On Friday evenings from June until September the Apéros Urbains offer after-work apéritifs outdoors and music to unwind to. The venue changes each week, giving you the excuse to explore a new area of Brussels. On 24 June the 100th edition will take place in the Bois de la Cambre, and later there will be the 15 July appearance at Bruxelles-les-Bains (open 1 July - 7 August). True, the Brussels canal is certainly not Paris Plage, but curiosity may still get the better of me this year!
Attendance at the Apéros varies somewhat according to the location and most importantly what the weather is like, but they can be very popular. Note that if it's raining, it will all be called off ...
The best gigs are not always the ones you’re looking forward to the most. They’re not necessarily the ones you’ve booked months in advance, paid a fortune for, in that big hi-tech super-venue across town. No, the best gigs are always the ones that catch you unawares, when and where you least expect it. The venue might not be renowned for its acoustics, or its pedigree, but nonetheless, against the odds, it provides in spades. Forever that gig, that night, that place will hold a special place in your heart.
Doyles Pub in Dublin is across the street from my alma mater, Trinity College. Popular with the great unwashed student population, on a Friday or Saturday night the upstairs bar, with its unassuming decor of wooden floorboards and faded velvet-topped stools, becomes thronged for the indie-disco that surely defies health and safety regulations. But come to the same spot on a Tuesday for the Ruby Sessions, and that dance floor will now host a series of higgledy-piggeldy tables and chairs, in front of a faded curtain that has provided the backdrop for some truly memorable acoustic gigs. My “I-saw-them-first” moment was here in November 2008, when in front of about 40 people, I witnessed Mumford and Sons knock the socks off the gathered crowd, PA systems be damned. It’s a testament to the organisers and the gig-going faithful that there is never any need for bells and whistles up here. All you need is a common ethos: put the music first and nothing else matters.
Amazing, smoky little jazz bar. Live bands all night, every night since the 70s and entrance is free. The venue is recognised alongside Preservation Hall (New Orleans) as a World Jazz Hotspot. The main man behind the bar is amazingly friendly - he even remembered us when we came in the second night and asked the band to play us a special song. Fantastic atmosphere, great fresh kolsch, the chance of catching some big jazz names and all the peanuts you can eat!
Notorious is an intimate music venue that captures the heart and passion of Buenos Aires. This treasure is tucked in the back of a CD shop in the Recoleta district of the city. We went to hear a jazz trio one night and were knocked out by the experience. The musicians were hot; the music was original; the food (it's also a restaurant) was fantastic and the service was both friendly and efficient. What more could you want? We were so impressed that before we left we booked to hear another group two nights later. If you like to listen to music (jazz, blues, tango, latin) played with passion, Notorious is the place.
As the sun rests easily on your shoulders and unhurried tanned bodies pass by, you might pause on the boulevard to watch the breakdancers show their moves. Then on to the white beach where you can already hear the soulful strains of a live reggae band. Later on a crowd will gather around the stage; a sea of bright faces freed from care. As the sun sets and the colourful beer flows, you can get lost in this place that comes alive for two months of the year. Enveloped in darkness you can still see the stars and the glint of the Baltic as the music soothes you. This is why in Poland they say “to nasza Kalifornia przez 2 miesiace”: “it’s our California for two months”.
The Waldbühne is an open air concert venue in Berlin holding 23000 people. It is a natural amphitheatre and great for summer outdoor concerts. I went to my first concert there on the 26th of June 1986 aged 11, to see Queen on their magic tour. Looking back now it was a great privilege to see Queen with Freddie Mercury, for my first concert. I do remember that the security is very tight when it comes to taking bottles into the venue, so don't waste your money trying to take booze in with you. I lived two minutes walk from the venue at the time, however it is easily accessible by public transport, even if you are staying in the centre of Berlin. I have been to many concerts in venues and nothing comes close to a balmy summer evening watching a band at the Waldbühne. I would recommend planning a visit to Berlin around a band you like.
