Bristol, give me a signal


Bristol. City of squats whose graffiti is a more famous landmark than its cathedral, who has a bakery called Bread an’ Ting, a home-ware store called Happytat and a stationery shop called Paper Gangsta; even your shop names have a sense of humour. Whose native Brizzle drawl involves referring to inanimate objects as ‘he’ or ‘she’ and tacking a random ‘l’ on after words that end in vowels, as though the very dialect is trying to turn every word into Bristol, a football fan’s chant: Bristol, Bristol. You crazy bloody minx.



This is a city that met the everyday occurrence of a new Tesco opening with riots and firebombs: a stoned city, perennially laid back, outraged into action by the affront of the blue and red commercial beast squatting on its parade of independent businesses, its beating heart. They stretch all the way from Horfield Common down to the Attic Bar where Stokes Croft’s sweet orgy of colour and life meets the dual carriageway- the longest parade of independent shops in Europe.

magpie squat

magpie squat


So what did you do? You set up the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. This is an area that is in essence just one long road, but you’ve got a People’s Republic now. You, and China. And your own currency, the Bristol Pound, to keep money within local businesses (the fiver has a pretty shady looking tiger on it). You’re a city of people who looked at the Bearpit, the ugly hollowed out concrete eyesore of an underpass slap bang in the city centre, and stuck a statue of a bear in it, spray-painted the walls into cartoon oblivion and stencilled paw prints along the concourse. Now it’s the only underpass I’ve ever seen with a ping pong table and an organic fruit and veg stall. Seriously, Bristol, what are you like?

telepathic heights squat

telepathic heights squat

And I can’t explain quite why I’ve got so much love for this off-kilter West Country city, home to Inkie and Banksy, Massive Attack and the Stig, but I know that when I walk up Dighton Street from the city centre until I hit the looming miles of street art and I feel like I’m walking through a comic book, I’m home. I love your absurd pride around cider, the way that the legendary Cori Tap is famous for serving its ‘exhibition’ cider in half pints cos it’s just that fucking potent and that even though I’m from London and I’ve lived in New York, you still have the best goddamn nightlife I’ve ever seen. Even if your eclectic music scene does sometimes draw bands that describe their sound as the ‘relentless sound of torrential drumming’. Torrential drumming. It was quite an apt description actually, but you know what, once I’d accidentally stumbled in there, wincing at the relentless torrential drumming, an old man taught me how to play the spoons and I’ve never looked back.

break-dancing jesus

break-dancing jesus

And on those crazy nights, those rogue occasions when you just don’t fancy relentlessly torrential drumming, you can whoop your way from the earthy gin-soaked gloom of the Mother’s Ruin all the way to Motion, whose nights don’t pass out til 7, and you can queue past the concrete slab of a courtyard, rolls of barbed wire and sniffer dogs and feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic border town at the end of days. Or throw caution to the winds and truck it up to Lizard Lounge, a club smaller than your nan’s kitchen, owned by the improbably named John Lounge, whose walls sweat and whose trademark lurid cocktail has no name other than the colloquially whispered, ‘the Green Shit’. See-No-Evil-graffiti-project-in-Bristol-5

I love that you’re harmlessly, gloriously mad. I love that when the Highbury Vaults was graffitied with a tag featuring the word ‘vandalism’ with a heart for the ‘v’, the pub’s manager was quoted as saying “it’s very nice, it highlights an otherwise white building”. I love the old woman who, on a rainy day, marched purposefully up to me, fighting with a recalcitrant umbrella against the wind, and said squarely to my face “Ooh I ‘ates brollies” before carrying on her way. The heavily dreadlocked man at 10 am in Sainsbury’s who came up to my friend and shouted “mmm BREEZERRR” in the thickest rhotic drawl you’ve ever heard. That I once ordered a vodka and coke in a hole-in-the-wall bar only to be told “we don’t do cocktails here, my babber”. And that your resident dj, DJ Derek, is a seventy-odd year old man who still spins the sweetest reggae sets you’ve ever bumped to—apparently Massive Attack’s Daddy G is a fan.

