From tiny bars to grand halls - these are the best places to see bands live
Andrew Trendell and Jake Polden

15:30 18th July 2014

Seeing you favourite band play live is what music is all about. A record is great and all, but seeing the music brought to life is what really connects you. What makes it all the more special is the perfect venue - and here are 30 of our favourites. 

Yes albums are great to listen to in your spare time, and certainly allow you to digest music easier, but there's nothing quite like being soaked in someone's beer, screaming your heart out to 'your' song being played 10 times faster, while bouncing off of complete strangers - there really isn't.

That said, venues play a hugely important role in providing you with the ultimate experience, as, let's face it, if the gig setting isn't up to scratch then your night won't be either.  Whether up close and personal is your thing, or you're looking for the crispest sounds to ever stimulate your eardrums, here are 30 great venues around the UK that will do your favourite bands justice. 

  • Dingwalls, London: A tiny little venue in the heart of Camden, Dingwells is very well laid out and offers a very intimate fan-to-band experience. What's more, the sound is great and with nothing more than a step for a stage bands are really up close and personal - something uniquely special in a world full of massive stadium venues.

  • Camden Roundhouse, London: Another iconic venue in Camden Town, at The Roundhouse it is surprisingly easy to get right up the front. With a big circular stage that stands tall and a surprising amount of floor space, you'd struggle to find a more accommodating venue - whether sitting up top to enjoy the ethereal wonder of Sigur Ros, getting sweaty in the pit for Queens Of The Stone Age, or raving your mind away to Despacio. The annual iTunes Festival found the perfect location.

  • Rock City, Nottingham: THE place to see the best rock bands on the circuit. It's played host to all of the greats, from Nirvana, Bowie and the Manics through to today's stars Foals, Metronomy and many more. If you haven't packed yourself into its historic walls for a sweaty night of losing your mind, then make sure you do.

  • O2 Apollo, Manchester: Despite boasting a just over 3500 person capacity, this venue still seems remarkably intimate. You can stand pretty much anywhere, but still see and hear to absolute perfection.

  • Rescue Rooms, Nottingham: Nottingham is a city with so many incredible venues all within walking distance - and Rescue Rooms is among its finest. Not only does it put on one hell of a club night on a Saturday, but it's also the best place to see the best new acts before they explode. Brilliant sound, awesome atmosphere, wicked locals and a well-stocked bar.

  • Union Chapel, London: Quite simply London's most epic venue. A candle-lit chapel with an irreplaceable atmosphere, where the worship falls upon whoever is lucky enough to grace its stage. Mencap's Little Noise sessions proved quite how special this venue can be.

  • Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield: We're going to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the myriad brilliant venues in Sheffield - most notably the Leadmill, Bungalows and Bears, The Bowery, and so on. But for a true sense of Yorkshire romance, you can't go wrong with the beautiful Sheffield City Hall - it's huge, charming, and home to some true greats, much like Yorkshire itself.

  • The George Tavern, London: The 200 capacity George Tavern is thought to be one of the oldest pubs in London, with the current building dating back to the Georgian era. The historical feel has been meticulously preserved, making it a great place to see a band. It's often used for secret sets from huge bands. Anna Calvi played a set there following her set at the nearby Troxy a couple of years ago, and we still haven't gotten over it. Meanwhile, their in-house new music showcases have seen upcoming acts CuT, Labyrinth Ear, H.Hawkline, and Jamaican Queens take to the stage this year for exhilarating live performances.

  • 100 Club, London: They don't come much more historic than this. Located at the central heart of London on Oxford Street, this tiny sweatbox was first responsible for being a focal point of London's jazz scene before becoming a champion of the punk movement - playing host to the first international punk festival that saw Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Stranglers and The Damned burst from the underground onto the streets. It is still putting on essential gigs to this day.

  • Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff: A focal point for Welsh-speaking people in Cardiff, this humble but historic club is responsible for breaking in some of the country's greatest local talent, including Super Furry Animals and Catatonia. Nowadays it still has its finger on the pulse, bringing in the best new artists across all genres.

  • The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds: Now over a century old, this Yorkshire gem has been the beating heart of the post-rock movement, welcoming the like of iLiKETRAiNS, iForward Russia!, Jenniferever and many more to its stage. It also played a key part in shaping Kaiser Chiefs and The Cribs in their early days.

  • Nice N' Sleazy, Glasgow: From Belle And Sebastian to Franz Ferdinand and Frightened Rabbit, Scotland has always spoiled us with brilliant indie music. If they're Scottish and any good, then you can guarantee they've probably stepped foot on stage here. Latest awesome exports Chvrches even sight it as their favourite bar and 'spiritual home'.

  • Jericho Tavern, Oxford: We have a lot of music to thank Oxford for - Foals, Swervedriver, Stornoway etc etc. But this humble venue played host to early shows from Supergrass and the first ever gig for Radiohead - back in 1986 when they were called On A Friday. The Tavern continues to be a hive of local talent.

  • Brixton Academy, London: This former cinema was bought for just a £1, before being transformed into one of London's most celebrated venues. Not only is it beautiful its neo-classical grandeur, but it's the perfect size and scale to see both returning legends and bands on the brink of arena greatness.

  • Southampton Joiners: A tiny venue, but it's known for having fantastic sound. Everyone has played there including Oasis and Coldplay during their early days. Recently it has played host to the rising talent of Courtney Barnett and many more. It was recently close to shutting down, but The Vaccines and Frank Turner helped save it with benefit shows.

  • King Tuts, Glasgow: Venues don't come much sweatier, rowdy, amazing or renowned than the Wah Wah Hut - just ask Queens Of The Stone Age, Jake Bugg, Manic Street Preachers or Biffy Clyro.

  • The Waterfront, Norwich: The two storey venue is the perfect gig environment, with multiple bars, sofas and an awesome sound system, there's nowhere better in Norfolk for concerts. Even the afterparties go on till 3am.

  • The Roadhouse, Manchester: Not only has it always been a hub for great music by bringing everyone from Biffy Clyro and Blink 182 to Muse, Mogwai and The White Stripes to the Northern Quarter, but it was also the breeding ground for Elbow's creativity in their early days. They spent so much time there in the decade it took them to get signed that frontman Guy Garvey used to give out Roadhouse's phone number as his 'office' contact number.

  • Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth: Often the venue of choice for most bands festival warm up shows. Acts as big as Damon Albarn have recently performed at the relatively intimate venue.

  • Koko, London: Absolutely magnificent, while being big enough to attract brilliant names like Warpaint and St Vincent, but intimate enough for an irreplaceable experience. If it's good enough for Prince, it's good enough for us.

  • The Barrowlands, Glasgow: A magnet for the loudest bands to head North of the border, this Scottish landmark is famous for its cavernous size and decadent and boisterous atmosphere. Make sure you go crazy on its spongy, spongy floor at least once in your life.

  • Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, London: The best place in East London to get deafened, while getting so close you can see the whites of your heroes' eyes.

  • Thekla, Bristol: A cargo ship moored in the Mud Dock area of Bristol's Floating Harbour, The Thekla was originally brought to Bristol as the Old Profanity Showboat, it became a hub for cabaret, comedy, plays, musicals, and poetry events. The ship also contained an art gallery. Then in the 90s, it was the hub for Bristol's thriving drum and bass and trip-hop scene, before becoming a staple stop-off for all of the best new bands on their way to the top. But most importantly, IT'S A BOAT.

  • The Troxy, London: Originally opened as a grand cinema in 1933, The Troxy retains all of the Art Deco class of the era - and now provides one of the most architecturally stunning locations to catch the likes of Hurts, Anna Calvi, The Horrors, The Jesus and Mary Chain.

