Roundhouse CEO Marcus Davey on the power of music

The boss of the area's most iconic gig venue and creative youth charity reminds us why music matters

“I was finding it difficult to see a way through, being really quite shy and in bottom set for pretty much everything at school – and then my hair fell out when I was fourteen. Marcus Davey is telling us about his younger days, before he went to the Northern Junior Philharmonic Orchestra in Newcastle and Durham. There, he discovered the confidence and friendships he’d been missing. In many ways, the experience was life changing. 

Now CEO and Artistic Director of the Roundhouse, one of Camden’s – indeed the world’s – biggest music venues, he references his own experiences to explain why we cannot ignore the power of music and the arts. “Music means everything to me. It takes us to a place where we can see the world through somebody else’s eyes. And we can enrich our own lives by more vividly seeing our path and place in the world.  

Some of the challenges faced by young people in Camden at the moment can be remedied by providing access to these kinds of opportunities. Creativity is directly linked to mental wellbeing, as Davey explains. School curriculums have been severely challenged over the past decade and there is little support from the government when it comes to creative activities. We have to give young people what they need: creative stimuli and support with their mental health.”

Music means everything to me. It takes us to a place where we can see the world through somebody else’s eyes

The Roundhouse does this by offering a safe space where young people can create things and make friends via the Young Creatives programme at Roundhouse Studios, located beneath the main venue.  Over the past twenty-one years, Davey has spoken to thousands of carers and parents, some of whom say the Roundhouse, in one way or another, saved their child’s life. “In some cases they were in a pretty bad state, but this experience got them to a place where they were looking more positively at the world and getting away from the destabilising forces in their lives.”  

There’s a huge emphasis on listening to young voices: young trustees and the Roundhouse Youth Advisory Board (RYAB) both have a role in decision making. “The whole point of involving young people is so we can work with them on the issues they are facing,” says Marcus. “We’re not facing them, they’re facing them.” This helps Roundhouse resonate with young people in the community because they actually feel heard. It also means the organisation can be challenged on any preconceived ideas they might have had. “We’re learning all the time. We work in the safety of the environment that we’ve created but we are strong enough to know that the future is uncertain.”  

Since becoming CEO in 1999, Davey has watched the music scene in Camden change significantly. As the borough has become an increasingly expensive place to live, its cultural landscape has, unsurprisingly, shifted. “I suspect there are very few musicians who can actually afford to rent or buy somewhere here now, so the voice of young people is coming up from social housing and through spoken word poetry and music. These are some of the voices in the area and they’re being expressed in lots of different and wonderful ways.” 

Davey describes Camden as one of the creative beating hearts of the world, but with rising rent prices there are also less and less informal venues where people can experiment. “We need more rough-and-ready spaces, where you can take a chance and fail, pull yourself back up and fail again, then build yourself up again. In the past you’d play small venues and learn how to take the knocks.” Davey says the decline in such spaces has pushed music making into even smaller perimeters. Now, people record and produce music in their bedrooms, and though this has become part of the story it also has its challenges. “You are kind of exposed straight away, from the first song that you put up online. There need to be more spaces where you can just learn.”

Marcus Recommends ❤

Growing up, Davey listened a mix of everything from Echo & the Bunnymen to Duran Duran to Weather Report to Tracy Chapman’s album, Revolution. “I just felt that I wanted to get into life.He was also listening to a lot of classical music and getting into jazz too.  

Recently he’s been introduced to music by serpentwithfeet, it’s extraordinary, and Aldous Harding by his colleagues. I’ve really enjoyed listening to them. 

Spotify Playlist 🎵

MUSIC IN CAMDEN

Roundhouse returns! The Last Word festival (runs until 3rd August) sees live performances and audiences back to the venue for the first time since March 2020. Show your support and enjoy the famous Poetry Slam, plus everything from beatboxing to interviews and hybrid streamed events too.


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