“Hey you wanna see my party trick boys?”
“Mate, no, I’ve seen your party trick a hundred times-”
“Noooo wait, this is different, watch.”
“… Please take those off your head and get down from there.”
Sometimes Annie is quite a serious woman. Sometimes sits with me and we’ll discuss literature, or politics, or sexuality. She sends professional-sounding emails to promoters and record labels, she talks hardware with DJs and sound technicians, and she takes press shots staring powerfully into the camera.
And sometimes she puts a pair of underpants on her head and twerks upside down on a wall while I’m trying to have a conversation with her.
“If you’re going to do it, at least do it against the wall over here, not by the window. You’ll have an accident.”
“I’m coordinated, boys. I’m a blackbelt.”
That’s true: she is a blackbelt. With a sigh I stood and watched her carefully position herself upside down beside the open second-storey window – hands on the floor, feet high up against the wall – and twerk in a slow, arrhythmic, drunken fashion. And sure enough, after about three seconds, one of her feet slipped and flailed out through the open window into the night air. With a small ‘oops’ she righted herself as I threw up my hands in exasperation.
“Right, that’s enough. You nearly ended up in the garden. The neighbours would have seen a twerking bottom sail past their dining room window. I’d have had to go downstairs and let you back in. That’s enough for today, thank you.”
The day after Annie’s gig at Basement 45 was a beautiful one. In the early afternoon Annie had taken a taxi from Tony’s to Jack’s, along with her luggage. Then together we set out in the sunshine to walk down to the harbour to find food.
It was a crisp October day, and the sky was blue. On the way into town we saw a run of gig posters advertising the previous evening’s show, with Ani Klang on the lineup. We peeled one off a wall and rolled it up as a souvenir.
For food we chose a place called La Grotta; a cheap-and-cheerful Italian restaurant Jeanne and I used to have lunch in sometimes. We bought takeaway pizzas and wandered down to the harbourside. On the way, Annie looked at me from the corner of her eye.
“Is it bad that I kind of feel like getting a couple of ciders right now?”
“MATE I thought you’d never ask.”
And so, with pizza and a four pack of Thatcher’s Haze, we sat on the corner outside Arnolfini and ate good food and watched the seagulls and the boats, and we talked about how happy we felt in that moment. Just as commuting and drone work and isolation leaves you hollow, the opposite fills you up. For the past few weeks, life had been nothing but fresh air and friendly faces and dancing and laughs and travel. You walk around and you feel it inside you constantly; the sweet glow of ambrosia.
“I just feel really… my heart feels full, you know?”
“I do know.”
Next we hit up a curious little pub called Mickey Zoggs; Annie was due to rendezvous with a couple of DJs there. It’s a pub for underground music lovers: everybody in there is a DJ or promoter or producer or some other variety of cool-music-techy-whiz-nerd. The place was tiny, close, and packed with interesting-looking people dressed in beanies and scarves sitting at little brown tables drinking glasses of beer. The venue puts out a live radio show from the premises every day: one half of the space is taken up with a full-size radio booth. There was a separate door to enter it, and the bar-facing wall had a giant window so you could see the DJs crowded inside, pushing buttons and pulling levers, nodding their heads and speaking into microphones.
The pub put me in mind of a secret rebel base, with radio operators receiving incoming reports, and guerillas striding in from the cold to warm their hands over the fire and trade news of goings-on in the field. Wearied troops wrapped in thick overcoats playing cards around low tables laden with glasses, and lieutenants huddling in to pore over topographic maps and draw in ambush points. Mortar fire in the distance, and the occasional tremor sending a trickle of dust down from the ceiling.
We stayed an hour or two sitting and drinking with a lovely couple Annie knew, and spent a long time discussing music and British culture and comparing US/British comedy. I’d never been to Mickey Zoggs before – or Strange Brew, or Basement 45 for that matter – and when we left I told Annie I felt bittersweet about discovering such a side to Bristol only after I’d left the city. It hurt to see the friends I could have had – who had been here the whole time, only I’d not found them. I was very lonely in Bristol, and realising what was right under my nose the whole time was a strange feeling. Things might have been different.
Heading back to Jack’s took an age; we got the wrong bus and ended up whisked away around town, cursing so loudly we turned heads. Annie was headed out later that evening to Strange Brew to see RP Boo, one of the originators of the footwork genre which originated in Chicago in the 80s. I wasn’t planning on going out: after four weeks my body was packing in. What little muscle I’d managed to put over the previous two months had long since vanished, and my skin had the colour and texture of a mummy’s bandages. But of course I eventually agreed to come and play.
We needed something to pre-drink, but we’d left it too late and no shops were open nearby. Instead, then, we bought two pints of beer and a bottle of wine in a nearby pub, and after sipping said pints we fled with the unopened wine bottle before they could tell us off, giggling all the way home at our cleverness.
Back in Jack’s kitchen, we cranked up the speaker up and sang Blink 182 at the top of our lungs and failed to harmonise – we decided I am Mark Hoppus and Annie is Tom Delonge – and Annie wore an MF DOOM mask with a pair of underpants on her head and rapped all the words to Eminem’s Stan, and yes, nearly twerked herself out of an upstairs window.
The RP Boo show was brilliant fun. I had no knowledge of the genre, and as we danced in the crowd at the front Annie explained to me the time signature that makes it unique, and pointed out people doing the style of dance that accompanies the music, and painted a canvas of context for me that made the show even more enjoyable. We drank for free most of the night, as Annie kept breezing into the green room to pluck beers from the fridge, even though she wasn’t on the evening’s line up.
“It’s fine, I played last week,” she told me, seeing my ‘Annieeeee you’re going to get us in trouble’ expression.
The artist himself – Mr Boo – looked like the happiest man on earth. Turning dials and pushing sliders on his decks, he watched the crowd’s reaction to every mix, with a sweet, joyous grin that grew on his face as the crowd grew more ecstatic. Before long people were clambering onstage –Annie included – and the DJ was lost in a sea of swinging limbs, like an old Hanna-Barbera fistfight.
We met Tony in there, the promoter Annie had been crashing with, along with several other faces I recognized from the previous evening. I made friends with an androgynous couple out on a first date, one of them was dressed as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider for some reason, and at the end of the night, when we were all slung out into the street, everybody stood around chatting for a further thirty minutes until the bouncers shooed everybody away like fruitflies from a summer kitchen.
We spent the next morning lounging at Jack’s, playing guitar and taking it in turns to sing silly verses to old gosh-darnit-yeehaw songs from the American South. Then Annie went to meet Grove for a production sesh, while I went out with Jack to get food and sit talking about the future.
At 5pm, I said goodbye to my little brother and got a taxi to meet Annie at Temple Meads Station. We stocked up on snacks, boarded our train, and as the setting sun turned the rolling hills purple and golden, we left Bristol behind and headed north.