Celebrating Gliderdrome’s “giants”
Kate Chapman looks back at the history of Boston’s iconic music venue, which hosted many super groups and singers of the 1960s and ’70s, as it plans for the future.
During the 1960s and 1970s Boston’s historic Gliderdrome hosted the biggest names in the music industry and now the owner of the iconic venue is keen to restore it back to its former greatness.
Andrew Malkinson, grandson of one the Gliderdrome’s founders, is urging the community to support the concert hall, which in its heyday saw stars including Elton John, Stevie Wonder, T-Rex, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding topping the Saturday night bill in its packed-out Starlight Room.
He admits times have been tough these past few years, with the pandemic forcing the music and bingo hall to close its doors for two years, but he remains optimistic and hopes to reinvigorate the venue with the help of business consultant Lee Newton, director of Red Shoe Entertainment, who came on board at the start of the year.
“I love this business, it’s the best job in the world,” says Andrew, who has been involved with the Gliderdrome for 40 years.
“The only problem is trying to keep it going, it’s very difficult. It’s an old building and there’s a huge amount of maintenance that’s ongoing.
“It’s such a special place though – if you look at the list of who’s played here, the only names missing are The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The rest of it reads like a Who’s Who – even David Bowie performed, although we didn’t know about that until after he’d died. A lady came in with a poster from when he appeared – as a third support act!”
The Gliderdrome was opened by brothers Ernest and Sydney Malkinson back in the 1930s, when it was originally an open air ice rink. A roof was added for safety reasons following the outbreak of World War II and then the site began hosting dances and bands, including several RAF and army bands.
Following a severe fire in 1959, the Gliderdrome was rebuilt on the same site in Spain Place and solely became a music venue, with the Starlight Room added shortly afterwards.
It was a golden era for the music industry on both sides of the Atlantic. Between 1960 and 1973 the Gliderdrome’s reputation soared as all the top names appeared including Slade, Tom Jones, Tina Turner and Ike, Thin Lizzy, ELO and Dusty Springfield to name a few, each supported by two or three other groups, including local bands.
As Andrew recalls, the only acts not to appear were The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The latter were booked as a support act but were cancelled by Sydney Malkinson because they were unknown at the time, and he felt that £35 was too much for a band he hadn’t heard of. He went on to claim he must have been the only dance promoter to turn The Beatles down!
In 1973 the Gliderdrome was vandalised, bringing an end to the popular dance nights, which regularly attracted large crowds from the local area and beyond.
The events were reintroduced in the 1990s, but as attendance dwindled they were stopped again.
Today the building is split into two large halls – its popular bingo hall is capable of accommodating up to 1,400 people and currently hosts three sessions a week while the Starlight Room can hold up to 1,500 people.
“The Gliderdrome really is a unique place and has a lot of history attached to it,” says business consultant Lee Newton, who is working with Andrew to reinvent the venue.
“Walking around, most of the building is the same as it was back then – there are still signed posters from some of the acts Blu-Tacked to the walls! The dressing rooms are still the same.
“The venue is family owned, it’s not funded, and it needs money reinvesting back into the building to keep it going. Sadly, it’s just not attracting the big names anymore – they come with a large price and there’s no sponsorship or council funding.
“Like all businesses, there are astronomical price rises to contend with and people aren’t going out or spending as much.
“It’s not going to happen overnight but we’re trying to improve the programme – we’ve got an exhibition event with snooker legends Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Dennis Taylor arranged and at the end of the year we’re hosting a senior darts event.
“Back by popular demand we have Martin Kemp DJing – the venue really lends itself well to that kind of event – and we’re also hosting an evening with Paul Gascoigne, who spent a small amount of time towards the end of his professional footballing career at Boston United. There’s lots to look forward to and we’re trying to appeal to a diverse range of people.”
Lee adds that he’s already been working behind the scenes to make online ticketing available, to create a database for the venue and increase its social media presence. He also hopes to open up some of the Gliderdrome’s other unused rooms including the basement VIP lounge, which hasn’t been used for many years, and perhaps seek a sponsor for it.
“I love working in live events. We’re optimistic, it’s a great venue and has lots to offer,” he adds. “There’s lots of options – the Starlight Room lends itself to cabaret and theatre style seating and we’ve got other live performances planned too, such as tribute acts to those names who originally appeared here.”
The Gliderdrome is bursting with nostalgia and has plenty of stories to share, with Andrew having many of his own fond memories.
“I was 17 when I joined the family business, so I’ve been here 40 years, but sadly I was too young to have seen most of those big names,” he says.
“I do remember once when I was about six years old, I used to squeeze through a gap in the gate, the old Boston United football ground is attached to the building and leads onto the back of the dressing rooms.
“I was out there having a kickabout when ELO came out and had a game with me! They gave me a load of stickers that I covered my bedroom with and some old 45 vinyl records – they didn’t mean anything to me at the time, I wish I’d kept them now!
“There really is so much history here. We’re soldiering on as best we can and doing everything we can to keep going – we just want to ask the community to help us, to come and support us and our events.”
To find out more about the Gliderdrome and what’s on, visit thegliderdrome.com
Photographs: Gliderdrome/Steve Elsom