A 30.000 pies por viajeros para viajeros

Bristol A Haze of Trip Hop and Graffiti I

We embarked once more on a trip with the Mondo Sonoro crew of journalists. This time we decided to investigate Bristol’s music scene, highly active as of the late 1970s, during the heyday of punk. However, it was in the early 90s that music in this port city of southern England riveted world attention, as it was there that one of the defining genres of the late 20th century was born, evolved and, they say, died – Trip Hop. But things did not stop at that. Shortly afterwards, Bristol challenged London as the cradle of drum’n’bass, while today it is dubstep that has earned it a top spot among avant-garde electronic music. As well, it continues to be a haven for all kinds of live music. So, we headed for Bristol with a fistful of question marks; perhaps too many to be answered in a space of just 48 hours. Here’s what the experience yielded.

Bristol lies just 48 minutes from Cardiff by train, a short ride which you can use to go over the lineups of the countless clubs and concert halls that liven up the night of a city with little over 400,000 inhabitants.

Bristol was England’s busiest port for several decades. The city once flourished as a trading post, garnering its wealth from the distribution of wine, tobacco and, in the 17th century, slaves, too. Not for nothing was the home of pirate Long John Silver, of Treasure Island fame, located here. In World War II, the importance of its docks and aeronautical industry made it a target for terrible aerial bombardments. The harbour area has come into its own again recently as a result of an ambitious urban renewal plan, completed in 2008, which paved the way for one of the most popular promenades – Harbourside. The area, which has been totally remodelled, features leisure and hospitality areas, as well as an open-air flea market crammed with second-hand books and records, in addition to craftwork, confectionery and even craft beer.

Also sited there is the Bristol Tourist Information Centre, an inexhaustible source of information, where we learned that here too are the headquarters of Aardman Animations, the studio where the Oscar-winning Plasticine figures of Wallace & Gromit were created. This is also the birthplace of Cary Grant, a star of Hollywood’s early period who continues to be celebrated in the form of a festival bearing the name of this perennial Hitchcock actor. Another titbit – the writer, JK Rowling, Harry Potter’s mater, lived in the city’s environs until her adolescence. However, our most prized acquisition in the Tourist Office was a street plan for locating a host of works scattered about the city by someone who is probably the most popular local celebrity, even though his identity remains a mystery. I am talking about Banksy, Bristol’s favourite son, although not all the city councils would refer to him in such terms.

However, before setting out on a photo safari around the city walls, it might be an idea to first explore it from the river that traverses and connects it to the sea. Several companies organise boat tours, including Bristol Ferry Boats, The Bristol Packet and The Matthew. The latter offers rides lasting up to four hours, during which you can enjoy the classic Fish & Chips or a Cream Tea – milk tea with scones and jam and cream.

Still in the neighbourhood, we were tempted to visit At-Bristol, which combines an interactive science centre with a planetarium, but there are many cultural enclaves worth exploring. First we headed for the nearby area of theatres and dropped in on the Bristol Hippodrome, which focuses on great musicals, notably one dedicated to the “Million Dollar Quartet” (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley), where the legendary producer, Sam Phillips, is played no less than by the ex-pop star Jason Donovan! Around there we came across a number of tapas bars, attesting to a marked increase in Spanish emigration, including El Puerto and La Tomatina, the latter located next to the first Banksy we were able to enjoy, the hilarious “Well Hung Lover” on Park Street, a steep commercial thoroughfare which is a must for picking up bargains. Our hotel was near there, in the historical Old City, so we still had time to wander through St Nicholas Market, a charming covered market, like a bazaar with glass ceilings. We also made for St Peter’s Church, an evocative ruined church at the top of Castle Park, on a stretch of the river bordering the Broadme addistrict, the city’s commercial centre. Further north lies Bearpit, an unusual square sunk between a junction of trunk roads that swerve around pedestrian tunnels plastered with posters announcing musical performances and street art exhibitions. We were taken aback by a number of graffiti paying tribute to the tragedy of the 43 missing Mexican “normalistas”. There were also skate ramps, a space for performances of all kinds and even a typical double-decker London bus converted into a food truck serving Mexican dishes.

On this note we wind up the first part of our intense and interesting visit to Bristol. In the second part we delve into the area where most of the clubs are concentrated. We also talked to Euan Dickson, sound engineer of Massive Attack, one of the seminal bands in the city’s music scene. Get going and discover the sounds of Bristol – check out our flights here.

Text by Mondo Sonoro and Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS