DEREK ROBERTSON, AUGUST 2017
Alongside NYC, London is rightly heralded as one of the music capitals of the world. The capital has nurtured some of the biggest and best musicians and bands over the years, something that wouldn’t have been possible without a range of venues that is unparalleled in Europe. And while there are plenty of arenas and enormo-domes to watch superstars do their thing, it’s the small, the intimate, and the quirky that give London its rich musical heritage and allow the stars of tomorrow to hone their skills and build a fanbase. So if you want to hear fingers scrape guitar strings and see the beads of sweat on the drummer’s brow, get up close and personal at these fantastic places.
Cafe' OtoDalston might be more commonly know as the centre of hipster cool, but this independent venue has a more bookish, serious air. Ostensibly a jazz café, it has become so much more; from the plain white walls to the defiantly eclectic nature of the booking policy, this is a venue that puts the music – and the serious fan – first. Tickets are relatively cheap (usually less than £10), and the people who flock here are some of the most knowledgeable and respectful music fans anywhere. Add in an ace café and bar, and you’ve got one of the best nights out for music lovers.
The 100 Club Liverpool has the Cavern Club, London has this place. Having hosted live music since 1942, this sweaty, cramped basement bar on Oxford Street has seen everyone from the Rolling Stones to David Bowie to Louis Armstrong take to the small stage. It might not be the most glamorous of places, but the sense of history that hangs in the air is palpable. Gigs here aren’t quite as star studded these days, but you can still expect to see some vibrant rock’n’roll and vicious punk the way it’s meant to be’ loud, dirty, and dangerous. It is, quite simply, one of the most iconic and important venues in British music.
The Windmill This unassuming back-street pub might not be much to look, but it more than makes up for this in terms of quirks, charm, and a steady stream of great bands. Fiercely independent – the booking policy is dictated by what the owners’ think is “good” – the cheap prices and relaxed atmosphere make for a good-natured night out. There’s also a free barbeque on Sundays and a dog which (allegedly) lives on the roof; no wonder bands and fans alike flock to this quiet corner of Brixton.
Ronnie Scott's Jazz ClubIf you prefer your venues to be a little more upmarket, uber-cool jazz joint Ronnie Scott’s is the place to head. Another long-serving musical mecca – it’s been open since 1959 – Scott’s also plays host to soul and blues bands, as well as the occasional legend. It’s not the cheapest, but the basement space with a late bar oozes class, and even if there isn’t a separate concert, the house band are an exceptional group of musicians in their own right. So kick back, sip on some whisky, and listen to jazz; truly of life’s pleasures.
OK, it might not be that intimate – it holds up to 900 people – but there are few more regal, spectacular settings for live music than Islington’s Union Chapel. The venue caters to the softer side of music – there are some sound restrictions given the building’s Grade I listed status – and some artists make use of its famous organ. It’s also home to charity and a volunteer organization, and runs regular classes and workshops. To truly drink in the splendor of the chapel, go at night and get a seat on one of the balconies; it’s the best place to marvel at the lit up stained glass windows behind the altar.