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:
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.