Archive for the ‘Drinking’ Category

Wickerman Festival – Dundrennan (25-26 July 2014)

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Despite all my best intentions to keep this thing up to date this year, I have failed to do so. However, for my own benefit, I’m adding a placeholder-type post.

VERDICT: I go back to Wickerman this year. Hooray! It was awesome again. Hooray!!


Written by Tony Kiernan

28 July 2014 at 11:16 am

Posted in Drinking, Festival, Gigs, Music

Thanksgiving at the Union Tavern

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In the middle of last week, the sad news came through that the Catford Bridge Tavern had closed it’s doors and returned it’s keys to it’s owners. Barely a week goes by without there being some story about x number of pubs a week closing. And, while there may be a panic in the industry, it seems more that the market has changed and those that innovate and can change to meet demands will out. Were it not always thus? The CBT, did not close due to plummeting sales and empty tills, but was the victim of a moneygrabbing landlord (in the property sense, not the Al Murray one) looking for a quick buck*.

While the vertical drinking establishments and Punch carveries may be struggling, a new breed of independent pubs are opening. Pubs where the focus is on quality rather than quantity. And, they seem to be thriving. It’s a new business model. Destination pubs rather than just the local. I’m reminded of record labels itching about falling sales, while releasing less titles and ignoring the new technology that is not going to go away. Some (admittedly small) real ale brewers are seeing the possibilities and embracing the change (stand tall Brodies).

So, say what you like about Fuller’s, and god knows I have – boom-tsch! – they have an interesting place in this new drink market. If the Craft Beer Revolution(© some cocknocker) is driving these changes, it is generally accepted that their ESB was a spur for small american brewers to try to make something a little bit more interesting. So, a big influence if not ally a player. Yet, despite the occasional good pub (hello The Ship, on Wardour Street – I stick to the cider), they are almost archetypal in their old-fashioned unchanging tied-pub format. They seem strangely above criticism too, I’m told by a few proper beer writers this is because they throw the best junkets and no-one wants to be excluded from the invite list.**

But, now we have the Union Tavern (past Westbourne Park just under the Westway) up the wrong end of Notting Hill. A it is these days, word had passed own through the digital grapevine that a pub, not close but close enough to my work, was getting a very nice reputation. For as hipster as it may seem round them parts ,you’re still lucky to find somewhere with a couple of bottles of Sierra Nevada in the fridge. The Union Tavern does not disappoint. A set of well conditioned casks showcase some fine London ales, a couple of ciders and some Fuller’s ones. Keg taps carry offerings from some of the best brewers in the uk, with an understandable London slant (again, when this means two Kernel beers on, I say slant more). It’s the usual junkshop chic, but done with a proper eye. The place is comfortable and cosy where it needs to be. But, big (stripped, of course) tables mean a decent sized party can eat in comfort. (Amazing how few places consider that.) And, what food they could eat, a small menu offers fantastic American-styled offerings. It’s all whiskey glazed ribs, brisket sandwiches and the chefs secret baked beans recipe. Add to that friendly, informed staff and we’re rocking. Top it with a pub quiz matched with £5 burger night.

The agendaOne of the regular events they have is We Need To Talk About Beer pretty self explanatory. Following a tweet about not enjoying the landlords beer (among man I did) one night I found myself crowbarred into the remaining empty place on the Thanksgiving night celebration of american beers.

Writers Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham in addition to writing books on pretty much everything quaffable, have made the book signing into an art form as Thinking Drinkers. Tonight, they are our hosts, drawing heavily on their book Good Beer Guide West Coast USA, and what’s in the cupboard here.

[See photo for full beer listing ==>] I was familiar with most of the beweries lined up for the tasting, if not the beers.  Brooklyn‘s special Local beers have never really sparked my interest enough for me to fork out for them.  TBH, I’ve been probably more underwhelmed by this brewery than any other.  Even sat at that table in Katz’s Deli I could only muster a ‘meh’ for the ale specially brewed for them.  So, their special Belgian style beers are probably as far from something I’d want to try as you can get.  Still underwhelmed.  If pushed, I’d sat the No 2 had more substance than the No 1.  (Oh, yes I did!)  I have drank the excellent Flying Dog‘s Kujo plenty of times, but never has it been as good as tonight.  Wracking my brains, I come to the conclusion that it’s the first time I’ve had it bottled.  Possibly a bit older than usual too.  All I know is it’s a fantastic coffee stout, as style very easy to make a dog’s dinner of (ok, that I apologise for).

There is food laid on; smoked turkey (amazing) with thanksgiving wings and stuffing balls, served with cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, and sweet potato with marshmallow.  The latter, nowhere near as appalling as you would imagine, but something I have no intention of ever eating again.

New beer and brewery to me was the final Unita Brewing XVI. Interesting because, well, it’s from Utah which is home to good friends of mine, and largely Mormon.  Again, we’ve got them sneaky yanks taking our tired old heritage ales and returning them back to us bigger an better.  This time the barley wine.  I’s good enough to get me thinking “If I could only drink one style of beer for the rest of my days…”

And, all in a Fuller’s pub.  I hope this is an experiment.  Testing the waters.  Should they be giving their bar managers the discretion and freedom to do things like this (the whole place, not just the excellent event).  Yes, yes, and again yes

*As far as I can make out, the council listened to the complaints and put a block on the change of purpose. The CBT folk say this is very much not over. Fingers crossed.

**I do, of course, appreciate the irony in making that allegation

Written by Tony Kiernan

25 November 2012 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Beer, Drinking, Food, London

Catford Bridge Tavern

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I’m fooling no-one with my claims to some sort of authenticity living in the heart of Lewisham. It may have only been this century that I started coming to London on a regular basis, but even in this much neglected corner of the south-east, can I see the creeping hand of gentrification. Not only am I living right on a visible crest of it, I’m very probably one of the indicators too.

On as Saturday, it’s just as easy for me to take a walk up the ‘proper’ market for sacksful of cheap veg as it is to go get some brunch at Brockley Market in the other direction. And, if I’m honest, that really suits me.

Pubs round here can be a bit hairy. While I love that my local is populated by old Jamaican guys in pork-pie hats, drinking Guinness, playing poker and getting locked in until I’m leaving for work; it’s not really somewhere I frequent. Mostly this is down to the poor beer selection. There is, of course, a Wetherspoons but it’s one of those ones; fine for a passing pint (always has Old Rosie) but not really a destination. There’s a couple of places that carry premium lager and the occasional decent guest ale. At least they’re trying.

So, thank the Lord for Antic, more a pub collective than chain. Any interesting pub, slightly off the obvious beaten track, in south London (and increasingly elsewhere) has about a 75% chance of being affiliated to them. I’m pleased to have three within what I could call (but would rather not) staggering distance from the flat. First, furthest and foremost of these is The Catford Bridge Tavern.

Nestled between the Catford stations (bridge and plain old – it confused me), the CBT is big traditional English pub straight out of central casting, all beams and red brick. Al that’s missing is the thatch, really. Inside its junk shop chic, and deceptively cosy. It uses multiple rooms to provide a ‘proper’ bar, lounge area and larger surprisingly bright and airy dining space. Which is a good thing, as the food is excellent. Or, let me be more specific, the starters are excellent. TBH, every time I’ve eaten there we’ve ended up grabbing a bunch of smaller plates (cod cheeks, Spanish cured meats platter – with accompanying sherry, potted duck/crab, and so on) and sharing them. And, as yet, not one of them has been duff. I’m willing to do the research to find out though. Yup, I’ll take one for the team.

But, of course, most importantly, the beer is excellent. A good mix of cask and ciders, excellent local ales and the occasional special from further afield. Excellent selection of bottles and some hipper kegs. There’s a near permanent Kernel tap. What more do you need know? Must check out their wine list some day.

But, all is not well. The owners of the building the CBT is in have applied for planning permission to change the building to a supermarket. Like the one next door. To put this in some sort of perspective, Google maps reckons it is 2 miles from my gaff (as we Londoners call our pied-à-terre) to the bar. Over that distance, I can think of 6 variations on major chainstores. Not even considering the independent traders. Needless to say, the pub has started a campaign. If you live in the borough of Lewisham, please take a look, and take 10 minutes to contact your councilor.

