‘A chocolate box of faded grandeur’: Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright and more on their favourite live music venues
As the coronavirus pandemic forces independent music venues around the UK to shut their doors in an unprecedented lockdown, musicians tell Roisin O’Connor about their favourite establishments, and why it’s important to continue supporting them
Last year, the value of Britain’s live music scene hit a record high at £1.1bn, while the total value of the music industry rose to £5.2bn.
But with the unprecedented cancellation or postponement of thousands of live music events, including the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury Festival and major tours from hundreds of artists across all genres, independent venues are in trouble.
Long-running establishments, including London’s Royal Albert Hall, have been forced to temporarily close. “The consequences of these national actions are going to be hugely damaging,” an RAH spokesperson said.
“The Royal Albert Hall does not receive regular government support and is dependent on income related to events, which will not be happening. The lost income from closing the venue will pose serious challenges for the Hall and its stakeholders.
“We invest millions of pounds every year just to look after our building, but our main costs are our staff, whose livelihoods are at stake. We have committed to pay our people through various closure scenarios, and any support you are able to give us would be enormously appreciated.”
Bush Hall, another independent London music venue and host to artists including Amy Winehouse, Adele, The Killers, and Florence and the Machine, tells The Independent: “Bush Hall was already in substantial need of restoration. Like so many, being hit by this pandemic has wiped our business (42 gigs and events were wiped from our diary in a matter of days), and it is truly unclear whether we can recover from this.
“All we can hope for is that everything we have strived to achieve doesn’t vanish before us, and lockdown doesn’t become shutdown.” (Donate to Bush Hall’s crowdfunder here.)
As venues look into options of livestreaming shows and other ways to prevent permanent closure, a number of established and emerging artists have sent in messages to The Independent, in the hope it encourages fans to support these venues in any way they can.
Favourite venue: The Olympia, Liverpool
While I have fond memories from playing everywhere from Liverpool Royal Court to the Brighton Top Rank or “The Frenchman’s Motel”, Fishguard, I would have to choose The Olympia on West Derby Road in Liverpool.
It is the venue where we opened our recent Just Trust tour and while we had splendid nights at such haunted vaudeville palaces as Blackpool Opera House, Sunderland Empire and The Palace Theatre, Manchester and even in the most anxious circumstances at the Hammersmith Apollo, nothing could compare with mood and elation at the Eventim Olympia – a permanent circus building dating from 1905 that was later known at “The Locarno Ballroom” and at which my 92-year old mother, Lillian, confounded all expectations by managing to reprise her attendance for the first time since she was a dancehall patron in the late 1940s.
Any place where the faces of the audience can be seen at the edge of the stage, and yet there is a balcony for seated ticket holders, is bound to have more about it than certain places that shall remain nameless, better suited to a party conference or Politburo meeting.
Favourite venue: Union Chapel, London
I have many fond memories from evenings spent at the Union Chapel in London.
Back in 2007, when I first moved to London and I was playing at open mic nights, I got the opportunity to play at Union Chapel for the first time for a charity event that was organised by Razorlight. It was by far the biggest gig I’d ever played and I remember hoping that one day I’d be able to play it myself. Then in 2009 I sang for the first time ever with Bombay Bicycle Club at Union Chapel for a Little Noise Session show put together by Jo Whiley. And then only last year my dream finally came true and I headlined the venue myself; a monumental moment for me to have had all those years of playing and writing music eventually enabling me to play in this incredibly beautiful and special venue.
I’ve seen countless brilliant gigs there too, from Adrianne Lenker to Sophie Ellis Bexter (courtesy of my mum). They also hold the most serene and memorable Christmas carols each year which is entirely candle lit. It really is an extraordinary venue and my absolute favourite. (Donate to Union Chapel here.)
Favourite venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
As much as I want to be unusual, I just give credit where credit is due. When push comes to shove, it is really the Royal Albert Hall that is my favourite venue. It is the perfect mix of both formal and fun. Also, it is where my mother Kate McGarrigle did her last concert. (Donate here.)
Favourite venue: King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
King Tut’s is intimate, vibrant and sweaty with a pretty iconic list of alumni. I’m obsessed with venues that make the artist and the audience feel close to each other physically and emotionally – King Tut’s definitely has that power.
Favourite venue: Bedford Esquires, Bedfordshire
The venue that was absolutely vital to me was Bedford Esquires, in my hometown. It’s legendary in its own right, all the greats from Oasis, Blur, Coldplay and countless others have all played on that stage.
I supported Wolf Alice there during my development years. And that’s what’s crucial, that venue gave me multiple support slots with bigger acts when I was starting out – that helped me hone my craft and build my confidence as a performer. Finding your voice in front of a real crowd is the ultimate test.
I will do anything to support this venue and plan to go back again soon to do some intimate gigs for my new album that’s coming out later this year. Venues like Bedford Esquires are vital for the future of the UK music scene. We are a country that exports the greatest culture and we need to keep these venues alive. They are the heartbeat of all future revolutions.
The Big Moon’s Celia Archer
Favourite venue: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is one of my favourite venues of all time to play and to see bands. We have had so many amazing gigs there from our very first tours and festivals like Gold Sounds and Live at Leeds. The sound is incredible and the feel of the place is so relaxed. It’s like playing in your favourite local. But better. And we have never been let down by a Leeds crowd.
Favourite venue: Camden Assembly, London
Camden Assembly has always been a prominent venue that bands have passed through. We played there countless times early on and only have fond memories. Another absolute London gem is Moth Club in Hackney Central. You walk in to a throwback working men’s club, both dingy & completely charming. The last thing you then expect is to walk through the double doors into a huge 400-capacity room covered in gold glitter & streamers with the iconic “MOTH” sign hanging behind the stage. Very few better places to see a gig.
