“Put Another Nickel In…….” (The 10 and The 3)

“Music is my first love…..”

I could get all “John Miles” on your asses, but apart from the sentiment of the first line (Music is indeed, my first love), I detest that song. But it is true. As much as I love beer, I adore music even more. From distant memories of Mum playing Jim Reeves or the Beatles, Big Sis spinning Tamla 7″s and Big Brother air guitaring to the like of Sabbath and Zeppelin, I’ve always felt that music just…… mattered.

It certainly matters to me.

It rouses my passions like little else can. No IPA can take me to the places that “Johnny Was” or “The Light Pours Out Of Me” or “Stay” can. Nor can any Imperial Stout pull at my heart’s strings like “Song To The Siren” or “Tank Park Salute” or “Neon Lights”. Music keeps me going, in the way that little else – other than the love of family – can.

Just like Rob Gordon, I’ve had mental “Top 5s and 10s” running around in my head for years. But there are 2 lists I’ve striven for, a Top 10 albums and Top 3 Funeral Songs (only a music obsessive could fret over the latter!) and now, I think, finally, I’m there. It will take something unexpectedly monumental in scope and execution to shift something from the lists detailed below.

This is intensely personal. Choices like these always are. And like anything else I write about, this isn’t a technical exercise. It’s about the soul of something. Feeling. How it moves me. It could never be anything else.

Here Goes.

Top 10 albums (with only the Top 3 ranked)

Marvin

10. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye.

There is an undeniable romance to this album. Not in a “Baby I love you” sense, but in the fact that it was born of multiple struggles. With the record company, with his back catalogue….

This was Marvin coming out of the cocoon that was the Motown Hit Factory and showing his beautifully coloured wings to the world.

Vietnam colours the whole album. But never had (or has) the fist of a protest song been clad in SUCH a silky smooth glove as on the title track.

Historically important, it’s strange that of all people to raise their head above the political parapet, it was Marvin. The Motown pop soul puppet.

Probably the first truly great Soul album – released a mere 6 months before the Sly & The Family Stone classic “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” – there is no filler. No weakness. And 3 stone cold classic singles in “What’s Going On”, “Mercy Mercy Me” & “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” (Although I prefer the grittier Gil Scott-Heron cover)

Berry Gordy hated it. Refused to release it. He was wrong. It sold millions. And remains in the all-time lists.

Including mine.

walk across

9. A Walk Across The Rooftops – The Blue Nile

“Do I love you? Yes I love you. Will we always be happy to lucky? Do I love you? YES I love you. But it’s easy come and it’s easy go. All this talking is only bravado….”

Is it REALLY 33 years since I bought this album?

One of the few pieces of music that I bought in 3 formats and an album that rewards more with every listen. Many rate the eventual follow up “Hats” more highly – it was certainly more successful commercially – but, at pulling my heart strings, you always go back to the first love.

From the moment I first played the 12″ single of “Stay” (bought for 35p from the bargain basket at the much lamented Vibes in Bury back in 1984, it was love. A patient kind of love – they released albums at a rate of 1 every 7 years.

There’s a minimalism and yet a dolorous grandeur to this album, from the synthetic horn and tinkling metallic clanging that starts the title track. The Glaswegian Funk of “Tinseltown In The Rain”, the aching loneliness of “Rags to Riches”  the rolling sadness of “Heatwave” (The sonic antithesis of its Martha Reeves & The Vandellas namesake).

And if you can’t fall in love with the beauty of “Stay”, then I’m afraid we’re done. (“Stay. And I will understand you….”) Still cuts like the sharpest of knives….

Easter Parade & Automobile Noise complete an album which only twice speeds up above crawling pace – and, if I’m brutally honest, I prefer the instrumental version of “Noise” called “Saddle The Horses” – the whole album is a thing of fragile beauty.

Am I selling it? Maybe not that well. But this album and band have provided me with so much. The concerts – separated by decades it seemed – were the nearest I got to a religious spectacle. They were worshipped.

Like sad Gods. Sad Gods from Glasgow

crane

8. The Crane Wife – The Decemberists

“I am a poor man. I haven’t wealth nor fame. I have my two hands and a house to my name. And the winter’s so, and the winter’s so long………..

And all the stars were crashing around as I laid eyes on what I’d found”

This album was my introduction to The Decemberists. And it simply blew me away.

I’d fallen out of love with UK originating guitar based music. No originality, no soul, passion or intelligence. Not to me anyway. Then I discovered e-Music, a subscription service that changed my life – if only in a musical sense.

But this album. Being my introduction to the old soul that is Colin Meloy, just astounded me. I mean, an album with – at its core – songs based on a Japanese folk tale about a wounded bird and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest? (The Crane Wife cycle & The Island)

I’ve just been in floods of tears on the train listening “Crane Wife 1&2”. It is SUCH a thing of beauty and so sad a tale – shit that I’m particularly vulnerable to at the moment – a thing so delicately realised, beautifully played. It moves me.

To hear a song based on a subject so horrifically evil as The Shankill Butchers. I mean who the fuck? Romeo & Juliet (Oh Valencia), The Siege of Leningrad (When The War Came). American Civil War (Yankee Bayonet)

Meloy uses language and phraseology that nobody else does. This album captivated me like nothing had for years before it. And none have since.

I adore this album. And they are the best live act I’ve seen in many a year.

pieces

 7. Pieces of a Man – Gil Scott-Heron

“You will not be able to stay home brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip out for beer during commercials, because the revolution will not be televised”

Incendiary. Incendiary and – in parts – stunningly beautiful.

I could have stopped with “The Revolution….” but this album is so much more than the naked anger against prejudice. It tells stories in Funk and Jazz tones of everyday hardships in the US.

