As shown by the Star and Garter and new venues, Bristol’s nightlife is threatened but being forced into revival and rebirth.
Photos: Leon Pattrick
“This is what is happening to communities around the world, communities are getting pushed out and pushed out and pushed out, until we fight back. And today is an example of us fighting back,” a defiant resident of St. Pauls tells the Cable at the relaunch of the Star and Garter on Saturday.
Too often we hear of venues closing down in Bristol, from Bierkeller and the Surrey Vaults to Lakota and Blue Mountain, which was bought by student accommodation developers registered in Luxemburg. Other venues, including Thekla, Trinity Centre and The Fleece have either survived threats or still have insecure futures.
The Star and Garter also joined the list of closed venues last year. But this weekend, a thousand Bristolians attended the re-opening of the beloved Montpellier pub. A couple of days later, a community crowdfunder for a new, city-centre venue saw more than 900 supporters to contribute nearly £50,000 for its development. While spaces may be taken from us at an alarming rate, it is clear that the community and culture formed around them cannot.
In the last two years, Bristol has lost the Surrey Vaults and the Brunswick Club. Both venues provided a space for local people to come together and form multiple arts and music collectives. The CHAMP and Beef collectives in the Brunswick Club hosted events, workshops, fundraisers and a variety of nights for Bristolians, also providing a space for queer nights such as ‘Thorny’.
Despite more than 300 objections and the initial refusal by councillors last year to turn the old working-man’s club into office space, the decision was overturned through an appeal from the central government with a national planning inspectorate in April.
A policy that has long been a threat to music venues is permitted development rights – a controversial law introduced in 2013 that allows developers to convert offices into residential spaces without the scrutiny of a full planning application. Those concerned argue that it not only denies the community of venue spaces like the Brunswick Club, but also prevents the provision of affordable homes, which would be necessary to build as a condition of planning consent. While we cannot speculate about the future of the Brunswick, Bristol has seen the highest rate of office to residential conversions outside of London.
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CHAMP have now moved into Pennywell Studios in Easton, with other small businesses as well as those who had to leave Hamilton House. Jordan Martin, a member of the group tells the Cable: “It’s sad that lots of art spaces and collectives are finding it increasingly hard to hold down spaces, in most part due to real estate owners taking advantage of regenerating the area. Gentrification is often understood as inevitable, but can also be deeply unjust.”
“It’s been nice to see some spaces being taken back recently and made community owned, like the Exchange,” he said. “It would serve us better if councils and the government recognise how important art and community owned spaces are to Bristol.”
This weekend, the Star and Garter filled its square in Montpelier, even attracting big names such as Damian Marley, Dynamo, Dave Chappelle, Roni Size and Joe Peng to perform outside the pub. It closed last year after the death of legendary landlord Dutty Ken. After months of uncertainty, the pub was taken over by Malcolm Haynes, the man behind the return of St. Pauls Carnival last year.
It wasn’t these secret headliners that attracted the revellers, but the ever-living sense of community that was cultivated there. Whilst regarded largely as a space for the Afro-Caribbean population of St. Pauls and Montpelier, it was treasured by anyone that was passionate about Bristol’s grassroots music scene – described as the ‘spiritual’ home of Massive Attack and DJ Derek. Last year a successful campaign to save the pub from developers was celebrated with a huge sign that said, ‘Site Acquired…To Stay a Pub.”
As shown by the loss of venues like The Surrey Vaults, and the home to Noods Radio, the communities formed around spaces like this only dissipate when they are shut down, but they are not lost. When Noods announced a fundraiser to support their relocation, residents from the station put on a night at Crofter’s Rights, which was packed with supporters.
And last night, Dirtytalk, who have been organising parties for the last 10 years, exceeded their crowdfunding target of £45,000 to open a new venue in the city centre, Strange Brew. Their success is a testament to support behind the precision, thought, and creation in their pop-up nights around Bristol. They see the new venue as an evolving and adaptable space, which will come as a welcome respite to the looming student accommodation bringing with it the expanding scaffolding around town.
As Shaun Tennant from Strange Brew says, “Bristol has always had a strong DIY music and art scene, we feel it’s what makes this city unique and part of the reason we love it. With so many of our favourite music venues and clubs closing due to noise complaints and redevelopment works there aren’t many places left to go.”
“The response has been really heartening and has shown us the power of the Bristol music and arts community is even greater than we realised,” he adds.
Like the Star and Garter on the weekend, it is these overt messages from different communities that show the investment into such a big part of Bristol’s culture. While other venues like Lakota wait for their verdict, and local pubs such as The Criterion, founded in the community of St. Pauls, still hang in the balance, we have seen that often the fate of these spaces are not in our hands.
But as recent events have shown, the Bristol arts and music scene will stay here. We wait with excitement to see the new Star and Garter, and Strange Brew to take form.