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Positive Sounds and Negative Space - The Best Music of 2017....

2017 has brought us some mighty fine music. Here's the pick of my favourites and a few thoughts....

I have probably listened to a greater variety of music than ever this year, partly because the majority of my radio listening switched on to BBC 6 Music, giving me the opportunity to listen to a lot of new and up and coming bands that I would have probably not heard otherwise. Artists I had previously had to search out for myself like the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and St Vincent are regularly played as well, and with excellent playlists in many of the pubs I regularly visit, with streaming from the likes of Spotify becoming more common rather than relying on the anodyne soundtracks we have become accustomed to, the exposure to great music has been better than ever before.

Sadly, as last year, we lost a number of great musicians. One of them was Tom Petty, whom I had seen at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on his first tour of the UK in 1977. He was supporting Nils Lofgren with the H…

Sorting Out The Puzzle....

Last Sunday, I walked the canal towpath from Sowerby Bridge to Hebden Bridge with some friends. Not far in to the walk, we passed the forlorn sight of the iconic Puzzle Hall Inn, which sadly closed at the end of 2015, since when it has lain empty, alone, save for the odd passing vandal. But for so many people, it holds so many special memories.

The Puzzle was well-known throughout the land and beyond, playing host to many a musician, poet, and other artists, who would play inside, or in later years, on the bespoke stage which had been built outside on the site of the former toilets. It eventually became one of the top small jazz venues in the country. But, growing up in Sowerby Bridge, the Puzzle was a place to meet, a place to retreat, or simply a place to go for a good pint and good conversation.

I first visited the Puzzle in my late teens. The pub, which had once had its own brewery, as indicated by its distinctive tower, was owned by Wards of Sheffield in those days, which marked …

New Bars Join the Fold....

A brace of new bars have come on to the local scene. So naturally I have been along to give them the once-over....

Last weekend I visited a couple of new places that had opened up recently in Calderdale. I had been told about the first one during the previous week by my mate Tom over a pint at the Market Tavern in Brighouse. He mentioned that a work colleague had opened up a new bar in Hebden Bridge called something like Rambling Rose, or Ramble and Rose, as a cafe bar with real ales. So last Saturday, I took the train to Hebden and had a pint at Vocation and Co, before wandering further into town. Next door to the Old Gate was Ramble + Rose.

I walked in, the bar to the left of me, and large sofas and low tables to the right, with further seating through to the back. Several people were dotted around the place. On the bar were 4 hand pumps, although only 3 were in use, and there were a further 5 beers on tap. As well as the beers and other drinks, as indicated by the large cakes jocke…

The Hands of Time....

A few weeks ago I was sat having a natter with friends in the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms in Sowerby Bridge when one of the group mentioned that a box of old Good Beer Guides had been left by someone. Nothing unusual about that: Andrew, one of the proprietors, is a serious collector of pub and brewery memorabilia, and frequently there are bits of this and that being dropped off. Indeed, more than once, we have mentioned the old West Riding Brewery pub sign from the Barge and Barrel in Elland which ended up in my mum and dad's garage, only for it to be left behind and lost when they moved house, which always leaves Andrew looking wistful!

Anyway, back to the beer guides. We each took a volume to thumb through. I got 1979. Wow, things were more different than I remember. Yes, I knew the local pubs were dominated by Websters and Tetleys - both big breweries, both closed some years ago. But some of the pubs raised an eyebrow - the Calder and Hebble, a Tetleys house at the bottom of Salt…

Hooked on Hebden...

I managed to get away from work on time as I had things to do in the evening.
It was raining, a miserable evening, but the teatime traffic was not too bad, so I managed to make reasonable progress up the Tame Valley. I drove up through Mossley, and then as I climbed up Quick Road to Lydgate, it began to sleet. By the time I got to Delph, there was more snow in the mix, and as I approached Denshaw, it was all snow. I turned right towards the M62, and whilst there was snow on the road, the car was coping fine. However, as I got past the Ram's Head, I came across a BMW in front of me who was clearly struggling. I had to slow down behind him, losing my traction in the process, and then it was slow progress as we slowly slipped, slided, and snaked our way up to the top of the hill, finally reaching the sanctuary of the M62, where the traffic was flowing as normal. However, as a result of the extra half hour the journey took me, my plans to grab a bite to eat before I went out had been…

The Lantern: A New Light Shines in Halifax....

Halifax's latest real ale bar and music venue opens as cask ale comes to the supermarket....

Last weekend saw the long-awaited opening of the Lantern in Halifax, brought to you by the guys behind the highly-successful Alexandra. I popped along with our Tom and Annie on Friday night to give it the once over.

We had a quick pint at the always reliable Grayston Unity before heading across town. We could hear some music as we turned the corner into Alexandra Street. It was coming from upstairs at The Lantern, finally unveiled from behind the scaffolding and displaying its shiny new tiled exterior. A few people were milling outside as we went inside to the new bar. The place - which had only opened a couple of hours earlier - smelt new, and like us plenty of familiar faces were in there trying it out. On the bar, which was doing a roaring trade, there were 4 handpumps and taps. We went for a pint of Blonde Star from Anarchy Brewing, which was on fine form. The atmosphere was buzzing.

W…

Brew York...Raising the Bar....

I visited York last weekend to meet up with some of the family who were over from Ireland and staying in the city. After a pleasant lunch and catch-up, some had things to do, while the rest of us headed off into the city centre with the aim - well, it was mine, anyway - of visiting the Brew York brewery tap.

