More Of London's Lost Music Venues

By Londonist Last edited 15 months ago

Last Updated 06 April 2023

More Of London's Lost Music Venues

London's been home to a slew of music venues sadly no longer with us. Derelict London's Paul Talling has found so many, he's compiled a second volume of his book, London's Lost Music Venues. In this abridged extract from the sequel, Talling visits 10 musical institutions, some reduced to rubble, others worse — a Tesco.

Africa Centre, 38 King Street, Covent Garden

A Marriage Freres boutique below a handsome yellowbrick building
The Limpopo Club became a long-running regular night at the Centre hosting many live music performances from African acts.

The Africa Centre was opened in 1964 in what was once a fruit and vegetable warehouse for the Covent Garden market. It became the focus for independence movements and the anti-apartheid campaign hosting a variety of cultural events in the 200-person capacity hall. The Centre held nights hosting DJs and African live acts and from 1983 The Limpopo Club became a long-running regular night at the Centre hosting many live music performances from African acts including Ras Natty Baby, Kanda Bongo Man, Mzwakhe Mbuli and Youssou N'Dour.

A flyer for the Four Brothers

The Bhundu Boys played their UK debut here in 1987, and from the mid-1980s Jazzie B would bring his Soul II Soul sound system to the Centre. Despite a campaign to save the Centre at its original premises, supported by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the trustees of the Africa Centre decided that the building was no longer a viable home as it was too costly to maintain, and it moved to new premises in south London in 2013.

38 King Street, Covent Garden

The Bottom Line, Shepherd's Bush

The original signage reading: ‘Cinematograph Theatre, Continuous Performances, seats 1/-6d & 3d’.
A condition of the planning permission was that the facade and the side elevation would be retained as it displayed original signage reading: 'Cinematograph Theatre, Continuous Performances, seats 1/-6d & 3d'.

Originally opened as the Shepherd's Bush Cinematograph Theatre in 1910 by entrepreneur Montagu Pyke as part of his chain of picture houses. The cinema had a number of name changes over the years and finally stopped showing films in 1981, by which time it was known as the Odeon 2. (The main Odeon was in a building next door.) After standing empty for several years, in 1993 it was converted into a live music venue called the Bottom Line, which hosted already established acts including Jefferson Starship, The Revillos, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Snowy White, Canned Heat, Samson, Link Wray, The Quireboys and Paddy Goes to Holyhead.

A flyer for Too Much Too Young

In 1995 Def Leppard played an acoustic show here on the same day as playing in Morocco and Canada, setting a World Record by playing three concerts on three different continents in one day to promote their Vault Greatest Hits 1980-1995 album. Also, in 1995 Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle performed here with Simon Townshend standing in for his older brother at a Who Fan Convention. A musical called Too Much Too Young also had a short residency here in 1995. The Bottom Line was then refitted as Australasian-themed bar, Walkabout, which closed down in 2013.

56 Shepherd's Bush Green, Shepherd's Bush

Chislehurst Caves, Chislehurst

A drum kit and guitars set up on a stage surrounded by rocks
"The party featured drink servers wearing costumes as nuns, fire-breathers and a woman lying down in a coffin completely naked while covered in jelly."

The caves at Chislehurst, a leafy suburb in south east London, are a labyrinth of over 20 miles of man-made tunnels, dug over a period of 8,000 years. The caves were dug for chalk used in lime burning and brick making as well as for flints to fire tinderboxes and flintlock guns. Munitions were stored for the Woolwich Arsenal in the First World War and then mushrooms were grown there in the 1920 and 1930s. Later, during the Second World War it was used as an air-raid shelter protecting over 15,000 people every night during the Blitz.

A psychedelic flyer for The Prisoners

The caves were used as a music venue from the 1950s when the South London Jazz Club organised concerts featuring Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Humphrey Littleton and skiffle from acts such as Lonnie Donegan. During the 1960s acts playing here included: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and The Spencer Davis Group. Led Zeppelin hired the Caves in 1974 for the lavish launch party of their Swansong record label when Roy Harper, John Chilton's Feetwarmers and George Melly played to an audience including Bad Company, The Pretty Thing, Bob Harris and Marianne Faithfull along with an assortment of press. The party featured drink servers wearing costumes as nuns, fire-breathers, a woman lying down in a coffin completely naked while covered in jelly, and naked male wrestlers. Health and safety issues mean that gigs can no longer take place at the Chislehurst Caves.

Caveside Close, Old Hill, Chislehurst

Earls Court Exhibition Centre

The art deco facade of Earls Court
Michael Jackson performed at the Brit Awards show here in 1996, when his stage was famously invaded by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker.

