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The 17 best music venues in the UK – by acts who’ve played (almost) all of them

From John Cooper Clarke and New Order to Hot Chip and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, we asked dozens of legendary British artists to name their favourite stages

Music venues
Image: Jamie Inglis / James Sharrock / Dean Chalkley / Matilda Hill-Jenkins / India Fleming
Image: Jamie Inglis / James Sharrock / Dean Chalkley / Matilda Hill-Jenkins / India Fleming
Chiara Wilkinson
Georgia Evans
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson
Georgia Evans

Festivals are great and all, but there’s just something about singing along with a crowd of strangers in a sweaty, sticky-floored venue. From opulent former theatres to tiny jazz clubs and grimy basements, the UK is home to some excellent spots to see live music. These are places where subcultures are born and legends come to be, where lifetime memories are made and where musical history plays out right in front of you. And at a time when many grassroots venues are threatened by closure, it’s well worth reminding ourselves every once in a while of just how brilliant they are. 

We like to think of ourselves as experts here at Time Out, but who really knows our music venues better than the people who have been up there on stage, night in, night out, singing and stage-diving and striding on for encores? We went to dozens of British acts – all of whom have had the pleasure of playing live for more than a decade – and asked them to choose one music venue which they think is the absolute best. Then we combined their views with knowledge from our editorial team to come up with a definitive ranking. The result? A spectacular snapshot of the rich and varied musical landscape in the UK today.  

These are venues that are authentic, that are committed to promoting properly good music and emerging acts, venues that have energetic crowds and excellent sound quality. There are huge production-heavy concert halls, tiny stages hidden under record stores and even some places we didn’t even know existed before now. They’re all special in their own, unique way – and they’ve (of course) seen their fair share of mosh pits. 

So let’s get started, shall we? From Stirling to Cardiff, London to a tiny, tiny town in West Yorkshire, here are the best music venues in the UK – chosen by artists who have played almost all of them.

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The best music venues in the UK – by acts who’ve played (almost) all of them

Chosen by Phil Cunningham, New Order

‘It’s a good size at just under 2,000 cap and has a sprung dance floor. It feels like the whole place is bouncing when you get a good crowd in. We played a chaotic but great show there back in 2001 when I had just joined New Order. Bernard and Hooky had a slight disagreement after the show; I can’t remember what it was about. Anyway, a champagne bottle was launched across the dressing room, smashing a mirror. By the time we got ourselves together to get back out onstage for the encore, the audience had nearly ripped the place apart as we hadn’t played “Blue Monday”. Things are a bit more chilled out nowadays.’

Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai

‘My favourite UK venue is the Glasgow Barrowlands. It’s actually probably my favourite venue on the planet. It sounds amazing and is steeped in history. I’ve loved so many shows there and been lucky enough to play there as well. A truly legendary place.’

... and Neil Barnes, Leftfield

‘The venue holds a special place in my heart. The building is so special, it’s got an enormous frontage that looks like a kind of pleasure palace, with the biggest neon sign I’ve ever seen. The last time I played, we did two nights and there was a heatwave, and it was about 90 degrees in there. Celtic were playing Rangers, but inside the rivalry seemed unimportant and people just danced. Barrowlands is probably a favourite because of the people who go to gigs there. They seem to just be more open to the vibe of the music, more ready to let themselves go and enjoy the experience. They are noisy and excited from the beginning. It’s great playing to people like that. It gives us confidence on stage to keep giving more.’

Chosen by John Cooper Clarke

‘To somebody of my age, the Palladium is the gold standard of all gigs. There are larger venues, but that’s not the point. It’s who’s been there. Backstage, they’ve got pictures of everybody that ever appeared there: Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Mario Lanza. If Elvis had ever come to these shores, that’s where he would’ve played. The first time I played there, I didn’t feel intimidated, I felt validated. Especially as it was my name over the marquee and the place was full. It doesn’t get better than that. It was a time when I wished my dad was still around, I remember when he was trying to discourage me from being a professional poet. He was a sarcastic guy. I can just hear him going, Where are you going to read this stuff? Sunday night at the London Palladium? Well, I made it Dad!’

... and Dani Filth, Cradle of Filth

‘It’s such a legendary venue. It looks prestigious, gorgeous and iconic, everyone is very well looked after there, and lastly, Bruce Forsyth’s ashes have been laid to rest beneath the stage. That’s a royal seal of approval if ever you needed one. You couldn’t get more central London if you tried, and if you’re playing a show here, it’s always a very special occasion.’


