Dabbler Diary – Godspeed! You! Black! Emperor!


I’m always amazed that some people are content to live in places other than Bristol. Eejits. My dear friend Martin, for instance, has to come all the way from Cardiff (a poor imitation of Bristol with added delusions of Welsh grandeur, of all things) to get a decent night out eating a Renato’s pizza and watching Godspeed You! Black Emperor play at the Colston Hall followed by a King Street pub crawl ending at the Old Duke then an unwise couple hours of shisha in the freezing cold outside a salsa bar populated by Japanese girls, Somali tobacco addicts and Caribbean dance-gigolos.

I’ve lately been enjoying frequenting the city’s numerous grubby mid-size live music venues. All sorts of music, really, but ever since seeing Johnny Marr and Suede inside a week back in 2013 I’ve developed a particular addiction to alternative rock acts whose commercial success peaked between fifteen and twenty-five years ago. We’re living in an absolute Golden Age for them. Indeed, I think I may have hit upon a sub-theory to the great Dabbler Pop Music Debate, which is that rock bands don’t actually become any good until (a) the general public has largely forgotten them, and (b) they reach their early forties. In other words, live music is not a young man’s game but one for hasbeens. My experience suggests that any act still stubbornly putting out records and touring nightclubs two decades after their last Radio 1 airplay is virtually guaranteed to put on a quite superb gig.

There’s a logic to this theory. Natural selection has by then eliminated their dilettante contemporaries, leaving only the dedicated craftsmen. They have lots of material, they’re better at playing it, and they’re so grateful that anyone is still willing to pay to see them that they don’t bother with the tiresome rockstar attitude. They’re also often completely nuts.

Take The Polyphonic Spree, a cult band from Texas who dress in long white robes, like a cult from Texas. Back in the 1990s they used to fill stages with twenty to thirty choristers, guitar-thrashers and string-pluckers and played Glastonbury and TFI Friday. Martin and I watched them kick off their 2015 UK tour in a dungeon round the back of Bristol Temple Meads. Budget cuts and cruel time had reduced them to a mere four choristers, a flute, a trumpet, a french horn, a trombone, a violin, a viola, a cello, various percussion, two guitars, a bass, drums, electronic keyboards and an Electric Wind Instrument. What a noise it was. Frontman Tim DeLaughter was so pathetically pleased at seeing the audience outnumbering the band that he gave several long, emotionally-devastating speeches about how it was the greatest and most important gig they’d ever played and insisted on delivering three extra ecstatic encores which meant that Martin missed the last train back to Wales and had to catch the 2am National Express.

Then there was Mercury Rev at the Trinity. They’re a pair of New Yorkers I’d almost forgotten about even though they made one of my favourite songs of the 1990s. I was expecting an evening of slightly twee, noodling experimentation, but they turned up with ferocious rock band and blasted us with a huge wall of sound, despite one of them being called Grasshopper and looking exactly like Krishnan Guru-Murthy and the other being called Jonathan and looking exactly like a Mervyn Peake drawing of Kenneth Williams (see here). Martin drove for that one.

I’ve had riotous nights of dumb fun (Reef, last famous in 1995), and evenings of exquisite musicianship (the inimitable four-octave voiced David McAlmont, back for a reunion tour with Bernard Butler twenty years after their hit). Mrs B and I have seen Gaz Coombes three times this year and it’s perfectly obvious that being a teen celeb in Supergrass was just practice for the sublime music he’s making in middle age. No gig has cost more than twenty quid.

Yes hasbeens are the future of music, I’m quite certain of it, and Bristol is the place to see them. In Colston Hall, Godspeed You! Black Emperor* ground their way through another terrifying tsunami of earbleeding noise. ‘My God,’ shouted Martin to me above the ringing in our ears. ‘That’s music with which to face the Apocalypse.’ I nodded assent, and pointed to Big Jeff, who was front and centre of the crowd, dancing wildly to the most undanceable music ever made. Well of course he was.

