If you wend your way to West London, Bush Hall is as civilized a place to listen to live music as you are likely to come across. The building has had any number of past incarnations: Dance hall, soup kitchen, and snooker hall are among them. The Rolling Stones even used it briefly as a rehearsal space in the ’60s. Since 2001, Bush Hall has operated as a live music venue, though in common with others seeks to maximize its dollar by also touting for private party hire, product launches, film location shoots, and even weddings. A favorite venue for labels hosting secret gigs and upcoming acoustic acts, Bush Hall nonetheless has given a platform to a wide array of music talent over the years.
It competes with the larger Shepherds Bush Empire, formerly a theatre and BBC studio, nearby. The Empire is cavernous, however, compared to Bush Halls more modest 19 x 10 metre main space, and Bush Hall clearly strikes back in the intimacy stakes. While you can squeeze in 400 people here, audiences of 200+ are more usual, and the venue can offer a mix of seating and standing, which adds to the ambiance. As a brief digression, if youd prefer to downsize further, try Ginglik, which can be found in the bowels of Shepherds Bush Green in a building that once functioned as a Victorian toilet.
The district of West London called Shepherds Bush has produced a fair number of rock luminaries over the years. With The Who, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols, and more recently Pete Doherty all having their roots here, the area has always had a bit of a rebellious air about it. Yet if your mosh pit days are firmly behind you, Bush Hall now might be your idea of the perfect music venue: charming, intimate, almost plush, cultured, atmospheric but not too crowded. You approach the building along a fairly tacky main road heading west from Bush Green, and its not too difficult to miss it completely. The decidedly downbeat exterior doesnt look too promising and belies a considerably ornate interior within.
Once inside the modest wooden doors, youre in a narrow corridor, with smallish loos to the sides, which leads past the ticket desk to a small bar in a foyer directly in front of the gig room. The bar area is nothing like large enough for a typical-sized audience to mill around in, so its good news that you can take drinks through to the main room. The hall itself is modestly sized but notable for its ornate plasterwork and grand chandeliers. The sound desk is in the left-hand corner and at the far end a fairly low stage is raised to a height that affords a reasonable view from most angles. Your eyes, meanwhile, tend to fix on the décor with its vines, cherubs, and inlaid Corinthian columns, and you half wonder whether someone is about to serve tea rather than hit you with their rhythm stick.
If the hall is a bit full, there is the option of a small balcony area upstairs (if its open) with its vintage sofas and chairs, bar and roof terrace beyond. The balcony provides a great view of the stage, though theres not much space for a crowd up here. The marble floor and mirrored walls lend the rest of the room a fin de siÃ¨cle feel, while the terrace provides an outlet for smokers and panoramic views of the Uxbridge Road. Sound-wise, Bush Hall is generally very much on the money, and the venue has built a reputation among musicians as being a good place to play. Its certainly hard to top as a place to showcase rising talent, and on some nights you cant move for A&R guys.
Bush Hall has been a staging post for many acts on their way up the fame ladder, from Kings of Leon to Florence & The Machine. A number of already established bands have performed special shows here, too. REM famously delivered a quick fire 45-minute set one lunchtime in October 2003. In November of ’08, The Killers played a warm-up show the night before previewing Day And Age at the Royal Albert Hall. The Bush Hall of Fame goes on to include names such as Amy Winehouse, Boy George, Courtney Love, Gnarls Barkley, Laura Marling, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Regina Spektor, Scissor Sisters, The Shins, and Sufjan Stevens to give a rather random selection.
But heres an excuse to show you the divine Kathleen Edwards from one of my favorite shows at Bush Hall, back in December 2008.
To get a complete listing of the upcoming shows, click here.