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2015: The Year in Music

There's been some good music about again this year. Around Brighouse there has been some fine music to be heard most weekends at the Beck and/or Millers Bar, plus the odd event at the Cock of the North. And the highlight of the year on the local scene had to be the amazing Brighouse Canal and Music Festival in August where the weather's dramatic mood swings did nothing to dampen the spirits! I know I probably sound like a stuck record, but to have the quality of musicians like The Rainey Street Band, Blood, Sweat and Beers, Ryan Spendlove, Chris Martin, Bella Gaffney, Scott Wainwright, JP Totham, and the Tom Gee Band, regularly playing in the town means we punch well above our weight in terms of musical quality. And then there's bands like Rugosa, who are from Brighouse, but tend to play further afield but who nonetheless contribute to the area's musical heritage. And let's not forget Roger Davies, who whilst playing nowadays all over the country still comes back t

Not So Happy Valley....

Many of you will have seen the excellent TV series 'Happy Valley', starring Sarah Lancashire and written by Sally Wainwright, filmed in and around the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. Now the Calder and neighbouring Ryburn Valley are my patch. I was brought up here, and I have also lived, worked or studied for a fair amount of time in Leeds, Manchester, and other areas close by. So to see the devastation caused by flooding of the past couple of days across this area is horrendous. This is my country, and it is horrible to see what has happened. OK, so the weather of the past few days has been exceptional, the temperatures have been high, meaning there's more moisture in the air, and as we keep getting told repeatedly, global warming is having a major impact.  However, it keeps happening again, not just here but in Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and no doubt in due course, down the Severn Valley. Does it not occur to the powers that be that the preventative action taken is in

Bar Humbug....

As Christmas approaches, many of us look forward to a well-earned break and time with family and friends. And it is quite likely you may end up in a pub at some point over the festive period. But, beware! If you fancy a pint, you risk encountering the dreaded Christmas beer!!! Beers with names like Rockin' Rudolph, Santa's Ruin, Good Elf, It's a Cracker...the list goes on. At least one of those names has been used but I'm sure you get the picture! In my view, 90% of these are an excuse for brewers of some of the most boring beers to pump them full of 'Christmas' flavours like cinnamon and cloves, badge them with a seasonal hand pump clip featuring a cartoon Santa/Reindeer/Elf/Christmas Tree(delete as required), then add a novelty flashing light and/or a bauble, whilst at the same time stopping supplying their regular beers so those that don't want a mouthful of seasonal spices are left with no alternative! Now not all of them are bad - Batemans' Ro

Quality, not Quantity....

Whilst the increasing spread and widening presence of real ale is to be applauded, unfortunately for the real ale drinker, there are dangers lurking out there. Walking in to a pub for the first time to be greeted by a bank of hand pumps stretching as far as the eye can see is certainly a sight to make the pulses quicken. What delights are there on offer? Some rare classic from a far-flung part of the country? Or the first brew of a fledgling start-up? Or maybe a collaboration between two of the rising stars of the brewing scene? The sad truth is that for so many pubs more than 4 real ales on sale can be a problem. Few places can pull it off. There are exceptions, of course, than can do it, such as the Cross Keys in Siddal, just outside Halifax. However, once you get above 4 or 5 beers it can become increasingly difficult for many pubs to manage and maintain the quality of the beer unless the footflow is regular and sustained, the range of beers is well balanced in terms of sty

Beach House, Manchester 271015

This has been a hard one to write. The problem was I'd been to see Simone Felice in Leeds the night before and had been totally blown away. Beach House, from Baltimore, Maryland, a band I've liked for a few years now, and had wanted to see for a while, just happened to rock up at the wrong time, as I was still caught up in the previous night's music. After an intimate gig in a small, cosy venue like the Brudenell Social Club, in front of maybe 150 people at most, where we were able to chat and pose for pictures with the musicians for a while, and then going to a sell-out event with 1,500 people at the Ritz in Manchester the following night when the band kept themselves remote and in the dark with only the backdrop being illuminated was not really where my head was! Which, with hindsight, is probably not a fair reflection. I managed to get a good space on the top balcony, at the front with a good view. The band came on, played a lot of tracks off their new al

Scarecrows and Water Spiders: Simone Felice in Leeds

Still trying to get back down to earth after last night's amazing gig by Simone Felice at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. Dave Kennedy, lead singer with the Rainey Street Band had invited me along to see someone who has greatly inspired and influenced him. Whilst I hadn't heard Simone - pronounced 'Simon' - perform before, I was familiar with a number of his songs as they are regularly included by the Rainey Street Band in their set -  'Radio's On, 'Whiskey into my Whiskey' and 'One More American Song'. The day had started quietly enough with a pint in Spoons in Brighouse, where I met Dave, ace harmonica player and multi-instrumentalist, Ian Crabtree, and his wife Chris, prior to catching the train over to Leeds. A few quality pints then ensued in the pubs of re-vitalised Holbeck - the Northern Monk Refectory, the Cross Keys and the Midnight Bell - before we headed back into town where we met Dom, and then Tom Firth, another man of many i

Chinese Takeaway?

