Music guide to Britain


For decades, British music has taken the world by storm. Artists like The Beatles, Queen, and Genesis entertain millions of people and their songs are still frequently played on the radio. Even in recent years, the number of musical talents coming from Great Britain shows no sign of slowing down with musicians such as Ed Sheeran, Adele and Calvin Harris dominating the pop music scene. For every music fan visiting Britain we have produced a music guide to some of the biggest cities, so you can get closer than ever to your favourite bands.

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London has a population of more than 8.6 million people. For nearly 100 years, until 1925, London was the world’s largest city. More than 300 different languages are spoken in the diverse city, which is reflected in its multicultural food and music offerings.

Did you know? The very first Hard Rock Café opened 46 years in Piccadilly in London. Since then the chain has expanded to more than 50 cities around the globe.

Famous musicians: Legendary bands such as The Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Queen were founded in London, the undoubted music capital of the UK. From Adele and The Clash, to Phil Collins, to David Bowie and Led Zeppelin, dozens of bands and musicians had their beginnings in the streets of the capital.

Where to visit: The Roundhouse in London is a familiar name to just about every music lover. The former train shed in Camden has hosted gigs by some of history’s most iconic artists including Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. The venue shows no sign of stopping today, with free iTunes concerts often held there.

London’s famous nightlife is also loved by musicians. Love Me Like You Do singer Ellie Goulding has been known to party at the Library Bar in Shoreditch House after having a meal at Mildred’s in Soho. In case you don’t run into any celebrities on your night out there is always Madame Tussauds where you can really rub shoulders with the A-listers.

Thanks to The Beatles and their legendary Abbey Road album cover, a pedestrian crossing on a normal London road is one of the biggest tourist attractions for music fans. The zebra crossing is just outside the Abbey Road studios, where the four musicians recorded many of their albums, so it is a perfect photo opportunity for every Beatles fan.

Transport yourself back to the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when London was the music and fashion capital of the world and visit the Handel and Hendrix House where the talented guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived in the upstairs flat from 1968 to 1969.

Events: Several music festivals, including the Wireless Festival, South West Four, Lovebox, and Hyde Park's British Summer Time are held in London.

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Manchester was the world's first major industrialised city, due to a boom in textile manufacture during the industrial revolution. The city has one of the busiest indoor arenas in the world in terms of ticket sales for concerts and shows.

Did you know? In the early 90s the British music press started referring to the Manchester music scene as ‘Madchester’. The music of the time mixed alternative rock, psychedelic rock and electronic dance music. Famous bands associated with the Madchester genre are The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

Famous musicians: Manchester was the birthplace for several successful international bands and musicians such as Oasis, Take That, the Bee Gees and Simply Red. During the 70s and 80s, the city was also a hot spot for post punk and new wave music, with bands like Joy Division and The Smiths hailing from the area.

Where to visit: The legendary Hacienda was the most famous venue in the town in the mid-80s - Madonna made her first British appearance in the club. Over the years, the Hacienda hosted early appearances by notable bands such as The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, and Inspiral Carpets, as well as many emerging dance music acts. The club closed in the late 90s, but the Museum of Science and Industry exhibits several artefacts from the venue. Pop star Olly Murs is known to be a Manchester United supporter, so at the team’s ground of Old Trafford you might catch a glimpse of the Dear Darlin’ singer.

Events: The city holds the annual Parklife festival right in the centre of town every June. In past years, musical acts such as Ice Cube and The Chemical Brothers have rocked the crowds. Just an hour’s train ride away from Manchester, the massive Leeds Festival gets going in August. Previous line-ups have included famous bands such as Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Muse. Leeds is also home to the indie rock band Kaiser Chiefs.

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Liverpool’s foundations date back to 1207, when he industrial revolution turned the Merseyside harbour into a thriving city and a centre for cultural and commercial exchanges. The legacy of this period is evident in Liverpool’ one time slogan, The world in one city.

Liverpool’s county, Merseyside, is in the North-West of England and gives the name to the music genre Merseybeat, a mix of pop and rock which originated in the 1960s thanks to bands from this region.

Did you know? On the 9th of October 1940, during a WWII air raid, John Lennon was born in Liverpool, the same city where he later founded The Beatles.

Recently, Liverpool was nominated as the World Capital City of Pop. Its musicians have produced 56 number one hits in the UK, more than any other city in the world.

