When it comes to gig venues, thoughts often turn to sticky floors, overpriced lukewarm cider and sweat condensing on walls. Mmmmmm, nice.
You’d be hard pressed to find any of those things at Union Chapel in Islington – the venue voted London’s Top Live Music Venue by readers of Time Out London. That’s because, as the name suggests, it is still a working church.
The venue’s gothic grandeur and reverential ambience have attracted intimate performances from some of the UK’s musical elite. The likes of Adele, Florence and the Machine and Kate Nash have performed as part of the hugely successful Little Noise Sessions supporting Mencap.
Union Chapel made its musical name with low-key acoustic nights and occasional jazz shows. The octagonal interior captured the imaginations of audiences and performers, as did the superb sound quality and acoustics. No booze is served at shows, but this has not stopped the venue becoming the spiritual home of music in North London.
The Grade II listed church, built in 1877, beat off competition from the likes of the Royal Albert Hall and the O2. Readers voted online after a shortlist of venues was pulled together using Facebook, Twitter and the insider knowledge of Time Out’s music team.
Tim Arthur, Editor-in-Chief of Time Out London, said: “The results of our poll reveal just how diverse the capital’s music scene is. Union Chapel is one of the most beautiful settings to enjoy live music in London and has a totally unique atmosphere.”
A surprise second place entry comes in the form of Cecil Sharp House in Camden. The venue is home to the English Folk Dance and Song Society, who have a remit to “preserve and promote English folk dances in their traditional forms”. Acts like Goldfrapp and Sigur Ros have recently performed at the venue where the roster is usually packed with clog dancing and Ceilidhs.
Tim Arthur said: “It’s great to see Cecil Sharp House scoring so highly, riding on the wave of the folk music revival currently sweeping the country.”
Time Out’s Top Ten Live Music Venues
1. Union Chapel
2. Cecil Sharp House
3. The Windmill
4. The Lexington
5. Brixton Academy
7. Royal Albert Hall
8. The Vortex Jazz Club
10. Alexandra Palace
Alongside the Top 20, musicians were asked to pick their favourite places to enjoy live performances in the capital, with Florence and the Machine singing the praises of the low-key venue, Old Blue Last in Shoreditch.
The full list of the 20 ‘Best Live Music Venues’ in London is available from Tuesday on timeout.com/london or in this week’s issue of Time Out London magazine.
Jen Evans is a journalist specialising in culture. Her first gig was NOT the Backstreet Boys, honest. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Bookish Brunette.
Image via Vivan Jayant's Flickr