Over the last 80 years, the Electric Ballroom has come to epitomise Camden Town. Over the years it has played host to top musical talent such as Ocean Colour Scene, Cage the Elephant, The Strypes, Baroness, Of Monsters and Men, Foals, The Vaccines, Snow Patrol, The Killers, Stereophonics, Sir Paul McCartney, Alt-J, Megadeth, Kaiser Chiefs, Nero, Richard Ashcroft, Miles Kane, U2, Prince, The Clash, Phil Lynott, The Boomtown Rats, Joy Division, The Smiths, Madness, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Public Enemy, Blur, Supergrass, Garbage and many more.
The Electric Ballroom dates back to 1938 when Bill Fuller took it over and opened it up as The Buffalo Club. It was a small place back then with the main entrance on Kentish Town Road. The same gate is still used for staff and deliveries and has been kept as a souvenir from the old days. An opportunity for expansion came during the war in 1941, when Camden Town tube station was bombed. Both the back of the Buffalo and the small side street beside it, which was called Dewsbury Terrace, were literally blown away. Bill then bought the whole site, and built the Buffalo up into a ballroom that could hold 2,000 people. Besides being a renowned social centre for many Irish immigrants it became hugely popular for its great music with bands like Joe Loss and The Clipper Carlton.
By the late 1950s, Bill Fuller was building a chain of ballrooms in England, Ireland and America. He was also running a management and promotions company to provide live acts for his venues. His venues included the Palladium in New York promoting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Grateful Dead. In the 1960’s, three of the main ballrooms in his chain were renamed The Carousel, these were The Buffalo in Camden, The Astoria in Manchester and a new venue in San Francisco which he would later rename the Fillmore West and then lease to Bill Graham. The Astoria on Plymouth Grove in Manchester is rumoured to be the place where the parents of Noel and Liam Gallagher met. So you could say that without Bill Fuller, Oasis might never have existed!
In the early 1970s some of the big names in rock, including Paul McCartney’s Wings and Led Zeppelin, plus a few of the new punk bands who were connected to the neighbouring Chiswick Records, used the ballroom as a rehearsal room. The Clash rehearsed at the Ballroom for a week once and Frank Zappa used it for four days. It was also popular with the local Greek community, who held wedding receptions on most Sunday afternoons, including George Michael’s sister!
In 1978, with the help of Frank Murray, Thin Lizzy’s former tour manager, the venue was re-launched as a rock venue and the name was changed from The Carousel to Electric Ballroom. Electric Ballroom opened on July 28 1978 with The Greedies, the brainchild of Phil Lynott. The Greedies’ name came about after they demanded 75% of the door and Bill Fuller called them “a crowd of greedy bastards”. The band also featured Scott Gorham and Brian Downey; the Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook and Steve Jones; Rainbow’s Jimmy Bain plus Chris Spedding. The Greedies closed their set with mass jam with Pretty Greedy, an obvious take on the Sex Pistol’s Pretty Vacant. It inspired Sid Vicious to form Vicious White Kids, who played a one-off show at the Ballroom two weeks later. The gig was billed as “Sid Sods Off” as it was also a way to raise Sid and Nancy’s air fares to America. It was a great gig and the place was packed out. According to Shane MacGowan who was at the gig. “There were a lot of transactions going down – people joining groups, buying drugs, fucking each other in the toilets, you know, the usual stuff’.” Sadly Sid and Nancy got their flight to America a few weeks later destined never to return.
The Electric Ballroom was forced to close down after about 9 months due to noise complaints. After new soundproofing it re-opened in 1979. The opening show was a 2-Tone evening, featuring The Specials, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Madness and The Selecter.
Joy Division played the Ballroom twice in 1979, when their set included early live performances of Love Will Tear Us Apart and Atmosphere. Other notable bands to play during this period were Adam & The Ants, Echo & The Bunnymen, B52’s, Talking Heads, The Clash and Wire.
In the early 80s dozens of influential bands played the venue including The Cramps, The Fall, The Only Ones, The Virgin Prunes, U2, The Sisters of Mercy, Nick Cave and The Smiths. In September 1985, The Jesus and Mary Chain played with Bobby Gillespie on drums. After their set the audience demanded an encore. When they didn’t get it some people started throwing glasses at the ceiling and smashed the strip lights, while others climbed onstage and started kicking over the amplifiers. The bouncers retaliated by waving microphone stands at certain sections of the audience and then dozens of police stormed into the Ballroom. It was one of the more memorable gigs of the 80s!
In the 1990s the Ballroom’s club nights became hugely popular, especially its Friday night goth disco Full Tilt which attracted people from all over the UK and beyond. One of the more memorable gigs from that era took place in 1996. Ocean Colour Scene, played two nights. On the second night, Noel and Liam Gallagher came on stage during the encore and sang three Oasis songs – Live Forever, Wonderwall and Cast No Shadow and then were joined by Ocean Colour Scene for a mass rendition of The Beatles’ Day Tripper.
The story continues with the Ballroom still playing host to great acts new and old. More recent gigs have included, The Hives, Spiritualized, Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol, Big Boi, Hard-Fi, The Ordinary Boys, The Bees, Graham Coxon and many more. The Electric Ballroom has plans to make many improvements and hopes to carry on building its musical legacy for many more decades to come!
In 2003 London Underground proposed a new development for Camden Town tube station which would have meant a compulsory purchase order on the Electric Ballroom and surrounding buildings on the site. They proposed a faceless office block, chain retail outlets, another cinema and a residential development. In a lengthy battle to save the Ballroom in 2004 we fought it out in a public enquiry and with the help of musicians such as Bob Geldof, Graham Coxon and others we won. However, our future is still uncertain as London Underground is currently working on a new proposal. This battle will continue to be fought as the Electric Ballroom is part of Camden’s character and its musical heritage and is still very close to Bill Fuller’s heart.
“Oh I’ll keep Camden until I move out of this world. It was the first place of my own that I had, so I wouldn’t dream of parting with it. Camden will never be sold.” – Bill Fuller