First of all, I’d like to say a big ‘hello’ to all of the freshers at Southampton this year. Being new to the university myself, I understand how daunting it is feeling like a fish out of water. Having grown up in the surrounding areas of Southampton however, I’ve been actively involved in the local music scene over the past few years, and haven’t really had to deal with the hardships of moving to a new city. As what can be ambiguously described as a ‘music lover’, I can say with confidence that Southampton is a wonderful city for live music, but it’s all about knowing where to begin. Hopefully this article will help you to discover a few of the gems among the eclectic mix of bars, clubs and venues Southampton has to offer.
The Talking Heads
The Talking Heads is a particular favourite of mine. Located down Portswood Road, it’s only a ten-minute walk (or stumble) from Wessex Lane halls. The venue has recently started various drink offers and has a wide selection of beers and spirits. With live music on every night of the week, you’re quite likely to discover some excellent local or touring bands just by popping down. The Talking Heads is also home to Southampton’s oldest open mic night, the Candle Club, which is held every Monday and is completely free to participate in. With a lovely chilled out atmosphere, it can be a great place to go if you’re a musician wanting to try out some new material, or just a group of friends with a song that has become an in-joke (which for me would be Shaggy — ‘It Wasn’t Me’. Don’t ask if I wrote this article though, you might get an obvious answer).
Arguably Southampton’s most famous live music venue. Over the years The Joiners has played host to some of the biggest names in music, often before they were famous. The walls of this intimate venue are adorned with old gig posters and bill lists of some of the famous faces that have graced its stage, including Oasis, The Libertines and The Automatic. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a band who haven’t played here at some point or another. As well as the ‘big bands’, The Joiners also plays host to some superb local talent showcases.
I’ll keep this section brief, as I’m trying to focus on the more intimate venues around Southampton, but it has to get a mention in here! Basically, the Guildhall is the main venue for music in the city. It’s here that you’ll find the majority of ‘big gigs’ from touring bands and comedians. The Guildhall is also one of the venues that the annual NME Awards show visits. It’s no O2 Academy, but I have had some excellent nights at the Guildhall seeing some of my favourite bands in a large crowd of like-minded people.
The Cellar, formerly known as the Soul Cellar, is another personal favourite. Located near the Civic Centre, during the day this venue is a cool coffee shop with continental lagers and homemade cakes. At night The Cellar plays host to some fantastic events, including dub, ska, soul and indie nights. With the stage upstairs and a bar downstairs, The Cellar offers a bit of sanctuary for a quiet drink if you need a moment or two to rest between acts.
I’m sure some of you will already be familiar with Lennon’s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re aware that it’s also a great venue for live music. If you’ve been to Lennon’s on one of their club nights, you’ll be aware that it’s an alternative venue offering indie, ska, soul and rock. Much the same can be said of Lennon’s as a music venue. Well worth checking out!
Formerly Hamptons, Guava is a bohemian acoustic venue great for those nights when you’re not in the mood for manically fighting you’re way around clubs and bars. That said, occasionally Guava will host a variety of club nights, including a Russian discotheque evening, but more often than not it’s a place to go for some decent, chilled out acoustic music.
As synonymous with Southampton student life as Jesters, which is conveniently located next door, The Hobbit is a mainly acoustic venue that brings an alternative twist to the traditional English pub. It has a good selection of pints on tap, but is renowned for its pint cocktails — each named after characters from Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is open late and plays host to the biggest beer garden in Southampton. The music can be a bit hit-and-miss, but it usually provides a great chilled out vibe to an already fantastic pub.
The Bent Brief
This is the place the people who work at The Hobbit go because The Talking Heads just isn’t ‘alternative’ enough. Located on the the Portswood end of Lodge Road (next to the Tesco you go to get cash for Jesters), The Bent Brief regularly showcases live jazz and Irish music. It’s not the most ‘studenty’ scene, but the owner (the most Welsh man in the world) is friendly, and the live jazz is some of the best you’ll find in Southampton.
Located over by The Talking Heads, The Brook could be likened to a mini-Guildhall. Music-wise it covers a mix of everything from grimy dubstep to avant-garde acoustic, interspersed with a lot of 70s and 80s cover bands (who tend to be surprisingly decent). With a capacity of 600 it’s not small either, sometimes showing a greater turnout to gigs than the Guildhall. On the downside tickets can be Guildhall prices, and given the range of music played it does tend to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, so check out the website to make sure you know what you’re going to see well in advance.
Don’t get us wrong, there are some brilliant venues we’ve had to miss out in this article and a few we probably haven’t even heard of, but the aim was to compile a list of the best venues to help you guys get started on finding your musical footing in the city of Southampton. They are all well worth checking out, but we’re sure you will all find a few of your own niche music venues during your time here, the best thing to do is keep an ear out. Happy hunting!