Famous musicians: Liverpool’s most celebrated sons are of course The Beatles, but the city also gave birth to seminal artists Gerry and The Pacemakers and Billy Fury, as well as more recently, The Wombats and Rebecca Ferguson.

Where to visit: While in the area you have to visit the Beatles Story museum, the largest exhibition devoted to the band, where visitors can listen to the story of the Fab Four, admire John’s unforgettable round glasses, and take a look at George’s first guitar. 

The longest surviving orchestra in the UK, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has its home in this this art-deco building, with a programme featuring everything from pop to comedy, during the year.

The British Music Experience in the Cunard Building, is a wonderful music attraction which allows visitors to experience the history of British music in an interactive experience.

Events: Liverpool International Music Festival is Europe’s biggest free music event. Taking place every summer in Sefton Park, it features the city’s best talents and popular artists from outside Liverpool. 

Liverpool is also home to the largest celebration of live African music in Britain, Africa Oye. The festival is free and attracts more than 50,000 people.

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Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and has a rich cultural legacy. Belfast was a major city in the Industrial Revolution and remained a manufacturing power until the second half of the 20th century.

Did you know? An incredible number of musicians have written songs about or dedicated to Belfast, including U2, Snow Patrol, Elton John, Paul Muldoon, Nanci Griffith, Orbital, The Police, Spandau Ballet, and Simple Minds. The incredibly popular song Stairway to Heaven was first played by Led Zeppelin in Belfast and at the time because people didn’t know the song, most of them took advantage of it to go to the bar for a break.

Famous musicians: The most important musician from Belfast is Van Morrison, known worldwide for songs like Brown Eyed Girl and Moondance. During the 70s and 80s, Belfast punk band Stiff Little Fingers saw success writing songs about the conflicts in the city.

Where to visit: The Oh Yeah Music Centre, situated in a former whiskey warehouse, attracts international names as well as local Northern Irish talents. It hosts a performance space, rehearsal rooms, and a song writing room. It also documents the history of music in Northern Ireland, with audio-visual displays of many artists.

Home to the Ulster Orchestra, Northern Ireland's only full-time symphony orchestra, Ulster Hall had a fundamental role in the film Good Vibrations about the impact of punk on the region.

Events: Sonorities is an annual music festival held in different venues around Belfast, where you can experience digital music, sound art, videos and installation pieces. The festival specialises in imaginative, contemporary stagings of musical expression. 
Blues on the Bay takes place in Warrenpoint over five days and features international blues and jazz performances, as well as jam sessions and workshops. 
Belsonic is an outdoor music festival which has taken place every August since 2008. It has hosted superstar dance acts such as The Chemical Brothers and Tiësto.

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Birmingham is in the West Midlands region and is the largest city in England outside of London. Like Liverpool, the music scene in Birmingham had a golden period in the 60s and produced great artists across different musical genres from classical to heavy metal and reggae.

Did you know? One of the most distinctive music venues outside of London was Mothers Club in Erdington, Birmingham. It was voted the number one rock venue in the world by America's Billboard magazine in 1969 and 1970. The club closed in 1971.

Famous musicians: The most celebrated band of England’s second city has to be Black Sabbath. However, it’s also home to UB40, Duran Duran, Judas Priest, The Streets and many others.

Where to visit: Symphony Hall is home to the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and is one of the best concert venues in the world. The sound in the venue is world class, with acoustic tests proving that the sound of a pen dropping on stage can be heard from any place in the Symphony Hall.   

Birmingham Hippodrome is not only the home stage of the Birmingham Royal Ballet group, it is also a popular spot to catch the latest musicals. There are a range of music venues to choose from, from big arenas such as the Barclaycard Arena to see world famous artists, to smaller venues such as the O2 Academy for gigs.

Events: There are several festivals in July including the Jazz Funk & Soul festival, Birmingham and Solihull Jazz & Blues Festival, and the very popular MADE festival. 
If you don’t have time to go to a concert, Heavy metal fans should head to Birmingham’s number one rock bar Tunnel Club, while reggae aficionados will feel at home at PST (People Stand Together). 

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Cardiff is the largest city and the capital of Wales. The city has seen Welsh, Latin, Norse and Norman French all in common use throughout history. Before the First World War, its harbour became the busiest in the world.