*The positioning of that exclamation mark is the source of some controversy. People often place it at the end – Godspeed You Black Emperor! – while I thought they were Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Both wrong – mind you, if it were up to me I’d go the whole hog and make the name a series of staccato exhortations: God! Speed! You! Black! Emperor!



Mrs Brit has stumbled across a good new pastime which involves browsing Tripadvisor for one-star reviews of our favourite historical landmarks and buildings.  For example, here’s a review by Sinziana2011 from Munich of the Clifton Suspension Bridge:

“Absolutely overrrated !”

It’s not worth it !!! Except if you may consider this was built in XIX- th century…is NOTHING ! The view is absolut ordinary, it’s a time wasting place.

Meanwhile St Mary Redcliffe Church, the Grade I listed gem renowned for its Gothic architecture and famously described by Queen Elizabeth I as “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England” is described by DanNico of Toulouse thus:

“visite rapide”

It is a church with some beautiful stained glass but no more. The exterior is very dirty.

Here are some more. On Bristol Cathedral:


bit of a let down not much at all more like a large church than cathedral The ones At Lincoln and Exeter are much better

M Tabb of Texas


On the Clifton Gorge caves:


The caves are just paying £2 to walk down a lonnngg flight of stairs built into the rock, squeezing past people in the other direction, and then walking back up said stairs. At the bottom of the stairs is a look out point in the side of the cliff, which is all well and good but you get a better view from the top anyway!

It was laughably rubbish.

KaffKaff from Cardiff


On Queen Square:

It’s just a square park, nothing interesting nearby and not worth a visit out of the way unless you want to sit in a park area for a while

Wong of Adelaide


The obvious next step is to compile these reviews into an anti-guidebook to the city entitled: Bristol – Its a Time-Wasting Place.

Or better still, an anti-guidebook to Britain, perhaps called simply Britain: One Star. Here are some reviews of Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower,  more commonly known as Big Ben:

absolutely terrible I would never ever go again im glad they blew it up in v for vendetta. its just a big clock and the whole experience left me unsettled.



Its just a waste of time. I would recommend to visit villages of Rajasthan in India. There are much beautiful huge clocks. I personally didnt like it.

Ujjwal of Calcutta



Is Jeremy Corbyn still the leader of the Opposition? It’s all so embarrassing to think about, isn’t it. We seem to have already got to the stage where we’re all just half-pretending he isn’t there, in the expectation that before too long he won’t be and we can all erase this unfortunate episode from our national memory. Certainly that’s how Labour MPs are playing it, if Chuka Umunna’s performance on Question Time the other week was indicative. How else to cope?


Everyone should have one saintly nemesis. Christopher Hitchens had Mother Theresa, I’ve got Sir David Attenborough. The Hunt (Sunday, 9pm BBC One): what a load of rubbish. One Star. Its a Time-Wasting Place etc.

Well of course the camerawork is amazing, yada yada yada. But I can’t get with Attenborough’s bassackwards, borderline evil view of existence. St David, remember, is patron of an organisation dedicated to reducing the numbers of humans on the planet and who has described our species as ‘a plague on earth’. Other historical figures have been criticised for that kind of attitude.

His documentaries are polite works of fiction, ascribing dubious anthropological virtues to nature (beauty, harmony, purity) while ignoring the obvious overriding one: meaningless cruelty. His editors tease us with several fruitless chases, and then when the arctic fox finally gets the bunny, we pull away from the beautiful, pure, harmonious shots of munched guts and get a bit of David apologetically explaining that the wee arctic fox cubs would otherwise starve in the long winter.

Beautiful? Harmonious? Circle of effing life? Doesn’t Attenborough even watch his own programmes? Nature, as I have argued before, is irredeemably horrible and man is the only creature worth a damn. Nature can go to… No, hang on, I’ve got it… of course!

Nature is Hell.