Earls Court Exhibition Centre was a major exhibition and events venue that opened in 1937 on the site of a former showground. It was used as one of the venues for both the 1948 and 2012 Olympic Games as well as the British International Motor Show, London Boat Show, the Ideal Home Show, Crufts dog show and the Royal Tournament military tattoo. The venue was also one of the largest concert arenas in the UK, with a capacity of around 19,000 and during the 1970s hosted concerts by Slade, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Queen, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

A flyer for the Spice Girls
A tragedy occurred after a four-night run by the Spice Girls incident in 1999 when a worker fell 80ft while dismantling the stage and died.

Michael Jackson performed at the Brit Awards show in 1996, when his stage was famously invaded by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker. With falling attendances and fewer events partly due to the opening of the O2 Arena in 2007, the Earls Court Exhibition Centre closed in 2014 with Bombay Bicycle Club performing the last show with guest Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd to perform Floyd's Wish You Were Here in a tribute to the venue. Demolition work commenced immediately afterwards.

Earls Court Exhibition Centre, Warwick Road

Granada, Woolwich

The art deco frontage of the building
The Granada was originally as 2,500-seat cinema.

The Granada opened in 1937 as a cinema with a seating capacity of nearly 2,500 with a lavish interior by Russian-born designer Theodore Komisarjevsky and was advertised as "The Most Romantic Theatre Ever Built".
Towards the end of the 1950s, the Granada Theatre circuit booked live stage acts often with two shows per evening. Many of the most successful acts of the time from both the UK and the USA appeared here between 1958 and 1964. These included The Crickets, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Eddie Cochran, Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Tommy Steel, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Manfred Mann, The Ronettes and at least five appearances by Gene Vincent over those years.

Yellow flyer packed with names including Terry Dene and Chas McDevitt

The Beatles played here in 1963 as part of a package tour that also included Roy Orbison and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The latter returned later that year to play another show. Ironically, these days the famous Ferry Across the Mersey that they sang about lays derelict on the River Thames less than a mile away from here.

174-186 Powis Street, Woolwich

Leyton Baths

Frontage of a 1990s built Tesco

Leyton Baths were art deco style swimming baths built in 1934. The main pool was drained and covered over for the winter months, and the hall was used for concerts, making it one of the largest dance hall venues in east London. During the 1950s there were dances with live music from big bands with bandleaders such as Ronnie Scott, Eric Delaney and John Dankworth. During the 1960s among the acts to have played the Baths were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Screaming Lord Sutch, The Troggs, Small Faces, Tom Jones, Joe Brown, and Status Quo. The Kinks played here on the day that their Kinda Kinks album was released in 1965.

Flyer for 'the fabulous Beatles'
Yes, the Beatles used to play swimming pools.

There was frequent tension at the concerts caused by a mixture of mods and bikers attending these gigs and violence often broke out between these rival groups outside the venue. Some people have suggested that the fighting is what put an end to the concerts here. Leyton Baths closed in 1991 and was demolished soon afterwards, replaced with a Tesco.

825 High Road, Leyton

Montague Arms, New Cross

The pub boarded up
Paul McCartney is said to have made an impromptu appearance here in the 1980s.

This pub was decked out with an eclectic bunch of curios from nautical gear to taxidermy including a stuffed zebra head looking out of an old horse-drawn carriage. There were signs displayed outside proclaiming 'Coaches Welcome' which always looked a little odd in this neighbourhood, but the pub had deals with cross-channel drivers as coaches full of tourists used to call in for a drink, and sometimes food, while being entertained by house band The Two Petes who were a blind keyboard player and a drummer who was also the pub owner. They had been playing there since 1970 and in their early days they released Live at the Montague Arms albums.

A live album from the Monatgue in the 1970s

Pete the owner told people that Paul McCartney once made an impromptu appearance and played a few songs in the 1980s after Jim Davidson recommended the pub to him when they met on a flight. In addition to The Two Petes, the pub hosted club nights and live music including acts such as Gang of Four, Band of Holy Joy and Anna Calvi. In 1989, the NME interviewed Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, Mark E Smith of the Fall and Nick Cave together in the Montague Arms who after a few drinks got onstage and jammed together with MacGowan on drums, Smith on guitar and Cave on the organ. In 2008 The Rough Pub Guide: A Celebration of the Great British Boozer said the Montagu Arms was the best pub in Britain.

