Winning tip: Don’t listen politely, Granada, Spain

If you go to a touristy flamenco venue in Granada, the performances will be good quality but the audience, made up of foreign visitors, is likely to be flat. Flamenco should be participatory, and foreign audiences watch too politely and silently. Vimaambi is an artists’ association on the edge of the Sacromonte district. The cellar-like venue hosts weekend flamenco shows featuring young talent. The walls have local art, and the bar sells homemade empanadas. Vimaambi attracts tourists, but also members of the association, performers and local residents. You are surrounded by flamenco: audience members will join in with the palmas (clapping), or get on stage. It is an experience, not a show.
Sarah Collings

Bands on the run, Vilnius, Lithuania

Photograph: Lunatikai

Lukiškės Prison has a grim history of incarceration and executions under the Soviet regime, closed in 2019, but has now been transformed into an arts venue, and hosts a variety of artists including singers, musicians, painters and dancers, who are all able to rent former cells as studios. The beautiful period features remain, including the original stained-glass and tiled chapel, which has fantastic acoustics. It’s a great place for catching the best emerging local bands along with well-curated international festivals in a truly unique atmosphere.
Jacob McKnight

Jamming in Montmartre, Paris

Place du Tertre, Montmartre, Paris.
Babi-ilo is a short walk from Place du Tertre (pictured). Photograph: dennisvdw/Getty Images

Accordions may have serenaded you in Place du Tertre, or chilled buskers may have played blues by the Sacré-Coeur, but the best musical secret of Montmartre can be found at the foot of the hill. Bab-ilo, a tiny, perfectly formed jazz club, hides in a backstreet between launderettes and cafes, but its lineup is just as eclectic as its famous neighbourhood. Sundays are Brazilian jamming sessions, Wednesday might see experimental Norwegian jazz, but weekends are when Bab-ilo makes its biggest impact: glorious, intimate music where the locals indulge.
Rosy Jones

Musical roots, Brussels

Centre culturel Le Botanique
Photograph: Alamy

Le Botanique is set among the lush plants and greenhouses in the city’s former botanical gardens. It has three separate halls: the Orangerie (main hall), the Witloof Bar (down in the cellars where chicory was accidentally invented, Belgian endive is witloof in Dutch) and my absolute favourite, intimate music venue La Rotonde. This circular hall underneath the dome only holds 300 people when standing and as the floor consists of steps, you feel like you’re on the stage. The acoustics and general vibe are supreme.

Oozes atmosphere, Galashiels, Scottish Borders

MacArts, Galashiels, Scotland

My favourite music venue has to be MacArts in Galashiels. Housed in an old church building it oozes atmosphere and the staff are always friendly and welcoming. I’ve been to some epic gigs here, including Jah Wobble, psychedelic punk rock band The Lovely Eggs and Edinburgh band The Rezillos, and they have had the warmest crowds and a real intimate feel due to the grassroots vibe of the place. Best place for a night out in this area and a real asset to the Borders. And it’s easy to get to on the train from Edinburgh.


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Music for young and old, New Cross, London

New Cross Inn, London

The New Cross Inn is an institution – you’ll find 80-year-old metalheads and 18-year-old Goldsmiths students sharing a table and enjoying some great local indie beers. Always a fun night, without being genre specific – although their punk and ska nights are my fave – and the place is fiercely independent.

It’s a YES for Manchester

Black Country, New Road perform at YES.
Black Country, New Road perform at YES. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

YES means four floors of Manchester bliss, a hub for creatives and a space everyone can enjoy. The venue is all about discovering emerging talents, and at a fiver for four bands, it’s great value. With a basement and a larger space, the Pink Room, there’s opportunity for bands of all genres to showcase their music. It’s a place you want to keep going back to so you can feel the buzz, feel the excitement and the community YES has built.

One for the future, Birkenhead, Merseyside

Future Yard Birkenhead
Cafe/bar at Future Yard. Photograph: Robin Clewley

When thinking of an independent venue what springs to mind? Supporting grassroots musicians, hosting worldwide talent and working with the local community? Well, Future Yard in Birkenhead ticks all of those boxes, plus it’s beautifully decked out (literally – outside is made of pallet decking), the food is delicious and the place seems to genuinely care about artists and its local community, while being a welcoming home for touring musicians. It offers training in sound engineering for local youngsters, and has a rehearsal room downstairs to help foster local talent. A true gem that’s imperative to help the cultural sector recover.

No longer devoid, Grimsby

A member of October Drift performs on the bar at Docks Academy.
A member of October Drift performs on the bar at Docks Academy. Photograph: Gary Stafford/Alamy

Docks Academy in Grimsby is a shining beacon for independent grassroots music venues. Grimsby has been a culturally devoid town for decades, which has saddened me since my teenage years in the town. Since moving away, I have worked at a lot of venues and festivals from 300 capacity to 30,000 and can honestly say there are few better 300-cap venues anywhere in the country. Its run by an amazing team who care so much about putting back in to the community and is attracting acts way above its league as well as supporting great local talent.

Under threat, Sheffield

Daði Freyr performing at The Leadmill
Daði Freyr performing at The Leadmill Photograph: Myles Wright/ZUMA Press

Sheffield’s legendary Leadmill venue has an uncertain future, sadly. It has such a rich history and many families in this part of the world have attended gigs there going back through generations. My parents saw Green Day here in 1994, for example. Somehow, despite a largish a capacity of 900, at the Leadmill you still have that very intimate feel as if you were in a room with just the bands themselves. How they can consider closing this historic landmark is beyond belief … #wecantloseleadmill
Brad Whitmore

Please use the comments to tell us about music venues you’ve discovered on your travels – whether you saw an indie band; hip hop, funk, folk or jazz gig; or classical recital

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