Scotland, just as other regions throughout the UK and Ireland, has lost a number of grassroots music venues in recent times with the economic burden of Covid and the cost of living crisis being just two of numerous challenges. However there are a wealth of independent music venues still alive and kicking and as a celebration of that fact here is a list of 20 such venues, although there are many more. The majority exist in the main population Central Belt of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but there are outposts from Ullapool in the Highlands to Galashiels in the Borders. Support your local grassroots music venues, they are the beating heart of the music industry.
The Alhambra’s doors were first opened on the 22nd August 1922, with a screening of the silent film Over the Hill (1917) starring Gladys Hulette. Over the years, a number of different operating companies have made The Alhambra their home, including original owners Alhambra (Dunfermline) Ltd, AB King in the mid 30’s, JB Milne in the mid 40’s, Caledonian Associated Cinemas from the 50’s to the 80’s, and Carlton Bingo until it moved out in February 2006. Bill Fletcher of property developers Linklever Ltd who now own the building stepped in to save it. In June 2008 the Alhambra was relaunched as a theatre and live music venue and hasn’t looked back since.
Backstage at The Green, Kinross
Backstage at The Green
Intriguingly not only is Backstage at The Green in Kinross an intimate venue with a maximum capacity of just 120 but it also houses what is probably the best collection of Rock Memorabilia on public display not only in Scotland but England as well. This incredible wall is in the bar area at Backstage. Rare Tour Posters from the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane. Also shown are over 200 signed guitar scratchplates from some of the industry’s Rock Royalty.
Credit: Mundell Music
Bannermans is a pub with a backroom music venue and, impressively, hosts bands and solo artists seven nights a week. The venue is dedicated to bringing the very best in up-and-coming local talent, rising national stars and famous acts from around the world. Bannerman’s is located on Edinburgh’s Cowgate in the heart of the old town, arguably the artery of Edinburgh’s independent music scene.
The Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh
The Banshee Labyrinth
Billed as “Scotland’s Most Haunted Pub“, half of this club was part of the infamous “underground vaults” once the haunt of criminals, thieves and the very unsavoury. Yet somewhat ironically the front of the club was home to one of the richest men in Edinburgh, Lord Nicol Edwards. He was Lord Provost of Edinburgh during the reign of King James VI/I of Scotland and England. Now, along with many other spirits, its believed “The Banshee” haunts this Labyrinth. Thankfully live music seems to keep these spirits at bay!
Beat Generator Live!, Dundee
Beat Generator was founded in 1994 and has been an integral part of the UK’s grassroots music scene ever since. It is committed to providing a platform for new talent, touring bands, and an intimate setting for internationally successful artists.
Credit: Punk Art
The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool
The Ceilidh Place
The Ceilidh Place in Ullapool is not only a music venue but a hotel, bunkhouse, café / bar, restaurant and bookshop. The venue is in the epic and beautiful surroundings of Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands. award winning live music venue has hosted many performers over the last 40 years. Theatre performances, live bands, solo artists and the occasional comedian.
Credit: The Local Data Company
What a gorgeous venue this is in Dundee. With a capacity of 400 it provides a stunning venue in this converted church in the heart of Dundee’s city centre.
Drummonds in Scotland’s North East has a laid back atmosphere by day and is a live music venue and late night destination by night. The 300 capacity venue has hosted a huge number of big names over the years and Drummonds pride themselves on giving a platform to both new and established bands, whether that be the best of local talent or touring artists. The main room has a capacity of 300 standing while the more intimate D2 holds 80.
The Flying Duck, Glasgow
The Flying Duck
This 120 capacity venue space hosts anything from gigs to markets, clubs to film screenings, theatre, comedy, and everything in between. Its a maze of a venue and all the better for it. Another characterful intimate space which Glasgow has many of. Worth visiting this basement space, you feel like you are literally stepping into another world.
The Glad Cafe, Glasgow
The Glad Cafe
Some venues are so much more than a live music venue. And so it is with The Glad Cafe. Describing itself as “A community built on creativity, hospitality, and culture with a social conscience”, The Glad Cafe opened just over a decade ago with the aim to create an open, accessible, and supportive space, nurturing music and the arts in the heart of their community on the Southside of the city. It is a relaxed cafe by day and a bar and music venue by night. The cooperative shop Glad Rags Thrift supports their sister charity, The Glad Foundation, in running music lessons and workshops for young people regardless of background or ability. It is not-for-profit, 100% vegan, and dog friendly.
The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
The Hug and Pint
The Hug and Pint is a vegan bar, eatery and music venue in Glasgow’s west end. The menu is inspired by a wide range of Asian cuisines and their kitchen uses absolutely no animal products. Since opening in June 2015, the live music programme has been one of the strongest Glasgow has seen, and has featured both well-established and up-and-coming local artists, as well as some of the most exciting international touring acts on the circuit. Inspired by Arab Strap’s “Monday at the Hug and Pint”, the aim of this venue is to provide “The Friendliest Atmosphere in Scotland”. The band gave their blessing to open this version of The Hug and Pint – with Aidan Moffat even designing the logo.
