THE BLOG

Starlite Demolition: More British Musical History Bites The Dust

05/09/2014 13:16 BST | Updated 03/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Before I left the UK and moved to Brazil, I lived in Ealing in West London. As I have written before, Ealing is not only famous for an incredible contribution to the movie industry, but has a strong claim on being the place where rock music was born.

This musical heritage isn't well known - even in London. People rush out of Ealing Broadway station and ignore the Ealing Club, yet if this was Greenwich Village in New York there would be tourists taking pictures on a daily basis - celebrating what was created within this part of London. This is where rock started.

Just down the road in Greenford is an old building that was the Odeon cinema from 1935 to 1956, then became the Starlite Ballroom in 1964. Artists such as David Bowie, The Small Faces, The Who, and Pink Floyd all played at the Starlite and yet so much of this rock heritage seems unknown.

Earlier today, Alistair Young, Secretary of The Ealing Club Community Interest Company said to me: "The Starlite Ballroom is a prime example of the live music venues that sprang up all over suburban areas of West London in the mid-1960s following the 'British Rhythm & Blues Blues Boom'. By 1965 British bands were following the lead of groups such as The Stones, The Kinks and of course The Beatles by writing their own songs."

He added: "This type of venue was a stepping stone for British music, from a time when bands were 'cutting their teeth' by re-interpreting the blues songs of black America to an era that saw British bands playing a 'hybrid' of the Blues....British Rock Music."

By 1967 this new 'British Rock Music' was at the heart of the Monterey festival in the US and the Isle of Wight festival in the UK. These venues formed the backbone of British music history and without places such as this there may not have been a Cream, Who, or Led Zep.

Today, the planning committee at Ealing Council gave approval to a proposal by property developer Jones Lang LaSalle to knock down the entire building. They want to build 39 flats on the site. It's all over for the rich musical story of the Starlite ballroom.

Is it just that rock is considered less culturally important than classical music or other forms of art? We erect monuments to great painters, composers, and conductors, yet the venues where classic British rock and blues artists started out are left derelict.

Local campaigners, led by Greenford resident Albertina McNeill, have been campaigning to get the site transformed into a community centre, but even before the planning committee today the council was indicating that they favoured redevelopment as long as it was sympathetic to the surrounding area. During the planning meeting Councillor Shital Manro said: "replacing the Starlite ballroom site in Greenford will help to revitalise the area and bring up the character of the parade."

So another icon of British music history will be lost and replaced by a drab block of flats that nobody will cherish in half a century. The council was aware of the historical significance of the site and the protestors had been offering alternative ideas that would allow the building to be beneficial to the wider community, but as it was a privately-owned site there was nothing to stop the property owner cashing in.

I expect that nothing short of listed monument status or an alternative offer to the property owner could have prevented this course of events. But when great works of British art are about to be lost to foreign owners, the nation rushes to save them - donating cash so they can be purchased and saved. But who offered to buy this run-down building in Greenford?

The UK government tourism agency, VisitBritain, actively promotes the rock heritage of Britain as a reason for people to visit the country. When I have worked across the world in places as diverse as the USA, Brazil, India, or Japan I am always asked about British music when anyone hears I am from London. Teenagers in Brazil still wear Beatles t-shirts even though the band had probably split up before their parents were born.

In an ever-homogenised world, rock heritage really matters. Why didn't English Heritage step in with an offer? They have bought other music-related sites, but maybe they were not aware of the need or perhaps there are just too many historic sites that need saving from developers?

Whatever reasons were given for allowing the Starlite ballroom to be turned into a block of flats they are unlikely to appease the local protestors, who wanted fewer cars and more community facilities in the area.

For rock fans all over the world, it's now time to rush to London, camera in hand, before one more iconic musical landmark is gone.