  • The Leadmill, Sheffield: Described by NME in 1982 as 'combining the thrift of a working men's club with the leisure processor of a Hacienda' and with the potential to 'become an important landmark in pop culture', that is exactly what it became - playing host to early gigs by local heroes Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, as well as everyone from New Order and Stone Roses to Oasis, The Killers, Libertines and Disclosure. Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers once declared it his favourite venue, and it remains the sweaty centre of live music in Steel City.

  • The Cluny, Newcastle: A hidden gem in The Toon, The Cluny is an amazing live music venue, pub and cafe that is widely known as one of the best bars in the world. It's a great place for the many local acts to find their feet, and has brought everyone to Newcastle from Daniel Johnston to The Vaccines.

  • The Green Door Store, Brighton: Hidden under Brighton train station (only really noticeable from its namesake), The Green Door Store has played host to countless up and coming acts, many of which have gone on to play bigger venues in the South Coast music capital. With a delightfully tiny capacity and top notch sound quality, it really is one of our favorites.

  • Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, London: An age-old venue, former Hammersmith Odeon has played host to some huge bands over the years - most notably Kate Bush and David Bowie. Pretty grand in its appearance, the venue has great acoustics and, as an added bonus, a sloped viewing area, so even if you're short, you can still see. For such a big room, it always feels intimate.

  • Trinity Centre, Bristol: Formerly a church, The Trinity Centre in Bristol's Old Market is one of the most spectacular venues in the south west . With gloriously high ceilings and a stage set up so you can see from anywhere in the room, every gig here has an unmatched atmosphere, with the likes of The Horrors, Alt-J and countless others performing astonishing shows in the past.

  • Shepherds Bush Empire, London: A great spot on Shepherds Bush Green, this venue is brilliant and is unique in that it toes the line between a grand arena, a charming theatre and an intimate venue. The acoustics are also great here too. Our favourite shows there in recent years include Antlers, Chvrches and Bat For Lashes.

  • The Forum, London: Whether it's the heavenly harpings of Jonsi, the hip-hop brilliance of Action Bronson or the brutal noise-mongering of Death From Above 1979, The Forum provides the perfect space to feel close to whoever graces the stage.

  • Colston Hall, Bristol: World-class sound in a stunning building, Colston Hall's operatic setting gives even larger shows an intimate feel whilst simultaneously bringing a sense of grandeur and prestige to proceedings. Whether you're seeing opera, folk or even pantomime at Colston Hall, it's sure to be special.

  • Sheffield Cathedral, Sheffield: A place of worship by day, one of the city's most intriguing venues by night, the gargantuan cathedral in the heart of Sheffield has played host to all kinds of gigs in recent months, from Slow Club to the wealth of emerging bands at Tramline Festival earlier in the summer. The sound might not be amazing (blame the cavernous high ceilings), but visually this place is stunning.

  • Alexandra Palace, London: A British institution, Ally Pally has what other large venues in the UK don't have - a soul. With good acoustics and the novelty of sun shining in through the glass roof during a support act in the summer, the Ally Pally is a great London venue - for everyone from The National and Bjork to The Libertines and beyond.

  • Gorilla, Manchester: Despite not being around for very long, Gorilla has fast established itself as one of the premiere venues for new music in Manchester. With a fantastic bar and kitchen as well as a great gig and club area, it's without doubt a classic sweat-box of a venue, perfect for those intense shows and DJ sets;

  • Moles, Bath: Arguably the best music venue in Bath and a true fan favourite, Moles is an iconic venue, playing host to the likes of The Cure, Oasis, Radiohead, The Killers and The Smiths over its 35 year history. Do we really need to continue proving why its amazing?

  • Wilton's Music Hall, London: One of London's best kept secrets, Wilton's Music Hall has become known for its phenomenal live shows, recently hosting the likes of Angus and Julia Stone and Rae Morris in recent months. Compared to other venues their schedule is somewhat sparse, yet that only makes every single gig a spectacular event.

