After a string of casualties in 2014 that included Madame Jojo’s in Soho and the Buffalo Bar in Islington, London’s independent venues are looking more precious and fragile than ever. This week is the second annual Independent Venue Week, a celebration the small-to-medium-sized rooms at the heart of the British gig circuit, so we’ve picked eight great venues taking part across London.
Previous headliners in this legendary basement off Oxford Street include Billie Holliday, The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols. With a legacy like that you’d expect the heaps of trad rock, blues and soul on the bill nowadays, but since it was narrowly saved from closure in 2011 the 100 Club has also stepped up its bookings of exciting new artists, and is slowly becoming a destination again.
As well as brilliant regular parties such as Hip Hop Karaoke, The Social now has the best regular gig calendar in the West End. Its tiny basement hosts quality up-and-comers every week and occasional secret gigs by established acts. It’s also hands down one of the friendliest venues in London.
This was once a run-of-the-mill sports pub, but a couple of years ago it was transformed into a pretty great rock ’n’ roll watering hole and gig venue. The upstairs live room has a top-end sound system, which is perfect for the rock, punk and metal bands who turn things up to 11 here every week. They have delicious beer, too.
Dating back to the days when Putney was a rock ’n’ roll heartland (well, Phil Lynott lived there for a bit), this unassuming pub hosted early gigs by soon-to-be-megabands such as The Rolling Stones and U2. The line-ups are more modest nowadays – mostly rock, pop and folk old-timers – but it’s a great live space in a part of London that’s hardly overrun with them.
Duck down a narrow alley from Hackney Road and you’ll find this old East End pub, saved in 2009 from demolition, with original wood panelling, a sticky carpet and some seriously comfy armchairs. Then head downstairs and you’ll end up in a cosy gig venue, with regular shows by rising stars at dirt-cheap prices. There should be dozens more pubs like this in London, but since there aren’t, treasure the Sebright Arms.
Not to be confused with the actual Brixton Windmill round the corner, the run-down but welcoming Windmill is the opposite of the O2 Academy Brixton’s mega-gig experience. It hosts cult artists and young bands seven nights a week, barbeques most weekends, and occasionally a dog that can be heard wandering across the roof.
The Shack is packed most weekends with east London’s beardiest, but that doesn’t stop anyone from having a good time: it’s hard to take yourself too seriously in the bizarrely decorated former dancehall behind the main bar. The Shacklewell has become famous for its live all-dayers, has hosted low-key gigs by some incredible bands (and Skrillex), and is generally a top place to see a gig. Long may it reign.
One of just a handful of decent small venues in west London, NHAC has a roomy live area tucked away behind the main staircase and has a good track record for hosting acts just before they break (you’d have caught James Bay there two years ago). Just make sure to bring ID: they’re pretty strict.
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