The Rainbow Theatre, originally the Astoria Theatre, is a Grade II*-listed building in the Finsbury Park area of North London. Built as a cinema in 1930, it later became well known as a music venue and is now a Pentecostal church.
When it opened in 1930, the Astoria Cinema was one of the largest in the world. Standing at the junction of Isledon Road and Seven Sisters Road on an island site, it was the fourth of the famous London suburban Astoria Theatres built by film exhibitor Arthur Segal. It was opened on 29 September 1930: there were three other Astorias, Streatham, Old Kent Road and Brixton. It was in use as a cinema until September 1971 when it was permanently given over to live music - although rock concerts had been a feature throughout the 1960s.
The plain faience exterior, designed by Edward A. Stone, acted as a foil to a lavish 'atmospheric interior' by Somerford & Barr, with decoration carried out by Marc-Henri and G. Laverdet. A Moorish foyer with a goldfish-filled fountain (which survives today) led to an auditorium recalling an Andalucian village at night, with seating for 3,040. The stage, 35 feet deep and spanned by a 64-foot wide proscenium arch, was equipped with a twin console Compton 3manual/13Rank theatre organ (opened by G. T. Pattman). Backstage, there were 12 dressing rooms. The opening night, 29 September 1930, featured Ronald Colman in Condemned and a Gala Stage Spectacle, with artists from the other Astoria Theatres making a special engagement on the stage.
One-night concerts were held on the stage in the 1960s, with the building becoming one of the premier music venues in the capital.
It was at this theatre that Jimi Hendrix first burnt a guitar, with the collusion of his manager Chas Chandler and a journalist from NME. Press officer Anthony Garland was dispatched to purchase lighter fluid and Jimi proceeded to set fire to his Fender Stratocaster guitar on 31 March 1967 on the opening night of the Walker Brothers tour, resulting in a hospital appointment for Jimi's burnt fingers and a moment that set the precedent for rock performances. Jimi later repeated the stunt at Monterey. Despite press commentary that Frank Zappa was handed the burnt Astoria/Miami guitar it is highly unlikely that months after the stunt, the guitar was taken to Miami. When Jimi left the stage at The Finsbury Astoria, the guitar was intact apart from burns. The guitar handed to Frank Zappa in Miami was a burnt body without a neck.
Other artists to have played at the Astoria during the 1960s include:
Re-named Odeon on 17 November 1970, it was closed by the Rank Organisation on 25 September 1971 with Bill Travers in Gorgo and Hayley Mills in Twisted Nerve. It was converted into the Rainbow Theatre from 4 November 1971, when The Who performed the first concert in the newly named theatre.
Van Morrison performed two nights at this venue in July 1973, with his band at the time The Caledonia Soul Orchestra. The second of the performances was broadcast in May 1974, as the first ever simultaneous broadcast, on BBC 2 and Radio 2. The concert was voted by Q Magazine readers as one of the top live performances of all time. Several of the songs featured in the two concerts were included in Morrison's 1974 double live album It's Too Late to Stop Now.
Tangerine Dream played a live concert here on October 26, 1974.
In 1977, the Ramones played a gig at the venue that was recorded and released as the 'It's Alive' album.
The fine building had been the subject of a preservation order in the 1970s and the management company that operated the venue was unable to maintain it to the required standard. The building was closed permanently in 1982, although there were plans for its conversion to a bingo hall.
In 1995, the building was bought by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and is now used for religious ceremonies.
Towards the end of 2008, the former owners and promoters are building a website on the theatre's rock history and plan to publish a book early in 2009. Laurence Bloom, one of the former owners died just after Christmas 2008.
It became a world famous venue where all the major groups and artists performed for the next ten years, including;
Occasional films were screened, including Jimmy Plays Berkley in January 1972, the World Premiere of the Leonard Cohen film Bird on a Wire on 5 July 1974, and Paul McCartney's Wings, which was the last film to be screened at the Rainbow Theatre, on 10 August 1979.
Following the closure of the Rainbow Theatre on 24 December 1981, it was designated a listed building, but lay empty and largely disused for the next 14 years. It was used occasionally in unlicenced boxing matches, most notably in April 1986 when Lenny McLean beat Roy Shaw in a dramatic first round knockout.
In 1995, the building was taken over by its current owners, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a controversial Brazilian Pentecostal church. They began work restoring the building and turning it into a church. The auditorium restoration was the last phase to be completed, in 1999, and the theatre is now the main base for UCKG in the UK.