See something different: where to catch indie and up-and-coming musicians

London’s well-served for major music venues, but if you’re anything like us you don’t always want a major gig experience – sometimes you want to walk out of the door and be surprised by someone you’ve never heard of, without paying big-ticket prices or booking months in advance.

While our neighbourhood isn’t quite as steeped in music as, say, Camden (though that’s only a few stops on the Northern Line from Charing Cross) we’ve got a clutch of dedicated live music bars in the area, including one that dates back to the 40s and proved central to the punk explosion. They might be a little cramped, but they’re places driven by love of music, love of musicianship and a hunger for new talent. We think you’ll like them.

Ain’t Nothing But

Get ready for a tight squeeze. Now over 20 years old, the tiny, juke joint-styled Ain’t Nothing But continues to feel out of place in the nowadays rather manicured Carnaby Street area – and it’s all the better for it. Regular events include Blues and Burlesque on the first Sunday of every month, and the consistently hectic open invitation Blues Jam every Monday, when queues snake down Kingly Street. The bar keeps jumping until 1am throughout the week (when there’s usually a bit more room to move) and 2.30am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Address: 20 Kingly Street, W1B 5PZ
Walking time: 20 minutes

Landmarks on the way:

  • Zimbabwe House, designed by Charles Holden, who did extensive work for London Underground (including its headquarters in St James’s Park)
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Leicester Square

100 Club

Behind this unassuming doorway on Oxford Street (at number 100, hence the name) lies one of London’s most venerable venues. It started life in 1942, when the restaurant that originally occupied the space started to hire live acts. A deep association with jazz – and specifically swing – followed, and saw several huge US names play here, including Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. From the early 1970s it became one of London’s key punk venues, hosting The Sex Pistols, The Clash and countless lesser-known acts. That eclectic mix continues today – the 100 Club remains a dark, unpolished basement joint where you can see anything from rock to jazz to (yes, really) classical.

Address: 100 Oxford Street, W1D 1LL
Walking time: 20 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • The southern section of Wellington Street, connecting to the Strand, was developed following the burning of the original Lyceum, which stood across the street’s current path, in 1830
  • Royal Opera House

12 Bar Club

Appropriately enough, this 25-year-old venue sits in the heart of ‘Tin Pan Alley’, aka the raft of guitar, bass and drum shops on Denmark Street – in fact, Andy Preston of Andy’s Guitars is a co-founder. The 17th Century building has been a stable, a forge and a carpenter’s shop, and now offers a small performance space with an even smaller balcony and a funky, sign-plastered bar area. With a 3am licence from Monday to Saturday (12.30am on Sundays), it gets through several bands every day, with the focus on the alternative – think punk, indie rock, folk and blues, with the occasional secret gig by a big name. A small, buzzy cafe at the front is open until 7pm Monday to Saturday.

Address: 26 Denmark Street, WC2H 8NL
Walking time: 13 minutes
Landmarks on the way:

  • The southern section of Wellington Street, connecting to the Strand, was developed following the burning of the original Lyceum, which stood across the street’s current path, in 1830
  • Royal Opera House

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