I can't say about I'm happy about the current bowing and scraping (or 'kowtowing' in the word borrowed from the phrase 'kau tau' in Cantonese) to the Chinese by our government. The welcome bestowed on Chinese leader Xi Jinping grates on a day that has seen more redundancies announced in our own steel industry, with cheap steel dumped from China as their own demand has slowed down being blamed as having a serious impact. Add to that human rights issues in many regions such as Tibet, the undermining of the special arrangements agreed jointly between Britain and China for Hong Kong, frequent episodes of cyber-espionage, and you have to ask the question is this the sort of partner with whom you want to develop a close relationship. Yes, taking a top line view, the supposed £30 billion of business and trade sounds great. But at what price? Should we not be supporting our own industries to compete, encouraging our own people to develop their businesses? Yes, some

The Rails: On Track in Hebden Bridge

One of my favourite albums of all time is 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight' by Richard and Linda Thompson, a timeless classic from 1974 which still sounds as good now as it did then, and which is still a source of inspiration for musicians today. I went to see the Thompsons back in 1975 at Manchester's Free Trade Hall during my student days and although I have only vague memories of the evening, the music has always been a source of pleasure. I was reminded of that gig the other day when I went to see The Rails, featuring Richard and Linda's daughter Kami, perform at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge. I first came across them last year when Mark Radcliffe played 'Jealous Sailor' on the Radio 2 Folk Show, and from there I bought their debut album 'Fair Warning', co-produced by Edwyn Collins, and featuring fiddle from Eliza Carthy. And in another throwback to the past, it was the first album released in the Island Records pink imprint since the he

Festival Time!

It's that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, the leaves are starting to change colour, there is a cool nip in the air. And, up and down the country, every weekend, beer festivals are taking place in pubs, clubs, church halls and many other varied places and spaces. It's not purely an autumnal affair, as many festivals happen at other times of the year. It is just that Autumn seems to bring them thick and fast, and decisions have to be made about which to visit, and which ones you miss. A couple of weeks ago I was the Rastrick Beer Festival, at St John's Church, then last week I was at the Todmorden Beer Festival at the cricket club. Unfortunately, I had to miss the Navigation at Mirfield then, and the Huddersfield CAMRA Festival this weekend due to other events. So why go to a Beer Festival when so many pubs these days serve a wide choice of beers? Is it not just a throwback to the days of the '70's when they were a welcome refuge from the mass o

In Neil We Trust....

News broke today that Neil Aspin had been relieved of his job as manager of FC Halifax Town. 6 years on, he has taken the team from the depths of the Unibond North up 3 leagues to the Conference, or Vanarama National League as it is now known, playing some fantastic attacking football on the way, backed up by a defence so mean it made Ebenezer Scrooge look like a philanthropist. 6 years, where we have had some fantastic players and characters: Jamie Vardy, Lee Gregory, Liam Hogan, Mark Roberts, James Dean, Danny Holland, Danny Lowe, Tom Baker...the list goes on. Some great times, a period where we had been winners rather than the losers us supporters of 40-odd years were more attuned to. Neil Aspin turned the club into serial winners and achievers. But, sadly, it couldn't be maintained. Once we got back to the Conference, once Lee Gregory had been sold to Millwall, it changed. A great finish in 2013-14 saw the team finish 5th and make the play-offs, and 2014-15 ended in a r

Summat Brewin' at the Sportsman

What a great idea: Two real ale-loving musicians record an album of songs about drinking, then arrange a tour of real ale pubs and venues to promote the aforesaid album. Well, when your blog is called 'Real Ale, Real Music', you just have to check it out! And so, that is why I was at the Sportsman in Huddersfield last night for the album launch of 'Summat's Brewing'. Well, not only for that. I have been enjoying the excellent music of Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow for a few years now, going back to pre-blog days, and it was a great opportunity to get to see them again. Sadly, Tara and Elaine, from local brewers Mallinsons, who had lent their support to the project, were unable to attend on the evening. I got to the Sportsman just before 8, genial landlord John advised the bar would be closed during the performances. So, I grabbed a quick pint of Ringmaster, just as Boff Whalley, late of Chumbawamba started.  And enjoyable he was. Quirky and witty songs