Drug addiction “A junkie walking through the twilight. I’m on my way home…..”, physical abuse, prejudice. A man battling his life long demons.

And a man capable of writing something so astonishingly beautiful as “I Think I’ll Call It Morning”.

This album is a classic. Helped along in no small part by the stunning arrangements and flute of Brian Jackson, Gil’s long time musical partner.

I came to Gil through a tune not on this album – but very much of a piece with it – the dance floor classic “The Bottle”. A tune that I’ve wobbled to at The Hacienda, at Northern Soul weekenders and all-nighters. A top 10 of all-time song.

But not my favourite by Gil. That song is on this album and is one of the “Three” in the list below.

Treat yourself to this album. Do your ears a favour.

man macine

 6. Man Machine – Kraftwerk

The Robots. Spacelab. Metropolis. The Model. Neon Lights. Man Machine.

To be honest, I could start and finish with Neon Lights. That would be enough.

For me, the best track on the best album by the most influential band of all time.

Don’t give me The Beatles. Please. I’ll give you Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, The Isley Brothers.

Kraftwerk had no precedent. And for all the imitators, there has been nobody come within a continent of being as good.

Of all the tracks on this album, if there was a weak link, it would be The Model. And that was a #1 single.  And was originally the B side to Neon Lights. I still remember spinning the 12″ fluorescent vinyl at my big brothers’ house.

I wasn’t there to look after the cat. I was there to spin that 12″ single.

Go Spotify. Late. Put the cans on. And drift.

Justice_-_Cross_(2007)

 5. Cross – Justice

Call it EDM. Call it a techno/rock hybrid. I simply couldn’t care less.

This is immense.

From that intro to (the opening track) ‘Genesis’. Portentious. Doom laden, but promising something else. Then my head starts to nod. The legs to twitch. The feet to tap. Furiously.

If not the eponymous “Daft Punk” album, if not “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” by Phoenix, this album PROVES that French music can rock. Can move you.

In this case, it’s a visceral thrill. The machines rock.

Football fans who used to watch C4 coverage of Italian football in the 00s will remember Phantom Pt 2 as the theme tune, as melodic a piece of electronic rock as you’ll find anywhere.

The album isn’t one paced. Isn’t all “four to the floor”. “Tthhee Ppaarrttyy” ft Uffie’s aloof mocking vocals is a joy. Quirky, fun. Girls clubbing. On the lash. Totally “don’t fuck with us” attitude.

D. A. N. C. E. with its singalong chorus (again Uffie)

The aural assault of ‘Waters of Nazareth’ & ‘Stress’ leading towards the slowdown of closer ‘Minute to Midnight’ the album is a French homage to clubbing.

Following on from their reworking of ‘We Are Your Friends’ by Simian (simply brilliant) and preceding their repositioning of ‘Electric Feel‘ by MGMT, this is – for me – their Everest. Everything else being mere foothills.

But it’s one HELL of a peak.

Futurama

 4. Futurama – Be Bop Deluxe

One of the first albums I bought. And I bought it twice.

The album that made me realise that guitars could make the most amazing sounds. I mean, I always thought that the seagull sounds at the end of Sister Seagull actually WAS a recording of seagulls! That’s Bill Nelson for you.

Recorded as a three-piece – the only album they would as a trio (Nelson, Simon Fox – drums & Charlie Tumahai – bass) as Andrew Clark joined after the recording for the subsequent tour.

In some ways over complex (lead single “Between The Worlds” was pulled by EMI for that very reason!), but in turns, rock, soulful, almost music hall at times. There is neither rhyme nor reason as to when an album grabs you. But….

The singles “Maid In Heaven” and the aforementioned “Sister Seagull” should have been huge. Especially “Maid”. At the height of Glam Rock, this was as glam as it gets. But with virtuoso playing. Like an early morning Espresso.

Short. Sharp. Intense. A rush.

The whole album just rushes by. From the adrenaline rush of “Stage Whispers”, the more sedate yet beautiful “Love With The Madman” all the way to the closing “Swan Song”. The album doesn’t flag.

It hit me. Hard. And made Bill Nelson my favourite guitarist. An under acknowledged genius.

And a Northerner.

Real Life

 3. Real Life – Magazine

“I like your nerve. I like watching you. But I don’t watch what I drink, got better things to do.”

Was this where ‘Post-Punk”started? Certainly – for me – the ‘genre’ hit its peak early. With this.

Barry Adamson. John McGeoch, John Doyle, Dave Formula. And the former Howard Trafford. Now Devoto. Flexing his lyrical muscles following his (all too) brief spell fronting Manchester’s mighty Buzzcocks. Releasing possibly the single most important EP in the history of pop music, Spiral Scratch.

But from the opening strains of ‘Definitive Gaze’. F**k was this different!

They (more likely the record company) had possibly been very clever – and certainly disingenuous – when they released the first Magazine single, ‘Shot By Both Sides’. A perfectly – and darkly – melodic slice of Punk. And TOTALLY out of sync with anything else on the album.

Intriguingly, I recently discovered that the lead single and the greatest track on the album ‘The Light Pours Out Of Me’ – for me – were written whilst writing with Buzzcocks partner Pete (McNeish) Shelley.

But I digress.

The phrase “All Killer…” applies here. Possibly the first album following the musical scouring that was UK Punk in 1976 that this works for. This album led. Others followed. 6 months later, Lydon issued “First Edition”, preceded by the similarly out of place ‘Public Image’ single.

Listen to “The Light Pours Out Of Me”, “Motorcade”, “Definitive Gaze”, “Parade”. Tell me I’m wrong.