289 Queen's Road, New Cross

Odeon, Romford

Front of the now Atik club, featuring a picture of a monkey with the quote: 'do what you are told'
On the Ziggy Stardust tour, the Romford Recorder newspaper reported that it was "a miracle no one was killed" in the frenzied teenage hysteria both inside and outside the venue.

Originally opened in 1936 as the Havana Cinema with a seating capacity of 2,500 and was renamed the Odeon in 1949. The Odeon put on several package tours from the late 1950s into the 1960s when Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Billy Fury, The Rolling Stones, The Honeycombs, Lulu and The Luvvers, The Animals, Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, Gene Vincent and The Beatles all performed at shows here.

A flyer for Cliff Richard, looking very youthful

The Bee Gees played in 1968 and the early 1970s saw concerts by Barclay James Harvest, Deep Purple, Four Tops, Detroit Spinners and David Bowie. The latter was on his Ziggy Stardust tour whereby the Romford Recorder newspaper reported that it was "a miracle no one was killed" in the frenzied teenage hysteria both inside and outside the venue. A policeman was injured in the melee as Bowie’s car drove away after the gig. The Odeon was divided up into a multi-screen cinema in 1974 which put an end to live events.

108 South Street, Romford

The Roaring Twenties Club (and many others), Soho

A shop space with windows advertising a retail opportunity

The basement of this address was the site of several live music venues. From 1936, the site was the Florence Mills Social Parlour, a combination of a restaurant, social centre and jazz club formed by political activist Marcus Garvey and calypso singer Sam Manning. In the 1940s it was the Blue Lagoon Club, allegedly a front for prostitution.  In the 1950s it was initially Club Eleven a jazz club founded by Ronnie Scott and 10 other musicians (hence the club's name), which was closed down following a police raid for drugs after only six months. It then became the Sunset Club, an all-night jazz and calypso club particularly frequented by American GIs. The Russ Henderson Steel Band, the first steel band in Britain played their first ever gig there. Trinidadian Rupert Nurse became a bandleader at the house and the venue became one of the top venues for Caribbean music in the 1950s in London — although that didn’t prevent it from going bankrupt in 1959.

A Roaring Twenties flyer for Mr Alton Eliis

The Roaring Twenties opened in 1962, and it earned a reputation as a place for Caribbean people and mods to dance to the latest imports of rhythm and blues, soul, and bluebeat/ska. Cyril Davies All-Stars played a residency in 1963 and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames played here numerous times the same year. Other acts to play over the next few years included Edwin Starr, The Original Drifters, The Links, The Coloured Raisins, Joe E Young and The Toniks and Cats Pyjamas.

The club changed its name to Columbo's in the early 1970s where Bob Marley and his entourage partied after Lyceum gigs in 1975. Columbo's closed in the early 1980s, and then it became a dance club called Ruby's until the 1990s. Today, the basement serves as part of a (currently vacant) retail unit.

50 Carnaby Street, Soho

Turnmills, Clerkenwell

The curved brick facade of the former venue
Turnmills, pre-demolition. Image: Rubberist in Creative Commons

This building on the corner of Clerkenwell Road and Turnmill Street started life as a warehouse and stables built in 1886 by the Great Northern Railway Company. The name 'Turnmill' originates from when the site was originally a mill beside the now subterranean River Fleet.

The building became a bar and a 1,000-people capacity nightclub by 1990. Turnmills was the first venue in the UK to get a 24-hour dance licence and became the home of several successful club nights which included Trade, The Gallery and Heavenly Social. Paul Oakenfold, Judge Jules, Paul van Dyk , Roger Sanchez and Frankie Knuckles were some of the acclaimed DJs who appeared here. Whilst best known for pre-recorded music Turnmills hosted some live acts especially on Get Loaded nights at which Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays made a number of DJ appearances with live performances by The Cuban Brothers, Deaf Stereo, Metro Riots, The Casuals, El Presidente, Happy Attack, The Fades and Blood Red Bird.

A jazzy flyer for 'Get Loaded'

Turnmills attracted pop stars such as Bono, Sting, Madonna, Donna Summer and Robbie Williams to party there and Michael Jackson held his 30th birthday do there after his UK Bad tour. The place wasn't always without problems such as the time gangster 'Mad' Frankie Fraser was shot outside the club in 1991.

The club's lease expired in 2008 resulting in closure, with Fatboy Slim and former resident DJs The Chemical Brothers on the decks for the closing weekend. The building was subsequently demolished and a new block containing offices has been built on the site.

63 Clerkenwell Road, Clerkenwell

London's Lost Music Venues 2, by Paul Talling, published by Damaged Goods Books, RRP £14.99

All venue images © Paul Talling, unless otherwise stated