‘Let’s keep spirit of Amy alive and hope Koko rises from the ashes’
Historic venue deluged by messages of support after rooftop blaze
10 January, 2020 — By Samantha Booth
Koko, now without its dome (right)
ONE of Camden Town’s most celebrated music venues has been sent messages of support from well-wishers after a fire ripped through its dome roof.
Sixty firefighters worked hard to save the main building at the Grade-II listed nightclub Koko on Monday night after being called to the fire just before 9pm. The venue, which first opened in Camden High Street in 1900, had been closed since March for a major £40million refurbishment expanding into the former Hope and Anchor pub next door in Crowndale Road.
Camden’s fire borough commander Simon Tuhill praised the crews for containing the fire to the roof and preventing it from spreading.
Nobody was injured.
The copper dome, which was due to be converted into a bar, appears to have borne the brunt of the fire but ornate features inside the main theatre hall look to have been saved. The cause is still being investigated. Olly Bengough, owner of Koko, said in a statement he was “deeply saddened”.
He said: “The amount of support we have received from the public has been amazing and we’ll be doing our best to get the redevelopment of this iconic building back on track. “We will provide further comments as circumstances become clearer.”
There has been an outpouring of memories and support for the venue, which was formerly known as The Music Machine and then Camden Palace. The venue is one of London’s most famous stages having hosted the likes of Iron Maiden, The Clash, Ed Sheeran, The Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, Madonna and Prince in the past, often as secret concerts.
Henry Conlon, owner of the Dublin Castle in Parkway, said: “Let’s remind ourselves of the wise words of our late Amy Winehouse. “As Amy was scooping five Grammy awards she reminded the world that ‘Camden Town ain’t burning down!’ Let’s keep her spirit alive with this statement.”
He added: “Let’s pull together and be positive in the knowledge that Koko will overcome this horrendous damage and become even more of the Superclub status it deserves. Brighton has its pier, Paris has its Notre Dame and Camden Town has its own Palace… Koko! Let the people of Camden and its councillors do all they can to help this Phoenix rise from the ashes to bring this venue back to the pinnacle of London’s live music status in the UK and place Camden back upon the world’s stage of the best places to catch a performance.”
The fire rages
Chris McCormack, the founder of festival Camden Rocks, which uses the venue, said: “It has such an amazing history, that venue. I was excited about what they were doing with it in the refurbishment. It goes back years for me from when I first moved to London from South Shields, it was something I always heard about as a kid. It’s a great iconic place and important to Camden.”
Carl Barât, best known for being the co-frontman of The Libertines, said: “Koko has always been a special place for me. By far the most beautiful venue in Camden. I’ve spent so many nights there. I remember 10 years ago, the first night I met my now partner I’d played a gig and we climbed up onto the roof to look at the stars. It’s always saddening when you see such places go up in smoke and I’m hoping it’s not terminal. I’m sure it will get back on its feet and we will continue to love and support it.”
Mickey Beans, a former Camden resident who played with La Roux and Ali Love at the venue, said: “I always enjoyed observing the long queues tailing the corner and trying to guess who was performing judging by the dress code of the crowds. It’s a real shame that this place has been damaged by fire – we are all eagerly waiting its re-opening. But, I really hope that it won’t signify the end to a much-needed London venue where people can join together to enjoy themselves.”
The orange flames could be seen towering above the white covers over the scaffolding as firefighters arrived and meetings at the Town Hall opposite were suspended.
Crews settled most of the flames within an hour and it was under control by about 2.40am. Firefighters remained at the scene on Tuesday to check there were no hotspots that could restart the fire. The venue was expected to reopen in spring, according to the company’s website.
The revamp plans include six new live performance areas, a radio station and studio, three new restaurants, a rooftop conservatory and terrace, and a new penthouse space for musicians to rehearse.
Star struck: The changing face of iconic music venue
IT’S had many faces over the past century, evolving with different names and opportunities. Koko was opened by Ellen Terry as The Camden Theatre on Boxing Day 1900, and nine years later was renamed Camden Hippodrome, where it hosted shows with the likes of Charlie Chaplin.
From 1913 it was a cinema and free Christmas performances were given to local children in the 1930s. In 1940 the cinema closed and five years later it was bought by the BBC who recorded The Goon Show and the first Monty Python album there. Rock stars The Rolling Stones recorded Camden Theatre 1964 at the venue. The 1970s saw another change of name – for five years many Camden residents still remember it as The Music Machine.
The Clash took up a summer residency during 1978, and the venue became popular with New Wave and punk bands. For many, Koko is best known as Camden Palace. During its long reign from 1982 to 2004, Madonna held her first UK show there and it became a home for dance music nights during the 90s. Sixteen years ago, it underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment and reinvented itself as Koko.
Some of the biggest stars have played there including the late Camden legend Amy Winehouse, Prince at a secret show and Ed Sheeran.
It closed early last year to start a £40m transformation and had set an opening date for spring 2020.