By Carl Allen, author of London Gig Venues
London has a rich and varied history of live music venues from pubs to theatres, churches to warehouses. A new book –‘London Gig Venues’ by Carl Allen explores almost 600 of the capital’s venues from the lost and forgotten to the internationally famous. We asked Carl to share some of the most interesting venues and gigs that have happened in the capital.
1.Islington Assembly Hall
A 1930s civic dancehall that sprang into gig life in 2010. The building has an understated beauty, a grand stage, friendly and helpful staff and is building a decent roll call of artists playing the venue. The Foo Fighters appeared in 2014 and there was a brief Kinks reunion in 2015 when Dave Davies was joined on stage by his brother Ray for an encore of ‘You’ve Really Got Me’. The venue is popular with cult acts such as Robert Forster and The Triffids.
2. The Electric Ballroom
It is hard to believe that this legend of the Camden scene was originally a Masonic lodge with a swimming pool and a steam bath. Had these features had been kept they would surely have given the Electric Ballroom the most luxurious backstage area in London. How they might have been enjoyed by Sid Vicious, Joy Division, Public Enemy and The Clash when they played there is another question! The good news is that although venue has often had the threat of closure looming over it, it is still going strong.
Built in 1904 as a father’s gift to a daughter, this ballroom has had a very interesting history. During the 1960s it was used as rehearsal room by The Who and The Rolling Stones, before becoming a snooker hall. Springing back into musical life in 2001, it has hosted gigs by Adele, The Scissor Sisters, Kings of Leon and Nick Cave. The monoculture of fast food outlets in the neighbourhood does not prepare you for when you enter the building and encounter chandeliers and ornate plaster work. A real stunner.
One of the best venues to see live music in the capital is south of the river in Brixton. This former cinema has hosted some of the biggest names in music since the mid-1980s; Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Iron Maiden have all played. The capacity is just 5,000 but feels intimate with great views all-round the venue.
5. Hammersmith Palais
One of the great lost venues of London, the Palais host Dixieland jazz in the 1920s, was immortalised in song by The Clash and had gigs by U2, The Kinks, Kasabian and The Cure. Sadly demolished in 2007, student accommodation now occupies the site, although the foyer does have a musical timeline of the old Palais.
This former Crosse and Blackwell pickle factory was demolished in 2009 for the new Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station – although the venue had one of the richest musical heritages of any venue in London. Some of the acts to have played include Nirvana, David Bowie, Eminem, Oasis and Morrissey.
Although this is one of legendary Camden venues with punk credentials, this did not stop the venue’s security over-reacting to the on-stage antics of Colchester’s most famous sons – Blur. Back in 1989 they were known as Seymour, playing their first London gig and they were not the respectable, Hyde Park playing band as we know them now. Back in 1989 they were wild and drunk on stage, which goes some way to explain why security decided to spray the band with mace.
This may have been a short-lived venue – open for less than a year – but it was an iconic punk venue that has gone into punk folklore where bands such as The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Slits and Adam and The Ants played. You can now purchase your budgie smugglers amongst its hallowed walls as it is now a Speedo shop.
With so many of London’s venues closing over recent years, maybe Paper Dress in Hackney is a light of hope and shows how live music could work in the future. In the daylight hours Paper Dress is a vintage clothes shop but come the twilight the first floor is transformed into a music venue where Slow Club, Public Service Broadcasting and Fat White Family have played.
10. The Rainbow
One the most well-known lost venues, The Rainbow at Finsbury Park, hosted Hendrix, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa amongst many others. When The Clash played in 1977 the gig ended up in a riot with fans ripping up the stalls. Now a church for the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, an organisation that tried to turn the Brixton Academy into a church but succeeded in converting another music venue, The National in Kilburn into a church, with the long closed Granada in Walthamstow awaiting the hand of God.
‘London Gig Venues’ by Carl Allen is a must for all music-lovers keen to gen up all interesting gig facts. The book is published by Amberley, priced £16.99 and is available from book shops and click here
All pictures are copyright: Carl Allen ‘London Gig Venues’