Bristol’s Live Music Crisis

live music crisisBristol can hold its head high in respect of what it offers its city dwellers in terms of arts and culture. In 2017 the Beeb awarded the city “best place to live in the UK” and with a new hipster way of life sweeping the city, it's fast becoming a hugely desirable place to live. You only have to cast your eyes across the many cranes erected throughout the city centre and harbourside, to see Bristol is taking on a whole new persona. Sadly, this comes at a price in the form of a live music crisis.

Development plans have already seen the closure of legendary venue The Bierkeller; Nirvana’s first stop on their UK tour of Nevermind. And more recently The Sussex Wine Vaults had to close due to noise complaints from their new luxury apartment neighbours. I’ve lost track of how many petitions I’ve signed to support The Fleece in the face of similar adversity.

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Now, two very well regarded music venues are fighting tooth and nail so we can continue to enjoy live music on a daily basis, avoiding a wider live music crisis the likes of which other UK cities are all too familiar. Thekla and The Canteen, both with their own unique charm have opened their doors to some truly memorable performances over the years; personally, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the many good times, drinks, sing-a-longs and dances I’ve shared in these venues (the dancing, always coming at a cost of the drinking you understand).

Thekla is a former cargo ship moored in the Muddock area of Bristol’s floating harbour. Like The Fleece, it’s big on picking up all the passing trade of music’s next big thing and a comfortable setting for up and coming bands to stop off, show off and move on. A lot of the bands that have gone on to bigger things have graced these venues in their quest for world domination.

The Canteen, on the other hand, is a much more local affair. It doesn’t book the big bands because it doesn’t need to. What The Canteen offers leans heavily towards world music and DJ’s, it will accommodate travelling musicians as much as it will local acts, but you’ve got to be a little off the beaten track; musically speaking. The music you get at The Canteen is unlike any other; a place for all things pure and unaffected by or representing commercial exposure can flourish. Alice Tatton-Brown of Hamilton House Tenants Action Group told the Bristol Post why she feels this popular venue should be protected: "I don’t think there is anywhere else like it in Bristol. It encapsulates the spirit of Bristol – a certain kind of anarchy and creative energy you can't find anywhere else."

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To keep the spirit of Bristol's music scene alive, these legendary venues may have just been given a life-line. Earlier this year the government unveiled plans to introduce and put into action by spring: The Agent of Change Principle. This potentially new law will take huge amounts of pressure off music venues; meaning it will now be the responsibility of developers to ensure any business or property is correctly sound-proofed. It will also mean positions of windows and doors will have to be ensured in the design stages. Speaking with DHP Family, owners of Thekla, manager Alex Black expresses how important it is for developers to consider long-standing music venues when submitting planning applications: "It's vitally important that planners take into consideration existing venues when making decisions on new developments. The decision they take could potentially have a disastrous impact on the Bristol music scene and night time economy. We've seen too many venues fall victim to residential developments and being forced to close."

For now, we must wait to see this new law actioned and only time will tell if it defuses the current situation and live music crisis. Thankfully, these venues fighting to stay open have long ago found their way into the hearts of many. And the first sniff of a venue potentially closing is met with swift petitions and protests. Here's to a time when we no longer have to.

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