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Simply the Best: 2014's Finest Music

At this time of year like a lot of people I always enjoy looking back and choosing my favourite music of the past 12 months. It's not always easy and there is always a chance that something put to one side initially or that you've not managed to hear will in the future emerge as one of your best-ever albums.

But...as of today and after much deliberation these are the 10 albums that have consistently given me the most pleasure over the year and remain a delight each time I return to them. I have mentioned a couple of them in previous blogs, so feel free to check them out for more information. In no particular order we have:
Royal Blood - Royal Blood(Explicit) This album came crashing upon us early Autumn, the best, noisiest, kick-ass, adrenalin-fuelled driving rock I heard all year. Amazingly, it was just 2 guys from the South Coast, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, one on bass, one on drums and that's it. No lead guitar. This was the album I heard more people talking about than an…

Rainey Street Band: Brighouse Band of the Year 2014

OK, I only started blogging back in March and some of what I write is very much first time around. Whether this becomes a regular feature I don't know. But...some of my friends have delivered some fantastic music which is continually evolving and which has made Sunday teatimes at either The Beck or at The Cock of The North one of my favourite times of the week and in my view they need to be applauded.

The Rainey Street Band have consistently been entertaining us over the year with their mix of Americana and Bluegrass, with songs from the likes of Simone Felice and The Old Crow Medicine Show. Rainey Street is in Austin, Texas, where a couple of years ago band founder, Dave Kennedy and his mate, and now fellow band member, Tom Firth, headed for a holiday and to pick up on what was happening in the burgeoning local music scene over there. 

Dave had originally played solo, then linked up with ace local harmonica player Ian Crabtree, who has been playing with local legends Blood, Sweat a…

What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

The report into the CIA's torture of al-Qaeda suspects has re-opened what is a very murky chapter in recent history.

'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques', or torture to you and me, were used as part of the CIA's so-called 'Rendition, Detention and Interrogation' Programme in the years after the 9/11 attacks and in the fight against the so-called 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'.

Now, no-one can deny that the recent murders of captured Western hostages by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which included Salford taxi driver, Alan Henning, are anything but barbarous and horrific. All made worse by the use of slick media techniques which meant TV and the internet were able to capture the sickening details and beam it into our homes.

But...can the use of water boarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and numerous other 'Enhanced Interrogation' techniques be regarded as acceptable? Dreamt up by psychologists and guys in suits, rather than guys in robes fr…

Summat's Brewin': O'Hooley & Tidow, All Hallows, Leeds

Friday night was damp, murky and miserable. The traffic was slow, the M62 having had long delays between J25 and J26, and arriving in Leeds, despite the sat-nav getting us close to the venue, we struggled to find it. Still, having won a couple of tickets to see Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow I was not going to let these frustrations undermine my underlying good mood.

All Hallows Church is situated in that warren of streets between Burley Road and Hyde Park, where you can be yards from where you want to be - as we were - but alleys and walls conspire to block your route.We finally made it after a few minutes circling the streets, spotting a larger, lighter modern building.
We walked in to a large airy room, which acts as place of worship, meeting room and, as in tonight's case, concert venue. We were immediately made to feel very welcome, a far cry from some other, larger venues. Our hands stamped, we trotted over to the bar, bought a couple of pints of Elland Brewery 'Beyo…

In Search of Smoked Butter

Last week Simon Mayo's show on Radio 2 featured a recipe for Braised Beef Cheeks with a smoked potato topping. Sounded good, and seemed to go down well with the crowd in the studio, so much so that I thought I should give it a go. A key ingredient was smoked butter. Smoked butter, never even heard of it. But, intrigued, and with my obsessive streak taking over, I did a bit of scouting on t'internet, and found the number 1 search was for the Lunesdale Smokery, near Lancaster. A-ha, I thought, off to the Lakes, not far from Lancaster, maybe I can track some down so that I can try the recipe on the show or improve my shepherds pie from being pretty good to tdf status - subject to smoked butter passing muster.

Now maybe I'm getting carried away here. I've not even tried the stuff, but on the basis that I love smoked cheese, paprika, ham and garlic, the concept sounds great and it must be worth giving it a whirl. By way of a reminder, as I wandered around, I realised that th…

A Day in a Humdrum Town

"The rain falls hard on a humdrum town"The Smiths, 'William, it was really nothing".

I thought of these lyrics the other Monday when I decided to take a tour round Manchester's Northern Quarter and the city's more gritty next door neighbour, Salford. I'd stayed in the Premier Inn on Dale Street and wandered through the Northern Quarter, stopping off at Trof. Now this is a venue with gigs and a bourbon bar, but it was the fact it does breakfast - very nice ones too - that drew me there.

It was there that I decided I would try to find the Salford Lads club, which was pictured on the inner sleeve of The Smiths classic album 'The Queen is Dead' and featured in the video for 'Stop me if you think you've heard this one before'. I was inspired by Phill Gatenby's excellent little book 'Morrissey's Manchester' which is like a Rough Guide to places in the city and around frequented by the quiffed one and fellow members of The Smit…

The Hold Steady, Manchester Academy 2, 19th October 2014

The first thing that strikes you about Craig Finn, the lead singer with The Hold Steady, is that this guy doesn't look like he's in a rock band. Indeed, short, bespectacled, and with a thinning thatch, he looks bookish, maybe an accountant, or an IT guru. A more than passing resemblance to Woody Allen and football manager Martin O'Neill, you might think.