Chosen by Gwenno

‘I went to my first gig there when I was four or five: my mum was collecting funds for the Welsh Music Society and I vividly remember being about waist-height to people, watching Mike Stevens on stage. It was the venue where I played my first gig, and it’s a venue that I’d regularly tour as well as go to throughout my late teens and early 20s. Generally, any sort of milestones to do with music and culture tend to revolve around Clwb. It’s gone from being the Welsh Language Social Club in the 1980s to a well-respected music venue for all sorts of different music. And it’s just a really friendly vibe because it’s a place that people regularly go to. But I think that’s the beauty of grassroots venues. I really don’t know what Cardiff would do if it lost Clwb.’

Chosen by Skin, Skunk Anansie 

‘I literally grew up seeing bands there, and I was also on the security team for a while (I took no bribes), so I know the venue intimately. The first time we played there it was really emotional. All my friends came, and also my mum, so it felt like a hometown gig. It’s the one venue that makes me a little nervous as I will never cease to see it as important, but the moment I walk on stage I always know it’s okay. As a musician, it’s also a very difficult gig to play because of how high the ceiling is and you have to work hard to make sure it’s enjoyable for everybody. It’s not the easiest venue, sound-wise, but when you get it right, you’ll see everybody – even at the top of the rafters – jumping up and down. It’s a phoenix that has to be trained. It’s risen from the ashes a few times, and I truly hope that everyone involved has learned from its recent troubles and that it will rise again.’ 


Chosen by Dan Haggis, The Wombats 

‘There are so many amazing venues in the UK, so it’s hard to pick, but I feel I need to choose one close to home. We’ve played the Mountford Hall in Liverpool several times during our career – the first time was back in 2005 – and last year we did three nights in a row. Honestly, every night had the best, sweatiest party atmosphere imaginable. It was one long sing-a-long from start to finish. It’s hard for us to beat a hometown show and the Mountford Hall is the perfect vibe.’

Chosen by Hannah Diamond

Heaven is a very special venue for me because it holds a lot of memories. My fanbase is predominantly LGBTQ+ and I know that this venue is special for them too, so there’s a different kind of atmosphere when I perform there because it’s a space where everyone feels comfortable. My favourite memory is not actually from my own show, but from Sophie’s show after her album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides”, came out. She had asked me to help her and her sister with her outfit changes, which were extremely elaborate and needed to be very fast. It makes me laugh to think about how fast I’m able to put on elbow-length latex gloves now, thanks to Sophie and all the years we spent backstage putting them on and doing our make-up together.’


Chosen by Pauline Black, The Selecter

‘Rock City in Nottingham looks a bit rough from the outside, but inside the place feels as though it’s got some soul – like the music made inside it is the most important thing. When you step on stage, the room feels alive, as though as long as you play your heart out, the energy will always come right back at you. I love that. The security – mostly folk from the biker fraternity – are always surprisingly friendly and respectful to me and the band. I hope they think the same about us.’

Chosen by Chris Summerlin, Hey Colossus

‘My first gig with Hey Colossus was at New River. It’s the perfect venue: DIY-run, great bar, great food, everyone is friendly, and they don’t kick the crowd out at 9.30pm. You come away feeling like someone who loves music as opposed to a consumer. Plus, you get to hang with Bagel, the venue cat (if you’re nice, Bagel knows). Somehow it doesn’t feel like you’re in London, you could almost be in Europe. It’s beautiful.’


Chosen by Ross Millard, The Futureheads 

‘Pop Recs in Sunderland is currently in its third incarnation, but they’ve finally found a permanent home. Dave Harper from Frankie & The Heartstrings worked on developing ideas for the venue, raised money to get it built, then put his heart and soul into getting it done. He died in August 2021, just before they opened their doors to the public. It was utterly devastating and heartbreaking. Since then, musicians Michael McKnight and Dan Shannon have taken it on and are doing an incredible job bringing bands to the city and bringing loads of different communities through the door. It was an incredibly emotional experience when I first played there. Dave is in the foundations of the place, his soul can be felt everywhere in the space.’

