Historic venue the Bristol Beacon reopens after five-year refurb with ‘renewed sense of purpose’

It has hosted everyone from Rachmaninoff to The Rolling Stones, and now the historic Bristol Beacon music venue has reopened after a costly, controversial five-year refurb.

Before it closed, the venue had formerly been known as Colston Hall, named after the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, but was rebranded after decades of protests from civil rights activists and musicians, including the Bristol-formed trip-hop collective, Massive Attack.

The newly named Bristol Beacon was due to reopen in 2020, but after a further three years of works, it will finally welcome music fans back through its doors from Thursday (30 November).

Artistic director Todd Wills said the venue had undergone a “total overhaul” of its performance spaces and was returning with “a renewed sense of purpose to bring people together through music”.

“For audiences, this means a world-class experience and artists returning that haven’t played in Bristol for five years,” he told The Independent.

“We’ll be better able to support the local music community through our new cellars complex and talent development programme, with performance space as well as rehearsal and recording facilities.

“Having our own spaces back will mean we can build on our in-house programme and develop more meaningful relationships with artists at every level of their career.”

The history of artists who had graced the venue’s stages is “insane”, he added.

“Name any iconic artist and chances are they will have played here. One of my first bookings when I started at Bristol Beacon was Crosby, Stills and Nash. I remember panicking as to whether or not I could afford to do it! But I shouldn’t have worried because, obviously, the tickets flew out the door and the show itself still remains one of my favourites.”

Inside the newly refurbished Bristol Beacon (Elliot Hingston, Soul Media)
Inside the newly refurbished Bristol Beacon (Elliot Hingston, Soul Media)

Following a report by the Music Venue Trust that warned of the dire situation faced by hundreds of grassroots music venues around the UK, Wills condemned the “shortsighted” lack of government funding in the arts sector.

“It is harder than ever to keep venues open due to rising costs, so I do hope the newly announced Arts Council fund for grassroots music will start to make a difference,” he said. “We see Bristol Beacon as part of a live music ecology and venues of different sizes are vital to sustaining the sector.”

Musician Lady Nade, a patron for Music Venue Trust, also hailed the “vital role” music venues play in fostering “a sense of togetherness” for their communities, as well as the symbolic name change to the Bristol Beacon.

“The seeds of change and healing planted by these actions are fostering a more inclusive and interconnected community,” she said.

“The transformative power of music as an antidote for hardship, capable of connecting, uniting, and uplifting, has always resonated with me.

“Acknowledging my role as one of their alumni, Bristol Beacon honoured my ongoing dedication to using music to promote positive connections between music and well-being.

“They have added my name to their Hall of Fame steps engraved alongside legends like Nick Cave, Grace Jones, and Portishead as part of the new building re-launch, as well as adding collaborative lyrics I wrote with Key Stage children about Bristol on their Heritage wall, both are an honour that fills me with great pride.”