Monday, September 26, 2016

The Last Post: high-flying reflections

Photo:Heather Bevan-Hunt
Tour highlights:
  • Hanging out with the guys, playing music and having a great time
  • Chaos at Mr Scurf's place!
  • An unexpectedly amazing gig at Luna in Leytonstone
  • Having a beer in Govan
  • A dozen t-shirts
  • The Italian feed at Cucina Rustica in Birmingham
  • Chatting with Chris Farlowe and Cliff Bennett after our gig at the Retro Festival
  • Glamping
  • Friday night at The Scotia
  • Meeting John from The Zips in Glasgow
  • Seeing Secret Affair up close
  • The fab folks from Radio Caroline
  • Take-away and beer in the sun, with the boys out the back in Cambridge
  • Appearing on BBC West Midlands
  • Seeing The Waterboys, Justin Currie and Lloyd Cole in concert
  • Making new friends at our first gig at The Cluny
  • Proper beer
  • All the lovely people we met on our travels
  • Playing at The Fiddler's Elbow, with various Dexys looking on
  • Feasting at The India Club
  • Watching Nick Parker and The False Alarms do their thing at Lakefest
  • Buying a £2.50 tambourine in a Leytonstone charity shop
  • Friendly policemen
  • Live to air on Sunny Govan
  • Meeting Steve Daggett at The Cluny
  • Getting to play at four proper festivals
  • Pat! Cam! Rob! Dave! Ade! Pete! Me! And... the Guv'nor
I'm sure there's much, much more to add. Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

All good things...

The last weekend of the PlanB UK Tour was spent at the delightful Retro Festival in Newbury. We spent the Saturday and Sunday there, arriving directly from our Friday adventures at Lakefest. The Retro Festival is an annual gathering of folks celebrating the golden era of mods and rockers, and just about any other element of pop culture from the middle of the last century. There were big old American cars, classic British motorcycles and vintage scooters all over the place.
The sun was out; it felt like summer, and I think we were ready to sign-off in style.

We had two gigs to play; one on Saturday night and one on Sunday at noon. A bittersweet notion, because with only two shows left it meant that the great music we were making would soon be over, however, all things must end and it would be refreshing to be in a different routine after almost a month of touring. We were scheduled to appear on the Ricky-Tick Mod stage, and we'd be a little bit different to the usual offering of northern soul and ska bands. Both of which I took in whenever I could over the weekend.
The festival was situated on an enormous plot, with plenty of space for music, vintage cars, merry-go-rounds, aeronautics and, erm, miniature steam engines. We were directed to our accommodation, which took the form of a couple of very nice looking tents. Welcome to the wonderful world of glamping! Three of the couples used one of the tents, while the rest of the gang took up residence in the other. There was also another tent for our domestic use,  featuring electric power, a fridge, water etc. All very nice.

I bought a few vinyl singles, including the original 'It Must Be Love' by Labi Siffre. Peter Guitar bought Arkeology, a great set of World Party rarity CDs; I think most of us did a little shopping.
After playing quite a bit over the previous three and a half weeks, we'd grown in terms of our musical togetherness so we were expecting to put on a good show wherever and whenever we played. Of the two, the Sunday lunchtime performance probably enjoyed bigger numbers, but both gigs went down pretty well.
Here's a story I posted elsewhere:
So, it's Saturday night at Retrofest and we've just finished our set. I'm out the back, completely spent, trying to catch my breath.
This geezer sits next to me.
Him: "Are you on tonight?"
Me: "Just been on mate; knackered. What about you? Playing tonight, or are you a DJ?"
Him: "I'm on later. I'm a singer, Chris Farlowe's the name."
Me: (surprised) "You don't look much like your pictures..."
Thankfully we got past that dopey comment and had a decent chat; mainly about the fun of being a constantly busy musician. We would have talked longer but we were out of time...
This is certainly a world full of surprises.

After that I wandered off and found a friendly felafel for my tea.
Some of us went to watch Chris Farlowe on the Saturday night and he still does a great job with 'Handbags and Gladrags' and 'Out of Time'.
The Sunday gig was a kind of celebration, being the last gig of the tour, and we all supped whisky from Peter's flask before we went on. Nice.
The afternoon was spent sitting in our deck chairs outside of the tents, eating and drinking to our collective heart's content. A few of us had gone on a £100 food and beverage run so we had plenty to get through.
Some of us were leaving the camp to stay in Reading that evening so it was with a somewhat heavy, but affectionate, heart that we all hugged, shook hands and said goodbye a little later that afternoon.
Pete the bassman dropped us in town and, that was it, no more tour. Peter Guitar, Rob Trumpet, Lynn and I shared a few drinks that night before parting company the following morning.

Within days of the tour ending the eight members of the band were scattered all over the world. From the north of England, to the USA, to Greece, to Australia, to a cruise chip in the Mediterranean, the PlanB diaspora was massive. Rock and roll!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Primal Affair...

After the long trip from Wales and a well-earned sleep in, we awoke to find ourselves in the weirdest, most interesting house. It certainly didn't sleep 12 people comfortably; there wasn't really enough dedicated rooms or beds. Still, most of us managed to sleep in relative comfort. The "Hemp Lime House" was full to bursting with the most amazing array of stuff - artifacts from exotic places, homespun artwork, books, strange furniture and junk. It would be a great place to spend some time, albeit in a smaller group.
It was a pleasant summer's day, and we spent the morning taking in the joys of the delightful Cotswolds town of Stroud. Markets, charity shops, sunshine, and brunch in Greggs.

Hopes were high for Lakefest; it has a decent reputation and some of the acts that have appeared in previous years made us feel a bit special. Billy Bragg, The Selecter, Ocean Colour Scene, Embrace, Ash, Buzzcocks, Levellers and The Beat have all played the festival. 2016 was offering Primal Scream, The Coral, Starsailor, Secret Affair and, erm, PlanB. Well, "Plan Beat" actually. We had to change our name in the advertising because the organisers were a little nervous about people getting confused with the English rapper Plan B. So it goes.
It was an easy trip out to the festival (no police, no speeding tickets) and the venue, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, looked beautiful. On the hillside across the river giant letters spelling the word "LOVE" filled me with happiness. There were people of all ages milling around, there was a cornucopia of food and beverage choices, and the sound of music filtered through the air.