A Dabbler Diary on a Wednesday? Yes we’ve rather lost a grip on our routine I’m afraid. Contrary to appearances, The Dabbler is a not a slick, professional operation with hundreds of dedicated staff on the payroll but a hobby for, as Nick Cohen famously put it, ‘dilettantes with day-jobs’, and as such is subject to the whims, time constraints and the peaks and troughs of the energy of its editors. But it staggers on, and may come good again. And there’s always the archives to explore; they are deep and wide.

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15 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Godspeed! You! Black! Emperor!

  1. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    November 11, 2015 at 15:07

    One could collect from many otherwise interesting writers a handy collection of odd judgments. John Jay Chapman in his extended essay on Emerson writes ‘If there is one supreme sensation reserved for man, it is the vision of Venice seen from the water. This sight greeted Emerson at the age of thirty. The famous city, as he approached it by boat, “looked for some time like nothing but New York. It is a great oddity, a city for beavers, but to my thought a most disagreeable residence. You feel always in prison and solitary. It is as if you were always at sea. I soon had enough of it”…. Emerson’s contempt for travel and for the “rococo toy,” Italy, is too well known to need citation.’ One could make up a fair small volume purely out of the pages of Tobias Smollett.

    I admire David Ives’s take on Attenborough, the silly one-act play “Time Flies”. It is quick and simple enough for high school drama students to do well, and you can have your choice of them on YouTube.

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:00

      Excellent – you can write the introduction to ‘One-Star World’, George, providing some historical context.

  2. Martinjpollard@hotmail.com'
    Martin Pollard
    November 11, 2015 at 18:49

    Putting aside your ill-advised denigration of Cardiff (you’ll be rueing this post when people have forgotten Bristol exists in another couple of decades), I feel your Dabbler theory needs some refinement. It seems to preclude a whole bunch of bands that were on fire from the outset (Talking Heads, R.E.M., Pixies, Blur, Nirvana). Is it more that bands who attained a certain level of indie mythical status – but never actually became massive – simply had more time and fewer anxieties so that they could beaver away in the background, quietly becoming brilliant?

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:02

      Another element in this phenomenon might be the growing relative financial importance of live shows compared to music sales, thanks to streaming and downloads. Is music now released in order to advertise live shows, rather than tours being used to promote records?

  3. wormstir@gmail.com'
    November 11, 2015 at 19:39

    Yay for the diary!!

    In one brief job I had as a painter-decorator, I used to listen to Godspeed You! Black Emperor whilst painting bannisters and skirting boards. There was something rather pleasantly jarring about the epic crescendos soundtracking my otherwise mundane progress.

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:05

      GY!BE offered the least audience interaction of any live act I’ve seen, apart, of course, from Bob Dylan. A bloke from Godspeed did at least give a little wave as he exited.

  4. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    November 11, 2015 at 21:36

    Britain: One Star would be a brilliant book! And why stop at Britain? One Star World – including all seven wonders? The one-star review is a wondrous phenomenon and unique (in this form) to our age. Go for it…

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:06

      Need to get in there quick, before Gyles Brandreth does it.

  5. November 12, 2015 at 10:10

    Further to my thoughts on Nature being Hell, the tireless Dave Lull sends me this:

    The Return of Nature (Eric Hoffer, 2/01/1966, Saturday Review)
    All through adult life I had a feeling of revulsion when told how nature aids and guides us, how like a stern mother she nudges and pushes man to fulfill her wise designs. As a migratory worker from the age of eighteen I knew nature as ill-disposed and inhospitable. If I stretched on the ground to rest, nature pushed its hard knuckles into my sides, and sent bugs, burs, and foxtails to make me get up and be gone. As a placer miner I had to run the gantlet of buckbrush, manzanita, and poison oak when I left the road to find my way to a creek. Direct contact with nature almost always meant scratches, bites, torn clothes, and grime that ate its way into every pore of my body. To make life bearable I had to interpose a protective layer between myself and nature. On the paved road, even when miles from anywhere, I felt at home. I had a sense of kinship with the winding, endless road that cares not where it goes and what its load.

