As we begin Independent Venue Week, Getintothis take a look at some of the finest auditoriums from the length and breadth of the country.
I had a Great Auntie, Jean, who lived in Walton. I never met her, for one simple reason; when I say she lived in Walton, I mean she literally never left Walton. Never went into town, never visited family elsewhere, never went on holiday.
I’m actually glad I never met her. What do you say to someone like that? Literally all you could talk about is Walton. With all due respect to the population of Walton, it isn’t that interesting a place, though I look forward to the day they build a monument to the actress Claire Sweeney.
I am guessing around this point you are wondering what the hell I’m banging on about, but trust me I’m going somewhere with this.
We write about venues in Liverpool on a daily basis. We have eulogised 24 Kitchen Street, gushed about the Invisible Wind Factory, shouted about Constellations and paid tribute to the Kazimier. As this is Independent Venue Week, we thought we should learn a life lesson from Great Auntie Jean and go further afield.
We decided to collate some of our best writers to share with us their editorially approved favourite venues from around the UK. From Manchester to King’s Lynn, Leeds to King’s Lynn, and Glasgow to King’s Lynn, we have it all covered (except for King’s Lynn).
In a time where the likes of 24 Kitchen Street and Constellations are fighting for survival against the dreaded property investors, it is just as important as ever to celebrate these incredible places, and the people behind them.
So if you find yourself in any of these cities, you might as well visit these places. If you want. Don’t feel obliged or anything. Shaun Ponsonby
Albert Hall, Manchester
Like picking your favourite band, selecting your favourite venue is a ridiculous question – because the answer is all tied to memories, context and can change depending on the results.
However, much like my listening habits, I’ve opted for my favourite new discovery – the converted Wesleyan Chapel on Peter Street in the heart of Manchester city centre. My first trip to there was to see Beck and the Albert Hall couldn’t have provided a better backdrop.
With the vast circular dome and wooden steps (which double as seats) the upstairs provides an unparalleled vantage point to watch the action. Atmosphere is added by the fading of the night with light streaming in through the tall arched stained glass windows while the sonics are epic and loud.
The venue was tested to the max when a later trip saw us take in the Psychedelic all-dayer of Goat, Hookworms, Jane Weaver and Liverpool noise heroes Mugstar late in 2016 for one of the year’s best shows. With several bars (and decent ale), massive toilets and helpful staff, it’s just about got everything – I urge you to make the trip and revel in its magnificence. Peter Guy
Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow
Set in the infamous Barras market of East end Glasgow, the Barrowlands has grown from its dance hall past, resurrected from being burnt to ash, to become one of the most famous venues in the UK.
From its piercing neon sign, it unmistakable character has seen it become a rite of passage for any artist worth their salt, with Bowie, Dylan, Arcade Fire just a few of the raft of acts to have graced its stage.
Its wide, inviting innards literally shake with the crowd, as this writer can testify having bear witness to its powers on more than one occasion. With news of a £30 million revamp to the venue and the area, we can only hope it maintains its charm that has bedded it into the heart of Weegies and people the world over. Craig MacDonald
The Black Box, Belfast
Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, I left mine in the Black Box and it’s not as Goth as it sounds.
The Black Box has managed to stay the course against all the odds, it was supposed to be a stop gap while a local theatre was being rebuilt but has garnered such a reputation the city finds it hard to let go. Home of the January long Out to Lunch Festival and the joy that is the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival it has become a staple in the events calendar in Belfast for over ten years.
It’s an odd spot, a literal black box, the ground floor of an office block built behind an old stable house, now it’s cafe bar, The Green Room. I’ve witnessed everything from John Cale, Angel Olson, Thee Oh Sees, a Kate Bush show in Irish, Gaz Coombes a week before his Sound City set and Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. Great space, great staff, perfect sound from Barry, great lights, also Barry, some fantastic beers, plentiful pizza and some of the best entertainment you could ask for year round. Beautiful. Chris Flack
Brixton Academy, London
The name itself carries gravitas and history; a building that every band worth their salt wishes to someday play and a building that pretty much every band of note has.
A domed beacon for those in need of entertaining that shines our across SW9 and one of the most beautiful and interesting interiors of any venue.
It began its life as The Astoria, a cinema until 1972 when music came knocking. With a capacity of just under 5,000, it became a nailed on tour visit for some of the biggest bands in the world, The Clash and Eric Clapton being early adopters of note.
From there the Academy went from strength to strength, producing legendary gigs (The Smiths last, five consecutive nights of the Sex Pistols, Leftfield being so loud they shook dust and plaster from the walls, Pete Doherty getting into a punch-up with a member of his own band – the list is never ending), taking dozens of best venue awards and being the location for many a live record with bands still chasing to make the venue their backdrop for live albums today.
It may be operated by O2 today, but its legacy as an independent venue is unparalleled. Vicky Pea
The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
I love so many things about so many independent venues – both as an audience member and as a performer too, which is why I was really pleased to get involved with Independent Venue Week. But you are asking the big question here. My absolute favourite. So here goes: The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. You can tell that everyone there loves being a part of what happens.
I’ve played there a few times both solo and with The Charlatans and from the minute you arrive to the minute you leave, you know everything is being done to make the show as good as possible for the band and the audience. Much of that is down to Nathan who runs it and his team that keep the good ship Brudenell sailing. Tim Burgess
- Tim is a patron of Independent Venues Week and will be playing the Royal Albert Hall as part of the celebrations tonight.
