Watch live music in a city known for live music, minus the price tag
By Kath Butler (follow Kath on Twitter: @k_butler92)
London is arguably a city at the centre of the global music scene and many world renowned acts often pass through its hallowed venues, think Bob Dylan to One Direction. However, these shows tend to ask a hefty price for tickets. The upside is that with it being home to such a thriving scene there are also many shows that cost nothing and span a wide range of genres, representing an undeniable plus to music lovers struggling to keep above the poverty line in this exorbitant city.
The free shows mostly take place in smaller venues and will be lesser known acts, but they also represent an opportunity for future bragging rights when said acts make it big. Something along the lines of “I saw X at Bedroom Bar back in 2015, before they got big, for free”. Additionally, the pure enjoyment of live music (more so when it’s free) is a tried and tested antidote to the woes facing your average cash strapped Londoner.
With such obvious benefits in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the best venues in London for catching free gigs.
The Old Blue Last | Shoreditch | ££
Nestled at the top of Great Eastern Street in uber cool but notoriously pricey Shoreditch, The Old Blue Last is a pub and venue famous for putting on acts that often go on to become big name business. The venue is run by Vice media, so expect no frills but loads of ironic social commentary. Vibe aside the OBL puts on upwards of five free shows a week, often in partnership with music scene insiders like DIY magazine or record companies.
Some notable acts that have paid their dues on the OBL stage include Foals, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, and Action Bronson. If you want a full shamelessly name dropping list you can check it out on the site.
Address: 38 Great Eastern St, Shoreditch EC2A 3ES,
Genre: Mostly indie, alternative and rock
Prices: Around £5 for wine and mixers £4 for beer.
Rough Trade East and West | Shoreditch & Notting Hill | £££
Rough Trade is not technically a music venue and is characteristically described as an independent record music store, selling all kinds of musical wares that include records, books, posters, and signings and just to round off the inventory the occasional live show, so basically any music lover’s spiritual home. This musical glory is manifested at two locations on either side of London, but both often put on impromptu free live shows. West is the smaller and older site located in Notting Hill and East is the warehouse type store just off Brick Lane in Shoreditch. The performance times vary, sometimes taking place in the evening and sometimes at lunch time so if you work near either of the venues they could constitute a cool lunch time activity. Occasionally, to gain entrance you are required to buy the act that is performing’s latest album, but these details can be found out on the site. These shows also range in genre as the store sells records from across the board. The shows at Rough Trade tend represent unique music experiences with them often being stripped down and intimate, surrounded by vinyl and music history.
Address: East – Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | West – 130 Talbot Road, W11 1JA, London
Genre: Indie artists of all genres who have recently released material
Prices: £4 for coffee (no in-store alcoholic beverages)
Bedroom Bar | Shoreditch | ££
Bedroom Bar is a small Turkish themed two-story venue. The venue has two areas, its upstairs section which often features DJ’s and the downstairs area, home to a small stage and a Turkish restaurant for those punters that work up an appetite after a good mosh. They also frequently put on free shows. The venue is comparatively new, but has a distinct old time feel and some of the friendliest staff, making for real homey vibe, hence the bedroom tag I suppose. Most of the free shows take place on weekdays, with the weekend nights (including Friday) being reserved for club nights which charge around a £5 entrance. Check out what’s on.
Address: 62 Rivington St, Shoreditch, EC 2A 3AY, London
Genre: Pop, indie rock and jazz
Prices: £5 for wine and mixers £4.90 for beer
Alley Cat | Soho | ££
Alley Cat is located on the revered Denmark St in Soho also known as Tin Pan Alley. Lined with music shops and home to the revered Regent Sounds studios, Tin Pan Alley has at some point been trod on by any self-respecting London based musician, some of the biggies include The Rolling Stones, Jamie T and Adele. Alley Cat takes the form of a tiny basement dive bar just below Regent Sounds and is solely dedicated to putting on live music throughout the week. The days are spread across a range of events which include residencies, industry showcases and genre themed nights. For a full listing schedule have a look at their site.
Address: 4 Denmark St, WC2H 8N, London
Genre: Jazz, Blues, Alternative Rock and Punk
Prices: £5 for wine and £3.50 for beer
The Blues Kitchen | Camden, Brixton & Shoreditch | £££
This should actually read The Blues Kitchens, as there are sites in three opposite corners of London, namely the music centric neighborhoods of Camden, Brixton and Shoreditch. The shows rarely have a ticket charge instead asking punters to book a table for drinks, free of charge. This means that all you pay for are drinks, which is usually a given at live music events. The booking a table thing is also not required so you can just wander in. All three are home to restaurants serving delicious Texan barbeque meals, often garnering rave reviews. True to its namesake the venues serves up Blues and Jazz acts but is not limited to those genres alone, dabbling in indie and rock territory too. The Camden site was treated to an impromptu Libertines performance this year, which saw Carl Barat crowd surfing to the bar to grab a bottle of Jack Daniels. Link to the listings for all three venues here.
Address: Camden – 111 – 113 Camden High St, NW1 7JN | Brixton – 40 Acre Ln, SW2 5SP | Shoreditch – 134 – 146 Curtain Rd, EC2A 3A
Genre: Blues and Jazz acts but is not limited to those,
Prices: £6.75 for wine £4.50 – £5 for beers.
Catching live music in London doesn’t have to cost you next week’s meals, particularly if it’s for entrance to a crowded beer-soaked auditorium, where all you see of the band is the bassists left toe. There are numerous venues with cool vibes, putting on exciting acts that cost you nothing. Happy gig-going broke Londoners!