It may appear to the casual reader that I rarely stray more than a score of miles from my home, unless forced by the exigencies of work and the need to earn a crust: or even, the sweet, soft centre of the loaf! There is a certain degree (or π/180 radians) of truth to this view, though I should point out that I do occasionally visit friends in Sussex, Edinburgh and Cambridge.
However, on occasion, I break with tradition and over the May bank holiday weekend I finally heeded the advice of the Pet Shop Boys and went west. Even more out-of-character, I went with a friend and I did the driving: I even prepared a playlist for the journey should the art of conversation desert us at any stage. Given that the car had last been used on Boxing Day, this did require a little help from the AA to give the kiss of life to the battery (no actual osculation was performed, even in its depleted state I could not recommend making lip-on-terminal contact with a car battery) but otherwise the drive to Bristol on the Friday was a breeze.
Thanks to my skills at the wheel, and the navigational advice of an app called ‘Here’ (a name that might not immediately inspire confidence when one is trying to reach ‘there’), we made it to Clifton, the rather upmarket suburb of Bristol, well within two hours and failed to get lost at any stage (though one choice of lane at a junction was sub-optimal). At no stage did my companion have obvious recourse to a nerve tonic, or stronger medication, to cope with the rigours of the journey: so I think I still qualify as a somewhat competent driver.
We had travelled to Bristol primarily to enjoy its Folk Festival, but one of the many advantages of city-based festivals – over and above the ease with which can avoid relying on canvas to provide a roof over your head – is that when you fancy something different a whole city is at your disposal. The Bristol Folk Festival was an absolute joy: spread across two venue and a pub on Friday and Saturday and switching to a third on Sunday, it was a wonderfully welcoming event of just the right scale. There wasn’t so much going on to be overwhelming and its scale didn’t dominate the city. It has had a slightly stop-start history in recent years, but I do hope it continues as I’d love to go again.
We saw a lovely range of folk musicians and picking one musical highlight from each day, I’d go with the following:
On Friday evening, we saw Spiro, who came highly recommended by more than one Southampton friend: they mixed some classical influences into their folk music and made wonderful musical close to our first day in Bristol.
On Saturday afternoon, we saw Sid Goldsmith and Jimmy Aldridge in St Stephen’s Church and really enjoyed them. So, we completely changed our plans for the rest of the evening and pursued them to a packed Three Tuns for a glorious singaround session. Sometimes spontaneous decisions are the best – and one of the many advantages to bringing a decision maker, other than idiot I live with, on an excursion! My companion was also the reason we followed the singing with a fiery, late dinner of Sri Lankan street food at the Coconut Tree. I think I may need to add some Sri Lankan dishes to spice up my own cooking…
On Sunday afternoon, we went to the wonderful venue that is St George’s: it really does so much right as a venue, including offering really good and well chosen food in the extension to the side. We were there for my second chance to see The Drystones on their recent tour – and it was through this tour that I had discovered the existence of the Bristol Folk Festival in the first place. I know the boys are my friends, but they have massively stepped it up for their new album (Apparitions) and to bring that experience to the tour: I frankly lost count of the number of instruments, pedals and mics they played/used between them. At one point, Ford is forced to sit down so that he can simultaneously use both feet and both hands to play/control different instruments and effects. I can see why the tour took so much rehearsal and they travel with their own sound engineer (and someone’s mother’s best tablecloth) to set the whole thing up. It is clearly an incredible feat of concentration as well as musicianship to bring it altogether for the live show: they must be exhausted afterwards. It is folk music, but so much more besides: as but one example, Oscar’s Ghost is just so hauntingly atmospheric that it sends shivers up my spine whenever I hear it. I’m not sure where they are planning to go next: I’m expecting full pyrotechnics and a laser show which still somehow only exists only to serve the music…
As well as the music, we also had a chance to enjoy the Georgian architectural splendours of Clifton, no doubt funded by some of the more unsavoury practices of our mercantile past, and a lot of (probably) less morally compromised wisteria. I think this was also my first visit to the engineering glory of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I suppose I may have been as a child, though I have no recollection – then again, I had no memory of just how hilly Bristol was either and I’m pretty sure it does not boast sufficient geological activity for the hills to have appeared since my childhood (despite my antiquity). My calves were extremely taut (you could bounce a marble off them) by Saturday evening from going down hill (my body was fine with the ascents) and I feel I gained a small insight into the suffering high heels must cause their users.
I had a lovely few days in Bristol (see a brief highlights reel above) and will return , if only because I have barely made a start on its museums and galleries: let alone its music scene. However, after the end of the Drystones set, I had a mere 135 minutes to return to my car, drive back to Southampton and drop off my friend and make it to Turner Sims to attend a gig I had booked long before I even knew about the Bristol Folk Festival. Somehow, I managed to do this with almost 60 seconds to spare and the laws of the land unbroken. SYJO and Phronesis were well worth the slightly unrealistic combination of gigs that I had chosen for myself and did illustrate that possession of a car does, sometimes, allow the achievement of goals that would be entirely impossible relying on public transport.
As I am insane (though I remain undiagnosed and so am free to wander wheree’er I will), I had also arranged to visit the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on the Monday. This excursion, I did by train but could still recognise the irony of changing at Bristol Temple Meads a mere 17 hours after last leaving its vicinity. I did feel very Plebian, not to say non-U, in the genteel surroundings of Cheltenham – but it was well-worth the excursion to see the Lydian Collective for the second time and this time I was sober and they had the nyckelharpa that had been mentioned in Cambridge back in November. I found the signage at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival rather puzzling, especially the sign pointing to the “Jazz Puddle”. I am a brave soul, not easily frightened, so I walked in the direction indicated but failed to discover its mysterious object. Can any readers advise as to the nature of a jazz puddle? Should I be glad that I never encountered it?
I also managed to stumble upon an excellent pub which was holding a beer festival. I can thoroughly recommend the Beehive in Montepellier (which appears to be a part of Cheltenham, as well as more famously a city in the Pays d’Oc) which very much felt like my Cheltenham home. I feel it is important that I should know a decent pub and a decent source of cake in every town and city in the UK: a project that very much remains live…
I feel I should organise more excursions away from home, even ones involving use of my car, to sample the beer, cake and culture of further cities. It’s just so hard to tear myself away from all that Southampton offers: still, I must face the fact that until my clones are fully up and, if not running, at least shuffling, I cannot do everything…