Chosen by Sophie Ellis-Bextor

My favourite venue is the O2 Shepherd’s Bush. It’s big enough that playing there is a real event, but it’s small enough, too, that from the stage you can involve the whole crowd. And while I’ve had great gigs there myself, I’ve also watched some fabulous ones. As an added bonus, it’s very close to my house, so I could even walk there if I wanted.’


Chosen by Don Letts

‘It’s got to be The Golden Lion. Set in a picturesque village, this relatively small but well-formed venue attracts some serious connoisseurs of sound. My DJ sets reflect the history and legacy of Jamaican music and the island’s gift to the world: bass. Now, I’m all about culture clash, so moving the crowd with a soundtrack like that, in such an idyllic setting, really hits the spot. And then there’s Gig, the venue’s hostess with the mostess who oversees proceedings: solid sounds, good food, and most importantly, people that know their shit.’

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Chosen by Alexis Taylor, Hot Chip

‘It’s a nice coming-together of good people running the place and people with a keen interest in music. Everyone working there is interested in the sound being great, the atmosphere being friendly and prioritising new music as much as anything else. You can probably fit 80 people in there at a push, so you’re never far from the stage and you can feel what the band is doing without a barrier between you. The way that you’re just so up close and personal with people playing is just an unusual opportunity. The first time I went to Blue Basement, I played live. We were in this packed stage, but it didn’t feel unrelaxed. The crowd were really enjoying it and the atmosphere was so special because people are standing right in your face, but they’re actually listening, not talking like they would do in noisy bars.’ 

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Chosen by Paul Smith, Maximo Park 

‘The Star and Shadow is one of my favourite venues, and we’re lucky to have it here in Newcastle. It’s a volunteer-run arts space that began life as a cinema, but which has branched out to include performance, a bar and café, as well as a library of radical reading material. I’ve seen some excellent leftfield gigs and films there, as well as shooting a lo-fi video for “Seven Tears”, a song by my new folk duo, Unthank:Smith.’ 

Chosen by Courtney Pine

‘I heard about this venue at the back of Streatham High Road a long time before I got the chance to make music there. [The first time I went] my plan was to sneak in and catch an upcoming exciting young jazz guitarist and check out the venue. It was warm, inviting and receptive. A large painting of one of my favourite UK singers adorned the wall and the audience to this sold-out concert was local, I could tell by their attire and conversation. The music was great, the food was great, they even had a Courtney Pine cocktail on offer. After the concert, London experienced a blizzard that took me seven hours to drive back home. Apart from the venue’s brilliant music, my most endearing memory was seeing three African workers in the alley experiencing snow for the first time.’ 

The Hideaway is temporarily closed. The owners are currently looking for new premises.


Chosen by Rachel Goswell, Slowdive

‘The Town and Country Club, as it was known then, was a venue I used to go to quite regularly to see bands. I remember seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jesus and the Mary Chain and Ride – all the bands used to play there once they got to a certain level. We supported Chapterhouse there, we were their surprise guests in the ’90s, and then when we came back when we reformed in 2014, playing two nights and selling out both, which is something we’d never done before. It felt quite special. Funnily, when we first headlined it, Pulp was our support act.’

Chosen by Gruff Rhys

‘It’s the old cinema in Bethesda, which is a Welsh-speaking, working quarry town in the mountains of North Wales. The venue has been a town hall, a market place, and is a real community centre. It’s owned and run by the local music community, and now they’ve started booking bands from all over the world, like [hip hop group] Arrested Development. The festival they do there every August bank holiday had names like Aldous Harding and Jane Weaver. It’s my hometown and I’ve played many times, and the shows are off the hook. One of the most powerful gigs I saw there was a band called BCUC from Soweto. It was an incredible show because there’s something about the intimacy of the venue: it’s just big enough so you can put on a show but small enough for the atmosphere to feel electric.’


Chosen by Saul Davies, James

‘It was the first venue I played at when I was the leader of the Stirling Youth Symphony Orchestra when I was 14. Years later James did a pre-tour warm-up there. It was a massive moment of very positive nostalgia for me: a realisation that from humble beginnings amazing things can and do happen, so it was a life-affirming moment. It was also funny because no one in Stirling believed it was actually us that was going to play and not a tribute band. In general, the UK has a network of amazing, small, independent venues that need supporting. Places like Band on the Wall in Manchester, for example, are vital to the cultural life of the UK. It’s places like that where we’ll see the next Oasis or Led Zep.’

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