The 17 best music venues in the UK have been revealed by Time Out – and it’s Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom that’s number one.
In curating the definitive ranking, Time Out asked a host of musicians to choose their most treasured British music venues and then combined these views with insights from the publication’s editorial team.
Huw Oliver, Time Out’s UK Editor, said: ‘These are venues that are authentic, that are committed to promoting properly good music and emerging acts, venues that have energetic crowds and excellent sound quality… they’re all special in their own, unique way – and they’ve (of course) seen their fair share of mosh pits.’
Below is the ranking in reverse order. Scroll down to the very bottom to discover why the Barrowland Ballroom takes the top spot…
17. STIRLING, SCOTLAND – THE ALBERT HALLS
The best music venues in the UK have been revealed by Time Out, with the Albert Halls in Stirling (above) ranking 17th
Saul Davies, a member of the rock band James, elected this concert venue, which is housed in a grand 19th-century building in Stirling.
He told Time Out: ‘It was the first venue I played at when I was the leader of the Stirling Youth Symphony Orchestra when I was 14.
‘Years later James did a pre-tour warm-up there. It was a massive moment of very positive nostalgia for me: a realisation that from humble beginnings amazing things can and do happen, so it was a life-affirming moment.’
16. BETHESDA, NORTH WALES – NEUADD OGWEN
Welsh musician Gruff Rhys nominated this performance venue, telling Time Out: ‘It’s the old cinema in Bethesda, which is a Welsh-speaking, working quarry town in the mountains of North Wales.
‘The venue has been a town hall, a marketplace, and is a real community centre. It’s owned and run by the local music community, and now they’ve started booking bands from all over the world, such as [hip hop group] Arrested Development.’
Rhys adds that ‘there’s something about the intimacy of the venue: it’s just big enough so you can put on a show but small enough for the atmosphere to feel electric’.
15. LONDON – O2 FORUM KENTISH TOWN
The O2 Forum Kentish Town (above) ranks 15th, as chosen by Rachel Goswell from the rock band Slowdive
Rachel Goswell, vocalist and guitarist of the rock band Slowdive, chose this North London gig spot, which was formerly known as The Town and Country Club back in the 1980s and 1990s. Following a renovation, it reopened in 2015 as O2 Forum Kentish Town.
Recalling attending gigs at the venue when it was known as The Town and Country Club, Goswell told Time Out: ‘I remember seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jesus and the Mary Chain, and Ride – all the bands used to play there once they got to a certain level.’
14. LONDON – THE HIDEAWAY
London’s The Hideaway jazz bar – which is currently closed as it relocates premises – lands in 14th place
This popular jazz club in London’s Streatham area is currently closed, with its owners seeking new premises.
It was added to the ranking by jazz musician Courtney Pine, who told Time Out: ‘I heard about this venue at the back of Streatham High Road a long time before I got the chance to make music there.
‘[The first time I went] my plan was to sneak in and catch an upcoming exciting young jazz guitarist and check out the venue. It was warm, inviting and receptive.’
13. NEWCASTLE – THE STAR AND SHADOW
This Newcastle haunt was picked by Paul Smith, the lead singer of the indie rock band Maximo Park.
Describing The Star and Shadow, he told Time Out: ‘It’s a volunteer-run arts space that began life as a cinema, but which has branched out to include performance, a bar and cafe, as well as a library of radical reading material.
‘I’ve seen some excellent left-field gigs and films there, as well as shooting a lo-fi video for “Seven Tears”, a song by my new folk duo, Unthank:Smith.’
12. LONDON – THIRD MAN RECORDS BLUE BASEMENT
The rock band Dinosaur Jr. perform at the Blue Basement at Third Man Records, which ranks 12th
Alexis Taylor, the lead vocalist of the band Hot Chip, put forward this intimate gig venue in London’s Soho neighbourhood.
He told Time Out: ‘Everyone working there is interested in the sound being great, the atmosphere being friendly and prioritising new music as much as anything else.
‘You can probably fit 80 people in there at a push, so you’re never far from the stage and you can feel what the band is doing without a barrier between you. The way that you’re just so up close and personal with people playing is just an unusual opportunity.’
11. TODMORDEN, WEST YORKSHIRE – THE GOLDEN LION
The ‘relatively small but well-formed venue’ of The Golden Lion (above) in West Yorkshire slides into 11th place
Yorkshire gig destination The Golden Lion was elected by DJ Don Letts, who told Time Out: ‘Set in a picturesque village, this relatively small but well-formed venue attracts some serious connoisseurs of sound.