Station

 

2. Station To Station – David Bowie

“This week dragged past me so slowly. The days fell on their knees. Maybe I’ll take something to help me. Hope someone takes after me..”

To some, this is a contest in itself. What is the greatest Bowie album? For me, the most perfect side of an album – ANY album – of all time, is Low. Side 1 of Low is popular music at its finest. Let down by the pretentiousness of side 2.

For me – as a whole – that leaves the album that preceded Low. The album that, in some ways, was the bridge between the blue-eyed soul of Young Americans and the hallowed Berlin Trilogy.

The title track itself is a thing of wonder. Who else would even THINK of encompassing Krautrock, soul, funk and rock music in a single track?

The album only consists of 6 tracks. Each one a stone cold classic. Golden Years could have shone on Young Americans – perfect blue-eyed soul. Word On A Wing – a thing of beauty. A mystical love song. TVC15 simply a bonkers slice of oddball pop fused with a funk/soul sensibility.

And then we get to Stay. A single which – on its own – would be in my Top 10 singles. My top 10 songs even. Cuts me to the bone. Lifts me up. Makes me soar.

And as for Earl Slick’s soloing. F**k.

inflammable

1. Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers

“A single shot rings out in a Belfast night…….”

This stems from a conversation in The Lough & Quay pub in Warrenpoint with a young music loving fella named Conor O’Hare. Conor was – at that time – a local music promoter and very passionate about it too.

During the conversation (and following a few lovely Mourne Mountains beers), Conor mentioned how great he thought “Never Mind The Bollocks” was.

I spontaneously combusted.

Outraged that somebody from Ulster didn’t see what was under his own nose. I then launched into a diatribe on the greatness of the SLF debut album.

You see, it’s been my thinking for 25 years or more that the greatness of the Sex Pistols wasn’t the music – pretty much amped up glam rock – but what they inspired. And one of the things that followed was Inflammable Material.

An album written at the height of “The Troubles” with songs like Suspect Device, Alternative Ulster, Wasted Life, Barbed Wire Love, pissing off the Paramilitaries (on both sides of the sectarian divide) and occupational forces equally. An album lived, written and performed in the most violent of places, where (grudging) tolerance was still 35 years away.

The song that grabs me most though. The one that I scream along too, scouring my vocal cords with the effort, is a cover version. In my opinion, the greatest cover version I’ve ever heard. Bob Marley’s “Johnny Was”.

Visceral, raw, emotionally raging against injustice, totally taking the song and wringing every last drop. It just wrenches my heart like no other song does.

And it’s the fact of time & place, the anger, the defiance, the sadness – never sinking to despair – that makes this album truly great.

OK. It isn’t perfect. It has “Closed Groove”, which is undeniably shit. But that just goes to prove the greatness of the rest.

An album I go back to again and again. And a track that I use – these days – like a drug. To fire me up, to lift the weight from me each day. Helps me keep moving.

That’s power. Right there.

The Three

Those generous (and unfortunate) souls who helped in the run up to #ISBF4 may think of me as something of a control freak, someone who can’t let go, can’t relinquish the tiny details.

They may have a point.

Whilst I’m not morbid by nature, recent events in my family would make many think differently, think that life is indeed short. That a modicum of planning is necessary in case the proverbial bus appears out of nowhere….

I want the music to be just right. I’ll have a humanist service and I want 3 songs to pitch that balance of sadness and hope – I toyed with including “I’m On My Way” by Dean Parrish, but the intended levity might have got lost in translation – I want it to be right.

And I think I’ve found three tunes that mean loads to me. And strike the right note. In order, they are….

Song To The Siren – This Mortal Coil

“Hear me sing, ‘Swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you.’ Here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you”

Just. You know. I’ve loved this from the moment I bought the 12″ single, way back when.

Infinitely preferable (to me) to the Tim Buckley original, elegiac, beautiful. The saddest of love songs that also plays to my love of Greek mythology.

The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow – Be Bop Deluxe

From the album I immediately bought on cassette when Dad bought me my first personal stereo. “Modern Music”. Maybe the first album I ever bought for myself actually!

Again, another love song and one that can be read in many ways – loss does that to you. Presumably written for his then wife, Jan, it starts with trademark Bill Nelson backwards guitar and has an almost acoustic, personal feel. Like he’s singing directly to you.

As I said, it’s all about feeling.

I Think I’ll Call It Morning – Gil Scott-Heron

“I’m gonna take myself a piece of sunshine and paint it all over my sky. Be no rain……     I’m gonna take the song from every bird and make them sing it just for me.”

A candidate for my favourite song of all time. And a perfect finale to walk out to. Hope. A little lightness.

I can’t really explain this one. Apart from it just pulled from the first moment I heard it.

A massively self-indulgent post. But, if you know that feeling that there’s just that “something” you have to get off your chest? Then that.

Be kind to one another. Jx

Fairfield Social Club – The Projected Passion Reviewed 

It takes a prod of almost taser proportions to make me wake up “the blog thing” as I call it. An unignorable prompt. I need something that matters after the emotional drain that is #ISBF4. 

Last night I found precisely that. At the opening night of Fairfield Social Club.

In the immediate aftermath of St Sebastian’s, beer doesn’t draw me. (Heresy, I know, but I’ve seen / drunk enough in the last two weeks to jade anyone’s beer desire) What drew me in was to see the progress that Jason & Jules Bailey had made from the building site I saw on Wednesday. 

They’ve obviously put in some hours. 

Over a five year period, starting with their own Colombian street food operation “Arepa Arepa Arepa” they’ve grown, with their passion for street food always front and centre. And on the sleeve.

What quickly became obvious was that they sought a home of their own. That initial events at Black Jack tap and Runaway – excellent though they were – were part of that process. Building reputation, yes, but looking for an allotment plot where the seeds they had gently and lovingly nurtured could be planted. 

