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Rainbow Theatre

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Rainbow Theatre

Rainbow Theatre, London

The Rainbow Theatre (originally Astoria Theatre) is a Grade II*-listed building in Finsbury Park, London, England. 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[1] 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.[2] 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 Ronald Colman in Condemned and a Gala Stage Spectacle, with artists from the other Astoria Theatres making a special engagement on the stage.

In December 1930, the Astoria was taken over by Paramount Pictures. It was taken over again, on 27 November 1939, by Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Theatres Ltd.

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.

The Beach Boys' album, Live In London, was recorded here in 1968.

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.[4] The Who later wrote and recorded the song "Long Live Rock", which celebrates the theatre.[5]

The Osmonds made their debut appearance in London at the Rainbow Theatre in the early 1970s.

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.

In the Summer of 1972, Dave Martin of Martin Audio was commissioned to install professional audio mixing consoles and sound support equipment to this, and two other proposed Rainbow theaters in and around London. Thomas "Todd" Fischer, Equipment Manager at the time for the British Rock group "Uriah Heep" had established a friendship and working arrangement with Martin [6] while on a two-week hiatus before resuming a European tour, which required Mr. Fischer to wire up the audio mixing consoles, a somewhat laborious and tedious task that took almost 10 fourteen-hour days to complete.

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.

Queen recorded a concert at the Rainbow on 19th and 20th November 1974 called Live At The Rainbow; released on VHS in 1992 box set called: Box Of Tricks. [7]

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.

Eric Clapton recorded a concert there in January 1973. Featured artists who played with him were Pete Townshend, Stevie Winwood, Ron Wood, Rich Grech, Jim Capaldi, Jimmy Karstein & Rebop.

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.[8] 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.[9]

Kool & the Gang recorded three live tracks at the Rainbow for their Love & Understanding album, released in 1976.

Marc Bolan & T.Rex played at the Rainbow on March 18th, 1977 along with The Damned as support. This was part of the band's Dandy in the Underworld tour and ended up as their final tour. This concert performance is featured as part of T.Rex's "Live 1977 And In Conversation" CD Album (2007).

In 1977, the Ramones played two gigs at the venue, on 31 December and 1 January 1978. The New Year's Eve concert was recorded and released as the It's Alive album.

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,[10] 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).

Thin Lizzy recorded part of their Live and Dangerous album at the Rainbow in 1977. Classic Rock magazine readers voted it the best live rock album of all time.

Olivia Newton-John played 2 dates of her "Totally Hot World Tour" here on the 28th and 29th November 1978.

The Jacksons played at the Rainbow Theatre on 6, 7, 8, 9, 23 and 24 February 1979 as part of their Destiny World Tour to support the Destiny album, which had been released the previous year.

Secret Affair played the Rainbow on 8 December 1979.

Part of Stiff Little Fingers' first live album, Hanx! was recorded at the Rainbow in 1980.

Iron Maiden recorded a video Live at Rainbow Theatre released in 1981.

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.

The dramatic climax to the 1980 British film Breaking Glass was shot here. Directed by Brian Gibson, it starred Hazel O'Connor, Phil Daniels and Jonathan Pryce.

Boxing venue

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.


  1. ^ "A History of the Rainbow Theatre". Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  2. ^ Cherry, Bridget and Pevsner, Nikolaus (1999) London 4: North. London: Penguin; p. 705
  3. ^ Cherry, Bridget and Pevsner, Nikolaus (1999) London 4: North. London: Penguin; p. 705
  4. ^ "New Rainbow/Astoria". Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ Personal memoir - Thomas "Todd" Fischer
  7. ^ "QUEEN CONCERTS - Official release Live At The Rainbow (VHS)". 
  8. ^ The Best Gigs Ever
  9. ^ It's Too Late to Stop Now (Van Morrison)
  10. ^ "Bob Marley and the Wailers Live! At the Rainbow (Video 1991) - IMDb". 

External links

  • Astoria, Finsbury Park
  • Rainbow Theatre Listing at Cinema Treasures
  • A history of The Rainbow/Astoria Finsbury Park, London

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