To my dear, wonderful friend, Jeff,
You’ve been at the heart of our Independent Venue Week family for over five years now and our world has become so much richer for it. We were absolutely devastated to hear about the terrible accident you had at home recently.
The next few days, weeks, months and, possibly years, will be a really challenging time for you as you recover, both physically and mentally. But Jeff, you are one of the most courageous people I know and I hope and believe this courage will be at the heart of your recovery.
Since I heard about what happened to you, you’ve been in my thoughts constantly. We’ve shared so many brilliant moments together, on tour, on the phone and on zoom. It got me thinking back to how we became friends.
I first met you, when you came to Moles in Bath. I saw you and your trademark big curly hair, bouncing around down at the front of a show – your passion for live music was very evident.
Our paths crossed at various gigs and we very gradually got to know each other. I was so chuffed when you came along to our very first IVW launch event at the 100 Club in November 2017.
I knew doing the train journey on your own wasn’t something you did lightly, but you did it and I remember so vividly, being at the entrance when you walked into the 100 Club and said “Wow, I’ve never been here before”.
Your face lit up as you took in the room. We hugged and I introduced you to Jeff, the owner and the two of you went off, exploring all of the photos on the walls of bands who’ve played over the decades with Jeff, the owner, giving you a private tour and first hand history of the club. A very special moment for you both.
When you came back over having had the tour with Jeff, you were so excited to have learnt so much about the place from the owner, it occurred to me, you had your own story to tell about your gig going experiences.
So I asked you, there and then, if you would be up for talking with our host, BBC 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny, live on stage, about how going to gigs is such a big part of your life.
I was aware that public speaking is not something you’re at all comfortable with but, true to form, you thought about it for a split second and said, “er, yeah, ok sure”.
For me, it was a really big moment for you, taking yourself out of your comfort zone and doing something that would have made you anxious but wanting to share your love of music.
That takes real courage.
I’ve learnt, having got to know you over the years, that your passion for music and live shows is what drives you to do things you may find uncomfortable, like going to gigs in venues you’re not familiar with, being in a busy crowded room with strangers and, getting up on stage with no notice to be interviewed.
But, when it came to it, your chat with Shaun was a revelation. You talked so eloquently about how you need to see and experience live music, how that need was so strong it pushed yourself to overcome your anxieties and be out every night.
If a new venue opened in a part of Bristol you weren’t familiar with, you would walk there during the day to map out your route and then go back that evening, knowing how to get there and head down to the front of the stage.
You relayed all of this, live, on stage in front of about 100 press and music industry. And you were so passionate and eloquent. People hung on your every word. Many people knew of you but – for most – this was the first time that they’d ever met you.
It was joyous to see – the applause, a recognition of how much it meant to everyone there to hear your story, first hand.
Later that afternoon, you were a guest on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on BBC 6 Music which was themed around Independent Venue Week. I think it was the first time you’d spoken with Steve, live on air, and you were there along with two of our ambassadors, Adrian Utley from Portishead and Nadine Shah.
I was sitting just outside the studio looking in, listening to the interview was a real light bulb moment for me. Hearing you talk again with such enthusiasm about going to gigs in Bristol whilst living with your own personal challenges made me think that perhaps we could help share your story with our community.
Here’s that interview and whole Roundtable session – worth listening back to.
For those listening to Steve’s show who might be faced with the same challenges in life, it must have been infinitely inspiring hearing you share your experiences about how going out to gigs enabled you to live an independent, rich and full life.
I knew then that I wanted you to be an official part of Independent Venue Week. We had made the decision to have five ambassadors for our fifth anniversary and we had one spot still not filled. Up until that point, our ambassadors had been artists who could share their stories about being on tour, playing these venues. Now knowing that you were such a passionate and prolific gig goer, you seemed like such an obvious choice. Later that week I asked if you’d like to be our fifth ambassador. I was over the moon that you said yes.
Over the subsequent years we’ve worked together, I’ve learned how you see the world differently and it’s been a big turning point for our work. Both with you and our wider venue community.
You’ve become a huge part of our family since being ambassador in 2018. You’re a great friend as well as colleague: we’ve enjoyed some brilliant moments at shows, on the phone and on Zoom during lockdown. We’ve shared some great conversations – and we’ve laughed a LOT.
