Somewhere Over The Rainbow – There’s A Church! – A Sad Farewell To The Rainbow Theatre.
After having first been used as a cinema, which was, after all, what it was originally designed and built for, the building that many a concert goer from the 70s attended in order to pay homage to their chosen rock gods, (or indeed godesses), has now become a church.
After it had served its time as a cinema, having originally been called the Astoria, the Odeon closed its doors in September 1971 and was renamed the Rainbow Theatre.
It was here that some of rock’s finest hours occurred. Its a long list but it started with the Who performing the opening concert in November 1971, supported by the little known Roxy Music and a great blues Singer/Guitarist called Loyd Watson who, like me, hailed from the Cambridgeshire city of Peterborough.
Prior to this, however, back in its days as a cinema, The Rainbow hosted occasional music concerts and it is notable for the fact that Jimi Hendrix played there on 31st march 1967. It was at this event, for the first time, that Jimi set fire to his guitar as part of the act – a stunt he became famous for afterwards along with playing the instrument with his teeth and behind his back. At this point, Jimi was not top of the bill however, that honour being held by the Walker Brothers. Another pre-rainbow highlight was the Beachboys who recorded their “Live In London” album there.
During its lifetime as one of the world’s premier music venues, the rainbow played host to many legendary acts, a few of which are as follows, in no particular order:
Queen, (recorded 1974’s “Live At The Rainbow”)
Genesis, (recorded 1973’s “Live At The Rainbow”)
David Bowie, (who introduced us to Ziggy Stardust there in August 1972)
Frank Zappa, (due to play 2 nights but pushed off the stage on the first night by a “fan” resulting in serious injury)
Eddie and the Hot Rods, (recorded live album 1977)
Bob Marley, (recorded “Live At The Rainbow” there)
Mott The Hoople
Buzzcocks, (recorded live album there 1979)
Yes, (parts of he live album “Yessongs” recorded here)
Thin Lizzy, (parts of “Live & Dangerous” recorded there)
Stiff Little Fingers, (live album “Hanx” recorded there, 1980)
Iron Maiden, (1981 live video “Live At Rainbow Theatre” recorded there)
and, as they say, many more.
The Rainbow closed as a music venue on Christmas Eve 1981 with the management citing difficulties in maintaining the building to the standard required by its listed status. I myself was working in the industry at the time and had become aware of the problems in staging major bands in what were relatively small venues where it was becoming difficult to cover the costs of touring. The maths, increasingly, started to point towards larger venues for major acts where they could stand a chance of making a profit.
From the venue’s point of view, all smaller venues, not just the Rainbow, it was getting difficult to fill the places often enough to keep the numbers in the black.
The Rainbow served as a boxing venue for a short time and, like many of Top Rank’s former cinemas, was considered for conversion into a Bingo Hall but in 1995, following years of disuse, it was purchased and restored by the Brazilian Pentecostal Church who still own and use it to this day.
So, one of the worlds premier venues is currently a church, nothing wrong with that, my “RockBottom” angle here is that this wonderful destination for musical pilgrims has, like many other smaller venues, fallen by the wayside as we rush towards a concert culture that involves much larger venues that are primarily designed for sporting events with tens of thousands of seats and in which you will almost certainly not have much of a view of the act – except of course, on the giant screens that have become ubiquitous at such occasions.
That’s progress of course and I accept it as you must too. If you want to see major bands its probably going to be in an Arena or stadium or at one of the increasing number of festivals that keep popping up.
The Rainbow Theatre, born 1930, still going strong.
Thanks to Rick Burton who runs an excellent site dedicated to the Rainbow Theatre here.
Here are some links for Rainbow Live concert albums.
Bob Marley & The Wailers Live At The Rainbow Theatre (recorded 1977)
This link is for the DVD.
Focus At The Rainbow, (recorded May 1973)
The guitar virtuoso Jan Akkerman was still with them at this point, (he left in 1976 but has played with them since then for short spells). remastered and sounding great. This link is for the CD, see the “Celebrated RockBottoms Store” for MP3 and other options.