Indeed, the bookishness extends to the lyrics of the elaborate stories contained within the songs. What other band would have the crowd singing along to a chorus of "Sub peoned in Texas, sequestered in Memphis"?

But don't let this fool you. The Hold Steady can rock with the best, as last night's gig at Manchester Academy 2 demonstrated.

I first came across the band back in the mid-noughties, Shaun, a guy I knew from Stalybridge Buffet Bar, sadly no longer with us, rated them. The title track from their 2008 album 'Stay Positive' then became something of a mantra as I had a bad time that year.

Finn him…

Tales from the Towpath

One of my plans for the summer was to walk the local canal towpaths.

By late August, I had only done it twice. But I finally got my arse into gear again one Monday afternoon when I had a day off and did the short stretch between Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge, and back, with the odd shower joining me on the trip.

Mytholmroyd is situated in that no-man's land between large village and small town. Surrounded by some stunning moorland and valley scenery in a relatively wide part of the Calder Valley before it narrows on the westward approach to Hebden Bridge, one of its main claims to fame is as the birthplace of poet Ted Hughes, whose work was heavily influenced by the area. It also boasts the longest single continuous gradient in England, as the road to Blackstone Edge climbs nearly 1,000ft over 5.5 miles through Cragg Vale. As seen in this year's 'Tour De France'....

I got off the train, and headed across from the station to the Shoulder of Mutton. Years since I'd been…

Bolt Hole with Blue Skies

One of my favourite places is the area of Wharfedale around the beautiful village of Appletreewick. Something of a bolt hole, it is only an hour's drive from home but feels like a different world. Situated on the opposite side of the valley to the Bolton Abbey to Grassington road, you turn off by Barden Tower and drop down towards the river, crossing over the narrow 17th Century Barden Bridge, follow the road round for another couple of miles or so, and you're there.

I visited the area today, taking advantage of the early Autumn sunshine to walk a few miles alongside the River Wharfe. As usual when it's a year or two when you've visited a favourite place, you get the same sense of wonder that you get on your first visit.

Surrounded by some lovely wooded countryside, Appletreewick is overlooked by Simon's Seat, part of an extensive hillside but with a distinctive rocky summit.


The two pubs in the village, the New Inn and the Craven Arms, are both firm favourites, and i…

Where Facebook Can Be a Force for Good

People often ask me why I use Facebook.

Today something happened that exemplified why. 

A former work colleague, many years younger than me, fell victim to cancer. This tragic loss of life, meaning that kids have lost their Mum and a husband has lost his wife, would have passed me by completely had we not been friends on Facebook. This is where Facebook can be a force for good, it means people can keep in touch, pay their respects and share in the sorrow, albeit to a minute extent of what the family are facing.

It enables family and friends to keep in touch with those who have moved away to far-flung corners of the world, or simply another town. Or it helps the lonely, the old, the retired and the infirm to keep in touch with people they haven't seen for ages. Those people who are still busy, involved, active, or in a similar situation to themselves. In the old days, people moved on, there was the odd meeting-up, the occasional letter, followed by the infrequent phone call. In short,…

Back to the Lakes

Sat in the Sun Hotel, Coniston. And I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. Today I walked up my first proper Lakeland fell for a few years. Pleased because I had sort of given up. OK, recent company had not been up for it, and I suppose I used it as an excuse for not doing anything too strenuous.  Along with my age, my weight, any excuse, you name it.

But today, as I drove to Langdale to 'look at the view', I saw those fantastic fells and the old desire took over. I needed to give it a go again and so it was that I parked up at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.

I decided to do Pike O'Blisco because I'd done it several times and with the weather at that point being showery I didn't want to try anything too 'ambitious'. Passing the farm at Stool End, with the slopes from the Oxendale valley looking ever steeper, I began to question my decision. Walking, huffing, and puffing up those steep slopes, I realised I had lost my marbles completely.

But...I carried on. F…

The Unfortunate Reality

At the moment the media is dominated by the terrible news coming out of eastern Ukraine where flight MH17 crashed losing almost 300 lives(most probably a monumental cock-up down to some incompetent pro-Russian separatist not really knowing how to operate that Buk surface-to-air missile they had 'acquired') and yet again, Gaza, where daily there are distressing images of children and ordinary people being killed. 

Whilst we here are free and able to drink real ale, and listen to real music, all that pales into insignificance compared to the pain and suffering being experienced in many parts of the world ranging from the Netherlands to Australia, from the Middle East to here in the UK. And this doesn't take into account Mali, Afghanistan and god knows where else where innocent people are losing their lives over often what are very murky issues.

So, whilst we sip our pint, or chill out to that great tune, there are people all over the world who, for reasons political, social, e…

Brazil 1, Germany 7 - A Nation Mourns

In all my years of watching football - and I'm up to my half century - Brazil have almost always been the team to beware of. Even in the periods when they weren't at their best, you misjudged and underrated them at your peril.

