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Hoe Down

Saturday 20 March

It’s all about the Hoe right. (Feel free to insert your own rapper joke here – go on you know you want to. How about: Why does Snoop Dogg always carry an umbrella? Fo’ drizzle.) Well it’s certainly all about the Hoe in Plymouth. The bare facts are that it’s a large south facing open public space adjacent to and above the low limestone cliffs that forms the seafront hereabouts. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means sloping ridge shaped like an inverted foot and heel. Whatever, I’m told it provides majestic views of Plymouth Sound, Drake’s Island, and across the Hamoaze to Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall. Couldn’t really confirm this because it was pouring with rain the day I visited.

My last blog talked about being a flâneur (see ’A flâneur in the works’) and there’s certainly no reason why that should just be applied to London, although in my case it mostly is. This was my first ever trip to Plymouth and very pleasantly surprised I was to. But back to the Hoe. In 1588 Sir Francis Drake, apocryphally, was believed to have casually completed a game of bowls here before sallying forth and soundly defeating the Spanish Armada. A great story but Drake is such a colossal figure it hardly seems necessary to add to his reputation. Born just down the road in Tavistock, Drake became an experienced and daring seafarer. Among many adventures, the ‘famous voyage’, his successful circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580 ensured that he would be one of the best remembered figures of Tudor England. Then, as now, he was regarded with mixed feelings, both at home and abroad. Some English people regarded him as a hero, but he was distrusted by others, who saw him as having risen ‘above his station’. Although he was feared and hated by the Spanish, he was also regarded by some with secret admiration. In 1567, Drake made one of the first English slaving voyages as part of a fleet led by his cousin John Hawkins, bringing African slaves to work in the ‘New World’. All but two ships of the expedition were lost when attacked by a Spanish squadron. The Spanish became a lifelong enemy for Drake and they in turn considered him a pirate. Drake was also something of a politician in Elizabethan times becoming the mayor of Plymouth.

Even today it’s hard to avoid Drake when in Plymouth. In 2004 the old Drake Circus shopping centre and Charles Cross car park were demolished and replaced by the latest Drake Circus Shopping Centre, which opened in October 2006. It received negative feedback before opening when David Mackay said it was already “ten years out of date” – and I can’t help agreeing with him. It’s a shame because there’s plenty of scope to be innovative here because the centre was sympathetically re-designed in the 60’s following extensive bomb damage in WWII. The roads are very wide and it’s generally laid out on an easy to navigate grid system.

But it is really all about the Hoe here and we pushed on to the seafront. Then we turned right made our way back to the town before heading for the Barbican. The promenade is splendid with a huge colourful lido. Thousands used to flock here in the 50’s. Before you reach the Barbican you pass by the Royal Citadel at the east end of the Hoe. This was built after the English Civil War to defend the city from naval attack. The Barbican closely approximates the size of the old port settlement called Sutton. It has cobbled streets, over 100 listed buildings, and The Mayflower Steps that commemorates the 1620 voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers. It is also the site of the Plymouth Gin Distillery that has been producing gin since 1793. We reached this by going down a little alleyway called Blackfriars Ope. Another new word for alley for me there then. Round here you can see some traces of the work of the artist Robert Lenkiewicz, who lived here from the 60’s until his death in 2002.

One final note I think I’d better stop visiting these south coast cities because since I turned up Portsmouth have been relegated from the Premiership and now Plymouth Argyle have lost their Championship status.

Listen to:

The Chieftains;Ricky Skaggs – Cotton-Eyed Joe

Public Enemy – Fight The Power

Boney M. – Have You Ever Seen The Rain

The Royal Marines Association Concert Band – Plymouth Hoe

The Band Of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Captain JR Perkins – The Plymouth Sound

The Temptations – I Wish It Would Rain

B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

The Wedding Present – I’m From Further North Than You – Acoustic Version – Previously Unreleased

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A flâneur in the works

Thursday 8 April 2010

Charles Baudelaire is generally considered to have developed the meaning of flâneur as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”. It comes from the French verb flâner, which means ‘to stroll’. But you all knew that didn’t you? The word also comes with additional meanings like: ‘saunterer’, ‘loafer’, ‘lounger’ and ‘slacker’. As well as Baudelaire, famous flâneurs have included, Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Melvyn Bragg, Iain Sinclair, Lisa Jardine, Phyllis Pearsall and walk magazine’s very own, Will Self. (Does that mean the women on the list are a flâneuse?) From his Marxist standpoint Walter Benjamin adopted the concept of the urban observer both as an analytical tool and as a lifestyle. A sideways look at walking anyone?

