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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 to…

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 inadequ…

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' Rosey Nose…

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 style and str…

Me? A Terrorist Sympathiser?

So, because I don't agree with David Cameron's assertion that we should extend the bombing of Iraq to Syria, where a very complicated civil war has been raging for years, I am a 'Terrorist Sympathiser'?!!

I find that deeply offensive, as I am sure so many like-minded people who actually care about what happens elsewhere in the world also do.

We have intervened too many times in recent years in overseas events with a virtually nil-rate of success -with possibly Sierra Leone the only exception - think of Afghanistan, Iraq - the mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction - Libya. How much harm has been done and what has been achieved? 

So, why will bombing Syria to take out ISIS, or Daesh as they are being referred to increasingly, be any different?

Eliminating this evil terrorist group is not like fighting a so-called conventional war as they are not concentrated in specific areas, they are spread out across wide areas of Iraq and Syria, and as recent tragic events have shown, in …

Real Ale and Music in Calderdale

Well, it’s been another busy few months on the real ale and music front.
Over here in Brighouse at the end of August, we had the Canal, Music and Food Festival which included a heady mix of great music with real ale, food, and events on the canal which brought thousands in to the town. Organised by the Brighouse Business Initiative, it was an excellent weekend, punctuated by several torrential downpours. In a way this added to the occasion and in no way dampened the spirits; all who were there, dancing along to Blood, Sweat and Beers as the rains came down, had a fantastic evening they won’t forget!
The whole weekend gave the town and particularly canalside a chance to shine; the recent work cleaning up the area, exemplified by the superbly-landscaped garden at the excellent Millers Bar, paying dividends. There were beers from Ossett, Nook and Fernandes on sale at the festival beer tent; all served in tip-top condition, and with some hefty discounts to be had as the end of the festival …

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 album 'Depression…

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 instrum…

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 jobs …

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 head…

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 of keg-only …

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 reasonable 9…

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 involved…

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 to co…

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 Festival…