The O2 Academy Bournemouth is actually in Boscombe. This Victorian venue has been entertaining people since 1895. A bit like a cat, it seems to have had nine lives, having served as a theatre, circus, music hall, disco and now mainly as a live music venue.
Boscombe is a suburb a mile or so to the east of Bournemouth. It is easily reached by bus, with the venue just a few minutes’ walk from Boscombe Bus Station. The train station is a bit further away (approximately 15 minutes walk). There is plenty of parking at Hawkwood Road (pay & display).
The O2 Academy started out as the Grand Pavilion, famed for its circus, with the elephants parading along the high street and even taking a dip in the sea. Then, in 1898 it became The Boscombe Grand Theatre – primarily a music hall. In 1905 it became the Boscombe Hippodrome and then in 1956 the Royal Ballrooms – a dance hall.
In 70s and 80s, it operated mainly as a night club. Plenty of big names performed here during this period. David Bowie for £1 anyone? In 1982, it underwent a major refurbishment and reopened as The Academy, with the questionable claim to fame of hosting the UK’s first Karaoke bar. In 1997, it became The Opera House, and disco ‘Slinky’ became one of the UK’s top dance clubs.
After another refurbishment, it reopened in 2007 and became the O2 Academy shortly afterwards, focusing on live music, with Florence and the Machine first up to perform.
It has hosted many top name artists – past performers range from Laurel and Hardy to the likes of David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. We went to see the slightly less famous Stiff Little Fingers. Nevertheless, it was a great night in an impressive venue.
During our visit (in March 2022) the audience was restricted to the ground level, with the upper tiers being cordoned off. The hall has a grand yet informal atmosphere and great acoustics. Unlike a lot of venues I’ve visited, the queues for the bar and toilets were short and drinks were reasonably priced.
In addition, there are plenty of nice places to eat and drink in Boscombe to make a night of it. We had a great meal before the gig at nearby Thai Smile, with one of the support acts sitting at the next table. Drinking beer sitting next to a former Sex Pistol. There’s one to tell the grandchildren. Except I don’t have any grandchildren and if I did, they probably wouldn’t know who the Sex Pistols were…