The Secret Life of Buses

In a social sense, I consider myself fortunate. The Lovely One and myself have a core of close friends that are precious and fiercely loyal. They close together in times of crisis & tragedy. They behave the way communities used to. Like glue, we stick together.

I’m also incredibly fortunate in that in the nearly 6 years – is it REALLY? – that I’ve been wittering (generally) about beer and pubs, I’ve made some incredibly lovely friends and acquaintances. This accelerated with the adventure that was The  ISBF and a band of brothers and sisters came together that now regularly plans trips to further flung beery destinations (next up North Riding Brewpub on 9th Feb).

They are Good People. Lovely in fact.

The thing is, that an awful lot of this would not have been possible without reliable public transport. And where I live, that means buses.

In particular, First Buses Manchester.

My social life totally relies on the bus. I’m approximately 1 1/2 miles from the nearest regular train service (my local station, Farnworth, being closer, yet with virtually no evening service) and the return journey – without a bus – involves a 1 1/2 mile walk. Uphill. In the cold.

The bus service is – therefore – essential to my social life.

I work 20 miles from home at Manchester Airport. I found the constant commuting by car to be soul destroying. Getting stuck on the M60 Barton flyover at 4pm was like Groundhog Day. With added sewage stench.

So I explored the possibility of commuting via public transport. And purchased a System One County Card monthly. £113. That can take me all over Greater Manchester on the train network.

And never looked back.

OK. I’m out – generally at 5:45am. Yes, there ARE 2 5:45s. You lot are mostly asleep no doubt. This journey involves a bus to Piccadilly, Metro to Piccadilly Train station, then a train to The Airport. And I love it. In that 1 1/2 hours I have read more books, listened to more tunes than I can count. I’ve even learned to love Spotify.

On the return journey, it’s mostly train to Bolton. On those 40 minute journeys were written most of the ISBF Web posts.

The train gets in to the new Interchange with a footbridge across to the new bus station. It’s a lovely facility. Let down by the bus services that it’s supposed to facilitate. In short, unreliable. From day one. I’ve also lost count of the number of tweets to the First Buses Manchester account that I’ve sent.

The theme (generally) being “If you can’t keep to a timetable, create one that you can”.

When I’m on my own, it irritates. Personally, I can deal with that. But twice in the last week, I’ve waited for an evening bus with The Lovely One. Only for a service not to appear. Apparently cancelled. With no possibility of notice, given the lack of bus stop information service.

An hour. Stood in the cold. This shouldn’t happen.

This – the 37 from Manchester to Bolton – is a half hourly service in the evenings. Or at least it SHOULD be. (On the advice of The Daughter Thing, one downloaded the UK Bus Checker app – live tracks some services….less wasted – cold – waiting around)

The timetable is seared into my memory. Too many times have I rush-stumbled from The Brink, crossed Bridge Street and caught the 11:44 last bus. On some occasions falling asleep and waking in Bolton.

Luckily, there’s a taxi rank….

Last night, The Lovely One and I ventured into Mancunia to see some dear beer friends, Beer Jesus and The Cocktail Twins (I’ve registered that band name). A lovely evening. Utterly spoiled by a cancelled bus service. The 22:40. A bus that simply failed to show. We were stood waiting – again – in the cold.

It simply isn’t good enough

I don’t work for the bus company. I have no appreciation of what their issues may be. But something needs to change.

Cities like Manchester function in the evenings, stay alive socially (especially this month), because of public transport. Without a reliable service, people will stop travelling to socialise.

If this service gets any worse, that “option” will become more viable.

Back soon – J

Piccadilly : Let’s Go For A Walk – A #Tryanuary Impulse 

Whims. Funny old things. The older I get, the more likely I am to concede.

There is a tendency – call it laziness – to stick to the tried and tested. The familiar. The places where you know you will get fabulous beer and a warm welcome. A comfort blanket. Something that has been (for want of a better word) a godsend these last 16 months.

But sometimes….. You just want something else.

Thursday evening, on the way home from work, I just had a yen. That impulse. To go for a walk. A beer or two. Follow the Tryanuary spirit, do something I’d not done for a while. 

