The Rainbow Theatre (originally Astoria Theatre) is a Grade II*-listed building, in the Finsbury Park area of North London. Built as a cinema in 1930, it later became well known as a music venue and is now a Pentecostal church.
Former Stage Manager, Rick Burton has published a website with a detailed history of who has performed at the theatre and when.
When it opened in 1930, the Astoria Cinema was one of the largest in the world. Standing at the junction of Isledon Road and Seven Sisters Road on an island site, it was the fourth of the famous London suburban Astoria Theatres built by film exhibitor Arthur Segal. It was opened on 29 September 1930: there were three other Astorias, Streatham, Old Kent Road and Brixton. It was in use as a cinema until September 1971 when it was permanently given over to live music - although rock concerts had been a feature throughout the 1960s.
The plain faience exterior, designed by Edward A. Stone, acted as a foil to a lavish 'atmospheric interior' by Somerford & Barr, with decoration carried out by Marc-Henri and G. Laverdet. A Moorish foyer with a goldfish-filled fountain (which survives today) led to an auditorium recalling an Andalucian village at night, with seating for 3,040. The stage, 35 feet (11 m) deep and spanned by a 64-foot-wide (20 m) proscenium arch, was equipped with a twin-console Compton 3-manual/13-rank theatre organ (opened by G. T. Pattman). Backstage, there were 12 dressing rooms. The opening night, 29 September 1930, featured Ronald Colman in Condemned and a Gala Stage Spectacle, with artists from the other Astoria Theatres making a special engagement on the stage.
Music venue: 1960s
One-night concerts were held on the stage in the 1960s, with the building becoming one of the premier music venues in the capital.
It was at this theatre that Jimi Hendrix first burnt a guitar, with the collusion of his manager Chas Chandler and a journalist from NME. Press agent Tony Garland was dispatched to purchase lighter fluid and Jimi proceeded to set fire to his Fender Stratocaster guitar on 31 March 1967 on the opening night of the Walker Brothers tour, resulting in a hospital appointment for Jimi's burnt fingers and a moment that set the precedent for rock performances. Jimi later repeated the stunt at Monterey. Frank Zappa was given the burnt Astoria guitar by ex-Hendrix roadie 'H' at Miami, he had apparently acquired the guitar at some point and was then working for Zappa. When Jimi left the stage at The Finsbury Astoria, the guitar was intact apart from burns. The guitar handed to Frank Zappa in Miami was also intact, but the neck was removed later and ended up badly rotted after years left exposed to damp at Zappa's house.
Music venue: 1970s-80s
Renamed "Odeon" on 17 November 1970, the theatre was closed by the Rank Organisation on 25 September 1971 with Bill Travers in Gorgo and Hayley Mills in Twisted Nerve.
The Odeon was converted into the Rainbow Theatre from 4 November 1971, when The Who performed the first concert in the newly named theatre. The Who later wrote and recorded the song "Long Live Rock", which celebrates the theatre.
Pink Floyd played a four-night stand at the venue during the beginning of their Eclipsed Tour, on which its main set is mostly known as the "pre-Dark Side Of The Moon" set, from 17–20 February 1972. The last night performance was partially broadcast on BBC Radio. The band also played two benefit concerts at the Rainbow on 4 November 1973 for Robert Wyatt, who had been recently paralyzed from a fall.
Yes filmed their concerts on 15 and 16 December 1972 at the Rainbow for the 1975 film release Yessongs. These are not necessarily the same recordings used for the triple live album Yessongs which was recorded from February through December 1972 and released in 1973. However, the two performances that are the same on the album and the film are "Close to the Edge" and "Würm".
June 1, 1974 is date of the collaborative performance at the Rainbow Theatre by Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico and Brian Eno. Other well-known musicians, including Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt, also contributed to the concert.
Genesis performed many times at the Rainbow over their career. Their concert of 20 October 1973 was recorded and released as Live at the Rainbow Theatre. The concert recording was included on the first Genesis Archive set, released in 1998.
The Sweet also appeared at the Rainbow Theatre on 21 December 1973 and subsequently released a live album called Live At The Rainbow 1973.
