The Atomic Sunrise Festival. The Roundhouse, London, 1970

The Atomic Sunrise Festival. The Roundhouse, London, 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

This was a week-long festival that took place in March 1970 at the Roundhouse in London which was a regular gig for counterculture bands, and as the 70s went on, would be host to thousands of gigs by pretty much every touring band that ever trod the boards. It was billed as “Seven Nights of Celebration” and as you can see, it was a wild affair! People stood around and smoked and everything.

It was a collaboration between regular performers at what were called the Sunday Implosion gigs and The Living Theatre, a radical experimental theatre company, indeed the oldest radical experimental theatre company in the world apparently. Though how anyone might be able to ascertain this is unknown. There could've been one in Siberia in the 1600s and you'd not have known.

Anyway, this was very much the era of the radical experimental theatre company, which, I’m betting, involved some degree of nudity, chanting and freaking out in the name of dance. I do hope so. 

During the week of gigs, Living Theatre performers moved amongst the people dancing (I told you, didn’t I?) There were three bands every night.  The full bill for the week’s gigs was as thus;

Alexis Korner, Arthur Brown, Audience, Black Sabbath (didn’t turn up), Brian Auger and the Trinity, Clark Hutchinson Band, David Bowie, Formerly Fat Harry, Genesis, Graham Bond, Gypsy, Hawkwind, Jackie Lomax, Juicy Lucy, Kevin Ayers and the Whole World, Liverpool Scene, Marsha Hunt, Mighty Baby, Peter Straker. Principal Edward's Magic Theatre, Quintessence, Third Ear Band

The whole thing was filmed and the fragments that survive show the earliest footage of Hawkwind and Genesis known and of David Bowie, just pre Man Who Sold The World. Will no-one think of the Clark Hutchinson Band and their hard rocking improvised jams flavoured with eastern influences? They released 3 albums from 1969-91 and are long forgotten now but are groovy in the extreme.

Genesis hadn't even signed with Charisma at this point (they would do several weeks later) and there were barely 10 people in the audience to see their set. Aw. This was the line-up with Ant Phillips and John Mayhew on drums. 

Someone got hold of the film and edited some clips, showing them at the Roundhouse a few years ago to try and raise funds to make it into a DVD but nothing more seems to have come of it. There are clips on Youtube.

From a historical perspective obviously this is of interest because it is part of the roots of some bands who went on to be huge, but more importantly the 7-day commitment to putting on bands drawn very much from the ‘alternative’ scene illustrates just how culturally important the music was at the time and how it was very much perceived, if not always by the bands themselves (there was little in common between the likes of Notting Hill grebo trippers Hawkwind and nice uptight public schoolboys like Genesis) as a movement and not merely some sort of musical fashion. 

It must’ve been an exciting time to be caught up in, the future must have seemed very open-ended in a way that is hard to fully imagine now.

Scroll To Top