  • Queens Social Club, Sheffield: A true rough and ready venue with a slapdash charm, Queen's Social Club has become one of the best places to source emerging talent in Sheffield over the last few years, with the likes of The 1975, Kwabs and countless others all playing early gigs there.

  • The Soup Kitchen, Manchester: Located in Manchester's Northen Quarter, The Soup Kitchen is another intimate venue rife with fresh new talent. With a critically acclaimed bar and kitchen upstairs and an intimate basement for live music and DJ's, the vast cross section of acts that play there week in, week out is truly staggering.

  • The Haunt, Brighton: Offering a more central alternative to Concorde 2, The Haunt has really blossomed in recent years, becoming one of Brighton's most popular music venues and showcasing a wide variety of acts regardless of genre. Intimate yet sizeable, it's no wonder more and more bands are stopping there when they play the iconic seaside town.

  • East Village Arts Club, Liverpool: Formerly known as the Barfly and the Masque, and owned by the company that runs the equally great Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, the EVAC stepped up in the venue rankings when it was refurbished and reopened in 2013.

  • The Corn Exchange, Cambridge: If you were a Cambridge University student, the fact that this venue is also used as an exam hall may very well have completely ruined it for you. For those us who weren't though, the Corn Exchange is an iconic and picturesque space right in the heart of Cambridge city centre - big enough to host all but the top tier of stadium acts while still somehow retaining a sense of intimacy.

  • An Lanntair, Stornoway: Let's face it, if you live in the Outer Hebrides, you're not exactly going to be overwhelmed by choice when it comes to music venues. Thankfully An Lanntair, its name Gaelic for the lantern, is a innovative, modernist arts hub which famously welcomed back Mumford & Sons in 2011 because they loved performing there so much.

  • The Full Moon/The Moon Club, Cardiff: The self-professed "purveyors of fine music and hard liquor", this high energy bar regularly hosts the city's rising stars. There's something for whatever mood you're in - a downstairs bar which regularly hosts DJs and bands, and an upstairs live space with adjoining lounge area.

  • The Kazimier, Liverpool: Managing to transform from its slightly grimy '90s reputation into one of the most talked-about, sought after venues in the country, the Kazimier is one of Liverpool's true gems. Sadly, it's closing in 2016, so your window for visiting it is cruelly limited.

  • The Sage Gateshead, Gateshead: With two halls - one 1,600 capacity and the other just under half that - what looks, from the outside, like a futuristic spaceship / shiny slug is in fact one of the North East's most impressive concert venues, having hosted the likes of Blondie, Nick Cave, Nancy Sinatra and Elbow.

  • The Duchess, York: Combining the city's quaint, scenic aura with a slightly sweaty, grubby vibe (in the best way) The Duchess is a friendly, multi-faceted underground venue on the outskirts of town. Once the gig's over, head to Willow for a night of cheesy pop music and prawn crackers.

  • The Caves, Edinburgh: With two floors of ancient vaults and alcoves in an exposed stone setting, The Caves form part of Edinburgh Vaults, a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in 1788. "There is no venue more Edinburgh than the Caves," says the venue's webiste. "Or more Scottish, if you consider there was once so much Whisky stored here that it became known as 'Whisky Row'."

  • Civic Hall, Wolverhampton: Regarded as one of the greatest venues in the world by the likes of Manic Street Preachers and Blur, Wolves may be a seemingly unlikely place for such a gem - but we can vouch that the acoustics, lay-out and atmosphere make it a real one-off. Make the trip to the Midlands to see your favourite band there at all costs.

  • The Rose Theatre, Kingston: A beautiful and intimate theatre space, yes - but we can vouch that you put a band in there, all kinds of magic and madness soon bloom.

Photo: WENN/Press/Justine Trickett/Richard Gray