It’s a city that still bears the scrawled markings of its slave trade past: the main shopping centre named after a dynasty of slave owners, the harbourside thrumming with a history that echoes of sugar, tobacco and human traffic in the shadow of the old Fry’s chocolate factory, and you can stroll down Black Boy Hill as it slopes gently into Whiteladies Road (I’m not being facetious, that’s an actual geographical fact). But you’ve taken your historic mould and twisted and writhed from it in happy contortions.


It might be that for now, London’s calling with its sensible career choices and temporary parental accommodation, and sure, it might be that with my glottally stopped-up London ear you’ll always sound like pirate farmers to me, but Bristol. I’ll come back and visit you. And I’ll skank my way through bashment dives til dawn and I’ll sit on Brandon Hill and watch the sun come up, and in the cold grey light I’ll look down over your mishmash, inked Georgian splendour and I’ll shout at the top of my lungs…

Bristol, give me a signal.

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230 Responses to Bristol, give me a signal

  1. Sashi Kumi says:

    I had the pleasure of living that amazing city for four of the best years of my life. They will never be forgotten and that place will always bring a smile to my face. Love ya Brizzol!!!

  2. Jack Horner says:

    One of the ‘pirate farmers’ here (Portishead – really.) – loved it! Covered much of why I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else (ok, maybe…Amsterdam, Berlin…) – Found this in BU’s ‘Nonesuch’ magazine – v. pleased to have done so! Thanks.
    btw – Only slightly disappointed by the absence of a mention for Archibald Leach’s Acid-tripping wonderfulness or of Bristol’s own muckraking scandal-sheet ‘The Bristolian’. Still great though.

  3. kate bissix says:

    Thanks this made me rock I m away from my home town Bristol an it made me miss it and confirmed I kneed to go home xx

  4. ben says:

    Respect. What a lovely read .: )

  5. Debbie C. says:

    So apt, me lover

  6. Kat says:

    Great article and yes Bristol is a city like no other I’m proud to say as a Bristolian! Just wanted to point out tho as your not from Bristol and therefore can be forgiven for not knowing this, that Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Rd are named after Nuns and Chimney Sweeps nothing to do with the slave trade. That is a common misconception. I was privileged to have seen some of Banksy early work whilst I was at school that the council washed off, bet they wish they hadn’t now!

  7. Cleo says:

    I do love this so much, but.. Black Boy Hill is actually called that because the tarred bodies of highwaymen were hung on display there. It was the city limit for centuries and the Downs were wild woodland. I read that ‘The Black Prince’ could be another reason for the name. The Hill could have just taken it’s name from the pub at the top of it. Seems reasonable. I do wonder if the pub name was gentrified to ‘The Black Prince’ from something to do with the tarrings. Whiteladies Road is also a corruption of an original gate into Bristol and the name was again picked up for a pub before it became a road name…. Yeh I’m up on the history. There are so many slavery links in Bristol, just not this. The Abolition movement began in Bristol in the first Weslyan Chapel and you can go visit it in Broadmead. Such an amazing city and awesome article though x

  8. eileen bulmer says:

    Loved reading this. Not totally accurate? So what! It brought the spirit of Bristol to life. Thank you.

  9. Dean says:

    Brilliant write up. Come and see us people you’ll love every second of it.

  10. and3w says:

    Derek G has recently retired, when to his final set in Bridgwater before Christmas. Still a legend.

  11. Kat says:

    This is a FANTASTIC piece of writing! I live in Bristol and can totally relate to everything you’ve said! I’ve shared it with all my friends. Brilliant! Thanks 🙂

  12. Thom Goodwin says:

    Lived here my whole life. Missed a few greats about the city out but pretty much hit the nail on the head.

  13. The Island says:

    Really enjoyed this article! I so wish you have come to see us too at The Island. Only places like Bristol you would find an arts centre, artists studios and a venue in a Old Police Station! Maybe next time…come along, Nelson street next to all the grafiti area.

    • rachelschraer says:

      Hey the Island, you’re great! i spent Halloween there this year being chased by a man in a Hannibal Lecter mask to the dulcet tones of gentlemans dub club- lovely.

