Music / Interviews

Small music venues thriving in Bristol

By laura williams, Thursday Nov 20, 2014

Bristol often finds itself topping reports for the best [insert accolade] outside of London and with Thekla a runner-up in the NME small venue award, the spotlight is on our fair city as a great place for live music.

Thekla is no stranger to industry awards, having previously won Live UK Music Business Awards best promoter award as part of DHP family and the regional heat of the NME small venue award. It is currently celebrating 30 years of serving Bristol music lovers and clubbers – and recently returned from dry dock with a complete revamp.

“Thekla is such a unique venue with a great back story and has been in the city for a long time,” said Thekla’s Promotions Manager Pat Somers. “We at DHP Family took over in 2006 and have tried our best to present a thorough and eclectic programme of live music events, backed with club nights covering a variety of tastes.” And that they have, with some high profile gigs over the years, including Foals, Magnetic Man and Joss Stone.

But Thekla is just one of many successful small music venues in Bristol. Where other cities struggle to support more than a couple of live music venues (we’ve seen the closure of popular venues in Cardiff, Southampton and London in recent years), Bristol is brimming full of well-loved gig spots – with promoters often working together for the greater good.

Pat explains: “We run shows, including Dot to Dot Festival, all around the city and work with almost all venues. It’s great that Bristol can support the number of live music venues it does – you’d be hard pushed to find as many in any city outside of London or Manchester.”

Bristol venue owners/promoters are an inspirational, passionate bunch. Take Mig Schillace, who runs The Louisiana. He said: “Years ago, we had a situation where we had noise complaints from one of our then neighbours. We ended up having to close for a month, spending £60,000 to soundproof the live room. It was a choice of either throwing in the towel or selling our family home so we could get the work done. We sold our house. I think people like that it isn’t run by some big corporate chain, but is a home from home.”

And that personal investment’s paid off with the Louie (as it’s affectionately known). Over the years they’ve seen live shows from the likes of Coldplay, Muse and The White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, Scissor Sisters and Mumford & Sons…the list goes on. They’ve just invested in a snazzy new sound desk and are hailed as the favourite local venue of many a musician, promoter and punter.

Aled Chivers, of Chiverin Promotions, started his career with the Louie and is fast gaining a reputation for his on the money gigs. He said: “Bristol is full of promoters who care, with the likes of Electric Harmony, UATM, Howl, The Flux, Howling Owl and The Gallimaufry all putting on really cool DIY bits and pieces, as well as DHP, The Fleece, Start the Bus etc. bringing in some of the bigger acts. Even the record shop Rise puts on some amazing in-store shows and Bristol Live Mag has its monthly launches, they’re both really supportive of the local scene.”

From veteran venues, such as The Louisiana and Thekla, to a newer wave such as Exchange and Grain Barge and more unusual spaces such as The Cube and The Old Bookshop, small venues in Bristol are thriving. And at the height of touring season, music fans are plagued by gig clashes – yet gigs continue to sell out in the face of stiff competition.

Pat added: “Bristol has an incredibly active live music scene which seems to bubble just underneath the national radar, backed by great local promoters and national promoters with good bases here who are responsible for bringing the vast array of touring talent to the city which keep the venues vibrant and stop them going down the tribute band/pub rock route, which can kill the creativity in a city if that’s all there is on offer.

“It’s a great time for live music in Bristol, long may it continue!”

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