London’s music scene is legendary. From rock and roll venues to jazz clubs and urban festivals – it gives all other megacities a run for their money. This is the city where Prince did an impromptu tour of small shows in 2014, where Kate Bush played her first gigs in over 30 years, and is the birthplace of The Clash, Amy Winehouse, Adele, David Bowie and Dua Lipa among many others.
You get the picture, there’s never a shortage of decent gigs in London. But with ticket prices becoming more expensive – it’s worth remembering that London is full of small, independent venues where you can see new and established artists any night of the week. Here’s our guide to the best small music venues in London.
Ronnie Scotts, Soho
One of London’s most celebrated Jazz clubs, and Soho institution Ronnie Scotts has live music every night of the week. In fact it’s two venues in one. The main downstairs venue seats around 200, and offers the chance to see world-class acts like saxophonist Kenny Garrett in an intimate setting.
Some of the world’s most famous musicians have played at Ronnie Scott’s over the years including Prince, Ella Fizgerald and Miles Davies. The upstairs space is smaller, and a great place to grab cheaper tickets for shows including the weekly jazz jam, and Cuban club nights. You’ve got a better chance of turning up and getting a ticket on the door upstairs too, as both the main show and the late show downstairs often sell out.
Moth Club, Hackney
The former servicemen’s club is now a London gig-goers favourite. The name is an acronym of the excellently-named Memorable Order of Tin Hats. These days, the young, the hip and the occasional mega star gather to dance under a glittery gold ceiling. Lady Gaga and Dave Ghrol have both done surprise gigs there, and it’s a favourite stop off for new and up-and-coming bands including Crack Cloud, Peaness and Death Valley Girls.
Moth Club is dripping with kitsch from shimmery curtains to a free photo booth – the perfect antidote to the impersonal, sponsored venues. Get down early to bag a booth to watch your favourite bands in maximum comfort. As well as gigs, the venue also hosts the regular Knock2Bag comedy night where you can see acts like Rosie Jones, Phil Wang and Shappi Khorsandi. It also hosts film screenings and club nights every weekend, including 80s, Italo disco and soul, Northern Soul, Pop and 60s’ Psychedelia. Although it’s a small, old venue, Moth Club has a good accessibility policy including reserved areas, a side entrance for step free entry including wheelchairs and free +1 companion tickets.
Brixton Windmill, Brixton
Named after one of London’s only windmills, this Brixton pub venue is a staple of London’s underground gig scene. It’s a place for scuzzy, loud guitar music and even scuzzier interiors. But no one comes to this little neighbourhood venue which is tucked down Blenheim Gardens, a residential street. Brixton Windmill also used to be famous for having a music-loving dog that stood atop its roof.
Although it’s sadly since died, the dearly departed hound dog has been immortalised in the form of ‘I believe in the Roof Dog’ t-shirts. Assistance dogs are welcome at the venue too.The Windmill is a great place to catch up and coming acts, and most gigs will leave you with a change from a tenner too. The venue has also partnered up with Dr Martens to launch Come Back Better, an unsigned initiative to showcase more female, trans and non-binary acts.
The Waiting Room, Stoke Newington
The Waiting Room 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.
Servant Jazz Quarters, Dalston
Somewhat confusingly, the Servant Jazz Quarters isn’t actually a Jazz club. On any given night, you can hear indie, electronic music, hip-hop and experimental acts in the 100-capacity downstairs room. Laura Mvula, Anna Meredith and Hot Chip all played there before they became big name, headline acts. The SJQ is one of London’s most atmospheric small venues, and the candlelit upstairs bar is a lovely place to sip pre-show cocktails. It’s a great place to discover new talent, see live music for under £20 or go for a date.
The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston
Dalston pub venue The Shacklewell Arms is your classic ‘sticky floor’ venue. The live room is fairly dim and dingy, but the moody, semi-industrial vibe makes for a great place to see bands and acts like Ora Violet and masked electronic musician Kontravoid. Like Moth Club, The Shacklewell also has a decent accessibility policy, with temporary ramps for wheelchair users, and can provide seating for people unable to stand for long periods of time and it also offers companion tickets if required.
The Lexington, Angel
Bourbon and bands are on the menu at this Islington bar and music venue. Nestled between King’s Cross and Angel and named after the city in Kentucky – many of the US, Europe and UK’s ‘next big things’ have graced the upstairs stage, as well as the occasional big name guests. Sleigh Bells, Cults, and Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon have all played there. It’s a late-licence venue too, with plenty of club nights including White Heat and Poppin’ Off. Most gigs draw a fairly decent crowd, and the atmosphere is fun and occasionally raucous, including at the excellent (and very popular) Monday night Pop Quiz with quizmaster Paul Guide Missile. Tables filled up pretty quickly, so book early, and bring your most pop-savvy pals.
The 100 Club, Oxford Street
As well being one of London’s best small venues, The Hundred Club is also one of London’s oldest and best loved music clubs. Words like legendary and iconic might be a bit overused these days – but any venue steeped in as much rock & roll history as The 100 Club more than fit the bill.
Since opening in the 1960s, some of the world’s most famous musicians have played there including B.B. King, The Kinks, and The Who, The Clash , St Etienne, Santigold, and Alice Cooper. But it’s also a place to discover new bands and musical acts. The 100 Clubs is also an inclusive venue and has an accessible booking area as well personal assistant tickets.
The Barfly, Camden
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.