Europe’s Greatest Music Venues (Side A)

John Robb, Goldblade vocalist, award-winning journalist and full time punk rock advocate, counts down his favourite venues in Europe to experience live music.

1. Le Bataclan, Paris

Rock and roll really only suits old theatres and not the modern corporate boxes, full of plastic seats and hand clapping fans. Classic venues don’t come much more atmospheric than the Bataclan in Paris, with its distinctive multicoloured exterior. Built in 1864, this was the place where Edith Piaf first sung and where you can still sniff the dust and smell the hair gel hanging in the air from legends like The Clash, Nick Cave and Lou Reed, who have all done famous shows at this site, as well as contemporary bands like Placebo and Elbow.

2. Theatre Romains de Fourviere, Lyon

Lyon may not be the most ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ city in Europe, but it could arguably have the best-looking venue. On the surrounding hillside, carved into the rock, are the remains of an ancient Roman theatre, used for many of the city’s key gigs in the last few years. One of the most legendary occurred in 2012, when The Stone Roses played the best show of their comeback so far. The gig, watched by the likes of Eric Cantona and The Clash’s Mick Jones, features heavily in the award-winning documentary Made of Stone.

3. Empress Ballroom, Blackpool

Blackpool may be portrayed as the tatty seaside town of media mythology, but unlike many coastal resorts it has kept many of its old ballrooms; the most famous of which is the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens. The beautiful, classic Victorian venue comes complete with chandeliers and an ornate wooden roof, that all add to its sense of history. A sense that is fitting for a venue built in 1865, where George Formby, once the biggest superstar in the UK, used to sing about where he wanted to put his little stick of Blackpool rock. It is also the site of The Rolling Stones famous 1964 riot that saw them banned from the seaside town for thirty years, and it is reported to be White Stripes frontman Jack White’s favourite venue – he loved it so much he came back to record his live DVD there.

‘Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets
Looking for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo
You should’ve seen them go, go, go
They said, “Hey, sugar,
Take a walk on the wild side.

Lou Reed

4. Babylon, Istanbul

Istanbul is a city that is seething with nightlife and the 24-hour bars are always full of exciting musical action. The best music venue in Istanbul might not be the most atmospheric – like the come and go rooftop venues and smoky rooms down back alley joints that feature wild gypsy and Turkish performers playing all sorts of exotic and varied music – but it is a functional and highly distinctive space. Located in the old part of the city, it books a bewildering array of international bands and has the best sound system in town. All sorts of cult groups pass through here, including the great Turkish dub and folk crossover band Baba Zula.

5. Olympia Theatre, Dublin

The Olympia is a proper old school theatre that drools atmosphere and ribaldry in equal measures. Opened in 1879, the venue was nearly knocked down in the mid-seventies when part of the roof collapsed, but for once the local authorities decided not to replace a classic building with a concrete block. The resulting renovated location came back as one of the most noteworthy halls on the touring circuit, with famous appearances from The Pogues and their various offshoots, as well as Adele, Elvis Costello, Moving Hearts, Aslan, Kaiser Chiefs, Billy Connolly and many others who enjoyed the intimacy it offered. As if to underline the unique ambience of the place, Tom Waits also recorded his famous live version of The Piano Has Been Drinking here. Recommendations don’t come much higher than that.

6.  Roundhouse, London

Few venues are as perfect as the Roundhouse, with its Victoriana decals and novel circular construction giving it an instantly iconic look and feel.

Originally built as a place where trains could be turned around before they returned back up North, it became a music venue in the sixties and established itself as a key locale in psychedelic, swinging London. The hippies and zippies soon took it over, with happenings like the launch of International Times and illustrious parties featuring the likes of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. The Doors played their only UK show at the venue in 1968.

