It hardly seems like a week goes by these days without us not hearing about another small venue closing. One of the most recent, The Croft, in Bristol, was so well loved that some people (and Andrew WK) came together to make a brilliant documentary about it, one which you can see at the foot of this feature. We also take this opportunity to mull on the future of “The Toilet Circuit” & to explore what made such venues so special.
Back on 13th May a much loved “naturally punk rock” venue in Bristol, just outside of the city centre, closed it’s doors for the last time with a small but emotional party. To celebrate the venue a small, locally based film company (Rataplan Films) hooked up with one of the cities local unsung music heroes (Fear Of Fiction (now Bristol Live) who promote festivals, produce a monthly gig guide / magazine, release records & just basically do much more than anyone would think possible for such a small organisation) to make a film celebrating the venue. Said film can be watched below.
However, before you rush off to the next post because you don’t live & never have lived in Bristol bear this in mind – over the last few decades every city’s had at least one venue like The Croft, a small place in which wonderful things happen, probably with a capacity of under 200 & which everyone knows has, “for years & years & years been the centre of alternative music” in said city. Granted this is ostensibly a video about one small venue in one medium sized city, but you could substitute the name of The Croft in this video for any other similar venue in the UK and most of it would still ring true.
As we mentioned above small venues like The Croft are closing down on a regular basis these days. Yes, we all cheered when the “Small Venue Licence Amendment Bill (SVLAB)” went through (in Louder Than War our dear leader described it as being “A rare piece of good news for the beleaguered musician..”) but perhaps we weren’t thinking the whole thing through, perhaps the larger picture was evading our ken then. Think about this – I dunno about you but I’ve already been to more “gigs in rooms above pubs” this year than I have in all the past ten years put together. Is this the knock on effect of the SVLAB? Obviously only time will tell but will we look back in years to come & be able to pinpoint the beginning of the end of the “Toilet Circuit” to one small bill in parliament that we all cheered at the time?
Enough about that for now & back to The Croft. There are two main things that made The Croft (& venues like it) so special for me. Firstly it was a place that fostered music (it was “the musical womb of Bristol” to quote from the video). The Bristol music scene would be a lot less vibrant now had it not been for The Croft because rather than just being a live music venue it was a place musicians / fans of music to hang out together – whether or not there was a gig on. It fostered connections. I was in Hull during the infamous “London 0 – Hull 4” days of the Housemartins & the exact same was the case there with Adelphi. Every city needs a Croft or Adelphi.
The second ting was the variety of music they put on. Although probably most well known in it’s latter days as a venue for “alternative guitar music” that was only a small part of the story. Arguably the biggest musical influence The Croft had on the city was that it was the host venue for the nascent Dubstep scene back in “the day”. Sadly, despite attempting to get people from Subloaded / Dubloaded to appear in the video everyone declined so this part of the venues history didn’t get documented therein but it’s arguable that without the weekly nights they put on at The Croft (which, it should be noted, preceded the London Club night that people most associate with the beginning of Dubstep, Club DMZ, by some time) Bristol wouldn’t now have its rep as being one of the homes of bass music. In between those two genres, Dubstep & Alt Guitar, you got everything – two of my favourite nights in the venue were when “world music” artists played the city for instance (the mighty Omar Souleyman & The Krar Collective) & in more recent days they were where the cities burgeoning hardcore scene flourished even though the owners of The Croft knew that most of the people coming to watch the bands would be xstraightx xedgex & so bar takings would be minimal. Not for them the scary trend of banning hardcore shows in your venue because it wouldn’t be worth their while putting such a show on.
But the future for Bristol isn’t exclusively gigs in pubs as the good news is that the ethos of The Croft is going to live on in a new venue. The people behind The Croft have bought the lease to a new venue, The Exchange, over in a different part of town – something that’s fuelled conspiracy theorists to muse that perhaps there’s more to the sale of The Croft than meets the eye. “The gentrification of Stokes Croft” is a statement that’s been bandied about quite a lot of late & one can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of dark power at work here; that following the “riots” in Stokes Croft last year (which Kerry McCarthy wrote about for us here) the places that are considered hubs of the area are being bought out by establishment friendly “chain stores” such as (in the case of The Croft) that modern day equivalent of the wine bar & scion of good old fashioned “proper boozers” a “craft beer emporium”. Twas with a wry smile that we saw said place mention of twitter the other day that they wanted to use the space to put on live performances “such as theatre & comedy” but noticeably NOT live music (which they’ve stated categorically that they won’t be doing). (Obviosuly no one for a moment is suggesting The Croft was in on the whole thing but considering how many empty places there are in the area it seems weird they should’ve been offered so much money that selling was a no brainer).
But lets forget about Stokes Croft for now & turn our attention to The Exchange. Already it’s obvious The Exchange is carrying on where The Croft left off. It kicked off last year with an amazing all dayer put on by Deadpunk Promotions & soon followed it up with Dubloaded’s 8th Birthday Party. Business as usual. Many of the same things they used to do at The Croft is now happening at The Exchange. Like The Croft they’ve started having two different shows on the same night, one in the bigger room upstairs, the other in a smaller pit downstairs & they’ve also started merging upstairs & downstairs shows so we have a long evening trotting between the two stages.
Finally, back to the video. Like all documentaries it focusses on talking heads but it also has some amazing footage from the aforementioned final show, including a stirring chorus of “Croft, Croft, Croft, Croft…” conducted by Chris Turbowolf who later on dived off the true highest point in the room, a weird ledge at the back of the room. Turbowolf headlined the show & did so with admirable aplomb – an inspired booking albeit the second choice as the owners of The Croft had been trying to get Andrew W.K. to play but sadly he was too busy being an international superstar to do that. As we all trailed out at the end though we did get the chance to check out a video the man had made for the venue (proving his “international superstar” status it was filmed at The Croft) apologising for not being able to attend but tipping his hat to the spirit of partying.
The last words on the film are left to Turbowolf who ended their set with the words “The Croft is Fucking Dead, Long Live The Croft”. A fucking Men to that.
Special props go out to Rataplan films whose amazing editing managed to make this bumbling, stuttering idiot seem, y’know, like he had some vague semblance of communication skills. They can be found at their website HERE or on Facebook HERE. They also tweet as @rataplanfilms. If you’re Bristol based & have filmic needs turn to them & reward them for offering their services gratis on this occasion.