The news that rang around the world of British music last night saw the terrible word that Camden’s iconic venue Koko was caught in a disastrous blaze.
While the exact ramifications of the venue remain to be seen, we thought we’d take this moment to look back at one of the capital’s most notorious venues. A site that has welcomed as many homegrown talents as it has international stars – Koko has had many names but it’s always been a home to rock and roll.
Having started its life as The Camden Theatre the venue has seen some incredible acts grace its stage. During it’s time it bolstered the scenes of punk. new wave, new romantic and even nu-rave. They’ve done it all.
Here we take a look back at some of the most memorable moments in the life and times of one of Britain’s finest venues.
The Rolling Stones record their album Camden Theatre 1964
As ever with the Rolling Stones, things aren’t easy. If you were ever in the market to snatch up a bootleg then this should be high on your list. The Stones took to the illustrious stage at the Camden Theatre to perform a live set of songs for the BBC, it would be many people’s introduction to the band’s inflammatory live show.
The intensity of the performance can be heard in the below bootleg of the band performing ‘Cops and Robbers’. While we would likely have to pry the master tape out of the BBC’s cold, dead hand, we can at least enjoy these brief moments of musical history.
The Clash become the only band that matters with their summer residency
In the summer of 1978, the capital was still humming with the aftertaste of punk. While many will look back at the movement as a one-year-wonder The Clash were still proving that they were one of the biggest bands in London with this performance at The Music Machine.
Photographer Max Browne said of the gig, “This was the first time I’d seen the band and it was on their home ground at The Camden Palace in 1978. Their power was shattering – visually, aurally and socially of course. White lightning flashed on musical crescendos that seemed to singe the hair, crowd surfing, fans jumping up singing with the band until they were whisked offstage, only to be instantly replaced – all part of The Clash at their peak.”
This is where the band proved they were not only the biggest band in London, they were the only band that mattered. Watch a three-song-set below.
A young Madonna takes to the stage and sets out her stall, 1983
Madonna has always had a penchant for British culture. Other than taking on a dubious accent while married to Guy Ritchie, the singer has had a long love affair with British fashion. She arrived to Camden in 1982 and went to a concert, there she met Boy George and became infatuated with Koko.
A year later, the rising star of Madonna would show a hungry crowd just what a superstar she’d become. In this clip, Madonna talks about that first experience and her subsequent performance as she readies for her rapturous return in 2005.
The Cure show their mettle at huge show in ’85
The Cure were beginning to trounce the globe with an unaffected swagger of pop stars. Robert Smith and the band had started to realise their potential as a generational saviour for an eye-lined youth.
Even in ’85, with nearly a decade in the band, the group had a back-catalogue worthy of bringing any house down. When they arrived at Camden Palace they did just that, an audio of which you can hear below.
Noel Gallagher joins Kasabian for a riotous rendition of ‘Club Foot’
To celebrate the 10th birthday of NME.com, the online side of the magazine the lad rock Kings, Kasabian to perform for a rowdy and beer-soaked crowd. The band cranked out some of their bouncing hits to the gluttonous audience.
They kicked things up a notch when they invited their unauthorised Godfather Oasis’ Noel Gallagher on the stage to perform their pounding pub anthem ‘Club Foot’. Needless to say: it went off.
Amy Winehouse sells out her hometown show
If there’s one name that has become intrinsically entwined with Camden and the iconic Koko venue, it’s Amy Winehouse. The singer took to the hometown stage and delivered a quite sensational performance which reminded her roots of how tall this particular tree was about to grow.
With Back To Black marking out Winehouse as not only local talent but a global one, the singer commanded the stage with the same poise and grace as her idol Tony Bennett – but in entirely her own way. Below is a clip of Winehouse performing ‘Rehab’ at KoKo in 2006.
Prince performs a secret KOKO show, the first UK show in 10 years
Ahead of a string of shows in the nation’s capital, the mercurial artist Prince clearly felt he needed to dip his toe into the UK’s live circuit – something he hadn’t done in 10 years. He dipped that toe with a secret show at London’s Koko.
It was a set filled with some of Prince’s greatest hits and even an homage to Camden’s Queen Amy Winehouse, accompanied by his backing singer Shelby J. The Purple One would later invite Winehouse to sing that song ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ at his show at the O2, which you can see below – if you can keep the tears from flowing.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds play a one-off show and film 20,000 Days on Earth
As part of Nick Cave’s epic documentary-drama 20,000 Days on Earth (which we would highly recommend) he, along with his band The Bad Seeds, played a special one-off show at the iconic North London venue to cut alongside the film which looked at 24 hours in the life of Nick Cave.
It’s an impassioned performance which is only heightened by the history and majesty of the venue. As with the perfect wok which only gets better tasting with every stir-fry, so Koko has gathered the atmosphere of 1000 magical nights to make one special place.
Kanye West takes over North London with an all-star guestlist
In what many might call the night Skepta became a star, Kanye West took to Koko’s iconic stage to perform a secret set bolstered by some of the rap games brightest stars.
As well as Wu-Tang Clan members and Vic Mensa, Kanye also invited bright young thing and rising UK Grime star, Skepta. It’s fair to say the young man from Tottenham stole the show. Watch Skepta and Kanye West perform ‘Shutdown’ below.