Famous for the dub reggae sound systems introduced by Caribbean migrants in the 70s and 80s, through to the development of trip-hop and jungle in the 90s and the bass music that rattles the windows of the town today, Bristol is a small city with a huge musical history. As such, anyone looking for concerts during their city break in Bristol will find a wealth of music venues catering for all tastes, so whether you’re keen to see the latest chart-toppers or would prefer to check out something more low-key or underground, you’ll certainly find something to tickle your fancy. David Bowie, Bob Dylan and The Beatles have all performed at Bristol’s famous Colston Hall, with the venue playing host more recently to pop heavyweights such as Seal, The Human League, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, along with more modern acts as Julia Holter and The Cinematic Orchestra.
city break in BristolExplore Bristol’s rich, vibrant musical history with our guide to the best of the city’s music venues
A host of modern and classic venues
Around the corner is the O2 Academy Bristol, which has been putting on big-name bands since it opened in 2001 with a sell-out performance from Ocean Colour Scene. Amy Winehouse, Arcade Fire and Radiohead are just some of the acts to have played at the venue over the years, while resident club night Ramshackle attracts guest DJs from all over the world. Another spot where you’ll find the world’s most famous artists and bands is Motion, where Gary Numan, DJ Shadow and Wild Beasts have all graced the stage – but concerts in Bristol go much further than just the big-name acts, and visitors are well-advised to sample some of the city’s more alternative musical highlights. The Louisiana on Wapping Road, a former hotel, is certainly a more modest venue than those mentioned already, and while it has played host over the years to some top names including Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Muse, acts currently confirmed for future gigs are mostly less well-known. It’s definitely a good spot for those hoping to catch the next big thing, while Mr. Wolf’s on St Stephen’s Street is another place where upcoming bands regularly get the chance to prove their worth. Exchange near Castle Park caters mainly for those into the heavier side of rock and punk, as does Thekla, a venue on what was once a German ocean-going vessel and is one of Bristol’s oldest and best gig locations – its deck is also a fantastic place to chill out in the summer.
Classical music and jazz
Classical music fans will find performances by celebrated musicians at the aforementioned Colston Hall, while decommissioned church St Georges is renowned for classical concerts in Bristol – the venue is also increasingly popular with folk, blues, jazz and world music artists and has fantastic acoustics. More jazz can be found at King Street’s The Old Duke – named after musical legend Duke Ellington – which is an unpretentious, lamp-lit gem of a gig venue. As mentioned, dub reggae has been a central part of the city’s musical culture for decades. Arts venue the Trinity Centre in Lawrence Hill occasionally puts on sound-system nights, while tiny basement club Cosies epitomises the laid-back Bristolian attitude and is a top spot for regular reggae and dancehall sessions.
From pubs to warehouses
A little further afield, the Golden Lion pub in the north of the city has an eclectic music policy, ranging from jazz, blues, folk and funk to electronica and indie acts, while for something a little different Leftbank bar on Cheltenham Road features a regular open-mic night on Wednesdays, which is renowned for its mix of unusual and comical performers. Finally, a mainstay of the more hedonistic side of Bristol’s nightlife is the warehouse-style Lakota in the Stokes Croft Conservation area, which showcases the underground music scene that the city is famous for. DJs spin drum’n’bass and dubstep here until the wee hours, and while it’s not for everyone, visiting clubbers will appreciate its authentic vibe.