The Tunnels is an exciting new 360 capacity venue with an enviably unique location. Occupying two grade one listed railway arches, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunnel, and tucked neatly beneath Bristol Temple Meads central railway station, The Tunnels must be Bristol's most easily accessed nightspot. Not only is it serviced by comprehensive bus and rail transport, almost to the door, there is also, unusually for Bristol, a wealth of free parking immediately in front of the venue, all under the watchful eye of The Tunnels security team. And there can't be too many venues that can boast about having a taxi rank on their roof!
Opened in October 2009 this venture has been conceived and realised in the peak of a global recession, showing that creator Gareth Chilcott has the courage to match his ambitions. It's perhaps not surprising considering the achievements of this Bristol-born iconic personality. Sporting his trademark headband, Chilcott, better known as Cooch, made over 400 first team appearances for Bath RFC and was capped for England 22 times between 1984 and 1990. The sweatband that protected Cooch from the telltale condition 'cauliflower ear' throughout his rugby career enjoyed a new incarnation after he hung up his boots and launched Headband Ltd, a hospitality company providing mobile bars to prestigious events around the country. Now considered to be a leading international rugby pundit, Cooch regularly makes celebrity guest appearances, and has graced the stage in a number of regional theatre productions.
Resisting the temptation to trade on his name, Cooch branded the venue and launched it without so much as a nod to his former achievements. Caution was inspired by the wholesale media pounding of Mama Stones in Exeter, after Wendy Joseph, (mother of Joss Stone), bought and rebranded The Hub, reopening it as a music venue back in the summer of 2009. This has been a smart move in more ways than one. The Tunnels is the right name for this underground, discretely hidden venue. After visiting it, it is hard to imagine that it could be called anything else.
A small doorway, no more than an illuminated dot on a manmade cliff face of blackened rock, is all that betrays the existence of life. The soundproofing is immaculate. Emerging from the dusky car park, lit only by the ambient glow of distant streetlights, the full impact of the scale and industrial grandeur of this rather splendid space hits you with full impact as you step across the threshold. Partially clad in corrugated sheet metal, that gives way to large areas of exposed brickwork, it's clear that the interior has been designed to follow the sweeping lines of the superstructure, a decision that was probably heavily influenced by the ceaselessly stringent stipulations of the Heritage Planning Department, but is one that allows for an optimal use of the space.
The layout is intelligent. Although conforming to predetermined dimensions, this is a venue that is custom made for the purpose of delivering quality music to large numbers of people. The first arch, which houses the bar and sprawling lounge, with toilets and smoking area to the rear, has dual access to the performance area running parallel to it. The stage occupies a sizeable portion of the far end of the second arch, allowing the audience to filter, with minimum disturbance, from the side. Disabled access is garnered via a door leading directly from the car park, adjacent to the main entrance. The fact that this leads to a viewing platform that elevates wheelchair bound patrons to a position where they can enjoy great views of the stage is indicative of the thought and consideration that has gone into mapping out the space.
This venue is being operated with seeming consummate ease, without a trace of evidence pointing to the problematical process that brought it into being. Cooch had been searching for the right opportunity to put down some roots for several years, but initial attempts to secure a property of the correct proportions were thwarted by costly surveying procedures that resulted in disappointment. "I've always wanted a music venue" he confided, "I looked at the Fleece a couple of years ago, and didn't buy it because of structural problems... And then, after a lot of searching, two derelict arches came up, with a lot of rain, a lot of rats, a lot of dirt and hard work, and, of course, it's a listed building, and so as soon as you touch that you've got to get everything passed by Heritage... But in the end it was worth it. It's a bit quirky. It's a bit different. The acoustics are great, and the bands like playing here. It works." There's no denying that Cooch is right, The Tunnels definitely works, but the timing of the development, with the backdrop of global recession, could hardly be considered ideal. Ever the professional, Cooch takes a philosophical stance... read full review on my blog: travelpod.com/members/bi…
Went here for a work charity function and really had a good time. Located in one of the refurbished arches on your left as you come out of the rail station.
Great place to go to listen to a band/singer etc as the acoustics are great.
reasonably priced drinks and cool little section outside for the smokers.
Staff were all very helpful and contributed to a good evening. Would recommend this place to anyone, check it out
Smart little music venue set into two of the arches under the station approach ramp up to the front of Temple Meads station. It was more or less purpose built only about a couple of years ago so it's as bright as a new pin inside. Ex England rugby prop and tv personality Gareth Chilcott owns and runs it so if you like being seen with sporting celebs it should definitely be on your list. It does quite a lot of private parties, plus some of the tribute acts that used to frequent the Fleece before the latter's reanimation under the ownership of the Blue Aeroplanes, but in amongst the dross there's quite a few class acts. Among others I've seen the Vibrators, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, the Kinks (without Ray or Dave), Les McKeown's Bay City Rollers, the Glitter Band with Captain Sensible, Toyah and Sham 69 here. Sham's scarier fans were kept well in order by Mr Chilcott doing his own bouncing at the front of the stage, while he was clearly enjoying singing along to the music too! Overall then a grand little place well worth keeping an eye on the listings for.