Another Sky’s Catrin Vincent
Favourite venue: Servant Jazz Quarters, London
We used to put on these “Open Rehearsal” nights at The Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, one of the only venues in London with a beautiful upright piano. We’d ask all our friends to perform with us and hang out. I remember one night, our lighting guy made this flickering lightbulb that hung above us, and mine came crashing down mid-set onto the piano. We’re looking forward to going back.
Bastille’s Chris ‘Woody’ Wood
Favourite venue: Green Door Store, Brighton
Green Door is one of the venues we played in the early part of our career. It’s set into some railway arches and is a proper grassroots venue that recently has a facelift – it has an amazing vibe.
Favourite venue: Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London
It’s what it says on the tin. It’s a venue i had never been to before so I didn’t arrive with any expectations and once I arrived, I thought, ‘yeah man, this is a working man’s club if I’ve ever seen one!’ A deceivingly large space with gold tinsel as the back drop, to the left a floor to ceiling out of decommissioned stripper pole.
The smell of the venue complimented the mid-Eighties decor which had look untouched since… well the mid-Eighties, but it all adds to the atmosphere and charm. It felt vintage, like a place singers used to make their own, with no bells and whistles. It might not have the greatest sound system but that makes you rely on your own skill and talent.
Hopefully I did the old place justice with my performance... if not, I’d be back for another try in a heartbeat! Hopefully a venue like this will survive the hard times ahead – we don’t have many spaces like these that echo such an important era of British culture.
Twin Atlantic’s Sam McTrusty
Favourite venue: King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
I’m obviously a biased source here, given that this is my hometown’s talisman venue. The amount of care and effort put into this place by all the staff at DF concerts is unrivalled in the UK. I can’t think of another venue this size that provides in house catering to touring bands that need it most. Amazing sound. Amazing stage space.
In the same week, you could have a band that’s sold millions of albums and a band’s first EP launch. My favourite thing is the route to stage from the dressing room. It’s almost ritualistic going out one fire escape into the cold Glaswegian air and back down another into a warm audience glow.
Sophie and the Giants
Favourite venue: The Boileroom, Guildford
The Boileroom in Guildford is by far at the top of our list. It’s where we all met and we’ve been lucky to see some legendary gigs there, and even had the honour of playing headline shows there, too. They are currently depending on crowdfunding to stay afloat in these uncertain times, so please help out this amazing and friendly team if you can. (Donate here.)
Favourite venue: King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
Tut’s has always been kinda special to us. It was really the first place we realised something was happening with our music. We’ve played it a handful of times since and it always feels as special.
There’s just something about live music in a really rowdy sweat box that’s beautiful. It’s the small intimate venues where crowds get to know bands on and off the stage, and its ultimately where you cut your teeth as an artist.
It would be devastating for the future to become strictly live streams, especially when each and every independent live venue out there, has their own kinda personality and vibe. Support each other where you can, a little goes a long way.
Favourite venue: The Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate
The Tom Thumb Theatre in Margate is an absolute gem. It’s one of the country’s smallest venues. It’s a joy to perform in such a beautiful room, decorated with red velvet curtains and ornate wallpaper.
It’s a chocolate box of faded grandeur with such a friendly spirit. We played one of our first shows outside of London there and had so much fun. Unique spaces like this can only survive when there is a thriving local scene and support from the community.
Favourite venue: Zanzibar, Liverpool
Zanzibar in Liverpool is my favourite. It perfectly encapsulates what those sweatbox grass roots venues need to be. On a good night, you came off that stage feeling f***ing invincible. It’s responsible for giving the majority of Liverpool bands the live bug that pushed them onto venues 10 times the size. I’m made up we’ve made it a part of Circa Fest in September.
Favourite venue: Chinnery’s, Southend
Our favourite independent venue is, of course, our own Southend home town hero, Chinnery’s. We would not be the band we are today if it wasn’t for this ferocious noise box and all the staff that have worked there over the years.
Not only is it the holy grail for local bands looking to get on the music scene, it also has an impressive roster of bands who have played there on the way up, from Arctic Monkeys and Biffy Clyro to The 1975. I’m also pretty sure we hold the record for fastest ever sell-out there, too. (Four minutes, but who’s counting?)
Chase and Status
Favourite venue: Fabric
When Fabric first opened we knew it would quickly become a British institution in clubbing. So many moments we experienced there helped shape our journey to where we are today.
Like so many, the live music sector has taken a huge hit recently. Places like Fabric that mean so much to so many are in danger of closure. We hope by staying strong and helping each other we can get through this and get back there to tear up the place once more.
Favourite venue: The Ironworks, Inverness
One of our favourites is The Ironworks in Inverness, which has a flexible set-up to accommodate shows from 100 up to 1000 people.
It was one of the first venues we played outside of Glasgow during the formative years of the band, and they worked so hard promoting the shows with posters all over the city and looked after us really well. So much so, we’ve gone back countless times.
Like many venues, it faces a lot of different challenges. Coronavirus is obviously one at the moment, a potential hotel being planned in the space etc.
If it were to close, it would be a major loss to artists from all over the UK who were able to play such a good venue in the highlands of Scotland.
During these uncertain times, it is important to provide support in any way possible to the many independent venues and self-employed or freelance people that work in this industry.
I hope that once we get through this, there are still independent venues able to open their doors for all the bands that will be desperate to get back to playing live.