We approach Bristol from
the south, passing black lakes of solar farms. Portishead lies out to the west, a few ships snagged in its nest of warehousing, cranes and windmills. You can see the two Severn crossings like bracelets on the river’s wrist. The sun is piling down and west England glisters like buttered corn.
The rooms are still being cleaned at our Bristol hotel so I dump my case and get out into the light. I tour the usual haunts, buying a couple of records in the covered market, then have some Korean street food. I’m going to call my songs “street music”, see if I can’t sell some units. In a corner cafe affording 180 degree people-watching potential, I study two workmen on their knees cutting paving slabs with an angle grinder. Their work is stunningly precise, leaving perfect 1 cm spaces between each bespoke piece. They have a large tamping tool which looks like two pairs of bicycle handlebars attached to a stunted pogo-stick. People stream by on either side of the cafe, heading out into the late afternoon. I feel like a captain on his bridge. The lowering sun feels warm through the dusty windows. The coffee grinder moans, and the men outside take up mallets and tap at the ground like birds in winter. No one’s noticing them, just rushing by around the inconvenience. In a few days they’ll be swarming over this pristine walkway, oblivious. I spot our sound guy, Mr. Pringle, looking lost. He’s peering into his phone and up at a tourist signpost. He decides on a course of action and strides off confidently. He looks like a man with a plan. The flagstone craftsmen start sweeping up. A colleague from another site comes over, holding a coffee and points at things. Then another joins, hands in pockets, to confer. It all works very well without dialogue. I begin to ponder my next move and feel the river calling.
Like many European cities Bristol has internally expanded, re-colonised parts of itself fallen into disuse. On a restored stretch of the dockside I slip into a Grayson Perry exhibition and suddenly find myself perusing his satirically phallic, Object In Foreground with three other men. Our noses almost touch its cold, dark lustre. I nearly burst out laughing. Four men staring at a ceramic penis. It could be the opening of a farce by Jaques Tati. On the whole the show is good but flirts occasionally with a patronising sentimentalism. It’s saving grace is that it’s funny, and I find myself smirking along with his digs and mockery. Two tapestries, Red Carpet and The Battle of Britain are excellent. And he’s popular – the gallery is buzzing. Broadcast television still has that power. I’m glad he’s so firmly in the popular domain. I park my arse on a bench outside and watch the sun set through the rigging of a tarted-up old clipper. A man with a Jamaican accent crops up at the back of a boat, holding a paddle and shouting abuse at no one, then disappears. The people seated near me think he’s mad. Then he pops up again shouting exactly the same words: “What are you doing sir, you incompetent buffoon?!” and we twig he must be doing takes on a film shoot. He does three more, all subtly different, before I head for home, the streets dimming in the falling light. I finally check in, changing my first floor allocation for a room on the fifth. I like to look down on people. Those who attend my shows know that. No one seems to mind terribly. I check out my vinyl purchases on Spotify. The Syl Johnson one, Diamond In The Rough is pretty good. It’s hard to go wrong with Willie Mitchell productions. I watch a Celtic game on my phone – everything’s in hand.
I force myself to sleep late, aware of some long upcoming drives, then I’m back out in the bustle, doing pretty much the same things as yesterday. We are creatures of habit and a gig day is not the time to get lost. I have limited time, like everybody. Just before load-in the sun suddenly burns through the haze. Walkers’ long shadows materialise before them on the pale pavement like more elegant versions of themselves from another world.