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Best cities to absorb England’s music scene


Best cities to absorb England’s music scene

story by: Anna Sarjeant

From the hometown of a revolutionary band, to the trendiest on-point hangouts in the hood, here are your top five English cities for live music and soulful hubs.

1. Sheffield
Train time from London: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Famed for: The Arctic Monkeys
Who would have thought that four friendships formed in the small suburb of High Green would eventually lead to the creation of The Arctic Monkeys? And one of the most successful indie bands the world has ever embraced.

Go back a decade, before multi-million record deals and sell-out global tours, and you’ll be back in The Grapes; Sheffield’s most traditional pub and music venue for ample up-and-coming superstars. It’s your signature northern boozer, with retro carpets and decor so outdated it's on-trend again. The live music still belts out every evening from 8.30pm (except for Wednesdays), the coal fire burns and the jukebox blares in between acts. Your chips are fried twice and your beer’s served mildly warm, it couldn’t be any more resolutely British. Punch Trippet Lane, Sheffield into your Google Map and discover the next big thing to hit the global music scene.

2. Leeds
Train time from London: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Famed for: Alt-J
The Alt-J four first brought their musical talents together while studying at Leeds University and now play the world-over to packed crowds of 20,000 punters and counting. Well regarded for its vivid music scene, Leeds is replete with annual music festivals, notably the Leeds Festival, held over the August public holiday, it is one of the UK’s largest music events.

For inner city melodies, Call Lane is well frequented for its trendy bars, live music and converted buildings, but it’s the Northern Quarter where you’ll find Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen. A two-level mix of live music and pop-up food vendors, look out for the Belgrave Street Feast festival. Occurring every three months, tasty eateries from across the city showcase their culinary fare in the form of canteen-style pop up stalls.   

3. Liverpool
Train time from London: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Famed for: The Beatles
The Beatles once performed regularly at the infamous Cavern Club on Mathew Street. Today you’ll find a replica bar of the same name, but you’ll no longer find the locals ‘jiving’ in these long-forgotten digs. 

For the full Liverpool shebang, head to Concert Square. As the heart of the city’s nightlife, cobbled lanes fan out from every corner; a labyrinth of streets flanked on every side by bars, pubs and eateries. Eventually you’ll stumble across Seel Street’s Alma de Cuba. A Latin-inspired restaurant, and undoubtedly the best looking bar on the block. Previously St. Peters Catholic Church, it’s been converted into a lively port-of-call for locals and visitors alike, with the original fixtures still in place, including the magnificent stained glass windows and marble altar. There’s a ten-metre bar and over one hundred burning candles. Stick around for midnight, when Samba dancers perform on the altar and flit amongst a flurry of bright lights, feathers and confetti petals released from the ceiling.

4. Manchester
Train time from London: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Famed for: Oasis
Famed for their bad attitudes, bad swaggers, abysmal dress-sense, but great music, Oasis put Manchester’s gritty-grunge appeal on the 90s map. Twenty years on and the city remains at the epicentre of Britain’s musical talent (sorry London, but it’s true), with musical hangouts as easy to find as wannabe Liam Gallaghers, complete with snarled lips and khaki parkas.

Dark dives abound in a city renowned for its unpolished indie music, but Matt & Phred's Jazz Club is a unique find in the edgier realms of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. A throw-back to the golden age of smoky jazz rooms, the cigarettes have gone but the talent prevails. With table-side service, cheap pizza and a brooding ambience, the stage may be small but it’s played host to names as prolific as Adele.  

5. Birmingham
Train time from London: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Famed for: Black Sabbath
Unable to compete with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester and London, it may have been somewhat accidental that Black Sabbath formed in Birmingham. A one-off musical phenomenon or otherwise, Birmingham is a bit of a jewel when it comes to quirky bars and unique music venues. Stand-outs include The Jekyll and Hyde on Steelhouse Lane, which boasts its very own gin parlour, complete with decadent Victorian decor and over 90 types of gin. Then there are cocktails made from rum flavoured toothpaste and drinking vessels shaped like mini porcelain baths.

Want more? Head to Sud and Duds, the launderette on Gas Street which also houses a bar. Playing a nightly assortment of smooth funk, soul, motown and blues, you’ll want to discover this slick inner-city hideout. Access is via the launderette but the entrance is hidden. You'll need to start looking for a way in.  

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