We wandered around, soaking it all in, and checking out the various tents and stages. Spirits were pretty high, and we ate and drank merrily as we saw the sights. I bought a t-shirt, to add to my growing collection.
We were scheduled to appear late, after Primal Scream, so we were hoping people would spill out of the main stage, looking for some more music, and find their way to us. We were on in the Real Ale Tent, which also doubled as the "BBC Introducing" tent during the afternoon.

One of the great bands of my youth, Secret Affair, were playing early in the evening and I went along. I was surprised there wasn't a bigger crowd but no matter, it meant I got to stand right at the front without any of the usual crush. They were great; it was quite a moment to see and hear 'Time For Action', 'Let Your Heart Dance' and 'My World' live on stage. Ian Page's  voice is still pretty good and the band was tight. It took a couple of songs to get the mix right but once that was done the overall sound was great.
A little later I went along to see Primal Scream do their trippy, loopy thing in front of a huge crowd. It was a proper festival show and Bobby Gillespie was in decent form. They played old and new stuff and it all sounded pretty groovy, no matter which version of the band you prefer.
A little later in the evening I saw Nick Parker and The False Alarms over on another stage. I can't say I'd heard of him/them before but they were really good. Something else to research when I get home.
Man, I was looking forward to playing.
The ska band that played in our tent directly before us had done a decent job getting a few numbers, despite the competition from the main stage, and I was hoping they would stick around. Unfortunately, they did not. The organisers shut the bar in our tent, which didn't do much to attract punters, and by the time we started we were playing to about 20 people, while hundreds of others drifted by outside, on their way to their tent, car or oblivion. A bit of a downer after such a good day, but we shone like diamonds in any case. We played our set, and my night ended chatting with Jo and Ian (The Filthy Spectacula), nice folks both of them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Staying late at The Office...

The day of our Swansea gig arrived and I started things off with a visit to the Dylan Thomas Centre. It was pretty cool, and I learned a fair bit too. I followed that with a stroll around the marina and the beach. I took it pretty easy as I had one eye on the approaching performance, and my responsibility to my public. Ha ha.
Guitarist Peter would be arriving in the afternoon from Liverpool, where he'd been to see 'About the Young Idea' -The Jam exhibition - and the rest of the band would arrive closer to gig time in the rented cars.
After a few sociable afternoon beers with Rob, Peter called to say he'd arrived and to find out where we were. We told him. Half an hour later, he still hadn't shown up. Swansea isn't that big. Eventually, after many wrong turns and asking the wrong questions of locals, he and his guitar appeared outside the pub. He'd given himself quite a tour around town.
The other guys arrived after the long drive from Stroud and we slowly moved into performance mode. None of us seemed to be particularly enthusiastic about the show and I wasn't convinced that The Office, a heavy rock venue, would offer us anything in the way of a boost. The crowd and the support band, although really nice folks, also added to the sense that we were soulful fish out of water. I think the notion of a two hour early-morning motorway drive back to the share house was also weighing heavily on my mind. I thought we'd bomb; I had visions of the Blues Brothers' chicken wire concert!

Of course, all of this negativity proved baseless. The gig turned out to be fantastic. We put on a decent show, the venue was great and the locals loved it. People were coming in off the street, and there was plenty of dancing. Audience members were into our songs, and the inclusion of Dexys' 'Plan B' was an inspired choice. I was a bit frightened at one point; one of the local lasses appeared to have taken a shine to the beanpole lead singer and was applying the glad eye from very close proximity. I was trying to flash my wedding ring at every possible opportunity.
After the show, the mood among the band members had lifted somewhat, but there was still an air of tetchiness in some quarters. With a dozen people, no home comforts and so much travel, and every day requiring significant planning and execution as we continually ventured into the unknown, I guess it was never going to be sunshine and lollipops all the time.

We chatted to folks and enjoyed a few free beers. Not too many though, we had a long drive ahead.
On the way home to Stroud, Patrick drove with great care and skill. The motorways were virtually empty. We got pulled over by the police for driving in the middle lane (who knew?) but they were good blokes, especially when they realised we were just dumb tourists. We also got done for speeding about 100 yards from home but that's not important right now. It was just nice to get there, sometime between midnight and dawn.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Getting to Wales

After a very enjoyable stay in Scotland it was difficult to get back into travel mode. Our next gig was a couple of days away, in Swansea, and a few of us headed straight there while others took the time to visit different locations.
The Tuesday morning train was late getting into Glasgow which caused trumpet player Rob, Lynn and I to miss our planned Swansea connection at Crewe. It meant we would be late into town but we weren't too bothered. It was a travel day with not much planned at the other end. The most difficult aspect of the day would be the humping of our cases, which were gaining weight at an alarming rate.
On the Crewe-Swansea train, Rob and I had a few beers, and chatted with an older woman who made up the foursome in our little enclave. She was on her way to Hereford to be with family and, I think, quite enjoyed catching up with us, dipping her toe into the murky waters of the rock and roll lifestyle. I helped her with her bag when she got off, doing my bit for Anglo-Australian relations.
After travelling through three countries, I was happy to get to Swansea, and happier still that the hotel we'd booked was immediately outside the train station. Minimal luggage lugging!
Rob went off to find his accommodation before rejoining us for a quite enjoyable meal and a few beers in
the hotel bar. I was pretty tired by the end of the evening and made no secret of the fact that I was looking forward to a proper sleep in.