Tonight's 7-1 demolition by Germany was not only breathtaking, it was ground-breaking and possibly game-changing. The ease with which the Germans  scored almost at will, with Klose becoming the highest goal scorer in the history of the World Cup en route was a shock to even the most seasoned commentator.

The Brazilian team, tonight without their injured talisman, Neymar, but with the likes of Fred, Hulk and David Luiz in their ranks, were simply not good enough. Having scraped to victory earlier on in games against frankly better teams like Mexico and Chile, and then limped into the semis, they more than met their match against an awesome German team.

How the Brazilian team recovers from this is uncertain. The fact it was in their own country makes it w…

Billy Bragg in Holmfirth

Last night I went to Holmfirth to see the 'Bard of Barking', Billy Bragg at the Picturedrome.

A lovely sunny evening, I caught the 310 from Huddersfield Bus Station and after a surprisingly pleasant journey through the heavily-wooded Holme Valley, arrived in Holmfirth, which is gearing up for the Grand Depart, as indicated by the many little yellow bicycles and posters around the town.

The great thing about Holmfirth is the compact nature of the centre. Within a hundred yards or so of the Bus Station there are pubs, places to eat, and the town's main venue, the Picturedrome. A former cinema, it hosts a regular stream of popular and often established artists. Coming up in the next few months are acts like Gary Numan, the Levellers and Ian Hunter and the Rant Band, interspersed with names like Think Floyd and Let's Zep, who, I assume, are tribute acts. 


First things first. A pint of Spotland Gold at the Brambles, pleasantly quiet for once, where I caught a bit of the footba…

Brighouse and Brass

One of the great things about spring and early summer - apart from the days being longer, and hopefully warmer - is the fact that there always seems to be a festival of some description somewhere. In the last few weeks I have been to several beer festivals - Mayfest at Square Chapel in Halifax, the Navigation, Mirfield, and the Beck, Brighouse.

Aside from that I have been to a couple of others with different themes. Last week in Brighouse we had the 2nd '40's Weekend. This was an unashamed nostalgia trip, with a Spitfire fly-past, military vehicles and personnel in period dress, and which brought thousands in to the town, particularly on Sunday when the weather was fantastic. The fact that it coincided with the 70th anniversary of D-Day made it all the more pertinent.
Brighouse always has the ability to party when it gets the chance and last weekend was no exception. Certainly the pubs I visited - Wetherspoons, the Ship and the Commercial all got into the mood. Great to see a lo…

Toumani and Sidiki

Mali is a massive, landlocked country in North West Africa covering an area of around 1.24 million square kilometres(480,000 square miles in old money). Covering such a wide area, the terrain ranges from desert to savannah and then on to cultivated land.With a population of around 14.5 million, as you can imagine,it is also not very crowded, Bamako, the capital, has about 1.8 million residents, but otherwise it is predominantly rural.

I must admit, I don't know a lot about the country although I am eager to learn. In 2012 there was an uprising in the north by Tuareg rebels, which was ultimately quelled by the Malian army, aided by the French for whom at one time Mali was a colony. Agriculture is the country's main economic activity, but with rich reserves of gold, kaolin and salt, mining is also important.

Mali first hit my consciousness when I went to see Andy Kershaw, former Radio 1 DJ, journalist and now Todmorden resident promoting his excellent book, 'No Off Switch'…

A Roam in Leeds

Went to Leeds the other day. I lived there for 10 years, worked in the area for even longer and I've still got family there, so I know the place pretty well, even though certainly the centre and surrounding areas have changed a lot in recent years. 

I met the boys at the North Bar, where the beer of choice was Prototype, a house brew from Kirkstall Brewery. And very nice it was too.The North Bar itself is a trendy, cool, cafe bar style venue and is well worth a visit.

Headed off down Briggate, and had a pint at the Ship. A traditional pub, which still has the same ambience as years ago when it was a Tetley's pub,we had a superb pint of Kirkstall Three Swords - my favourite pint of the day - whilst chewing the fat and reviewing Town's last season and looking ahead to next in the alley outside.

Thought we'd try Tapped on Boar Lane. Apparently brought to you by the team behind the wonderful Sheffield Tap and others that I've not tried in York and various other locations.…

A Bit about Beach House

This weekend I have been listening to Beach House's classic 2012 album, 'Bloom'. A few months since I last listened to it, it was great to hear its sublime melodies once again.

For those of you that don't know them, Beach House are a duo from Baltimore whose stock in trade is dreamy melancholic vocals by French-born Victoria Legrand set over shimmering keyboards. The other band member is Alex Scally, who plays keyboards,guitar and provides backing vocals. Their music is chock full of melodic twists and turns which makes it constantly interesting to listen to.

I first came across Beach House when a track appeared on a free CD given away with 'Uncut' and I've never heard them on the radio. I've never seen them live and I've only got the one album, but nevertheless on what I have heard I would put them up there as one of my favourite bands. 

Hopefully there'll be a new album out this year. Ever since 2006 they've released an album at 2 year interv…