So, with a co-conspirator (Jock) secured, I donned the cans (Bluetooth – not Carling) and caught the 37 into Piccadilly – an area I’d not consciously crawled before…

The Jolly Angler : Ducie Street 

From Piccadilly station, walk down the Approach and turn right onto Ducie Street and keep walking – heading right at the eventual fork. There you will find a previously heralded (by me at least) Mancunian gem.

A single room. A single cask conditioned beer. But a whole lot of Mancunian Soul. Something that I find increasingly important as tempus fugit. 

I entered in this chilly and slightly windy Manchester evening to the warmth of a blazing real fire. A pint of Hydes Original in hand, I settled down to enjoy the start of an evening of entertaining conversation with Jock (being a boring old toss pot myself, Jock provided the wit).

Hydes Original. I love this beer. A paler shade of Amber reflecting the glow of the fire, an orangey flavour washed around my mouth and all felt right on this “school night”. A sign of a leprechaun above the bar indicating that offensive language wouldn’t be tolerated was a nice touch….

A cluster of obvious regulars at the bar indulging in jovial chat, I could focus on the charm of this place. It isn’t gentrified. It is almost anachronistic – considering the pace of development just yards away. An old fashioned street corner style Mancunian boozer – warm, welcoming, friendly. Just doing the right things. 

And doing them so well. 

Not enough people wax lyrical about places like this. I now consider that MY job. 

Even with the photographs memorialising United legends (with Blue tinges) lining the walls, I still adore this place. Almost the embodiment of the phrase “Use it, don’t lose it”.

Just give the Piccadilly Tap the slopy shoulder. And enjoy something real. And Mancunian. 

I took our glasses back. Thanked the barman/landlord. And headed off – although I could happily spend an entire evening in “The Angler”… 

Back down Ducie Street, across “Piccadilly” (as the road is actually called) across Aytoun Street and past the magnificent Minshull Street Crown Court onto Richmond Street. At the end of which (Just before the junction with Sackville Street) you’ll find…

The Molly House : Richmond Street

I’ve had some lovely evenings here, but realised that it had been a long while since I’d last been. Way too long in fact.

There is a stripped back charm to this place. Set up over two floors (“The Company Bar” underneath – I’m told – being a separate club venue), upstairs also has a full bar and is where the unisex toilets are located.

Being fond of the odd euphemism myself, the venue is named from an old slang phrase for a brothel, but don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing this lovely place.

I’ve always had good beer in here, tonight was no exception with a new brewer (to me) having two beers on the bar (Rossendale Brewery), two from Howard Town and one from Beartown (a regular outlet). 

The Rossendale “Halo Pale” was superb, hoppy and refreshing. And sessionable. 

Lots of wood, stripped back floors, a few tables, some window seating, friendly bar staff, a simply MAGNIFICENT selection of spirits and a good reputation for the food (there’s an “open” kitchen in the downstairs room). This is a relaxing place for a beer or three with a very mixed custom reflecting the feel of the place. 

 And you can’t leave Richmond Street without a shot of the fabulous “Muriel” (sorry Hilda!) that graces the outside wall….

It won’t be so long before my next visit…. 

Back onto Sackville Street turning right onto Portland Street and across Piccadilly Gardens onto Lever Street. Across Stevenson Square and turn right onto Faraday Street, you will find a little known new place that Tryanuary should draw you to….

The Peer Hat : Faraday Street

The Arch Nemesis brought us here a few weeks ago following a visit to Fairfield Social Club. Tucked away between Lever Street and Newton Street, it was a complete surprise!

A bar cum live music venue (in the basement, something I’m yet to explore), this is a spacious two roomed pub. Friendly, with plenty of seating for old bones like mine! 

If you enter from the Little Lever Street entrance, you walk past the mini music shop. If only I had a turntable….

Yes. Nice local music theme here, but it’s the beer… Skirting the Verdant on keg – YOU shouldn’t if you go – Curse Of Mexico by Black Jack hit the R Spot, nice and punchy sharp for a session beer. Just what Dr ordered.