We arranged to meet the rest of them at the Blue Bell on Fossgate, a wonderful friendly old pub with a tiled exterior, a beautiful wood-panelled interior with two small rooms, and a serving hatch for the corridor, which acts almost as a third room. I opted for a very pleasant pint of South Side, from Roosters, which with both rooms being full, was enjoyed in the corridor. The Blue Bell is one of those timeless pubs that is a reassuring escape from the bustle of the city streets outside.

From the Blue Bell it is a short walk down Fossgate, cross the bridge over the River Foss, and then on to Walmgate which eventually leads through a bar in the city walls to another great pub, the R…

Brews at the Brudenell, Lights at The Lantern....

Real ale and music in perfect harmony....
One of my favourite venues for live music is the Brudenell Social Club, situated on Queens Road in the maze of red brick streets off Cardigan Road in the Burley area of Leeds. First opened in 1913, it is named after James Thomas Brudenell, aka the Earl of Cardigan, who was the proud owner of Kirkstall Abbey after it ceased being a monastery way back in the 16th century.
I only returned to going there a couple of years ago, when I went to see Simone Felice with some friends after a decades-long hiatus. Since then I have gone back several times to see artists such as Hurray for the Riff Raff and Hiss Golden Messenger. It tends to get an eclectic mix of artists on who are up and coming, or cult favourites, often playing to sell-out crowds, and as such attracts a generally knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience. Being situated where it is the Brudenell also attracts large numbers of both current and former students. Artists due on in the coming w…

Those Were Different Days....

Last Sunday teatime, as I normally do, I called in at a couple of my local pubs for a pint and a catch-up. One of them, right next door to Brighouse Station, is the Commercial/Railway. As usual, it was busy, there was a birthday celebration, DJ Des was hosting his regular Sunday session, pool was being played, some were watching the football on TV, groups of people were chatting and laughing, whilst some were just alone with their drink and their thoughts. The bar of this wonderful community pub run by Trevor and Sue was busy, but despite that the staff still had enough time to extend a greeting and a few cheery words to all they served. During the week, its lunchtimes and teatimes cater mainly for the local working population, whilst in the evenings the local community take over, be it for a Monday night pool league match, darts and doms, the quiz, or even to learn the guitar, whilst dependent on the timetable the train may bring in a trickle or even a flood of thirsty customers. Som…

The Heart of Northumberland....

A journey into the vast open spaces and big skies of this beautiful county....

I was driving on the A69 towards Hexham when I spotted the sign for Wylam. I decided to break ranks with the satnav, and turned off, as I remembered a visit a few years ago to The Boathouse, situated down at the bottom of the hill, across the river Tyne, beside the railway station with its elevated signal box. The pub had always stuck in my mind because of the friendly atmosphere and range and quality of its beers. This time I walked in to be greeted by friendly staff and a bank of 12 hand pumps of mainly local beers. I ordered a Foxy Blonde from Jedburgh's Born in the Borders brewery, and very nice it was too. So little had changed from that visit 10 or more years ago. A group of people walked in, having just come in on the train from Newcastle, no doubt lured to the Boathouse as it is one of those timeless, destination pubs which everyone should visit. I made a mental note that next time I go I must ta…

Boots, Beers, and Fighting Cocks....

A day in Hertfordshire followed by an evening in St Albans....

I went to my first Halifax Town away match of the season last weekend. The team were playing at either Borehamwood or Boreham Wood. It is a bland suburban town whichever way you spell it, situated where London's sprawl meets leafy Hertfordshire, and is best known for being the location of Elstree Studios. Meadow Park, where The Wood play, is situated just off the road opposite the entrance to the world-famous studios.

We had set off from Halifax just before 10, and after a reasonable journey south via the M1, we landed in Bushey, a suburb of Watford, just over 3 hours later, our destination the GBG-listed Swan. This is a small local's pub, just off the main drag, situated in the middle of a suburban street of mixed house styles. It looks nothing special from the outside, but inside it could have been a pub from 1950's, a period from when the majority of the customers present would most likely have been in their…

The End of the Line....

Wharfedale is right up there as one of my favourites of the Yorkshire Dales, but whilst I have walked the moors and valleys of the upper reaches countless times, and even written previously about one of the most attractive parts of the middle section of the dale here, I have for many years neglected to visit the small town that acts as the gateway to this beautiful part of the country.

That town is Ilkley. Well known to most because of the traditional song, 'Ilkley Moor Baht At', but to many as a traditional spa town and tourist destination. The moor referred to in the song broods above the town, with its miles of open country and famous Cow and Calf rocks. The coming of the railways opened up the area and soon visitors were attracted by the open space and fresh air on offer as a welcome respite to the smoke and grime of the Victorian West Riding towns. The more well-heeled, the elderly, and the infirm came to take the waters, hotels were built, and Ilkley grew almost as a sma…

Beers, Steampunk, and Guitars....

September came along and with it some pretty wet weather, although nothing in comparison to what was wreaked on the Caribbean as hurricane after hurricane have been pummelling the islands and archipelagos.

We have had our share of flooding not that long ago, and whilst there has been nothing on the scale meted out by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with no loss of life, the impact of the December 2015 floods on towns like Hebden Bridge and others in the Calder Valley affected the community and lots of the businesses there for a long time afterwards.
I visit Hebden regularly, often feature it in my blogs, and once again I visited the place last week, not once but twice. The first time was for a gig at the Trades Club, one of my favourite venues, and the second time I had seen The Rails there, a gig I wrote about a couple of years ago here. They were promoting their new album 'Other People', and very enjoyable it was too, with a drummer and bassist featuring this time as they perform…