But – from almost day one – this was always about more than Street Food. This was about something uniquely Mancunian. And fiercely independent. 

Personally, I was gutted for them when their first attempt at securing a location (Keystone) didn’t work out. It was heartbreaking to see the hard work that went into that, fall. Through no fault of theirs. But they learned. Continued to grow. And – as is now obvious – continued to plan.

Fairfield Social Club is about more than food. About more than beer. It’s about the Soul that is threaded through late 20th century Manchester. From The Twisted Wheel through to Pips, The Russell Club through to The Hacienda and all the smaller – less heralded – venues that pump that vital juice through the heart of this great city.

Music. My first and greatest love.

At weekends, GRUB events come first and foremost. That’s a given. And done with style – as anybody who has followed their journey to Mayfield will attest. 

During the week, live music and performance will be the thing. And I – for one – couldn’t be more excited. 

This space (Bailey is talking in terms of a 400 or so capacity) will almost instantly carve itself a niche, pitched perfectly between intimate venues like Ruby Lounge, Soup Kitchen & Gorilla and the larger Academy spots. Something that Manchester needs.

And that bar. That bar – as a live music venue bar – is bloody inspired! Truly fabulous beer at (for a gig venue) affordable prices. 

Yes. It needs some acoustic work – something that FSC recognises and is planning for.

It’s going to be a few months before Bailey & Jules vision is realised completely, but – bloody hell – have they got something special on their hands.

I mean, come ON! Any venue where you have the Mancunian legend that is Vinny greeting you as you arrive is going to be special! This place is a big thing. A big thing enabled by loving attention to the small things.

Bailey and Jules and Team Grub should be proud of their achievement. 

The Novelty of Having a Plan 

In 52 years of shuffling around on this rock, I’ve never had a “career plan”. I never needed to. I just lucked upon jobs, I’ve never been “driven” in that respect. I’ve just gone and floated on the current, gone where the flow takes me.

It’s amazing though what loss can do to you.  It changes you, in ways you maybe can’t imagine.

It’s almost a year now. He took himself away just over 3 weeks before last year’s ISBF. And the instant decision to go ahead with that event was possibly the single biggest “thing” that helped me get through that surreal time. When everything else was on “autopilot”. That said, I suppose – until the actual event itself, the lead up was on autopilot too. There was a template to work from.

But there’s no template for losing a child. However it happens.

I used to fret and worry about “things”, “stuff”, possessions, I’d go mad when I broke things. “Things” were precious. Irreplaceable sometimes. That picture disc you’d had for 35 years, that photo frame, that special beer you had been saving. Those things mattered.

How fucking stupid.

People matter. Things can be replaced, rebuilt, restored. People can’t. That’s the truth.

I miss him.

That deLorean was fiction. Time travel is sci-fi, which is fiction. There’s no going back. Only forwards. Or stasis – which is dangerously unhealthy.

So you keep placing that one foot in front of the other. Day in. Day out.

I can’t plan blogs anymore. I need a stimulus. A prompt or a prod. They are often the simplest of things.

I caught up with an old colleague last night on the phone. We’d not spoken for a couple of years so he didn’t know about Fionn. He was all broken up. He’s a good person, he’d always cared.

We talked for an hour. Yes, talked. Not emailed. Not FB messenger or Twitter. Not even What’s App.

We talked. And it felt like putting on that old pair of DMs. Comfy. Warm. Real.

I’m utterly sick of only catching up with old friends at leaving dos and funerals. I’ve buried one too many people before their time.

Been to too many funerals of colleagues and felt the subsequent guilt of drift. Letting life float you on its current. I always swore that I’d never let that happen. It stops now. People are too precious. Friendships are too precious. As is time.

As Tobi Legend (aka Tobi Lark) sang in one of the legendary Northern Soul ‘3 before 8’ “Time Will Pass You By“.

Don’t let it.

I’ve had a dream for a few years now. To do something I love whilst I’m young enough to enjoy it. To found my own beer business. A shop. Or a bar. Then reality bites. That’s not going to happen.

But what I can effect is this.

I can retire at 55. Or, to put it another way, in just over 2 1/2 years. And oh my am I going!

Like I said, to do something I love whilst I’m young enough to enjoy it. To give it my heart and soul. Whilst I’ve got some life in me.

Working behind a bar. Brewery admin. Sales. Deliveries. Running somewhere. I don’t care. If I was to spend 5 years or more working in a decent beer place, rather than behind a desk, that would be bliss.

It won’t make my life complete. Nothing ever will. And 2 1/2 years may seem like a long time. But each day that passes turns my lips upward. Just a little.

It’s the only career plan I’ve ever had. And I’m liking it.

Counting down…

Sherpa Tours Pt 2 – Sheffield Just Gets Better & Better

I rarely place my liver in someone else’s hands. Nor my tastebuds at someone else’s mercy. But I trust Steve implicitly. The Karkli Sherpa knows his beer. And he knows the great beer city that is Sheffield.

For the second time, Steve did the planning and pulled together a route and several venues I hadn’t even heard of. But just knew were going to be excellent.

Because the Sherpa knows.

So, following the obligatory quick beer in The Sheffield Tap, we jumped the tram…… to Hillsborough. Jumping off on Langsett Road and strolling down to Penistone Road. To stop number one.

The New Barrack Tavern – 601 Penistone Road. S6 2GA

First impressions as we approached the front were “The Rutland…..” with a very similar look to the external tiling.

I’m on record about my adoration of multi roomed pubs. And The New Barrack hit all the right notes with several rooms, one of which had its own bar. Next to the live music room.