    Almost all the books I read spoke worshipfully of nature. Nature was pure, innocent, serene, health-giving, bountiful, the fountainhead of elevated thoughts and noble feelings. It seemed that every writer was a ‘nature boy.’ I assumed that these people had no share in the world’s work, and did not know nature at close quarters. It also seemed to me that they had a grievance. For coupled with their admiration of nature was a distaste for man and man’s work. Man was a violator, a defiler and a deformer.

    The truth about nature I found in the newspapers, in the almost daily reports of floods, tornados, blizzards, hurricanes, typhoons, hailstorms, sandstorms, earthquakes, avalanches, eruptions, inundations, pests, plagues, and famines. Sometimes when reading about nature’s terrible visitations and her massacre of the innocents it seemed to me that we are surrounded by devouring, pitiless forces, that the earth was full of anger, the sky dark with wrath, and that man had built the city as a refuge from a hostile, nonhuman cosmos. I realized that the contest between man and nature has been the central drama of the universe.

    Man became what he is not with the aid, but in spite of, nature. Humanization meant breaking away from nature, getting out from underneath the iron necessities which dominate nature. By the same token, dehumanization means the reclamation of man by nature. It means the return of nature. It is significant that humanization had its start in the fact that man was an unfinished, defective animal. Nature dealt niggardly with him from the beginning. It brought him forth naked and helpless, without inborn skills, and without specialized organs to serve him as weapons and tools. Unlike other animals, man was not a born technician with a built-in tool kit. Small wonder that for millennia man worshipped animals, nature’s more favored children. Yet this misbegotten creature has made himself lord of the globe. He has evolved fabulous substitutes for the instincts and the specialized organs that he lacked, and rather than adjust himself to the world he has changed the world to fit him. This, surely, is the supreme miracle. If history is to have meaning it must be the history of humanization, of man’s tortuous ascent through the ages, of his ceaseless effort to break away from the rest of creation and become an order apart. […]

    • seamussweeney1@gmail.com'
      November 12, 2015 at 22:29

      I think you will (overall) enjoy this: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/State-of-nature-8260 . Sample quote : “Since my family shed their rags, I am now mostly white, very middle-class, and usually English enough, in a Jewish kind of way. Last summer, I stayed with friends in a decommissioned vicarage outside Oxford. At tea, we talked about Henry James against a timeless backdrop of sheep and rusting agricultural equipment. At home in my Hebraic urban fastness, I enjoy nothing more than a good book about books. But when it comes to the country, I am with Karl Marx. Urbanization liberated us from “the idiocy of rural life.””

      I must admit to finding it possible to love nature without falling for the sentimental moralism that surrounds the discourse about it, and being suspicious of the narrative patness of Attenborough.

      While I enjoyed Green’s essay (and particularly his observations that so much of contemporary “nature writing” is actually writing about nature writing, I do find that there is something missing in this oft-held view that nature and wildness are things we only learnt to recognise, let alone appreciate in late modernity, and in Green (and others) relentless harping on the class and power elements of nature writing *I’m not denying that they are there) to the exclusion of something more mysterious, more elemental. There is so much said and written about “the Other”, when one of the greatest Others of human existence is the Other of the natural world, and particular the conciousness of the other living things around us. Finding this mysterious and worthy of exploration is not necessarily the same thing as blindly celebrating it in some human-hating way.

      • seamussweeney1@gmail.com'
        November 12, 2015 at 22:31

        While Green’s essay (linked in my previous comment) has some slightly too-pat phrasemaking, I did like this also:

        “It is kind of Macfarlane to write that loanwords from “Chinese, Urdu, Korean, Portuguese, and Yiddish are right now being used to describe the landscapes of Britain and Ireland.” But I don’t believe him. I wonder whether he really believes it, either.”

