10 must-do music activities in Britain.
1) The Proms.
The crowning glory of classical music in Britain is the BBC Proms, which take place every summer in the Victorian splendour of the Royal Albert Hall in London. For over two months orchestras and soloists from around the globe perform nightly to classical music’s most appreciative audience.
The cost of a seat ranges from £7.50 to just under £100 and can be booked online. Alternatively, for only £5 you can enjoy the experience of standing with the ‘prommers’ in the arena, as long as you’re happy to queue outside the venue on the day. So it’s one for classical music novices and experts, or anyone wanting a flavour of the British summertime.
For the rest of the year, classical music of every description takes place at the Southbank Centre, London’s vibrant arts hub next to the River Thames, and at the Barbican in the City of London. Meanwhile opera lovers have the chance to hear some of the best opera singers in the world in the ornate surroundings of the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, with tickets ranging from £10 to just over £100.
2) Dance a ceilidh in Scotland.
Traditional music and dance is alive and – literally – kicking in Scotland. Find a Scottish reels night (it won’t be hard, they happen all over the country and all the time!) and then throw yourself in. Most reels are easy for beginners to pick up, with a ‘caller’ shouting instructions for which foot needs to go where, and since the bands are always live there’s a guaranteed high octane party atmosphere.
The Edinburgh Ceilidh Club host weekly dances at Summerhall, a short walk from the city centre. Get kitted out by family-run kilt specialists Kinloch Anderson in Leith while you’re at it. Watch out – ceilidh dancing becomes very addictive. www.edinburghceilidhs.com, www.kinlochanderson.com
Scotland’s folk scene is world-renowned; many local pubs host live music nights – the Royal Oak bar, near Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, is famed for its nightly traditional live music. The highlight of Scotland’s folk calendar is annual winter festival Celtic Connections in Glasgow, welcoming local and international musicians and attracting fans from around the world. Festivals in the north of Scotland, including the Blas Festival and Royal National Mòd in the Highlands, celebrate Scotland’s Gaelic heritage through music and dance.
Bagpipes are synonymous with Scotland and pipe music is part of many and varied traditions. Popular band the Red Hot Chilli Pipers even offer a rock ‘n’ roll take on the traditional instrument. Every year the World Pipe Band Championships take place at Glasgow Green in the city centre. Try your hand at piping at Castle Bagpipes’ annual Edinburgh Piping and Drumming Summer School with its classes and workshops for all ages and abilities.
3) Catch festival fever. Throughout the year, there are music festivals lighting up Britain, more often than not bringing idyllic parts of the countryside to life for a long weekend full of fantastic music, crazy entertainment, wild outfits and memorable experiences. Whatever your taste in music, there will be a festival in the calendar to suit you – from big name rock and pop acts at Glastonbury and V, through to jazz in Derry~Londonderry, Newcastle Gateshead and Cheltenham, and then the quirky ones – like Festival No 6, in Wales’s majestic Italianate village of Portmeirion. read more about Music festivals in the United Kingdom.
4) Go back to vinyl. In today’s digital era, there’s something romantic about trawling a record shop for old-school vinyl. The oldest record shop in the world is Cardiff’s Spillers, founding in 1894 and still going today, while Berwick Street in London is the West End’s ‘golden mile of vinyl’. For a truly immersive musical experience, look up a gig at Rough Trade East in London, where you can hear music surrounded by records.
5) Get recording. You might have more than one musical bone in your body and wish to exercise it on holiday – if that’s the case, you can! Turn up at Green Note in Camden for open mic night or learn song-writing at Belfast’s veritable music mecca, the Oh Yeah Centre.
Karaoke. Of course, there are plenty of places for karaoke or even ‘rockaoke’ too, for when you want to give your vocal chords a workout:
-- Electric Circus, Edinburgh, Scotland. Part club, part gig venue, part karaoke bar (with seven private rooms specifically for it) Electric Circus is truly one of a kind. Conveniently located seconds from Waverley train station in the centre of Edinburgh, its rough exterior belies a slick and comfortable interior.