For Independent Venue Week 2020, we planned a tour with you to visit some amazing venues around the UK. We’ve enjoyed an amazing UK road trip, visiting places you’ve heard of but never been to. And seeing some amazing live music throughout. In particularly, your blog was a glorious record of your travels, music reviews and insight into going on tour as an IVW Ambassador. Also a chance to listen to a great chat with Nadine Shah ahead of her headline show at the Cluny in Newcastle.
The tour also saw us staying in some very questionable apartments. Do you remember one in Leeds that we fondly named The Gold Apartment? It was so garishly decorated, we couldn’t stop laughing when we arrived!
In the morning, you told me you’d laid on the bed fully clothed and not really slept as the room was so brightly decorated. Again, I realised how differently you see the world.
Travelling together by car, we’d listen to BBC 6 Music as we crossed the country and every track that came on, you’d regale me with the history of the various band members, other side projects they were involved with and talk through the singles and albums they’d released. In incredible detail. It was a total education. Your knowledge is encyclopaedic. Your passion is tangible and I felt so lucky to be sharing these moments with you, learning not just about music but about how someone with mental health challenges navigates the world.
We finished the tour at The Boileroom in Guildford after a long and tiring week on the road. JOHN were headlining and as we drove to Guildford on a cold, wet Sunday night, you said to me you were going to crowdsurf at the show. You were trepidatious and excited in equal measure – another glimpse of that amazing courage.
True to your word, you did crowdsurf, along with Dom Fraser who owns the Boileroom, to the rapturous cheers and applause of JOHN and the crowd.
Even though you’re a Bristolian by birth, you’re known and respected around the UK – if Big Jeff is at your show, you must be doing something right.
When lockdown hit, I knew you would have a huge void in your life not being able to go to gigs. You and I spoke on the phone a few times and it was clear not only was this going to be tough for someone living on their own but also the lack of live music and interaction would be a huge challenge.
We talked about what we might be able to do to tackle the void and together, came up with The Big Jeff Chat (please check the link is the right one to all the series) – a series of interviews you would do on Zoom with artists and people from our community. The conversations would be wide ranging and unscripted about anything and everything.
You asked anyone and everyone and pretty much everyone said yes – of course! The series gave you a weekly focus and the people you chatted with, a chance to share their stories when the usual creative outlets were gone.
We continued to check in regularly with each other, usually ahead of the next Big Jeff Chat, and I looked forward to catching up. For me too, our conversations helped lockdown become a much less difficult time.
I relish our conversations about life in general: they’re always enlightening, with a good dollop of mischief thrown in. I particularly love sharing our views on politics – one day, we will send all of the awful Tories off out to sea, never to be seen again, as we’ve wanted to do, so many times. What they lack in compassion, you make up for a hundred fold.
Alongside your passion for music, I learnt about you being part of a programme called Art in Motion, which supports and empowers artists who face disabling barriers to reach their full artistic potential. You told me that you’d once left an art class and went straight to a gig. Realising you had your materials with you, you decided to paint the artists’ at the show whilst they performed live.
And a brilliant, new outlet for your creativity was born. You then took your paint pens and paper with you to every gig and built up an amazing catalogue of artist portraits – sharing them with the artists after the shows and often getting them signed.
This catalogue added to your already staggering array of stunning paintings. Suddenly your social media feed was as full of your paintings as it was your gig schedule and reviews.
The wonderful Lee Dodds saw your art and recognised an opportunity to work with you to create your very first solo art exhibition in Bristol. It was amazing to see this incredible work being given the platform it deserved in a real life setting and it gave me the chance to finally meet your family in person having only ever chatted on zoom.
This year, for Independent Venue Week, we finally managed to arrange a tour for you with your band, The Outlines, playing shows at some of your favourite UK venues. It was a highlight of the week for you, Zac and the other band members as well as for the venues and us at IVW.
Jeff, you are one of the main reasons we have expanded our work beyond Independent Venue Week to now support underserved communities around the country, using music as a way to unlock talent and enrich people’s lives.
Your courage to take yourself beyond your comfort zone so you can immerse yourself in arts and culture, your HUGE heart, compassion, your kindness to those around you, your passion for music and life and your very cheeky sense of humour makes you an incredibly special friend.
We think of you and your family everyday – we’re listening and adding to the Play A Record For Jeff playlist set up by Lee and Zac.
Please know you are very loved – we’re sending all of our love and hopes for a steady and full recovery ahead of you.
Sybil and the IVW family x
PS – If you’d like to show some of your own love and support, you can buy some of Jeff’s limited edition prints from his website – they are even more glorious in real life – we have four in our office.