CBT, has always been a welcoming place for me. I’m looking forward to long winter nights gathered round the fire in there. With the regularly quoted stats of x number of pubs closing a week, lets not force those that want to keep trading to become another statistic. Or, worse, another bloody Tesco Metro.

Written by Tony Kiernan

12 November 2012 at 8:33 pm

What I did on my holidays, a post-script

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So, the second leg* of the Slim Cessna’s Auto Club 2011 tour of Europe came around. None of the dates were even slightly doable for me. Except the Saturday in Haarlem. Even with the time booked off work it was not financially sensible/practical. Didn’t look like it was going to happen, and I was cursing KLM to anyone willing to listen.

However, if Half Man Half Biscuit happen to announce they’re playing London the night before…suddenly the transport is from there and much more doable. Get in there!!!

So, chastened by my feeble recollection of the beers from the first leg, I took to this one determined to document each and every one for the beer-geeks among you. And, I did. however, when doing a bit of house cleaning on the iPhone at the weekend there I deleted it. I’ve spent the last two hours trying to find out it it was salvageable. It wasn’t. Sorry.

So, the train from Glasgow: Trio of Brew Dog‘s.

  • Isle of Arran Paradox; so pleased to find a store supplying this. However, it kinda lacks what it used to have. It’s like the casks it’s matured in have been used beyond their worth. Resulting in a thinner less richly satisfying beer. Oh, it’s still very good but it cannot stand up to the likes of the Dark Island (currently popping up in pubs a fair bit) any more.
  • Bitch, Please. The Islay casks make this very unfriendly. I had it flagged as more of a curate’s egg than a decent addition to the canon. But, I really enjoyed this one. Typical I develop a taste for it just as I’m finished the ones I bought. Still not for everyone.
  • Tokyo*. I really didn’t need this did I? Beautiful black cranberried beastie that she is.

London! The Bree Louise! Finally Camden Inner City Green, finally! Ah, I can see why the CAMRA types love this. A good, tasty, golden ale. Nothing too amazing. Pie and Old Rosie, much more like it.

The Euston Tap! Quickly becoming a reason to try and always head down by train. We have a few drinks here. But, of most note, is the Flying Dog Dog Schwartz. I’m becoming fascinated with this smokey, seaweed-y brew. When it’s really good it smells like wet dog. Seriously, it’s good.

To Shepherd’s Bush Empire, site of some very fond musical memories for me. HMHB are playing their little hearts out. They are as tight as ever. Unfortunately, out front all we are getting is a wall of mush. I try standing in various bits of the room. Still rubbish. I even fight my way through the throng of sweaty old men to see if you can get it any better from the monitors right up the front. I stand at the sound desk. STILL atrocious. I try to ‘engage’ the soundman in a discussion of this fact.

After being thrown out, I meet my compatriot who has already left because the sound was so bad. So, it’s not just me. And, I’m not just drunk. Back to Euston, Hardcore, Dog Schwarz, we need to get up early tomorrow. So, pizza and a nightcap bottle of Abstrakt 06. Alright, if the most underwhelming of the series so far. Much better on keg than from the bottle, but then, you are supposed to lay it down for a year or so.

Breakfast of championsCrack of dawn awake. First time on the Eurostar. We’ll get on, get settled and catch up with some zzzzzs. But, the train’s delayed. Meaning we stand about a bit. Meaning we’ve woken up a bit. It’s not too early to crack the beer, is it…

Needing to replenish stocks at Brussel-zuid we hit some mini-mart and grab some beers. I wrote them down. All I can tell you is one was cherry and halal. Yes, I know that means it had no alcohol. I wasn’t really thinking about it too straight. It was weird. The others, quite nice.

There’s more train, the hotel in a town that only exists as an industrial estate on the edge of Schipol, a bus, and Haarlem. Pretty little town. Good balance of it’s tradition and people actually living and working in the place. After getting sliughtly lost we find ourselves at , the temple to Jopen beer
Jopenkerk. We have something that might be the Hoppenbier. It’s very good.

We try to have something else ‘hoppy’ and end up with a wheat beer. Nope. Someone needs to teach me what makes a good wheat beer. The fruity stuff on Lessines (a lambic?) last year is about as close as I’ve got. And, the barman at the Paradiso explained it should have lemon mashed in the bottom of it. If someone wants to sit me down with several bottles and learn me about it, I’m game.

We try their IPA. It’s alright, if a bit too ‘belgian’. But, time to head to the very beautiful town square and meet up with out man on the ground in the Netherlands. There’s whisky, beer, chat, more beer, some other things…good times.

To the gig: It’s euphoric. Well, I am. Perhaps a little too euphoric. I keep wanting to throw myself to my knees, arms aloft. But (probably remembering how long I limped for after the last time) I manage to restrain myself. Just. Must be getting older and wiser. Or one of them, anyway.

There’s a young lad of, maybe, 10/12 there. He is having the time of his life. I wish I’d been exposed to music like this at such an age. Maybe then… Actually, bollocks to that, at that age I knew I would be wasting too much of my time with the devils music. I just wouldn’t be seeing it live for a while. Different times, there weren’t any all ages (or even 14+) gigs back then. Then he gets to join the band on stage and I’m jealous all over again, but for me in the here and now. His mum was well hot too…

There’s been a plan to return to Amsterdam to try the pub we missed last time ‘t Arendsnest. High on the euphoria (yes, that’s it) we decide to carry out this plan. We have ‘something hoppy’ and then retreat into the night. And hour or so arguing with taxi drivers and we are back at the hotel.

TOO AMERICAN TOO LOUD!Next day we decide to head straight to Brussels as early as possible. This gives me the chance to have astroll around one of those places I’d liked on a previous flying visit. It still seems ace. I must definitely come back. Then we find the Delerium Cafe, a must for all beer lovers in the city. We have, of course, a Tremens. Then a strange pink (Grapefruit flavour) thing with a killer dog on the glass. And a beer I remember as Ader Red Ale. I cannot find anything online to suggest this should be the case. It’s a powerful malty beast. Maybe the maltiest beer I’ve ever drank. I like. And, finishing with some Belgian fries for the walk to the station, I am sad to be leaving Brussels. The tour of Belgium already framing itself in my mind.

Nightmare getting on the train thanks to the UK border at that end. There’s a Grimbergen Tripel for the journey. Don’t think I see any. I doze a bit. I think. I definitely like this chunneling.

Oh, look. The sleeper leaves from Euston. Whatever can we do round here fora few hours… Goose island, Hardcore, more Dog Schwarz (really odd, I like it a lot).

Note to self: NEVER. EVER. Never, ever, get the overnight train straight up when you’ve got work in the morning. You’re too old for it. You can’t handle it any more.

*Seems there’s a third leg. They will be back Aug/Sep. In fact the very week I had planned to go to New York. A trip I had postponed from Easter because they were coming over. I hummed and hawed. I had promised the band a UK gig next time they were over. But, the New York trip won out.

PS on Thursday 20th June 2011, Half Man Half Biscuit played the Liquid Room, Edinburgh. The sound was fine, the band magnificent, and the lightshow was excellent.

Written by Tony Kiernan

11 July 2011 at 9:47 pm

What I did on my holidays…

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I was going to say it all started with Rich Hall, but if I’m honest it was an hour or so earlier in the beautiful bosom of Old Rosie. Man, I love myself a pint of that sweet elixir. And, I wish Wetherspoon’s would start carrying it as standard kit again. Even better two or three, with a burger (I recommend getting the veggie on topped with cheese and bacon – seriously good). Anyhow it definitely started the ball rolling on what has been a hella hectic couple of weeks.

(This blog post is proving to be quite long. At the time of this interjection, I’ve hit 4000 words for what should be the shortest of the three chunks I could split it into. I did think about splitting it to a few posts, but for some reason it seemed wrong. But if I was going to I’ds probably have subtitled those Norway, The Lowlands and Spain. Do you see what I did there?)