Waking up Thursday morning it was like winter had finally packed its bags and buggered off. We’ve had a couple of false starts this year but today felt like the real thing. A perfect day to do some sauntering around observing the city – flâneur as lifestyle, I should say so. Leaving my cat sunning herself outdoors I headed off to Maida Vale. Not perhaps the most obvious start point but I’m trying to stitch together a rock ‘n’ roll walk around London and Abbey Road studios to Soho is quite a nice 6 to 7k walk. As ever these days the world’s most famous zebra crossing (probably) was packed with Japanese tourists imitating the Beatles walk. As tourist attractions go the studios are pretty good – rather unprepossessing buildings in a non-descript urban street.

Keeping my eyes on the tree tops I carried on towards Regents Park. You’re really close to Lords here and these days your first view is of the floodlights recently erected for the day-night games that are now a regular part of the modern cricket calendar. They’ve being playing cricket round here since 1787 and adopting new initiatives throughout that time. The present site is about 250m northwest of one of Thomas Lord’s original grounds. This was abandoned in 1813 to make way for the construction of the Regent’s Canal which went through its outfield. And it’s a short journey down this very canal that I do next. The canal was built to link the Grand Union with the London Docks and from this route you quickly find yourself in The Regent’s Park. In the Middle Ages the land was part of the manor of Tyburn, the property of Barking Abbey. Henry VIII appropriated it in his blatant land grab otherwise known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. When the leases expired in 1811 the Prince Regent (later King George IV) commissioned architect John Nash to create a masterplan for the area. Nash originally envisaged a palace for the Prince and a number of grand detached villas for his friends, but when this was put into action from 1818 onwards, the palace and most of the villas were dropped. Nash still transfigured the area though because the south, east and most of the west side of the park are lined with his oh so elegant white stucco terraces. And I must say the various royals have kept it very nice for us – it’s even got a heronry as well as a zoo.


Leaving the park I set off for Heddon Street. I parallel Regents Street (well you can have too many regents in one day if you ask me) and end up in Savile Row. I love the way some areas of cities become associated with specific trades – like doctors in Harley Street and tailors in Savile Row. By all accounts the phrase ‘bespoke tailoring’ originated here from saying that cloth ‘be spoken for’. (When I visited Istanbul a few years ago I came across a street completely populated by shops selling bridal wear. Now that was a riot of colour.) I had to take a quick trip up Regents Street to get to Heddon Street. Perhaps not hugely influential in rock ‘n’ roll but the back of the Ziggy Stardust album from the 70’s contains a picture of Bowie in Ziggy persona in a phone box (remember them?) and this phone box is in Heddon Court. Aah the devil really is in the detail folks.

I finished my walk crossing Waterloo Bridge on the way to Waterloo Station. This provides one of my favourite London views – down river towards Tower Bridge. I’ve read that the poet Wordsworth was said to have preferred Westminster Bridge:

Earth has not any thing to show more fair” (from Upon Westminster Bridge)  

And you thought he only wrote about daffodils and the Lake District. Well that’s poets for ya – what do they know.


