DJ and comedian Chris Arnold has been keeping the spirit of Bristol’s famous good ship Thekla alive over the airwaves and gleaning new-music recommendations from his esteemed guests
It’s important that our struggling music venues remain in our thoughts – they need our support more than ever – and Thekla, the famous ship-club permanently docked in Bristol’s harbour and doubling up as a popular gig venue, has found a great way to keep in touch with music fans.
It launched its own light-hearted podcast – Isolation Discs – during lock-down, which is being hosted by DJ and stand-up comedian Chris Arnold.
Before the pandemic, Chris’s 2020 calendar was looking healthily busy, with the comic having already been booked in to perform at various festivals throughout the summer. “I certainly have been grappling with the fact that an industry which I love and have been involved with for many years now has been completely knocked sideways,” he tells The Focus.
Each week, Chris has interviewed different musicians for the new podcast, to get their take on the disrupting situation and how they’ve dealt with the new rhythm of life.
“It’s ended up being very therapeutic as we talk about what’s happened, what could happen moving forward and also how to cope and stay positive throughout this time,” he says.
“I have to believe that this is the kind of shake up that if we do it right, we can come out of this and build a better society across the whole world,” Beans on Toast tells Chris in episode four. “There must be deep lessons for us to learn about who we are and how we treat the planet, each other and our families. We must learn to appreciate things a little bit more.”
“Podcasts are also great for having an intimate conversation,” says Chris. “Unlike radio shows, you don’t have to keep an eye on the time, you don’t have to pause for the news or the travel or anything like that – you can just chat, and in the case of the Isolation Discs podcast, you can chat and listen to the great tunes that your guest has brought to the table.”
The format of the show is fairly simple, as you can probably imagine: guests select seven ‘isolation discs’ from various categories – a song they’re loving in isolation, a song that reminds them of going outside, a song from one of their favourite albums – and these are sandwiched between chat about said selections.
“Beans on Toast, who has been doing FB live shows and recording tunes about the pandemic, picked a guy called Todd Snider [folk singer-songwriter], Cassia, who have just released their single Drifting, picked someone called Still Woozy [pop/’indietronica’], Shosh from 24hr Garage Girls DJ collective picked Mahalia [R&B/soul] – brilliant acts that I’d never heard of. I’ve since gone away and discovered more of their music.”
“In the Beans on Toast episode, myself and Beans agreed that as great as music streaming sites like Spotify are, it can often feel like you’re lost in an ocean of music and you don’t know where to start,” says Chris, “so to have some regular hand-picked recommendations has been amazing.
Guests have continued to release music as well as finding different ways to keep busy and contribute to the community during lock-down.
Hollie Cook, who talks to Chris in episode nine about growing up with a Sex Pistol as a parent and starting her musical career in punk act The Slits, has been live streaming performances. “I’ve never done anything like it before and it’s keeping me quite happy. Just to check in and be able to sing, it gives us something to work towards. I haven’t been so good at creating the new stuff right now so recreating existing material in a totally new way that I’ve never performed before has been really fun.”
“Josh from The Skints has been working as a delivery driver, helping people get independently brewed beer,” says Chris. “Jake from Cassia has been writing their next album while stuck in Berlin, and IDLES have just released Mr. Motivator – an absolute belter of a tune.
“Dev from IDLES, like Danny Nedelko from Heavy Lungs, has also downloaded music-making software and is trying to make electronic music in his spare time.”
MC Gardna managed to keep his slot on Radio 1’s Big Weekend and performed remotely when it took its events online. Blues singer Elles Bailey played a solo show for her street on her piano. Her most recent album has won accolades during lock-down at the UK Blues Awards and the Americana Awards.
Meanwhile Mr. Scruff has organised his massive record collection in between homeschool sessions with his daughter. He has some positive thoughts on the future of the music industry and how reducing capacities in venues could be a good thing.
“At my night in Manchester, the capacity of the club was 500. When we had 500 in, the older regulars were moaning, so I cut the capacity by 50 and there was room for everybody to move and nobody moaned.
“If you’re putting too many people in a venue, you’re actually creating the opportunity for disharmony and for people to be not able to get into it, simply because you’ve got no personal space to throw some shapes.”
Listen to Isolation Discs via Spotify, Mixcloud, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. There will also be Thekla merchandise going on sale in the next couple of weeks to help the venue stay afloat – keep an eye on its social media pages for news and updates.
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