"I Miss Going To Shows!" Bristol's Big Jeff On The Live Music Lockdown
Big Jeff is a familiar sight not just in his native Bristol but also at festivals across the land. A committed gig-goer - he's racked up at least five shows a week for about 15 years now - his six foot four inch frame is a living landmark.
Bubbling with enthusiasm, he's a true gentle giant, someone who has spent his life supporting live music from the ground up. Making genuine friendships with some of his favourite artists, he's earned a shout out from Flying Lotus, and appeared in a video by indie rock outfit Augustines.
Since the lockdown began the entire Clash team have been discussing how much we miss going to shows - the rituals, the support bands, the bar staff... all of it, really.
So we decided to get on the phone to Big Jeff and chew over this strange period, and what we can all do to support venues and musicians during this strange time.
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Lockdown has had a big impact on the lives of music fans, hasn’t it?
Of course! But it’s not just our lives – it’s the artists, the people who work at the venues as well.
You’re famous for your passion for gigs, what is it that you love so much about live music?
For me, I love the feeling of hearing something being played live in front of me, and how emotionally it can really effect people.
And the other thing is that I like socialising in safe spaces. So quite often I find that gig venues would be my safe spaces because you can have structured socialising – you’d know what times the doors are, what time the supports are on.
When you go to gigs you start to notice certain faces turning up to certain shows, and it’s basically a real feel of getting to understand those communities, and making friendships that way.
That’s very true – when you go to shows you get to know the people on the door, the sound crew, the staff at the bar…
Definitely. And they are the people who make and break a venue for me. It’s a communal hub. You see certain people at certain shows – different promoters bring in different crowds, and so they’d have metal people at a metal show, but sometimes I’d find people who are into multiple genres, or labels who put on showcases that attract a very particular audience.
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What was the last gig you went to before the shutdown?
Jon Hopkins! In Bath at the Forum. It was amazing! He’s one of those people where I jump at any opportunity to see him play. I’ve seen him maybe 10 or 12 times now. And he’s incredible.
I place him up there with Anna Meredith and Max Cooper and Mica Levi in terms of producers who are really pushing forward-thinking ideas. The way in which he manages to meld classical composition with electronics and techno and experimental dance stuff.
I’d love to see him with either Max Cooper or Anna Meredith, really. That’s be one hell of a show!
Each of those artists thrives on the physical impact of sound don’t they? You can’t replicate that at home.
It’s overwhelming! Especially with Anna Meredith, it’s about the intensity of sound. She’ll use the different dynamics of the instruments as they’re playing to breathe into that space, or develop different textures. It’s like she’s playing prepared piano pieces.
How has the shutdown effected you personally?
I definitely miss shows. I miss going to shows and seeing my friends. I was also involved with various different art groups as well, so it’s definitely had quite a major impact on my whole life in general.
I miss going to shows, but it’s more than just watching musicians play – I miss being able to interact with them face to face. I find that when I go to the smaller shows that it’s really easy to go up and say hello to them! And I’ve actually developed so many friendships that way, just by going up to an artist after they’ve played a gig and chatting to them.
A lot of them work the merch stall, as well.
Yeah! So I go and buy the album straight from them. They appreciate people who support them. I think everyone appreciates support, really!
There’s people in my life that I only ever see at gigs, oddly. Do you have that?
I do. For instance, the other day I found myself going out for a walk in Bristol and I went past the Louisiana, which is one of my favourite venues and I just felt… this unnerving sadness, really, at seeing it all shut up. There’s so many people I only ever see at venues.
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Fans have rallied in support of these venues, have you been following those campaigns?
I’ve definitely noticed it. Some venues are Bristol have been selling their own merchandise to raise money for hardship funds. Both the Louisiana and the Exchange have been selling their own brand of t-shirts, which both look amazing, to be honest.
If I had a bit more money I probably would be buying them, but to be honest I don’t have that much money at the moment. I wish I could buy more things really!
Times are really tough for a lot of people, but emotional support goes a long way, too.
Yeah. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it wasn’t for venues. If it wasn’t for spaces for artists to play then we wouldn’t be able to have such a rich, culturally diverse country.
Completely! And you see that a lot in Bristol, in particular.
Yeah! There’s so many people pushing the boundaries. I really like Lynks Afrikka, who’s sort of like… I’m not sure how to describe him, but he’s this electro hip-hop party punk artist. He’s like a gender bending version of Sleaford Mods, basically! It definitely feels as if I’m missing the community spirit, really.
Have you been catching all the live streams?
Almost every night! The last couple of nights I’ve been watching the Indie Heads live stream, on their Instagram. Indie Heads is an American indie fanzine, type thing, and they’ve basically organised their own mini-festival, taking place in people’s living rooms. Low did a show as well. Villagers are doing a live stream.
There’s so many artists live streaming because it’s a way of them still contacting fans, and the fans helping them. Quite often what will happen is that people will find an artist, like their Bandcamp page, and then download a record. People forget that the internet is still a really powerful way of finding new artists. I’ve been finding myself uncovering loads of new artists this past week.
There’s a sense of community online too – some of the streams have chat functions. Have you been getting involved in that?
Some of them, yeah. Especially if I’ve noticed certain people that I recognise. I’ll be like: oh, it’s you! Specialist Subject have done some live streams, and when I go on I’ll know every person on the live stream. It’s like: oh it’s you guys! Hope you don’t mind my bad gags! Sometimes humour is a way of dealing with what’s going on at the moment.
Totally. Even though the venues are shut down, those communities still exist – it’s just that they express themselves in different ways.
They’ll still find a way. If people want to watch music, they’ll find ways to watch music. OK, it’s not the same as actually going to a venue. I mean, going to watch music is how I built my entire friend-base really. Seeing people’s faces on a regular basis. That’s what I miss, to a certain extent.
What do you think music fans can do to help these musicians and venues?
Ways that we can support the venues would involve buying whatever merchandise you can from the venues. Then also buying artists’ records… and if you can’t buy the records then even spreading their names around. If there’s someone that I really like then I’ll probably post about them on Twitter, or I’ll at least stream their record.
But in terms of venues, just support them as much as you can. They’re very important places! I think of them as my version of churches, really.
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Find Big Jeff on Twitter HERE.
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