  6. law@mhbref.com'
    Jonathan Law
    November 12, 2015 at 11:23

    Another good one might be \’One-Star Classics\’ — landmarks of Western literature given one-star reviews by the pundits of Amazon.com. The following are all genuine reviews, although I suppose one or two might possibly be jokes:

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
    \”At one point maybe it was a great book. But hell, now its a waste of time. And why read the book when the movie is out?\”

    Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
    \”This was the absolute second worst book I’ve ever read (the worst being Hotel For Dogs)\”

    Animal Farm (George Orwell)
    \”Of all the things I have ever read! What a terrible and unrealistic story. I mean, how can animals talk? I have a parrot that talks but not in complete sentences.\”

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    \”It talks about his life and nothing else.\”

    The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
    \”Manic Russian men rambling on for 700 pages, and women are to blame for all their problems.\”

    Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
    \”Obviously, a lot people were smoking a lot of weed in the ’60s to think this thing is worth reading.\”

    The Confessions of Nat Turner (William Styron)
    \”My great-great-grandfather is not gay! I don’t know why this William Styron is trying to lie on my great-great-grandfather. Needless to say I am a descendant of Nat Turner and it bothers me that this author is trying to lie to make this book more interesting.\”

    The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
    \”Story has good twists, but there are too many French places and people.\”

    The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)
    \”I didn’t like this book because it was boring. That’s all that needs to be said.\”

    A Doll’s House (Henrik Ibsen)
    \”Another woman acting like a man should be a mind-reader?\”

    Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes)
    \”It is supposedly a great Spanish classic but it is as bad as Shakespear.\”

    Emma (Jane Austen)
    \”I hate it. So boring. I fell asleep at the first page. its great if youre into that old 1800s kind of speech.\”

    Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
    \”A worthless good for nothing piece of junk! Actually it is good for something. I took this book with me to rifle practice and i shot at this instead of the target. I got busted but hey it was worth it. Mail me if you want a picture of my shooting. \”

    The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams)
    \”Seems likely the animals in the glass menagerie are some sort of symbolism, but I’m not in grade school anymore and am not going to waste my time figuring out exactly what it is.\”

    The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford)
    \”It’s like Jane Austen without all the tampon talk.\”

    The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    \”It’s even more boring than that thing of Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’. Avoid it like the plague. No. On second thoughts, get the plague, you’ll be out of your misery earlier.\”

    Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
    \”This has to be one of the worst plays ever written, Shakespeare or no Shakespeare. While the Bard was the master of English drama, he really slipped up here.\”

    The Holy Bible
    \”Man, this book is boring. All this weird stuff happens and it’s harder to get into than Lord of the Rings … These apostles need to get a clue and hire a ghost writer. Even Miley Cyrus’s manager was smart enough to do that\\\”

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo)
    \”There were too much describings.\”

    The Iliad (Homer)
    \”You may have seen the movie ‘Troy’ with Brad Pitt as Achilles, but it is quite different than the book.\”

    Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
    \”The entire book is written in stupid metaphors … Honestly, I think that this is dubbed a classic simply because it is older than sand. Gee, maybe if I just go out and slop a few words down on a piece of paper, it’ll be a classic in 160 years! It’ll be required of every high school sophomore, like this idiotic \’story\’.\”

    Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
    \”Not enough violence for me in this novel.\”

    The Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
    \”This book stunk. I believe that reality can have deeper meanings, but don\\\’t get to deep or you\\\’ll drown. The only time you can go that deep and not drown, is with drugs.\”

    The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
    \”The book is not readable because of the overuse of adverbs.\”

    Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
    \”Dear lord this book was awful. One of the very few novels that I have been unable to finish, or indeed even get to half-way … Before throwing it in the charity bin I skimmed through the rest to see if something, anything, happened that I would be interested in. Nope.\”

    Metamorphoses (Ovid)
    \”it seems … that the gods had little else to do but rape people and then turn them into trees and birds.\”

    Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
    \”Too nautical for me.\”

    Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
    \”I kept losing track of which character was musing about nothing.\”

    Night (Elie Wiesel)
    \”What i got from this book was that how hard it was to be a jew in Germany when Hitler was ruling in WW1\”

    1984 (George Orwell)
    \”DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. And please for the love of God don’t read that “Brave New World” book by Hoxley. It is twice as worse as 1984. To put it bluntly, DON’T READ ANY GEORGE ORWELL. Your just waisting your time.\”

