I wrote a bit of a venue guide for Rife, a new online platform for young people. Obviously, I didn’t think about quite how young the audience might be and managed to riddle my original version with lots of references to alcohol and none to how old you might have to be to get in the venues. I am a silly sausage. So, now you can choose from the Rife one (click here to have a look) or the spicier version for 18+s below. Enjoy.
What Bristol lacks in an arena it more than makes up for in its many quirky music venues. This guide aims to inform you on where to get your ears on the best of Bristol’s music scene (and get a cheap pint into the bargain).
Look up ‘twee’ in the dictionary and you’ll find vintage-lover’s delight, The Birdcage. These guys are serious about coffee, know how to put a salad plate together and own more bone china than your nan. They also know how to put on a jolly good show on their mini-stage. Particularly partial to acoustic gigs, this is the place to get to know your Earl Grey from your gunpowder tea while soaking in some vintage vibes. They even have an in-house vintage shop for you to riffle through between sets.
Colston Hall is a whopper of a venue that thankfully doesn’t shy away from an eclectic programme. Rock, pop, jazz and funk has all found a home here, and the new addition of the medium-sized (and medium-priced) Lantern space means even more acts and audiences can get involved in the good times. The Bath Ales bar and kitchen downstairs has also had a recent revamp, meaning you can get a half of Gem down you in style, or, take on some tapas with Gordito, the Barcelona –inspired restaurant out back you swanky bugger you.
Run by the people who brought the much-missed Croft to life, Exchange is the phoenix from the flames. Set in at the town-end of Old Market, it’s grungey, tough and full of the same energy that inspired so much Croftian love. They’re serious about their line-ups and cater to an audience who are similarly inspired by the noisier side of the coin. The girl’s toilets are pretty rad— any reports on the male ones are welcome.
The Fleece is way down in Temple Meads so it’s perfect if you’re coming down to Bristol for some short-term kicks. Despite the massive pillars in the way, you can always depend on a show sounding great here (even if you can’t quite see it). Recently the venue has been threatened by stupid housing planners who are trying to jam in flats within hearing distance of the venue, which is just plain silly. The amount of support behind #savethefleece (including from George Ferguson, our beloved leader) shows how close to Bristol’s knarled bosom this venue really is. Sign here if you haven’t already.
Big Chill Bristol
All manner of DJs flock to this cool as ice bar venue, but be warned: these DJs do not take requests. There’s an all-day menu on offer, but this place really comes alive at night with lots of cocktails to whet your whistle (reportedly the Wray and Nephew will send you particularly psychotic). Careful of the bouncers too as they tend to be picky, especially if you’re a load of blokes out on a single-sex drinking mission.
Start the Bus
Peace up, A-town down, or whatever the cool kids say these days. STB is part of a very trendy chain of bars that span the UK, but unlike your usual chain, they actually wear their chaininess well. There’s very nice (if slightly over-priced) beers on tap and lots of good American diner inspired food on the menu. Steps give a good view of one of the best sounding stages in Bristol, and room seems to shrink or expand to fit any sized band. Fairy lights add to the cosy feel whatever the all-embracing programme lines up. The only let-down is the location which tends to lend to the influx of drunk Saturday night alcos who don’t really know why they’re there.
The Trinity Centre is a re-purposed church-turned-community arts centre. They have really good music things in motion for young people at the moment: checking out their website for more information on free stuff that could get you on the track to a career in the arts is a great idea. As well as playing cool older sibling to the community, they’re also unafraid of having talks, workshops and club nights as part of their wonderful musical agenda. Everything they put on is top drawer and sounds great.
The Golden Lion
Up Stoke’s Croft, then up some more, you’ll find Bishopston’s big ol’ lovely pub, The Golden Lion. It’s rough and ready, but what it loses out on smart, it makes up for in charm. Great for a pint and a chance to catch some of Bristol’s smaller bands before they do an Ezra and end up all over the place.
The O2 Academy
It’s corporate, it’s soulless, it’s full of over-priced drinks and way too many people, but at least we’ve got it. These Academy places are every-flipping-where, and unfortunately Bristol’s is the only place big enough to house larger bands wanting to visit the South-West. Boring and expensive, but just about fit for purpose.
The Anson Rooms
This place attracts lots of students as its part of the University of Bristol’s Student Union and is always roomy enough to have a rave down the front or back. Unfortunately, it has the worst sounding bass ever. You might be forgiven for thinking that you were repeatedly being hit in the face with a wet fish or that the sound system was borrowed from a boy racer’s radio. Shockingly enough this place was refurbished not long ago. What went wrong, guys?
Of course, the main advantage of a pub venue is lots and lots of drinks to choose from—but The Louisiana is even more special than that. Scan the walls and you can feel the prestigious history of the venue through all the posters of bands that have played in years past. It kind of feels like your aunties lounge (and they do a mean roast on a Sunday that your auntie would probably love), but it manages to attract old and young to the two permanent stages based upstairs and down in the basement. The upper room has been soundproofed so much it sounds marvellous in there. The neighbours must appreciate it too.
In for refurb up by the Grain Barge for now, Thekla is Bristol’s premier waterborne venue. The balconies are fantastic for views (if you’re quick enough) and the audience there is always up for a good time. Club night Pressure on a Wednesday is an institution for 18 and overs, but you might feel a bit old you’re over 21… Another warning: the drinks queues are always a killer, and the bar staff are always over-worked and snarling by midnight.
Smelly, dirty and great. Bands are stuffed into the upper room where people stand on chairs to grab a better look. This place is always properly packed to the rafters. Bands love it here: you can go minor celebrity spotting if you have the time or the inclination. The beer is good and the cider is strong! Check out their special shooters if you think you’re ‘ard enough.