Needing something light to start with I opted for a pale session beer from Acorn. Absolutely spot on and really refreshing after the walk from the tram.

A belting pub with superb beer. I kind of expected nothing less.

Leaving The New Barrack and making our way back to Langsett Road (via a rather scenic route…)

The builders were obviously lubricated when locating the doorway

The Hillsborough Hotel – Langsett Road, S6 2UB

A more modern pub, this place is open plan inside, divided into two distinctly separate areas, both with plenty of seating and I believe it does superb food.

What it also does is have an excellent and large beer selection and – unsurprisingly for Sheffield – outside drinking areas with excellent hill views.

A number of different choices amongst our happy band, but I went t for the Old Rasputin Stout from Tollgate. And bloody good it was too. Nice and roasty, like all Stouts should be.

Being a pub crawl – and with an advanced ticket for the 20:11 back to Piccadilly, we were on a tight schedule… So back onto Langsett Road, then carrying onto Infirmary Road back towards town….

The Wellington – 1 Henry Street, S3 7EQ

Last time I came to this lovely pub, it was the home of The Little Ale Cart brewery. Fast forward a couple of years and it’s now home to Neepsend Brewery. I’ve had a few of their beers and have yet to be disappointed.

Today wasn’t an exception.

7 handpumps, with 4 for Neepsend and three for guests and 4 keg taps. Upping the strength here, I jumped on the single hopped Waimea IPA. And it was lovely.

And it was even better on keg – Lee’s choice – with the carbonation enhancing the hoppy bite.

Three distinct rooms in this multi room gem, with some lovely stained glass going on. This pub is – again – another pub with lovely outside drinking space.

I’ve been saying for a while now, that Sheffield is a city full of great pubs. This is another example.

Back onto Penistone Road, turning right onto Rutland Road over the River Don and left onto Neepsend Lane, to….

The Gardeners Rest – Neepsend Lane, S3 8ET

This was kind of the start of when the beer details get hazy! But I was a bit distracted… As you will see.

Two roomed pub that was bought by members of the local community in April and has a focus as a community hub outside (and inside) opening hours. It also happens to be a lovely pub.

Nice Porter if I recall, but – nipping into the next room – a surprise was lurking….

I. Love. Bar. Billiards.

Don’t ask who won. My opponents would get upset – even if Elaine couldn’t have been more of a shark if she was wearing a dorsal finish accompanied by doom laden strings.

Time to move on : Right from the pub along Neepsend Lane onto Burton Road, then left onto Hicks Street…. To a more modern gem….

The Old Workshop – Hicks Street, S3 8BL

Oh my. Steve warned me that I’d like this.

Looking like a modern conversion of an old industrial building, this bright and airy space was – let’s say simply – a bit different to what had gone before. And not in a bad way.

8 keg lines. From near and far. But craving the local, I bagged the Lost Industry / Hoptimism collab Sour Sundae – a banana & cherry lacto smoothie. Beautiful stuff.

Some fabulous food too with some excellent pinchos – pic nicked from Laura @MashtunandMeow

A complete package. The place is bright and spacious with plenty of seating. The sour and the pinchos were ace together. And this is a fabulous modern bar.

I think we all loved it.

And I do love a psychedelic jellyfish….

A little diversion to the Vegan Beer Festival was next.

Not exactly loads of beer really, more food orientated. And as much as the vegan eggs fascinated, the Bad Seed bar was my focus and an excellent Cherry Imperial Stout.

Always nice to chat with Chris and talk a little…… business.

Back on the walking again….

The Bar Stewards – 163 Trafalgar Street, S3 8UA

Sheffield’s newest bar, opening only this week,placed opposite The Shakespeare, a small open room – nice and bright and rightly bustling.

6 keg lines and four cask. Belting pint of Hopjacker Grifter Stout.

A nice place with a bit of a NQ vibe. Which is praise. Is like to have seen one or two more local beers, but nice to see a Cwrw Ial beer on the bar.

The next – and final – stop, was unusual. In that the walk was 15 seconds long.

The Shakespeare – 146/8 Gibraltar Street

A Sheffield classic with plenty to choose from on both cask and keg.

Again, multi-roomed with more excellent outside space – that Sheffield hallmark.

North Riding Mosaic. Just bloody gorgeous, especially at this stage.

There’s not much I can say about this pub that hasn’t been said already. Each room is different, it’s a bit rambling. It’s a Sheffield classic.

And – if you haven’t been before – a must visit.

A fabulous day out. And heartily recommended. Sheffield really is a special city for drinking. It may not have the density of breweries that central Manchester has.

But it more than makes up for it with the sheer volume of quality pubs.

I feel this won’t be the last time I walk around this lovely city.

ENORMOUS thanks to Steve for doing such a fantastic job of looking after us. From all of us who traipsed over the hill. Thanks to Jim & Laura for coming out to play and Tara, Elaine, Jaz & Lee. For getting me back “home”….. to meet “The Lovely One”…

Well. Where else was this going to end?

4 Trains, 3 Micro Pubs and a Canine Legend. 

I love drinking in Manchester. But sometimes, I just fancy something a bit different. Like yesterday.

I was at a loose end. Mrs BM was in Liverpool and I was in recovery from the fabulous Mallinsons wedding do the night before. I needed a “pick me up”. I had a System One County Card, a mobile phone and some cash. And fancied a little impromptu pub crawl. And – to be fair – a feasibility test for a more lengthy affair later this year.

So I let the train take the strain…..

Swizzles. New Mills’ greatest export.

But now – a beery sense, there is another good reason to catch the train.

