Big Jeff Johns responds to petition to rename Colston Hall after him

One of Bristol’s most recognisable gig-goers has responded after a petition was launched to re-name the city’s Colston Hall venue after him.

Jeffrey Johns, aka Big Jeff, is widely known as Bristol’s most frequent gig-goer. He often attended live shows every night of the week at venues across the city before the UK lockdown was implemented back in March.

A new campaign is now aiming for Jeff to be immortalised in the Bristol venue’s name when it re-opens after a major redevelopment.

At present, it is named after Edward Colston, a prominent 17th Century slave trader who has been a controversial figure in the city for many years.

The petition, which has been signed by more than 1700 people, calls for the venue to be named ‘Big Jeff Hall’ when it re-opens in 2021 following a £48.8 million transformation.

Speaking to NME about the campaign that’s being run in his honour, Jeff said: “Part of me feels flattered, but there’s also a part that feels overwhelmed. I’m being put on a pedestal and I don’t mind to a certain extent, but I don’t think I warrant having such a big space named after me.”

He also said that naming the venue in his honour could potentially deflect focus from the Black Lives Matter movement, after protesters in Bristol used ropes to pull down a bronze statue of Colston before throwing it into the harbour last weekend.

Jeff said: “It feels weird that they’ve toppled the Edward Colston statue and [now] there’s a lot of people who say there should be a Big Jeff statue. It’s like, no, it would undermine the values of the Black Lives Matter protest.

“There’s a lot of people who have fought harder to have their voices heard and there’s a serious discussion to be had about that. There’s people like Paul Stephenson, who led the Bristol bus boycott — but it will be hard to settle on a name.”

The Bristol venue has since reiterated its commitment to changing its name upon re-opening.

Opening up on his memories of the venue, Jeff said: “I’ve seen some quite extraordinary shows there. I saw an amazing tribute to Joy Division from London’s Heritage Orchestra and their interpretation of Joy Division songs.

“It was a 40-piece orchestra, accompanied by Three Trapped Tigers and these amazing 3D visuals which felt like Ian Curtis’ presence without him being there. It was done in a really non-cheesy way.”

With the coronavirus lockdown forcing the outright cancellation of gigs across the UK, Jeff says he has been getting his live music fix by enjoying the variety of live-streams being hosted by artists.

He explained: “I’ve really enjoyed Low, who have been doing one every Friday night on their Instagram. That’s been brilliant. Billie & Finneas Eilish was amazing too when they kept changing the colour of the room.”

Banksy has since suggested that Bristol’s toppled statue of Colston should be replaced with a new monument to commemorate the moment it was pulled down.