Listen to:

Nemo – The Sun Has Got His Hat On

Belle & Sebastian – Here Comes The Sun – Live

The Flying Pickets – Summer In The City

Woodpigeon – A Hymn For 2 Walks In Different Cities

Kanye West – Jesus Walks – Live – Abbey Road Studios

The Duckworth Lewis Method – Gentlemen and Players

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (Demo)

The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset

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Senior Service

20 February 2010

“All the nice girls love a sailor

    All the nice girls love a tar”

 From the moment you exit Portsmouth & Southsea station there’s no doubting you’re in a navy town. There’s the ever present Portsmouth coat of arms containing its distinctive 8 pointed star above a crescent against an azure background. Of course this is widely used as a symbol of Islam around the world and appears on the flags of many Islamic nations. By all accounts Portsmouth’s adoption of this emblem dates back to 1194 and in a blatant act of toadying the good burghers of Portsmouth thanked Richard the Lionheart for the granting of town status by incorporating this part of the king’s heraldic symbol as their own. Most of the city lies on Portsea Island located where the Solent joins the English Channel, making it the UK’s only island city.

Home to the world’s first ever dry dock you can also see HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose and visit the D-Day Museum which houses the Overlord Embroidery (a modern day Bayeux Tapestry). A more recent attraction is the 170 metre Spinnaker Tower, focus of the Gunwharf Quays regeneration. This is where we headed first – although we popped into the Tourist Information Centre to buy our tickets ‘cos they’re cheaper there and you avoid the queues at the Tower. It’s well worth a trip because the view shows the island nature of the city and the size of the harbour.

Back on the ground we wended our way through the town, the old side by side with the new, until we reached the sea. We had a very pleasant walk along the Hard to Southsea. You are constantly reminded of the town’s long history, passing Nelson’s statue to later find Henry VIII’s castle. This is the very place he saw his flagship, the Mary Rose, lead an attack on French galleys marauding up the Solent and then founder with the loss of over 500 lives. The wreck was re-discovered in 1971, salvaged in 1982 and now resides in a special museum in the dock yard.

Apparently most of the city is just 10 feet above sea level and I certainly don’t recall much in the way of a hill. A not insignificant fact in these days of climate change concerns not to mention the rain of biblical proportions we’ve been experiencing in the south east recently. All in all Portsmouth was a really pleasant surprise for me. Previously I’d mostly travelled through it on the way to the Isle of Wight. I’ve seen Chelsea win at Fratton Park and been to a couple of gigs in the Wedgewood Rooms but that had been it. True it’s certainly got some rubbish civic brutalist architecture but what UK city that was heavily bombed in WWII hasn’t. We’d travelled down on some free tickets Clare gets from South West Trains ‘cos she’s got a season ticket and we’ll definitely be returning and seeing what longer walks are on offer from the town along the coast. Heading back home reading the papers at our leisure, looking forward to our vegetable stew cooking away in the slo-cooker was a pretty good end to a pretty good day.

I opened with the chorus lines from the 1909 song Ship Ahoy, well here’s another one:

          “With his pockets full of money and a parrot in a cage”

A parrot in a cage ?!?! – what’s that all about ?!?!

Listen to:

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Senior Service

Llandudno Show Players – All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor

The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Flag Officer Plymouth – Heart Of Oak

Rod Stewart – Sailing

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Ever Seen The Rain

The Durutti Column – Overlord Part One

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The Life of Riley

February 2010

While the Ramblers are celebrating their 75th birthday this year – Labour Exchanges are 100. Back in the depression laden days (sound familiar) of 1910 the forerunners of today’s JobCentre Plus network opened their doors. Winston Churchill, president of the Board of Trade in good old ‘Squiffy’ Asquith’s Liberal government visited 1 of these 62 new institutions – the one in Hackney on the 1st February – on its first day of business. I’m guessing he wasn’t looking for work, although there were a couple of vacancies for picture frame gilders listed, and he was very impressed with the green walls: “The colour of hope”, he hopefully reported.

Back then there were separate rooms for men, women, employers and children (good old child labour huh) all with their green walls. Today there are 750 JobCentres that employ 78,000 staff offering (and I quote) “an integrated service incorporating benefits and employment search”. Not a green wall in sight these days. I still sign on every other Wednesday (although these days I only get my National Insurance contributions paid and really only do it so the official statistics are more accurate). And I still walk down along the bank of the Thames to get there. Today after signing on I head right across London for Chigwell. I’m leading a Capital Walkers walk to Hainault Forest on Saturday 13 Februaryand I wanted to check how muddy some parts are. Well it was pretty muddy out there people. And not wanting to go on about the weather again it was one of those funny days when the sky was a deep blue but it was snowing. How does that work? Other than quite a few dog walkers didn’t really see many other people. (Don’t dog owners have jobs either?)

