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The story behind A New Song For Bristol

In November 2020 Bristol Beacon launched A New Song for Bristol; a city-wide invitation for everyone to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of Bristol in 2020, creatively expressed through words and music. But it’s not the first time Bristol’s flagship concert hall has responded musically in times of crisis.

A New Song For Bristol is inspired by a mirrored time in Bristol’s history during World War II, when the city’s people rallied round, singing songs together to bring light to those dark days.

Lifting the spirits in a time of crisis

A world changed. People separated by circumstance, but bound together in spirit.

In September 1939 there was an “entertainment ban” in Bristol; theatres and concert halls were shut down and performers sent home. The blackout had begun. There were dark times ahead and Neville Chamberlain had announced on 3 September 1939 following Germany’s invasion of Poland, that the country was now at war.

Bristol Beacon, then known as Colston Hall, had to switch overnight from hosting shows to becoming the central “respirator depot” responsible for managing queues of people lining up to receive one of 40,000 gas masks allocated to the Hall for distribution.

A few days later, the entertainment ban was lifted and Charles H. Lockier, who managed the Hall’s artistic programme, was allowed to host rousing “sing-song” events that invited mass participation singing with popular stars of the day.

Leslie A. Hutchinson (Hutch) at Colston Hall in 1939 alongside other stars of the day.

On the first night 2,500 packed in the hall singing together to favourite songs. Aspiring singers as young as 14 became overnight stars, invited to perform on stage as part of the “keep smiling movement” designed to bring “musical sunshine in dark days”.

Charles Lockier kept the music playing in 1939

Lockier’s war response was referred to as the “take-you-out-of-yourself programme” in the early days. In 1939 Lockier pulled off a staggering 200 shows within 3 months after war was declared.

One of the first to perform at the Hall, two weeks after war broke out, was Leslie A. Hutchinson (Hutch) alongside other stars of the day. Hutchinson went on to perform at the hall regularly for the entirety of the war.

The staff here wanted to keep people singing and experiencing music and theatre in any way they could. Lockier continued to organise variety events and community singing to keep “Bristolians cheerful” in these “times of stress and anxiety” [Western Daily Press Dec 1939], while continuing to play an important role in the war effort, via enlistment and gas mask distribution.

Despite the horrors the city faced throughout World War II, music would keep hope alive.

“In spite of the darkness that has come down on the world, and the threat of even grosser darkness, there are those who are determined to preserve the arts, so that in saving our skins we shall not lose our souls.

It may be said that, so far from being deprived of music during war-time, Bristol is a greater musical centre than ever has been before.” – Western Daily Press, December 1939

A New Song For Bristol

Now in 2020, A New Song for Bristol calls for the city to let music and creativity bring people together once more, and we’re calling out to you to submit  your creative responses to this historic year.

These thoughts, feelings and experiences will be collected into a living archive of words, poems and songs created by you – the people of Bristol.

This archive will be used as inspiration to a collective of musicians, who will work to create a new piece of music – a new song for Bristol.

Click below to find out more about the project and how you can get involved.

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Welcome to
Bristol Beacon

On Wednesday 23 September 2020 Colston Hall changed its name to Bristol Beacon.

Our new name is just the first step, it is about more than the sign above our door. Click below to find out more about how we’re changing, watch our name announcement, and discover how we want everyone to share in the joy of live music.

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