Whether you’re into big-name rock stars or underground acts on the cusp of breaking through, London’s bursting with venues boasting top local and international talent to clamoring fans. So where might one go to experience some truly awe-inspiring music in the area? Here are but a few suggestions.
The big show
With a capacity of up to 20,000, The O2 arena in South-East London is where the biggest names in rock and pop fill the stands. It served as Prince’s stage for a remarkable 21-night residency in 2007. The king of pop, Michael Jackson, was scheduled to stage a 50-night comeback run in the venue until his life was cut short during rehearsals.
Since 2007 The O2’s also hosted the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones, the Spice Girls, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Britney Spears. Needless to say, when it comes to star power, The O2’s got it.
Meanwhile, O2 Academy Brixton has drawn equally impressive names to its smaller 5,000-person venue. Madonna, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arcade Fire, the Clash and the Sex Pistols have all graced its stage, bringing big-show grandeur to the sweaty, club-like venue.
If you prefer a smaller, more atmospheric venue to those packed with screaming superfans, London’s got that, too.
A favorite for locals and tourists alike, Union Chapel draws intimate performances from a range of acts who recognize the atmospheric wonder and acoustic brilliance of the venue. Still also serving as a church and a homeless drop-in center, the Gothic masterpiece moonlights as a music venue for intimate shows, indie acts and acoustic sets, with fans praising the environment as one of a kind.
Pop music fans will recognize Westminster’s Royal Albert Hall as the setting of Adele’s live DVD, which she recorded after the massive success of her sophomore album, “21.” But it also regularly hosts classical concerts, including the popular eight-week BBC Promenade concerts each summer. Opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria, the Royal Albert has become a treasured location for all kinds of performance, from classical music, ballet and opera to rock and pop shows.
Meanwhile, the Forum, once an Art Deco theater, draws many a concert-goer to its unique setting. Built as a cinema in 1934 and refurbished in 2007, its stage has been graced by acts including Coldplay, The Roots, Van Morrison, and Radiohead.
In the mood for a club show, or looking to discover new acts in your favourite genre?
While the city’s full of great jazz clubs, Ronnie Scott’s in Soho is steeped in history and still going strong. Established in 1959, it’s hosted both big and small acts in its intimate setting, as well as Jimi Hendrix’s last-ever UK performance. If you like jazz or blues, this is still the place to go.
If punk’s more your scene, the 100 Club in Camden — which boasts a rich history of the genre — is worth a visit. After developing a reputation in the ’70s, it hosted such acts as the Sex Pistols and the Clash. More recently, Paul McCartney came to its aid, playing a benefit gig to help prevent its closure. While it’s softened up a bit in terms of the rocking musical acts that perform there, you can still find a mixture of blues, rock and jazz by both up-and-comers as well as bigger acts (like Oasis) who stage secret gigs.
As for emerging acts, check out the Dublin Castle and Koko in Camden for a variety of bar rock and pop; XOYO in east London for the top DJs; and the Windmill in Brixton and the Lexington in Islington for indie, alternative and the eccentric. There’s no guarantee you’ll discover the next Amy Winehouse, Adele or Coldplay, but with the variety of music available in London, you’re sure to like something you hear.
by Chris Mejaski
Top: Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum play an intimate show at the Union Chapel. (Photo by Matt Kent/WireImage)
Lower: Amy Winehouse performed at the 100 Club months before her death in 2011. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)