This no job thing is wearing a bit thin these days but there’s certainly some advantages to not working. There’s not only all the walking I can do but there’s also so much to listen to on BBC iplayer. I’m working my way through the 460+ programmes from ‘In Our Time’ at the moment. The history episodes are great but I don’t really understand the science ones. I also get Melvyn Bragg’s accompanying weekly email and for me one of the most enjoyable things is the fact that Baron Bragg walks around London so much. He nearly always comments on this and is pretty obviously a man that loves his walking. Here’s a recent excerpt: “It was a wonderful walk through London.  Town walking is of course not as good as country walking – we take that as read, or as said – but it can still be exhilarating.” While I would disagree a little – town walking can be every bit as good as country walking for me – it’s always good to read someone passionate about their walking.

And I mustn’t forget Spotify. I’m just loving the new Massive Attack album (should I still describe it like that?) – Heligoland. Last week I played (virtually) One Life Stand by Hot Chip to death. Gives me something to do while completing online job application forms. Why are they all subtly different? Makes the whole cutting and pasting a right palaver. And,  although not directly connected to being out of work I went along to one of those free preview screenings of an upcoming blockbuster the other week. Went to see Russell Crowe in Robin Hood. Oh dear oh dear – Gladiator meets Carry on Crusading would be the kindest way to describe it.

I also recently visited the Suburbia exhibition at The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.  The museum is great but this exhibit was pretty poor actually. So disappointing – I wonder who curated it? Much more satisfying was (as it always is) the Courtauld Gallery over in Somerset House. I know there’s loads of free art on offer in London but this Impressionist collection is well worth £5 of anyone’s money. (It’s free Mondays between 10 and 2 anyhow.) Anyway as one of my friends commented to me recently: “Sounds like the life of riley to me”.

Back to Labour Exchanges. I bet if you haven’t visited a JobCentre lately if I asked for the first image that comes into your head about them you’d say The Full Monty and the out of work Sheffield steel workers dancing to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff while waiting in line. Well we don’t stand up anymore and they don’t have a radio playing where I go but in all honesty they’ve been about as helpful to me as they were to Robert Carlyle et al. Frankly Pulp’s advice: “Cut your hair and get a job” might be more use so I’ve done the first bit and now I’m just wait for those job offers to roll in.

Listen to:

Lightning Seeds – The Life Of Riley

Paul Weller – Wild Wood

Holly Miranda – Forest Green Oh Forest Green

Pet Shop Boys – Suburbia

Watch this:

The Full Monty

Robin Hood –

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Christmas 2009


Spent Christmas up in the snowy north with Clare’s parents  – are they my out-laws? Despite all evidence to the contrary the drive up the M1 was no problem at all, indeed getting acoss London only took us 45 minutes – it can sometimes take that to get past IKEA – result. It was Christmas Eve and we’d had snow in London on and off all week but it got noticeably deeper as we left the motorway at Wetherby. Does it still count as a white Christmas if it don’t snow on Christmas Day?

Well apparently it snowed in lots of places round the country but I don’t know if the bookies had to pay out – though I hope so. While eating a couple of slices of toast for breakfast – is that traditional? – we watched a lesser spotted woodpecker scuttle up and down a tree in the back garden. We laced up our boots, put on our hats and gloves and set off on a short walk before lunch. Not only was the snow about 10 cm deep and crunchy underfoot but the sky was blue and cloudless – magical. It ain’t far to the countryside from the front door but there’s a bit of meandering through surburban alleyways and streets to be done first.

Up in Harrogate you soon hit the countryside though. I walk so rarely in the snow – not because I’m a fair weather walker but because we get it so rarely in the south – and I’m always struck by how difficult it is to follow paths when everything is covered by a blanket of snow. No need to worry today though ‘cos Keith is a local and we just follow him. He also walks really fast so you’ve very little choice but to follow. Hence all the photos are of people’s backs often rushing to keep up with the figure striding into the distance. That said I reckon, and I’ve been told often, I’m a fairly slow walker – more often than not ambling along chatting or looking at everything around me.

