Cheap, Cheerful and Quirky Venues of London

Joe Baylis

London has a legendary music scene. The calibre of artists that have spawned from the capital is arguably second to none, consistently garnering the utmost respect across the globe. You just have to think of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Blur, The Libertines, The Spice Girls, Adele, Dizzee Rascal and MIA, naming but a few, to give you a sense of the magnitude and range of auricular delight that this city has donated to the music scene over the years.

One day, you'll be in that crowd...
One day, you’ll be in that crowd… | Photo by Magnus D used under CC

However, this creates a problem. The cost of music is rising. Ticket prices for gigs in London can be astronomical, leaving many true music fans thoroughly disappointed. For a chance to go to the O2 in North Greenwich for example, you may have to fork out as much as £60.

london music venues
SBTRKT on the Roundhouse Stage | Photo by Drew de F Fawkes used under CC

But it also creates opportunities. The London music scene is still alive and well, and there is a plethora of venues hosting low to mid-level bands on their way to the top, with tickets that can be snapped up for around 10 pounds or less, or even for free. Imagine being in the crowd for the first ever Beatles gigs in Berlin. Or chancing upon ‘The Rollin’ Stones’ at the Marquee Club in London in 1962. Well, you could be looking back in twenty years and boasting about how you discovered whatstheirface first, in a small quirky venue in South London.

So, my intention here is to provide details to the best cool and affordable venues around the capital to all you good people—and my first batch of picks begins these 3 wonderful venues, along with a list of credit-score-friendly gigs that they will be offering.

To qualify for this prestigious list, all the venue really needs to do is host any gig that costs ten pounds or less. Simple.

Right then, let’s get straight into it shall we? The venues that will forever be remembered as being the first to grace the list of cheap, cheerful and quirky venues in London are:

The Barfly

Situated at the top of the renowned Camden High Street (but is technically on the less-cool-sounding Chalk Farm Road), this pub-cum-music venue is famous with locals and tourists alike and tends to cater for the rock, alternative and independent music scene. A dark and mysterious intimate venue, it holds around 200 people and hosts a variety of both signed and new acts.

london music venues
Photo by Ewan Munro used under CC

A ticket bought online in advance for a Saturday night at The Barfly cost me £6, and included four, yes FOUR, different bands. To my shame I only caught three of them (damn it Nandos!), but the three that I did see were all superb. We’re not talking about experimental open mic night type music here, no no no. We’re dealing with high-quality sounds from both up-and-coming groups and locally popular circuit bands. Here’s a quick run down.

Ali Al Talib – a singer songwriter from Winchester using chilled guitar melodies and simple beats. Don’t let their innocent and youthful appearance fool you, this lot pack a punch with a sax and brass section (everything in life is improved with a brass section) and an unbelievably soulful vocalist who will blow you away. They create an electrifying sound well beyond their years and are definitely worth checking out. I, for one, got the shivers throughout their set.

Here’s what they had to say about playing at The Barfly:

‘Barfly is one of the friendliest venues we’ve played at to date. Arriving there early for soundcheck, we were warmly greeted by the staff and shown to our green room. With views stretching the length of Chalk Farm Road—everyone was impressed. The next couple of hours were perusing Camden Market and warming up. Soon enough we hit the stage and smashed the set. The crowd generated an awesome atmosphere and when we ended on a mash up of MJ’s ‘Thriller’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ we left the stage with the audience in an uproar. Overall we really enjoyed the venue, everything was just right from the sound to the temperature and we can’t wait to get back on the famous Barfly stage.’  The ManneQuins 2016

Dead Cannons – An indie four piece with an uplifting alternative pop sound. Their lead, Tom Disley, possesses a unique voice and great skill on the keys, which binds everything together nicely. Check out ‘The Caterpillar Song’ in particular—you’ll be hooked.

The East Collective – If you want a lesson in how to transform a dark quiet room into one that is bursting at the seams with dancing bodies and ecstatic wide-eyed faces, then go and see these guys. The two leads, pairing beat-boxing rap with a distinct indie-style voice, help produce a giant wall of uplifting noise.

The Waiting Room

london music venues
Photo by Ewan Munro used under CC

The second of our venues is a small space situated below the Three Crowns pub in Stoke Newington, North London. The pub is fabulous in itself, with separate spaces that encompass both the atmosphere of a good old British Public House, and an ambience of more formal dining. It is then made even better by the addition of a 150-odd capacity simple room-with-a-stage underground.

It’s a great place to have a pre-show drink and a bit of grub, then come gig-time, there’s no chance of missing the opener as the booming beats rise through the floor, beckoning you down the stairs like Sirens. You’ll file through the small side door, pay your monies, and excitedly descend down into a pit of flashing lights and powerful sound.

Waiting Room Stage - london music venues
Photo by Tania Alamir

In my case, we were treated with a line-up of two bands (again, not bad for 6 quid!). The supporting act, Anteros, was a superb four-piece indie rock band. Their loud and strong sound, underpinned by a broodily fashionable look, was enhanced by their striking leading lady standing tall at the front, with all members fearlessly making eye contact with the audience. Have a listen:

The main act, CHINAH, from Copenhagen, were playing their first gig outside of their home country. Their electronic synth-laden sound, spearheaded by the eccentric Simon Andersson, overlaid with the ethereal voice of the graceful Fine Glinvad, and complimented by the subtle and skilful guitar riffs of Simon Kjær, did not disappoint the many fans in the sold out room. These guys are on their way to some rather big things:

Here’s a little quote from the band on what it’s like to play at the Waiting Room:

“We really like playing at smaller venues. You really feel the intimacy between you and the audience, and the whole concert becomes an experience you build up together. At The Waiting Room we really enjoyed the audience, and everyone seemed to be in the mood for experiencing new music, which is really nice as an upcoming band.”  CHINAH 2016

CHINAH playing at The Waiting Room - london music venues
CHINAH playing at The Waiting Room | Photo by Tania Alamir

 Brooklyn Bowl

Now this place is pretty special. On the face of it, it’s a bowling alley. A bowling alley located within the O2 Arena complex in North Greenwich. But don’t let the plushly furnished bowling alleys, or the mouth-watering American-style food fool you. Slap bang in the middle of all of this is an empty space, large enough to hold 800 onlookers, with a stage at one end.

Public Service Broadcasting playing at Brooklyn Bowl
Public Service Broadcasting playing at Brooklyn Bowl | Photo by Joe Baylis

It is part of the chain attached to THE Brooklyn Bowl in New York, a venue that can boast the accolade of 20th best music club in America and the honour of hosting the likes of Kanye West, Guns ‘N’ Roses and Elvis Costello.

And you can have the chance of catching a gig here for as little as £8, as is the case for Black Milk—the celebrated producer and rapper from Detroit, and Frankie Ballard—an up-and-coming country music star. Other fantastic nights that verge more on the party-goer side of things include shows like the funk and soul night, ‘Turn it Loose’.

Ok! So there’s three venues for you to try, without the morning-after fear of peering into your empty wallet/purse. Stay tuned for more!

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Filed under: Things to Do
Tags: Bar, Featured, Music, Pub, Venues
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Name: Places mentioned in this article
Location(s): Camden Town, Greenwich, Stoke Newington,
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