Of course, that didn't happen. A bloody fire alarm jolted me from the deepest sleep at 6.30am and there was no returning to the land of nod.
Lynn and I wandered around the town, starting off with a lovely breakfast of scrambled egg and baked beans. We visited the castle, and did some shopping. I went into a great little record shop where I managed to resist buying any vinyl, and I grabbed some stickers for the guitar case. Lynn bought cakes. We swapped messages with the other guys in the band, seeing what they were up to (and where), and we checked out the location of the gig venue.
That night it was burgers and beers in a Yates pub with Rob, before the place turned into a nightclub for what seemed like all of Swansea's twenty-somethings. On a Wednesday night! We popped over to The Office, PlanB's venue for the following night, for a quick look and a pint. It looked a lot like a heavy rock venue.
I slept poorly, the streets were full of (twenty-something) revellers letting me know what a great night/morning they were having.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Beer Hunter 2016: The Final Chapter

Doesn't include repeat beers in same pub (same session). All pints, all cask ales except where indicated by * or (bottle). Comments are minimal as the majority of the beers have been excellent.

76. Big Lamp Brewers Prince Bishop Ale (4.8) - The Milecastle Inn, Cawfields
77. Newcastle Brown Ale (4.7) (bottle) - The Milecastle Inn, Cawfields
78. Allendale Brewery Pennine Pale (4.0) - Lanercost B&B, Lanercost
79. Guinness* (4.2) - Club Britannia, Carlisle
80. Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale (4.6) - The Kings Arms, Bowness-on-Solway
81. Thwaites Wainwright Golden Ale (4.1) - The Kings Arms, Bowness-on-Solway
82. Hardy & Hanson Kimberley Bitter (3.9) - The White Hart, Bargate
83. Froth Blowers Piffle Snonker (3.8) - The White Hart, Bargate
84. Burton Bridge Brewery Burton Ale (4.8) - The Lion, Belper (so good I had three)
85. Thwaites Lancaster Bomber (4.4) - The Wheatsheaf, Bakewell
86. Ringwood Brewery Boon Doggle (4.2) - The Lion, Belper
87. Oakham Ales Citra (4.2) - The White Hart, Bargate
88. Guinness* (4.2) - The Hurt Arms, Ambergate
89. Titanic Cherry Dark (4.4) - The Angels, Belper
90. Titanic Plum Porter (4.9) - The Angels, Belper
91. Purity Brewing Co Pure Ubu (4.5) - The Green House, Belper
92. Einstöck Ölgerd (5.4) (bottle 110ml) - The Green House, Belper
93. Marston's Pedigree (4.5) - The Green House, Belper
94. Stapleford Nottingham Full Mash Red Dog (3.8) - Arkwright's Real Ale Bar, Belper
95. Greene King Abbot Ale (5.0) - The Green House, Belper
96. Oakham Ales Sweeney's Revenge (half) (4.0) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
97. Thornbridge Brewery Kipling (half) (5.2) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
98. Dark Star American Pal Ale (half) (4.7) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
99. Dark Star Original (half) (5.0) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
100. Thornbridge Brewery Lucaria (half) (6.0) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
101. Thornbridge Brewery Seaforth (half) (5.9)- Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
102. Oakham Ales Green Devil (half) (6.0) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
103. Dark Star Revelation (half) (5.7) - Holly Bush Inn, Makeney
104. Cross Bay Brewery Nightfall Bitter (3.8) - The King William, Milford
105. Brakspear Oxford Gold (4.0) - The Lion, Belper
106. Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin (5.2) - The Lion, Belper
107. Titanic Plum Porter (4.9) - The Angels, Belper
108. Guinness* (4.2) - Marston's Stadium, Belper
109. Marston's Pedigree (4.5) - The Lion, Belper
110. Brakspear Oxford Gold (4.0) - The Lion, Belper
111. Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin (5.2) - The Lion, Belper
112. Oakham's Ale Inferno (4.0) - The White Hart, Bargate
113. Clouded Minds Luppol (4.2) - The White Hart, Bargate
114. Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose (4.6) - The White Hart, Bargate
115. Guinness* (4.2) - Little M Bar, Manchester

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"It's nae bother..."

I spent my Sunday morning in Glasgow with Patrick, shooting more footage for the 'I Know a Girl' film clip. We visited some great locations, including Glasgow Green and the stunning Necropolis. Three hours well spent. Combined with the Birmingham shoot, I think the clip should look great.
Some of us had tickets for a couple of concerts while we were up in Scotland. Justin Currie and Lloyd Cole were playing on Sunday evening, followed by The Waterboys on Monday. Both were scheduled to appear at the Kelvingrove Bandstand, but the Currie/Cole show had to be shifted due to wild weather being forecast.
On Sunday, we headed out to the revised and much smaller venue, determined to get in. Guitarist Peter and I left the others relaxing at the bar while we went to watch the Community Shield in a pub, if we could find one. On the way out, we blagged our way into a conversation with one of the soundcheck guys, who said he'd add our names to the entry list, seeing as we'd come 12,000 miles to see the show. Bonus. We continued our search for football in the pissing rain. After about six or so strikeouts, we heard football crowd noises coming from a pub. "That's it!" we thought. We opened the door and stared straight into a bar heaving with hundreds of Celtic fans looking up at screens as their match reached its climax. I'm glad neither of us was wearing blue. I'm also glad that Celtic won. After the match finished, the publican kindly switched the channel to the Wembley match, and Peter and I watched in relative comfort as the place thinned out ever so slightly.
Despite our names being on the door for the gig, we still stood in line, getting wet. I'm not a queue jumper, I don't like leaving things to chance and we really, really wanted to see the show. Peter went on a food run and brought me back a veggie burger, bless him. Pete and Suoyi were ahead of us in the line, I was about 20 metres back from them, and Peter and Lynn were the same distance behind me. Co-ordinated mobile communications were the key to success. We all got in. I expect everyone else did too.
The gig was fabulous. If I wasn't a Justin Currie fan beforehand, he certainly won me over. Lloyd Cole was as good as I'd expected and hoped, but I can't get Jimmy Carr out of my mind whenever I see him nowadays.

