There are certain venues in London that I associate distinctly with the bands that I’ve seen perform inside them. Do I love these particular venues simply because my favourite bands played there? Probably. Does that mean they are actually my favourite venues? I don’t know. Are introductions full of rhetorical questions slightly irritating? Absolutely.
What I’ve decided is that the venue always plays its part. I saw Radiohead at V Festival, which was a bit like eating your favourite meal in a public toilet. It just felt wrong. The venue is always important.
Here are a few of my most treasured ‘big’ London gigs. I shall maybe follow this up with my favourite ‘little’ gigs…
Pixies – Brixton Academy:
It’s called O2 Academy Brixton now but unless you’re an unadulterated git you’d just call it Brixton Academy. I regularly told people how I hated it when great bands who’d gone out on a high decided to reform. But, like most people, I’m a spineless hypocrite, so when Pixies reformed I jumped shamelessly on the bandwagon. It was brilliant. They played everything I wanted, but it still felt new and it still had energy, even if their now ageing fans didn’t. The sound in the Brixton Academy is epic, and the graded slope from the stage is so simple and yet so rarely incorporated into other venues. I can’t emphasise enough how much better the atmosphere here is than at the O2 in Greenwhich.
Nadasurf – Scala:
This is a curveball. Nadasurf are by no means my favourite band. This was just one of those ocassions where everything clicked; the audience, the music, the venue, even the support act John Vanderslice was as wonderful as his surname. I scarcely remember seeing a band enjoy themselves more. It was intimate and yet still felt like an enormous event. The Scala now is generally described as a nightclub; it still hosts great bands but just as often generic club nights. Don’t let this fool you. This is a legendary venue. It used to be a cinema. Then a music venue, it hosted one of Iggy and the Stooges’ most infamous gigs (immortalised by the album sleeve for Raw Power), and in 1981 it screened A Clockwork Orange despite it being banned in the UK. Cool huh?
The Mars Volta – Somerset House:
In the summer months Somerset House do film screenings (well-worth a look, a couple of years ago they showed Flash Gordon and Brian Blessed gave a talk afterwards. I love that man), and sometimes they put on live music. Somerset House is breathtakingly beautiful, and seeing one of the most musically complex and imaginative bands in this setting was nothing short of mind-blowing. A complex light-show worked in harmony with the Mars Volta’s intricate dynamics. Frankly, Somerset House is incredible without brilliant live music. With it, it’s painfully good. It’s so good it hurts.
So it’s both. It’s the venues and the music. The great thing about London is that you could probably ask a thousand people for their favourite gigs/venues and probably none of them would give the exact same answer. I have no evidence to support that theory whatsoever, so if possible, could a thousand of you reply to this blog to test it? Thanks.