Raving Afloat

‘Thekla’ – a 1958 built cargo ship who’s legacy has lent itself to Bristol’s world-famous underground music.

Quite possibly a tedious link, between a German ship and the city of Bristol who’s people and music has greatly influenced Britain’s culture. This is probably not going to interest you unless you knew the cargo ship the ‘Thekla’ or if you like electronic music; post-punk, dub, grime, or trip-hop. But, this is a great story that celebrates ships being reincarnated into cultural hubs. Classic Yacht TV recommends that while you read this article, listen to the catalyst for this article - a BBC 6 Music Gilles Peterson programme on 'The History of Bristol's Musical Underground' that mentions this ship's story!

Thekla is a former coastal trades cargo ship, built in 1958 by by Büsumer-Schiffswerft W & E Sielaff at Büsum, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. She was one of the last riveted ships to be produced (the hulls of metal ships have long been made by welding plates). She measured 424 gross registered tons and had a deadweight tonnage of 718 tons.


Thekla's hold was lined with Australian red jarrah – one of the hardest woods. The Thekla has been lying in Bristol’s Floating Harbour since 1982 after being bought and delivered to Bristol by Ki Longfellow-Stanshall and his partner “Vivian” (formally Victor) Stanshall, an English singer-songwriter, musician, author, poet who was once named “Bristol’s eccentric genius and the Thekla Captain”.

Ki Longfellow-Stanshall and partner Vivian Stanshall in the early days.

The ship was home to the Stanshall family and also home to an art gallery, she was renamed the ‘Old Profanity Showboat’ – hosting performing arts events. Thekla, a 173ft LOA ship, would serve as the home to many iconic musicians, actors and comedians performing for Bristol’s willing crowds.


Among those who appeared in the ‘Old Profanity Days’

Joe Cocker

John Entwhistle - The Who

Jack Bruce – Cream

Ronnie Lane – Small Faces

John Peel – BBC DJ

John Strummer – The Clash

'The Old Profanity' days alongside in Bristol - as Thekla was called during the late 1980's and 1990's.

'The Old Profanity' days alongside in Bristol - as Thekla was called during the late 1980's and 1990's.

Classic Yacht TV realised the importance of Thekla as such an iconic venue in British music by hearing musician Roni Size mention her in a recent radio session lead by BBC DJ Gilles Peterson called ‘The History of Bristol’s Musical Underground’ which, if you’re interested in, you should listen to this entire session here as you read this article.

Thekla hosted comedians, artists and musicians who were naturally responding to politics in Britian during the 1980's and 1990's. The 1980 Bristol Riots, the 1987 Riot in St Pauls (an area of Bristol City) were all part of a reaction to the Thatcher led Britain, with coal mining strikes and so forth; a backlash against capitalism, a musical rebellion to chasing big record labels in London was embraced in Bristol, and the Thekla was a perfect hub for these scenes and crowds.

Music that came out of the Bristol music scene from the 1980's onwards was either records being imported directly from New York and the Caribbean. Artists such as Black Roots, Massive Attack, Burning Spear, Roni Size, Maximum Joy, The Pop Group, Portishead were producing critically acclaimed music.

“If you consider the size of the town, the music’s its given us is huge.”

The Stanshall's, the owners of Thekla in the 1980's until the early 1990's were living with an attitude that matched the artists performing on board which gave the venue success. For example, Thekla's voyage to the UK in 1983 was a good sign of the times ahead: From the open sea, Thekla entered the River Severn on 4 August 1983, she had sailed without ballast, without registration, without insurance, and without mishap, save for the half-day the crew spent mending the engine. Her conversion, sailing, docking, finishing touches, and opening night on 1 May 1984 was filmed as an Omnibus BBC 1documentary by writer and film maker Tony Staveacre of the BBC. He called it ‘The Bristol Showboat Saga’ and it was broadcast for the first time on 30 September of that year.

During the 1990’s the Old Profanity Showboat found herself under new management who renamed her the ‘Thekla’ and used as a ‘rent-a-nightclub’ by ‘Daybrook House Promotions’. The ship was becoming a cornerstone of Bristol's drum & bass music scene. Over these years some of Bristol's best known artists (Massive Attack, Portishead and Roni Size) began by playing in Thekla's hull.

Work by the artist Banksy can be seen stencilled over the bulkheads inside the club as well as his much larger work on the outside of the hull at the waterline like, "Grim Reaper" which was painted on the hull.

Artists such as Franz Ferdinand, The New York Dolls, Pete Doherty, Tokyo Police Club, The Growlers, Santigold, The Chords in their final gig in the classic line-up, and local bands from Bristol and Bath have played at Thekla since ‘Daybrook House Promotions’ purchased the venue.

It seems wonderful that a ship has witnessed such a colourful life from the high seas, to having owners such as Vivian Stanshall and Ki Longfellow-Stanshall defend the ship’s “curious interior”, with comments like " it is just being itself," [as Vivian would say].

Gilles Peterson's 'The History of Bristol Musical Underground' Tracklist:

Pigbag – Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
The Pop Group – Thief of Fire
Smith & Mighty – Walk On (feat. Jackie Jackson)
Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
Portishead – Numb
Roni Size – Brown Paper Bag
Black Roots – Bristol Rock
Black Roots – Opportunity
Yabby U – Conquering Dub
Tapper Zukie – Tappa Zukie In Dub
Tapper Zukie – Judgement Du
Burning Spear – Social Livin
Maximum Joy – Let It Take You There
Rip Rig & Panic – Change Your Life
Pigbag – Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
The Pop Group – Snowgirl
The Pop Group – Savage Se
Prince Far I & The Arabs – Dub To Africa
The Undisputed Truth – What It Is
Brass Construction – Movin’
Sex Pistols – Anarchy In The U.K.
The Clash – Police & Thieves
The Pop Group – Thief of Fire
T La Rock – It’s Yours
Malcolm X – No Sell Out
The Wild Bunch – Tearing Down The Avenue
Double Trouble – Stoop Rap (South Bronx Mix)
Wild Style Allstars – Military Cut Instrumental
Wild Style Allstars – B Boy Instrumental
Fresh 4 – Wishing On A Star (feat. Lizz E.)
Smith & Mighty – Walk On (feat. Jackie Jackson)
Smith & Mighty – Anyone (feat. Jackie Jackson)
The Wild Bunch – Friends & Countrymen
Massive Attack – Any Love (feat. Daddy G & Carlton)
Massive Attack – Daydreaming
Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
Massive Attack – Protection (feat. Tracey Thorn)
Portishead – It Could Be Sweet
Portishead – All Mine
Roni Size – Kiss
Roni Size – Music Box
Cybotron – Clear
Chicago – Street Player
D-Train – You’re The One For Me
Wayne Smith – Under Me Sleng Teng
James Brown – Funky Drummer
Roni Size & Reprazent – Trust Me
Roni Size – Brown Paper Bag
Roni Size & Reprazent – Share The Fall
Appleblim – Girder
Appleblim & Peverelist – Over Here
Henry & Louis – Rise Up (Pinch Remix)
Peverelist – Click Clunk Every Trip
Peverelist – Undulate
Kahn – Over Deh So
DJ Die & Addison Groove – Morro Dub
Joker – Mixed Emotions