5 Of The Best Acoustic Nights In The UK
So you like acoustic music?
Live acoustic music has always been popular in England and the rest of the UK! This ‘best of’ list compiles some of the greatest places to soak up under-the-radar and up-and-coming live music of the acoustic variety. Of course this is all just in my own experience, my name’s Chris Tavener, I am a satirical folk musician who has toured the UK on multiple occasions.
What is an acoustic night?
When I describe an acoustic night, I’m talking about a regular evening of pre-booked acoustic artists in a line up that allows the audience to hear a full set of their material. Although it’s not a rule to play original music at any of these examples I’ve listed, the acoustic night most often appeals to songwriters and to audiences who want to enjoy a musical artist getting comfortable on stage, putting on a full performance.
Indeed, that is the central appeal of an acoustic night. It’s not an open mic where you’ll play two songs and barely get yourself warmed up; but it’s also not a headline show where you’ll have to spend three months selling tickets to your friends so they can show up and eat out of the palms of your hands. No, the acoustic night is for music lovers who want to experience acts who have thought about their musical craft and honed it into a performance.
So in no particular order, here we go!
The Gaslight Club, Oporto, Leeds – Mondays, 8pm approx
Inspired by New York’s Greenwich Village where performers like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and James Taylor would play their earliest performances, the Gaslight Club at Oporto is named after one of the most famous acoustic night venues of them all, The Gaslight Cafe. Like its namesake, the Gaslight Club is a hub for the best acoustic music, not just in Leeds, but from all over the country.
On Monday evenings, the large curtain is drawn between the hushed live music room and the bar in a small venue called Oporto, and the music begins. It’s candle-lit, atmospheric and the floor-to-ceiling window behind the performers acts as a portal to the outside world to show passers by what they’re missing out on. The four or five scheduled acts have their 25 to 30 minutes each to enrapture the attentive crowd.
The evening is hosted by Gary Stewart who can more than hold his own among the talented guests, as a songwriter and performer himself. You never know what to expect at The Gaslight Club but you can always guarantee quality live music.
Positives: It’s a venue that attracts acts from across the UK for its consistent degree of quality live performances and its inspiring name and mission statements draw like-minded musicians who love acoustic music.
Negatives: Getting a slot is a lengthy task due to its popularity. Go straight to Nick of Dead Young Records for the fastest response, firstname.lastname@example.org. Audience attendance levels can vary depending on the time of year, Leeds is a university city.
The Art of Tea, Didsbury, Manchester – Thursdays, 7pm approx
Run by one of Manchester’s busiest promoters, Papillon Promotions, The Art of Tea Acoustic Nights are exactly the kind of quaint and mellow nights of independent music and brew-sampling that you’d expect them to be. Up to ten artists take to the stage inside the cosy cafe where most of the audience sit above the ground floor. This allows the performer to look out at their attentive crowd at eye-level as the musicians stand on the ground floor stage.
The Art of Tea is a place that grants musicians the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with their audience and try out new material in a homely environment. On my visits here, I have met some of the most supportive musicians and people that I know. It has even led to bigger opportunities for people to hear my music, like supporting bands at their headline shows.
Director of Papillon Promotions, Matthew Hibbert, hosts the evenings here. The Art of Tea is the only acoustic night of the many that he runs in Manchester that he also hosts which seems to point to the fact that this is his personal favourite.
Positives: It’s a chance to hear many of Manchester’s finest acts outside of their scheduled shows and for musicians it’s an excellent entry point into the city’s music scene.
Negatives: It’s a little outside of Manchester city centre but in my opinion it is well worth travelling out to. With 5 to 6 song sets as standard, the sets are a little shorter here.
The Sundown Sessions, Aces & Eights, London – Tuesdays, 8pm approx
Housed inside Aces & Eights, a saloon bar near Camden Town, The Sundown Sessions’ venue is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing small venues I’ve ever seen. The basement bar where the musical magic takes place, looks like a 1930s speakeasy with its very olde-world interior design and atmospheric lighting.
But appearances aside, this acoustic night is a marvellous event in London thanks to its focus on folk, Americana and roots music. The audience members are separated out in groups around tables, not unlike a comedy club. It’s perfect for audience interaction or for settling into sets of emotive songs. It all takes place in the basement of Aces & Eights which gives a feeling of exclusivity to these evenings, like an escape from the outside world.
