The Handbook
The Handbook

From Jazz Clubs To Rock ‘N’ Roll Dive Bars: 23 Of The Best Gig Venues In London

London’s music scene is pretty unrivalled when it comes to variety, from the down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll clubs that have been going since the 60s to new venues championing talents both established and up and coming. We love a good live music sesh and whether you want to get amongst in in the mosh pit or toe tap at a jazz bar, there’s bound to be a venue to satisfy your tastes.

Here are London’s top venues you need to know about…

O2 Brixton Academy

In my opinion, Brixton Academy is the greatest gig venue in London. Rich in history, everyone who’s anyone has passed through its doors from the Sex Pistols to The Rolling Stones, Dre to Diana Ross. The fact that ex-owner Simon Parkes bought it as a derelict venue back in 1983 for just £1 is one of London’s greatest musical love stories.

I’ve seen gigs there more times than I can remember. I’ve seen Peter Crouch crowd surf at a Kasabian gig, almost been crushed at the Libertines only to be saved by my boyfriend, lived out all my teenage dreams of seeing Primal Scream play the album Screamadelica front to back as intended and wept tears at a BRMC acoustic set.

There’s a certain magic to Brixton that unites the crowd with the artists like nowhere else. Oh, and don’t forget to look up – you might be standing in a sea of Red Stripe cans but the ornate ceiling is something else.

Where: 211 Stockwell Rd, Brixton, SW9 9SL
Website: www.academymusicgroup.com

O2 Forum Kentish Town

From a 1930’s art deco theatre to a 1970’s dance and bingo hall and a 1980’s Town and Country Club, the Kentish Town Forum has more lives than Keith Richards.

Just up from London’s most famous music district, Camden, Kentish Town is a little quieter  and perfect for pre-gig drinks.

The art deco building still boasts its original features, although the floors are a little more beer soaked these days. Now under the behemoth that is the O2 brand, the Forum plays host to sell-out artists, newcomers, comedy stars and puts on club nights, too.

Where: 9-17 Highgate Rd, NW5 1JY
Website: academymusicgroup.com/o2forumkentishtown

Islington Assembly Hall

Islington is Camden’s tamer younger sister when it comes to the music scene – there is tonnes going on but the leafy part of North London doesn’t shout about it.

And Islington Assembly Hall is one of its gems – a Grade II listed spot with capacity for up to 800, so the shows feel more intimate than the likes of the Forum or the Academy.

Understated it may be but there have been some pretty cool goings on inside those doors. The top probably being in 2015, when Ray and Dave Davies from The Kinks put their differences aside and reformed for an extra special performance.

Oh, and they’ve got the best gig venue toilets in the capital. Seriously, they even have an award to prove it.

Where: Islington Assembly Hall, Upper St, Islington, London N1 2UD
Website: www.islingtonassemblyhall.co.uk

100 Club

With headline spots that have boasted the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, The Specials, Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones it’s no wonder this Oxford Street institution has been a go-to for music fans since 1964.

Today the entrance is hidden and accessed by a modern office building which feels frightfully uncool, but get inside and it still feels as punkish as it did in the 70s, intimate in the walls are sweating kind of way and inherently subversive. Prepare to get hot and up close and personal with both the crowd and the band.

Where: 100 Club, Century House, 100 Oxford St, Fitzrovia, London W1D 1LL
Website: www.the100club.co.uk

Hackney Empire

Built as a music hall way back in 1901, Hackney Empire is without a doubt one of the most beautiful music venues in London. Before the lights dim you can’t help but take in the intricate, gilded walls of its lofty heights.

It’s extraordinarily atmospheric, no doubt due to its rich history that hangs in the air – performers have included everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Russell Brand (it plays host to theatre and comedy, too), Pete Doherty and Carl Barat (who recently played an emotive set against a backdrop of 1001 candles) to a wealth of local arts and theatre productions.

Where: Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, London E8 1EJ
Website: www.hackneyempire.co.uk

Electric Ballroom

You can’t move for gig goers in Camden and a shed load of them are probably heading to the Electric Ballroom. The building is nothing much to write home about, but the energy is always, well, electric.

You can count on it delivering huge acts such as Beck and Prince (the star played one of his last London gigs ever here), as well as cool newcomers. After hours, expect a wealth of tongue in cheek club nights like ‘Bring It Back’, where the DJs pump out guilty pleasure bangers from your formative years.

Where: Electric Ballroom, 184 Camden High St, Camden Town, London NW1 8QP
Website: www.electricballroom.co.uk

Union Chapel

If you want atmosphere Highbury’s Union Chapel has it by the shed load. The grand, gothic (and still working) church moonlights as a gig venue come nightfall and once you’ve seen a performance there, you’ll never forget it.

Where: Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, London N1 2UN
Website: www.unionchapel.org.uk

Ronnie Scott's

Legendary jazz musician Ronnie Scott opened his eponymous club back in 1959 and to this day it remains one of Soho’s best-loved spots. Any jazz musician worth their salt has played there and any self-confessed jazz fan has been to watch a show.

Inside, the deep red walls, velvety booths and low lit table lamps make it feel exactly what a jazz club should be.

Head there for the Late Late Show, a relaxed 50’s speakeasy vibe that goes on until the small hours for an up close and personal jazz jam session.

Where: 47 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4HT
Website: www.ronniescotts.co.uk

Jazz Café

In the same vein, head north to Camden’s Jazz Café for an equally iconic institution. Every night of the week they bring Londoners the best of homegrown and global talent across jazz, soul and reggae.

Make a night of it and book into the restaurant that’s actually pretty decent, before dancing the night away for some of the most gifted live musicians in the city and beyond.

Where: Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London NW1 7PG
Website: www.thejazzcafelondon.com

Royal Albert Hall

As one of London’s most treasured British buildings, you don’t forget the first time you go to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. While it might be best-known for award ceremonies, the Cirque du Soleil and the Proms, there are plenty of gigs taking place there throughout the year, too.

Coming up are Bryan Ferry, Stereophonics, Noel Gallagher and Groove Armada to name just a snippet.

Top tip: head down to the basement bars post-gig for a nightcap.

Where: Kensington Gore, Kensington, SW7 2AP
Website: www.royalalberthall.com

EartH

This thoroughly modern music venue brings together the leading, the rising and the most important cultural talents in London. They often couple performances with book signings or put on one-off gigs that you won’t find anywhere else.

Check them out if you’re a fan of spoken word, poetry, offbeat comedy and, of course, music. But be aware that the amphitheatre style seating is incredibly uncomfortable (take a jumper to sit on), cosy (you’ll be squeezed up next to strangers) and unallocated… but who cares?

Where: EartH, 11-17 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London N16 8BH
Website: www.earthackney.co.uk

Moth Club

Its glitter-covered ceiling and garish gold fringe curtains make Moth look like a bad taste party but we love it. Sweaty, raucous nights happen here thanks to its ‘anything goes’ attitude amongst Hackney’s hipsters.

Check out their listings for new music inspiration, album launches and quirky club nights.

Where: Moth Club, Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, London E9 6NU
Website: www.mothclub.co.uk

Southbank Centre

Culture vultures gets their kicks at the Southbank Centre, where a cornucopia of listings take place each week. Gig-wise, there are some pretty cool, curated events taking place, namely, the annual Meltdown Festival which has previously been curated by the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Massive Attack, David Byrne and Robert Smith.

This year will see it return with the icon that is Grace Jones taking the reins.

Where: Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX, United Kingdom
Nearest station: London Waterloo (0.2 miles)
Website: www.southbankcentre.co.uk