What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts…?*

So, fed, watered and a touch jolly we headed over to The Garage. Despite it having finished a month earlier, this gig is under the auspices of the Glasgow Comedy Festival. Hall, Moe Szyslak who’s let herself go, is always worth seeing. If the name means nothing to you, you will recognise him from most panel shows. TBH, he’s the guy that always looks least likely to ever get invited back. I suspect that commissioning editors have such regard for him that will never be the case. No matter how little bang/buck he gives compared to the young/angry comedians.

Tonight, he takes to the stage, frankly, a darned sight more lubricated than I’ve seen him previously. tHis doesn’t seem to mnatter a jot as he gives us his avuncular grumpy old bugger schtick. It just means that he seems to crack himself up a lot more, too. This will be my fourth or fifth time seeing him and he’s now on the ‘must go’ list eny time he passes through. If you don’t trust me, based on those surreal scowling panel appearances, check out Things Snowball, if only for his opinions on Aberdeen. Or the Neil Diamond story. Or the guy with a crow bar through his head. Or…

Note to self: Pick up Magnificent Bastards

And, we managed to continue to refresh ourselves throughout the gig. A three man pincer approach seems to work better than the usual two-header for maximising crap booze intake at a comedy gig here; for future reference. And, then a few more ill-advised back across the road in the chain. Big bank holiday weekend, quiz on. It was insane in there. But, we cope. Well, most of us did. (How did I manage to acquire so many lightweight friends?) it’s then time for me to go catch the sleeper to London. (Have I ever told you that story? You must remind me sometime.)

I’m not a gambling man, but…

See, a friend is having a birthday garden party in Cambridge, with a heavy not the wedding slant to it. I booked the train earlier in the week, looking forward to seeing all in attendance. But, if I’m honest, I kinda knew that what happened next was gonna.

I boarded the sleeper in the only fashion suitable to do so: Rather drunk and hellbent on finishing the job. Having just been paid, I cavalierly purchased a horrendously priced and deeply unnecessary bottle of wine from the buffet car. The poor lady sat next to me (off to see the grand-kids, not the weeding; despite the number of times I asked if that’s what she was down for), god knows, she tried to find another seat. Being, now, a slightly embarrassed owner of and iPhone, I now feel more like I take the internet everywhere with me (as opposed to before when I just didn’t feel like it, but still did). As I blasted Slim Cessna’s Auto Club‘s sublime new album Unentitled repeatedly, I got to thinking about not seeing them nearly a year to the day previously in Copenhagen. They would have just packed up the rescheduled gig. Man, I loved the city and it was such a pisser the gig this time was a Thursday, not long after I started my new job. It just wasn’t doable. Which, took my mind to Bergenfest. They would be there on Saturday night. And The Handsome Family would be there, what was now, tonight.

So, to the trusty Skyscanner and a wager to myself; if I can get a flight to Bergen for no more than £150, I’m going!. It was £159. I went anyway.

Was it not dead expensive?

Oh, yes. Dear god, yes. But first… I managed to get a pretty fine hotel (which also happened to be where the festival bar was) for less than you’d expect most of the regular chains. The weather was looking good, all was well. Traveling quite a bit, people are always asking you was the place not really expensive. TBH, the fact that I seldom spend more than a couple of days in these places tends to dissipate the effect. Yes, the €5 pint exists in Dublin and would be a bargain in Paris. But, y’know, London’s not much off. And, if you want a decent beer… So, last year in Denmark we could spend £6 on a bottle of excellent beer at the Jernbanecafeen and not mind (well, not enough to not spend it, it was that or Carlsberg). But, nothing, nothing prepared me for Norway.

My hotel room, I could get used to thisTouched down in Bergen to beautiful weather. The bus ride from the airport was (none too expensive and) fascinating we bridged fjords and drove for longer than seemed right through tunnels under mountains. (Cursing Orange all the way. “Roaming is enabled on your phone” my arse.) But, I began to feel increasingly trepidatious as the lovely meandering was taking us too close to the opening of the festival and not close enough to the town for my liking.

We finally hit the hotel with 30 minutes to the Sparkes’. I check in, belt up the stairs dump my bag and back down to the lobby to join the unmoving queue to get into the festenbar. Jesus, please no. I haven’t come this far to have to crane my neck and cock my ear in the general direction of the band whilst trying to wheesht Scandinavians. Have I?

There they are. They’re on stage. They’re singing So Much Wine. I’m going to cry. Then the guy that introduced them, thanks them and they leave the stage. Seriously? One song?!?! Ah, no. It seems this is the equivalent of the Radio Cafe or something on the go. They’ve just had the band on as one of the highlights of the festival. The local radio fans start filing out, we start filing in. I say filing, chiseling might be a bit more accurate in may case. I was not not getting into that room. And, I didn’t not.

Smashing, like windaes…

Better? Probably not #bergenfestIf you are a fan of beautiful ludicrous songwriting and do not know The Handsome Family, shame on you. If you’re a fan of sparse haunting traditional ballads, a fan of good music…

Once was the time they swung past at least twice a year. It was great. Unfortunately, now their actually making a living and getting popular, they might visit the UK once a year if we’re lucky. And, it’s quite likely you’ll need to travel to see them. That said, they did play Glasgow last time. But, this feels like too long, and they are a sight for sore eyes, and cotton buds for hungry ears (or something).

Brett had his old Gibson with him. Which usually lends itself to a more rocky feel to the shows. But, those seem to be more when they have the stunt drummer and fiddle player in place, neither of whom are here tonight. Which is one of the things I love about seeing this band; the ever changing line-ups and instrumentation means you see a different band each time. Rennie’s new mini-acoustic bass and the laid back rocking of electric Brett lends the performance an interesting groove.

If my life was as old as the moon
I’d still be jealous of the sun
If my life lasted only one day
I’d still be drunk by noon

There’s two new songs; one about a woman called Mary that smashed windows and another about the love-life of mud. The usual stuff. And, as ever, they make you look at one of their songs differently and convince you it was always their best and is your favourite. Tonight it’s Peace In The Valley Once Again. Stupendous, staggering and stunning. I’m so glad I made the trip.

I have one beer while the band are playing. It’s Ringnes the local cooking lager. For some ounces, not quite a pint but in that direction, I am charged what I work out to be around £7. Hey, it’s the hotel bar in a place that’s notoriously expensive. That seems, well not alright, but manageable.

Let’s got see what the rest of the town has to offer. I walk down a fantastic shopping plaza in the warm evening sun (I’m beginning to wonder if the sun will actually go down). I like this town. Then down to the old fish market, which is now a bunch of trendy pubs and restaurants. There are food stalls, around I try and grab some dinner. Very little left, I end up with an open sandwich; prawns, salmon, gravlax. It’s fantastic. It’s also about a tenner. Hey, I’m down he tourist trap. What do you expect? I wander round the rest of the Bryggen. It’s exactly like you expect this part of the world to be. I explore a little. I stop for a beer in The Scotsman Bar. Hmmm, the hotel is maybe not that expensive. I decide I like this town. Head back to the hotel to regroup and get planning.

Only band I’m really wanting to see tonight are The Jim Jones Revue. The band on before them is The Levellers. I think I’ll give them a miss, so decide to take a snooze. End of day two.

Things to do in Bergen…

The funicular. Should've walked back down thoughUp bright and early the next day, down to breakfast. I stuff myself with all manner of pickled fish and rye bread, then hit the cooked bit (mmmm, fried spuds in paprika), then try and force some muesli, yoghurt, fruit, coffee… If the breakfast is included I’m making sure I get my money’s worth, coz god knows I can’t out there. (One of the breakfast foods available is a cheese labelled as Norwegian Blue.)

I also get to strike up a conversation with Kurt Wagner. Well, the kinda small-talk you’d expect in a hotel breakfast scenario. I wish I knew more of the fold performing as I’m obviously sharing a hotel with many of them. In fact, Glen Matlock was on my flight over. As we were hanging about the departure lounge at Heathrow he seemed a little two engrossed in the wedding footage they were showing. A-booo!