Did you know? Spiller’s record shop in Cardiff dates from 1894 and is the world’s oldest record store. Here you can find records from genres like jazz, metal, soul, and of course a lot of Welsh music. Wales is traditionally known as “The Land of Song”, since music has always been a large part of the culture in the country. From the popular male voice choirs, the Eisteddfods, to icons like Shirley Bassey, to crowds of patriotic fans singing at the rugby, the Welsh are known for their passionate singing voices.

Famous musicians: The most famous singer from Wales is Tom Jones, who has been performing since the 1960s. Other important musicians from the region are the Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, and Donna Lewis.

Where to visit: Wales Millennium Centre is Wales’ largest and most prestigious arts centre. It hosts the Welsh National Opera and has six performance spaces, where a mixture of concerts take place, from symphonic music to male voice choirs. The WNO aims to make opera accessible to everyone and its program includes classics, but also new productions. 

For alternative events, Clwb Ifor Bach regularly hosts hip-hop and rap performances and emerging bands and is one of the most popular club in Cardiff’s underground music scene. Anyone who likes rock, indie and punk will find something they’ll like.

Events: Monmouth Festival is one of the biggest European free festivals, playing host to a wide range of genres from rock and ska to classical, indie, blues and folk. It also acts as a springboard for newcomers and takes place on the border between England and Wales, not far from Cardiff. Festival Number 6 takes place each September in Portmeirion, a town built in the style of an Italian village. It features rock, pop, classical music, choirs and book readings, as well as carnivals, comedians, and street food. 

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As Scotland's premier music city with a major influence on Britain's indie scene, Glasgow is an UNESCO City of Music, with many famous music venues having a story to tell about well-known Glaswegian musicians, past and present.

Did you know? Glasgow was named the UK's fourth "most musical" city by PRS for Music, it is also the most mentioned city in the UK in song titles, outside of London.

Famous musicians: Some of the city’s most famous exports include Calvin Harris, Franz Ferdinand and Paolo Nutini, as well as indie royalty like The Pastels, Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Annie Lennox, The Cocteau Twins, Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Garbage.

Where to visit: The Royal Concert Hall, the city's much-loved music venue hosts many acts, specialising in a range of world music. 

The SSE Hydro honours ‘music of black origin’, having hosted the MOBO Awards in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016, as well as the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2014.

For classical music, The Theatre Royal is the home of Scottish Opera. For dance music, the Sub Club, a haven for house music lovers, has been at the centre of dance music in Glasgow for the past 25 years.

Events: The annual Celtic Connections Festival (January-February) features local and international musicians and attracts fans from all over the world.

See the best young Scottish talents and famous late-night jams at the five-day International Jazz Festival (June-July).

Try your hand at piping at Castle Bagpipes’ annual Edinburgh Piping and Drumming Summer School, with classes and workshops for all ages and abilities, as part of the World Pipe Band Championships (August).

Discover Islay Jazz Festival (September), situated on an island 70 miles west of Glasgow, with gumbo groups and brass bands playing at traditional whisky distilleries. Perthshire Amber Acoustic Festival (November) is only an hour away by train from Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

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Newcastle is located in the North East of England. It's known as one of the best places in Britain for nightlife, with a diverse, bustling scene, home to countless bars and clubs with something for everyone to enjoy.

Did you know? Jimi Hendrix was discovered in New York in 1966 by Geordie music producer Chas Chandler, who brought him back to Newcastle. Some residents still recall seeing him busk on Heaton’s Chillingham Road.

Famous musicians: Newcastle has produced famous musicians and bands such as Sting, Cheryl Cole and the Animals.

Where to visit: The Cluny, one of the city’s best venues, attracts high-quality indie and Americana acts from all over the world. Situated in Newcastle’s trendy Ouseburn Valley, the building is also a professional recording studio loved by local bands and pop acts like Beverley Knight.

World Headquarters throws the friendliest raves in town, and across the river in Gateshead is Sage Gateshead, a spectacular Norman Foster designed building which hosts a varied mix of music of all descriptions.

Events: Gateshead International Jazz Festival (March-April) is Britain’s largest jazz festival, with everything all under one roof at Sage Gateshead, bringing together jazz artists from across the globe.

Later in the year, Gateshead also hosts the SummerTyne Americana Festival (July). Celebrating the sounds of American roots music, the festival will welcome back stars from the world of classic country and blues, tex-mex, southern soul and americana, plus cajun and bluegrass over the course of a weekend.