Like this place. It’s Tryanuary, give it a try. Well worth the effort. It just has a Mancunian feel, my kind of place. 

To finish off the evening – it WAS a “school night” after all and I was back out at 5:45 – yes, there IS a morning one…..

Back left onto Faraday Street and cross Lever Street (it’s a long walk this….) back onto Faraday Street and look right….

Pie & Ale : The Hive, Lever Street 

Technically, Faraday Street – if you’re looking on Lever Street you’ll miss this. And that would be a a shame.

4 separate areas cleverly divided to give different feels, the name is kind of a mission statement. Pie. And ale. And – from personal experience, very good pies indeed. 

Other than the fire alarm, a relatively quiet night. It was 10pm when we got here I suppose. Despite its “tucked away” location, this modern bar can get deceptively busy. 

With a mix of high tables, diner style setting and bar seats, the bar has a rotating beer range with one reserved for an eminently missable house beer. With beers from the likes of Turning Point, Brightside, Tickety & First Chop (a very – and welcome – Northern line up), that’s easy.  

The “Seven Waves” by Brightside maintained the perfect strike rate tonight. Full flavoured, punchy, with a moderate bitterness, it finished off the night (for me at least) perfectly. A lovely beer.

For the more price conscious, Tuesdays look good…. 

The “points” of tonight were various. To avoid the simple, the easy. Drinking in Manchester can become a magnificent Groundhog Day. Clichéd. If you let it. 

I’m as prone to that as anyone. I have my favourites too. And they are very obvious. But there is so much more to Manchester than the classics. And the trendy. 

Sometimes, it’s just time for something different. 

And it’s Tryanuary

So do just that. Try something different. Go give a hug and a kiss to somewhere you’ve never been before. Go with a friend (Cheers Jock), treat them, Share the love. 

You won’t regret it. 

Back soon. J x

The Road To Wigan Beer Festival 2018

RTWB Bus

It’s easy to get bored with beer festivals. Same old, same old. Well. OK. I’M easily bored.

It takes something special to get my attention, to fire my enthusiasm. The Road To Wigan Beer is one of those. A special thing.

The Arch Nemesis and myself have been going on this jaunt for over 5 years now. It ticks all of my boxes.

  • Great beer – Sourced by Team Allgates.
  • New breweries.
  • Great company (+ me)
  • Great pubs.

And add a 70 seater bus to take you round 7 of them.

It was the first beer event I went to after our World fell apart. And it didn’t feel strange. It felt like a warm beery comfort blanket.

In short, I can’t praise this highly enough. One of only two unmissable events this year for Jaz &  me. (The other being East West Fest)

Some simply lovely proper local pubs. With excellent beers. And one of my favourite pubs of all in the Crooke Hall Inn – on the bank of the Leeds – Liverpool canal. 

Last Easter, finally, some of our Mancunian beer friends decided to give it a whirl. And had an absolute blast. Ask them. (And they are all waiting for the date so they don’t miss out!)

The actual “festival” is spread across 10 or so days and 7 or so pubs. And on one of those days (the first Saturday of the event) a bus is booked to take a bunch around all of those pubs. As I said, we call it the “fun bus”.

The bus stayed “in depot” last October. Disappointed doesn’t quite cover it. But there was a promise made to take to the highways and byways of Wigan Borough again in early 2018. It’s great news to see that David has kept his word.

The date for the bus? 21/04/2018. The day after the 33rd occasion of my 21st birthday. If you’re lucky (!) I’ll even let you buy me a beer to celebrate!

For tickets – contact Harley on 07796 048239

Come and join us.

#Pintgate : Bureaucracy & Common Sense. The Lack of… 

Common Sense. Wherefore art thou?

A couple of weeks ago, a little Mancunian corner of Twitter lit up. Just a little corner you understand. About a word. 

Pint. 

A measurement. An “Imperial” measurement. How some hark back to those glorious days, when there was an empire upon which the sun never set…. 

568ml. 

I’m an ardent modernist. I kind of like millilitres. (They make me feel I’m drinking in smaller amounts – until the morning….) 

So. Manchester. Marble Brewery, beloved of many, decided to package Pint – an exceptional session Pale Ale – in a can. An industry standard size can. 500ml.

And. One. Single. Person. Complained. 

To Trading Standards.

We live in a world where people cling to the past. Where they hark back to a pre-European idyll, to Imperial Measurements? REALLY?

IS THIS REALLY SO F*****G IMPORTANT?

So. Because a product – a beer – has a name “Pint”, it would appear that it would be ill advised to sell it in 1/2 litre cans. Because ONE PERSON reported it as being potentially misleading. Because its name was in bold – and the measurement information was in the same size as most other canned beers.

So. Change size or rename an iconic Mancunian Pale Ale?

Judging by the Marble response to this, it looks like you may not have the chance to drink “Pint” much longer. I don’t know if that will be in small pack, or a complete rename. 

If it’s the former, so be it. The lesser of evils. But if it’s the latter, I’d like the numpty who reported this to Trading Standards to reveal him/herself. And explain the thought process that leads to a small business having to change something so special to me – and many many others. 

There was no deliberate deception. No attempt to hoodwink. No dark sleight of hand. 

Pint. A Manchester classic. 

Idiot.  Did you not actually consider that – with the Northern preference for a foamy collar – that there may be less beer in your “pint” glass than in the 500ml can? 

And for Trading Standards? Why don’t you spend more time prosecuting those who sell shoddy counterfeit goods. Rather than such honestly displayed low hanging fruit.

Do your jobs in other words. 

Back soon – hopefully not ranting.

(Thanks to Tim Rowe for the image – completely used without permission!) 

The Relevance Of The Good Beer Guide. 

Inadvertently or otherwise, I owe quite a lot to CAMRA.

I joined CAMRA just over 30 years ago, in the years following my Damascene conversion – from Carlsberg to Cask – as a direct consequence of a pre gig pint of Wilsons Bitter in Peverel Of The Peak. (Pigbag February 1982 at Tropicana on Oxford Road, seeing as you’re asking….)

I used to be a branch activist and attended branch meetings – until I got totally pissed off with the sheer cliqueyness (new word alert!) of the group. This was North Manchester Branch. Now history, but not before they rejected the idea of helping to organise a beer festival for a small Community Centre. In 2014.

And we all know how THAT turned out. 

It was through attending those Branch meetings that I got drunk in The Marble Arch one night in 1990 and got to hassle Jo & Andy Davies – the owners of The Crescent – with a Salfordian tweak on the Yosser Hughes riff “Gizza Job!”.

And that’s how I came to work in the best freehouse in the North West (at that time). A job that I adored. And that started my love affair with bar work. 

At that time – and for many years after – The Good Beer Guide was an essential companion. Especially in the late 90s, when my role changed and I started to travel around the country more frequently. It pointed me to pubs in strange towns that would have (generally) consistently good beer. 

When promotion could only be attained by transferring to London (leaving The Lovely One with two kids and a newborn in Bolton), the GBG helped me discover some gems that I periodically return to. The Jerusalem Tavern in Farringdon, The Old Fountain near Old Street, The Lamb on Lamb’s Conduit Street and The Royal Oak on Tabard Street. Pubs I would never have travelled to, without “The Guide”.

Without “The Guide”, I may never have drunk in the splendour of Whitelocks in Leeds, The Crown Posada in Newcastle, The Post Office Vaults in Birmingham. Pubs I return to. Time and again.

The best hotel I’ve stayed in in London is The Mad Hatter on Stamford Street. I wouldn’t have found that without “The Guide”. 

But I haven’t bought the Good Beer Guide for over 5 years now. Pretty much from the time I started blogging. 

In the first of those years, I downloaded the GBG app on my smartphone. But, to be honest, it was a bit…. pants. Elasticated pants in fact. Glitches, lack of detail. It disappointed. Made me yearn for the breeze block that the paper version had become.

When the Year was up (12 months subscription) I didn’t renew. 

What decided that, was the building Social Network I was becoming part of – via the blog. 

Beer – by this point – had moved on from the simplicity that the GBG embodied. I was learning to appreciate (for want of a better word) “craft”. A word I still struggle with. But my taste buds were changing. Not all carbonation was evil. There was some simply magnificent keg beer coming through. 

