Over the years I have managed to visit many different venues to watch punk and ska music. Sixty-four different ones to be exact - yes, I am that cool that I've kept track of them. Obviously living an hour outside of London, in sunny Colchester, the majority of venues I've visited are in London. But I've also visited various venues in Norwich, Manchester, Dundee, Brighton, Oxford, Plymouth, Bristol, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Kingston and of course Colchester. I thought it might be a fun to put together a list of my top ten favourite venues I've visited so far. (Not in any particular order).
The Underworld, Camden
The Underworld is by far the venue I have visited the most due to my love of punk music. For a few years, Camden Carnage would take place over a week in August at The Underworld. A who's who of the punk rock world would play shows and I'd spend the majority of my week sweating and shouting along. (These gigs still happen although not under the 'Carnage' name nor over just a week.) The stage is placed in the corner of the decently sized room and you are able to see the stage from wherever you decide to stand, whether it be at the front, at the back or on the raised area around the floor.
The Fighting Cocks, Kingston
The home of Banquet Records shows is the Fighting Cocks. A tiny backroom of a pub in Kingston is not really where you might expect to find some of the best shows in the country but Banquet Records have made this place so special. If you love small, sweaty shows full with some of the most passionate music lovers around, The Fighting Cocks is the place for you. Some of my favourite shows ever - including Iron Chic, Off With Their Heads, Masked Intruder and The Smith Street Band - have been at The Fighting Cocks.
The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch
Situated in London's trendy Shoreditch area, The Old Blue Last is the premier small venue. If a band wants to play an intimate London show, The OBL is often the place to play. Bands such as The Menzingers, Anti-Flag, Cancer Bats, Andrew WK, Hot Water Music and, erm, Kylie Minogue have all played gigs there. It's a tiny venue, with one of the smallest stages around but there is something special about the Old Blue Last.
Our Black Heart, Camden
Situated just round the corner from the Underworld, Our Black Heart is one of Camden's best kept secrets. Its music venue room is upstairs and is one of those strange rooms that feels tiny when it's empty but when it's full it feels massive! The room is a long one, with the stage at one end and the bar at the other. I've had the pleasure of seeing bands such RVIVR, The Mahones, Elway, Bangers and The Smith Street Band at the Black Heart. All were truly memorable nights.
The Owl Sanctuary, Norwich
In a relatively short space of time The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich has become the premier venue for underground rock music. After originally opening in 2014, earlier this year the Owl was forced to move venues. Despite this setback it has flourished. The biggest and best names in punk rock, based in the UK and internationally, have graced the stage. With a big emphasis on independence and the community the Owl is a blueprint for what all new venues should be.
Zombie Shack, Manchester
I've only been to Manchester's Zombie Shack once but I quickly fell in love with it. A new addition to this year's Manchester Punk Festival venues, Zombie Shack is themed like a tiki bar with additional zombies. It's only a small room, which is basically a loft for MPF main venue Sound Control, but it is a fun and quirky place to visit.
Urban Bar, Whitechapel
Another small room upstairs of a pub - there's a theme here. I'm not sure that I've ever been to a gig here and not left completely covered in sweat. That's good though as it is always a good show. Urban Bar is a great place for DIY promoters to put on gigs with sales from the upstairs bar going towards paying the bands. Buy drinks upstairs!
Electric Ballroom, Camden
I've said many times that I'm not keen on bigger venues. There's always an exception though and in this list it's the Electric Ballroom in Camden. As you enter the building and head down the stairs you are encountered by a huge (compared to what I'm used to) floor space and stage. The stage is nice and high up as well meaning you can get a decent view of the stage from wherever you stand.
Sound Control, Manchester
Sound Control is the home of the Manchester Punk Festival. Comprising of three different floors with rooms of different sizes, it's the perfect place to host a small festival. Amazingly all three rooms are absolutely great for live music, all have great sound and excellent viewing points. It's a great way to get fit as well - going up and down the stairs all day on the day of the festival to see different bands!
DIY Space For London
A venue that, at the time of posting this, I have only been to once but it just had to be on this list. DIY Space For London is a volunteer-run crowdfunded space in South East London. By day it's a space for creative work, meetings and a social place and by night it runs screenings, talks and of course live music. The first time I went to DSFL I was surprised by the size of the place and just how organised and how well run everything was. DIY Space For London is a place that all the volunteers who have invested so much time in making it work, and London in general, should be proud of.