Local voices: Colston Hall and new beginnings

Sarah Robertson on the future for the home of Bristol music

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Sarah Robertson

Sarah is Special Projects Director at Bristol’s (soon to be re-named) Colston Hall and has lived in the city for 12 years.

October 31st, 2018

Colston Hall, Bristol’s home of music, opened in 1867. It’s closed at the moment for a two year transformation project which will revamp its performance spaces and add a third performance venue and education spaces. 

What do you think makes Colston Hall so special?

Sometimes I play a game with friends and family and get them to think of one of their musical heroes. David Bowie? Played at Colston Hall. The Beatles? Played at Colston Hall. Bob Marley? Played at Colston Hall. Ella Fitzgerald? Played at Colston Hall.

Most of the greats of popular music have performed here, and sometimes I can sense that grand musical heritage in the walls and atmosphere of the Hall.

What’s your role at Colston Hall?

I look after our strategic projects, including the transformation of the building which is really exciting at the moment.

Running a building project is a time-consuming business, but we don’t want to stop our first love of promoting music, so as well as using our lovely foyer space for club style events, we are taking our music programme on the road, putting on gigs in some of Bristol’s quirky and more intimate venues.

Why have some musicians including Bristol’s Massive Attack refused to play there?

When Colston Hall was built, the Victorian city leaders named it after Bristol’s most famous philanthropist, the 18th century slave trader, Edward Colston - that’s why some artists and groups have voiced opposition to the name.

There’s no Colston money in our building, it was built 146 years after he died. But as a venue that wants to welcome all Bristol’s communities, having the name of a slave trader has made it difficult.

So our Trustees have taken the decision to reopen under a new name in 2020. We are working hard to consult as many people and communities as possible to find a new name that is much more about modern Bristol and the joy that music brings to city.

Does the Bristol music scene still have a ‘sound’?

I don’t think there’s a scene in the city that’s as strong as the trip hop/drum and bass movement which saw bands like Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead dominating the UK music scene.

Now there’s a real DIY ethos to making music, with bands like Idles. They’ve gone from playing venues like The Golden Lion and The Exchange to national success. Bristol supports its own and the fact that a local band are making waves again is hugely exciting to watch.

Photo by Shotaway

Three words to describe Bristol to someone who’s never been here

Innovative, anarchic, laid-back.

What’s Bath and Bristol’s best kept secret?

Venturing off the beaten track is easy in Bristol because it’s a fairly small city, it’s not difficult to get to most places on foot or by bike. My top tip would be to head for the Tobacco Factory Theatres in Bedminster.

The theatre there is perfectly designed so that you’re up close to the performers. The shows they produce themselves are top class, and I love the sheer variety of their programme that takes in classics, comedy, children’s shows - even opera. And now they have another new performance space, The Spielman Theatre. And the bar is just a great place to hang out in.

What would you do on your ideal day out?

I’d start my day with a cinnamon bun and flat white at Harts Bakery in Temple Meads before heading to Arnos Vale Cemetery for a stroll in their beautiful woodland. From there I’d hop on a bus to Bath with my five year old for a play in the city’s amazing Victoria Park and take in a show at children’s theatre The Egg.

Back in Bristol for the evening, I’d mix work and pleasure and take my husband to a gig in the Colston Hall foyer which is the perfect space for one of our favourites - electronic artist Marie Davidson.

And because it’s an ideal day, we’d head back to our Executive Suite at the Avon Gorge Hotel, ending the day with a glass of champagne looking out over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. In my dreams…

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