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Showing posts from 2016

Shadows and Exits: The Music of 2016

"Look up here, I'm in heaven..." 

So sang David Bowie on 'Lazarus', one of the tracks from his last album, 'Blackstar', released on his birthday last January. A powerful and amazing album, the words above proved to be prophetic as 3 days later on January 11th, his death was announced, leaving millions of us fans stunned, this was a guy we'd grown up with, part of our lives, and who was now no longer with us. And this in many ways was the shape the year was to take, with a crazy number of musicians from all genres leaving us this year.

Here's just a few of those we lost: Prince, both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, Merle Haggard, Pete Burns, Leonard Cohen, Phill Dawg, Dave Swarbrick, and Bobby Vee. And in the last few days, Rick Parfitt and George Michael. Many, but not all, of these were of a pretty senior age but we don't tend to think of them that way, we expect them to just carry on, not having prescriptions or hearing aids or walking sticks lik…

The Year Of The Little Man....

"It was the little man that built this town..." Alan Jackson*

As 2016 starts to draw to a close, I thought I would have a look back over the past 12 months at what has been a pretty momentous year for the local pub and bar scene. A year which started with devastation for several and then over the course of the year, new venues opened and closed up and down the area, and Halifax finally became a great town for a visit again after years in the doldrums.

The year started with several of our pubs, particularly in the Upper Calder Valley trying to pick of the pieces after the devastating Boxing Day floods. We started the year with The Olde Gate, Calan's, Drink, The Railway, The White Swan, The Shoulder of Mutton, and Stubbing Wharf all shut in Hebden Bridge. Of those, The Railway is still shut. The rest had different periods before re-opening, ranging from a matter of weeks to several months. Indeed, in the midst of battling with insurance companies, Calan's 2 opened up for…

The Keys and The Messenger....

One of the best pubs in Calderdale, and, indeed, anywhere, celebrated an anniversary this week. Wednesday marked 4 years since Hugh Kirby and Ruth Dunsmore took over the Cross Keys in Siddal, Halifax. This had previously been an unremarkable place belonging to a pubco, the sort of place that you would drive past and to which you would never give a second glance. Definitely not the sort of place to trouble any fan of real ale.
Now a Good Beer Guide regular and serial award-winner, it features a choice of 6 ever-changing ales on handpump - which have recently included the likes of Abbeydale, Salopian, Great Heck, Vocation, Squawk, and Titanic - all of which are served in tip-top condition. The pub also hosts a very popular beer festival each August with beers from near and far. The pub is warm, comfortable, and friendly, with a main bar area, another sitting area to the side, and a tap room. Outside there is a paved beer garden which is a real sun-trap. The pub doesn't do meals, but …

Salopian Brewery; Living the Dream in Calderdale....

Some of the most frequent visitors this year on the guest beer list of many of Calderdale's favourite pubs and bars have been beers like Lemon Dream and Shropshire Gold from Salopian Brewery. Now unlike other frequent visitors such as Abbeydale, Vocation, Mallinsons, and Saltaire, Salopian aren't local but originate, as their name suggests, from Shropshire.

Salopian beers are brought to this area by Russ Baron, who over the last 20 years or so has also introduced beers to this area from the likes of Newby Wyke and Purity. Russ is able to offer a more personalised service to both the pubs and the breweries themselves than general beer distributors so that the arrangement suits both parties. Whilst Russ also works nowadays with both Millstone and Pictish breweries, it is Salopian which is the one in the most demand these days!

When Russ - who I have known for 25 years - mentioned some time ago there would be a Meet The Brewer evening with Salopian at the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe …

Tales From The Toon....

I got off the train at Newcastle's Central Station, and made my way to the station's Centurion Bar, the Grade 1-listed building which was originally a luxurious waiting room for first-class passengers, then British Transport Police cells, before being re-opened as the popular bar and meeting place it is today. It has been restored to its former glory with fantastic tiling and paintings adorning the walls. The friendly girl behind the bar asked me if I was in the toon for work or pleasure as I ordered a pint of Mordue Workie Ticket."Pleasure" I replied and she wished me a happy stay. 

Following on from that friendly greeting I noticed a couple of beer and listing mags. I wondered if there was any music on anywhere that evening and discovered that Julia Holter was on at the Sage across the river. I checked on their website, found there were still tickets, and so before I'd finished my pint one was purchased. Isn't modern technology wonderful?

I moved on and came …

Wear Your Poppy with Pride....

It is very unusual for me to ever applaud any action taken by the FA, but in the case of their stance regarding the wearing of the poppy in the England football team's upcoming game against Scotland, who have also backed the move, I am in total agreement. Both teams will wear an armband featuring a poppy to commemorate Armistice Day, which falls on the day of the match.

According to FIFA, the world governing body, wearing a poppy constitutes making a political statement and thereby contravenes FIFA rules. Should they allow this to happen, they say, it would open the floodgates for further breaches.

Now FIFA have frequently allowed teams to support a cause or an event in the past, so this is double standards to say the least. Indeed England have previously worn armbands - with no objection from FIFA - to commemorate Remembrance Day. The poppy is not a political symbol, it is a sign of peace originating from just after World War One, to commemorate the millions who lost their lives in…

The Works: Progress Halted

I heard the other day that The Works in Sowerby Bridge has closed, with the pub's Facebook page saying on Monday they were closing for the foreseeable future, and referring any enquiries to a Cleckheaton-based insolvency firm.