‘My DJ sets reflect the history and legacy of Jamaican music and the island’s gift to the world: bass. Now, I’m all about culture clash, so moving the crowd with a soundtrack like that, in such an idyllic setting, really hits the spot.’
10. LONDON – O2 SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE
Tenth-place 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire was nominated by Murder on the Dancefloor singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Above, rock group The Steve Hillage Band perform at the venue
Murder on the Dancefloor singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor nominated this West London venue, telling Time Out: ‘It’s big enough that playing there is a real event, but it’s small enough, too, that from the stage you can involve the whole crowd.
‘As an added bonus, it’s very close to my house, so I could even walk there if I wanted.’
9. SUNDERLAND – POP RECS
Seventh-place Pop Recs in Sunderland was elected by Ross Millard of the post-punk band The Futureheads
Ross Millard, guitarist and vocalist in post-punk band The Futureheads, chose this Sunderland venue, which launched at a different premises more than a decade ago.
Millard told Time Out: ‘Pop Recs is currently in its third incarnation, but they’ve finally found a permanent home.
‘Dave Harper from [rock band] Frankie & The Heartstrings worked on developing ideas for the venue, raised money to get it built, then put his heart and soul into getting it done. He died in August 2021, just before they opened their doors to the public.’
He added: ‘It was an incredibly emotional experience when I first played there. Dave is in the foundations of the place, his soul can be felt everywhere in the space.’
8. LONDON – NEW RIVER STUDIOS
This music hotspot, based in the North London neighbourhood of Harringay, was elected by Chris Summerlin of the rock band Hey Colossus.
He told Time Out: ‘It’s the perfect venue: DIY-run, great bar, great food, everyone is friendly, and they don’t kick the crowd out at 9.30pm… plus, you get to hang with Bagel, the venue cat.’
The musician added: ‘Somehow it doesn’t feel like you’re in London, you could almost be in Europe. It’s beautiful.’ Visit newriverstudios.com.
7. NOTTINGHAM – ROCK CITY
Rock City in Nottingham, which ranks seventh, ‘feels as though it’s got some soul’
Pauline Black of the ska band The Selecter put forward this Nottingham venue, which has been running for more than 40 years.
Black told Time Out: ‘Rock City in Nottingham looks a bit rough from the outside, but inside the place feels as though it’s got some soul – like the music made inside it is the most important thing.
‘When you step on stage, the room feels alive, as though as long as you play your heart out, the energy will always come right back at you. I love that.’
6. LONDON – HEAVEN
Above, singer Ethel Cain performs at London’s Heaven nightclub, which is sixth overall
Heaven nightclub, located in London’s Charing Cross area, was nominated by the singer-songwriter Hannah Diamond.
She told Time Out: ‘Heaven is a very special venue for me because it holds a lot of memories.
‘My fanbase is predominantly LGBTQ+ and I know that this venue is special for them too, so there’s a different kind of atmosphere when I perform there because it’s a space where everyone feels comfortable.’
5. LIVERPOOL – MOUNTFORD HALL
Mountford Hall, which is part of Liverpool University, slides into fifth place on the Time Out list
This Liverpudlian gig spot was elected by Dan Haggis, the drummer of the indie rock band The Wombats.
He told Time Out: ‘We’ve played the Mountford Hall in Liverpool several times during our career… honestly, every night had the best, sweatiest party atmosphere imaginable. It was one long sing-a-long from start to finish.’
Haggis added that the venue, which is part of Liverpool University, offers the ‘perfect vibe’.
4. LONDON – O2 ACADEMY BRIXTON
Fourth place in the ranking goes to the O2 Academy Brixton, as nominated by the singer Skin
This South London establishment was chosen by the singer Skin of the band Skunk Anansie, who told Time Out that the O2 Academy Brixton is a ‘very difficult’ venue to perform in because of the impact its high ceiling has on the acoustics. Skin said: ‘But when you get it right, you’ll see everybody – even at the top of the rafters – jumping up and down. It’s a phoenix that has to be trained.’
At the time of writing, more than 107,000 people have signed a petition to save the venue from closure, as police urged council chiefs to strip the venue of its licence.
