Discovering East London’s lost music venues

Tracing the lost venues along The ELL Music Trail

Eager Beatles fans waiting to grab a look of the Fab Four at the Lewisham Odeon. Pic: Evening Standard

Words Rupert Birkett-Eyles, Jack Friend and Harry Merrell

London has been known for many years to be the place where aspiring talents head to make a name for themselves. Soho and Earl’s Court are known as the major musical hubs in the capital, but did you know that Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon has hosted an array of musical talents and a few gangster clubs over the years

At EastLondonLines we have compiled a list of venues that are no longer on Google Maps but firmly belong on London’s musical map.

With artists such as The Beatles, David Bowie, The Clash, Pulp and even Vic Reeves, the East London Line really did have its finger on the musical pulse of the 20th century.

The Montague Arms, New Cross. Pic: Flickr Ewan Munro

The Montague Arms, New Cross was once host to what NME dubbed “The Unholy Trinity”; Shane MacGowan (The Pogues), Nick Cave and Mark E smith (The Fall) for NME’s 1989 infamous Pop Summit. 

The trio discussed their ideologies and opinions on the music scene over a pint, intermittently between their constant arguing. 

The discussion falls apart and the three rock heroes climb onto the small pub stage for an impromptu jam session. MacGowan on drums, Smith on guitar and Cave on organ for what was surely a chaotic clash of style, but nonetheless unforgettable. 

The Montague Arms closed in 2019.

A building with a sign on the side

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The Grey Hound Hotel, Croydon. Pic: Wiki Commons

Once the heart of a community and a place for musical discovery, The Greyhound Hotel Croydon now sits unused on Park Lane, Croydon. 

Host to the “Croydon Blues Night”, every Sunday the venue attracted artists such as David Bowie, Elton John, Status Quo, The Small Faces, Black Sabbath and Rod Stewart. All of these names and more performed at the venue before they had made it big. 

The venue was a practice room with a live audience for some of rock’s biggest names.

As the story goes, Mott The Hoople witnessed David Bowie perform All the Young Dudes and asked him if they could record the hit, which later became a top 10 hit for the band. 

The Hotel closed down in the late 80s. 

Bonaparte Record Shop, Croydon. Pic: British Record Shop Archive

A haven for punk lovers to spend their weekends listing to the newest records, Bonaparte Record Shop was a home to the new wave and punk music revolution. 

Situated in a parade of shops in the 70s, where Boxpark can now be found, it was also the work place of undiscovered Kirsty MacCall, famed for her Christmas hit Fairy Tale of New York sung with the Irish-Folk, punk band, the Pogues. 

The record shop also had a transient record label, responsible for releasing an early project by Ian Drury’s Kilburn and the High Roads, who later formed The Blockheads. 

Bonaparte’s closed in 1982

A journey through the lost (and still present) music venues of Hatcham,  Deptford and New Cross - Hatcham Conservation Society
The Dew Drop Inn 1991. Pic: Flickr/Matt Martin

A watering hole that attracted people of all backgrounds in the early 90s, the pub was a place for punks, squatters, bikers as well as half a dozen Jamaican gentlemen who would play cards in the corner, it was certainly an amicable mix of cultures. 

Facing over Fordham Park, which hosted the legendary “Urban Free Festival”, that drew people from all over London and beyond. The Dew Drop Inn was one of the sponsors and certainly the place to go for a drink.

The Dew Drop closed in 2002

Goldsmiths' Tavern, New Cross, SE14 | A studenty pub in New … | Flickr
Goldsmiths Tavern, New Cross. Pic: Flickr Ewan Munro

The birthplace of British cult comedy Vic Reeves Big Night Out the stage show was first performed by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer at the Goldsmiths Tavern in 1988. Gaining a huge following, crowd regulars included Jools Holland, Jonathan Ross, Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse. The crowd soon became too big, and the show moved to the Albany Empire. 

By all accounts, throughout the 90s the pub was a hangout for various sub-cultures and petty criminals. Punks, bikers, drug dealers, artists and student all rubbed shoulders on the dance floor in the back room that hosted techno, drum and bass, ska and punk gigs. 

The Goldsmiths Tavern closed in 2003. 