The evening is hosted by Daniel Lucas of Boss Caine, renowned folk raconteur who travels the length and breadth of the UK playing his own excellent brand of rootsy music while promoting some of the best music the cities of York and London have to offer. Audiences are in safe hands and can be sure to witness a memorable night of music.
Positives: It’s a mesmerising venue with a schedule curated by a musician who really knows the unsigned and up-and-coming music scene of the UK.
Negatives: There are only three to four acts booked for this once-a-month event so it can be quite exclusive for performers. There is no bar in the downstairs venue so you have to buy drinks from upstairs, hardly a negative in my opinion.
Heebie Jeebies, Liverpool – Saturdays, 3pm approx
As the only acoustic “night” that begins in the middle of the afternoon, Heebie Jeebies’ Saturday Sessions in Liverpool would already seem like a strange choice for the list. Add to that, that the acoustic event takes place in an outside courtyard and is hosted by previous winner of GQ’s Best Dressed Man In Britain, then you’ve got an intriguing selection.
Heebie Jeebies is a music venue that’s becoming ever more popular on the Liverpool music scene. What’s great about it is the universal appeal the place seems to have. People from all ages and walks of life stroll into Heebie Jeebies on a Saturday afternoon and it seems like everyone is at home with the jazz bar meets retro bar aesthetic. The result is a diverse gathering of musicians playing a whole host of different instruments and styles of music. The acoustic afternoon is compered and organised by songwriter Johnny Sands. It’s the best acoustic showcase in Liverpool that I’ve come across so you can see why even touring acts sign themselves up while visiting a city with some of the richest musical heritage in the UK.
Positives: Interesting courtyard setting if the weather is playing ball. It’s a venue that appeals to all.
Negatives: Johnny has been prone to lateness (sorry Johnny!). You’ll have to get in touch with him directly for a booking. The sets are unfortunately limited to five songs unless you get an encore.
Songwriter’s Sessions, The Troubadour, Earl’s Court, London – Tuesdays, 8pm approx
Now we travel back to London for the fifth entry to this list, The Songwriter’s Sessions at The Troubadour. I had never heard of the Troubadour before performing there but I don’t know how that came to be the case since it’s a venue that any musician would feel humbled to visit. The likes of Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan among many others, all played here in their formative years and the venue maintains its allure and high levels of quality musical performances.
The Songwriter’s Sessions hold an audience captive in a tremendously engaging night of music. The basement venue’s décor is minimal, with black walls and no air of grandeur surrounding the stage, leaving nothing to distract the attendees from the musician’s performances. Not only that but, the sessions feature just three acts a month making it a very exclusive slot in the UK capital.
The night is hosted by Stacey who is also the sound engineer. He’s an extremely passionate lover of music who is determined to see The Troubadour prosper and to support the musicians that come through its doors. With hundreds of nights of live music per year, this is the unsigned songwriters way into a big credential on their musical CV and for the audience, it’s a night to witness the best in new, up-and-coming songwriters.
From what I understand the night is now called ‘The Songwriters Round’.
Positives: Perform or witness performers in a venue steeped with musical history. The selection of songwriters is always thought about with care and attention.
Negatives: It’s another basement venue which has its attraction but the audience attendance can vary depending on ticket sales.
Special Mention: Sofar Sounds, everywhere! – Most nights
It would seem unfair for me to categorise this final addition to the list in amongst the top five and it would also seem unfair for me to leave it out completely.
If you’re unfamiliar with the global movement that is Sofar Sounds, then I can summarise it as perhaps the ultimate acoustic night. The reason it could not be included is because there is an incalculable amount of Sofar concerts going on every week, with 354 cities worldwide signed up to the ticketed events. Well-known acts including Bastille and Hozier have been known to take part in them.
At their essence, Sofar Sounds are house concerts that are kept secret until the day of the gig when all those who applied to attend receive a notification about the event’s whereabouts and the start time. But Sofar are not just limited to houses, these secret gigs have taken place in warehouses, art galleries, barns and all manner of interesting locations. They have proven so popular that there are waiting lists to attend Sofar events and even longer waiting lists to perform. If you get the chance to do either of those things, you can be certain that you’ll feel part of a unifying, life-affirming night and will get to witness a very unique live music experience.
Positives: A truly communal feeling and even, dare I say it, a magical musical experience.
Negatives: Depending on where you live.
Now I know there are a great many more acoustic nights that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of visiting. I am also quite aware that the selections are improperly skewed towards nights in the North rather than the South so if you have any further suggestions please let me know at chris@christavener,co.uk