After a slower start to the working week involving another visit to the Necropolis, making train reservations and buying guitar case stickers, Monday afternoon saw Pete, Peter, Patrick and I head out for a radio interview and live to air with Jim McMillan on Sunny Govan Community Radio. We performed 'Cloudy With a Chance of Rain' and the session went well. I wanted to have a beer in Govan so the interview was followed by a visit to the Old Harmony Bar across the road, a proper local pub."The band's here", someone said as we walked in (not sure how they knew, maybe my tambourine was jangling in the bag). "'Scuse me, Fleetwood Mac" said another, as he reached for his pint. The locals were lovely people, chatting away to us about how we'd come to be at their pub. They seemed genuinely interested in our story, except for the quartet of women playing dominoes, swearing like troopers while they strove for victory, oblivious to our presence.
That evening the gang of five swelled to six, as drummer Dave joined us for The Waterboys gig. Another trip across town in a taxi. We lined up outside the ticket collection box, enjoying a beautiful mild summer's evening. How things can change over the course of 24 hours.

The Kelvingrove Bandstand is a medium-sized outdoor amphitheatre, and it was a just about perfect setting. We sat, then stood, and Mike Scott and his crew put on a brilliant show. It was the first time I've seen The Waterboys live; I sincerely hope it's not the last.
After the show, we managed to beat the rush for a taxi by booking one to arrive a little way away, near a quiet suburban pub. Even that one was almost hi-jacked by another group. Not on Suoyi's watch!
We arrived back safe and sound at the Tartan Lodge; I slept well on my last night in town.
All up, my trip to Glasgow was great. I wasn't sure what to expect from this colourful, multi-faceted city, but just about every interaction I had was positive, every dumb question I asked was answered helpfully, everyone involved with the gig was great, and everybody else I met was friendly. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble for anyone. Thanks to all concerned.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tartan lodgings

We left the beautiful environs of Cambridge, somewhat reluctantly, in the relative calm of the sunny early morning. I think we managed to get the entire touring party, and our gear, into a convoy of four taxis. Friday's mission was Glasgow or bust!
We arrived at the train station hoping for a no-fuss travel day. The first leg up to Peterborough was fairly easily managed, for most of us. The notable exception was Patrick. He'd bought/used the wrong ticket, and was slung off the train the first stop out of Cambridge!
What we hadn't reckoned on was the increased number of train passengers headed north, due to the opening of the Edinburgh Fringe. Subsequently, the train to Glasgow from Peterborough was heaving with people. Because the train was jam-packed and there were no available seats, most of us were left standing. It wasn't so bad; I just watched the English countryside glide by, alone in my thoughts.
Somehow, Patrick had turned up and made it onto the correct connecting train at Peterborough. Nobody is quite sure how. I'm guessing he used his super powers.
I eventually got a seat at York. So did most of the others.

Arriving in Glasgow, after some more of the fun that a 12-person decision-making model provides, we made our way on foot to the Tartan Lodge, our home for the next few days. It was next to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, around a half-hour walk from the station. Our room was nice enough; some of the folks who had opted for dorms were less pleased. The rooms were fairly ordinary, by all accounts. The biggest issue appeared to be that the wi-fi was crap. Probably still better than being robbed (or worse) in your sleep, or catching something nasty from the mattress. First world problems, I guess...
Five of us enjoyed a large, cheap and cheerful Thai dinner delivered to the accommodation, on the recommendation of the friendly chap behind the reception desk. I got some curry sauce on my Radio Caroline t-shirt which made me a little grumpy. Another first world problem.
Our one and only Scottish gig, on the Friday night, was at The Scotia, reputed to be the oldest public house in Glasgow (although there was another place around the corner boasting the same thing). The pub was just down the road from the Clutha Vaults, a music venue that was the scene of the tragic police helicopter crash in 2013. It has only recently reopened.

At The Scotia, we were shoehorned into a corner but at least the required gear was there, courtesy of JonZip (new friend and top bloke). I had no idea how we were going to make it work, such was the confinement, but we found a way. The horn players stepped forward when it was their moment, Adrian sat his keys on one of the tables, I took the odd trip down the inside of the bar so I could sing to the people at the front and, in summary, I think we went off!
People were digging the music, and loads of folks came up for a chat between sets and after the show. Someone put my tambourine to good use (again) throughout the second set, although I had to ask for it back before we played any of the slower songs.
I was starting to get the feeling that you could put this band in almost any venue, and in any situation, and we'd somehow make it work. That's got to be a good thing.
And I got another t-shirt, thanks very much...
On Saturday morning some of us took a stroll around the markets before I left to find my way to the Glasgow Rangers match. After four seasons in the relative wilderness of the Scottish lower divisions, they were back in the big time and fans were eager for the new season to get underway. I fancied going, and I'd been told that it would be easy. I found the subway that would take me to the ground, only to find it was closed for four weeks! I asked and got directions to Jamaica Street, where I would find a bus to take me to Ibrox Stadium. I met a nice fellow on the bus and told him my story, and asked where the ticket office was. He told that the match was a sellout! Oh well, at least I could walk around the perimeter and soak up a bit of pre-match action. As it turned out, after a few attempts I found someone selling a spare ticket outside the ground and managed to see the match in all of its fervent atmosphere. I walked home in the afternoon drizzle with a few thousand of my new best friends.
Rob the trumpet, Dave the drum, Peter the guitar and Lynn & I spent the evening in one of the local pubs, talking bollocks. A perfect end to a good day.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Beer Hunter 2016: Part Three

Doesn't include repeat beers in same pub (same session). All pints, all cask ales except where indicated by * or (bottle). Comments are minimal as the majority of the beers have been excellent.

