Dingwalls: A Rock 'n' Roll Legacy
Thu 21 Jan
From packing timber to packed out gigs
Dingwalls is an iconic Camden Town landmark located inside the market. Its colourful heritage can be traced all the way back to June 1973 when Dingwalls Dance Hall was officially opened and its legacy lives on today as one of London’s most famous live music venues.
The early 70s were times of change in Camden. In 1972 childhood friends, business partners and founders of Northside Developments Limited, Bill Fulford and Peter Wheeler bought the Dingwalls site, an area we now know as Camden Lock Market. Armed with a plan to create workshop spaces for artists, designers and craftspeople, the duo transformed the site previously functioning as a timber yard into one of London’s first crafts and antiques markets. And the changes didn’t stop there.
In 1973 a wine merchant called John Armit and his business partner Tony Mackintosh approached NDL with an idea: to transform the ‘run-down packaging warehouse’ along the canal into Dingwalls Dance Hall. Dingwalls was designed to have a very long bar (in fact, it had the longest bar in London at the time) and it was open until 2am, as opposed to most pubs and bars which closed at 11pm. It featured live performances a few nights a week and became very famous for spotlighting up-and-coming musicians.
The Clash outside their Camden Market rehearsal studio in 1977
The formula turned out to be successful and Dingwalls Dance Hall quickly became a favourite hangout for the likes of Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones, Dave Gilmore from Pink Floyd, jazz legend George Melly and artists David Hockney and Lucian Freud. Some of the legendary nights at Dingwalls saw performances by The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. Britain’s top punk band The Stranglers played there years before they released their first album, and Dingwalls hosted Blondie’s debut in the UK – a gig that went down as one of the wildest nights in the venue’s history.
Blondie's debut gig at Dingwalls in 1979
As punk legend has it, The Stranglers – or bass guitarist Jean-Jacques Burnel more specifically – took on The Clash and The Sex Pistols in a punch up outside Dingwalls in 1976. The fight made newspaper headlines all over Britain and funnily enough, this little piece of punk rock history was in part what put Dingwalls Dance Hall on the map. You know what they say, bad press is good press.
In more recent years the likes of Noel Gallagher, the Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Mumford & Sons have graced the Dingwalls stage.
Dingwalls is probably best described by photographer Roger Morton who remembers it as London’s top venue for new music: ‘The music was not the main thing, however. It was a great place to meet people, both old friends and new friends… Musicians were there not just to play, but to enjoy the place. It was low and dark and full of life.’