Last week I visited the Citadel in Spandau for the first time. It is an impressive structure, built in the second half of the 1500s, although it is a little surprising to walk along a fairy busy street, past garden centres and car showrooms, and then suddenly come upon a medieval fort standing proudly in the early evening sunshine. We were there to see Portishead, part of a summer concert series that makes up the Citadel Music Festival, and from the moment we crossed the drawbridge and entered the fort through the thick stone walls it was clear that this was going to be a special venue for a special concert.
If I had to place Portishead in my personal music history, it would be in the years I was at Sixth Form College in Leyland, and their first album Dummy was on heavy rotation. There have only been a couple of albums since, and throughout the show I was continually taken back into my memories of hearing some of those songs, the strange music and haunting vocals, and I imagine that in that crowd I was not alone in experiencing the concert as something of an exercise in nostalgia.
The strongest memory that came to me was of a coach journey through the European night, on a college trip to Florence. It was a trip organized by the Art and Medieval History departments, and although I was studying neither subject, a few places were opened up to those who were interested in joining in the fun. This had the added bonus that those of us who were neither art or history students did not have to follow the complete programme of activities, should we choose not to, so there were a couple of fine days of just wandering the cobbled streets of Florence… it was an extremely formative trip in developing my love of travel, and I have retained a fondness for the city, despite its tourist hoards and overpriced beers, ever since.
But it was the journey I was taken back to last Tuesday evening… an incredibly uncomfortable coach journey, from the North West of England to Italy. It was soundtracked by Portishead, the cassette whirring in the walkman as I pressed my forehead against the window and stared into the darkness trying to imagine the French countryside that I knew was out there, somewhere in the gloom. At the Swiss border it started to rain, and the coach stopped in the car park at the checkpoint, the scene now illuminated by huge spotlights that lit up the downpour as it fell. Many of my fellow travellers were asleep, the teachers up front talking in low whispers. The bus driver climbed down to the puddles on the tarmac with a pile of passports in his hand, to meet Swiss border guards protected from the elements by patriotic umbrellas. Through the headphones, Wandering Star… and back at the Citadel, under clear summer skies, the music transported me back to that moment, watching the driver and the border guards, and the raindrops race down the window, as we awaited permission to enter Switzerland and continue on our journey through the night.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton