was her social secretary.

He was very concerned to see exactly which seat the good lady would be sitting on, and to ensure that during the interval she had a private place to go and drink a cup of coffee, and even more concerned to ensure that there was a lavatory set aside for her exclusive use as well.  The coffee drinking place was not a real problem, we offered him our Director’s office, which he duly inspected and said would be fine, provided we had one of our ushers to lead her to it in the interval.  The bog was a problem however, as we simply didn’t have any “private” bogs to offer her Royal Buttocks.   He was extremely unhappy that I couldn’t provide a private bog for her.. .but had to accept it.  I suggested she went before she came and avoided coffee during the interval, which advice did not amuse him one bit.

In the event, she turned out to be a perfectly pleasant and undemanding lady who went and had her coffee in the bar along with everyone else, and as far as I know, used one or other of the normal bogs as well – though I didn’t check on that of course.

As is often the way I have noticed with the lackeys of royalty, the lackeys are more fussy than the aristocrats they serve.

On another occasion Prince Charles wanted to see one of our shows, I can’t recall which one it was.   But this was to be a strictly private visit we were told, so minimum fuss.

Charlie, he of the Hapsburg nose and big bum

We were told to let the audience in as usual, then sort of smuggle Charles in after the House lights had gone down.   So I was told to meet him outside the theatre and escort him to his seat (No idea why it was me, as I would have expected the Front of House Manager to deal with such things).

So I duly waited at the foot of the stairs outside the Roundhouse, and Charles turned up driving in a mini, closely followed by a large saloon car full of what I assume were his body guards.  He leaped out of his tiny car, greeted me perfectly civilly, and I told him to head on up the stairs and I followed up after him… And was mildly surprised at the enormous buttocks he had on him.  Truly epic they were.

So I took him to his aisle seat and left him to it.   At the end, I had to “smuggle” him out again before we brought up the house lights.  Must have surprised those folk who found the Crown Prince suddenly sitting beside then though.

Life at the Roundhouse was fun in so many ways………….

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