Europe’s Greatest Music Venues (Side B)

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

In Side A, John gave us his first 13 venues, here in Side B he recalls his final 12.

14. Alexandra Palace, London

On the top of a hill in the North London suburbs sits Alexandra Palace, or ‘Ally Pally’ as Gracie Fields nicknamed it, a venue which simply oozes grandeur.

The 7K capacity venue was the scene of several notorious psychedelic nights in the sixties; John Lennon was often seen hanging out in the crowd with his Afghan coat on and his head in the clouds. Led Zeppelin and The Grateful Dead played legendary shows here in the 1980s and The Stranglers, fittingly, played their last gig with Hugh Cornwell in the grand old hall.

In recent years it has become busier, with big names like Florence and the Machine making appearances, as well as being the site for the indie festival I’ll Be Your Mirror, previously headlined by Portishead.

15. Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast

Put together by music journalist Stuart Baillie, this venue is a shrine to Northern Irish music. It houses a great museum full of artefacts from the area: from Van Morrison set lists to studded leather jackets from the punk wars, as well as items from legendary Belfast label Good Vibrations Records.  There are also rehearsal rooms decorated with great photos of The Clash and hand-scrawled lyrics on the wall offering pure inspiration. Every city should have a place like this, by law.

16. Melkweg, Amsterdam

Any venue name-checked in a Half Man Half Biscuit song is already off to a good start and the Melkweg (Dutch for Milky Way) offers an equally entertaining Amsterdam night out to The Paradiso. From art festivals to club nights, the range of music that emerges in this place is wide.

In what could be a touring bands ultimate paradise, this is a place where you get looked after and everything from the sound to the stage to the crowd is perfect. Its location, right in the centre of Amsterdam, even provides an authentic whiff of the sixties.

17. Vera, Groningen

The Vera is a superb venue in a small Dutch town that exudes music from its every pore. It’s the kind of place where weird noisy bands get far bigger crowds than ‘lame duck’ indie superstars; an upside down world, and a better one. The club’s recognisable sticker seems to be on every guitar case in transit around the European circuit and its excellent reputation attracts influential musicians from all over the world.

18. Kremlin Park, Moscow

We (Goldblade) once played a festival in the beautiful gardens that surround the Kremlin. There were 10,000 people there and the riot police kicked off, but no one seemed to mind. I think that’s just part of the gig going experience in Russia. The first band on where a bunch of fresh faced hopefuls called the Kaiser Chiefs. I wonder what ever happened to them?

19. Sinister Noise Club, Rome

A tiny basement venue that virtually drips with psychedelia, the Sinister Noise Club is a fantastically atmospheric snug with stained multicoloured walls that ooze the wonky codes of hedonism in a cellarful of noise. There is also a packed calendar of bands, many of which reflect the emerging Italian underground scene.

20. Oslo

Sometimes it feels like the whole centre of Oslo is one great venue, with everywhere from old church halls to tiny underground bars full of weird, wonderful and eclectic music.

Music that includes strange hybrids of black metal, electronics and deep blues, played by bands like the Viking-esque groups Wardruna and Ulver, perform in locations which range from the Longship Museum to the local opera house. This is a city full of musical imagination.

21. Picturedrome, Holmfirth, Yorkshire

It almost feels like a made up place, but the Picturedrome in Holmfirth, the town where they filmed the seemingly endless Last Of The Summer Wine, is ideal for acoustically-led up and comers and leathery old veterans alike. Those who still have a loyal crowd that can sell out anywhere, like The New Model Army, do attract an older audience, but nights still have an ‘event’ like feel (even though you do expect to see Nora Batty hanging about backstage).

22. SO36, Berlin

In the late seventies, Berlin was something else; an island of 24 hour party people surrounded by the monochrome grey of East Germany. In some ways the Wall seemed to add to the magic, and the intensity of the city resonated throughout its many venues. Named after the local postcode, SO36 was the epicentre of the scene and was frequented by the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop when they were making their classic Berlin period records.

It was also popular with resident metal-bashers Einstürzende Neubauten, and a whole host of other local lunatics became part of its seemingly endless night world. Its rich history of dark music from dark times was so good, Killing Joke even wrote a song about it.

23. Primavera, Barcelona

This premier Spanish music festival has one of the best bills of any European shindig around and is held annually within the Parc del Fòrum leisure site (approximately 6 km north east from the centre of Barcelona). Set in a futuristic space, with towering skyways and strange looking concrete buildings, you feel like you’re having a festival on the set of Blade Runner, and the ‘3D’ setting makes the probability of getting lost a little too likely.

As it stays warm all night, it’s easy to lose all sense of time and place in the fantastic multidimensional arena, with its never ending series of freaky stages attracting some of the best bands in the world. Walking around the site can sometimes feel like your whole record collection is playing all at once.

24. Uebel & Gefährlich, Hamburg

Situated in St Pauli – the notorious red light area to the north of Hamburg – this converted World War 2 bunker makes for a uniquely European venue and is famed as the spot where The Beatles ‘rite of passage’ gigs occurred. Over the decades, I‘ve played many of these places, and their claustrophobic atmosphere (helped by thirty foot of concrete cocooning you into their innards) somehow add to their timeless feel.

Situated on the upper floors of a huge brooding building, it has become part of St Pauli folklore and although the sleaze, grime and supposed danger of the surrounding district may be fading into myth, the cobbled streets still contain a few charmingly suspect characters.

25. 12 Bar, London

This tiny, intimate venue, just off Tottenham Court Road, holds 100 people at a push and is the quintessential gig joint. The bar is small and friendly; a real hard rock hole in the wall that was once used as a blacksmith’s forge in the early part of the 20th century.

Like Berlin’s Wild At Heart, the thick, musty air is full of the stale sweat of hopeful musicians and long lost riff crews. On a great night, when the whole place is dancing, there is a fantastic air of chaos to the proceedings as bands and audiences surf around on the high octane wave of rock ‘n’ roll.