Sitting quietly in Bristol harbour, one of the UK’s most quirky – and in some ways historic – venues has recently had a sound and lighting makeover, including the installation of a major Turbosound loudspeaker system.
Nowadays owned by DHP, (one of the top live music and club operators in the Midlands and owners of venues including Rock City in Nottingham), the Motor Vessel (MV) Thekla gained notoriety in the 1980s as The Old Profanity Showboat, run by well-known eccentric and former Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band main man Vivian Stanshall with his wife Ki.
The Stanshalls discovered Thekla in Sunderland and, with a large open space in the ship’s hold, the 180 foot long former grain carrier was a perfect floating venue. Once refurbished in dry dock, she triumphantly motored her way around half the British coastline to Bristol.
May 1st 1984 saw The Old Profanity Showboat open for business, putting on many performances, ranging from theatre and cabaret to live jazz, folk and punk gigs. Perhaps the highlight was Stanshall’s characteristically surreal three hour musical comedy Stinkfoot. But despite continued success the Showboat closed in 1986 largely, it is said, as a way of saving any sanity that the Stanshalls still had left.
For the next two decades Thekla continued to host live music until DHP bought her in 2006. By then the ship was in considerable need of repair and refurbishment, so was put into dry dock for an extensive refit. This included a complete new lighting and sound rig, supplied by Stage Electrics. The hold is still the main performance area, which saw six Turbosound QLight™ TQ-445 full range enclosures, four TQ-425 bass units and two TSB-118 subs installed, controlled by two LMS-D24 digital controllers and driven by Turbosound-badged MC2 amplifiers.
On stage six Turbosound TXD-15M wedges are used for foldback, while the bar area in the main room also sports four QLight™ TQ-310 full range cabinets, which act as delays / fills, with a further LMS-D24 controller and MC2 amp. The bar on the upper deck also features four QLight™ TQ-308s and two TSB-110s, controlled by a further LMS-D24.
The FOH system comprises an Allen & Heath GL3800 console, with XTA, dbx, TC Electronics and Yamaha outboard. With an audience capacity of around 350, Thekla Social (as the ship is now called) specialises in live music and club nights.
“The venue needed a high quality system that would sound great for both live music and general club nights,” says Stage Electrics Ed Gamble.
“But it was also vital that it was a system a wide variety of incoming bands would be happy with. Turbosound loudspeakers are known and liked by bands, engineers, promoters and punters alike, so it was an excellent choice.”
The fact that Thekla was refurbished from stem to stern meant that the Turbosound system was going into an ideal situation – a performance space designed with the needs of a good sound in mind.
“We had a free hand with the system design and chose the QLight™ series for their excellent dispersal qualities, allying power and clarity,” says Ed. “It allows the detail of vocals to be clearly heard, yet with easily enough power to get over the most powerful backline scenario’s.”
Indeed the only minor problem was one which nobody could do anything about – the very fact that the Thekla is a ship.
“You can’t compress liquids, so there were minor issues with the vibration from the ship’s hull travelling through the water and across to vessels on the other side of the dock when the system was in action. But the controllability of the system has minimised that,” says Ed. “And it sounds phenomenal. All parties from promoters through engineers and most importantly the paying customers are very happy with the Turbosound system.”