Open for about a year, owner Russell has got himself a little gem here. Small – and I mean SMALL – but making fabulous use of the space he’s got, at peak, you can apparently get 60 in. And that would indeed be snug. But this is a sweet sweet space for a beer or 3 – abt 5 (energetic) minutes walk from New Mills Central Station. Yes. It has 2 stations. As devotees of Torrside Taps will know.

The beer selection was excellent and all spot on. Snap Decisions by Torrside was an obvious (and local) choice. Cracking Rye Pale with that little spice in the finish. Two Yorkshire beers too, from Brew York (Jarsa – Session Pale) and Wishbone (Divination APA) both on keg. Both superb.

I have friends in New Mills who come here regularly. I’m not surprised. It’s a great little bar. Friendly staff, friendly locals, with whom we chatted a bit.

Russell has done a great job.

Next, a walk to New Mills Newtown station and the Stockport line – give yourself an easy 20 minute stroll (or 12 for the more energetic…) and a couple of stops down the line to Hazel Grove. Then down Station Street, onto Davenport Road and right onto Hope Street to the A6. Where you’ll be facing….

The Grove Alehouse – London Road, Hazel Grove.

Sat on the main A6 out of Stockport, this Micro pub is a bit more spacious with more tables out front and some outside space to the rear. Again, a friendly welcome (This friendly stuff ain’t rocket science…) and four cask pumps to the fore.

Greenfield, Poynton & Titanic breweries here. I went dark. And was rewarded by excellent pints of Greenfield “Black Five” and Titanic “Cappuccino Stout”. In an area dominated by Robinsons, this place brings welcome choice. And seems to be doing quite well.

Well kept beer and a friendly welcome. Like I said, not rocket science. I’ll be back.

As it was, back to Hazel Grove station and the short run to Stockport. And another place new to me. From the station onto Station Rd, turn left onto the A6 then right onto St Petersgate….

The Petersgate Tap : St Petersgate, Stockport

Yeah. Could love this place. Not (quite) a Micro Pub, but you’ll have to forgive my artistic licence. I’ve needed to try this place for a while. It didn’t disappoint. And just about a five minute walk across Wellington Road from the station…

The bottom of that cask list had me. And I think I may have had the best pint of Lagonda I’ve ever had. Absolutely singing. Lightly tart and fruity, refreshing, full of flavour. All kinds of yum.

Pub on two levels, with upstairs really spacious. Plenty of seating and comfort downstairs. Knowledgeable and – dare I use the F Word again? – friendly staff, just add the excellent beer list. I loved this place.

All there was left to do was that Black Forest Imperial Stout from Thirst Class. Choccy. Cherry. Boozy. Right up my street. And only £3 a half. I know this won’t be universally accepted, but – for me – cask (properly kept) is the best way to dispense Imperial Stouts. So bite me.

Did I say I like this place? This will be on the extended route later this year.

After this – I’ll bypass the (Arch Nemesis suggested) misstep and say that we popped into two Stockport institutions. Not much in the way of words – according to the “lovely” daughter, I was doing a passable impersonation of Rowley Birkin QC – but the pictures will do the job….

The Crown – Heaton Lane (under the famous railway arches)

Just a beautiful multi roomed freehouse – but tonight, with an Abbeydale tap takeover….

Then onto everybody’s favourite pre-train watering hole.

Ye Olde Vic – Chatham Street.

And a surprise meeting with Manchester’s Brewtap Canine Superhero (and his rather dodgy handler…)

#MancuniaUberAlles : Manchester Beer – As Good As It Gets 


Manchester. Beer City. Do you get it yet?

We have – arguably – the UKs earliest “craft” brewery, in Marble.

We have the highest rated brewery in the UK, in Cloudwater.

We have the highest concentration of Micro Breweries per square mile of any area of the UK.

We. Just. Have. It.

And I love it. The beer of this greatest of cities is my passion.

From Stockport to Rochdale, Stalybridge to Wigan, great beer flows from almost every district and area, from within the very arteries of this great city itself. And every time I go drinking, I celebrate it. I walk that walk.

And those who know me, know that I talk a bit as well.

So. Seeing as it’s Manchester Beer Week, I want to strip this down to its essence and celebrate beers from this great city area. In a pub which has localism in its very bones.

The Brink. I’ve kind of taken over a pub!

I’ve hand picked five of the breweries that I love the most. There’ll be great beer (a half of each – 3 cask, 2 keg) great local bites and a few background Mancunian beats to calm the ears after listening to yours truly. There might even be a brewer or two to yak with…

Let’s have it.

Sunday. 25th June. 6pm. It’s a date. Come into the Dungeon.

Tickets here 

Link

Words. Words don’t seem to cut it at the moment.

On Monday evening, I was at a meeting in the NQ at 57 Thomas Street. We were relaxed, I was there longer than intended. I caught the #8 bus to Bolton at 10:30. After a couple of minutes, I looked up and we were WAY off route. The bus was at the top of Trinity Way. Next to the MEN Arena.

I just thought that – what were obviously scenes of confusion – was the usual outspilling of a sellout gig. I had my headphones on. I had no idea. I was listening to Metal Box by PiL. And the track Albatross. I quoted a lyric on Facebook

“Sowing the seeds of discontent….. ”

And I had no idea whatsoever what had just happened. Until I got home. And the horror.

Then the Mancunian response. Free taxis. Offers of beds for the night, offers of brews (which in Manchester, isn’t a beer reference…). People from near and far, responding. With concern. With love. Caring.

Predictably, the next day, the “English Defence League” arrived. Peddling their vile message of hatred. “Sowing the seeds of discontent….. “. And Mancunians responded. By howling them down.

Piers Morgan on breakfast TV. “Sowing the seeds of discontent….. “. Ranting and railing against the Muslim community. Casting blame. And Sally Dynevor (from “Corrie”), calling him out. Being reasonable. Sensible. But taking no shit.