In my first blogging year, my favourite beer was Human Cannonball. Keg. In Brew Dog in Manchester. 

THAT bar wasn’t in the GBG. My world was changing. The beer world was changing. 

If I travelled to a new city, say…. Bristol, I’d put a tweet out

“In Bristol tonight. Recommendations?” 

And I would be inundated with fabulous pubs and bars. 

The same goes for any city/town in the UK. And I haven’t been let down yet – I trust local drinkers. The people who follow me/I follow know their locality. They know their beer. And frequently, that won’t be “Real Ale”. 

And The Good Beer Guide is focused on pubs that sell “Real Ale”. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I adore excellent cask conditioned beer. Show me the same dark beer on cask and keg and I’ll go cask every single time. On Pale beers, I can swing either way, the more assertively hoppy, the more likely I am to favour the keg. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there was a time when The Good Beer Guide was the be all. An essential yearly purchase. Always perched on top of my holdall before it went in the boot. 

It works for some. And I wouldn’t ridicule them for buying it. Good luck to them. 

But for me? Not any more. Now I tweet that question. 

And – for the record – I am still a CAMRA member. 

My Golden Pints 2017

I’ve written very little about beer this year, for fairly obvious reasons. And nobody probably gives a tuppenny feck about what I think anyway, but, I do have some thoughts. And I’m going to inflict them upon you.

Aren’t I kind?

Best UK Cask Beer : TitchRammy Craft Ales

I like sessionable beers of all shades. But I fell in love with this particular beer this January and have it every time I see it.

Clean, crisp, full bodied, hoppy as an amphetamine fuelled frog. And only 3.6% abv.

Matt and Andy make some exceptional beers. Long may they continue.

(Honourable Mentions : Always Crashing In The Same Car – Five Towns – Provoked some silly grins at #ISBF4; Waffle & Maple Syrup Brown AleBlack Jack / Drygate – a highlight of East West Fest)

Best UK Keg Beer : Lemon Drizzle IPARunaway Brewery / GRUB

“If life gives you lemons, make…..”

An IPA? Street food heroes GRUB approach local beer hero Mark Welsby. To make a beer tasting like Lemon Drizzle cake (Disclosure : my favourite cake of all cakedom). I was lucky enough to get to sample it from the fermenter.

Just one sniff and I swooned. Oh my.

It was simply sensational. And I was humbled when Bailey & Jules allowed us to have it first. At #ISBF4.

We sold it all by Saturday lunchtime.

I went and grabbed another from the brewery.

We sold it all by 10:30.

A beer that entered local legend – and I keep getting asked where you can get it….

Best Small Pack Beer : Fudge Brownie StoutNorth Riding Brewery / Five Towns

Oh my days. What a beer.

Stuart and Malcolm collaborate frequently. And their beers are always excellent – and frequently stunning.

Like this.

Rich, dark and utterly luscious. When I first tried it, The Lovely One asked me what the stupid grin was for.

It’s a rich 7.4% Stout. It tasted of Fudge Brownies. It knocked me sideways. And luckily, I have some left.

And deep in the bowels of the North Riding Brewpub, there is a wooden cask full of it. Being opened on New Years Eve.

Guess where I’ll be?

World Beer / World Small Pack : If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ve already moved on….

Best Collaboration Beer : Fudge Brownie StoutNorth Riding Brewery / Five Towns

It’s really THAT good. My “Beer of the Year” 

Best Branding : Marble Brewery

I’m not one for pyrotechnics. Give it me clean. Give it me clear. Give me instant recognition.

Marble have done that. With their core range. With their Metal Series. And with their Gothic Series too.

I’m a sucker for a hanging tag.

Best UK Brewery : Marble Brewery

I have a simple rule for this one. Whose beers have I drunk the most. On draught.

And I’ve spent a lot of time in The Marble Arch (I blame 3 of The 5 Berks for that…. You know who you are!)

Cask. Keg. Can. Bottle. Marble seem to keep getting better. Experimenting, but hitting the mark. A year of collaboration. A year of celebration. A year of excellence.

