A Brief Rock History of The Kursaal 🤘

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

"It's absolutely wild to me that one of the most iconic buildings in Southend-on-Sea is currently just sitting there on Southend seafront not being used at all. For anything.

The Kursaal is currently on sale. Which got us thinking; what if The Kursaal was still a music venue today? The Kursaal has gone through many changes over the last century, having opened way back in 1901 as part of an amusement park. But when it comes to documenting the rich historical tapestry of The Kursaal, one of the key decades is undoubtedly the the 70s, where The Kursaal was one of the leading live venues in the country.

Throughout the early 70s, this grade 2 listed building hosted some of the biggest rock bands of all time. It seems mad to even think that likes of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Sparks and Status Quo have all played in Southend at this seminal Southend landmark. Hawkwind were also regulars at the Kursaal. Mott the Hoople was also supported by a tiny band called Queen too. Could you imagine being there to see Freddie Mercury perform in our seaside town? For £1.30, you could have got yourself a ticket to see Thin Lizzy. £1.30. That's less than a tube of Pringles.

In 1975, our very own Dr Feelgood played a show that was caught on film, which captures perfectly the energy of the venue. The video showcases how perfect the room was for hosting huge performances in a large but intimate setting.

When punk was on the rise in the late 70s, The Kursaal was back in the news for one of the most infamous tours of all time. And the show didn't even happen!

The Kursaal was chosen as one of the venues to host the infamous Anarchy Tour of late 1976, featuring The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. It was set to be one of the greatest punk moments Southend had ever witnessed.

After the fallout from the Sex Pistols interview with Bill Grundy however, the subsequent national newspaper headlines and ensuing moral panic led venues, under pressure from councils, to cancel gigs by the Sex Pistols, fearing violence and vandelism. Southend Borough Council were one of these and so The Kursaal gig never went ahead.

There was a few more memorable shows, until The Kursaal suddenly and controversially closed in 1977 to make way for conversion into a warehouse. There was a campaign to save the venue, but ultimately shut it's doors permanently in 1986. In 1998 the main Kursaal building was reopened after a multi-million pound redevelopment by the Rowallan Group containing a bowling alley, Rendezvous casino and other amusements. The bowling alley and casino have since both closed as of this year.

It seems such a shame that the music legacy of the Kursaal seemingly died in the 70s. Although there was a function room in the redevelopment where there was an occasional small gig, plus the usual casino entertainment that Rendezvous Casino offered, there's been nothing that contributes to the culture of this town for over 20 years. Don't get me wrong, I loved some bowling as much as the next person, but when you have a building with such an abundance of musical history within it, it seems a shame that all we have left is a Tesco Express.

With the future of The Kursaal site very much up in the air and after the damage that global pandemic has done to the arts in Southend this year, you have to wonder if now would be the perfect time to bring back The Kursaal when society starts to get back on it's feet. Behind the pleasure pier, it's arguably one of the most famous buildings in the southeast. Imagine if it was returned to it's former glory. The culture of Southend would benefit so much from having a new venue to help it thrive. There's no way we're the only ones who are thinking it right?"

By Mikey Glenister

A massive thank you to www.southendpunk.com for their archives and knowledge which helped massively in researching this article!