Independent Venue Week is upon us: a seven-day celebration of all that is good about the smaller venues that form the foundations of the UK’s thriving music scene.
These venues have played a pivotal role in allowing up and coming bands to attract more fans, propelling the hopefuls of today into the stars of tomorrow.
Sometimes a single venue can prove itself to be so important in a band’s career, it becomes cemented as an integral part of their history.
Here are seven legendary independent venues across the UK, and the bands they helped launch.
The Cavern Club, Liverpool
We’ll start off with one of UK music’s most famous small venues, in one of UK music’s most fruitful cities, spawning not just the UK’s but the world’s most famous band.
The Cavern Club where The Beatles laid the seeds of Beatlemania actually closed down in 1973 when the Merseyside underground rail loop came along, but was reopened in a new location using many of the original building’s bricks, and sticking closely to the original plans.
These days The Cavern Club trades on its nostalgia factor, and its status as one of the most historic clubs in Britain, and regularly hosts Beatles tribute acts for the passing tourists. But up-and-coming bands still crop up on its stage.
The 100 Club, London
Like many others on this list, The 100 Club first opened as a jazz club way back when (in this case 1942).
Nestled inconspicuously among the shop fronts of London’s Oxford Street, walking down into its sub-street level underbelly reveals a sizeable room adorned with iconic photos of some of the stars that have appeared there. The Clash and the Sex Pistols are but two of the bands that thrived during a rare event in which the usually jazz oriented 100 Club opened its doors for a two-day punk festival in 1976.
The “Punk Special” saw appearances from the Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and Siouxie and the Banshees among others, and rocketed all to infamy among the burgeoning scene.
Despite its legendary status, the 100 Club came very close to succumbing to the recession that had claimed so many venues in 2010. Paul McCartney backed a high profile campaign to save the club, and though shoe company Converse stepped in to keep it going, it’s not lost any of its integrity.
Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester
The Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester is certainly one of those “I was there” moments. It’s why so many people claim they were present at the game-changing gig, when footage would suggest there was only about 35 people in the building.
Of the people who were there, some pretty influential names were duly inspired. The Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, Morrissey, Factory Records’ Tony Wilson, Peter Hook from Joy Division, and Mark E. Smith are all reported to have been in attendance, at a gig which presumably helped shape the sound of music in Manchester for years to come.
Ten years prior to the Pistols gig, Bob Dylan surprised fans at the venue with his switch to electric guitar, eliciting the famous cries of “Judas!” Quite a musical heritage, then.
Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
The feeling of camaraderie among the Leeds music scene is something you don’t often get anywhere else, but it’s led to a huge amount of success stories for the city as bands from all parts of the musical spectrum club together.
There’s many a great venue in Leeds (Belgrave Music Hall, Oporto… heck, even the corporately backed Academy deserves a mention), but the Brudenell takes the crown as probably the most famous.
It’s made all the more surprising by its location in a student suburb, a train stop away from the city centre that would usually be considered too awkward to get to by music fans. Yet the place is consistently rammed, as it’s hard not to recognise the brilliance of the venue.
Many a West Yorkshire band owes their success to nights at the Brudenell, but our favourite notables are Wakefield brothers The Cribs, who in 2007 decided to give back by holding a Christmas three-nighter and playing all their albums – at the time – in full before a limited (and very sweaty) crowd of die-hards.
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
Aside from being one of the more wackier named places on our list, King Tut’s reputation for launching new bands is legendary – partly because of Oasis.
If they hadn’t played there in 1993, maybe Alan McGee wouldn’t have spotted them and signed them to his Creation Records label on the spot, and maybe they wouldn’t have gone on to create some of the most-loved albums and anthems of the ’90s.
Whether the stories of McGee being bowled over by that Glasgow performance are true or not, this brilliant gig space still hosts regular gig nights from Glasgow’s finest, as well as bands from further afield looking to sample one of the Scottish city’s finest independent venues.
Another Oxford Street music staple, Syndrome is unfortunately no longer with us, so don’t go looking for it.
Nonetheless, during its early ’90s heyday, the venue became the focal point for the much lauded ‘Scene That Celebrates Itself’; a social and musical movement of London and Thames Valley bands that could often be found at each other’s gigs, sometimes playing in each other’s bands and drinking together, rather than partaking in press-fanned rivalries.
It featured a lot of early shoegazing bands including Chapterhouse (pictured), Lush, and Moose, as well as great deal of indie bands, including Blur. The Thursday club-night at the venue allowed regular performances for the band, and music press influencers like the NME quickly got on board. The unity of the scene meant that any success felt by one band was shared among their peers.
The Haçienda, Manchester
One of the world’s most influential nightclubs, it’s hard to imagine just how different the musical landscape of Britain would look without the presence of the Haçienda.
Literally every major musical movement of the late ’80s and early ’90s passed through here at some point; the new-wave of bands like The Fall and New Order, the baggy party sounds of the likes of Stone Roses and Primal Scream, and just about every decent Manchester band going.
The club is perhaps most famous for it pivotal role in the dawn of acid house and rave, with its infamous dance nights debuting some of the freshest sounds of the time and going on to influence musicians for years to come. Without the Haçienda we wouldn’t have had the game-changing crossover sounds of bands like the Happy Mondays, let along a regular venue to go and see them play or DJ at.
As with far too many small venues, the Haçienda is no longer with us. But its spirit lives on.
Independent Venue Week
Main image via King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut