Londoners firmly believe in Shakespeare’s line “If music be the food of love, play on” which is manifest in their love for music. The city offers many music venues that host the best of musicians from around the world offering gigs, recitals and scheduled performances. However, most of these music events are ticketed but like other aspects of London, there are many free music events also where you can get a taste of London’s varied music scene. Given below are a few suggestions.
Southbank Centre: There are plenty of options for enjoying free music and entertainment at the Southbank Centre at several venues such as the Clore Ballroom which is an excellent place for enjoying free music. You can visit a bar or the shop in the premises from where you can get clear views of the venue so that you can watch the music performances and enjoy the same. You can always get a drink from the bar and then return for some more music action. The place offers a very relaxed environment. You can also visit The Central Bar at Royal Festival Hall where you can enjoy free lunchtime music every week. The Friday Lunch features a wide spectrum of music from classical and jazz to folk and world in an exciting range of musical genres. These are often performed by students from music colleges or in association with Southbank Centre’s Resident Orchestras.
The National Theatre: This premier theatre is free to enter and is located along the South Bank. It also offers free music in the foyer at lunchtimes and prior to evening performances. The best time to go there to catch free music ranging from cool jazz to up-and-coming music gigs is from Mondays to Fridays at 5:45pm and on Saturdays at 1 pm and 5:45 pm.
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St James’s Piccadilly: Free lunchtime recitals take place at St James’s Piccadilly at 1:10 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (except Bank holidays and between Christmas and New Year), last
ing 50 minutes. Although these are free to enter, a small donation is always welcome. St James’s Piccadilly was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1684 and was his favourite work although St Paul’s Cathedral is considered to be his finest work.
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St Olave’s: This church also offers free lunchtime recitals on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1:05 pm. This is also a noteworthy venue where the famous diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife Elizabeth are buried. It is located in the City of London and is a small medieval church that was badly damaged during the Second World War and fully restored in the 1950s. It presents a peaceful place to listen to music, with a lively lunchtime recital series.
King’s Place: Having opened in October 2008 in King’s Cross in 2008, King’s Place is situated under the offices of the Guardian newspaper. On the ground floor next to the main entrance, there is an art gallery dedicated to sculpture, and there are cafes, restaurants, and a waterside terrace. You can get lovely views of canal barges moored in Battlebridge Basin. The venue holds regular free events, music performances, debates, and more plus dining options overlooking the canal basin. Besides weekly themes and free events on that theme, King’s Place also offers the Spitz Jazz Collective in the Rotunda Bar & Restaurant on a few Fridays each month at 6-9 pm. These are all free events.
St Martin-in-the-Fields: Located in Trafalgar Square in the heart of London, this historic church offers regular free lunchtime concerts and recitals on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays between 1 and 2 pm. This church was designed by James Gibbs and built in 1726. This is technically the Queen’s Parish church which is located close to Buckingham Palace. It has one of the longest running lunchtime concert programmes which feature classical music performed by emerging talent.
The Royal Opera House: This venue offers free lunchtime recitals on Mondays at 1 pm at the Swiss Church on Endell Street. However, you need to do advance booking that is available up to 9 days before the performance.
The Royal Academy of Music: At this venue, free concerts by the students of the academy are held. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:05 pm, Chamber groups and solo performers offer the concerts for which no advance booking is needed as you can turn up on the day. On Fridays, the lunchtime concerts feature symphonic repertoire and other ensembles but these are ticketed.
The Royal College of Music: Free concerts are also held by this venue but you need to book a ticket. The concerts are by students and professors.
Union Chapel Islington: This is one of the best places to see live music in London. The venue’s Daylight Music series offers free ‘mini gigs’ every Saturday afternoon all through the year.
Rough Trade East: Regular free live gigs by established and emerging artists are held at this venue near Spitalfields Market. It is a hipster music store and record label where many bands and performers play for promoting new work. You can often find them signing records or taking part in Q&As. Upcoming gigs are announced over the Internet and you can apply for tickets online.
Trafalgar Square: This is an ideal stage where cultural, educational, artistic and sporting events, ceremonies and festivals take place and most of these events are free.
Covent Garden Market: You can go into the middle of the market and look down to the lower level where free live music is performed regularly.