    Oedipus Rex (Sophocles)
    \”The incest part and stuff bummed me out.\”

    The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
    \”There was about one hundred pages about a fish. Why would anyone care that much about a fish? … If you wanted to read a book about a fish, this is the book for you.\”

    The Origin of Species (Charles Darwin)
    \”Didn’t like the cover.\”

    Owen Glendower (John Cowper Powys)
    \”I have not, and cannot, read this book – simply because I am aghast that someone writing about the \’Last True Prince of Wales\’ … could call him by the ridiculously false name of \’Owen Glendower\’. I am truly disgusted. His name was \’Owain Glyndwr\’ – and I hold the author in absolute contempt for blatantly anglicising a Welsh name …\”

    Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)
    \”First of all, the whole thing is almost all dialogue\”

    The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
    \”I have a huge issue with the prevalence of the word ‘bosom,’ which was used in excess.\”

    The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
    \”I am not interested in books about Satin.\”

    The Seagull (Anton Chekhov)
    \”Hard to follow since the character’s names were all extremely Russian.\”

    Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
    \”I thought that the very concept of a man who was kidnapped by aliens was truly unbelievable and a tad ludicrous. I did not find the idea of aliens kidnapping a human and putting them in a zoo very plausible … I do not believe that an alien can kidnap someone and house them in a zoo for years at a time, while it is only a microsecond on earth. I also do not believe that a person has seven parents.\”

    Songs of Innocence and Experience (William Blake)
    \”It’s just a bit shit, really.\”

    Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)
    \”A clasic, i agree, classic rubbish. starts ok if you can read pidgeon Nottingham.\”

    The Story of Babar (Jean de Brunhoff)
    \”Regardless of the story\’s quality … I just don’t like Babar; his name is stupid, the art is stupid, and he is a goddam elephant.\”

    The Symposium (Plato)
    \”Plato, you wanker. Shut up.\”

    To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
    \”In this novel, all Harper Lee gives as a theme is “life isn’t fair.” I think most of us could have figured that out …Thank God Ms. Lee only wrote this book; surely her next would degrade society even further.\”

    Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett)
    \”I don’t know if my book was incomplete or if this whole thing was some kind of weird joke.\”

    War and Peace (Leon Tolstoy)
    \”This type of literature is not going to hold an audience anymore. So many people have the opportunity to live interesting lives nowadays why would they stop to read a novel of this length about a bunch of fictional charaters when they could be spending the time actually LIVING their own lives? It was a real drag.\”

    I suppose if you ever needed proof that Matthew Arnold and F.R. Leavis lived in vain, here it is. But somewhere inside the despair — aren\’t you getting a niggling sense that one or two nails have been hit rather firmly on the head?

  7. Gaw
    November 12, 2015 at 20:15

    Bring back Eddie Shoestring!

  8. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    November 13, 2015 at 13:15

    Reasons to be sad in Warwick, part 2 and at the risk of further offending Worm.

    Current star status……downgraded from four to one

    Ask the Stasi swine in the green uniform why he humped our motor last night, leaving a nasty little yellow splodge demanding fifty oncers, this despite the rear window sticker proclaiming it’s origin as Edinburgh and therefore its occupants are visitors, bringing visitor dollars to the town, jobswurf tosspot. Added to which we were informed by the indifferent itie at ‘Warwick’s best Itie restaurant’ that ‘the earliest Saturday he could fit us in was January 16th 2016’, in yer dreams, Mario, that particular evening is bookmarked for Köln’s Guten Abend.

    Reviews, I’ll give the buggers reviews.

    Brit has returned, no longer El Leon duerme esta noche.

    • Worm
      November 13, 2015 at 15:30

      Herr Malty – if you are in town, best places to eat are Tasca Dali and Art Kitchen, best place to drink and eat good pub food is Rose & Crown (my local) and also The Cape of Good Hope down on the canal for a cheery boozer with a nice view

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