Features gigs_venues

Published on August 6th, 2014 | by James Hallett


6 of the best places for live music in Reading

Reading has a strong music heritage and the town has hosted some of the biggest names in the business. In addition to the world-renowned Reading Festival, it is home to a thriving local unsigned scene. Here, we look at some of the best places to catch a gig.

1. The Oakford Social Club

The Oakford Social Club on Blagrave Street is probably the first place to start. Since opening its doors for the first time in 2006, it has put on hundreds of shows, with all manner of bands taking to the stage. The bar’s neon sign on the back wall is as much a local scene staple as the warm beer on the rider.

It is the home of the BBC Introducing band night and Dave Maul has just taken over the booking side of things: “The BBC Intro night at the Oakford has been going since May 2009 – It’s a pub where you can enjoy bands and Djs for free, homemade food including our famed burgers, two pub gardens, a late night drink and plenty of seating so you can chat with your mates.”

BBC Introducing is a free weekly event, every Wednesday from 8pm.

2. The Rising Sun Arts Centre

The Rising Sun Arts Centre is the archetypal rock’n’roll venue. Hidden away at the top end of the town centre on Silver Street, it has been a fixture of the local scene for over twenty-five years. Entirely volunteer run, bands such as Bloc Party and The Cribs have graced the cosy, lounge-esque room in years gone by.

Sid Siddle has been promoting there for the past eleven years: “The Rising Sun Arts Centre really works. Firstly, because of the volunteers – they’re unpaid but they totally believe in DIY culture. Secondly, because the punters want to be there, rather than just thinking they should be there. It is not a cool-poser-£4 a pint place. It is very much a one off, very punk rock although it does give a fuck.”

You can catch Sid and his Club Velocity night on Saturday 16th August with performances from Damien Passmore and The Loveable Fraudsters, The Franklys and Lake of Kings from 8pm. Tickets are priced at £5.

3. The Purple Turtle

The Purple Turtle on Gun Street is steeped in local history, becoming a mainstay for many revelers during their nights out. It has also been home to many local bands throughout the years, whether downstairs in the bunker-like cellar or the relative heady heights of the upstairs stage. The bar has recently had a total refurb and the addition of a permanent lighting rig and PA system will literally be music to many ears.

The Purple Turtle has just announced a series of free shows, curated by local acts over the next few months. Shoals will be wrapping up their stint on Tuesday 12th August with performances from Digo, Adam & Elvis, Artclassink and a DJ set from Shoals themselves.

4. Facebar

The Facebar is fairly well hidden in Ambrose Place, sandwiched between Chatham Street and the Oxford Road. It has been the home of the slightly heavier genres of the local music scene over the years and the venue has hosted an array of touring bands, as well as the local unsigned variety. Boasting two rooms, the Blue room holds 175 people and the larger Red room has a capacity of 300.

Bones from Wicked Boy Promotions has been putting shows on there since 2006 and has seen over 1500 bands pass through the doors: “They started out very eclectic, in fact we initially built our reputation on putting on diverse nights. Then over the years, as we took on more and more shows (soon going up to 3-4 a month), we began to be able to be more selective and put on more genre-based nights.”

The next Wicked Boy Promotions event takes place on 15th, 16th & 17th August under the guise of WICKEDfest, with 24 bands playing over the weekend. There will also be comic, clothing and food stalls. Wristbands are £7 per day or £15 for the whole weekend in advance and they are available from the venue.

5. The Global Cafe

For a more relaxed vibe, head to the Global Cafe on London Street. It puts on various nights throughout the week from unsigned band nights through to popular DJ nights and a hugely successful open mic night. It has been the home for the world music scene over the years and with the larger RISC Centre situated upstairs it has hosted many of the unsigned scene’s biggest bands.

You can catch Fleur Stevenson hosting her Jazz Singers Night on Tuesday 19th August. Fleur herself will be performing with award-winning jazz pianist Chris Neill from 9pm. Entrance to the show is free.

6. The Fox & Hounds

The tiny pub in Caversham may seem like a left-field entry on the list, but the consistently strong line ups over the past couple of years have made the pub an essential night for gig-goers. Situated on Gosbrook Road in the village just outside the town centre, it has staged many sweaty nights and is always packed to the rafters.

Liam O’Bey has been promoting there since 2012: “It’s like a piano bar kind of vibe with real ales on tap.”

He may be a man of few words, but he certainly knows how to book a show. The music is taking a break over the summer, but will be returning this September.

What places should be included in part 2? Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author

is the Music Editor for Alt Reading. He has been involved in the local music scene for ten years. This has included everything from playing in bands to managing them, as well as running a music promotions company.

  • Asfadsaf

    No mention of South Street, Purple Turtle, Sub89/Bowery, or the queens arms?

  • Amy

    South Street Arts Centre has the best, most relevant live music programme.

  • Jamie Iain Hobley


    • Asfadsaf

      The Turtle has live bands on several nights a week, and had a stage put in during the recent redevelopment there. How exactly are you saying The Turtle doesn’t count?

      • Jamie Iain Hobley

        Ok, that’s a fair point although I don’t think I made mine clear enough. I’m not saying the Turtle doesn’t count, I just meant it’s early days yet but I now think that’s a load of cack on my part.
        Why has the author ignored two established venues (South St and Sub 89), each with a proven track record of offering alternative live music?
        To be honest all the above should be included. Why even subjectify live venues (most struggling) to a ‘best of’?

        • Asfadsaf

          Agreed, it’s just ridiculous self-serving snobbery to not include the two most prominent venues in the list, as though the list couldn’t stretch to 8 or they’re literally so terrible to go to. I’ve seen loads of great acts in these venues.

    • Last Baron

      1500 bands have played for bones at the face bar? Probably because no band will ever play for that crook more than once!