51. Titanic Steerage (3.8) - Hogarths, Swansea
52. Timothy Taylor's Landlord (4.3) - Olde Cross Keys, Swansea
53. Sharp's Brewery Doom Bar (4.0) - Olde Cross Keys, Swansea
54. Sharp's Brewery Atlantic (4.9) - The Office Pub, Swansea
54. Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin (5.2) - The Office Pub, Swansea
55. Donnington Brewery Lakefest Real Ale (4) - Lakefest, Ledbury
55. Donnington Brewery BB (3.6) - Lakefest, Ledbury
56. St Austell Tribute (4.2) - Lakefest, Ledbury 
57. Marston's EPA (3.6) - Retrofest, Newbury
58. Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin (5.2) - Retrofest, Newbury
59. John Smiths Extra Smooth* (3.8) - The Dickens, Reading
60. Black Sheep Best Bitter (3.8) - The Turks Head, Tynemouth
61. Hadrian Border Brewery Farne Island Ale (4.0) - The Turks Head, Tynemouth
62. Wylam Red Kite (4.5) - The Turks Head, Tynemouth
63. Rudgate Jorvik Blonde (3.8) - The Turks Head, Tynemouth
64. Boathouse Ale* (3.5) - The Boathouse, Newburn
65. Big Lamp Brewers Prince Bishop Ale (4.8) - The Keelman, Newburn
66. Big Lamp Brewers Premium Bitter (5.2) - The Keelman, Newburn
67. Big Lamp Brewers Prince Bishop Ale (4.8) (bottle) - The Keelman, Newburn
68. Hadrian Border Brewery Coast To Coast (4.4) - Robin Hood Inn, East Wallhouses
69. Allendale Brewery Golden Plover (4.0) - The Dyvels Inn, Corbridge
70. Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Gold (4.2) - The Dyvels Inn, Corbridge
71. Brewdog Punk IPA (5.6) (bottle) - The Dyvels Inn, Corbridge
72. Coxhoe Co Durham Sonnet 43 Brewhouse American Pale Ale (5.4) - The Crown Inn, Humshaugh
73. Coxhoe Co Durham Sonnet 43 Brewhouse Blonde Beer (4.1) - The Crown Inn, Humshaugh
74. SA Brain and Co Opening Ceremony (4.0) - The Crown Inn, Humshaugh
75. Thwaites Wainwright Golden Ale (4.1) - The Milecastle Inn, Cawfields

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Cambridge blues.

The leaving of Birmingham. The day began with a bus station visit from Neil Warburton, author of a Dexys book and a fan of PlanB, who asked us to sign a few bits and pieces. We all posed for photos. Neil waved us goodbye from the station, ensuring we got underway safely.
It was a sunny afternoon in the beautiful town of Cambridge when the National Express coach pulled to a halt and we spilled out onto the street. The Cambridge Rock Festival was calling and we were all on something of a high. A biggish festival gig, beautiful weather, and it looked very much like Adrian would be rejoining the band for the show. We hardly noticed the forced march to the accommodation, which took around three-quarters of an hour.
We had the Wednesday night off so, once we were settled, a few of us sat out the back of the B&B, drinking beer and eating tea. I had chips and mushy peas from the inventively-monikered fish and chip shop, 'The Codfather'.
The festival venue was hosting a special concert to precede the weekend's event, a fund-raiser for a local hospital; one that had treated Wilko Johnson while he was ill. There was some discussion about attending, and eventually four of us decided to go and have a look. Peter, Pete, David and Dave piled into a taxi.
The concert had advertised "special guests" and some of us were hopeful that Wilko might do a turn...
However, there was no Wilko appearance, and the bands were mainly classic rock tribute acts (think Creem, Deep Purple), but it was a good night in any case. We met the folks from the legendary Radio Caroline, now an internet radio station, and teed up an interview for the following night. And bought a few ex-Radio Caroline singles. We surveyed the festival site, had a few real ales, enjoyed some tunes, bought our festival t-shirts (with the band's name printed on the back!) and went home happy.
On Thursday morning most of us, either collectively or separately, wandered around the town, taking in the history and beauty of the place. The walk along the River Cam followed by brunch was a personal high point.

In the afternoon we headed to the festival. It was more of the same; mainly tribute acts and a few reformed bands from back in the day. I got to see Atomic Rooster, a band I remembered from my nascent teenage years. Carl Palmer, Ginger Baker and (I have recently learned) Chris Farlowe are all Atomic Rooster alumni. This line-up was OK without being overly world-shattering.
Pete and I were interviewed by Radio Caroline and we left them with copies of the album, and their promise that they would be spinning tracks across the weekend.
I know it's getting boring, but this was another gig where last-minute efforts saw successful arrival of sufficient gear. So at least we could get on, but it is a situation that always leads to stress and wasted energy. We were the last band on the acoustic/alternative stage, competing for punters with a Pink Floyd tribute show over on Stage One. We did OK for numbers; it was a decent crowd.

From where I was standing, it was another good show; Patrick, Robbie and Cam once again proved an aural and visual highlight during their feature moments, and it was great to have Adrian back in the mix, both musically and personally. The only downer was that, due to a local noise curfew, we had to finish one song early, so the crowd didn't get to sing along with us during 'Wake Up Call'.
After the show, organisers were very complimentary about the performance and apologetic about the abrupt finish. There was loads of talk about playing again next year!
Never say never.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kipper Tie and a Butter Pie

PlanB's London adventure was followed by a trip to England's second city, Birmingham. Despite the distance, it was just over an hour away by train.
Collectively, the band didn't have any great expectations of the two-day visit; we were booked to play one show in a small bar outside of the city centre, on a Tuesday night. I couldn't imagine the line to get in stretching around the block.
We arrived without any drama around Monday lunchtime on the direct train from London. It was a pleasant, sunny day. We were lugging our gear from New Street station, in the general direction of our digs and, who did I spy? Jim Paterson from Adelaide's BordererS, leaning against the wall, eating his lunch. Not only was he a long way from home (as were we), but he has the same name as our fab trombone benefactor. The world gets smaller every day. We had a bit of a chat before continuing on with the baggage.
The hostel accommodation was OK; our double room was pretty good but I'm not renowned for my fussiness. I'm not sure that everyone's room was as nice as ours.