Spotted this local waymark when I was clambering over a stile. I used to work for the Ramblers and am always heartened when I see evidence of the many improvements made up and down the country by local volunteers. They’re mostly unsung but these people make a very real difference if you care about walking anywhere in Britain. On the way back we run across several dog walkers out and about and have time for one last friendly encounter with a snowman (snow woman?) before going back indoors for the traditional Christmas of too much food and booze.


Seasons Greetings Everyone


More information:

 Map used OS Explorer 297 – Lower Wharfdale & Washburn Valley

Ordnance Survey

West Riding Ramblers

Listen to:


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Slip slidin’ away

Sunday 20 December 2009

Well so far you’d be forgiven for thinking that these blogs are more weather than walking! (In my defence as well as the English obsession for talking about the weather there is always the fact that whether it’s sunny, raining or whatever the weather has a huge impact on us walkers.) Anyway this week it’s snow and ice. Britain is in the icy grip of winter, the blanket of snow covering the country is accommpanied by all the attendant irritations of traffic jams, train cancellations and black ice. (We have had some spectacular sunrises though.) And of course everybody seems to be getting very excited over the possibilities of a white Christmas. (Conveniently forgetting the aforementioned traffic jams, train cancellations and black ice.)

With our breath steaming in front of our faces Clare and I stayed south of the river but headed to Blackheath. I’m leading a walk there in a coupla weeks for the Metropolitan Walkers (for details see below) and wanted to check out a coupla crossing points. It was a slow careful trudge down to the station but all the trains were running OK. Blackheath is very much my hometown – I was born and lived down the road in Lewisham and went to school here.  So we approached the heath by the circuitous route of The Glebe and Heath Lane. Aah Heath Lane – it runs by the side of my old school (which is just a big building site now) but walking it was a big mistake today. You have to pay a price for nostalgia and I paid mine mostly with hurt pride. (In that pride coming before a fall sort of way). I was flamboyantly waving my arms around explaining where the playground used to be but forgetting about the icy conditions. Next thing I know I’m on my arse with only the cartoon music missing as I theatrically (and unglamourously) left the ground. If that’s not bad enough getting up from the ice is always problematic in gaining traction without keep falling down again. Still it makes for good comedy. Now who do I write to about the lack of gritting?

Before reaching the heath – we’re nothing if not stubborn – we diverted round Pagoda Gardens to look at the Blackheath Pagoda. It’s great. We ‘buffalo gal’d it’ round the heath to The Paragon and stood around for a good 15 minutes watching the outdoor pantomime of cars trying (and mostly failing) to turn right and sliding unceremoniously back down the hill. We decided not to follow the public footpath through Morden College due to the conditions underfoot. Indeed we gave up the whole venture shortly afterwards due to the weather conditions. (Visions of hip replacement surgery kept popping unbidden into my brain.)

We backtracked home via a bus and train only to be back in Blackheath again that evening to see Glenn Tilbrook in concert at the Blackheath Halls. A former frontman of Squeeze (though that’s probably not the correct terminology as they played some gigs this year), Glenn is a local lad about my age. I’ve seen him here at least once before. And in that 1 good 1 bad way – it’s good they now sell Meantime Wheat in the bar but it’s definitely bad they provide seats in the auditorium these days. He was supported by the lead singer of the Raglans whose set was unremarkable except for a fairly decent version of The Faces’ Ooh La La. Glenn Tilbrook was pretty good but not spectacular.

After this walk (and after Christmas) I was saddened to hear of the sudden death of David Taylor MP. He died from a heart attack whilst out walking on Boxing Day with his family around Calke Abbey in his constituency of North West Leicestershire. I had the great pleasure of going on a summer walk with him a couple of years ago in the same area. He was by all accounts a stalwart local MP and I can attest first hand that he was both a champion for walkers in and out of Parliament and excellent company. He will be missed.