      • Asfadsaf

        Crook? Bones is a stand up guy

      • Blah.

        Awwh. Did Bones not want to book your 1 man atonal Grindcore act more than once? Shame!

        Have played around a dozen shows for Bones over the years, have always had a positive experience. Absolutely top, honest guy.

        • mwh

          tell me more about this 1 man atonal grindcore. sounds great. :)

      • ed

        couldn’t agree more. The man’s a tool.

      • Jamie Iain Hobley

        Yeah, I think the last thing the live music scene needs is division; if you have a problem with him why don’t you talk to him about it instead of airing your grievances on the net.

        I’ve only met Bones once when he did sound at AYL? and he seemed like a stand up guy.

        His band Morass of Molasses are playing at *ahem, on the down low guys* South Street on Tuesday next week with Action Beat, Silent Front and Workin’ Man Noise Unit. It’s going to be a belter so come one down.

  • Dorpheous

    LOUD NOISES!!!! Some people below are very narrow minded. Another good article for alt-Reading and good to see the Fox and Hounds in there.

    • Jamie Iain Hobley

      How are some people being narrow-minded by drawing attention to other music venues in town? It’s a genuine grievance, to flippantly dismiss it as ‘loud noises’ could be considered a little narrow-minded, no?

      The inclusion of the Fox and Hounds is an interesting entry for sure, never been there myself but I will have to wander down some time.

      Does anyone know if the Red Lion still puts on shows as well? They used to have quite an active calendar.

      • PatrickP

        Did you neglect to read the ‘part 1’ aspect of the article? Or that alttreading promotes South Street all the time in their what’s on articles but never seen them do fox & the hounds before

        • Jamie Iain Hobley

          The answer to your question is obviously yes but thank you for the condescension.

          Not once have I disputed that the inclusion of the Fox and Hounds is a bad thing. However, seeing as the focus of the article is ‘best venues’ (which would seem to negate the ‘part 1’ aspect but now I’m just being a pedant), it seems odd to me not to include at least one of them.

          But you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.

          • mwh

            the part 1 / part 2 bit wasn’t there to start with. anyhow, good to see some passion about the music scene in reading. now we just need to find a way channel this all for good. :)

      • Dorpheous

        I was merely looking for a bite. I got one. Take the blue pill!
        South Street is too obvious a choice. The writer clearly wanted to bring a different angle to the piece (creative I would say) and intiiate a debate (success Mr Hallett).
        South street has poor acoustics and is not a patch on the atmosphere created by some of the other venues he has written about. South Street is by no means the best place for live music in Reading and my opinion is that Mr Hallett was correct to omit it from the list for those venues he deems to be better (I think his pedigree in the music scene around Reading sets him aside from many others and if it brings a new venue to someone who may ot have been before (i.e. Fox and Hounds) then his article has hit the mark.

        • Jamie Iain Hobley

          Take the blue pill? No comprendo señor.

      • altreading

        Hey Jamie,

        thanks for the comments. There were a few venues we wanted to include in the article but it would have been of a much longer length, as a result we’ve split it and will be doing a follow up with more of the best live music venues.

        One of the reasons why South Street wasn’t included in the 1st piece was because we regularly promote events happening at South Street while some of the other places in this list haven’t had much of a mention on Alt Reading before.

        Thank you for your feedback regardless!

        Best wishes,

        Niall – Editor

        • Jamie Iain Hobley

          Thanks Niall.

          For the record I’m not annoyed or anything like that, just trying to engage in some discussion (and may have employed a little hyperbole). I certainly never intended to be antagonistic unlike some others (each to their own I guess).

          I understand your reasons, I am merely expressing my opinion. Personally, if a venue is great then it is great and should be included, but I can appreciate your intention.

          Keep up the good work,

          Jamie – Layabout

  • Blanco

    Sub89 are pretty good too…

  • Dr John S. Partington

    The Retreat used to be very good, but doesn’t seem to attract the bands now.

    • David Neale

      Yes, in its heyday (well, recent heyday – I’m sure it’s had more than one in the last 100 years) the Retreat really felt like the centre of the East Reading music scene with live music several times each week. Sadly long-standing licensees Bernie & Jane left early last year, and the result is what you’d expect given that the pub has changed hands at least 4 times since.

      To be fair there have been one or two excellent evenings of music there in the last few months – but it’s a real shame a long-term licensee can’t be found to organise these more frequently. I could go into the details of why this is the case, but that’s a completely different discussion…

  • Andy

    I agree with many of the comments and don’t understand why people seem so put out by them. Firstly I think that Sub 89 should be included simply because at the moment it is the main venue in Reading for established bands. If we are talking about heritage however it is obviously a different matter and the list should include South Street which has been putting on gigs by many important, influential, alternative and local bands since I was young (the first two bands that immediately spring to mind are Gong and Chumbawamba). The After Dark was the main venue for the alternative indie bands of the late 80’s and it would have been nice to see a mention of the Facebars previous incarnation as the Trade Union Club too but this is all obviously just my opinion. Also would have liked to seen a mention of The Nerk Twins playing The Fox & Hounds in the summer of 1960 (google it if you don’t know).

  • Colm Daly

    I agree that South St should be up there with the rest. I would also like to add that East Reading has a lively live music pub scene. The Retreat Pub is springing back to its once super form, and being hotly pursued by The Lyndhurst, The Eldon Arms, The Salisbury l Club, even The Fishermans Cottage and Up The Junction and The Jolly Anglers have or are starting regular events. What is sadly lacking is an event calendar covering all of them. My tip is this Saturday at The Eldon with Lewis Cohen who going by his previous performance at The Retreat possibly the best live acoustic act I’ve ever witnessed and I’ve seen them all! Colm

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