Here at Kore Studios we recently took a look at the vibrant history of London’s music scenes. From skiffle to punk to grime, the capital has experienced its fair share of diverse and exciting musical scenes. But for those scenes to have succeeded, there needed to be world class venues out there for the leading bands to showcase themselves.
In this article, we’ll be examining some of London’s most iconic music venues. From the glitz and glamour of the Royal Albert Hall to the hit-machine for young artists that was the great Marquee Club, we’ll be investigating the best venues in London.
Aside from the Marquee, all these venues are still standing and still hosting world-class musicians night after night. So, get out there and experience the best music that London has to offer. Who knows, you might even find your way onto the stage one day.
Royal Albert Hall
A true product of its time, the Royal Albert Hall is a masterwork of Victorian artistic design and engineering. Built in 1871, it was initially only great classical performances that filled the 135-foot dome - Richard Wagner himself stood as orchestral conductor on at least one occasion. Within a few short years, the hall had established itself as one of London’s most iconic venues for musical performances.
Affectionately known as ‘The Nation’s Village Hall’, beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the Hall opened itself up to less traditional acts - making a performance there a dream goal for almost every major rock and pop act since then.
There are endless stories that have arisen from the legendary acts that graced the stage of the RAH. From Pink Floyd picking up a lifetime ban in 1968 (it wouldn’t be until a 2006 solo show by David Gilmour that the band’s music was played there again). That same year Eurovision was hosted at the Hall, a controversial concert (but when is Eurovision not?) and the first time the contest was broadcast in colour.
Today, you can expect to see acts of all genres on the stage of the RAH. From rock legend regular Eric Clapton to the yearly classical spectacular at The BBC Proms, to earth-shattering performances from younger bands who often make the most of the Hall’s world-class setting for recording unique live albums like Alter Bridge and The Killers.
Built in 1865 as a private events space, Alexandra Palace - or Ally Pally - was a triumph of Victorian architecture, much like the Royal Albert Hall. However, little more than two weeks after opening, the building burned down. Fortunately, it was rebuilt within ten years and soon became renowned as the broadcasting centre for the BBC.
Due to its genuinely beautiful architecture, both inside and out, and its iconic status as a London landmark, the so-called People’s Palace is a firm favourite of many musicians. Major musical events that occurred at the Palace include a Led Zeppelin performance in 1972 that was an important factor in reigniting the popularity in the neglected Ally Pally.
Though another fire struck in the 1980s, by the 90s, Ally Pally was back on form, with the last gig of original Stranglers vocalist Hugh Cornwell kicking off a decade of greatness for the venue. Four years later, it was at Alexandra Palace that Blur performed one of their biggest gigs to promote their seminal album Parklife. They even shot the video for End Of A Century there!
With these many performances from internationally renowned bands filling the Palace, it’s never fallen out of popularity since the fire in 1980. A variety of alternative acts like Enter Shikari, Twenty Øne Piløts and Architects have hit the stage in recent years, cementing Ally Pally’s position as one of the best venues in London.
Camden’s Roundhouse was built in 1847 as a railway shed before becoming a gin distillery. Much like Ally Pally, it soon lost its original purpose and fell into disuse for many years. The iconic circular building on Chalk Farm Road stood empty until 1964.
Following its mid-60s reopening, the Roundhouse quickly became the place to be for the hippest acts of the decade. The Doors played one of their only two UK performances with Jim Morrison at the Roundhouse, instantly giving it the reputation required to turn it into a musical icon. Between 1966 and 1976, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds, Jefferson Airplane and Motörhead blew crowds away at the Roundhouse.
Unfortunately, the 80s weren’t kind to the venue and it fell out of use until a 1996 restoration turned the old railway shed into the venue we know and love today. With the original wrought iron struts and unique Victorian brickwork still in place, it’s an amazing place to go to a gig and even better to play in. No wonder Apple chose it as the location of the Apple Music (formerly iTunes) Festival until 2016.
The Marquee Club
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to visit this iconic club anymore, but the Marquee deserves a mention on this list purely thanks to its huge influence on music. Originally located at 165 Oxford Street, the Marquee began its life as a jazz club.
It wasn’t until 1964 and the club’s tenure at 90 Wardour Steet, Soho that it developed a reputation for being one of the best venues in London. In the 60s, the club was the stepping stone to fame for the Rolling Stones and King Crimson. The hit machine that was the Marquee continued to produce icons throughout its life, with Joy Division, Queen and Dire Straits all playing early gigs at the club.
Unfortunately, during the late 1980s, due to changes in ownership and a string of changing locations, the Marquee began its fall from grace. While it was a hotspot for artists performing secret gigs - including an undercover performance from Metallica in 1990, two weeks before they were due to play Wembley Arena - the Marquee never hit the heights it had reached in the 60s and 70s ever again. By 2008, the club had closed and there’s been no sign of a return of the Marquee since.
The Barbican Centre
The Barbican Centre’s music hall isn’t particularly rock and roll, but a list of London’s most iconic venues wouldn’t be complete without giving a nod to the brutalist home of the London Symphony Orchestra.
If classical is your thing, the uniquely designed and truly iconic Barbican Centre is the place to be, it may not have the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall, but there’s something special about the raw concrete superstructure that makes up the Barbican. Along with its classical performances, the Barbican also showcases a number of art shows and film screenings throughout the year.
While classical music is the Barbican’s backbone, it’s not the only music performed there. From time to time, more obscure acts that fit the Barbican aesthetic will be invited to perform, such as Canadian post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
While it may not have launched as many careers as many of the other venues on this list, the Barbican Centre is still one of the best venues in London. An iconic landmark of a forward-thinking city, with an equally forward-thinking music scene, the Barbican will remain a symbol of what makes London so unique.
See yourself on the stage at one of these iconic venues? Then get down to Kore Studios. With veteran recording engineer George Apsion at the helm, you’ll be in for a fantastic recording studio experience. Get in touch today.