More information:

The 8 or so mile Blackheath to Woolwich via Shooters Hill walk starts at Blackheath station at 11 am on Sunday 10 January 2010 – all are welcome.

Listen to:

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There and Back Again Lane

Saturday/Sunday 5/6 December 2009

It’s a quick return to Bristol – a multi-purpose visit this time – to take some more street art photos, check out some of the dock area of the city that I didn’t get round to before and see (or should that be ‘hear’?) Clare DJ at the Big Pink Cake upstairs at The Mother’s Ruin pub. Bristol is a famously wet city and the last couple of weeks have been famously wet and seen the country as a whole experience rainfall of biblical proportions. (Dunno about you but I’ve begun pairing off them animals just in case). Indeed the Lake District, used to rain, has witnessed ‘a once in a 1000 years’ deluge. So it was fitting that it was pelting down as a I disembarked my National Express coach in Bristol city centre. It did, however, clear up briefly for a marvellous rainbow to appear over Stokes Croft a little later on. (I love rainbows me.)

Wasn’t much of an afternoon for taking snaps (or being outdoors really) so I de-camped to the Bristol Hotel, where I was staying, briefly before heading out to find a pub showing the Man City V Chelsea game on TV. Wished I hadn’t bothered really what with the mighty Blues losing 2-1. It also meant I started drinking at 5 pm so by the time Clare finished her set at 1’ish I was pretty tired, emotional and slurred. Remember children it’s not big or clever this binge drinking. (Although broken Britain doesn’t seem to mind too much if you’re a white, male, middle class, middle aged saga lout so much!)

Felt remarkably chipper the next morning (all things considered) and although the sun wasn’t exactly beating down outside, it wasn’t raining and the skies were mostly blue. We headed for the docks and found ourselves strolling along Bristol’s chocolate walk. I was a bit confused by this and wondered if the council had organised some competition among school kids to name the path. It had to be after something they loved and used every day and they’d chosen skunk (or some such like) and the council thought they couldn’t be having that so called it chocolate. (Note to self -perhaps a slightly reduced lager consumption would be in order.) Clare quickly punctured my bizarre out loud ramblings by pointing out, rather prosaically I thought, that the Elizabeth Shaw mint chocolate factory used to be close by, which completely pre-dated modern street drugs, and that’s how the path got its name. Pah. Continuing back towards the dock area across the harbour in the distance we glimpsed another bizarre sight – hundreds of jogging santas. I’d completely forgotten that these days the first weekend in December is set aside (globally it seems but probably not so popular in non-Christian countries) for that newly minted tradition – the santa dash. (Here’s a festive and topical joke.)

What’s the difference between Father Christmas and Tiger Woods?
Father Christmas stops after three ho’s.

 There was just time to head up to Stokes Croft and take some photos while the light and weather lasted followed by a quick visit to There and Back Again Lane. It really does exist and was made moderately famous by Sarah Records back in the 80’s. It’s one of those quaint streets where the ironic name is nearly as long as the street itself. The street sign gets nicked so often that the council don’t even bother to replace it so you have to know where you’re going. Don’t know if it’s worth a special visit but it amuses me.

Finally not really connected to Bristol but you might have noticed that in the last couple of weeks the media has been full of stories about photographers being harassed under the stop and search measures under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. So far these events have been confined to filming but are often triggered by security guards who warn people they have wandered onto private land and not only can they not continue with what they are doing but the police have been called. Exactly the sort of situation that could easily happen with an organised walk. Especially an organised walk in the City of London who’s police force appears particularly trigger happy over this issue. As the Act says: “… police do not need suspicion to stop and search people within certain designated areas. “ And there’s a lot of those in the City. It could especially happen on an organised walk that I might be leading ‘cos I take a lot of photos for this here blog. So anyway people keep your eyes out for the ‘Free the walking class hero 1’ campaign any day soon.

Listen to:

The Hit Nation – Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Electric Light Orchestra (Elo) – Mr Blue Sky

Joan Baez – Before The Deluge

Johnny Bristol – Hang On In There Baby – Single Version

Herman Düne – Bristol

The John Cowan Band – In Bristol Town

Various Artists – There And Back Again Lane

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