_Venue: Thekla

_Venue: Thekla

The Bristol Showboat Saga, Chapter Two – The Institution

You cannot say you have been out in Bristol if you have not been in Thekla.

However, I doubt most of you know what Thekla is – An Institution. A weird place surrounded by spirits, magic, music and a feeling you cannot describe

A big part of those myths is the venue itself. An old German cargo ship builds in 1958 and carrying chamber after the WW2.


The story begins with the dream of a few people in the 80’s. The old ship was bought by the novelist Ki Longfellow-Stanshall the wife of Vivian Stanshall, known as the vocalist of the band Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Ki found more mad heads who sell their houses (they actually lived on boats) and businesses in order to fund the project. The ship was in terrific condition and it took around 3 years to make it flow again. During that time there have been numerous difficulties to overcome, including big financial and personal issues. The 80s dream anchor the project to the Mud Dock area of Bristol's Floating Harbour in 1983.

The dream of Vivian, Ki, and all the mad ship crew was to establish a floating theater. An art space for workshops, acts, auditions and a restaurant taking place - The Old Profanity Showboat.

If you have a spare hour BBC has made a film called ‘The Bristol showboat saga

I think this movie really resembles how the 80’s were – selling everything you have for a dream introduced to you after a night out.

I see the whole project somehow happening out of nowhere driven by the 80’s magic.
But there you go, it happened. Thank you, Magic!

The Old Profanity Showboat put on over 240 theatrical productions, staging the varied efforts of theatrical troupes from all over Britain, plus the work of the students of the nearby Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
It was one of the first venues to stage Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye's Moby Dick the Musical.

The mad captains created Stinkfoot, a Comic Opera - a three-hour-long musical comedy produced by Ki, directed by Vivian in 1985, which was selling out every night on the docks.

By 1986 the project could no longer survive and the venue closed the same year.

During the 1990s, under new management, has been run as a rent-a-nightclub. The ship has now been returned to its original working name of Thekla.

It became an emblematic place for the drum and bass world having names like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Rony Size.

In 2006 the club gets operated by independent national promoter DHP Family, who refurbishment the ship and made it into what it is today.


If all the history was not enough one of the earliest Banksy’s works, the Grim Reaper was ‘living’ on the ship. A few years ago the work has been taken off the boat after another renovation of the ship. The artwork can now be seen in the City's M Shed museum.

As the ship itself, the grim reaper had an interesting faith. He was overpainted by harbor master without knowledge of the owners. However, the great Banksy came back and repainted it.

Now the Thekla team is allowing other graffiti work to be put on the ship starting with INKIE.

If you are a talented graffiti artist this might be your time to shine.


Nowadays Thekla is an institution of music and nightlife.

The live acts are happening a couple a week and the calendar is booked up untill October!! The personal favorite coming up on 22nd is Thundercat. Incredible artist involved in all kind of music and collaborating with the biggest names in the industry. The live acts are so much that you should give a look at the list yourself and prepare to party.

Whenever there is no life act the club nights kick in.
The club is named one the weirdest places to party:

After changing hands in 1990, it’s now an indie landmark and has hosted everyone from Flying Lotus and Foals to Little Comets and We Smoke Fags. Inside, there are viewing platforms, Crystal Maze-style corridors and, presumably, a large gap where the old U-Boat engine once was.
— Hidden Britain: 8 unique UK music venues, Red Bull

If this venue and everything around has such a weird history I can only imagine the life stories happened there and yet to be happening.

This only remains me of my favorite book Soul Music’ by Terry Pratchett and I can say that this is ‘The Ship with Rocks In’ a major part of the Discworld.

Eva Christoff

(Underground Columnist)