I fucking love this city.

So, in the afternoon, I showered, put on my shorts and a clean t-shirt and headed into Mancunia. To do the “normal” thing. On a decidedly abnormal day.

To me, Mancunians have always flipped the finger to adversity. Manchester is a city of love, not hatred. My Manchester is inclusive. It pulls together. Mancunians care. They look after – and out for – each other.

I – and have no idea how – blundered into a twitter conversation

Manchester. The word “bellend” seems peculiarly Mancunian. And that twitter exchange sparked something off.

#HopsNotHate is a hashtag used by Danish brewers Dry and Bitter for charity fundraising. Graciously, they have allowed us to appropriate it for this event. I first noticed it (not being a devotee of Danish brewing) when my good friend Jeff changed his Twitter name to HopsnothateMan. It stuck in my mind.

Manchester knows how to enjoy itself.

So. Put on your disco pants. Flip that finger. Let’s get together and have a beer party. And raise some cash.

The idea is that Steve at Beer Nouveau will open his doors and put on a bar full of beer from some great breweries. (At least one other venue may become involved. Check the FB Page for updates) All monies raised from the sales will go to the crowdfunding set up by the MEN in the aftermath of the atrocity to help support victims’ families and a local homeless charity. We’ve already had offers of beer donations from all over the place. And that’s before we’ve formalised anything.

That’s Manchester. Right there. Generous of spirit.

So come on down to Beer Nouveau’s arch on 9th June from 4pm. We are Mancunians. We live in the greatest city on earth. Let’s party. It’s what we do. Tickets here

(The event may expand – slightly – to meet demand)

On The 6th day

(Dancing on tables will be optional)

 

Manchester Beer Week – Co-Op meets Black Jack 

Around this time last year, I was fortunate enough to witness the creation of a beer melding the old and the new with J W Lees & Cloudwater. I was pleased therefore, when Connor Murphy invited me back to witness the creation of the MBW 17 festival beer. 

The Co-Op supermarket has recently (as have many competitors) started to pay more attention to updating their beer offer. And I was chuffed when I heard that an organisation founded in Greater Manchester was locally stocking beers from Black Jack. It’s a simple (and somewhat lazy) move to approach just the craft goliaths, with the likes of Brew Dog, Camden et al freely available in most supermarkets, but Black Jack in Co-Op made my radar tweak. 

It was plain to see that Black Jack have expanded as a company. Times have changed from the days where Rob Hamilton (that most self-deprecating of brewing folk) looked run off his feet. A number of the guys brew there now and some of the recent beers coming out of this (amazingly only) 5 barrel Irk Street plant have been truly lip smacking. 

This beer is to be – at base – a session pale ale. Brewed (by Lane) with aromatic UK hops (Admiral & Minstrel) with the Co-Op addition being a fruit compote added to the boil – something I’ve never done with fruit before – in advance of the bulk of the hops. This turned the beer from an almost ghostly pale to something of a darker hue. 

Having thrown away a lake of dark beer at 2 previous ISBFs, I learned the hard way something that a wise fellow blogger once told me. That Manchester is – so far as beer is concerned – a Pale city. So this beer should go ever so well. And (unlike last year’s festival beer) there won’t be much of it about. 

So I wouldn’t be hanging about! 

Fancy a Walk? – A Pub Crawl of Mancunian Gems (For Manchester Beer Week) 

Manchester Beer Week in 2016 was a fabulous success. Ambitious  in the extreme, but Connor Murphy pulled it off. Beer events to drool for all over this magnificent city that most of us call home. But it lacked a little something. A pub crawl.

I was asked if I’d do one. Connor is a difficult man to refuse, his enthusiasm for this city of beer is infectious. But last year, I bottled it. I simply couldn’t get my head around the choices to make and (more importantly) which pubs could I leave out. I chose an easier route. To play to my “strengths” and host a talk about the great beers and breweries of Manchester.

This year. I’ve steeled myself. And made those choices. The parameters being slightly easier.

My Favourite Manchester Pubs.

And whilst those parameters may seem tricky – there are some simply stupendous pubs in this great city – it comes down to a simple thing. And that thing is something that I crave.

A Mancunian Soul.

It’s not necessarily about Mancunian beer. It’s about the venue. Although excellent Mancunian beer WILL feature. It has to. I refuse to pollute my tastebuds with anything less.

The aim is for me to talk you through a little about each pub and for somebody from either the brewery/pub/selected brewery to come along and have a little chat too.

There is a price to be paid for this. A small price. £5. But it isn’t for me. All cash raised from the sale of these tickets will be donated by Manchester Beer Week to The Campaign Against Living Miserably or CALM. People who do fantastic work with young people suffering with mental health issues. And a charity dear to the hearts of my family and friends.

If you fancy this, wear good comfortable shoes. There are a couple of leg stretching walks involved! (Of course, there is a Metrolink Option from Shudehill to Deansgate….)

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1CtrrNLKuU6ogr42Wl01Zt77wFXI&usp=sharing

The pubs – in order….

The Jolly Angler – Ducie Street (behind Piccadilly Train Station)

The Smithfield (Swan Street)

The Marble Arch (Rochdale Road)

Optional metro ride to….

Cask (Liverpool Street)

The Brink (Bridge Street)

There are no drinks included. That – for reasons of logistical simplicity – will be down to yourselves.

Tickets will be limited. So if you fancy listening to me (Manchester beer’s most boring….) don’t hang about. Tickets by clicking here or by accessing via the Manchester Beer Week website.

I might even let you into a secret or two about the (Fourth Coming of) The Independent Salford Beer Festival….