Best showcased in a beautiful pub.

(Honourables…. : Squawk (never let me down); Torrside – going from strength to strength.

Best New Brewery : Turning Point

I haven’t had gallons. But one night at The North Riding Brewpub I had one of theirs “Sun Empire” on keg. And it simply stunned me.

We had the same beer on cask at #ISBF4. It was my catnip. Every beer I’ve had from them had been exceptional.

Bravo.

(Honourable : Brew York – More stunning beers from York)

Best Pub : The Brink (Bridge Street, Manchester)

Makes me think of the Talking Heads song “This Must Be The Place” It feels like home. It was our safe space when our world fell apart. And I’ll never be able to thank Gareth, Elana, Sarah, Kate, Ste, Pete and all the staff – past and present – enough.

It’s not the that though. This isn’t a sentimental award.

It’s the welcome. The localism. Yes, there are exceptional beers, but it’s a feeling. Like I said, it feels like home.

I don’t know what more to say.

(Honourables : The Marble Arch & The Smithfield. With pubs like these, Manchester is truly blessed)

Best New Pub/Bar : Fairfield Social Club

I couldn’t be happier for Jason & Jules Bailey. Sorry “Bailey & Jules”!

I think they have something very special here. Yes, it’s in a double railway arch. But this is SUCH a great addition to Manchester.

They’ve assembled a great team, great beer and great food. The whole shebang just hits the bullseye.

I expected nothing less. And they delivered. I can’t wait for the live music!

Best Brewery Tap : Black Jack

People. It’s where my friends get together. It’s summer. It’s relaxed. It’s just a feeling.

Is always about the people and the feeling. And this place has it.

(Honourable : Runaway. Mark and the team have done a fabulous job and created a proper wee Brewtap. I intend spending a LOT more time there in 2018)

Best Beer Festival : East West Fest (The Red Shed, Wakefield)

Jaz (The Arch Nemesis) & I adore this place. And went the first two years.

This year – finally – some of our beery friends felt that they’d missed out long enough and came for the night.

They’ve booked their accommodation for next year’s event 7 months in advance. For the whole weekend.

Why?

It’s intimate. Fun. Loaded with great beers from East and West of the Pennines. It had a feeling – for me – that no other vaunted festival has.

Anyone who knows me knows my ambivalence to the bigger bashes. I like things simple.

You can keep your lupuloid fireworks. Your Imperial extravaganzas. Just give me some friends, good beer and great conversation.

And a decent DIPA / Dark blending opportunity. (We blended for hours……it was fabulous!)

Come to Wakefield in May.

(Honourable : I would vote for the Celebration that I organised, but this is the first Independent Salford Beer Festival that I’ve truly enjoyed.

There. I said it!)

Best Blog 2017 : Beer Compurgation

I don’t know what there is to say about Mark that hasn’t already been said.

That he’s a nice fella? That he can write? That he’s passionate?

All those things and more.

This year he has made me smile. He’s made me laugh. Made me cry (the bastard!). Made me angry. Made me think.

And every time I see him, I give him a hug.

Simon Johnson Award : @BeerFinderGen

There’s something about Mary (I mean James). Informative. Smart. Thoughtful. (“But that’s enough about me!” Stanley)

He is funny, tweets with passion and thinks. Even when he “drunk tweets”.

And he did a fabulous job taking the pressure off me doing the @salfordbeerfest twitter account*

*(Not a patch on ME, natch!)

(Honourable : Kate The Brink – Innovative Gif usage. Smart, always funny. Rib-achingly so.)

 

Squawk v The Brink : A Beer is Born

It started with a bizarre tweet (to me at least). For 10kg of Nelson Sauvin T90. (Pelletised hops) Obviously Gareth was up to something beery, but asking for 10kg of Nelson is akin to asking a brewer to unhitch their right arm and hand it over. 

You see – to those unaware – the phrases “Rocking Horse Shit” and “Rare as….” apply to Nelson.

Because it is gorgeously aromatic. Sharp. Tasty. And in demand.


Unsurprisingly – when I recovered my composure enough to stop laughing – I asked one or two brewing friends. Once THEY stopped laughing…..


