Ask someone to name live music venues in London, it’s likely they’ll start by reeling off the city’s many larger venues. The O2, Brixton Academy and Wembley Area are just a few examples. However, it cannot be denied that smaller, intimate venues are the lifeblood of London’s music scene. The sheer volume of bars, cafes, and performance spaces means finding your new favourite hotspot can be tricky at first. For this reason, we’ve put together a list of the best live music bars and most intimate venues in London.
The Jazz Cafe
It’d be borderline sacrilege to exclude The Jazz Cafe from any list of London’s best small live music venues. While this Camden venue is known for jazz, visiting is a must for any fans of funk, soul, and reggae. The Jazz Cafe has one of the most impressive back-list of performers, including Ben E. King, Lee Scratch Perry, Amy Winehouse, and D’Angelo. Not bad for a venue that started in the 1990s on the premises of a Barclays bank!
A hallmark North London venue, many noticed when The Jazz Cafe dropped off the radar back in 2016. Worries were, of course, abated when it reopened, having been acquired and refurbished by The Colombo. Notable new additions included a brand new D&B sound system and a mezzanine level that sits just under 70 people.
New Cross Inn
The New Cross Inn has been open for over 400 years, and in a past life was considered quite the rough and ready pub. While it now operates primarily as a hostel, time hasn’t buffed the New Cross Inn’s edges. The pub is mostly known for its punk and ska gigs. Not one to be pigeon-holed, The New Cross Inn was the inaugural venue for Techabilitation, London’s first tech-metal festival.
The proprietors of the New Cross Inn pride themselves on mixing things up, whether it’s hosting bands on tour, or shining a spotlight on local talent. As far as they’re concerned, ‘the only criteria when booking is that it sounds fantastic.’
The venue also hosts a popular open mic night on Tuesdays, welcoming a wide range of acts from jazz bands to spoken word artists. This open-door policy to talent means you’ll get live music any time you pop your head around the door. That’s right, live music is on seven nights a week.
The Sebright Arms
In spite of its popularity, The Sebright Arms still feels like one of Bethnal Green’s best-kept secrets. This is partially due to its discreet alleyway entrance and no-frills decor. While its selection of ales and craft beers caters to a ‘hip’ crowd, as a venue The Sebright Arms is refreshingly unpretentious.
Looking for real volume and some space to thrash about in? Head down to the basement live music venue, and you’re sure to get swept up in its boisterous energy. The Sebright Arms also has an uncanny knack for hosting artists on the breakthrough of mainstream success, with notable examples being Charli XCX and Kore Studios alumni Catfish and the Bottlemen. With this in mind, it’s no wonder The Sebright Arms describes itself as the ‘best pub and live music venue in East London’.
Just a stone’s throw away from King’s Cross Station, The Lexington touts itself as a ‘classic London boozer with a hint of Kentucky charm and lashings of rock n’ roll excess’. You’ll find this to be a fitting description as soon as you open the door. The walls are plastered with posters from gigs past, creating a tapestry of grubby hedonism. It’s also safe to say that the bourbon is always flowing. The Lexington has a freewheeling, rock n’ roll ambience, but the music they have on offer is surprisingly eclectic. Some days you’ll be greeted with the sounds of 1920s jazz, other days it might be psychedelic blues or post-punk. Notable performers include Billy Bragg, The Pastels and Damo Suzuki of Krautrock pioneers Can. You’re also just as likely to see musicians behind the bar as you are on the stage. Many of The Lexington’s bar staff have performed at the venue, either as DJs or as part of a band.
Many of the venues on this list are ideal for high-octane performances. However, London also has plenty of intimate spaces for those seeking a low-key ambience. A prime example of this is Troy Bar, based in the heart of Hoxton.
One of the area’s longest-running venues, Troy Bar is a real Shoreditch mainstay. The bar prides itself on eschewing ‘cheap deals’ in favour of a ‘rich tapestry of live music, food, and unique atmosphere.’ Troy Bar found its groove catering to old souls with vintage jazz and funk. For anyone looking to relive the golden age of soul, Troy Bar’s Friday night ‘Word of Mouth’ jam sessions are an unmissable experience. Smaller venues are always going to attract fledgling talents looking to cut their teeth as performers, and Troy Bar is no exception. Aspiring reggae, funk and soul artists flock to its Tuesday open mic sessions. Good vibes are always guaranteed.
St Pancras Old Church
When it comes to London’s live music venues, the term ‘intimate’ is often used to simply describe the size of a space. Rather than being engulfed in a large crowd, many music lovers attend smaller venues to connect with their favourite performers.
Venture into St Pancras Old Church, and you’ll discover an ambience that’s equal parts haunting and electrifying. Stripped back live performances often take place by candlelight. With such a visceral and ethereal atmosphere, it’s no surprise that the stage has been graced by Brian Eno and Sinead O’ Connor. St Pancras Old Church is not just a mainstay of music legends, it’s also hosted a range of breakthrough acts such as Laura Marling, Tom Odell, and Sam Smith.
While this venue has been hosting live performances since 2011, it first carved out a space in rock n’ roll history in 1968. The Beatles used the church’s grounds and courtyard for a photo shoot for their ‘Mad Day Out Tour’.
If you’re an aspiring musician, you might be chomping at the bit to land yourself on a bigger stage. If you’ve got The O2 in sight, start your journey by recording your next record in our London studio. Contact Kore Studios today to book your next session.