'A one-man mosh pit': Big Jeff on the art of surviving lockdown

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Famed Bristol music fan Jeff Johns is staging a virtual exhibition of his paintings inspired by his love of live shows

At the outset of the first lockdown, Big Jeff developed a new habit. He would time his daily outing to coincide with a livestream gig, and as he walked through the empty streets of Bristol, he would watch the birds “reacting” to the music playing through his phone. One evening it would be the soothing folk rock of This Is the Kit, the next, Moor Mother’s confrontational spoken-word poetry. The type of music didn’t matter, as long as it was live. “If you can’t be at the show, that’s the next best thing,” he says.

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If you’ve been to a gig or music festival over the past three decades, you may have noticed Big Jeff. Pre-pandemic, he would often fit several shows into one night, making him better known locally than many of the acts he goes to see. At six foot four, with his distinctive head of blond curls, Jeffrey Johns has become a figurehead for the UK’s independent music scene. “A one-man mosh pit with matching amounts of enthusiasm and festival wristbands” is how the Charlatans’ Tim Burgess describes him, referring to the strips of multicoloured fabric layered up Johns’s wrists (and sometimes embroidered on his jacket), a testament to a prolific gig-going career.

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