-- Hanahana, Newcastle, north-east England.This Japanese and Teppanyaki restaurant is a hit with locals in the north east of England for the delicious food and the downstairs karaoke room that seats up to 50. You need to book in advance for the karaoke on weekdays but weekends are when it really comes alive with enthusiastic warblers for whom an after-dinner coffee just won’t hit the spot.
-- Rockaoke, London. At Rockaoke, wannabe lead singers get a taste of the limelight with their own backing band made up of a guitarist, bassist and drummer – so crack out your best head banging and own that stage! Hopping from venue to venue around central London, it can also be booked for private events.
-- Kobe, Bristol, west England. Situated on Bristol’s Nelson Street, internationally famous for its street art, Kobe houses five private luxury karaoke rooms for music lovers to sing their hearts out. All rooms are individually designed, sound proofed and feature the best karaoke systems available, with a call button for instant service from friendly staff – pop star treatment guaranteed! Bristol is just under two hours from London by train.
Recording studios. Probably the most famous recording studio in the world, Abbey Road Studios in London is notable for being the venue in the 1960s where The Beatles and Pink Floyd adopted their most innovative recording techniques. Still working studios, professional musicians seeking to replicate their idol’s success can hire the spaces and equipment, although prices can be high depending on your needs. Music fans with less lofty ambitions can head to Abbey Road zebra crossing to recreate The Beatles’ famous album pose for free!
In the north west of England, Cotyso Recording Studies in Manchester, just over two hours by train from London, is where New Order, Blur and One Direction have all recorded their hits. Budding singers can use the same recording equipment and get a professional cover shot done in the same photographic studios that have played host to their favourite stars. There are thousands of tracks to choose from and professional sound engineers will mix your vocals to make you sound like a star! Singing packages start from £99 and include a CD of your track to take home too.
Over in the north east of England, The Cluny Studios, in Newcastle’s trendy Ouseburn valley, is both a professional recording studio loved by local bands, and the perfect place for a party with friends who want to walk away with a CD of them singing over their favourite track.
6) Opera. Opera has undergone something of a renaissance in Britain in recent years, opening out from a handful of opera houses to include festivals in country houses, gardens, and live relays of performances on big screens in town and city centres. Summer is one of the best times to enjoy opera; pack a picnic, dress up a little and enjoy the finest classical music under starlit British skies.
Probably one of the best known locations for opera in the world, the Royal Opera House (ROH) in London’s Covent Garden first opened its doors in 1858 and has welcomed the most famous names in opera, from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti. Each season, the programme combines mainstream opera with new or more unusual works. www.roh.org Getting there: The nearest underground stat ion is Covent Garden (Piccadilly line).
For those who prefer opera sung in English, the English National Opera is a good choice. www.eno.org Getting there: The nearest underground stations are Leicester Square/Charing Cross (Northern & Bakerloo lines)
In Wales, the capital city of Cardiff (around three hours drive west of London) is home to the renowned Welsh National Opera (WNO), which specialises in making opera accessible to everyone. Its programme always includes classics such as Tosca or Sweeney Todd , but each season they also present new productions. Based at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, WNO also performs at Venue Cymru in Llandudno (around two hours west of Manchester) and in Bristol, Bath, Plymouth and Southampton, all in south England. www.wno.org.uk
Although Scottish Opera has its base in Glasgow, and holds many performances at the city's elegant Royal Concert Hall, the company also tours constantly, ensuring that opera reaches every corner of Scotland, from city centres to village community halls. www.scottishopera.org.uk
7) Go out to play at night. There’s nothing better than going on holiday and finding your best bar, frequenting it throughout your stay to pretend you live there, or dancing the night away and meeting the locals at play. For party people, there’s a wide range of choice in Britain, whether you have a leaning towards live music, or a taste for reggae. Each city has its own unique character come nightfall, and it’s definitely not all about London when it comes to going out and having a good time.
