Tag Archives: Bristol

All My Friends: Neil

I don’t function in the countryside. I’d felt myself tense up just driving over the Severn Bridge and seeing those rolling Welsh hills and valleys extend to the horizon. Well, I imagine there’d be rolling hills, great waves of grass spilling over itself, a dazzling emerald expanse, if I could have seen anything through the pissing rain that my one working wiper flapped ineffectually against. If there had been a way to cross the central reservation and hightail it back to a stale coffee and greasy fry up at Aust Services then I’d have done it. Why had Lizzie arranged this nostalgia freak show in the middle of nowhere? I’d just driven past Bristol and, presumably, several functioning bars, night clubs, cafes, shops, museums, galleries, hospitals, and hotels. Everything, in short, required for a decent night out. The order sometimes varies. Finishing in the hotel rather than the hospital is optimal. I’ve never been to Bristol. It could have been fun. I’d even drink cider if it meant avoiding the onward trek into the wilderness. Is cider a Bristol thing? Or is that pasties? I try not to venture further west than Reading for precisely these reasons: the avoidance of hold-in-one-hand meals wrapped in pastry and alcohol distilled from apples bobbing around in some straw-chewing farmer’s barrel in a barn. But right then, squinting into the deluge plastering itself onto my windscreen, imagining the verdant fields beyond, I would have happily killed a kitten for the chance to bite into some stodgy mincemeat and sup on warm, flat scrumpy rather than keep going.

My first impressions of the cottage were not good. I didn’t really have a benchmark as cottages were another thing I’d deliberately avoided in my life along with tents, horses, farms, summer walks in meadows, autumnal tramps through drifting leaves in the woods, bluebells, campfires, and botanical gardens. I was yet to see a green space I couldn’t mentally improve with concrete, a Starbucks, and wi-fi. There was a purple flower climbing its way up the walls and framing the door that had prompted much delight in the others but which just looked like a drop in centre for drunken, drowsy wasps to me. I’d spotted at least two of the little bastards furiously headbutting a window as soon as I’d stepped inside. Later I learned that this mysterious plant was called wisteria but not before mis-hearing Lizzie and spending a few confused minutes wondering why she was quite so enthusiastic about having contracted listeria. Cue, inevitably, general hysteria.

My first impressions of the others were not good either. This was the second time they’d all made a first impression on me and at least they were consistently disappointing. That first first time, back when nobody was reflexively sucking in their stomach every time someone pulled a camera and everybody’s imagination still outstripped their income, I’d only really been impressed with Richard. He’d always had a confidence about him which I’d mistaken as an acceptance of himself and being a grown up when the rest of us were still kids. It wasn’t until later that I realised he was just a bit of an arrogant arsehole with an inflated sense of entitlement. Therefore, given my track record on first impressions, I wasn’t reading too much into my initial deflation this time around but, seeing them, listening to what they’d done and filling in the blanks on what they hadn’t, I couldn’t help but see my own failures reflected back. I wasn’t the person they had known but I wasn’t sure I was quite the person I’d wanted to be either.

I’d gravitated to Jon as the evening progressed. It wasn’t like I’d planned it but it didn’t surprise me either. If he remembered that night I tried to kiss him then he didn’t bring it up and I could tell from the way his eyes still tracked Clare around the room that not only was he still playing for the wrong side but that he was also still playing out of his league. I think I wanted to tell him that he was important to me but I wasn’t good at sincerity at the best of times and least of all removed from my urban comforts. I don’t mean that I still had feelings for him but I wanted to tell him that his rebuffal was the turning point for me; it was when I realised who I was and felt good about it. The details are a little hazy – tequila will do that – but I do remember him not being a dick about it. Just a kind, gentle even, letting down and then we sat round listening to records until I crashed out on his floor. I don’t tell him any of this. We just talk about some songs like we used to.

As the night started to find its natural end my need for a smoke finally became more urgent than my aversion to being outside. I figured the wasps were probably asleep but I didn’t really want to find out if you could fight off a badger by stubbing it in the eye with a lighted cig. The insistent nicotine nudge was too persuasive. I convinced myself that the same farmer that I wouldn’t be buying cider from anytime soon had probably killed all the local badgers to stop them spreading TB or something. I accept I’m not going to be offered the gig when David Attenborough goes. I know more about Country & Western than I do about the country. What I mainly know is that I don’t like either of them.

I avoided being bitten in the ankle (or throat – maybe they can jump?) by any of the myriad of woodland creatures running rampant in my mind and settled down on the sofa. Jon was still up, playing Astral Weeks now, but I recognised his look, even after all this time. Van was going to give him solace that I couldn’t. If he could hear Richard and Clare shagging through the floor above then he wasn’t letting on. Luckily for him it didn’t seem to last all that long. I flicked on the TV, turned the volume right down, and flicked the channels until I found something to look at that reminded me of civilisation. I don’t even know what it was but it wasn’t green. Tomorrow I’d drive back to Bristol and spend the rest of the weekend in bars, night clubs, cafes, shops, museums, galleries, hospitals, and hotels. I fell asleep wondering why the hell you had to pay a toll on the Severn Bridge going west but grateful, at least, that I could escape home for free.