The venue, The Actress & Bishop, was actually OK; a few of us spent the Monday afternoon there, sampling the ales and checking out the ambience. Bass player Pete went off to undertake a pie-eating challenge, after visiting one of Kevin Rowland's old addresses with superfan Neil. I had a great meal in the Italian place across the road from the pub. Gnocchi and gorgonzola sauce, if you are at all interested...
After doing a bit of shopping in the morning, we appeared on BBC Radio Birmingham during Sunny and Shay Grewal's show on the afternoon of the gig. The interview went pretty well. Not quite as witty as The Beatles but we had our moments.
The gig was beset by the usual issues. Only half a drum kit for Dave, no working amp for guitarist Peter... We were getting used to this kind of nonsense and, once again, it was sorted out at the eleventh hour. The show also had an odd feeling about it because our keyboard player, Adrian, had taken ill and needed to spend a couple of nights under observation, and therefore missed the concert. Performance-wise, we tried to plug the gaps but our thoughts were understandably with him.
In any case, we still did a sterling job as far as the small but interested crowd were concerned. We met some good folks; some who'd planned to be there and some who'd just heard the music and come on in. Including a couple who were over from Australia. Everyone I spoke with had enjoyed the show, and the pub put on a few beers for the band.

Onwards to Cambridge!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Beer Hunter 2016: Part Two

Doesn't include repeat beers in same pub (same session). All pints, all cask ales except where indicated by * or (bottle). Comments are minimal as the majority of the beers have been excellent.

26. Truman's Runner Bold Best Bitter (4.0) - The Wellington, Covent Garden, London
27. St Austell Nicholson's Pale Ale (4.0) - The Wellington, Covent Garden, London
28. Backyard Brewhouse Blonde Hand Crafted Ale (4.1) - Actress & Bishop, Birmingham
29. Sharp's Brewery Doom Bar (4.0) - Actress & Bishop, Birmingham
30. Salopian Brewery Lemon Dream (4.5) - Actress & Bishop, Birmingham
31. Worthington's Creamflow* (3.6) - Actress & Bishop, Birmingham
32. Black Country Ales Pig On The Wall (4.3) - Cambridge Rock Festival
33. Leather Britches Brewery Hairy Helmet (4.7) - Cambridge Rock Festival
34. Greene King Olde Trip (4.3) - Cambridge Rock Festival
35. Belhaven St Andrews Ale Smooth (4.6) - The Scotia, Glasgow
36. Wellpark Brewery Caledonia Best* (3.2) - The Duchess of Duke Street, Glasgow
37. Drygate Pilsener* (4.0) - The Duchess of Duke Street, Glasgow
38. Timothy Taylor's Landlord (4.3) - The Basement, Glasgow
39. Marston's Pedigree (4.5) - The Basement, Glasgow
40. St Austell Tribute (4.2) - The Basement, Glasgow
41. Caledonian Brewery Three Hop Lager* (4.5) - Oran Mor, Glasgow
42. McEwan's Export* (4.5) - Old Harmony Bar, Govan, Glasgow
43. Birra Moretti Toscana (bottle) (5.5) - Kelvingove Bandstand, Glasgow
44. Birra Moretti (4.6) - Kelvingove Bandstand, Glasgow
45. Gower Brewery Best Bitter (4.5) - Grand Hotel, Swansea
46. Guinness Golden Ale (4.5) - Olde Cross Keys, Swansea
47. Brains SA (4.2) - Yates, Swansea
48. Brains SA Gold (4.3) - Yates, Swansea (not so good)
49. Brecon Brewing Welsh Beacons (3.7) - Yates, Swansea
50. Robinsons Brewery Trooper (4.8) - The Office Pub, Swansea

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Beer Hunter 2016: Part One

Doesn't include repeat beers in same pub (same session). All pints, all cask ales except where indicated by * or (bottle). Comments are minimal as the majority of the beers have been excellent.

1. Madness Brewing Company "Absolutely" finest pale ale (4.2) - The Victoria Comet: Newcastle
2. Ruddles Best (3.7) - The Rohan Kanhai (Wetherspoons): Ashington
3. Big Lamp Brewers Prince Bishop Ale (4.8) - The Free House (Wetherspoons): Wallsend
4. Allendale Brewery Wagtail English Bitter (3.8) - The Free House (Wetherspoons): Wallsend
5. Black Paw Brewery Polar Paw (4.4) - The Rohan Kanhai (Wetherspoons): Ashington (almost tasted off)
6. Sharp's Brewery Doom Bar (4.0) - The Rohan Kanhai (Wetherspoons): Ashington (uninspiring - not convinced it was a Doom Bar)
7. Allendale Brewery Wolf Strong Ruby Ale (5.5) - The Free House (Wetherspoons): Wallsend (a bit too sweet)
8. Hadrian Border Brewery Grainger Ale (4.6) - The Free House (Wetherspoons): Wallsend (adequate just)
9. Wylam Bitter (3.8) - The Cluny: Newcastle
10. Greene King Abbot Ale (5.0) - The Free House (Wetherspoons): Wallsend
11. Allendale Brewery Wagtail English Bitter (3.8) - The Free House (Wetherspoons): Wallsend
12. Courage Directors Superior Ale (4.8) - The Old Ship Inn: Bridlington
13. Wold Top Yorkshire Brewery Wold Gold Blonde Beer (4.8)- Manor Court: Carnaby (Bridlington)
14. Wold Top Yorkshire Brewery Golden Summer (4.4)- Manor Court: Carnaby (Bridlington)
15. Guinness* - The Hare and Hound, Croydon
16. Guinness* - The Fiddler's Elbow, Camden
17. Sharp's Brewery Wolf Rock Exceptional Red IPA* (4.5) - The Asylum, Chelmsford
18. Jennings Cumberland Deep Golden Ale (4.0) - The Minories, Tower Hill, London
19. Adnams Broadside (4.7) - The Minories, Tower Hill, London
20. Westerham Brewing Co. British Bulldog (4.1) - The Walnut Tree (Wetherspoons), Leytonstone
21. Black Sheep Ale (4.4) (bottle) - The Luna, Leytonstone
22. Fuller's London Pride (4.7) (bottle) - The Luna, Leytonstone
23. Greene King London Glory (4.1) - The Shakespeare, Victoria, London
24. Skinners Brewery Betty Stogs Brazen Cornish Bitter (4.0) - The Warwick, Pimlico, London
25. Greene King Handcrafted IPA (3.6) - The Warwick, Pimlico, London

