The capital city of London has a rich heritage when it comes to live rock and pop music and has been a popular destination for both up and coming bands and big, big names to perform in the last 50 years.
The young Bob Dylan enjoyed formative experiences in folk venues like The Singer’s Club in the early 60s, whilst the Stones played their first gigs at The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond and later played a famous free tribute concert for Brian Jones in Hyde Park. In their hay day Pink Floyd performed psychedelic shows in Camden. In the 70s London was the epicentre of the punk movement, heralded by The Sex Pistols and The Clash. From the 80s onwards the capital has continued to support and produce top quality rock. Huge Bands like The Jam, Suede, Blur and The Libertines all learned their trade in the capital, whilst south London’s recent alternative scene had produced bands like Fat White Family and Black Midi.
And in 2022 London still offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the very best live music. So in tribute to our heritage here we have put together a list of our favourite venues where the good and the great have played over the years, and where right now you can still watch the very best bands of our time.
The Windmill, Brixton
We start with a small but perfectly formed venue in the backstreets of Brixton: The Windmill. You can pop into this often-packed little boozer at 2 Blenheim Gardens on pretty much any night of the week and find top quality leftfield and alternative acts playing, always with a raucous, punk-ish audience in attendance. The Windmill has lately been the starting point for many bands under the super-cool Speedy Wunderground label, home to names like the Fat White Family and Warmduscher. If you like your venues to have a sweaty underground vibe, then start here.
Not far up the road from The Windmill is the much larger and more famous Academy venue, a mid-range affair that has hosted any and every indie band in town over the years. It’s a 2-minute walk from Brixton tube and this year promises to host an eclectic mix of new and old names including Idles, The Streets, Slowtahi, Groove Armada, Beck and the Placebo. The Academy has an iconic frontage and Italian Renaissance interior (yes, really!). It’s unmissable, as are many of the gigs there. If you are in Brixton at any point this year, make sure you take a look.
The Lexington, Islington
On the other side of town is The Lexington, on Pentonville Road in Islington, N1, an area better known for its prison if you are a Monopoly fan! This pub hosts both indie nights with DJs and a dance floor as well as live music in its thrillingly low-key upstairs theatre. If you are in need of a good drink then you also might like to try the bourbon and top notch American craft beer they sell here. The Lexington is perhaps a lesser known gem than others on our list but its roll call of star performers speaks for itself, including Billy Bragg, Blur’s Graham Coxon, The Wave Pictures, Black Country, New Road, Ohtis and British Sea Power. Look out for their super-fun Pop Quiz nights too!
The O2 Academy further up the road in Islington is a better bet for those in North London seeking out a bigger gig experience but still an intimate setting. This venue holds up to 800 people, and if you’re lucky you can watch some pretty decent acts and still see the whites of their eyes. Back in 2010, the ludicrously glam act, Kiss, even played here. Yes, Kiss, that act who normally play stadiums engulfed in pyrotechnics and is so big they have given birth to tribute acts, reality TV shows and even video games. Ok, so maybe this year you won’t get to see Kiss, but you can enjoy Tom McRea, Kid Dad and Wayward Sons (no relation).
The Forum, Kentish Town
Moving further north and just outside of Camden, an indie-rock mecca if ever there was one, you will find The Forum in Kentish town, also steeped in history. The Forum, previously the Town and Country Club, has hosted Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Spiritualised, PJ Harvey and The Pogues amongst many others. The list is in fact endless – well just under 1,000 gigs according to their website. This year’s highlights include The Coral, Doves and The Libertines. One for the 90s and 00s indie fans and plenty more to see here.!
The Ravensbourne Arms, Lewisham
To finish off here is a nod to the future: The Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham which is suggesting a different way forward for live music in the capital. This venue spent many years boarded up but is being saved thanks to the work of a collective called Sister Midnight who are running a crowd-sourcing campaign to refurbish it and turn it into a venue for live gigs and studio recordings. This kind of action is seen as a way to protect small music venues from closures caused by takeovers by big breweries and financial pressure from events like the Pandemic. London’s live venues are regularly at threat of closure for existential reasons and whilst not open yet, perhaps the Ravensbourne may yet prove how things should be done to create sustainable venues in the future and keep London’s rich musical heritage alive.
And that’s it! Whether you are living in London or just passing through in 2022, make sure you make the most of the end of Lockdown and get down to one of these venues to enjoy some top-quality tuneage!