  14. Paul Collett says:

    Is it just me? I think the graffiti on Nelson Street and Stokes Croft looks bloody awful and really lowers the tone, is the best Bristol can offer?

  15. jevon carey says:

    cheers drive

  16. says:

    Gave me goosebums!

  17. Darren says:

    One of the cleverest articles I have read in a long time, living in Sydney Australia and missing the UKs best city. Gert Lush piece of writing, cider I up me blabber, I have an ideal, lets get me dapz and goes for a run.

  18. Loved this post, highlighted by a friend. I’m from the environs of Liverpool but now living near Bristol so love the similarities between the two cities. Can’t admit to knowing the nightlife well, but it is a vibrant place full of music, art and humour.

  19. terry purkis says:

    Gurt lush article

  20. Oftenjane says:

    Words and pictures.
    My place

  21. Pingback: Bristol, give me a signal | Dream of Something Bigger

  22. brizzle_luvver says:

    • Chris says:

      Your film spells it out L-O-V-E… You can call yourself a luvver, thats another way of spelling it, but Bristol is never pronounced brizzle!

  23. Charlotte says:

    brilliant read, love the DJ Derek and the way you took the reader on a journey from my fave city too Brissle

  24. Reblogged this on AdamJonesWrites and commented:
    If anyone wonders why I live in Bristol…. This sums it up perfectly

  25. Ju says:

    I loved this article. I was born in Bristol and from the age of 19 to now in my mid 50’s I have lived in The South East, North West and Down as far as Devon but ALWAYS end up back in Bristol so now have learnt that Bristol is where I am meant to be and where I will stay. Be proud Bristolians.

  26. Stella says:

    The City Council has been the butt of jokes for years. As Adge Cutler noted way back in the 60s, in his song ‘Virtute Et Industrial’ “God bless they City Fathers, they knows which way we’m facin”. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

  27. Geof says:

    It’s the city where snow pitches.

  28. katibry says:

    Reblogged this on katibry and commented:

  29. steve says:

    DJ Derek has known Daddy G since he was a nipper coz he’s good mates with his dad

  30. Athel says:

    This was beautiful, and sums up nicely exactly what I like about the place. Bristol is a place i’ll keep visiting.

  31. Ruth says:

    Beautifully written piece, but sorry, can’t stand the place & couldn’t wait to leave.

    I’m 52 & it was a truly grim place if you weren’t indigenous British.
    Snobbish & segregated then.
    Snobbish & segregated now.

    & not wheelchair-friendly either.

    I’ve no desire to diss anyone’s adopted home ( I think a lot of people have moved there from elsewhere & are very contented ), but during the 70’s. . aaaaagh, you had to be there.

    I await bad words from one & all. .

  32. When you sit on Brandon Hill the squirrels come to you and beg for food. The pigeons are so tame they eat crumbs from your hand.

  33. Alex Stark says:

    God I miss you Bristol. Wish I never had to leave you. My industry fucking sucks. One day I’ll just quit and return home.xx

  34. Bristolshed says:

    Bristaw borne an bred. But I av lived all over. Tryed Londun tryed Yorkshire even tryed Austrailial. Bin over to Americal. Tis still the place to be an eym glad to be back. Luvit.
    Yer tis then. Bristl has at least 5 accents all toatly difrent. Bedminster, Kangsood, Knowl an Hartclif, Sowfmeed an Sneyd Parrk. Theym al bristaw! no Bristl! no town,
    Luv u mi ole Babby

  35. Kate says:

    Gurt lush

  36. Senem Tuten says:

    Beautiful writing! I found your post when i was searching to Bristol pics. One of my good friend is an oracle. Yes sounds like weird but she is. She told me that im gonna live in Bristol in two years. I dont know if i live there but i wanna visit Bristol at least as soon as possible. So im repeating same words as you; “Bristol, give me a signal” 🙂

  37. Pingback: Batty Bristol for a city camping trip - Campfire Magazine

  38. Maria says:

    Dude! You missed Thekla! The club on a boat. And all the wacky yet culture rich festivals that Bristol insist on having every year! Bristol is known as the wackiest city for a reason. All we need is Boris Johnson and we’ll be sorted!

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