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Stick In The Square....

Real ale and real music, just like it says on the tin....

A couple of months ago, I read an article in Uncut magazine about Stick in the Wheel, a folk band based in Walthamstow, London. The photos of the band featured were unsmiling, serious, uncompromising; no sign of any jolly ploughmen here. Indeed, lead singer Nicola Kearey was quoted as saying she didn't even like folk music. I hadn't heard anything by them at that point, but the article was a good read, and the band came across as interesting enough to make me want to investigate further.

And so, after a little bit of digging via You Tube and Spotify, and liking what I heard, when I discovered they were appearing in Halifax in a few weeks time I made it my business to get myself a ticket. And so the other night I rocked up at the wonderful Square Chapel to see them.

Stick in the Wheel are a five piece: Nicola on vocals, Fran Foote on vocals and accordion, husband Simon on percussion, Ian Carter on guitar and vocals, and Ellie Wilson on fiddle and vocals, with all chipping in with hand claps as the music demands it. Many of their songs draw inspiration from modern day urban living so that whilst the music is folk in style, there are songs about looting, nicking stuff, prison,  and car boot sales interspersed with ones about horses and weaving - one of which is actually taken from 'Bagpuss'. This is folk music splendidly re-imagined and made relevant for these troubled times. It all made for an excellent evening's entertainment.

It could have all gone horribly wrong, though. Nicola's opening greeting was then followed by a comment that they had been to Hebden Bridge during the day on their first visit to these parts, and she didn't get it, which drew a few hesitant hisses and boos from the crowd. But they were soon won over by her matter-of-fact, deadpan chat between the songs which caused much laughter to break out. Very much the front person, her vocals were delivered in an East London accent, so not the usual folk style, a bit like a female Billy Bragg. Behind the vocals, the rest of the band were superb, with Ian on guitar particularly outstanding. They played for around an hour and a half, with a short interval during which I bought a copy of the latest album Follow Them True, and managed to have a quick but pleasant chat with both Nicola and Fran.

I liked Stick in the Wheel. Their music is fresh and relevant, full of great imagery and some cracking melodies, and I am looking forward to immersing myself in the album over the next few days. They treated us to a great evening's music, and if you get chance to see them, I would urge you to go along.
One of the great things about Square Chapel is the fact there is always likely to be some good beer on, and on Sunday night they excelled themselves, with a beer on cask called Rocketman from Bristol's Arbor Brewing. This was a 6% American-style IPA and an absolute hop monster with generous lashings of Mosaic and Citra in the brew. I ordered a half to take into the show, but it was that good that at the interval I upped it to a pint for the second half!

And, whilst talking about Square Chapel I have to admit I was a little dismissive about the cafe bar when I wrote about them just after they re-opened last year following their refurbishment when I wrote about it here. I wrote that whilst the bar was pleasant it would be just a place to call in briefly, and didn't have the atmosphere of a pub or bar. But to be fair, it has come along leaps and bounds over the past few months and I regularly call in these days as it has become an integral part of the Halifax real ale circuit. Nice to get proved wrong sometimes! They have some good beers on, the food is highly-regarded, the staff are friendly, and with plenty going on every day, be it film, theatre, music or whatever, there is a constant flow of people so that the place has developed an atmosphere of its own.

Meanwhile, in the past few days, we have had a couple of Pub Of The Year announcements from both Halifax and Calderdale and Huddersfield CAMRA branches. In Halifax, the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe came out as winners, but with the quality of the beer in many of the pubs in this area being consistently very good, they also picked another 3 pubs as Highly Commended - Calan's and The Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge, and The Market Tavern in Brighouse. All are excellent pubs, and well done to them all! And over in Huddersfield, the Corner Bar, which only opened in September 2016, has bagged the title. Congratulations to Sam and the team!

And finally, also in Huddersfield, I paid a quick visit to the Star this evening, where their regular Spring Beer Festival is taking place. I sampled three halves whilst I was there, starting off with a Sorachi Samurai from Ainsty Brewing from near York. This was excellent, but it was also notable for a huge pump clip. Why brewers persist with these I don't know, size isn't everything, get your graphics right, get the information across clearly, and if the beer's good it will sell! I then tried a Iti from Hawkshead, a scaled down New Zealand hopped pale with loads of flavour for a 3.5% beer, and then finished off with the intriguing Beyond Redemption from Wilde Child, a pineapple milkshake pale! This certainly lived up to its billing, but was a little sweet for my taste. Still, it seemed to be going down well with the early evening crowd, and yet again displayed the wizardry that goes into so much of beer these days. The festival runs until this Sunday(18th March) and will feature around 40 beers over the next few days. Based on a brief visit this evening, it should be a most enjoyable few days if you are in the Folly Hall area!

Until the next time, stay well....

Stick in the Wheel
The latest album from Stick in the Wheel, 'Follow Them True', is out now on From Here Records

And here's some music from 'Follow Them True'....


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