The Fleece is situated on the ground floor of a grade II listed building called The Wool Hall. Built in 1830, the hall allowed Bristol's thriving wool trade to relocate from the city centre, following complaints about the smell produced during the processing of wool, and problems caused by sheep traffic on Bristol Bridge. The initiative was shortlived, and Bristol's wool trade moved again four years later. Thankfully the building survived the decades that followed, and World War II, picking up its listed status in 1975 and becoming The Fleece, more or less as we know it, seven years later.
"The Fleece has been a venue since 1982, so we’ve just hit 37 years! We remain to be Bristol’s largest independent venue and we’ve hosted many shows of the world’s best artists over the last 37 years including: Oasis, Muse, Amy Winehouse, The Darkness, Coldplay, Jeff Buckley, KT Tunstall, Ed Sheeran and George Ezra to name a few!"
- The Fleece's owner, Chris Sharp
With its characteristic stone floor and love or hate pillars and wooden beams, the venue has a unique underground feel despite its first-floor level. While some complain that the pillars obstruct the view, they do a splendid job of holding up the two floors above (originally used for storing all the wool).
"The age of the building gives the venue a lot of its character and it’s also the perfect shape, the room itself is one big square room with a nice high stage meaning all gig-goers have a great view of the stage, plus one of the longest bars in Bristol so everyone can get a drink with ease and less queuing while waiting for a beer!“ - Chris Sharp
In more recent years the stage has been the site of some memorable gigs, including numerous death-defying performances by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, and it remains a regular stop off for one of Bristol's best-known gig-goers, Big Jeff.
It's a pleasing twist that a venue that owes its existence to complaints about smells, offending the senses of Georgian Bristolians, has avoided the fate of noise complaints that kill many a venue in this day and age. The Fleece has resisted modern-day threats to push live music out of the lucrative real estate in favour of developers and apartment blocks, managing to turn the tables and getting planners to protect the venue's status.
The cultured bohemian air that Bristol has cultured relatively recently has predictably attracted those wanting to capitalise on its properties. Like Brighton or Hebden Bridge the resulting land grab is likely to destroy some of the culture that has helped improve the fortunes of the South West port city in the 21st century. It's encouraging to see that an independent venue like the Fleece can adapt and survive.
Find out more at thefleece.co.uk