Luna exploration

Next we were out to Leytonstone on the train/underground for a Friday night show at a place called Luna. We weren't sure what to expect - were we back on the toilet circuit or would this one be something special? Most of the band had arrived before us and the looks on some of the faces didn't fill me with optimism. No drums for Dave, in fact no gear at all, no-one seemed to know anything... This was becoming the norm.
Of course, it all eventually got sorted out and we went to the local Wetherspoons for a beer and something to eat, relatively happy with the situation.
Showtime. It was a "pass the bucket around to pay the musicians" deal, which the staff did a few times, and the money was pretty good. Because there wasn't a stage as such, we were free to roam around a bit; something the horn players and myself took great pleasure in doing.
The Friday night crowd loved us, playing on street level obviously helps to bring people in, and the venue manager was really happy. So happy in fact, that he offered to pay our cab fare home if we'd play longer. So we did - no mad dash to the station required! We dragged a couple of covers out, and repeated a few songs from our first (of three) sets, and played until nearly midnight. Singalongs, beers, dancing and fun.

After the show, we hung around chatting with folks; the manager was particularly keen to talk about how he'd enjoyed the show. He was a great bloke. Not only did he pay for the cabs home, he topped up the bucket with some of his own cash.

The drive home was pretty easy and we (once again) stayed up for a while, celebrating our continuing adventures.
The remainder of our London stay involved the usual things: catching up with friends, enjoying a few beers, window shopping in Carnaby Street and its environs, wandering along the Thames, drinking coffee at Bar Italia in Soho and generally just being a tourist. On Sunday we watched and listened to my friend Pete as he provided the piano soundtrack for a Charlie Chaplin short film. Once Pete had finished his shift the three of us visited Gordon's Wine Bar, reputed to be the oldest in London. Then it was on to the India Club for a feast.
Frankie says Relax!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Chelmsford 123

Our fourth show was out at Chelmsford and we'd hired a couple of cars to get the band out there. The roads were busy, we were totally reliant on the sat nav, and it was drizzling. I was a little apprehensive.
The outward journey took two and a half hours; 50% of that time was spent stuck in slow moving traffic. Oh well, at least we had time for a nice chat...
The gig was in a small venue called The Asylum and it was built into a railway viaduct. The folks who ran the place seemed very pleasant and greeted us on arrival with a free pint.
It was a decent enough venue although it was pretty small. Unfortunately it was upstairs and not particularly easy to spot. And it was a very warm room.
We went out to have a look at the town but there didn't seem to be that much to see where we were. A few of us had pizza for tea. Some of the others had what only could be described as a heart attack on a plate...

We were supposed to be the headline act but, with a long journey home expected, we asked the local support band if they minded going on last. They didn't.
Professionals to a fault, we put on another no-holds-barred show, much to the delight of the modest audience (basically the other band and a few locals). I sweated right through my shirt, it was boiling on stage. We all worked hard to shine like diamonds.
After the show we watched the other band put on a decent show for a while, but decided that we ought to make the long journey home before the night got too late.
I was relieved to get back to Croydon, a much quicker trip, and we spent a few hours relaxing and reflecting. Guitarist Peter and I stayed up into the early morning, drinking wine and giggling away like 12-year-olds.
And I got an Asylum t-shirt!

London Calling

London. The capital. Occasionally swinging. Full of history, expensive beer, tourists, and tat. And quite a bit different to both Wallsend and Bridlington.
Another share house; a bit more nicely appointed than the last, and the 12-person touring party was doing pretty well managing a dozen different approaches to cooking, eating, sleeping, rising, washing etc.
We played three shows in London; two were fantastic and one was perhaps a little low-key, but an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
Our first gig was at the Fiddler's Elbow in Camden Town. This is a great London venue and has hosted many great acts over the years. We caught the overground and underground out to Chalk Farm (changing at Balham) to get to the gig; an adventure in itself. The venue was empty when we got there but that wasn't surprising as it was barely 5.00. A few of us had friends coming along so by the time we started, the place was pretty busy, with PlanB fans everywhere.

Earlier in the day, our trombonist, Patrick, discovered that he'd left his instrument on the train the previous evening. Luckily for PlanB, long-time friends of the band, Sandra and Big Jim Paterson (Dexys) were able to not only come to the show, but lend Patrick a trombone for the duration of the tour. Brilliant, lovely people...
It turned out that the other three local bands had very few folks come to see them, and we had pulled the bulk of the crowd; not bad seeing as we'd come from the other side of the planet. Thus, we got paid while the others may have missed out. The Fiddler's Elbow is one of those classic venues that you hear about but have no idea how small they are until you get there, a bit like the Hope & Anchor back in the early 1980s.

The gig went well; I sensed that we were hitting our straps. Not bad for the third date of the tour. The punters were into it; we put on a solid show, and most would have liked us to play on. But, we were part of a strict running order, and we had to stop after our allocated set length.
The only slight dampener was that, in order to make our trains home all the way to Waddon, we had to leave immediately after the gig. Even then, it was a bit of a madcap Hard Day's Night-style dash to the station. But we made it, and in some style. We were on a high all the way home, and well into the small hours.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

In between the planned musical adventures in Wallsend and London, we departed from band activities to spend a couple of days with relatives in the lovely town of Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast.
We were still getting into the overall groove of the tour, and I felt that I was still chasing the game a little in terms of personal organisation, but it was an easygoing time. Walks along the beachfront, local pubs, a bit of shopping here and there, and catching up with family. Donkey rides, a penny a glass...

Bridlington, like most seaside towns, is always a little more cheery when the sun is shining, and I am happy to report that the weather was with us throughout our visit. The place we stayed was lovely; it was our second time there and probably won't be our last. Sue and Terry are great hosts and The Malvern is a fab place to stay.

