22 July, 2016
Covering an area of 1,572 square kilometres and hosting a total of 32,000 performances a year, London features an endless roster of venues. Indeed, the culture of live performances is more rooted in the city than anywhere else in Europe. In pubs, for instance, apart from having a pint and eating fish and chips, it is customary to listen to live music. And, this is nothing new. They’ve been doing it for decades and have never had to struggle against any municipal edict forcing them to keep noise levels down by installing limiters. The fact is that in London music is regarded as a cultural asset, on a par with Shakespearean theatre or a painting by Turner. That’s the long and the short of it.
So, in London, there is no end to the number of music venues. You can go out any day of the year and you are sure to find an interesting concert. If you pick up any music magazine – like Mojo, Uncut or NME, which is now free-of-charge – and peruse the listings, you are likely to balk at the myriad offerings. On a single night out, you can go and see anything from an emblematic 60s jazz band to a Jamaican ska combo from Tokyo, a gathering of a legendary 80s heavy metal band and all of the “next best things” on offer. In other words, there is everything for everybody.
One advantage that London has over other cities, particularly in southern Europe, is the concert times. There they start earlier, which is to be commended if you want to get home at a reasonable hour on a weekday. Before attending a concert, Londoners have to first pass through “Go” which, in this instance, means the pub. So, we recommend you wet your whistle at one of the pubs adjoining the concert halls, even though British beer is usually lukewarm.
For All Tastes
Here, then, is a selection of the venues that really got our attention on recent visits to London. See if you concur with us!
1. Eventim Apollo
If there is a classic venue it is the legendary Eventim Apollo. Designed by Robert Cromie in Art Deco, it opened in 1932 as the Gaumont Palace and was renamed the Hammersmith Odeon in 1962. Until very recently, it was known as the Hammersmith Apollo. It is located in West London and its acoustics are up with the great odeons, prompting many groups to record live there, notably Duran Duran, Dire Straits and Kate Bush. Seating capacity is flexible, an arrangement dating from 2003, although it can hold up to 5,000 people for some concerts.
2. O2 Academy Brixton
Also known as the Brixton Academy, this is another spot which is all the rage in London. For many musicians this is undoubtedly the best concert hall in the world. It opened in 1929 as the Astoria and went down in history as the venue for the last concert performed by The Smiths, on 12 December 1986. Currently, it also operates as a disco and comedy club. Upcoming event – Faithless (18/8).
3. Bush Hall
It is not one of the oldest venues, as it opened in 2001, but clearly one of the most appealing ones in town. Located in Hammersmith, Bush Hall is a very small venue, almost a classical type of private theatre. Apart from hosting concerts, they also hold dinners, photographic shoots and have even had Kate Moss parading through. Among the artists that have given concerts here are the illustrious Mark Knopfler, Nick Cave and Amy Winehouse.
4. Electric Ballroom
Camden is more seasoned as a venerable leisure-spot district, particularly since the 1960s. But, Electric Ballroom goes back even further. In fact, it has been open since the 1930s, although it was initially known as The Buffalo Club and operated as a pub. Of medium size, it is celebrated for its excellent acoustics. During the golden age of punk it hosted the likes of Sid Vicious and The Clash, in addition to big names in other genres such as U2, Paul McCartney, The Killers, The Smiths and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
5. Koko Club
Still in Camden, we also put in an appearance at Koko, a former theatre and the centre for BBC theatre programming after World War II. In the 1970s it was reconditioned as a concert hall. The building was known as Camden Palace from 1982 to 2004, but changed to its current name when it was taken over and completely restored by Oliver Bengough and Mint Entertainment.
6. Jazz Café
Jazz Café is undoubtedly one of the meccas of black music in London. Here you will find the best in jazz, hip-hop and more current trends like grime and trap. Take note of their programme, which is awesome. Here are the numbers due to be hosted on their premises in upcoming weeks: Sugarhill Gang (3/9), Pete Rock & CL Smooth (5/9), The Real Thing (24/9), Imagination (30/9) and The Herbaliser (14/10) – quite a treat!
This erstwhile train engine shed has become one of the most important venues for concerts and the performing arts in London. Located in Chalk Farm, it is a Grade II listed building, that is, considered to be particularly important of or special interest. It was built in 1847 and, after the Second World War, was converted into a performing arts venue. The Roundhouse has gone down in history as the only place where The Doors performed in the United Kingdom, in 1968.
Heaven is one of the greatest draws among London clubs at present. It is located under the Villiers Street arches in the heart of the city. The Feeling, Hurts, John Grant and Miles Kane are but a few of the groups that have been hosted in this club. Heaven opened in the 1970s, imbued with disco culture from the USA. It soon became a roller disco and subsequently a dance music club. There are several rooms on the premises and hetero-friendly gay parties have now become frequent.
9. Union Chapel
Located in Islington, Union Chapel is a huge surprise. This church reconditioned as a multi-space venue has amazing acoustics. Apart from gigs, concerts are also hosted. Performances are stylistically far more open. In the coming weeks you can see The AKA Trio (23/9) – on the occasion of the African Music Festival – Lloyd Cole (3/11) and Billy Bragg & Joe Henry (7 y 8/11).
10. The Camden Assembly
The club will be inaugurated in September this year, on the same premises where the legendary Barfly stood for years, a small, dark locale where it became frequent to get the soles of one’s footwear stuck to the floor. The new venue has not yet disclosed its genre affiliation, but it will clearly be one of the pleasant surprises of the season.
Tired of the poor acoustics at open-air festivals? Make haste and check out our flights to London, the cradle of live music shows.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
22 July, 2016