Another beautiful day. I’ve been recommended the funicular. So head on out that way. It’s Saturday, and the town is jumping. Traffic is nearly at a standstill because the people just sprawl across the roads and they just have to wait. Plunge deep into another mountain and, wow, here’s the funicular station. Yes, I’ve checked, there is a bar up there. We reach the top and there’s just the usual general throng of day-trippers hanging about. I nosey about. It’s very nice, and the views are stunning. Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords, from that vantage point you can see why. It’s awesome, in the true sense of the word. Already suspecting I will never be back, I begin to pine for them a bit meself. I have another rubbish beer, usual price and sit myself down to just breath it all in.

I try to work out whether it’s possible/advisable to walk down. There are serious hikers heading in all directions. Two of which indicate the city centre but point 180° from each other. I decide to get out at one of the stations on the way down, maybe. With each and every billy-goat gruff style bridge of hikers that crosses us, I decide yes, I’m getting out. The train doesn’t stop until we reach the bottom. It must be smart ticketing. No-one has a ticket for on or off halfway, so don’t stop. I can’t say I’m not massively disappointed.

I do a little bit more wandering the streets, the back ones (of the touristy bit). Then decide it’s time for a beer. I go into the Irish pub. And, order a pint of Newcastle. 91 krone. 91. Let me try and break this down by telling you, I was working from a base whereby 80 was a tenner. When I get back to the hotel’s wifi I work it out exactly: By that day’s exchange rates that pint (just under) cost me £10.82. A PINT (under!). Jesus

Another thing I check when I’m back to the wireless is the average Norwegian pay. I find a statistic that gives the average pay for the lowest paid 10% of the population to be a good £3/400 above what I currently earn. And, I’m not on paupers crumbs (nor am I on the next tax bracket, though). Apparently this is all down to them keeping their oil nationalised. (Well, so says he web.) Heed that lesson rebellious Scots!

I curse myself for not having bought a bottle of whisky at the Duty Free. So, decide to go look for an off sales. I wander high and low, and see some interesting parts of town I probably wouldn’t have. But, the best I can find is some Kopparberg. Then I remember this is one of those places where the government controls the booze shops. All well an good if I could find one. Back to the hotel, where I discover the cheapest beer I see all weekend. Yup, the minibar. We are not in Kansas any more.

Back to the music…

There’s a plan of action and I head out to put it into action. First up, I’m going to catch Imelda May. Had seen hear a few months back in Glasgow and it was great fun. Didn’t tip over into the realm of greatness as I thought it might, but was entertaining enough for me to be quite keen to catch her again. On the way to the venue I stick me head into another where an alt-country duo are supposed to be playing. There’s been a change in the line-up and I think I’ve blanked out what was going on in there in their place, but I do remember beating a hasty retreat. There’s too long until Ms May, so, in order to avoid spending money, I return to the hotel. More from the minibar and the JP2 is still getting beatified on BBC worldwide, back to the rocking!

By this time the venue where she is playing has become one-in-one-out. I half-heartedly join the end of the queue. Start counting. This show overlaps with the next I want to catch. Do I wait here or go back over the road and make sre I don’t miss any of Lloyd Cole? I decide I’m not ready to be…disappointed, so head back to the Festivalbaren.

We could’ve had a young man to run on and tune the quitars for us, but we would have had to have fed him too and I fear that might have broke us here. I like your town, Bergen. It is very charming. It is also very expensive. More expensive than Manhattan

Flanked by two unnecessary, but unobtrusive guitarists Mr Grumpy Commotion himself picks and strums through what amounts to a greatest hits set. You can tell he hates it. But, the near throwaway treatment of some of the finest pop songs ever lends the performance a certain charm. The reaction of the crowd makes me wonder if this is his first time here. A bit of a look round suggests, yes, at least first since this lot were born. The show is stuffed with young-uns, swooning and gasping at every familiar note. The whoop and cheer at the start of just about everything. Maybe he’s finally getting the appreciation he deserves. Which is strange because I don’t think I know anyone with no time for Cole (comments below, please. Ya bunch of contrarian bastards).

I note how the three of them kinda fill the stage and begin to fear that the Auto Club just cannot be playing in this room.

The queue out the door (for a gig on the third floor) to see Kort, my breakfast companion Mr Wagner and the delightful Ms Cortney Tidwell. It’s not happening, and I’m not missing the main attraction (for me at least). My paranoia mounts and I go to the box office to double check they haven’t been sensibly moved to another venue. Apparently not. I take a stroll round the block, take in a Saturday night in Norway. Pretty much like a Saturday evening. Not even that dark, despite being nearly 11.

On returning to the hotel I find the band stood about outside their van. They look dazed. Apparently this twenty-minutes-to-stage arrival is the end of a 15 hour drive from the previous gig. I say something about the size of the stage and then instantly wish I hadn’t. They don’t need any more hassle right this minute. I take my leave and decide to get ensconced as best I can down the front of the Festivalbaren for their show. I put a bottle of wine on my room. £40. It’s shit.

This is how it’s always been…

Bergen has been ripped a new aperture #scaceuropa2011As mentioned before, this venue is the hotel bar. There are comfy chairs and tables laid out throughout. It’s lent itself wonderfully to stripped down and solo performances. There are six folk in the Auto Club. Even the smallest member insists on using a double-necked guitar (THE coolest double-necked guitar ever) just so he can use up more space. I’m not even sure this room can contain them, nevermind the stage. Maybe the long journey will mean a more restrained performance. Aye, RIGHT!!

We’re barely through the opening lines of opening song Cranston and joint-frontmen Slim and Munly have already clambered over the front few rows of tables and chair and are thrusting and singing into the bemused, confused and, frankly, a little scared, faces of the audience.

But, such is the Auto Club that they soon realise they are not here to intimidate. All they are doing is looking at the meager materials they have been passed (unchecked sound and a ‘odd’ venue) and turning them into a solid gold stadium-grade unforgettable experience of a lifetime. Every gig played with the fervor of the first, and if it’ll be the last. The audience mainly fall into two camps here: The casual festival goer checking out and unknown name; and, the group of punk kids, who not only have been waiting ages for this to happen, but had what they thought was a sure thing thwarted a whole year ago with the parental curfew of that damned volcano. But everyone is staring slack-jawed as, no matter what they were hoping, the band surpass it by a country mile.

They tear the room apart. I count three encores. “You’re last on tonight, just keep going!!!” I head to bed with a gaggle of the converted and them that came to be preached to fighting to get to the band, just to make it last that little bit longer.

I loves a bit of music, so I do. And, I love how it can be transcendent. It lifts the top of your head, drags your guts up throat your throat; but in a good way. For even such a torn-faced bastard as me, this band are a thing of such pure affirmation. Pure unadulterated happy. More please.
(I’ll get to a more detailed ‘review’ with one of the later sets)

So what now?

Lots of 'exotic'/kooky nueks and cranniesI awake still buzzing. But, there’s an assault on breakfast to be made. The flight’s not until late evening. I’ve got lots of time to kill, better fuel up. Then check out. I bump into Munly and have a way too frantic one-sided conversation with him. It strikes me I’ve not spoken to anyone else proper for a couple of days. I shamble off to got look at the galleries. Which, by Bergen rates, are not too expensive to get into. The surroung the lovely man-made lake just outside the hotel. It’s just I can’t work out which one to go into. The one with the Munch exhibition and two by painters I’m not fussed with? Or the one with two painters I’ve not heard of and Munch? Or the one with something I couldn’t work out, and Munch?

I decide to just sit by the water and listen to This American Life. It’s nice. After a good hour or so, I realise I may just sit there until it’s time for the bus. I must get up and move, do something. Just another ten minutes or so… I fish out my free map. I decide to investigate further the part of town I touched on the day before, the bit just on the cusp of gentrification. The builders are certainly in. I wander round the University. And beyond to strange converted docks that look like yuppie estates, but may just be estates. It’s hard to say here.