Nearly a decade later in July 1976, the Roundhouse became a seminal punk venue,  with The Ramones (while supporting the Flaming Groovies) bringing buzzsaw new rock to the UK – one of the most infamous gigs in music history. The day after, every band in London sped up. The venue not only provided a base for the punk revolution, but a virtual home to bands like The Stranglers, who played several nights in a row at the venue, setting a record for consecutive appearances. Other bands who played the Roundhouse included The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Ramones, The Clash and Motörhead.

7. Paradiso, Amsterdam

The Paradiso must have seen nearly every key band in the history of music tread its boards…and argue about their riders backstage. Originally built as a church hall, it was used by hippies as a squat in the late 60s and in 1977 The Sex Pistols played here, in what turned out to be Glen Matlock’s last ever gig with the band in the punk era. It’s another place with so much history you can scratch it off the walls.

8. Brudenell, Leeds

The best-run venue in the UK is a working men’s club in Leeds that puts on a staggering amount of left field acts. The Brudenell is so friendly that no touring band wants to go home after playing there. Situated outside of the city-centre, the venue is always hosting breakthrough bands, punk rock and hardcore crews, and beardie hipster names. It really is the warmest and friendliest place to place in the UK. It was the venue for Cribsmas – The Cribs charity fund raising Christmas event – which featured Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs and Kate Nash among others.

Also, the venue likes to keep a local touch insisting on having only Yorkshire teabags in the dressing rooms.

9. East Village Arts Club, Liverpool

Shaped like an old theatre, this building has some serious historic credentials. It was used by Charles Dickens on his reading tours and once became a base for The Royal Institution, where students could get to see corpses getting cut up by surgeons in the grand auditorium. Though the entertainment is a little less bloody now, the steep steps still make for perfect sightlines to the stage.

10. The Ritz, Manchester

Manchester has more live music venues per capita than any other city in the UK and the Ritz, first opened in 1928, is one of the oldest and most loved. It stands out from the pack through the absence of a steel and chrome exterior and displays its dance hall roots proudly. After a period of closure in the early noughties, the newly refurbished venue was opened to cheers in 2011.

The Ritz boasts one of only two sprung dance floors in Europe – perfect for the oldies that need help when it comes to dancing these days – and retains an old school atmosphere.

Many sweaty yet memorable nights there have become part of local folklore; like the stage diver diving head first from the balcony into the audience when Rage Against The Machine played there on May 25th, 1993.

11. Manchester Albert Hall, Manchester

Round the corner from the Ritz, this astonishing venue was once a forgotten old church sitting above a car showroom. Now dusted down, the 1600 people capacity venue oozes a fire and brimstone atmosphere and still has the old church organ (which your author once climbed inside) built into the stage set.

Already proving to be popular with alternative bands, it seems like a home from home for groups like Mogwai and is the setting for The Hacienda’s annual New Year’s Eve party.

12. Wild At Heart, Berlin

Wild at Heart is situated in Kreuzberg – the beating heart of rock and roll in Berlin – where high octane music and riots go hand in hand. It has been described as dark, seedy, hot, sweaty, and covered in tattoos…and that’s just the owner! Taking influence from archetypal rockabilly bars, it’s long, narrow and packed with the sort of people who look like they never go to bed. Like some sort of leather clad, Droog version of the Star Wars cantina, the venue has a box-like gig room at one end, with a tiny stage that is perfect for amplifying the noisy and explosive acts that play there.

13. Albert Hall, London

As grand as they get, the Albert Hall is where bands play gigs to impress their parents.

Another iconic semi-circular venue, it has the long lingering shadows of its glorious past and sometimes feels like the very heart of a long faded empire. As the home of the flag waving Proms, the Albert Hall has also had its fair share of rock gigs, such as the legendary last stand of Cream in 1968. Many other famous events have cranked up the electricity to 11, like The Clash’s concert for Cambodia, The Secret Policeman’s Ball and a long lost Creation night with late genius, Arthur Lee, as well as the recent farewell gig for the much loved drummer for the Charlatan – Jon Brookes.

Numbers 14-25 in Side B