In London, the streets off main shopping strip Oxford Street have crept gradually upmarket but retain a certain seedy glamour and bustle with pleasure-seekers most nights. Start with cocktails at Experimental Cocktail Club, a smart, Parisian-style joint occupying three floors of a townhouse in Chinatown. Cocktail bar and members club Milk & Honey is another smooth, three-storey cocktail concoction.
The St Moritz Club has been packing in fans of ska, R&B, soul and sleazy glam rock for decades – this timeless basement club retains much of the same décor it’s had since the 1960s. Another informal basement bar and club, The Roxy, attracts a more student crowd. Although iconic cabaret and burlesque venue Madame JoJo’s has closed, the same creative team now presents The Electric Carousel: glamorous, alternative club events at the Rah Rah Room on the cusp of Soho and posh Mayfair.
The heart of London’s gay scene is Old Compton Street, crammed with bars and cafés. Popular gay venues include brash and poppy video bar G-A-Y, and its even later-night sister bar around the corner, The Shadow Lounge - a swish party venue with tableservice, a smattering of celebrities and a pole on the dancefloor. Known as the ‘Old Dame of Queer Street’, traditional Victorian-style gay pub Comptons of Soho is the street’s oldest gay venue, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016.
The capital’s east side has become the mecca for all things fashionable and arty, with a hedonistic social scene to match. Scruffy music-soundtracked pubs include The Bricklayers Arms (63 Charlotte Road) and The Old Blue Last, run by hip Vice magazine and host to secret gigs by big names. Uber trendy Queen of Hoxton has a fantastic roof terrace upstairs and a shadowy basement below. A warehouse space containing disused train carriages and shipping containers, Village Underground is home to local hipsters and hosts regular live gigs, while Red Gallery has gigs, art exhibitions, film screenings and comedy nights.
Refuel at famous 24-hour pitstop Brick Lane Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane), before going dancing at coolly eclectic venue Cargo, housed under disused railway arches, the raucously arty and gay-friendly Dalston Superstore, or XOYO, a credible club with cutting-edge DJs, live acts and a killer sound system.
It’s also a short hop to Clerkenwell for one of the planet’s premier superclubs, the mighty Fabric.
Dine, drink and dance in Brixton Village. The gastro hub around Brixton Village Market has, by stealth, become London’s most vibrant restaurant scene, packed with small, cheap independent eateries and a buzzy crowd - bands and buskers often play in the covered arcade too. Highlights include Okan for Japanese street food, Mama Lan for handmade Chinese dumplings and street snacks, gourmet fast food at Honest Burgers, fried chicken at CHICKENliquor, or sourdough pizza at Franco Manca.
Suitably fed, enjoy a drink and possibly some live music or DJs at nearby Market House, The White Horse or Lounge before hitting the dancefloor at the creatively eclectic Jamm or London’s original DJ bar, the three-floor Dogstar.
8) Abbey Road. King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Brook Street. There are countless musical memories scattered around Britain. The above three – the Beatles’ most famous album cover; the Glasgow venue where Oasis got signed; the road both George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix lived on. There’s a musical story to be told at many a corner in Britain, and you can follow in the footsteps of your favourite stars, both of yesteryear and today’s hit fame.
9) Well up to a Welsh male voice choir. Wales is famed for its tradition of choral singing, which has thrived in the valleys since the 19th century. Its male voice choirs, such as the Treorchy Male Choir, have been recognised as the world’s greatest choir ensembles for 130 years.
Choir music was popularised through sporting events, especially Wales’ national sport of rugby: in 1905, Wales was the first country to sing a national anthem at the start of an international match – a great way to soak up patriotic music.
The annual three-day North Wales Choral Festival in seaside resort Llandudno celebrates choir music with competitions and performances by the country’s most talented singers. The annual Eisteddfod festival celebrates Welsh language, music and culture – a tradition dating back to the 12th century – alternating between north and south Wales each year.
10) Give your journey a British soundtrack. Over the decades Britain’s countryside, eclectic culture and iconic cityscapes have sparked the creativity of composers and musicians from all over the world – from Lennon and McCartney to Simon and Garfunkel.
© Author: Visit Britain.
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