King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
King Tuts Wah Wah Hut
Radio 1 named it the ‘UK’s Best Live Venue’ 3 years in a row and was voted number 7 in New York Magazine’s ‘Follow Your Bliss List’ – a list of fifty euphoria-inducing destinations to visit before you die (above climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and Swimming with Hippos in Botswana!). King Tut’s is an iconic Glasgow venue providing a showcase for new and emerging bands. It’s also the venue that supported some of the music industry’s biggest names at the start of their careers. It all began in 1990 and the 300 capacity upstairs room is an integral part of Glasgow’s grassroots music community.
Leith Depot, Edinburgh
Gentrification arrived on Leith Walk and the pressure on small independent businesses was enormous. Tram works shutting the main thoroughfare added a further toll on passing footfall, but Leith Depot is a tale of the power of community. The building it is housed in was set for redevelopment, but the community got organised and after a sustained period of pressure fought to save the venue – and won. People Power at its very best. Excellent food and a gorgeous bar area as well as a music venue, the locals demonstrated their love for Leith Depot, and it is still going strong.
The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
The Lemon Tree
The Lemon Tree was formed in 1992 as the base venue for Aberdeen’s Alternative Festival. The two performance spaces – the 550 capacity Lounge, and 166 seat Studio – bring cutting edge music, theatre, comedy and dance to the city, and provide unforgettable, intimate opportunities to see an exciting array of small-scale performing arts in the North-East.
Mac Arts is run by the Duncan Mackinnon Music and Arts Trust – a charitable organisation inspired by the visionary spirit of Duncan MacKinnon, a prominent Borders promoter. The Trust was formed in December 2011 to fulfil an ambition to create a state-of-the-art theatre, music and arts venue in the former St Andrew’s Arts Centre, a disused listed building of historic and architectural significance in the centre of Galashiels; this space is now known as MacArts.
Whilst MacArts is a work in progress, the Trust has already made sufficient improvements to ensure the building currently offers a viable venue that is fully functional and open for business. The long term aim of the Trust is to convert and fully refurbish this stunning former church building and create a vibrant, accessible, multi-purpose facility which will provide cultural, educational, recreational, economic and social benefits to local communities and visitors alike.
Nice N Sleazy, Glasgow
Nice N Sleazy
Nice N Sleazy has been open since 1990, and is located on Sauciehall Street – the heartland of Glasgows independent venue music scene. The upstairs bar has food and DJs while the basement venue houses gigs and clubs. With its low ceiling the atmosphere is one of the best in the city, providing an intimate space where you can get up close and personal with the artists.
Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh
Also located on Edinburgh’s Cowgate, Sneaky Pete’s is one of the city’s most iconic venues. A 100 capacity space it’s open every night for clubs and live shows. Sneaky Pete’s is an institution, a Grassroots Music Venue for music fans of all identities across gender, disability and race. In addition they are an active member of the Music Venues Alliance, believing they have a role in safeguarding the future of music in Edinburgh as well as around the UK.
Stereo is in a beautiful building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Opened since 2007 it is tucked away on Renfield Lane and has a dedicated vegan bar and kitchen during the day. At night the downstairs venue hosts an endless variety of gigs, live performances and clubs through to the early morning.
One of the first known occupants of the Summerhall site was a family run brewery first established in the 1710s. The first brewer at Summerhall was Robert McClellan. However Summerhall’s brewing heritage continues with its own microbrewery making Barney’s Beer. Summerhall’s main building and wings were purpose built for The University of Edinburgh Veterinary College between 1913-1925. From 1916 until 2011 The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, affectionately known to all as the Dick Vet, was located at Summerhall. Notable alumni of the Dick Vet include Andrew Smith, founder of Ontario Veterinary College, Canada – the oldest veterinary college in the Americas, Jotello Festiri Soga (graduated 1886) the first South African veterinary surgeon, Donald Sinclair (graduated 1933) portrayed as Siegfried Farnon in Alf Wight’s novels and, of course, in “All Creatures Great and Small“, and finally John Boyd Dunlop (graduated 1859) inventor of the first practical pneumatic tyre and founder of the Dunlop Rubber Company.
When The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies relocated to a new campus, the intriguing space that Summerhall occupies faced an uncertain future. In January 2011 it was acquired by the McDowell family and is now cultivated as a hub for the arts and all things creative. Gigs are housed in the Dissection Room, if only walls could speak!
The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
The Voodoo Rooms
What a beautifully ornate venue The Voodoo Rooms is. With three venue rooms of varying sizes it also has its own bar and restaurant all housed in a highly opulent Victorian building in the centre of the city. It was established in 2007 and has seen a flow of performances across all genres within its walls.