Monthly Archives: December 2012

Twenty Twelve

Here are my best of the year, where I’ve got an opinion.

Draught Beer: Red Willow Remorseless. A mighty DIPA from a brewery that keeps getting better. Strong runner-up: Marble Magic, a collaboration with Magic Rock which was apparently the hoppiest thing they’ve ever brewed – it was certainly slap-in-the-face hoppy. It was also 3.3%(!) and very, very drinkable.

Bottled Beer: Fuller’s Past Masters Double Stout. Just wow. The other Past Masters beer I’ve had didn’t knock me out, but this was extraordinary. I’ve got a bottle ageing as we speak.

Pump clip / Label design: Red Willow. Initially I wasn’t sure that the “-less” naming system was going to work, but I think it was a really good choice – memorable and distinctive. The ‘willow’ emblem is striking and rather beautiful, and the embossed bottle labels are class.

Pub / bar: I’m tempted to nominate local newcomer De Nada; they may still be finding their feet (and a clientele), but they serve some good beers in excellent condition (generally from Boggart, Lancaster and Brightside). Top jukebox, too. But for quality, consistency, variety, Red Willow beers, free peanuts and an excellent soundtrack, Pi takes the crown. (I hope I can give it to De Nada next year.)

Brewery: it has to be Red Willow. Early on, I had some worries about an old-school malty sweetness that seemed to be colouring a lot of their lighter beers, but I think that’s a thing of the past. Beers of real depth and subtlety, across the range from oyster stout to pale bitter.

Bloggers: the esteemed B&B, whose comment section is my blog-from-blog. Being based in Cornwall makes the blog particularly interesting – they even mention the Blue Anchor from time to time.

Festival: NWAF didn’t disappoint.

Open category: Best pub for playing music: the Beech, Chorlton. Followed by the Briton’s Protection (upstairs room) in central Manchester, and er. Hard to beat the Beech, really. A dishonourable mention to the Lloyd’s (Chorlton), where the following conversation took place, one quiet Saturday afternoon, between the barman and a friend of mine:

“Would you mind turning the music down a bit? A few of us have been busking and we’d just like to play for a bit in the corner, if that’s OK?”
Barman: Sorry, no, I can’t do that.
“Oh. Well, in that case, is it all right if we just get our instruments out anyway? We won’t be disturbing anyone.”
Barman: No, if you do that I’ll have to ask you to leave.


In 2013 I’d like to: meet some bloggers (again); review some more beer; avoid pointless arguments; not write about ‘craft beer’.


B&B recently broached the topic of clubs – not nightclubs (as nobody calls them) but social clubs, places to drink and see some entertainment. There are three I’ve been to in my local area, although I’m not a member of any of them and there’s only one I’d consider visiting for the beer.

The enigmatically-named Lauriston Club (whose interior you can see here) is a members’ club; apparently you pass two signs on the way in, reading respectively “MEMBERS ONLY” and “VISITORS WELCOME”. Beer is cheap-ish but there’s no cask. There was originally a large detached house on the site; this was later converted to serve as the local Liberal Club, which closed in 1962 (the 60s weren’t kind to the Liberals in this area). The club reopened under its current name, as a members’ club without any political affiliation (or any other particular raison d’etre as far as I can see). But it clearly had a substantial following – more substantial than the hard core of regulars you’ll see in there now; when the building burned down in 1982, a new building was put up on the same site and the club lived on. The video shows a group of us who performed in the front bar one night, to an audience slightly larger than the group was. NB I am not the Phil playing guitar (although I am in shot a lot of the time).

The local Irish Association Social Club – universally known as the Irish Club – is self-explanatory. They put a lot of music on, dances in particular – sometimes with fairly well-known DJs, sometimes with a ceilidh band, sometimes one of each on the same night. Since I occasionally play in a ceilidh band, I’ve seen quite a lot of the inside of the Irish Club. The beer isn’t cheap and there’s no cask. They’ve made a couple of ventures into interesting bottles – Schneider Aventinus was a particularly memorable guest – but most nights you’re best off just getting a pint of San Miguel and planning on drinking it before it warms up.

The third of the three is in a different class, at least on the beer front. For several years I used to go to the local Cricket Club once a week, for the Folk Club (clubs are good for function rooms). Norman, the barman, always had a smile and a friendly word for anyone he’d known for 20 years or more, which let most of us right out. But he did pull a good pint, and the beer was seriously cheap – £1.60 a pint when I started going, or about 2/3 of what were then pub prices. There were two hand pumps: one of them was for Holt’s bitter, and so was the other one. If you didn’t like Holt’s bitter, well, you could get used to it. (This was actually one of the reasons I went back week after week – miss a couple of weeks and you had to get acclimatised to the beer all over again.)

After I’d been going for a few years there was an upsurge of interest in acoustic music, and suddenly the club was a lot busier. Norman was slowing down by now in any case, so the management put a barmaid on alongside him; she was less than half his age but every bit as friendly, and had that infuriating Guinness-derived habit of pulling 4/5ths of a pint and letting it settle before topping it up. On special occasions they started switching the second pump to carry a guest ale; word had it that Norman didn’t approve.

Three or four years ago I stopped going very often, having got into folk music (long story). The last couple of times I went back the only Holt’s beers were the keg range; the two hand-pumps were devoted to rotating guest beers, generally well-chosen and in good nick. They were still being pulled on the 4/5-and-wait principle, annoyingly; on the other hand, they were still about 2/3 of pub prices. And there was a plaque behind the bar with Norman’s name and dates.