Waldbühne, Am Glockenturm, 14053 Berlin
+49 30 74 73 75 00
Google map: bit.ly/jtb7t6
The Bunker is a fantastic gritty underground bar and live music venue in the heart of Chemnitz in Saxony, East Germany. Chemnitz is a city awash with a grim architectural grey which effortlessly fuses utilitarian communist era concrete blocks with the heartless new town chic which has afflicted countless modern European cities. But I was lucky enough to be staying with friends from the city when I visited and beneath the cold exterior (it was winter as well), there were pockets of life seething with energy. While there, nothing captured this energy better than the Bunker. We went on a cold, rainy night. As you approach the club, you descend from the surface of the city to the inconspicuous, unassuming front entrance, surrounded by oppressive concrete blocks and iron grills - it could be an underpass. But once in, the underground lair was warm and inviting, the genuine thing and an actual former bunker, with low curving ceilings creating a wonderful higgledy-piggledy array of nooks and crannies tumbling away from the central room and bar used for the live shows. It was sweaty, claustrophobic, edgy and smoky and a great place to jump around to bands, DJs and music I'd not heard before. It was one of the great nights which made one of my odder European city getaways. I don't know if the smoking ban is enforced yet but it does continue to be a regular venue for regular live music (see last.fm for listings) and I'd heavily recommend it to anyone who has the dubious pleasure of passing through Chemnitz.
Rosenplatz 7, 09126 Chemnitz, Germany
Google map: bit.ly/jJz7DU
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the world's most incredible galleries, not known as a live music venue.
However if you go at 9pm on a Saturday evening in the summertime (when the gallery has late night opening), the windows are all open, the tourists have all gone, the cruise ships have set sail, you have the place to yourself.
The windows are all open to allow the summer breeze in and the live music being played by string quartets busking in the square below fills the rooms, making it one of the most amazing - unexpected - live music venues I have ever experienced.
Rough Trade East is an independent record store situated just off Brick Lane in east London. They frequently host in-store gigs for artists predominantly from the indie scene and those still emerging.
I like these gigs because they are small and I can always manage to get to right to the front, just a few centimetres from my favourite band, while being able to see them properly - something I rarely experience at other gigs. After their performance we can meet the artist and get a signed album/single.
Each an every gig is like a once in a life time opportunity and you never forget them!
There's nowhere quite like the Jazz Cafe when it comes to music gigs. I love the intimacy of the venue and how close you feel to the performers.
Ancienne Belgique or 'AB' as it is most commonly referred to is a concert hall in the heart of Brussels. Boasting excellent acoustics, it is often used for live recordings. Its prime location and its intimate surroundings make it the venue of choice for big names who want to avoid stadium crowds.
It's a great music venue and also hosts a wide variety of shows and events from philosophy and comedy to mountain bike films. My favourite ever show was by Joshua Radin. The club is small but has a great atmosphere and even serves hot chocolate!
The Swedish American Hall is a venue above the Cafe Du Nord on Market Street. Built in 1907, the grand ballroom was a speakeasy during Prohibition and still has its old decor. Fold-down seats make it feel a little like school assembly, but the hall has great acoustics and provides good sized folk and rock concerts at a reasonable price.
Gala Hala is 10 to 15 minute's walk from the beautiful historic center of Ljubljana - but quite a contrast.
Located in a less touristy area of town among graffiti-covered buildings, the cosy venue is oriented toward punk rock, metal and ska, and also hosts hip-hop and dub nights. Visitors over the years have included The Toasters and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes as well as small European bands.
In the summer you can enjoy the larger outdoor stage (Letni oder Gala Hala) and drink a well-priced lager under the stars while chatting with friendly locals.
On the buzzing Rue Faubourg Saint-Denis, this bar is a lively and fun local. It's opposite the now uber-trendy Chez Jeanette, but offers a much more chilled out and party atmosphere than its neighbour. And much friendlier staff! Prices are reasonable, the music is great and you can even order a curry from the many Indian restaurants in Passage Brady next to door and have it served to you in the bar!
Always packed with young locals, this is the bar (and street) that the dispels the myth that Paris's nightlife is dead.
