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60 firefighters tackle blaze at Camden music venue Koko

By | Published on Tuesday 7 January 2020


Firefighters have brought under control a fire at Camden music venue Koko. The roof of the North London building, which is currently closed for refurbishment and was due to reopen later this year, caught fire last night.

According to the London Fire Brigade, the alarm was raised just before 9pm yesterday evening with around a third of the roof alight when they arrived at the venue. About 60 firefighters and eight fire engines were involved in tackling the blaze, which was brought under control after about five hours.

The extent of the damage and what this means for the venue’s reopening is not yet known.

Koko was closed for a £40 million refurbishment in March last year. That refurbishment work includes incorporating two newly purchased adjacent buildings into the venue complex and “a complete renovation of the rooftop area”.

As well as maintaining the original 1500 capacity theatre, an additional six live performance spaces, three restaurants, shops and a broadcast studio are all due to be added. At the top of the building, a rooftop conservatory and terrace, and a penthouse recording and rehearsal studio, are also part of the big plan.

In February last year, owner Olly Bengough said: “Koko has always taken great pride in our innovative approach and we can see that our audience want a 360-degree experience in the future and it’s our duty to deliver that, to cut out the unknowns of going to a venue our size, most of which haven’t changed since the 1950s”.

“This isn’t just about offering a music venue. In the Camden spirit of independence, auteur-ship and eccentricity, we want to offer an unrivalled experience. London is a forward-facing city. Where we lead, the world follows and we have to move with it”.

“By radically reimagining what Koko will be for chapter two, we’re protecting the culture, helping Camden and London”, he went on. “We’re giving back to music. We’ll do what we’ve always done, listen to tomorrow’s talent today. Why don’t we show the world that we can have the most exciting music and hospitality brand in the city?”

The venue was originally opened as the Camden Theatre in 1900, going through various iterations over its more than a century long history. At one point it was a BBC recording studio and was then marked for demolition after the broadcaster left it in 1972. But the building was saved when it was granted Grade II listed status.

After a number of years left empty, it was converted into a music venue in 1977 under the name The Music Machine. It was renamed The Camden Palace in 1982, becoming a hub of the New Romantic scene, and also hosting the debut UK performance by Madonna.

In 2004, it was purchased by Bengough and his company Mint Entertainment. The venue was given a multi-million pound restoration and renamed Koko. Shortly after opening, Coldplay used the venue to launch their ‘X&Y’ album, before Madonna returned for the launch of her ‘Confessions On A Dance Floor’ record.

A decade after that restoration, in 2014, US company Loton Group bought a 50% stake in Koko, installing Bengough as CEO of a new joint venture to oversee the operation of the venue. A falling out over this partnership two years later saw Bengough buy out Loton and regain full control of the building.

More recently, Koko was temporarily closed due to structural issues, leading to the announcement five months later that the venue would be closed for more than a year to allow all that major refurbishment. Initially it was announced that the venue would reopen this spring – and the Koko website still states that as the plan – although more recent social media posts have referred to “mid/late 2020” relaunch.

Of course, those plans may now be set back. No official statement has yet been issued by the venue on the fire or what it might mean for the refurbishment and relaunch plans.

Update 7 Jan: Shortly after we published this story, Koko issued the following statement from Olly Bengough:

We are deeply saddened by the fire that took place at Koko last tonight and pleased to announce there have been no casualties.

We want to thank the London Fire Brigade for its quick response and how well it handled the situation. 

The amount of support we have received from the public has been amazing and we’ll be doing our best to get the redevelopment of this iconic building back on-track.

We will provide further comments as circumstances become clearer.