There’s a lot more hills down that way. By the time I get back towards the hotel (where the bus leaves from) I’m ready for a beer. In front of me I see a bar, Biskopen. The name rings a bell. Have I passed it several times? No, it’s coming from further back. What the hell, I need a beer let’s have one last of the interchangeable local lagers… I approach the bar and near fall to my knees. Yes, I spy the Brew Dog beers on the shelf. I’m home! Obviously I can, and do, drink those beers at home (a lot). But, I know I will find something local and tasty. I order a Nøgne Ø IPA. A brewery I’m familiar with, if not their take on this classic. I try not to Alex it, but it’s difficult. I think it was a very fine beer, but I could’ve been well biased by that point. I then, on the barman’s recommendation (welsh fella, really nice), move onto Ægir. Their IPA is unfiltered, and reminds me very much of American beers. Seems this is about right, as the owner of the brewery is an ex-pat yank. Then onto their excellent Sumbel Porter. Excellent. The barman is telling me he’s gong to London soon, are there any bars I’d recommend. I leave him with a list and some beers/breweries he should check out. We discuss the cost of stuff, life in Norway, how much I liked he place, but I’ll (probably) never be back.

3 beers, £24. And, it seems like a bargain. To the plane!

London, center of the universe….

I stop off to visit with friends in London on my way back. It’s good to see them. We try some of the akvavit I bought with my last krone (mainly because it was cheaper than a bottle of beer). It’s not so great. Next morning we make a leisurely journey to the train station. (The city is so much nicer without all the buffoons hoiking Union Flags about the place. The kept nodding at me in some sort of conspiratorial manner. I wanted to grab each and every one and scream into their stupid happy, hopefully faces that it was mere coincidence I happened to be in town at that point.) Stopping of at The Rake to indulge in their Cumbrian beer festival. I wish I could remember what we had, cos it was really good. Then off for my first visit to The Euston Tap. They have Tokyo* on draught! £5 1/3 pint. I’m just back from Norway: BARGAIN!!! I grab a six pack of Caldera‘s IPA. It’s not needed, I sleep most of the way home.

Gut ‘Dam!

It’s that month with all the bank holidays. There’s some work in there. Not a full week. This is good. And if it’s Friday, it must be the Netherlands.

Due to poor scheduling and a ludicrous pricing policy it works out cheaper for me to fly to Amsterdam and stay in the hotel for an extra night than to head out on the Saturday.

Let me take a moment here to talk about the hotel. To call Hotel Manofa a backpackers hostel with delusions of grandeur, would be an insult to some of the scummiest backpackers places I’ve ever stayed. The two slivers of bed they crammed into that eaves room would have barely suited two children never mind the two sturdy scots blokes staying there. Seriously, had they sold this as an Anne Frank themed room, maybe. But, you can gurantee I’d be yelling that we were in the attic had we had to spend more than the one night in there together. And, let’s not get on to he state of the toilets and showers. Just don’t do it.

I had visited the city for the first time (again) the year previous, for the last tour. And, although it was somewhat overshadowed by just how great an impression the Danish capital had made on us, we managed to get past the horrors of the red light district and get a bit of a feel for the place. I was looking forward to visiting again. And, after the music that brought me here both times, I was most looking forward to beer and ossenworst.
Beer nirvana! Bah-roo-oo!
This night I would be spending here alone, I had one destination in mind: Beer Temple!!! Wow. Billed as Amsterdam’s ‘American’ beer venue, this is – logically enough -whee you’ll find a plethora of fantastic craft beer from across Europe such as Mikkeller and Brew Dog. OK, it also had a wide range of fantastic brews from across the pond. The photograph there should give you some idea of the selection. I wandered around wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Seriously, I peruse and select in this place how I used to browse in record shops. I could spend the whole weekend here. And, were not so engrossed – and a little bit sozzled – I may have contemplated that that was quite sad.

I make a mental note to visit the sister bar Arendsnest, which boasts a similar panoply of beer, but DUTCH ONLY. It can’t all be Heineken. Can it?

I pick up some Belgian fries and take the long walk back to my cold cell through the red light district, musing on whatever happened to Quentin Tarantino. It’s horrible. I stop at the rank ‘english’ pub on the street that seems to be the main thoroughfare for the stag and hen parties to rut and vomit down… Oh, who am I kidding, yes, I am being completely snobby about this because, you know what, hat’s how I feel about such rank amateurism. (There seems to be more genuine punters here this time, too. I’m not certain what I feel about this. Part prude, part titillated, part internally debating the socio-political relevance of it all. I really am an arsehole.) Anyhoo, the pub, to photograph the band that are playing, purely because they were the same one last time I was here. I’m ‘seen off’ by the landlady (straight out of central casting) and a shaved ape on the door that the romantic in me has down as her son. One in Elfde Gebod, The 11th Commandment, then to bed!

It’s not ALL about the beer, though. Honest.

I set my alarm and promptly fall asleep again after it has gone off. I’m reawakened by my companion on this leg phoning me to find out where the hell the hotel is. (See, I do have some friends, it’s not all me trawling across the world alone. It just often seems like that…. *stares into the distance meaningfully*) Again, due to KLM‘s, frankly, no-use-to-anyone pricing and scheduling he has come across by ferry overnight. Which, thankfully, means he’s rested enough and up for getting out and about.

We wander up to the venue for tonight’s gig, just o make sure I’m still sure where it is. I am, kinda. It’s a little further than I thought and not exactly straight up the street I thought. But, we find it easy enough. Sadly, the pub across the canal that I had earmarked as first-of-the-day is shut. So, we wander back, this time taking a turn towards the red light district (De Wallen apparently) to visit The 11th Commandment. It’s not open yet, so we ip into the pub next door, the name of which I have noted and forgotten on more occasions than I really should. We have some local dark beer and ossenworst. It is good.

We then try across the road, another traditional looking place. It’s wonderfully ramshackle wood-paneled and full of old men. There’s even a big pile of boiled eggs to help yourself to. TBH, could be the biggest tourist trap in town. Except it isn’t. We try some other beer we’ve never heard of. Now, is not knowing what we were drinking really bad? Much as I would love to tell you the particulars of each beer and make recommendations, I can’t help thinking tapping notes on my phone would have been much sadder than not being able to. We order two glasses of the spirit all the locals seem to be chasing with their beer. This is jenever, a juniper based spirit that is – as you would expect – similar to gin. Although, it’s certainly much more palatable straight than most of the uv-bothering stuff we get over here. It’s matured in barrels, which would explain this.

We nick round to Chinatown for some cracking Tom Yum. Unfortunately they serve it with a small dish of chilli that shouts out to the scots and we somewhat over-spice it. It’s still awesome. At least mine is. And, takes us to the time when The 11th Commandment is open. If I’ve touched on the craft beer and Dutch beer meccas, this is the Trapist one. Over 100 bottled beers, and 20-ish on draft, all made by the fair hands of monkly types. This is a lovely little bar with lots of dark wood character. This was the first pub visited in the trip last year. You can maybe understand why the rest of the place seemed a bit of a disappointment. We have something on draft (surprise) because the, slightly scary, owner lady told us it was actual dutch Trapist beer. She also forced us to eat some ripe cheese with celery salt on it. What more do you want?

Quick back to the hovel to freshen up (I’ve got some KFC wipes in my rucksack). An old friend of my compatriot is in town for a legalise cannabis march. (See, this is what happens if you smoke too much.) So, we head back round to the Temple to meet him. There’s a fair few Colorado beers drank to get us in to the right frame of mind for what we are about to receive. Then to the Paradiso

AS we are queuing to get in, familiar strains reach my ears; they’re on! Run! We’re maybe halve a verse int the first song. Nothing too tragic. The sound, as it was last year, is a mess. I’d forgotten this. Thankfully, the band manage, as ever, to play through a poor sound. The sheer energy of the performance lifts you above such considerations. By the time they’ve finished, either the soundman has got ass int gear, or the band have been so awesome we’ve ceased to notice. TBH, no-one cares, we’re all just so blown away. I’m at this gig with two Auto club virgins. The one I’ve introduced to the band, and who just had to come see them live has, of course, had his expectations exceeded. The casual passerby, joining us just by fluke of circumstance is declaring this the best gig he’s ever seen. They kinda do that, you know.