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The weirdness flows between us

32. Freak Scene – Dinosaur Jr.

We showed off to each other back then. Goofing around, throwing ridiculous shapes on the dance floor, conjuring ludicrous puns that, over time, became impenetrable in-jokes, and just enjoying each other. Not, you know, in that way. Okay, sometimes in that way, but mostly it was entirely rated PG stuff; occasional moments of mild peril and sexual references. As Supergrass would later put it: we were young, we were free, we kept our teeth nice and clean. It’s unsurprising that my self penned follow up – I am middle aged, I have responsibilities, I have ground my teeth down to such an extent that I displaced my jaw – has never troubled the charts.

We were 16, going on 17, and weren’t skipping around a summer house in Austria on the brink of war trying to impress a young Nazi boy. But we were interested in the sound of music (boom, and indeed, tish). Specifically we were all starting to share a love of what you might generally term indie music; some gravitating from an earlier goth phase, others from heavy metal (an odd mix of US hair metal and New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), and some feeling the benefit of older siblings passing down people like The Smiths. Irrespective of how we got there we all arrived at a place where a shared love of Nirvana, Pixies, Muses, Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, and a host of others became something that both defined us and soundtracked our late teens and early 20s.

We, of course, was me and my friends. A small but perfectly formed gang; smart, funny, at ease with each other, if not always with ourselves. I’m probably romanticising it across the years. I’m sure there were times we had terribly dull conversations and just sat around fretting about our A levels but that’s not how I remember it. In my head now it was all either hilarious, wise cracking bon mots or very earnest, deep discussion about matters of great import. We knew we weren’t the cool kids but convinced ourselves that, because we knew that, it actually made us the cool kids anyway. We were cool because we weren’t cool but we knew it. Make sense ? Not really but it did at the time. Looking back I think we were pretty cool. If I was 16 again I would want to be friends with us.

And I would want to spend my nights at the Kandi Klub. I imagine that every major city in the UK, around the late 80s and early 90s, had its own version of the Kandi Klub: what might loosely be described as an indie rock nightclub. Somewhere for the people who felt a bit out of place everywhere else to go and feel slightly less out of place together. Later in my life I frequented Rock City in Nottingham and Sector 5 in Leicester but the Kandi Klub in Bristol was the place I called home. It was our weekly stage (literally so if it was being held in the Thekla) and where we played out our friendship.

History hasn’t recorded what anyone else thought of those kids that turned up every week and spent their time alternating between dancing very seriously – shuffling feet, head down nodding, fringes falling over eyes – and then appearing to take the piss out of it all – the star jumps, the hands on hips head shaking, the watusi. If it had I’d like to think it would mention how much fun they were having. Was it fun in that slightly self absorbed way that only teenagers can really pull off ? Yeah it was but we were slightly self absorbed teenagers so…

There’s a long, long list of songs that I associate with those regular trips to the Kandi, whether it was ensconced at The Studio or The Bierkeller or The Thekla, but the one that was guaranteed to get me on to the slightly sticky dancefloor was “Freak Scene”. It was probably one of those songs that used to get slipped in fairly early in the night, before DJ George got into the bigger “hits” from people like Nirvana and The Wonderstuff. There were a bunch of songs that occupied that part of the night that I latched on to and still love: stuff like the Violent Femmes’ “Add It Up”, Buffalo Tom’s “Velvet Roof”, Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”, Pulp’s “Babies”, and probably a couple of Mudhoney tracks. As it was still early the dancefloor might be empty, or virtually empty, but we’d bounce out there regardless and throw ourselves into that aforementioned head down shuffle of a dance.

For the three and a half minutes of “Freak Scene” everything would fall away. There was the song, the sensation of moving, and that was it. Or almost it. I was self conscious enough, I expect, to be aware of the fact that I was dancing and always enjoyed the odd mixture of doing something that felt quite private in a public place* – it was effectively an outward expression of my internal relationship with the song. If you’d seen it you might, mistakenly, have seen it as a tall, spotty kid wearing a black tee shirt dotted with pieces of washing powder visibly picked out, shining, under the blue neon lights rather ponderously swishing his hair around. It wasn’t that. It was an outward expression of my internal relationship with the song. I admit some of that outward expression required that I slowly step from side to side and possibly clasp my hands behind my back. Don’t judge me.

You need places that feel like they’re yours when you’re that age, hovering uncertainly between being a child and an adult. Places and people. Territory that’s yours, where you’re free to work out who you might be. The Kandi Klub was part of my territory and if I had the chance to do it all again I’d be back there in a heartbeat with exactly the same people: my friends.

 

*this will be the only thing I did that “felt quite private in a public place” that I ‘fess up to here…