So. Grab a ticket. Meet me at the bottom of Piccadilly Approach at the junction with Ducie Street at 12:00 on 1st July. Come for a pub walk with a difference. 

It will be my pleasure.

A Micro Pub Stroll – From Burnage to the Heatons 

Since the advent of the final two bars in this piece, I’ve been aiming to combine the Micro Pubs of The Heatons into a summer crawl/stroll. Only to be beaten to the punch by a waggy bearded goat boy, the ever excellent Deeekos. Read his piece here. But, not to be put off by that….

I just fancied something a bit different yesterday. Manchester is Brewtap heaven, but I’m easily bored. With “The Lovely One” being at a girls night / hen do thing, I fancied getting out and stretching my legs. That and making good use of the GM County Card saw me running – yes, me, running – for a train….

Meeting up with Linda and The Arch Nemesis at Piccadilly, a 9 minute train journey took us to Burnage train station. And a 60 second walk along Fog Lane, to….

Reasons To Be Cheerful – 228, Fog Lane, Burnage.

I do love a bar with a song title as a name…. 

Of all the establishments today, this is the most recently opened, having had a rather tortuous genesis. It’s safe to say that the owners had to jump through some hoops to get this place off the ground – planning objections and the like are never going to be fun.

This was my first visit. And it was well worth the wait.

Brightly painted, simply furnished and very attractive venue with two distinctly separate drinking areas, this place was a joy. With 6 keg taps and 3 hand pumps on show, there was plenty of choice for such a small venue. Nice gin selection too……. I’m developing a liking for gin.

It’s not often that I break my Prime Objective and choose a beer from south of my personal Maginot Line – south of Crewe – but there was a beer from Five Points on the bar on cask. And I simply LOVE Five Points. Have done ever since they started and I grabbed some of their initial test brews. It’s safe to say that I’m a big fan

And the Brick Field Brown didn’t dissuade me. A lovely beer. I do like a good earthy and hoppy brown.

Excellent can/bottle selection, fabulous tunes with – at one point – Zeppelin fading into Bon Iver, a friendly and engaging host and a bloody attractive venue. This place ticks all the boxes.

I could have “cheerfully” stayed here for hours. But this is a crawl. So, leaving R2BC and turning right along Fog Lane, across the A34 onto Kingsleigh Road, about a gentle 10 minute stroll is the next venue..

The Beer Shop – Kingsleigh Road, Heaton Moor

This is a gem of a place that is completely under most radars and gets unjustly overlooked when compared to its fellow nearby Micro Pubs, but you shouldn’t bypass it.

I think that Jeff recommended this place to me a few years ago. I popped in on the way to a BBQ and left with not only a few bottles, but 5 litres – bag in a box – of Magic Rock High Wire. I was smitten.

Back then, bottle selection was centred on Belgium, Bamberg & the US. Now there is far more UK – especially local – stuff on the shelves. The draught beers are on cask, with two on yesterday, both from Track. The El Capitan was glorious. A fruity delight.

The owner is truly passionate about his local breweries and certainly knows his stuff. It nice to chat and find shed loads of common ground about some of the best Northern breweries.

If I remember rightly, there is a tie up with a local takeaway that you can order and eat in too!

As I said, it would be folly to overlook this place, which is – it’s fair to say – the earliest of local Micro Pubs. Don’t pass it by.

Turning right from the door, cross Mauldeth Road and walk up Leegate Avenue onto Sevenoaks Ave to Shaw Road (again, a pleasant 10 minute stroll) to

Bottle – 9, Shaw Road, Heaton Moor.

The Heatons sicken me. With all these simply excellent little pubs.

Bottle is the brainchild of Corin Bland. He of High Peak Beer Co at Stockport Market. I loved the place from the moment I went in for the first time in 2015. Beautifully designed space, eclectic decoration (I LOVE the music themed beer mat frames) and – in a fairly bold move back then – keg only.

As good as this place looks, it’s all about the beer. And Corin can certainly source beer. He knows his stuff. We chatted about a shared love of the Cornish brewery Black Flag and he mentioned a Cornish tap takeover coming up – something I wouldn’t want to miss

(Perfectly Posed…..)

A simply superb takeaway beer selection – as anyone who has been to Corin’s stall at Stockport Market would expect.

Draught wise, I had an Oakham that was really refreshing. Then my evening started to head south. With a beautifully smooth and incredibly tasty Cloudwater NW DIPA Citra. Stunning. But ill advised. And probably why I fell asleep on the bus home…… (oh, there were other reasons too. But that’s where it started….)

Leaving with a can and a bottle in my bag, we exit, turn right, then left at the top of Shaw Road onto Heaton Moor Road, past this helpful road sign…

…. past Heaton Chapel train station and across the A6 onto School Lane.

Heaton Hops – 7, School Lane, Heaton Chapel

The simplest thing to say about this bar yesterday was that it was rammed. Both inside and out. There’s a reason for that.

Damian O’Shea and his partner Charlotte nailed this place from the moment they opened. It just has whatever “it” is. And has been hugely popular from the get go.

Damian can source beer. Undoubtedly. But it’s the details here that make this place what it is. That turn this tiny space into a magnet for beer lovers

The beer, as always, was exceptional – in this case, Sonrisa by Buxton, SO tart and juicy – and business was brisk. There wasn’t a seat unclaimed. So time for a train back to Beer City.

I wish I’d gone straight home…. I might not have needed THIS so much this morning….

The message? Yes. Manchester is a truly fabulous place to go drinking. But a short train journey from Piccadilly – and a little gentle walking – can take you on a fabulous beer journey. To four special and individually superb bars and pubs.

But put them together? I’m still smiling.