The best music venues in London: the musicians choose

Florence Welch, Example and more tell us their favourite places to catch live music in the capital



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© Den Dennison

Which music venues in London hold a special place in musicians' hearts? We asked some of the biggest names in music in the UK about their favourite spots – past or present, whether they're on stage or in the audience.

Charlie Fink (Noah And The Whale)

Royal Albert Hall

‘Everyone expresses their grief differently, but few are afforded the opportunity to express it as lavishly as Queen Victoria. She had built so many monuments to Prince Albert’s name that Charles Dickens once claimed to seek “an inaccessible cave to escape them all”. A little hyperbolic, perhaps, but walking along the southern perimeter of Kensington Gardens the grandiose symbols of Victoria’s affections are unavoidable. I went to my first concert here on May 4 in 1999. It was west-country surf rockers Reef – perhaps not the most glamorous induction into live music, but powerful nonetheless. Since then, I’ve seen a huge number of diverse performances here, perhaps most memorably the George Harrison Memorial Concert. Wherever we play in the world, the significance of the RAH is well known, and to stand even briefly in the great hall it is immediately obvious as to why.

Dave Rowntree

Dave Rowntree (Blur)


‘My favourite venue in London was the Astoria. Many of our road crew used to work there when we weren't on tour, so I used to hang out there with them quite a bit, and I saw pretty much anyone you can think of who was touring the UK in the '90s. Over the years the roof space got converted into unofficial lounges and bedrooms, and I spent some, er, interesting nights up there. I shudder to think what they found when they knocked the place down. These days I live in east London, and I'm surrounded by great venues, but I try to come home a little more often in the evenings.’


Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen

‘My favourite London headline show to date was at Brixton Academy, but my favourite venue back in the early days of my career was Hoxton Bar & Kitchen. We played five sold-out shows there back when I was signed to Mike Skinner's label. I remember my industry mates like Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, Hadouken! and Professor Green would come down to hang out. We were always fucked before we went onstage, and then went out in Shoreditch afterwards till sunrise. Great acoustics in there, and the floor was delightfully sticky. I once played on a line-up with Metronomy headlining and Foals on before me. Times have changed somewhat.’

Florence and the Machine

Florence Welch (Florence And The Machine)

Old Blue Last

‘The Old Blue Last is a place that in many ways began my career and also in many ways nearly ended it. I was first “discovered” there on the roof in a Captain America suit, covered in blue paint. Old Blue Last, I salute you! See you soon; I’ll be serving sambuca from on top of the bar.’

Graham Coxon (Blur)


‘When I first came to London and was at Goldsmiths College, I used to like going to the Deptford Fountain – that was my first experience and it was good. But I’ve always liked ULU. I just liked the great big bar – I think it was a sign of the times. I have fond memories of ULU because I’ve seen a lot of really good groups there – Sonic Boom, My Bloody Valentine, The Cardiacs – and when Blur came to play there in ’91 or ’92, I thought it was great, because we were treading the same boards. It was quite an important venue in central London then. That was back in the days when things could be a bit out-of-control and you wouldn’t get thrown out. You could roll around on the floor and smoke there; things just used to be a little bit more… feral. Unfortunately, the really feral places – like the Camden Falcon and The Lady Owen Arms and the Astoria – have all closed down now.’

Marina and the Diamonds

Marina Diamandis (Marina And The Diamonds)

The Forum

‘I love The Forum. It has an old theatrical grandeur that many venues have lost. It's by far my favourite venue to perform at, aside from a few ballrooms dotted around the British seaside towns.’

Orlando Higginbottom (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs)


‘London is a hard city to play in – a harder place still in which to create something special. Recently, though, I had an amazing show at Heaven: a long black room with no decor, a big sound system, good lights and 1,000 people. We actually filmed the video to my new single "Tapes & Money" live that night. It worked perfectly in the space without distracting from the show itself. We rigged it up so a load of balloons fell from the ceiling at the peak on the song – that was an amazing scene to look out on.’


Paul Hartnoll (Orbital)

O2 Brixton Academy

‘The whole place has a slightly post-apocalyptic glory. This amazing old theatre, with the most ridiculously over-the-top cardboard built around the stage – it’s absolutely incredible. The whole place is so mucky and filthy and sort of down-on-its-luck, but it’s a beautiful kind of faded glory. It feels like you’re doing all the wrong things in that building. It wasn’t designed for rock ’n’ roll gigs or The Orb all-nighters. Yet it takes to it so gracefully, and accepts it. It sounds brilliant if you’re in the audience or performing: it’s got this massive stage that lets you do anything you like up there. It’s a joy to play. I’ve played there so many times, when I walk in the door there, I take a big breath and think “home again”.’


O2 Islington Academy

‘It’s a place I really love playing. I’ve done gigs to 10,000 people and it’s just a sea of bodies you can’t connect with. But while the Academy’s big, it’s still got that intimate feel so you’re not just a little stick man on the stage that the crowd can’t see unless they get their camera out and zoom in. Back in the day I saw artists like Dizzee and Kano there, and I loved how good the sound was. One thing about the place, though, is how ridiculous the stairs are leading from the artists’ car park to the dressing room. You feel like you’re walking all the way to south London – it’s mad. I get lost every time. My advice to any artist who’s going to play there is to take a bottle of water and a tent in case you end up needing to camp out on those stairs overnight.’

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

‘I’ve seen some fantastic gigs here. It works so well because it's big enough to put on a real show, but small enough to feel like you're witnessing something intimate and special. I remember nearly losing my hearing when Mark Ronson played with his band, who were great, and I saw a really gorgeous Feist gig here. Bjork put on a brilliant show and I’ve seen The Feeling play here many times, when and it's a real party atmosphere. The final reason it's a brilliant venue is because when you perform onstage the crowd, presented to you on three levels, look like an amazing dancing cake. Not to mention the fact that I live locally. What's not to love?’

Speech Debelle

Speech Debelle

Jazz Café

‘It’s just a legendary venue. In the dressing room, there are a load of photos of artists that have previously performed, and it makes you feel really special to play there. For me it’s particularly meaningful, as a lot of the past performers are neo-soul artists I really admire. Seeing Floetry’s photo – that really called out to me. I also love how visible the crowd are when you’re onstage. Not only can you see the upstairs, you can even see the people sat at the upstairs bar, which is really nice, ‘cos it means that you can put a guest there and at any point during the gig, you can turn and look at someone special to you. My Mum had a seat there last time I played. It’s just a classy venue. It’s somewhere I’d always wanted to perform.’

Wretch 32

Brixton Academy

‘The sound’s just great. I’ve seen Ed Sheeran and Example there recently, and when you’re watching artists who MC, it’s so important to be able to understand what they’re saying. The crowd feeds off the words, but at the same time they have to be able to feel the music, so the sound has to be just right. Brixton Academy captures that balance. And the sloped floor means that even though it’s big, you can still see from anywhere. For an artist performing there, it’s very important. You’re not just stuck looking at a row of 400 people at the front; at Brixton you can still make eye contact with over half the venue. Plus they do food backstage, which is great, so you don’t end up turning up not having eaten, then have to travel miles to go find some chips.’

Users say


Errrr.... Notting Hill Arts Club?

The best music venues in London

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