Stage for silver screen and the rock’n’rollers

It has been quite a few weeks for the man now surely seen as the nation’s pre-eminent musical treasure, Sir Paul McCartney, writes Yann Tear.

He turned 80 the other day and last weekend became the oldest ever headliner at Glastonbury.

Next March, on the 29th to be precise, it will be a mere 60 years since he made one of two appearances with The Beatles at a long-forgotten venue which all but those of a certain age will remember.

Records suggests it was the very first gig to be played there – The Beatles appeared in a bill alongside Chris Montez and Tommy Rowe.

The Lewisham Odeon opened as the wonderful, art deco, Gaumont Palace in 1932 in Loampit Vale, with a 3,000-capacity for the silver screen blockbusters of the age.

Paul McCartney in 1976 with Wings Picture: Wikimedia Commons / Jim Summaria

A fire forced it to close but it reopened as the Lewisham Odeon in 1962 and after its glorious heyday as a music venue, it closed in 1981, before playing out its final years as a bingo hall, nightclub and pool club.

It was finally demolished in 1991 as part of a road-widening scheme. Call it progress or sad end of an era, according to taste.

Macca and The Beatles had a setlist on that first date which included Love Me Do, A Taste of Honey, Do You Want to Know a Secret, Please Please Me and I saw Her Standing There.

Macca must have loved it, because The Beatles returned to the Odeon for another gig on December 8, 1963 and he would return to play with Rod Stewart in 1974 and again his wife Linda with their band Wings.

By the time The Beatles played there for a second time in late 1963, Beatlemania was in full swing. In fact, when tickets for the show went on sale a couple of weeks before, police had to hold back a huge crowd.

Legend has it that the band were driven to the venue for the concert from Ladywell police station in a police van.

The Beatles were not the only greats to grace this corner of South London. Broadcaster Danny Baker recently Tweeted his fond memory of heading to see local boy David Bowie perform there in 1973.

The broadcaster said: “A true homecoming gig for him. Me and my mates couldn’t get tickets but went anyway. Touts wanted 5-6 pounds a seat which we didn’t have. We stood at the loading doors down the side and heard Jean Genie thumping out.

The Lewisham Odeon in 1964,  Pictures Lewisham Archives

The list of performers at the venue shows that so many of the major players of the era turned out there. It is a veritable who’s who.

The Rolling Stones, The Who, Rod Stewart, The Police, Status Quo, The Clash, Queen, Dire Straits, The Specials, Chuck Berry, The Kinks, Little Richard, Ella Fitzgerald, ELP, Ian Dury, Genesis and The Cure were some of the famous acts who played there.

One giggoer from those halcyon days, Elaine Brooks, said: “In the 1960s there were so very many artists playing there that you just turned up and watched whoever was on.

“I saw Kinks, Cliff Richard, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders (though Wayne couldn’t be bothered to turn up), The Stones, in fact, too many to mention.

“Packed houses. Great times,” wrote another, Norman Hayden, who went to see the Dave Clark Five and The Hollies in 1965 and also The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

It seemed it was quite a magnet for celebrities too. “I Saw The Who there in 1981 and in pub before, found myself standing next to James Hunt at the bar,” wrote another giggoer, rubbing shoulders with the late Formula One champion. Then again, maybe Hunt was just there for a beer.

South Londoners still have the nearby O2 Brixton Academy as a prime mid-sized music venue to go to. It cornered the local market after the demise of the Odeon.

But for sure, many who used to get to the Lewisham venue – some on a very regular basis by the sounds of it – will still be mourning the loss, many years on.

 

 

Pictured: The Gaumont Palace – Picture: Lewisham Archives

 

 


 

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