Quite simply, London is one of the world’s greatest cities for live music, and has been at the heart of many artists’ rise to fame. Here’s our guide to ten of the capital’s best venues.
The Roundhouse was at the heart of London’s artistic scene during the 60s and 70s, during which it saw the likes of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and the Doors take to the stage (for the latter, it was their one and only UK gig). In the early 80s, the funding ran out and for the better part of the next two decades, it remained unused. Since re-opening in 2006, following an extensive renovation programme, the ex-railway shed Grade II listed Camden venue has developed various projects to help 11-25 year olds looking to break into creative industries – including practice rooms, recording studios and radio and television production suites. And of course, it still finds the time to put on the best live music from a variety of genres – upcoming events include the iTunes festival throughout July, which will see performances from Paul Simon, Foo Fighters and Adele amongst others.
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm
O2 Academy, Brixton
Formerly the Brixton Academy, this south London venue is one of London’s heavyweights. With a capacity of nearly 5000, there is the constant allure of top-level acts from a wide range of genres with shows from Weezer, Erykah Badu and Pete Doherty lined up for this summer.
The Academy has a vibrant and unique atmosphere, helped in part by its grand entrance and staircases, a hangover from its earlier heyday as a 1930s variety theatre. It also boasts the neat inclusion of a sloping floor which means that even people at the back have a decent chance of seeing the action.
Nearest tube: Brixton
West London’s Bush Hall is a beautifully restored Edwardian dance hall in Shepherd’s Bush, now entering its tenth year of operation as a highly-acclaimed live music venue. Although it’s a particularly perfect space for acoustic and folk acts, it has also seen performances from the likes of The Killers, Amy Winehouse and R.E.M. over the last decade, and it’s the mix of rising stars and established acts which has gained it a reputation as one of the best venues in London.
Nearest Tube: Shepherd’s Bush Market
If you’re in the mood for something heavy, the 500-capacity Underworld is the place to go. With a focus around hard rock, punk, ska, and heavy metal, Underworld hosts a lot of bands from the alternative scene, many of whom – Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden – achieved massive mainstream success. It’s also known for its enormously popular Friday and Saturday club nights and the occasional secret gig – Foo Fighters, for instance, have chosen the venue for some shows. Underworld can be found in the basement of The World’s End Pub in Camden.
Nearest tube: Camden Town
Found on Chelsea’s Lots Road, the intimate 606 Club caters entirely for the jazz crowd and puts on an amazing ten British-based jazz acts a week, with Sunday nights being reserved for vocalists. Better yet, the club is a venue/restaurant hybrid, meaning that you can enjoy a meal whilst watching the bands. If you’re a jazz aficionado, it’s worth becoming a club member – if only for the priority bookings; with a capacity of only 165, it’s often busy and it pays to book ahead.
Nearest tube: Fulham Broadway (Overground: Imperial Wharf)
London’s leading classical music venue is the home of the London Symphony Orchestra, and is frequented by the classical world’s foremost soloists and conductors, including Simon Rattle, Yo-Yo Ma, Cecilia Bartoli and many more, with the New York Philharmonic visiting in 2012. Contemporary music is almost as big a deal. The near-perfection acoustics are a big draw for world, folk, jazz country and experimental musicians too, especially those keen to perform with full-scale orchestral backing.
Nearest tube: Moorgate / Barbican
The 100 Club on Oxford Street, which according to venue director Jeff Horton is “the oldest live music and entertainment venue on the planet” has been open since 1942. Over the years it has been at the forefront of musical trends – from its roots in jazz and R’n’B, to the punk years where it gave the stage to bands such as The Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and the Banshees, right through to the Britpop years with early gigs for Suede and Oasis. Despite being in danger of closing at the end of last year, the 100 Club signed a sponsorship deal with Converse to secure its long-term future.
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Located right on Camden Lock, Dingwalls is a fantastic place to experience a mixture of rising stars on their way up the musical ladder, as well as more established acts. The old industrial Victorian venue is two-tier, with a regular pit and a higher level around the sides, which makes it easier to get a good view of the bands. This, along with the excellent acoustics, means that a gig at Dingwalls often carries the promise of a great night out. A number of bars and cafes can also be found in the building.
Nearest tube: Camden Town / Chalk Farm
Without a doubt, KOKO is one of the coolest venues in London. The re-vamped former Camden Hippodrome, which saw the likes of Charlie Chaplin tread its boards, has been through a number of incarnations, although its gorgeous ornate interior has always been retained. Most recently it was the Camden Palace, famous for hosting Madonna’s first UK gig, along with thousands of other noteworthy performances. Now, as KOKO, it hosts a huge mix of genres – everything from rock to indie, hip hop to electronica, and holds regular Club NME nights too. Spot an up-and-coming buzz band from one of the many levels of balconies and bars.
Nearest tube: Mornington Crescent
A unique venue, the Union Chapel fulfils a number of roles: a working church, a centre for the homeless and an award-winning performance space. Just round the corner from Highbury and Islington tube, the gothic Victorian chapel is an entirely seated venue with a spectacular interior and is known for its otherworldly atmosphere – particularly for acoustic acts. The proceeds from the concerts go towards the upkeep of the chapel, and there are often charity gigs for other causes.
Nearest tube: Highbury and Islington