Rushbearing in Sowerby Bridge

Spent the day at the Rushbearing Festival in Sowerby Bridge last Saturday for the first time in at least 12 years. The occasion was a family get-together, with it being my Mum's birthday on the Sunday, as well as a desire by my kids to take theirs where I'd taken them when they were little! So it was that 14 of us covering four generations enjoyed a pleasant lunch at The Moorings, by the canal basin, close to where some of the action was happening. So what is the Rushbearing Festival all about? I was asked that by a couple of friends I'd seen at the station as we waited for the train from Brighouse. I mumbled some waffle by way of an answer, as over the years I had forgotten, and I had to look it up in order to jog my memory! In doing so I was reminded that the event has been taking place in and around the town since 1977, although its origins date back to the 19th Century. It is based on the old tradition of presenting rushes to the local churches which were then used

Brighouse on a Saturday Night...and a Sunday!

Bought a copy of the local 'Brighouse Echo' today to see how they covered the Brighouse Canal, Beer and Music Festival held in the town last weekend.  Well, I needn't have got excited. What I was hoping to see was plenty of coverage of the music, a few shots of the artists involved, maybe a concert review, probably little mention of the beer, pictures of smiling people beside the canal, plenty of colourful boats and a few shots of the market and town in general. What we actually got was a few paragraphs which listed some of the musicians who were on(complete with spelling mistakes), no shots any of the artists, no reviews, no mention of the beer, pictures of canal boats, a little girl eating an ice-cream(to denote the sun was out), the miniature train going up and down West Park Street(possibly a library shot), a smiling girl selling loaves and a guy wielding a python. In short, it was a one-dimensional view. If the 'Echo' had taken time to hang around at the

Norfolk and Good!

Here's a word to the wise: if you go to Norfolk expecting any place with a suffix of 'next-the-sea' to be actually close to it, think again. I went to three examples, Holme, Wells and Cley, and none of them are what could be described as being beside it. They all have their attractions - Cley has its windmill (owned by singer James Blunt's family for many years), Wells has the bustle of its harbour beside the river and a great friendly pub in the Crown Hotel, and Holme is a sleepy village with one of those huge churches which seems to be obligatory for all the villages around these parts. So why the names? Well, originally they were by the sea but over time the coastline has changed significantly as the relentless North Sea waves have shifted the sands around and many former rivers and lagoons have become silted up, creating extensive areas of salt marsh. These are a haven for many species of birds, which in turn brings in masses of twitching and tweeting, binocular-w

Star Attraction

One of my favourite pubs in Huddersfield is The Star, at the bottom of Chapel Hill, at Folly Hall, on the way to Lockwood. Very much a local's pub, with a loyal band of regulars, it hosts a beer festival 3 times a year, where you can come across a lot of new beers for the first time. Yesterday was the Summer Festival, I called in with my mate Harry, and Dave and Joanne who we'd bumped into at the nearby Rat and Ratchet and who accepted our invitation to venture down the road. Most of the beer is out the back, in what is basically a permanent marquee, with a bank of hand pumps as far as the eye can see. Dave and Joanne  seemed to enjoy themselves, although Joanne - not a real ale drinker - had to resort to the main bar for a pint of lager in the end! What I like about The Star is that it just shuffles along to its own beat. Always closed on a Monday, it has carried on quietly for years in its own world. Whilst always featuring beers from the very local Mallinsons brewer

A Calder Valley Ale Trail - UPDATE June 2022

T he definitive guide to the pubs and bars that line the railways in the towns and villages of the beautiful Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. After a break in updates with all the disruption of lockdowns over the  last couple of years, here's the latest, updated version.... The original Rail Ale Trail heads through the Pennines from Dewsbury through Huddersfield to Stalybridge, or vice versa, depending on your standpoint. Made famous by Oz Clarke and James May on a TV drinking trip around Britain several years ago, it reached saturation point on weekends to such an extent that lager and shorts were banned by some pubs and plastic glasses introduced to the hordes of stag dos, hen parties, and fancy-dressed revellers that invaded the trans-Pennine towns and villages. There are some great pubs en route but you ventured to them on a summer Saturday at your peril. However, only a few miles away to the north, there is another trail possible which takes in some great pubs and travels thr