The Cookie Jar, Leicester
Anyone that knows me, knows that I LOVE music, and I LOVE attending gigs and in the words of The Sonics’ Have Love Will Travel. I often find myself in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, London, Wakefield, Stoke and of course at home in Manchester. I’m originally from the midlands though and over the past year I’ve been working there for part of the week which has given me the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with some old venues and some newer spaces in my old stomping ground of Leicester. The Musician, The Shed and The Soundhouse are still going strong and I’ve frequented them all recently but the new space where I’ve spent the most time is the Cookie Jar on High Street, which is lovingly known as ‘The Cookie’ in music circles.
The cute three floor venue operates as a coffee shop / bar in the day time, but at night the basement comes alive and hosts an array of the most exciting new artists both from the local area and from further afield. It’s a versatile space that always feels intimate yet spacious. It always has great sound, respectful audiences and some mesmerising light shows created by hand too! Shell Zenner
The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Housed in a grade II listed building and yes, you guessed it, former institute for the deaf and dumb, The Deaf Institute is one of the most interesting live music venues in the city. Located in the heart of student-ville. the venue provides a great place to enjoy an eclectic mix of live music spread over three floors of intimate sized performance spaces.The roster typically draws in the finest in alternative music, often catching acts on their way to wider acclaim and bigger venues – The XX, The War On Drugs and Drenge have all graced the stages in recent years. Matt Yarwood
The Haunt, Brighton
A converted old cinema in Brighton, The Haunt is far from my favourite independent venue but it has nonetheless played host to some of the most joyously memorable and fun-filled nights one could ever wish to experience.
The venue, with its quirky layout, bottlenecks, terrible beer, grim toilets and poor sightlines, was the venue for British Sea Power‘s monthly Krankenhaus club nights in 2012. A debauched and hedonistic retreat to the seaside on the last Friday of each month for old-fashioned variety style fun – featuring games, bingo, rarities and whole album performances, stellar undercards and a whole host of goofy oddballs.
Independent venues are more than the quality of the fittings. Grimey, downtrodden and dingy as they so often can be, they provide a safe refuge for many who choose to exist outside the cultural mainstream. A place to escape to, to forge lasting friendships with fellow like-minded travellers and to experience new sounds in a relaxed and intimate setting. The Haunt was this and more for a brief six month spell in 2012 and will forever be viewed with misty-eyed affection as I reflect wistfully on some of the best nights out I’ve ever had. Paul Higham
The Lexington, London
I first came across The Lexington after moving to the confusing sprawl of London on a chance encounter with Disorder, an indie disco with a suitable prescription of LCD Soundsystem bangers for my needs. It was a reliable night out, a little standard perhaps but never a let-down, but on first experiencing the room’s musky confines in the context of live music, it became a room transformed. The finest spot in town to catch the finest left-field up-and-comers – from stoner-rock leviathans Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs just this weekend to the winsomely claustrophobic Jupiter C last year – as well as established acts on the ‘intimate’ circuit, it’s a gem in King’s Cross’ crown. Patrick Clarke
The Picturehouse, Sheffield
Sheffield often gets short shrift when it comes to gigs, with most bands bypassing it in favour of Leeds or Manchester. But if you’re lucky enough to catch a band here, then the Picture House is something really special. While the venue’s exterior has the kind of mournful grandeur common to all ex-cinemas, downstairs you’ll find live music, beer, ping pong and the best pizza for miles. Restrictions on the building mean they aren’t able to hang lights in the gig space, so you may not be able to make out the bands’ faces. But you didn’t come for their faces, did you? Orla Foster
The Sebright Arms, London
There’s a lot to be said for the good old fashioned pub basement when it comes to live music, and Bethnal Green’s Sebright Arms boasts one of the finest. Affably located down an old-style East London alleyway, a pleasant, romantically lit ground floor gives little hint of the ear-splitting that often unfolds in the far dingier downstairs. For up-and-coming touring bands from other cities it’s a solid spot to find that ever-elusive foothold in the capital, for even with sparse crowds there’s something about its begrimed concrete confines that makes for far more hits than misses. Patrick Clarke
Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Located just off Stevenson Square in the heart of the Manchester’s North Quarter, Soup Kitchen has established itself as a standard bearer amongst the city’s ever changing nightlife landscape. The single open space of the venue’s ground floor bar offers an excellent place to indulge in a pre-gig drink or something to eat. Punters can enjoy a great range of beers and delicious food sat at one of the large, sociable benches that stretch the length of the room. The venues live space, a dimly lit, claustrophobic basement hosts up and coming leftfield selections, showcasing some of the most daring and interesting live acts around.
The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge is a little gem of a venue which has become a regular part of many a gig-goers repertoire in the North West. An hour or so takes you across from Merseyside to a space that’s small enough to create atmosphere and intimacy but big enough (maybe 350?) so that it’s not ridiculously difficult to get a ticket.
There’s plenty of nice pubs to start your night before heading down the venue, which is just off the main street. Hebden Bridge usually feels full of those who have wanted to leave big-city life behind and try something a bit different.
How they do it, who knows, but the Trades Club also do a great job of booking acts considering it’s a little off the beaten track. The venue is accessed through a narrow staircase to an upper level split between bar area and the stage side. The gig area still has old-school tables down the side but there’s no pillars or nonsense to block your view of the stage. After hopefully a cracking show, pop into the bar area and enjoy a game of pool against the locals.
Two shots don’t carry on the black! Andy Kelly