Sound on sound

[Cross-posted from 52 Folk Songs]

52 Folk Songs: white is an album of seasonal songs, mostly traditional, recorded between the start of Advent and the end of Epiphany last year. Some are religious, some are songs for cold nights and the turning of the year, and some are both. Unfortunately the album wasn’t available for download until February, by which time the moment for Gaudete and the Boar’s Head Carol had passed. But its time has come round again, so here it is.

The full track listing is:

1. A maiden that is matchless (2:07)
2. The holly and the ivy (1:49)
3. Shepherds arise (3:22)
4. A virgin most pure (4:08)
5. In Dessexshire as it befell (3:34)
6. Poor old horse (5:08)
7. On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At (4:43)
8. Come, love, carolling (Sydney Carter) (2:08)
9. The boar’s head carol (1:49)
10. Gaudete (2:49)
11. The King (1:26)
12. In the month of January (4:22)
13. The Moving On song (Seeger/MacColl) (2:44)
14. The January Man (Dave Goulder) (2:33)

Tracks 2-4, 9 and 11 have been remixed this time round, to give a better balance between the different vocal tracks. Tracks 7 and 13 are ‘hidden’ tracks, as you’ll see (or rather won’t see) if you visit the album page; they can only be downloaded by downloading the whole album. (You can play (but not download) them at the 52fs: Extras page.)

As well as hidden tracks, the white album comes with full lyrics, notes on the songs and even the odd picture. A few brief comments on the songs:

A maiden that is matchless is sung simultaneously in modern English and Middle English, with a flute part copied from Dolly Collins’s arrangement.
The holly and the ivy is not a pagan song. This was my first attempt at four-part harmony.
Shepherds arise More harmonies. Sing! Sing all earth!
A virgin most pure Another Dolly Collins arrangement (I think), this time on C whistle. Vocals in two-part harmony, partly my own.
In Dessexshire as it befell Yet more multi-part singing, plus a multi-part melodica break. I think the arrangement really works, and the song’s well worth hearing if you don’t know it. A strange and rather creepy piece of work, set on Christmas Day.
Poor old horse An old “house visiting” song, slowed down and given another massively overdubbed arrangement. Also features a quick burst of the old dance tune “Man in the moon”.
On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At Not actually strictly a seasonal song as such; scientists have established that it can get pretty parky on Ilkley Moor at any time of year. Four-part harmonies, sung as written with a few modifications for singability (I broke it up into five or six separate lines). Also features simultaneous translation for the hard-of-Yorkshire.
Come, love, carolling A contemporary religious song by the wonderful Sydney Carter. Drums, melodica and anything else that seemed appropriate; based on Bob and Carole Pegg’s version on the album And now it is so early.
The boar’s head carol is not a pagan song either. Second attempt at four-part harmony.
Gaudete This was more or less Folk Song #1 for me, thanks to Steeleye Span’s appearance singing it on Top of the Pops, so it’s always had a special place for me. More harmonies, of course.
The King Another multi-part song learned from Steeleye Span, although I wrote these harmonies myself.
In the month of January Just one vocal track on this one, taking on one of those really knobbly traditional melodies.
The Moving On song Not a massive arrangement – just drums, melodica and a couple of brief harmony vocal lines – but the texture of the (heavily-processed) melodica, the slightly over-fiddly drum pattern and the irregularity of the time signature make for an appropriately edgy, claustrophobic atmosphere. I like the way the melodica’s come out, but I’ll probably never be able to do it again – I was trying for something much simpler.
The January Man he walks abroad in woollen coat and boots of leather… What a song.

Share and enjoy! Ho ho ho.

Likewise a bottle of the very best…

Oak table: model's own

Oak table: model’s own

Courtesy of Aldi, I recently took delivery of one of these (the one on the left, unfortunately). Apparently Bateman’s discontinued their ‘BBB’ barleywine in 1977, but not before George Bateman, the then MD, had put aside four cases for his son Stuart’s 21st. For whatever reason the cases got lost, and they were only rediscovered in 2011. The beer was still drinkable, and the current MD – Stuart Bateman – decided to recreate it. “Over the course of six months, Stuart and the master brewer matched the flavours perfectly using old brew records and multiple tastings.” The result is Bateman’s Vintage Ale, a 7.5% barley wine, now on sale at a pretty reasonable price (and in a rather fetching presentation box) at an Aldi near you.

So what’s the beer like? It’s good; it’s got a heavy body lifted by fairly lively carbonation (although it’s not bottle-conditioned), and a smooth, rounded flavour, malty but not over-sweet. It’s quite a big, assertive flavour, with notes of apple, tannin and cough-mixture blending into a very drinkable whole. As barley wines go, it’s a good, enjoyable example of the style. Alternatively, if you think of Wobbly Bob but with more malt and more alcohol, or imagine a lighter, less sweet version of McEwan’s Champion, you won’t be far off.

The only slight disappointment is that it doesn’t quite live up to its back-story. It’s a fine beer, but it’s not a world-beater – it stands comparison with Wobbly Bob, but not with Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, say. From that point of view it may be a victim of its advance publicity – a story like that is going to raise expectations which the beer won’t necessarily fulfil. Best to take it for what it is: a rich, satisfying and well-balanced barley wine, well worth what you’ll pay for it at Aldi. It’s also, ironically, an interesting new departure for Bateman’s; I wonder if they found anything else interesting when they were looking at those old brew records? Forward to the past!