Back to the Temple! Worship beer and music! Oh, it’s good. We then spend too much time wandering round De Wallen. For reasons I’m not sure of. I think we were looking for beer. At least I think I was. Or coke. There’s no real room for a third sleeping on our floor. Seriously, there’s not enough floor space to accommodate a skinny fifer. Feeling totally ripped-off by the hotel, I have no qualms about commandeering an empty room (there’s one next to ours with the door ripped off). Let them try and fling him out…

How on Earth did that get there? (I didn’t even shave this morning)

I awake to find I’m all alone in the room. I drag my bleary had own the stairs for the breakfast included in the ludicrous price we are paying for this nook. It really was not worth it. Seriousy, it’s he usual ham, cheese, bread thing and it’s all crap. really crap. Do not stay at Hotel Manofa!! I return back upstairs to find the other two are still awol and realise I’m locked out. I go lie down in the room with no door for a while.

Eventually we reconvene. Pick up all our stuff and head off out into the day. (Only after getting back the deposit on the key; 20 Euro!) We possibly meander, maybe b-line, either way we end up in the pub. It’s Sunday, and the mainland do the opening time thing differently. We end up in a bar atached to Hotel Internationaal that had proven to be friendly enough the year before. (I’ve tried to book this place, but they only let you do at least three days over the weekend. Guess that stops the stag and hen night types clagging the place up. Another reason to love them.) Whereas previously it had dealt with what you would expect (cooking lager, something appley and the black stuff), they have this time they have a beer by De Prael. This is apparently just down the street, right on the edge of De Wallen. We make a mental note to visit on the return leg Monday. All the beers are supposedly named after famous Dutch singers. We have the Paul (I think). It’s jolly good.

Our very friendly barman (Tom?) has a borad Irish accent. He claims to have newver been to irelands and that he picked up English from the telly. We suggest he might want to watch something other than Father Ted. His eyes widen “but, I LOVE Father Ted”.

If It’s Tuesday…

Time to hit the train, Belgium here we come.

We get on the wrong train. Not only that but we’re sitting in 1st class, ready to pay the foreigner card. The conductor says our tickets would’ve cost about €30, this train (not 1st class) would be over 100. We get kicked off at the airport. Needless to say, even the supposedly scummy train is fantastic by our feeble standards. Some whisky, some snoozing, and hello Antwerp!

After checking into the hotel, we grab a cab to the venue: Trix. Kinda part of some sort of out of town entertainment complex (nestled between a bowling alley and a closed cinema – I think) this is odd. Both the peripheral nature of the place and the general closedness of all surrounding it, did not bode well for grabbing something to eat. We wonder for quite a bit in search of anything vaguely edible. We pass a tower block with a massive fence round it, and lots of families sat about. Also, huge black rabbits running about all over the place. (As I’m thinking about this part of the trip, I’m begging to realise quite how many sheets to the wind I was at this point. But I am certain the human/rabbit enclosure did exist.) We find somewhere to have some noodles. I have a vagueness of them being good.

At the venue there’s a rooftop terrace, where we mingle with the, mainly smoker, band and crowd. There’s a fantastic relaxed feel to it. Something communal that bodes well for the gig. Someone comes up to Slim thrusts a CD at him and says “all your friends have written on it…” I find this hilariously funny. It’s about this time time, I realise I may be very drunk. Sadly, this does not stop me from accosting Daniel Grandbois and completely failing to compliment him on his book Unlucky Lucky Days. Something that results in me reading the first 50 pages over and over again for the next week or so. But, I’ll cover that at a later date.

That community thing comes into play, when the band – visibly more comfortable than the night before, and blessed with a better sound – come shooting out the blocks and find a crowd already keeping up with them. it’s that beautiful thing where everyone is as invested in the music as the band. There’s no studied cool, no artifice, just the pure honest joy of the music. No cynicism, no pose. Bliss.

There’s an attempt to hit the town. I’m on he water by this point and the only place open is a typical irish bar. Hotel, bed. Perhaps with siting at the hotel bar for an hour or so.


Next morning we walk into the city centre of Antwerp. This takes us round the docks, a strange mix of diamond trader yachts and haulage. It’s quite pretty, if quiet. Lots of confusing signposts and winding streets. We eventually find ourselves at the town square, where we find a cafe for brunch. And beer. We then take a sow walk to the train station. Stopping at a posh bikers bar for a beer. TBH, everything seems quite posh round here. Although, compared to Amsterdam (never mind blummin’ Bergen) it’s very cheap. It could be the hangover talking, but it may have the hottest women of any city I’ve ever visited.

To the massive multi-floored train station to get the train back into the Netherlands. We fail to read the sins and miss the train. This gives us the chance, to go have another beer. Unfortunately, it also means we will be too late to make it worth returning to the ‘Dam for a last one before going our separate ways.
Ossenworst and beer!
We take great joy in the posh Thalys train being over an hour delayed, though.

We part company at Rotterdam. I head back to Amsterdam on my own and return to the bar next door to the 11th Commandment, and again neglect to catch it’s name. One last round of beer and ossenworst before heading back out o the airport and home.

Working week

Well, it can’t all be gallivanting. There’s the usual ever day stuff to be getting on with in between. And, as such, we find ourselves at the Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline for Sid Griffin and The Coal Porters. This being tucked away in the bar means that it’s sold out when we get there. However, the chap in charge of the box office is an absolute star and ensures that we get in after coming this far. Which is nice.

I’m getting to be of the opinion that it’s not possible for these guys have a bad gig. I could quibble on the sound. Putting everything through a small vocal PA is not necessary for a ban that quite often eschew the amplification at all. It constrains their sound. The new banjo player is still finding his feet. That’s about it. The old-timey bluegrass revue stylings are fantastic. I almost want to buy a bar and make them the house band.

It’s Friday night, I’m tired, but no rest. I must off to to see Nick Harper. Blazing six-string god. AS I’ve said before, I’d crawl over glass to see this man live. His records, I can take or leave. As ever, it’s a blinding virtuoso performance, perfectly balanced with his charm and good-natured banter. Harpernauts think themselves an exclusive club. It really should not be so.

He can also have a residence in my bar.

¡Olé! ¡Olé! ¡Olé! ¡Olé!…

Who’s idea was all that beer last night? We need to get to Edinburgh airport. Thankfully not until about noon, but it’s early enough. Due to the time difference it’ll be about 5 by the time we get to the centre of Madrid.

The metro from the airport to the centre of the city is clean, fast, regular and €2. €2!! €2!?!?! Think on that the next time you stumping up £17 for the Heathrow Express.

We hit we town and it is raining. Not a gentle cooling shower, serious deluge. But hot. It’s confusing to a Glaswegian. So, we head to the pub…erm, shelter. We sit down an a ish of olives are put in front of us. Order beers an this is joined by a nut and crunchy stuff mix (Los Bombay Mix). Oh, I’m gonna love this place. The beer, is cold, pale and fizzy. And, tasty. I don’t recognise the brand, but it bears very little resemblance to the trendy licensed brands made in Wales and sold everywhere here.

We check into the hotel. Grab a beer and more snacks at the cafe across the road. Meet the local nutter. And, head off to find tonight’s venue. It’s at this point I realise I have no sense of direction here. I’m usually quite good with this stuff, but everything is counter-intuitive to how I feel it should be. My body is screaming north as we head through town. This is not an issue of a problem, but I’m fascinated by it. I suppose Denver kinda does that to me as well. But, I know why that is (and not so much now).
There's a silk purse analogy somewhere. Us eating pigs ears. Delish
The Circulo de Bellas Artes is obviously quite a major arts centre. Lot’s of rooms, and a cinema. Beautiful old building. We’re round the corner, must be down in the basement. Great. Let’s go find somewhere to eat and drink.

We settle on the most traditional looking tapas place we can find. It looks like a butchers shop, tiled and clinical. It is fantastic. Beautiful bread, ham, olives and cold, cold beers. We start picking the stuff from behind the counter. The staff seem to find this amusing. They inform us one of the dishes is pigs ears (sauteed in wine and paprika, I think) and get confused when we tuck in with more gusto. Man, you shoulda seen their faces when we asked for some morcilla! €30 for four beers each and tons of food. It’s almost difficult to drag myself away to the gig.

