City of music: London’s best venues

With the festive period in full swing, Tempus raises the curtain on London’s best places to catch some tunes

If you had asked the late experimental composer John Cage, he would tell you that everything can technically be classified as music, from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to the sound of traffic and urban congestion. After all, where do we draw the line between what is and isn’t music?

But, even if the idea of beeping car horns and bickering commuters doesn’t exactly sound like something you’d sit and listen to, London’s long history of musical excellence – that has spanned everything from high symphonies and music halls, to punk and pop royalty – is still as varied and alive as ever. There are plenty of venues in the capital that have you covered with a host of excellent concerts and gigs this winter, whether you’re into classical or The Clash. Read on for some truly awesome venues raising the bar for musical brilliance…

Modern music | Barbican

One of London’s premier music venues, the Barbican has become known for staging boundary-pushing musical artists from across the world, in an almost eerily well-insulated concert hall seating 1,900 people.

For those looking for something fresh and new, December will see the venue host a unique trio of award-winning British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, Tunisian avant-garde singer songwriter Emel and legendary Lebanese oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil for an evening of contemporary Arabic music. Meanwhile, on the flip side, 29 December will see the London Concert Orchestra perform a dazzling tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra. There’s something for everyone.

Camden cool | KOKO

KOKO Camden, one of the most iconic, storied event spaces in London, re-opened in April this year after a major refurbishment following a 2019 fire which almost saw the entire building razed to the ground. And its grand reopening once against demonstrated the prestige of the venue as Arcade Fire took to the stage as the inaugural headliner.

And the venue is continuing its trend of pulling in some of the biggest names in popular music. In the 1960s it was the Rolling Stones; in the 1980s it was Prince; in the 2000s it was Amy Winehouse. And in the coming months, artists including Joey Bada$$, Idris Elba and French house sensation Bellaire will grace the stage – keeping KOKO at the cutting-edge of London’s live music scene.

Classical soul | Royal Albert Hall

Even if the pomp and circumstance of the BBC Proms doesn’t do it for you, look beyond this annual celebration of classical music to find a host of superb concerts, gigs and shows that are sure to satiate your musical hunger across every possible genre.

Pop-heads should look to spring, which will see artists like John Legend and indie rock icons Death Cab for Cutie fill the auditorium, while film buffs will no doubt already have an eye on 3 June, where the music of score composers John Williams and Hans Zimmer will be celebrated in a night of movie magic.

The home of jazz | Ronnie Scott’s

Opened in 1959 in Soho, Ronnie Scott’s is still London’s most iconic jazz club, and with good reason. The venue, founded by the legendary saxophonist who gave the club its name, brings in a mixture of up-and-coming jazz artists alongside some of the genre’s most celebrated performers.

December will see jazz arranger and pianist Luke Smith play a one-off set, as well as a handful of concerts from double BBC Jazz award winner Liane Carroll. Be sure to book well in advance for any concerts at this prestigious venue, however, as shows sell out regularly.

Feel-good sound | Union Chapel

Undeniably one of the capital’s most magical venues, Union Chapel is a force for good both musically and socially. Housed in a Grade-I listed church in Islington, the venue serves as both a visually stunning space for musical performance and a drop-in centre for the homeless of London, providing advice, showers and a laundry service.

In the hushed setting of an 18th-century church, it’s no surprised that folk musicians have long been drawn to Union Chapel, with scheduled gigs from David Gray, Rumer and The Young’uns all coming up in the early months of 2023.

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