|Public transit||Mornington Crescent|
|Owner||The Mint Group|
|Designation||Grade II listed|
|Capacity||2,434 seated on 4 levels (1901)|
|Current use||Music venue|
|Architect||W. G. R. Sprague|
KOKO (previously called The Music Machine and Camden Palace) is a concert venue and former theatre in Camden Town, London, England. The building was known as Camden Palace from 1982 until its 2004 purchase and extensive restoration led by Oliver Bengough and Mint Entertainment. Since, the club has been known as KOKO and serves as one of the premier live music venues in London.
The Camden Theatre opened on Boxing Day 1900. With a capacity of 2,434 it was one of the largest theatres in London outside the West End. The theatre was designed by the prolific theatre architect W. G. R. Sprague. The theatre was opened by Ellen Terry, then the most celebrated actress in England, who had lived in nearby Stanhope Street as a child.
The St Pancras Gazette, a local newspaper, commented as follows in a review of the theatre's production of an opera called The Geisha in 1901:
- "It is a matter of special gratification that the opera was presented at our beautiful local theatre on a scale of magnificence and completeness which would do credit to a West End theatre, but this is nothing new at the Camden Theatre, being rather a continuation of the policy with which the proprietors started their enterprise, viz. to offer nothing to their patrons but standard work, which has received the unmistakable approval of critics and public."
On 6 December 1909 it reopened as a variety theatre and became the Camden Hippodrome Theatre. By 1911 films were being presented as part of the variety programme and in January 1913 it became a cinema known as the Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre. In January 1928, the theatre was bought by the Gaumont British cinema circuit.
Closed during World War II, it outlived many similar buildings, including Camden Town's other theatre, the Bedford Theatre, because the BBC took it over to be used a radio and recording studio in 1945. They continued to use the former theatre until the early 1970s. Among the first weekly series to be broadcast live from here was The Richard Tauber Programme [1945–47]. Later recorded at the theatre were The Goon Show and the first Monty Python's Flying Circus album (2 May 1970).
However, in 1977 it re-opened as a live music venue named The Music Machine. The venue was the central location for the 1979 Disco Dance film The Music Machine. The venue was particularly popular with new wave and punk bands, hosting concerts by groups including The Boomtown Rats, the The Clash, and the The Jam . It was the last venue AC/DC's Bon Scott was seen drinking at before his death from alcohol poisoning in 1980 – After leaving there, Scott finished up at The Dublin Castle on Camden's Parkway where he was placed in a taxi by a school teacher and later died that night.
In 1982 the venue was renamed Camden Palace. During this period it hosted the weekly rock night "Feet First", each Tuesday. The nights were hosted by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan of electronic band Visage. Camden Palace was the location of Madonna's first UK performance.
In the late 1990s the Camden Palace was famous for holding its weekly rave events and was illuminated with UV lights, state of the art sound system and décor of the rave scene. During this time the legendary weekly House/Acid house event, Clockwork orange was held on a Saturday with Andy Manston and Danny Gould running until 2001, Frantic ( Hard House/Trance) and the iconic House/Trance event, Peach with Graham Gold, Pele, Darren Pearce and Dave Lambert running until the Camden palace closed in 2004.
Although in recent years such events have made a return to the venue since its incarnation as Koko, including reunions of peach and clockwork orange.
2004 restoration and relaunch
By 2004 the Camden Palace was rundown and in a state of disuse. That year the theatre was purchased by Oliver Bengough and his company Mint Entertainment. Bengough saw the potential of the theatre and embarked on a multimillion-pound restoration process lasting more than six months. The restoration process included all new technical facilities, enabling the scope of operations to be broadened to include live concert performances, club nights, corporate events and television production. The Daily Telegraph described the modern interior amenities and the building's historic facade as "lend[ing] a sense of grandeur to any gig".
Since restoration, KOKO's commitment to sustainability has been recognised with an award for Environmental Excellence in Camden Organisations (EECO), for Innovation in Waste Management and Recycling. The venue has been praised for ‘the continued exceptional effort by staff to achieve a 95% recycling rate in the difficult events and entertainment industry, and for the use of recycled materials within the building in order to close the recycling loop.’
The key points in KOKO's innovative recycling and waste management strategy include:
- Recycling paper and cardboards (including flyers), as well as approximately 30,960 glass bottles, 20,088 aluminium cans and 77,166 plastic cups every month;
- Replacing 982 light bulbs with GLOWB low energy light bulbs;
- Reducing emissions, by working with ‘The Carbon Trust' and ‘Better Climate for Camden’: by switching to a green energy supplier, KOKO aims to prevent the release into the atmosphere of 520 tonnes of CO2 over the next 12 months;
- as KOKO currently produces approximately 310.809 tonnes of CO2 per annum, they have teamed up with Solar Aid who supply Solar Lanterns to under-developed countries to help offset this.
On 19 March 1964, The Rolling Stones performed there. On 10 March 1970, The Faces performed there. In 1972 the theatre was the venue for The Goon Show's reunion episode The Last Goon Show of All, which was attended by several senior Royal Family members and which was filmed and recorded.
On Monday 10 September 1979, London band Iron Maiden performed a gig at The Music Machine. The band, at the time, consisted of Steve Harris (bas guitar), Dave Murray (lead guitar), Paul Di'anno (vocals), Tony Parsons (lead guitar) and Doug Sampson (drums). The gig was recorded by at least one person in the audience, and can be found at YouTube from time to time.
On Friday 14 November 1980, The Music Machine hosted an infamous gig by London mod revival band the Chords where onstage interactions between the band members ranged from frosty to outright hostile and following the gig, the Chords' frontman Billy Hassett left the band acrimoniously and was later replaced by Kip Herring.
In 1985, Steve Marriott performed there with his band, Packet Of Three.
The cult London electronic band You You You, consisting of Karen O'Connor, Laurence Malice and Iain Williams, performed their debut concert at the Camden Palace on 13 January 1987. The band billed their first series of concerts as 'Stage 1' of their 'World Domination Tour' and enlisted the help of illustrator Mark Wardel to design their publicity. Their appearance at the Camden Palace attracted over 1,000 people on what the Met Office recorded as probably being England's coldest night of the 20th Century.
Prince performed a secret show at KOKO in 2007, his first UK show in over 10 years, with David Walliams, Damien Hirst, Will Young, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, David Furnish, Boy George and Pete Burns in attendance. The American band My Chemical Romance also played a private show at KOKO in 2007, hosted by Radio 1. Later in 2007, The Disney Channel used KOKO to host Hannah Montana's Live in London, an exclusive one-off event broadcast globally for her fans. Siouxsie Sioux recorded a live dvd in 2008 at KOKO called Finale: The Last Mantaray & More Show.
Since restoration, the club has attracted well known musicians including Terrorvision, Al Murray, Irfan Latif, Don Broco, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Prince, Coldplay, Tori Kelly, Katy B, My Chemical Romance, Emma Marrone, Oasis, Bruno Mars, Thom Yorke, Amy Winehouse, La Roux, Skrillex, Lady Gaga, The Killers, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Tokio Hotel, Lily Allen, Demi Lovato, Usher, Noel Gallagher, Swedish House Mafia, JoJo, Azealia Banks, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and many others.
In 2017, Ed Sheeran performed a private concert to promote his third studio album ÷ in partnership with UK radio station Capital FM, as also Ariana Grande in September 2018 to promote her fourth studio album, Sweetener.
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- Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 102 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
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