We slink in the side entrance to he venue and are met with a vista of columns and a massive marble staircase. Perhaps we’re not stuck down in the basement. We’re not. We’re on about the fifth floor. We’re desperately trying not ot let each other know just how knackered we are as we reach the ‘suite’ where the band will be playing. Oval with marble columns all round. Kinda fitting.

OK, here’s a review

Back in March, Denver’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club released their 8th (let’s not get pedantic) album Unentitled. It’s their ‘pop’ album IMO. Or about as pop s their likely to get. Less epic in scale than 2008’s Cipher, but more focused as a result. It’ll take a lot for anything to dethrone it from it’s rightful place as album of the year. Thankfully, word is spreading enough for it to be possible for the band to be back over for their 3rd European tour to support it. (Although, still not enough or then to come to the UK. Next time…)

On record, the band weave layered dark country tales of strange parallel backwaters and devotion to the word of the Lord. They are signed to Jello Biafra‘s Alternative Tentacles and, as would be expected, everything is underpinned with a punk rock sensibility and irreverent humour. But, it is in the live arena that everything takes on a life of it’s own an just makes so much sense. Part Vegas lounge show, part snake-dancing revival. It is possibly the eighth wonder of the world and something that everyone should experience at least once in their life. Hyperbole? No. They are that good.

They open with Cranston. One of their fastest most raucous numbers which serves brilliantly to blast things off. It also perfectly showcases the double vocal duties taken by the eponymous Slim and Jay Munly. Kinda Elmer Gantry and Hazel Motes, respectively, in this service. Not only is it a statement of intent and thorough cobweb clearer, but also it eradicates and anxiety the converted may have (yes, it will be all you hoped) and leaves the uninitiated open-mouthed in awe (yes, it will ALL be that good).

The music is some sort of crazed roots type thing. Gospel and bluegrass having a fight in the sack you tried to drown them in. Pedal steel, banjos, stand-up bass all underpinned by crisp tight rockabilly drumming. It’s more usual for the band to draw comparisons with some of their geographic cousins like 16 Horsepower. And where yu can maybe see some similarities in earlier recordings, the Auto Club have taken that thing somewhere else. I like to think their more treading on the same faces as the likes of Gogol Bordello. Or even, to paraphrase the late Tony Wilson; it’s not so much that the Auto Club are the American Pogues, as The Pogues are the Irish Auto Club.

We get a well balanced set of old favourites (32 Mouths Gone Dry, Jesus Is In My Body/My Body Has Let Me Down and the talismanic Pine Box) and tracks from the new album (a blistering The Unballed Ballad Of The New Folk Singer to current favourite so-normal-its-fucken-weird No Doubt About It). Slim and Munly spend some time on the stage, but mainly they come among us, to spread the word to the Good People™

I’ve said it before; music should touch something deep and primal within you and when it’s good it does. Nothing seems to do it quite so much (ok, for me) as this band. They seem to reach inside and physically lift my very soul to a higher plane. Erm, what was I saying about hyperbole…

It ends with the usual encore of He, Roger Williams, that even when stretched out to show-stopping magnificence, still seems all too short. Wow!

Ten feet tall

We take to the night like gods – nothing can break us tonight. Madrid on a spring Saturday night, is fantastic. The city is old narrow winding streets joining plazas where people sit outside cafes and bars for el craic. Busy, busy, busy. But at no point is there a whiff of the type of reveler that spoils Amsterdam. Or, to be honest, the centre of Glasgow too. Yes, it’s still Europe, but this is a different culture from our bitter northern one.

We’re seeking out Naturbier, a recommended brewpub. The beer, all natural and made on the premises, comes in both flavours; blonde and dark. We have an icy cold flagon of the blonde, before they close on us. Boy, it’s good.

We have no need for further merrymaking (and one of us is up stupidly early to fly to Barcelona an meet with his girlfriend). So, we enjoy the walk back to the hotel, pour whiskies we will never finish and call it a very, very good night.

We walk the line

It's a bear eating a tree. Anyone? Obviously means something in MadridWhen we finally surface and check out the hotel, it’s time to wander towards the train station. None of your flying nonsense for us. We want to take in the scenery. Enjoy the country, on the unspeakably expensive intercity train.

We seek out fluids, first in the form of water, then coffee. These achieved, time for hte third in the trinity (it is Sunday after all), so back to Naturbier. Well, we only got to try half the range last night. We nible tapas and try the wares until fully human again and head off through town. This involves passing most of the government ofices, each of whch seems to have abut fur protests on the go outside. But, nothing like happened the following week.

Madrid Atocha Station is staggering. Seriously, it’s worth a visit if you’re in town. The interior is like a winter gardens with a huge pond full of turtles. And, a market. It’s lovely. As is the luxurious train. Our bog standard tickets laugh at the piffling British first class carriages. Big comfortable leather chairs. Free headphones, in case you want to watch the movie. Needless to say, we both spark out as soon as the train is moving. €130 a head well spent.

Such a beautiful horizon

I seem to have deleted all my photographs of Barcelona without putting them online. That was terribly remiss of me. So nicked some, hence the improvement in quality
We decide to walk from the station to the hostel we are staying in. Wow, this place is so different from Madrid. It has the wide boulevards and overblown architecture you would expect from the capital. Of course, I realise it is/was one in it’s own way. It’s pretty. But, nowhere near as welcoming. (And, there’s an awful lot of phallic architecture on the go – who had something to prove?)

We get settled. (Nice hostel. Two nights here cheaper than one in the shithole in Amsterdam.) And rejoin the early riser and his far-too-good-for-him girlfriend. (They’ve got an apartment booked that would probably be my first stop next time. Especially if there’s a similar sized group.) We have some beer. Voll Damm, this time. A double malt, 7.5% brew by the same folks that brung you Estrella. It’s really rather good.

The phrase met on the internet still makes me think of sad-sacks. God knows why. I’m sure it was about the turn of the century when I first wandered up to ostensibly a bunch of complete strangers and introduced myself by my online username. Since then I’ve met lots of really cool folk (, some complete berks – ha! that’s got you thinking) and some people I now regard as very good friends. It’s part of the reason why I’m here. Had the Yahoo! group for the Auto Club not been so helpful and friendly I’d never have made that insane first trip to Denver for The New Years Eve bash. This year (fingers crossed) will be my seventh on the trot. It’s one of the great things about the web, bringing people with ‘minority’ interests together. And, I’m not talking furries.

And, tonight, we’re meeting with another new friend from off of the Facebook. A young lady crazy enough to hook up with a bunch of strange drunken Glasgwegians. Actually, when you put it that way, maybe we’re the one’s meeting the nutter. But, we’re not. We spend a pleasant night taking a breather from the hectic schedule. Lots of chat, lots of beer. We take a stroll in search of food. We find somewhere and don’t hang about. It seems too expensive to a lot of the party. I’m still reeling from Bergen, so it seems ok. But, I suppose, compared to how they were throwing free food at us in Madrid, it’s extortionate. We end up skipping food and just getting back to the beer. Good move.

As close as I get to going to church these days

20110516_005Breakfast, beer, coffee. Sorted. Let’s do tourist Barca, which can mean only one thing: La Sagrada Família. Following contradicting information about how easy ti is to get there on foot (“20 minutes”, “2 hours”) we take the metro. Four stops? I think that’s very easily walking distance.

Have you been to Barcelona? Did you visit Guadi‘s unfinished masterpiece? Were you underwhelmed? ARE YOU INSANE?!?!? I would need both hands to count the people I know that have expressed this opinion. Seriously? OK, there may be an issue with the building site nature of the place. Yes, I would have left it unfinished. But, come on! This building absolutely breathtaking. And, that’s without queuing to actually get to the inside of it. Next time you’re round that way, look for the photobombing donkey in the nativity scene.

20110516_025Some of our party want to take the cable car across the bay (they queue for a while before abandoning the idea). So, after a sit and a beer and long time trying to work out how el Boris bikes work, we jump the metro down to the marina. There’s then a very pleasant stroll – punctuated with ice cream – along the front, and back into town. There’s lost of interesting art down there.