OK, so that's our mini-break done. Time to get back into rock 'n' roll mode.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Northern Soul.

After a couple of days spent locked in intensive rehearsals, and also including a characteristically chaotic session on the crazy Mr Scurf's Koast Train FM radio show, PlanB's first performance of the tour took place at The Cluny in Newcastle.
The gig was opened by local hero and Lindisfarne legend, Steve Daggett. Not a bad support act! It was just him and his guitar (with a little bit of harmonica and stompbox), and he was great. We got to chat afterwards and, apart from liking his music a great deal, I was also taken by the pint holder he had attached to his mic stand. He told me where I might get one. He also gave me a copy of his album; I can't wait to listen to it.
The other band was pretty groovy too: The Pat McMahon Trio. Good lads playing good music; a kind of late-sixties electric blues vibe.
Our turn came and we were introduced to the modest crowd by long-time friend and supporter of the band, Mr Scurf.
The gig was a belter. Our first performance of the tour and we pretty much nailed it. The biggest challenge was not clattering into each other on the smallish stage. The punters were into the music, and so were we. Like most good gigs, the time flew. We'd been working towards it all day and it passed by in a flash. Afterwards, we caught up with friends old and new, and had a beer and a chat.
Back at the house, the merriment continued into the small hours.

On Saturday, we were booked to play a 5.30 spot at the Woodhorn Lane Music Festival, at the home of Ashington CFC (Bobby and Jackie Charlton's club). We caught a couple of big cabs to take us there and we arrived around lunchtime. Some of the bands were hella-loud and we wondered how we'd go down with the increasingly inebriated crowd. No problem. We just did our thing and they loved us. Women appeared on stage and started dancing, my tambourine took various excursions through the crowd, and Mr Scurf toasted his way through 'What's On Your Mind?' with north-eastern aplomb. It was lovely chaos. At one point I yelled out "Toon Army!", much to the merriment (and approval) of the audience. Gan crackers, all of us!
A little lad called Callum had befriended me along the way, ever since Peter, Dave and I enjoyed a lunchtime kickabout with a spare ball we found. He wanted something to remember his day so I got all the band to sign a setlist for him. By the end of the show he'd buggered off. Callum, if you are out there, I have a memento for you...
We hung around after our show for a while, once again catching up with folks.
Another good day, and another good show. Definitely worthy of another long celebration back at the house.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Somewhere between Heaven and Earth

It's been three years since I've been on a plane, so this feels like an almost new experience. I'll soon be back in England, half a world away. Touring with the band, catching up with friends and family, and devouring all that The Old Dart has to offer.
It's a longer trip than usual, and there's so much to pack in. Gigs in Scotland and Wales in addition to England, a mixture of festivals and venues. Walking coast-to-coast along the path of Hadrian's Wall will be something special, and I always treasure my time in Belper. Let's have it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

So, I joined a band...

I haven't played in a serious band since 1989. My experience throughout the course of that year, as a member of a group that made pretty good music but were ill-matched as people, was enough to kill off any desire I had to do any more work in that kind of environment. Since then, the only time I've been in bands is at the occasional party...
I have played in loads of duos over the years and I have found that to be quite an agreeable pastime, but anything involving more than two, in terms of membership, has been less than palatable.

So, when I was approached last year to join a band as lead singer, I had some thinking to do...

PlanB was formed in the early 80s after Dexys-inspired soul outfit Del Webb Explosion split. The new band enjoyed some good times for a couple of years, playing some decent shows and releasing a few singles, before folding in early 1986. As is common these days, after a short 23-year break, four of the original members thought 2009 would be the right time to get back together and reform the band. Since then, the eight-piece, brass-infused PlanB has enjoyed a few tours of South-East Asia and China, and has also released an album.
It seemed to me that the PlanB job offered me things I wasn't doing enough of as a solo artist: touring, making film clips, recording... Plus, I thought it might be good to play with other people again.

My first rehearsal with the band was 21 July 2015. I've been with the band now for around 10 months and we've rehearsed weekly, just about completed the recording of a new album, made a film clip and started work on another. The biggest news is that we are off for a tour of England in July, comprising five festival performances and a bunch of pub shows. Everything appears to be moving in the right direction, and we all seem to be getting along.

Last week we played at The Governor Hindmarsh, the first show with the current line up, and the first PlanB Adelaide show for more than 30 years. I'm very pleased to report that it went extremely well. Good sound, good-sized crowd, good vibes.

Off we go!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Laura and her friends...

Gigs have been coming thick and fast for a few years now, but I never take them for granted. You never know when the well will run dry. My motto is, wherever possible, "never say no to a show".
One of my favourite events is the Laura Folk Fair. As mentioned previously, I'd passed through the delightful place a few times on my mountain bike, and always thought it was an attractive place.
This year was my second visit to the Folk Fair, after taking my bow in 2015. It was a similar deal for the 2016 fair: five shows, spread across the weekend.
We decided to make the trip a little more of an adventure by travelling up to Melrose first. Another lovely place. I organised a gig at the Mt Remarkable Hotel, and had a great time entertaining a few of the locals on the Thursday night. It was also nice to do a bit of walking around Mt Remarkable itself the next morning. And enjoy a pub lunch.

We stayed in a big old house in Laura, and had a lovely time wandering around and getting into the spirit of things.
I played shows on both stages, kicking off with a two-hour show on the main stage late morning-early afternoon on Saturday. Given the relatively early hour and the duration, it was a fair effort but I enjoyed the vibe immensely. I caught up with the guys from Dirty Frank, who were up there on the Saturday, and watched The BordererS do their thing. The Saturday night fireworks were a hoot.

I had three shows on the Sunday, so I was pretty much on stage all afternoon. Another decent workload, but that's what I was there for. Folks seemed to dig my originals, which is always a good thing, and most of my sets were built around my songs.
Over the course of the weekend, I sold a few CDs, bought a bottle of commemorative port to put in the music room, and made some new friends.

All up, we had a great few days away. I hope to repeat the adventure, most likely in 2017.