The establishment has been facing closure since two people died when fans without tickets tried to enter a show by the artist Asake on December 15 of last year. The venue’s licence was subsequently suspended for three months by councillors and a decision on whether to reopen the site is expected to be decided at an upcoming meeting.
Skin noted: ‘I truly hope that everyone involved has learned from its recent troubles and that it will rise again.’
3. CARDIFF – CLWB IFOR BACH
Third-place Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff is a ‘well-respected music venue for all sorts of different music’
This music venue, set on Womanby Street in Cardiff city centre, was selected by Welsh solo artist Gwenno.
Discussing the Clwb Ifor Bach’s status in Cardiff, she told Time Out: ‘Generally, any sort of milestones to do with music and culture tend to revolve around Clwb. It’s gone from being the Welsh Language Social Club in the 1980s to a well-respected music venue for all sorts of different music.’
She added: ‘I really don’t know what Cardiff would do if it lost Clwb.’
2. LONDON – THE LONDON PALLADIUM
The London Palladium – which has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland – takes the silver medal
‘Punk poet’ John Cooper Clarke and Dani Filth, the lead singer of the metal band Cradle of Filth, elected The London Palladium as one of the nation’s best venues.
Cooper Clarke remarked: ‘To somebody of my age, the Palladium is the gold standard of all gigs… backstage, they’ve got pictures of everybody that ever appeared there: Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Mario Lanza. If Elvis had ever come to these shores, that’s where he would’ve played.’
Filth, meanwhile, told the publication: ‘It looks prestigious, gorgeous and iconic, everyone is very well looked after there, and lastly, Bruce Forsyth’s ashes have been laid to rest beneath the stage. That’s a royal seal of approval if ever you needed one.’
1. GLASGOW – BARROWLAND BALLROOM
Taking the gold medal in the ranking is Barrowland Ballroom in the east end of Glasgow
The top-ranking music venue, which is located in the east end of Glasgow, was chosen by a trio of musicians – New Order guitarist Phil Cunningham, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite of the band Mogwai and Neil Barnes from the electronic music duo Leftfield.
Cunningham told Time Out that Barrowland Ballroom is ‘a good size at just under 2,000 cap and has a sprung dance floor’, saying: ‘It feels like the whole place is bouncing when you get a good crowd in.’
Braithwaite weighed in: ‘It’s actually probably my favourite venue on the planet. It sounds amazing and is steeped in history. I’ve loved so many shows there and been lucky enough to play there as well.’
Barnes, meanwhile, told the publication: ‘The venue holds a special place in my heart… the last time I played, we did two nights and there was a heatwave, and it was about 90 degrees in there. Celtic were playing Rangers, but inside the rivalry seemed unimportant and people just danced.’
He added that the people who attend gigs at the venue ‘seem to just be more open to the vibe of the music, more ready to let themselves go and enjoy the experience’.
TIME OUT’S 17 BEST MUSIC VENUES IN THE UK – AS CHOSEN BY BRITISH ARTISTS
1. Glasgow: Barrowland Ballroom – chosen by Phil Cunningham (New Order), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai) and Neil Barnes (Leftfield)
2. London: The Palladium – chosen by John Cooper Clarke and Dani Filth, Cradle of Filth
3. Cardiff: Clwb Ifor Bach – chosen by Gwenno
4. London: O2 Academy Brixton – chosen by Skin, Skunk Anansie
5. Liverpool: Mountford Hall – chosen by Dan Haggis, The Wombats
6. London: Heaven – chosen by Hannah Diamond
7. Nottingham: Rock City – chosen by Pauline Black, The Selecter
8. London: New River – chosen by Chris Summerlin, Hey Colossus
9. Sunderland: Pop Recs – chosen by Ross Millard, The Futureheads
10. London: O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire – chosen by Sophie Ellis-Bextor
11. Todmorden, West Yorkshire: The Golden Lion – chosen by Don Letts
12. London: Third Man Records Blue Basement – chosen by Alexis Taylor, Hot Chip
13. Newcastle: The Star and Shadow – chosen by Paul Smith, Maximo Park
14. London: The Hideaway – chosen by Courtney Pine
15. London: O2 Forum Kentish Town – chosen by Rachel Goswell, Slowdive
16. Bethesda, North Wales: Neuadd Ogwen – chosen by Gruff Rhys
17. Stirling: The Albert Halls – chosen by Saul Davies, James
Source: Time Out