Roundhouse Time. – I discover the joys of the 130 hour working week

Working at the Roundhouse Theatre was both exciting and exhausting

About 1998, an old friend of mine, Robbie Simpson, asked me if I would care to be the next Production-manager at the Roundhouse Theatre where he was working at the time in some technical capacity or other. I thought this might be fun, so I applied for the job and to my considerable surprise got it, in spite of having really no real experience in that particular work. But then, the man who gave me that job – the Director of the Roundhouse Trust – had been in charge of the Egg Marketing Board before taking up his post at the Roundhouse….

Thus began what was probably the most amazing three years of my life.

Being Production Manager there meant being in charge of everything apart from Front of House and office type administration, so I was in charge of a staff of about 30 or so totally weird hippy-like stage hands, electricians, carpenters, cleaners and others, and was totally responsible to ensure that everything technical worked for incoming companies and the public.

It also meant working for anything up to 130 hours every few weeks as a new show came in (The Roundhouse was a sort of short run pre-west end theatre), as most shows came for about a month and then headed to the west end theatres if they were successful with us.

Being literally an old engine roundhouse – the first in the world built by Stevenson in 1836, it wasn’t actually a good structure for theatre, so we more or less completely rebuilt the auditorium and stage for each production…..

We had the most amazing variety of shows there, ranging from classical music concerts, musicals, film shows, huge rock shows every Sunday, drama and so on.. Anything you can think of could and probably did happen there at one time or another.

People who we worked with included, and this list is far from complete:-

Doctor John

Pink Floyd,


Stone Ground,

And outside the Roundhouse I had the pleasure of working with Frank Zappa as well… A man whose work I admired enormously…. And I am happy to say that he was every bit as pleasant and sharp in person as he seemed to be when one saw him being interviewed. An intriguing man and an incredible guitarist too.

Well to make the list shorter, we had almost every rock musician and band apart from The Beatles, the Doors, Hendrix and Joplin. For the rest more or less everyone who was busy with Rock in the years between 1969 and 1974 appeared there in one way or another…. One highlight was the first of the Stone’s Last concerts… That was circus to say the least, which I shall write about more fully later.


Pierre Boulez,

London Philharmonic Orchestra,

BBC Symphony Orchestra,

Le Grande Magique Circus,

Arian Menushkin’s Théâtre du Soleil,

Jean-Louis Barrault,


Peter Brooke,

Sir Lawrence Olivier,

Johnathan Miller

Jeremy Irons,

David Essex,

Bernard Breslaw (he was such a gentle person in spite of his impressive size)

Continue reading “Roundhouse Time. – I discover the joys of the 130 hour working week”

Boulez And What’s His Name – 2 Very Different Conductors

While I was working at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, we not only held Rock Concerts regularly, (see my earlier posts about them) but for a period, we also hosted a series of classical concerts.  well, I use the term “classical” to differentiate them from the Rock Concerts, but in fact they were concerts made up of modern “serious” music.

What on earth do you call the contemporary equivalent of Bach and Wagner?

Whatever the correct term for this sort of music happens to be, the BBC had decided in its wisdom that they would broadcast a series of live concerts of extremely modern music under the baton of Pierre Boulez, who at that time (1974) was the resident conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

I am not sure why they had made this decision, except perhaps it might have been simply because Boulez was not only a conductor, but also a composer of such music, and a very active proponent of modern music.

Whatever the reason, a whole series of these concerts were put together and broadcast live from the Roundhouse over a period of several months.

Most of these concerts left me totally cold, as I have never been able to get into the more modern type of music.. all those plunks, squeals and roars simply fail to move me in any way – other than as far away from it all as I can get.   Having said that, working with Boulez was an unalloyed pleasure. He was such a gentle person, totally lacking in the arrogance I found to be the norm with many of the other conductors I worked with over the years. All conductors (except Boulez) insist on being addressed as Maestro for some reason, but he didn’t.   Well at least he never expected me to use that term, I always simply addressed him as Monsieur Boulez, and my technicians simply addressed him (to the total horror of the BBC guys and the members of the Symphony Orchestra) as Pierre.  Which didn’t phase him one bit.


As I said, off stage he was a delightful and relaxed man, extremely easy to work with and simply a pleasure to be with.  On stage however he was very different, still extremely civilised and polite, but meticulous and totally engaged in his work.  A total professional in all respects.

Continue reading “Boulez And What’s His Name – 2 Very Different Conductors”

The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra – Unbelievable Joy

The other day I was reminded of this incredible phenomena, El Sistema, in which kids all over Venezuela receive a musical education outside their schools, with an emphasis on kids in the poorer sections of Venezuela such as slums and villages.

As you can see from this video, these kids are obviously having a total ball playing their music. Such energy and exuberance is so good to see.

Many years ago while I was Production Manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, we did a whole series of concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Pierre Boulez (a delightful man to work with by the way), but what struck me most forcibly about the musicians was their apparent boredom with what they were playing – it was obviously all a matter of rote for them.  I found the same attitude with most of the other major orchestras I also worked with in those years.

So watching these kids playing, laughing their heads off, swaying and obviously truly enjoying what they are doing is so refreshing, and to my mind what playing music should be about.

Continue reading “The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra – Unbelievable Joy”