Deptford might seem like an unlikely place to spot the “Prince of Soul” Marvin Gaye, but he made an appearance at Cheeks Club, Deptford Broadway, in 1980. Captured by the experienced lens of renowned celebrity photographer Richard Young, Gaye is seen boogying with an unknown woman. If you have heard it through the grape vine who this woman is, help us solve the mystery and let us know!

Cheeks closed in 1981 

The Venue is Lewisham. Pic: Flickr/Ewan Munro

The Venue was one of London’s longest running nightclubs, it has served residents of Deptford since 1925, meaning your Grandma probably got her dancing shoes on to the latest pop sounds. The venue served musical tastes from cheesy disco to indie anthems and even musicals in the downstairs cinema. 

Britpop royalty has graced the stage over the years with Radiohead, Oasis, Pulp and even Cornershop filling the auditorium with jangling guitars and in the process filling the dancefloor. 

Although the shell of the Venue still stands the iconic pink neon sign no longer acts as a beacon for South Londoners. Since the pandemic, the Venue stands dormant ready to have its floors soaked in alcohol and the air filled with nicotine. 

The Venue closed in 2020

The Lewisham Odeon. Pic: Lewisham Borough Council

We know what you are probably thinking, surely an Odeon did not have live music? Well in this case you would be mistaken. David Bowie, The Supremes, The Specials, Rod Stewart and The Who have all drawn thousands to the Lewisham landmark between 1963 to 1981. 

Arguably the most famous visitor to the Lewisham venue were The Beatles. Beatlemania hit the borough’s streets twice in 1963, with 40 policemen on the door and thousands queuing down Lewisham High Street, the Lewisham Borough News ran the headline “Another problem: how will the Beatles get in?”

Despite The Clash and Hawkwind performing at the venue in 1980, the Lewisham Odeon closed its doors a year later and was demolished in 1991 after a decade of decay and disrepair. 

The Lewisham Odeon closed in 1981.

The Oval Space. Pic: Google Maps

The Oval Space was at the heart of the East London music scene when it opened in 2013 until its closure in 2022. Artists to grace the repurposed Gas Works site were DJ Jazzy Jeff, De La Soul and Andrew Wetherall as well as other electronic club nights.

Tower Hamlets council removed their license following a shooting at the music venue

The Oval Space has now been transformed into Oval Studios a television and film production studio with art galleries and immersive experiences becoming the main focus of the venue instead of music. 

The Oval Space closed in 2022.

Entrance to the Dalston Dance Tunnels. Pic: Google Maps

The basement club in Dalston was known for its minimal lighting and its electronic music. In 2014, DJ Sprinkles aka Terre sold out his set in just three minutes this was following the release of his latest remix and growing status as an artist.

The club was forced to close due to the licensing climate making it impossible for the venue to get the hours they needed to be long-term sustainable. The club used to have a 220 capacity. 

Dalston Dance Tunnels closed in 2016. 

The former site of The Witch Doctor in Catford. Pic: Google Maps

This famous South London music venue was based in Catford and dates back to before the war. It has had several names over the years and some rather famous owners.

Despite the venue playing host to a rich group of names including The Rolling Stones in 1964, when it was known as the Savoy Ballroom, The Who and Marmalade who were formally known as The Gaylords in 1965, when it was named Mr Smiths, the club went down in infamy as a hive for hostility.

In 1966, one of the Kray Twins’ close friends was shot dead in the club during a gangland shootout. The venue closed a few years later. Unfortunately, when you search for the venue, the number of iconic names are lost thanks to the Battle of Mr Smith’s.

If you visit the venue today all that remains is the shell of the former club and a furniture store if you fancy a chaise lounge.

The Witch Doctor closed in 1969. 

The Cartoon in Croydon. Pic: Flickr/John Lees

Don’t be put off by this venue’s exterior as the The Cartoon in Croydon was the home to new talents at the time including Dr Feelgood. Aspiring artists would have the opportunity to perform at the venue from Thursday to Sunday every week. It was the perfect place to perform if you were a local and to build your reputation as an artist. 

The Cartoon also played host to some famous names as well as some not so famous names. Bands such as The Fall were one of the last groups to have played at the music hotspot. Mud who famously sang Lonely this Christmas also played at the venue in 1986.

The Carton closed in 2006.

Click here to discover more on The ELL Music Trail

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