The Icing on the Cake
Some people may say that it isn’t the venue that makes a great gig but rather the quality, charisma, and charm of the music artist, band, or performer that you are going to see. Now, this is true to a certain extent because no matter how great the venue is, if the band you see is sub-par, the surroundings aren’t going to make much of a difference to your (lack of) enjoyment of the night. For bands that are just as great as you and everyone thinks they are however, a great music venue can be sort of the icing on the musical cake that pushes an incredible performance into the category of “forever memorable” and beyond. Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner performance would have sounded great anywhere but if it weren’t for the incredible surroundings and electric atmosphere of Woodstock 1969 (coupled with the general political mood in the country at the time), the legendary rendition wouldn’t have been anywhere near as impactful. And so it came to pass that I, a moderately-experienced musician with an equally as moderate set of experiences of various musical venues in the UK, should create a list of the top 10 musical venues in the UK, regardless of genre or style of musical performance.
1. The Southbank Centre, London
As the UK’s largest and most well-developed arts centre, the Southbank Centre is located on the south bank of the Thames river and resides on a plot of land that is 21 acres in size. This venue is host to a huge range of musical styles and performance types, ranging from orchestral to pop, rock and a range of other styles of musical performance. With residential orchestras and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (among others), the venue is of course a centre of culture and world-class musical performance, also hosting shows from famous popular music acts such as Sinead O’Connor’s Christmas show featuring Morrissey and Marshall.
2. Wembley Stadium
This is a venue that almost goes without saying, but Wembley Arena is quite clearly one of the top choices for some of the biggest names in music past, present, and future. It has been the venue to historical musical performances such as Live Aid, Guns n’ Roses, and The Rolling Stones, with a size that makes a fully-packed atmosphere positively electric, and more recent improvements meaning that the venue can be changed around swiftly in order to host musical events at shorter notice than ever before. This makes it a hugely attractive venue for performer and spectator alike.
3. O2 Academy, Brixton
Another venue with a rich history, the Academy in Brixton has seen legendary acts such as Iron Maiden and the Beastie Boys, and current listings including Motorhead, Major Lazer, Bring Me The Horizon, and Disclosure. Such a diverse range of musical styles in this roster and a rich history make this venue a notorious one for witnessing the very best rock, alternative, and electronic dance music performers of our time.
4. O2 Arena, Greenwich
While I find that the larger the venue the more impersonal and lacking in soul the experience can be, the O2 has still been a first choice for musical performers around the world. You’ll find some of the biggest acts in the world performing here from Nickelback to JLS through to permanent exhibitions such as British Music Experience and electronic music artists like Chase and Status. This is a massive venue with diverse performances, and a huge number of toilets to top off the experience and negate the usual wait for the loos that plagues a great number of venues.
5. O2 Academy, Birmingham
Though many criticise this venue for sub-par sound if you are situated close to the stage or in the wings of the crowd, this venue isn’t a massive one by any means but a smaller size can equate to a better atmosphere. It has a regular night called Propaganda which takes place every Friday and is a regular “rock and roll” experience for those wishing to hold on to their youth for just one more week, and it is of course a venue for some fantastic artists such as Rizzle Kicks, Jake Bugg, and Editors to play in front of relatively intimate crowds.