Only a few weeks ago we celebrated my brother's wedding there, were very well looked after, and there was no indication at all that there were any issues in the background. I had also visited with friends earlier in the year and it had seemed busy enough. When I heard the news I had a look at their Facebook page, they were taking Christmas bookings within the last few days, they had acts booked in the next few weeks for their popular Comedy Club, and even on Sunday they were catering for dog lovers and had posted a picture of Benson, their Pup of the Week.

So to many people, and, no doubt, Benson too, this will all come as a bit of a shock.

The Works has been a key player over the past 15 years or so in changing perceptions and helping Sowerby Bridge become…

From Spa Town to Steel City....

In the past week, I have visited two Yorkshire towns, firstly the up-market and attractive spa town of Harrogate, followed by gritty and bustling Sheffield, famous for its steel-making heritage. Two completely different places, but from a beer point of view, though, they are both well worth a visit.

A few of us visited Harrogate last week as Town were playing in the FA Cup against Harrogate Town. So after catching the train from Halifax, we alighted at Harrogate in search of our first pint of the day. And we didn't have far to go. Harrogate now has its own Tap at the station, so we headed in there. And what a friendly place it is! The staff were all very welcoming, and the beer was spot on. As you would expect, like other station Taps, it is an attractive place, plenty of wood panelling, an open fire, and two banks of gleaming hand pumps. Well worth a visit.

We moved to another new place for me, Major Tom's Social, not far from the Winter Gardens and Betty's. Situated in an …

News from the West Riding....

The West Riding Brewery started out in Huddersfield way back in 1979. Set against the background of the times, this was a significant landmark as it was the days when big brewers held sway, with the likes of Tetleys, Websters, and Bass dominating the front of the bar. A free house back then would give you the addition of beers from the Youngers stable, or Theakstons, but otherwise your choice was, certainly by today's standards, limited.

The brewery was set up by 5 friends - Ken Williamson, Dave Jessop, Ron Crabtree, Mike Field and Jim Turney - who, as is often the case with a good idea, were chatting over a pint or two, and came up with the idea of setting up their own brewery to offer more choice and variety to local beer drinkers. After a year or so planning and organising, the brewery was set up in an old mill behind Huddersfield Town's old Leeds Road Stadium, and in 1980 the first beer, West Riding Bitter, was brewed to much acclaim from local drinkers!

However, it was when…

FestivALE; Making its Mark in Bailiffe Bridge....

I first got to know Mark Feasey about 8 years ago when he took over The Olde Ship Inn on Bethel Street in Brighouse. This was the cleaned up and re-named Prince of Wales, a place whose fearsome reputation played no small part in helping the town acquire the nickname 'Dodge'.

Hand pumps had recently been installed in the Ship but it is fair to say that Mark's background as a manager for the Harvester chain hadn't given him the experience of real ale that he was looking for. So he was always willing to listen to advice on what beers to stock, and I remember going in regularly where a couple of the regulars, Tony and John, would be reeling off beer after beer which Mark would always try to get in.

The beers were consistently spot-on, the customer base grew to such an extent that it was hard to get in at weekends. It became the default place to meet in Brighouse, a unique spot in a town whose centre had lacked a clean, friendly place where people could go and enjoy great bee…

The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game....

Well, I've seen it all now.

Sam Allardyce - or 'Big Sam' as he has always been affectionately called by the press - has left his post as England manager after 67 days and 1 match in charge after being caught in a sting offering his services to some dodgy 'businessmen' which went well against football rules.
OK, you could say the set-up by reporters from the 'Daily Telegraph' was not your usual exposure by the tabloid press. The 'Telegraph', or 'Torygraph' as it is known as in some circles, is seen as a pillar of society, so the fact it felt the need to entice Allardyce in what some would call entrapment shows the strength of the belief that behind the seemingly friendly bluster of Big Sam lay something rotten. There had been rumours apparently going back years involving shady deals and bungs, as well as a case a few years ago where an allegation was dismissed. But the smoke of suspicion continued to linger, and the fact that Allardyce and the …

A Drink? in Hebden and other Places

The festival season is back with us again. Otherwise known as autumn, it is that stretch of a few weeks when around these parts when there seems to be a beer festival wherever you look. Last week we called in at the Rastrick Beer Festival at St John's Chuch, this weekend there is the Halifax and Calderdale CAMRA event, as well as Todmorden, next week it is Huddersfield, followed by the Festivale at Bailiffe Bridge on the 7th and 8th October, about which more next time.

Yesterday we visited the Calderdale Beer and Cider Festival. Back at Hebden Bridge Town Hall for the second year running, I thought it was excellent. It had been brought forward from later in the Autumn, which meant it clashed with Todmorden, but with the two being only a few miles apart, it was felt it would benefit both events with a lot of people visiting both. Whilst the light and airy hall is a reasonable size, the fact that it was a nice sunny day meant that many people chose to take their drinks outside to the…