46 Rue Faubourg St Denis, 75010, Paris
+33(0)1 44 79 06 42
Google map: bit.ly/kR5Gkd
A jazz festival set in a Unesco Heritage site is a truly memorable experience: live music, amazing architecture and the atmosphere that only the Brazilian public can offer - engaging even for those who are not big fans of jazz.
This yearly festival happens every September, and fills the hilly and winding streets of this remarkable town with music from around the world.
The Barrowland Ballroom is a hot, sweaty venue with a low ceiling which is virtually unchanged since the ballroom was rebuilt in 1960. It has excellent acoustics and a sprung dance floor (because of its original role as a ballroom) and is just the best place to see live bands. Although its capacity is limited to just under 2,000 it attracts big name bands because of the fantastic atmosphere - a reason it has remained popular with the punters for 50+ years. Have a look at the 1983 video of Simple Minds' single Waterfront, which was filmed there.
If you're in Glasgow check out who's playing in the local paper and go along if you can. Have a drink in the Saracen's Head pub, opposite, to sample the full flavour of a Glasgow night out!
Encompassing the best of contemporary Parisian culture, this great music venue was the staging ground for my initiation into Paris nightlife. Nestled between the Seine and the urban sprawl of north east Paris this venue caters to a young, arty crowd. In the day the Point Ephemere acts as a gallery showcasing installation art and photography. However, my girlfriend and I stumbled upon this place at night at which point the venue kicks into a higher gear letting rip with some of the best dance and electro music in Paris. We got down to a live set from Freestylers and witnessed a blistering gig with a frenzied crowd that was less propelled by booze and more energized by the atmosphere and people around them. For lovers of big beats, an electric atmosphere and friendly crowds the Point Ephemere is a must and should be your first stop on a night out in Paris.
The setting for the Norwegian Wood rock festival in Oslo, Norway is absolutely perfect for live music. It takes place in a natural amphitheatre in parkland in Frognerbadet ("the Frogner Baths"). Only 8000 tickets are sold for each day of the festival, and thanks to the grassy slopes of the amphitheatre, every person has a tremendous view of the stage. Even up the back you feel like you're at an intimate show. The lineup is often conservative - this year it's Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and The Eagles, with the lone rebellious figure of Patti Smith. Past highlights have included Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, the Foo Fighters and Iggy Pop. Frognerbadet is also right next to the astounding Vigeland's park - 80 acres of amazing sculpture by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland.
"I want some culture / Never mind the cheese / I just wanna hear music / And originality / I want some culture / Never mind the TV / Just wanna hear music / Down at the 303..."
And so with these lyrics began my quest to track down this must-see live music venue in trendy Northcote, north Melbourne. These are the opening lines of a song called "Down at the 303" by Melbourne's most famous sons, The Cat Empire, a band who my Australian wife had introduced me to over here in grey old England when we were a-courtin'. And I fell in love with her, and with the band. And with Melbourne, though I'd never been there. No matter, my wife and I arranged our wedding and honeymoon so I could see it. We got married in Australia, on the Gold Coast, then flew down to Melbourne for the honeymoon. And I fell in love again. It was July, winter time, totally out of season, but I loved it. The sun shone, it rained, it hailed, all on the same tram ride through town. And on our last night in Melbourne, we made it down to the 303.
Barely noticeable on High Street, Northcote, they don't really even have a sign outside, but it's identifiable as being next door to the Northcote Social Club.
We walked in, my heart pounding. An intimate, cosy bar upstairs, low lighting, and conspiratorial chats between young lovers. We got a drink. We moved downstairs to the venue. It was heaving, and sweaty. Some of the quietest, most beautiful live music I've ever heard was being played by a band I've now forgotten the name of. But there was no hustle or bustle, no angry, angsty pushing and shoving. Everyone was sat cross-legged on the floor. My wife and I joined them, rubbing knees with smiling strangers. It was a beautiful evening.
The Cat Empire's song (see youtube link below) is about the joy of seeing a local band in a small, local, intimate venue. It's about getting out there and finding the girl of your dreams at the gig of a lifetime, not sitting at home watching TV, not listening to cheese.
"Music is for living/ Yes, music is essential/ Music should take risks and be experimental/ In the cultchaaaa!!!"
Go check it out, go find the life of your dreams.
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