Nottingham is a fabulous city for live music. Alongside the more sizable venues, there are tons of gems hidden up gloomy twitchells and wonky staircases. This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are a few local favourites of the DIY music scene situated in or close to the city centre (in no particular order).
A former fruit & veg warehouse turned DIY music & arts space, JT Soar is prolific and brilliant. It is based just off Sneinton Marketplace, a few minutes walk from Hockley. The focus is no-frills, all about the music, so it’s bring-your-own-booze too, which makes it affordable and affable. One of the most intimate venues in Notts, it’s like being in someone’s garage. As such they attract great bands with small followings and the atmosphere is always very homely. Their facebook page is the best spot for up to date gig listings, but if you avoid that particular goliath of the internet you can find all their gig listings (and many others around Notts) on Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Tumblr.
Based in the old Nottingham Irish Centre on Wilford Street towards the railway station end of town, the venue now known as the I Club has been reinvented as a nightclub and music venue complete with adjacent dubplate cutting studio & record shop Plates (ed. UPDATE! The fabulous Plates have now moved into the basement of the Malt Cross). The I Club is fast becoming one of the best venues in Notts for independently minded music in the small hours. It hosts the likes of Mr. Scruff, Nightmares on Wax, and Highness Sound System – Nottingham’s legendary roots & reggae sound system which takes place at the likes of Alley Cafe & Bodega Social too. While it features big names in the scene, The I Club is also a great spot for grassroots events with local DJs and promoters such as Plates and Mimm regularly curating nights.
The Chameleon is a bit of a stalwart in the Nottingham DIY scene, it’s been going for years and has closed and re-opened a few times. While it’s located off the Market Square, it’s situated both up a dark alleyway and a wonky staircase. In fact, half the charm (and terror) of the Chameleon is it’s likeness to the Funhouse at Goose Fair. Based over two floors, everything feels a little out-of-perspective and the upper floor – where the bands play and the crowd gathers – seems to bow in the middle as though at any moment it might give. Add to that the cash-and-carry nature of the bar and the crammed-in-as-an-after-thought toilets and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed good time. But I say all this with the utmost affection, the events hosted by the Chameleon over the years I’ve been going have been utterly brilliant. A truly open-minded venue without airs and hipster graces, music featured is pretty eclectic with shoegaze, electronica, and post-punk cropping up on a regular basis. Once again, facebook is the best place for listings, or you can find them on Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?.
A slightly more recent venue in the making, the Lofthouse is based on the top floor of an old building on Warser Gate in Hockley. It’s a fair climb to the top and in the heat of summer it is hotter than a post-gig drummer’s sweaty armpit, but you will be richly rewarded for your hike and the heat of summer so rarely visits Nottingham anyway. The Lofthouse is a multi-use arts space and is run by social enterprise Greenshoots, so it’s community minded and your pennies are going to a good cause. The venue has big windows, with lots of light and views through the rooftops over Hockley. Local collective, I’m Not From London, put on a fair few gigs here with local bands and artists, alongside other orgs.
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Jamcafe, I think many people do. A very continental cafe bar on Heathcote Street in Hockley, it can be fabulous and claustrophobically pretentious in equal measure. The folks that run it are great, the food is great, a ton of great local bands have raised the roof there and it’s a place to gravitate to late in the evening. But it gets hugely cramped in there, it can feel a little cliquey at times (I once saw a woman wearing a sack, an actual sack) and some of the music – mostly jazz and blues-based bands – can be a bit hit and miss. All the same, every decent city should have a place like Jamcafe, somewhere you can turn up at on whim knowing that something fairly interesting will be going down. And that’s why it makes this list.
I’m not sure how ‘lesser known’ the Malt Cross is these days since it’s expansion into the caves and the attention it’s garnered as a tourist attraction. Still it’s worth a mention anyway, as one of the few remaining Victorian music halls in the country, that still hosts bands on its mezzanine stage which can be viewed from the ground floor or the balcony. Hidden away on St James’ Street near the Market Square through a fairly ordinary looking doorway into a fabulous airy space with an arching glass ceiling. Music tends to fall along the lines of shoegaze, contemporary folk, and jazz, relaxing stuff to accompany drinks with friends.
Hockley’s favourite destination point for all things tea also hosts some pretty good gigs. While some fall under the umbrella of what you’d expect from a hip city tea shop – spoken word nights and nu-folk ponderings – I’d like to give it a mention for the more experimental, acquired taste gigs that happen in the basement, particularly those run by Church of Sound. The acoustics in the basement aren’t fabulous, granted, but the venue makes up for it in charm and atmosphere.
Stuck on a Name is slightly further on into Sneinton’s warehousey bit from JT Soar. This makes it a bit more awkward to find, along with the entrance being through (if I remember correctly) an unmarked door, and up a flight of metal stairs. But this adds to the feeling you’re attending a real back-room gig. Like JT Soar, it also functions as a recording studio and practice space and has a bring-your-own-booze policy. It’s slightly larger, and slightly less charming than JTS, but nonetheless possesses all the grimy charm you’d hope for in a lesser known gig spot. Music tends to be more of the heavy variety – post-punk, hardcore, metal and everything in between.
Honourable mentions also go to Alley Cafe, The Maze, Spanky’s, The Old Angel, Bunker’s Hill and The Running Horse. For a range of underground gig listings, see Why Can’t We Just All Get Along? or check individual social media pages.
Kirsty Fox, writer, social entrepreneur & local gig groupie