Van Morrison performed two nights at this venue in July 1973, with his band at the time The Caledonia Soul Orchestra. The second of the performances was broadcast in May 1974, as the first ever simultaneous broadcast, on BBC 2 and Radio 2. The concert was voted by Q magazine readers as one of the top live performances of all time. Several of the songs featured in the two concerts were included in Morrison's 1974 double live album It's Too Late to Stop Now.
On 1–4 August 1977 Little Feat played 4 nights there, with the Tower of Power horn section. The concerts were recorded and some material was later released on Waiting for Columbus. Mick Taylor was guest guitarist on the third night and played on two songs, "A Apolitical Blues" & "Teenage Nervous Breakdown".
Bob Marley & the Wailers played on 1, 2, 3 and 4 June 1977 at The Rainbow Theatre, as part of the Exodus Tour. The last show of the tour was released as the album Bob Marley and the Wailers Live! at the Rainbow. Thanks largely to this album Bob Marley was established as the Third World's first superstar, a legacy that survives thirty years after the album's release. In the UK alone it stayed on the chart for 56 consecutive weeks and birthed 3 hit singles. In July 1991 a video documentary, Bob Marley and the Wailers: Live! At the Rainbow directed by Keef, was released in the UK. On 16 October 2001 Tuff Gong released five songs from the 4th of June 1977 Rainbow Theatre performance on disc two of Exodus (Deluxe Edition).
Secret Affair played the Rainbow on 8 December 1979.
Iron Maiden also recorded their first music video "Women in Uniform", directed by Doug Smith and released in 1980, here.
The building had been the subject of a preservation order in the 1970s and the management company that operated the venue was unable to maintain it to the required standard. The building was closed permanently in 1982, although there were plans for its conversion to a bingo hall.
In 1995, the building was bought by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and is now used for religious ceremonies.
Occasional films were screened, including Jimi Plays Berkley in January 1972, the World Premiere of the Leonard Cohen film Bird on a Wire on 5 July 1974, and Paul McCartney's Wings, which was the last film to be screened at the Rainbow Theatre, on 10 August 1979. The venue should have hosted the premiere of Pink Floyd at Pompeii on 25 November 1972. It was cancelled at the last minute by the theatre's owner, Rank Strand. Their eventual explanation was that the film didn't have a certificate from the British Board of Film Censors and they wouldn't allow the Rainbow Theatre, which was a music venue, to be a venue for showing a film and thus could be seen to be in competition with their other established cinemas.
Following the closure of the Rainbow Theatre on 24 December 1981, it was designated a listed building, but lay empty and largely disused for the next 14 years. It was used occasionally in unlicensed boxing matches, most notably in April 1986 when Lenny McLean beat Roy Shaw in a dramatic first round knockout.
In 1995, the building was taken over by its current owners, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a controversial Brazilian Pentecostal church. They began work restoring the building and turning it into a church. The auditorium restoration was the last phase to be completed, in 1999, and the theatre is now the main base for UCKG in the UK.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2008)|
- "A History of the Rainbow Theatre". rainbowhistory.x10.mx. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
- Cherry, Bridget and Pevsner, Nikolaus (1999) London 4: North. London: Penguin; p. 705
- Cherry, Bridget and Pevsner, Nikolaus (1999) London 4: North. London: Penguin; p. 705
- "New Rainbow/Astoria". theatrestrust.org.uk. Retrieved 2009-07-23.
- "From Colman to Costello: A History of the Astoria Cinema and Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park" (PDF). p. 6. Retrieved 2013-11-30. "Down at the Astoria the scene was changing,/bingo and rock were pushing out X-rating."
- "QUEEN CONCERTS - Official release Live At The Rainbow (VHS)".
- The Best Gigs Ever
- It's Too Late to Stop Now (Van Morrison)
- "Bob Marley and the Wailers Live! At the Rainbow (Video 1991) - IMDb".
- Gray, Richard (1996). Cinemas In Britain - One Hundred Years of Cinema Architecture. Lund Humphries. ISBN 0853316856.
- "Uncut.co.uk - News".
- Astoria, Finsbury Park
- Rainbow Theatre Listing at Cinema Treasures
- A history of The Rainbow/Astoria Finsbury Park, London