7 musicians who started their career at Southbank Centre

Friday, October 4, 2019 - 10:13

If you’re a muso on the hunt to discover the next big thing, Southbank Centre should be your first port of call. Many musicians who have gone on to great things started out here, playing small, often free, gigs in our iconic venues.

Our new gig series futuretense is a hot spot for new and emerging artists to showcase their work. We support these acts at the early stages of their careers; offering advice and mentoring and a platform to perform in front of agents, promoters and record labels.

Over the years, Southbank Centre has played host to an incredible line-up of contemporary musicians before they became ‘big’. We obviously couldn’t list them all, so here is just a flavour.


Poppy Ackroyd

After freshly signing to Bjork’s label One Little Indian Records, classically trained pianist and violinist Poppy Ackroyd joined us for our regular free Friday Lunch gig series as part of London Literature Festival in 2017. Then she was back a year later to perform a sold-out show in Purcell Room.

What’s next for Ackroyd? She’s back at Southbank Centre again to take part in Ólafur Arnalds’ OPIA. Filling every hall, nook and cranny of Southbank Centre, the takeover event will feature Ackroyd alongside Grandbrothers, Rhye, Högni & Ensemble, Hania Rani, Josin and Arnalds. For this show, Ackroyd will be using electronics, live sampling and looping, and playing solo acoustic versions from her album Sketches.

Poppy Ackroyd
I had full support from the venue and technical teams. This support makes all the difference, allowing you to just focus on the music and performance. I can't wait to go back and perform there again.
Poppy Ackroyd on her experience playing at Southbank Centre

Lady Leshurr

A year before she won the 2016 MOBO Award for Best Female Act, singer and producer Lady Leshurr performed at Southbank Centre as part of the fifth WOW Festival. The special appearance at Friday Tonic (the precursor to futuretense) in Queen Elizabeth Hall brought her melodic singing and fierce lyrics to a captivated audience. The new queen of British rap was back in 2016 to join a stellar cast of voices for the EFG London Jazz Festival ninth opening-night gala in Royal Festival Hall.


Benjamin Clementine

Long before his Mercury Prize for At Least for Now, poet, composer and musician Benjamin Clementine first performed in the Purcell Room back in 2013. Described by the Evening Standard reviewer David Smyth as ‘incredible’, Clementine came back to Southbank Centre in 2015 to perform on a bigger stage in Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of David Byrne’s Meltdown.



Earlier this year, Armenian singer-songwriter Azniv Korkejian who goes by the stage name Bedouine brought her magnetic voice and intimate SoCal canyon folk sound to Purcell Room. ‘There is power and poise in the control she has over her singing and it’s utterly hypnotic; laid-back but never languid.’ said Joyzine reviewer, Paul F Cook. After selling out the Purcell Room gig weeks in advance, Bedouine came back to take centre stage – supported by her Spacebomb band – in Queen Elizabeth Hall earlier this month.

Bedouine - Image Credit - Polly Antonia Barrowman
It’s such a beautiful room and one truly meant for listening comfortably and soaking up the performance like a sponge. I love to see people in the crowd at ease.
Bedouine ahead of her Queen Elizabeth Hall gig

Pi Ja Ma

The electro-pop artist Pi Ja Ma brought her flurry of 60s-inspired indie and alt-rock to audiences at her Friday Tonic appearance earlier in the year. It went down so well that we invited her and collaborator Axel Concato back to perform in the Purcell Room. She spoke to us about her enthusiasm ahead of the gig: ‘We are very excited to present new stuff to people who already saw us and to new people. I saw that the room where we'll be playing is big and impressive and I can't wait to sing on a brand new stage!’ Although, still a relative newcomer to the UK music scene, Pi Ja Ma is better known in France, where she appeared on a French TV talent show La Nouvelle Star at the very young age of 16. She’s definitely one to watch!


James Blake

Two years before his 2013 Mercury Prize win for second album Overgrown, musician and performer James Blake made an appearance in Purcell Room as part of our tenth Ether Festival. The festival brought together an eclectic line-up of some of the most forward-thinking artists around including rising star Blake. Over the years, Ether showcased a blend of art, technology and music that surprised and delighted Southbank Centre audiences.


Kate Tempest

You could say poet and rapper, Kate Tempest, is a bit of regular at Southbank Centre. She’s been here for a night of verse inspired by hip-hop in 2011, performed spoken word at London Literature Festival in 2012 and shared her mythically-inspired poems in 2014. But we believe, Tempest first performed here at Bandstand Busking during Richard Thompson’s Meltdown – with the likes of John Smith, Johnny Flynn and Slow Club. Here’s a video to make you feel a bit nostalgic.

Kate Tempest - Balance (Meltdown Festival @ Southbank Centre).AVI

futuretense continues every Friday in Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, Pi Ja Ma is in Purcell Room on 26 November and Poppy Ackroyd plays Queen Elizabeth Hall on 8 November.

Get your diaries at the ready and browse through our full programme of contemporary music at Southbank Centre.

find out more