Rock Acts at Borough Hall

Ellen asks:

I work for Greenwich Dance Agency which is based in the old town hall. I am currently trying to compile a brief history of all the artists who have performed here over the years, we have heard rumours that ‘The Who’, ‘Slade’ and ‘The Rolling Stones’ have all performed here at some point. However beyond the Rolling Stones we have had very little luck in finding any information on anything to do with this building, and I was wondering whether you knew of any place I could look to find information on the building and who has performed here.

The Phantom replies:

I’ve been wanting to review GDA for some time, but never manage to get to sign up for taster-type classes before they’re full up. You must be doing something right to get full so quickly…

I would say your first stop would be the Borough Museum at 232 Plumstead High Street, London SE18, Plumstead (no website that I can find.) It’s a trip from Central Greenwich but not a total pain in the arse and presumably you’re super-fit for the shortish walk from the station. I’m not sure exactly where the council keeps its archives for social stuff like what went on at the Borough Hall, but I’m betting the people there would know. Old playbills, listings and ephemera may well be available, but not on show, so it’s worth asking. People who work in these places tend to be very enthusiastic about projects like yours, so do involve them in your search.

If this throws up a blank, try the Heritage Centre at the Arsenal. Again it’s a bit of a bloomin’ faff to get to on public transport, but not a total headache, and again the folk there are very helpful.

Going slightly higher up the a-bit-too-much-like-hard-work list, there’s a small possibility that the archives of the Theatre Museum will have something.

Depending on how keen you are to get this info together, there is another option, but now we really are talking pain-in-the-arse. The British Newspaper Library at Colindale is a right-royal day (or several week’s) trip. Most of it’s on microfiche, which you have to scroll through for hours on end (unless it’s changed since I last went – perhaps they’ve put it all on computers now…) Even working out which newspapers you need will be a bit of a pain in the proverbial, although you can probably narrow down the search by collaborating with the museum guys and finding out which newspapers would have carried adverts, listings or reviews.

This could turn into a seriously good project – a labour of love – I’m not saying you’ll get a best-selling book out of it, but you may well find that just making a list of famous acts who’ve played there isn’t enough to slake your thirst for information. If it were me (and to be honest I’m glad it’s not – I procrastinate far too much already) I’d be looking at including it in a more general history of the Borough Hall, including an overview of what goes on there today as well as finding out about some of the smaller acts, too, then doing an ask for people who attended events there, and getting some memories from them. For that I would suggest Blackheath’s excellent Age Exchange Reminiscence Centre – they may also hold archives, but have a huge amount of material and access to interesting people with something to say.

Once you have some of the names, it’s worth a call to the fan clubs to see if they have any memorabilia. You can try the managements too – if the band’s big enough they may have an archive section (god, that really does make these old rock dinosaurs crusty, doesn’t it…) but I’m betting that the fans will be far more entertaining – and passionate.

I think this could make a fascinating book. I’d buy it…

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