From grungy flea pits to architectural marvels, London’s iconic live music venues boast a wealth of musical history. WORDS: Alison Grinter

100 Club

Where: 100 Oxford St, W1

What: A grungy shoebox steeped in rock history.

Claim to fame: In September 1976 the 100 Club was host to the country’s first ever punk festival. The event, featuring the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie & The Banshees and the Buzzcocks on the bill, attracted a 600-strong queue outside the venue which stretched across two blocks.

The place to see: Up-and-coming bands.

Brixton Academy

Where: 211 Stockwell Rd, SW9 (pictured)

What: Big ol’ venue in Brixton with a sloping floor making it easier for short-arses to see.

Claim to fame: Nick Cave staged his brilliant Abattoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus show here in 2004, with rousing support from the London Gospel Community Choir.

The place to see: Anyone and everyone of note.


Where: 1a Camden High St, NW1

What: A classy, hip venue in the heart of Camden Town.

Claim to fame: Subject to a multimillion pound refurb in 2004, Koko has had more incarnations than Dr Who. In the ’70s it was a punk venue called The Music Machine; in 1983 it was renamed and restyled as the Camden Palace, host to the New Romantic movement and Madonna’s first UK gig; and in the ’90s it was the ravers’ choice with banging, ecstasy-fuelled club nights.

The place to see: The hippest, most happening bands.

O2 Arena

Where: Peninsular Sq, SE10

What: Brand, spanking new 20,000 seater housed in the soulless, generic 02 Centre.

Claim to fame: Prince staged 21 consecutive nights here in 2007. Fittingly he performed on a stage in the shape of his lovesymbol:

The place to see: The shiniest, most stellar pop stars. Britney will play eight shows in June 2009.


Where: Chalk Farm Rd, NW1

What: A rotund venue — originally a steam engine repair shed, in case you were wondering — recently done up with a million pound refit.

Claim to fame: The Ramones played their first UK gig here in 1976. The Doors also played their first (and last) ever UK gig here in 1968.

The place to see: All the latest cutting edge bands.


Where: 263-7 Old Brompton Road, SW5

What: An authentic bohemian coffee house dating back to the 1950s.

Claim to fame: In the ’50s and ’60s the Troubadour was the hub of London’s intellectual and artistic life, with Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon all performing here.

The place to see: Bands with a folksy, bluesy bent.

Alexandra Palace

Where: Alexandra Palace Way, Wood Green, N22

What: Grand old palace known affectionately as Ally Pally.

Claim to fame: The scene of Pink Floyd’s famous, chemically enhanced “14-hour technicolor dream” in 1967, and a sensational Britpop love-in featuring Pulp, Supergrass and Blur in 1994.

The place to see: Much sought after bleeding edge acts.

Ronnie Scott’s

Where: 47 Frith St, W1

What: Legendary jazz venue founded by jazz saxaphonists Ronnie Scott and Pete King.

Claim to fame: Scott and King helped lift the ban on American musicians performing in the UK during the ’60s, and were also responsible for making it possible for Cuban musicians to perform in the UK in the early eighties.

The place to see: Established jazz greats and the latest up-and-comers.

Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Where: Shepherd’s Bush Green, W11

What: Opulent old theatre/award-winning rock venue.

Claim to fame: The scene of many highlights — perhaps the most (in)famous concerns a certain Texan trio dissing George Dubya Bush on the eve of the Iraq war in 2003. The Dixie Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines told the audience: “We’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” Cue redneck outrage and Dixie Chicks’ CD burnings across America.

The place to see: Guitar bands — PJ Harvey was a particular highlight in 2001.