Somewhat later, I got a slightly fuller picture.


Squawk. My favourite brewery of 2016. Collabing with my favourite bar. The Brink. I wanted some of that. So, “BOSS! Can I have Monday off?”



So it was that I arrived at Squawk, to the smiling faces (mostly) of Kate, Ste, Pete and Gareth (not forgetting our  brewmaster for today, Graham!) and the heavenly smells of hot mashing. It’s like breakfast for the soul.


The plan? A Red (Coughs “2-1”…….) Ale, something Gareth wanted (bloody United fan that he is) and that Squawk had never done.


Maris, Crystal, Cara and other sundry malts were steeping away upon my arrival as I watched – with no small amount of envy – as Ste plunged his hands into a bag of Wai-Iti to break the leaf up for bittering. His hands resembling those of Shrek upon removal – if somewhat more aromatic…..


A brewday (for those who aren’t the actual brewer) is essentially a lot of standing around, listening, with intermittent bursts of activity. Fun for the inner beer nerd, but hardly Pulitzer material. So, we short cut…..



Where the late flavour hops usually – to me anyway – go into the copper (avoiding the joys of steam burns!), these went into Oli’s latest acquisition. His hop rocket. With the wort circulation extracting maximum juicy goodness from those tart Southern Hemisphere beauties.


With copious amounts of Nelson going in dry hop, what are we to expect?


Tartness – it IS Nelson Sauvin after all! – fruitiness, with a distinct red hue. Full bodied with a very slight residual sweetness from the Cara and Crystal.



And – at 5.1% abv – drinkability. It’s Squawk after all, under praised for me. Massively so.


Looks like it might be on on Thursday. Maybe about 3pm. And guess who’s in Manchester that night?


Oh yes! Wouldn’t miss this for all the tea in….. 

The Art of Looking Up 

Looking up. The most natural thing in the world. And a phrase encompassing a multitude of meanings

Without it, you wouldn’t recognise the sheer beauty of your surroundings. How many Mancunians fail to raise their heads and absorb the architectural splendour of our great city? It’s no London, not even a Liverpool, but just the simple act of looking up can lighten the soul.

I’ve suffered mental health issues for a number of years. Unlike many in these – politically chosen – straightened times, I’m “lucky”. I’ve received treatment – counselling, cognitive therapy – and am able to recognise the signs. The barking of the black dog at the heels.

Or so I thought. 

And then, a few weeks ago, whilst walking along the elevated walkway between the train station and Terminal 1 it hit me like a brick. I had been walking with my head down. And I realised I was sinking, struggling. My heels were being nipped at. 

And it all started to make sense.

I thought I was a “talker”. Someone who could reach out when feeling “low”. I thought that I was emotionally eloquent. When all I was doing was holding it all together. Performing. 

The sighing on the way to work. I should have seen it. I should know better. 

This is my talking I suppose. Being sat on a speeding train. Tapping on a phone. And how many of us do that? 

I’ve started to get stressed over the silliest of things. Social media interactions, snapping a little in social situations, then feel the guilt of losing control. 

For which – to those affected – I can only offer apologies. 

There are always excuses, reasons, triggers. Things you think you can cope with, but you realise too late that they take their toll. Mine has been the recent funerals of two people taken before their time. People of my age. I thought I could handle it. But… 

The good thing is, that I’ve caught it. I can do something about it, I have “systems” in place to drag myself back up from the ditch. It’s not a black hole. 

There IS occasional light that gets through. That laughter is genuine when it comes. I let it come. Like the occasional tears, I don’t suppress those – I’ve had the odd funny look on the early train, to work, trust me! 

This is all part of the “ups and downs” I suppose. Getting by. Coping. (And I AM coping) I’m luckier than many. I can use this space as a vent. I neither seek nor require sympathy. 

There are things I can do. Exercise. Lose weight. Stay busy – ISBF was good for the latter. And I’ll be doing all of those things for certain – except ISBF. I’m still waiting on that one. 

No matter how grey or dark you may feel, the sky is still blue. I can see it now. 

By looking up.

Be kind to one another. J.

“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 go 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.