Friday, July 20, 2012

The History of the Kasbah (Orchid Ballroom)

Peter Clemons - from the Coventry Telegraph. This time the fascinating history of the Orchid Ballroom - now the Kasbah.

(Readable text below the graphics)

100 years of entertainment at landmark 
city building.

ROCK fan and regular contributor Pete Clemons charts the history of a building which has provided films, ballroom dancing and live music over nearly half a century.

Pete, from Keresley, looks at the forerunners to the Kasbah, including The Globe Picture Theatre, Majestic and Orchard Ballrooms, and the Tic Toc .

THE venue that we currently know and love as the Kasbah is soon to be 100 years old and is one of the oldest and most enduring entertainment rooms in the city.

Situated at 51 Primrose Hill Street, this incredibly proud looking building first opened as the Globe Picture Theatre in 1914. Quite incredible when you think about it now but at the time it was one of four cinemas in Hillfields alone. Movies were shown within it for more than 40 years until it closed in 1956. The venue was then re opened in 1957 as the Majestic Ballroom.

The Majestic, in the main, had resident big bands such as the Wylie Price Orchestra augmented with singer Jean Hudson. Fridays and Saturdays were advertised as evenings of modern dance. Although during the afternoons you could attend rock 'n' roll dances and learn to jive to band and disc. These sessions continued until July 1961. The venue was then taken over by the Mecca organisation that spent the rest of the year rebuilding and redecorating. During early 1962 announcements began to appear that bookings were now being taken at the renovated building with its luxurious decor and modern amenities. 

March of that year the venue opened as The Orchid Ballroom.

Initially the venue held beat, gala nights and bingo but The Orchid quickly became the premier venue for Irish entertainment. The show bands had now arrived and they were led by the likes of Johnny Flynn, Hank Locklin, Maurice Lynch and Jack Ruane.

Early 1963 and the Orchid Ballroom had now come under the control of entertainer and entrepreneur Larry Page. Larry had actually been a pop star in his own right, having toured with Cliff Richard and the Shadows and became known as the 'teenage rage'. Page retired from performing at the end of the 1950s and joined Mecca as a consultant manager.

During his stay in Coventry he hosted many Sunday night talent contests and had even managed to get record deals for local artists Johnny B Great and the Goodmen, Shel Naylor and The Avengers.

He even discovered and created an all girl group, The Orchids, who legend has it, were named after the venue. The Orchids, along with the bands named above all signed to Decca records and all had several minor hits on that label, although The Avengers had, by then, become The Mighty Avengers when their singles were released.

His time in Coventry was relatively short. The Orchid ballroom had, by now, become a magnet for some of the most influential record producers and music publishers of the early Sixties. Both Phil Solomon, of Decca records, and Edward Kassner , of President records, were both serious players in the music industry back then and their remit was to entice Larry back to London.

Of course they succeeded but the legacy he left us with was long lasting and continues to impress today. After he left Coventry during 1964 Larry then went on to manage The Troggs and The Kinks and, of course, set up his own Page One record label and later The Penny Farthing label.

From the mid Sixties the emphasis switched from beat to 'pop' music but throughout all this change the Irish 32 club continued through till the end of the 1960s when, as a music venue, the Orchid Ballroom closed its doors.

After that the venue became a bingo hall. And then some years later the venue closed for good and lay dormant.

That was until during the very late 1980s when Jon Gaunt began to breathe new life into the building.

Jon had founded a co-operative theatre company called Tic Toc. The theatre company, along with its other spin offs had performed at other venues within the city such as the Coventry University and at Hertford Place but now wanted its own permanent home.

The company received funding from West Midlands Arts and the Arts Council of Britain. With this money they bought and renovated the disused and now derelict hall. It reopened in 1990 as The Tic Toc Club. Looking back the Tic Toc Club had an illustrious history albeit a short -lived one. The Britpop scene was then in its infancy and the club captured the magic of those early days by playing host to Blur and the Ocean Colour Scene.

The Tic Toc also embraced the buildings earlier history by naming its two rooms the orchid suite and the majestic ballroom.

The Tic Toc club even teamed up with the Coventry Telegraph music column 'Street Talk' to bring some valuable exposure to the local scene at the time with performances by Splash With Sonya, The Giraffes, The Bonediggers and many others.

For a brief while in 1993 the venue became known as Antics and played host to future internationally important bands like Porcupine Tree and Ultramarine but by early 1994 it was all over.

But it did not remain closed for too long as it soon re-opened as The Colosseum.

The Colly, as it was fondly known as, opened in 1995 and initially concentrated on the dance scene holding regular themed nights such as Fundamental and the Groovy Garden which began at the Dog and Trumpet in the early 1980s and still continues today.

However, by the turn of the century it had established itself as an incredibly important live venue for local bands and also attracted future household names like The Libertines, The Arctic Monkeys and Keane as its fame widened.

During late 2007 and after around 12 years The Colosseum was refurbished and re-launched as its current incarnation The Kasbah. The Kasbah is very popular with Coventry's strong student base and holds a weekly mix of club nights along with regular live bands.

As a live venue the Kasbah has built on the successful foundations of the Colly and is also well established on the national touring map. Recent highlights include Cage the Elephant, La Roux and Noah and the Whale.

One hundred years of history is an astounding feat for any building nowadays. Let's hope, after this future landmark birthday, that it continues to grow for years to come.


  1. I saw the Walker Bros at the Orchid Ballroom back in 1966-67? I was only 13 then but already a big fan of Scott Walker !

  2. Anyone else remember seeing Don Fardon at the Orchid? Possibly late sixties.