Siesta (next to tapas, my favourite spanish tradition). Sangria. Beer. To a lovely little family type restaurant for rabbit stew. Yum.

The Sidecar is tucked in the corner of a lovely plaza. Upstairs there’s a nice airy bar with 50s retor-hipster overtones (the Bettie Page movie playing on the full back wall screen). The acutal venue is the brick lined basement. Man, I thought the Bergen stage wouldn’t hold the band? I reckon it’d fit up there twice. And, I’d be concerned about my ability to stand up straight in that headspace, never mind the extra half foot (minimum) Slim has on me.

The size of the pa is to scale too. The band play this the only way you can, they draw on all their punk blood and rattle it. It’s frantic and fantastic. Brilliantly sweaty.

What’s the script with the cameras? We seem to be the only people here not wielding serious professional quality lens-age. Sidecar Factory photography club, more like.

20110516_001The two Auto Club virgins are blown away by the gig. They both express a little concern as to just how scary Munly’s on stage persona. I assure them that he’s a terribly personable and charming young man. C’mon, I’ll introduce you and you’ll see that’s the case. And, indeed, so he is. This is the last show of this leg of the tour (they will return in a couple of weeks to cover the tuetonic countries) and everyone’s tired and looking forward to getting home. He tells us he’s particularly looking forward seeing his ‘children’. He pulls out his phone and starts to page through picture upon picture of his cats. And on, and on. And, on. And, on. To the extent where he’s managed to dispel the original fears for his sanity and created an entirely new set of concerns. Superb!

Back to our unofficial headquarters, the London Bar (nothing like London), which we proceed to close out.

What idiot booked this?

Due to some complete moron, we end up at the airport the crack of dawn, only to discover that we;re booked on the next day’s flight. Seriously, if you want something doing right, do it…erm… Friggin’ Easyjet. €200 a piece to rebook at the airport. £130 between us once we get online. Thanks for ALL your help.

This means that we get a little breathing space to enjoy a last drink and say goodbye to our new friend properly. So, not all bad. It also means we get to have a look at the Boqueria market. Jeez. It’s just as well I didn’t find this earlier. I’d never have left. Or, more likely, I’d just have bought something weird and went back to the apartment and made use of the kitchen facilities. There is an old woman gutting an filleting fish that I could watch all day. Man, maybe I will come back to Barcelona.

Gahn up west

London is beautifully gray and drizzly when we land. Unfortunately, a delay in the flight has made things a bit tight for us. There’s a frantic dash, and a bit of getting lost. Train, tube, taxi and on foot. Eventually we find ourselves to the Tabernacle Notting Hill to bookend this adventure with the last performance by The Handsome Family on their European tour.

Interesting thing: Last time the Sparkes played London they sold out the Bush Hall. This place is a touch smaller (maybe even 100 less IMO), but also they’ve put tables out. Still, there are tickets available on the door. We discuss this. Seems there were even tickets available on the door for The Divine Comedy here. We muse on whether it’s the location. No-one schelps out here for a gig. And, the locals don’t really go to other parts of the city. Why should they want to? Who would see them there? We have a good giggle at this. Then the gig starts. Wow. The crowd behaves in a way I’ve never seen before. They are like the crowd on some ancient live Ornette Coleman album. I mean, I’m given to chin-stroking as much as, probably more than, the next man (and both real and metaphorical) but this just seems alien. How ironic. I spend the last few weeks at gigs across the continent, and it takes the british class system to make me feel like I don’t belong.

The band are amazing. They have the drummer that usually picks up with them in the UK, but not the other bloke. (This is good. His fiddle and saw are fantastic, but the pointless guitar noodling throughout the rest of it is woeful.) His minimal touch adding wonderfully to the proceedings. There’s even some really lovely toy glockenspiel.

Apparently Rennie has been complaining about So Much Wine being too rocked up of late. So, in a fit of married pique, Brett forces her to start it herself. I’m a little disappointed at this as I like his rocking out performances. She does. It’s sublime. Possibly the best version I’ve heard of one of the songs of theirs I’ve loved the longest. Hot-damn!

There’s a special (all senses of the word) encore of Bowling Alley Bar dedicated to a couple who meat in a bowling alley and are out celebrating their anniversary. (“But it was never a waste of time/To get drunk by your side” Oh yeah.) With lyric sheet as guide Brett struggles his way through it. Stopping, starting and basically cursing himself for ever having written the damn thing. It’s a ramshackle tour-de-force. Now, I don’t want to be seeing this on any of them you tubes.

On the walk back to the tube, we venture to one of the local pubs. It’s all Queen Vic traditional styling. Big blackboard declaring the gastro-take on toad-in-the-hole and the like. The staff all skinny jeans, handcraft pastimes and white-boy afros (especially the girls). The music; ‘ironic’ PWL top hits. I being Sunday in London, hey shut stupidly early. We contemplate the other pubs we pass. None seems too welcoming. Time to head back to the other side of the tracks her we belong. Y’know the raggedy-end of town; East Dulwich.

We pick up some beers (god bless 24hr licensing!). But, if I’m honest, we’re desperately forcing ourselves to stay awake to take in every last moment of what has been one helluva trip. Sleep means closer to returning home. Closer to back to work. Closer to no more Auto Club until December. But, we have to give in and Morpheus takes us into his arms.


Y’know, most of the time I spend lying about in bed, drinking beer and watching police procedurals. But I suppose, sometimes, to the casual outside observer, my life could look exciting.

*Beer nuts are $2.50, deer nuts are always under a buck.

Written by Tony Kiernan

16 June 2011 at 9:04 pm

2009 not the decayed

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Seeing as everyone else is at it I thought I’d try and do a list of my bestest movies, music etc from the last ten years. However, I cast my mind back to the shiny post-grad student with nothing but hopes and great things ahead I was at the turn of the millennium. And, TBH, by the time I’d got to how all of that had turned to shit by the end of 2001 I decided it would be inadvisable to continue wandering down that memory lane.

So, instead, in alphabetical order, here are my things of 2009:

Brew Dog beers
Brew Dog brewery up in coldest Aberdeenshire are currently by far the most interesting beer producer in the country.

After initially dismissing the stuff as Aspecto-shopper chic bottles, it was when the local supermarket began stocking the excellent Imperial Stout Rip Tide. This became the beer of choice when we hit the supermarket.

Back in August we went to a food fair and were introbduced to Paradox definitely the taste of 2009 for me. Brilliantly over the year we’ve manged to taste the Arran, Springbank and (like Sy Bernard as part of an awful 3 hour journey home) Smokehead. I must try these malts now…

The summer tasted quite substantially of icy cold Punk IPA, just a fine everyday tasty beer. There was a brilliant blip where Asda got a box of the Hardcore variation by mistake. I reckon we mananged to get about 2/3 of the lot that was there (assuming one box). It’s crazy hoppt and just awesome.

We were pleased to find Trashy Blond on draught during the Edinburgh Festival. And have dabbled in a few of their other products, especially The Physics and splendid dark lager Zeitgeist. (In a drunken moment of weakness I even bought a share in the company.) Brilliantly we’ve merely scratched the surface.

Unfortunately the Tactical Nuclear Penguin I ordered didn’t manage to get bottled and delivered in time for Xmas. So, I’ll be in Colorado before it turns up and it’ll be next year before I get to drink it. Shame, it would’ve been a good ending to the Brew Dog part of the year.

The Coen Brothers
In a year I largely missed the film I wanted to catch A Serious Man was at least I fine example of what I hoped I was missing. Reminiscent of Ethan’s short story book, it’s a film that largely said nothing but all-is-shit. But, made me howl with laughter and keeps coming back for consideration.

No, I have no answers about it, but that’s whay it was so genius.

Richard Herring (& Andrew Collings)
It must have been last year I started listening to The Collings & Herrin Podcast, I can’t be sure. There was such an intense catching up period. Alongside Smodcast it’s become he one I look forward to the most.

As a result, I’ve started to enjoy Herring’s daily blog Warming Up. I enjoyed the description of the process of getting a comedy show together so much I had to go see Hitler Moustache at the Festival. And, seeing as I was doing that I caught the live podcast. All brill.

Then he did As It Occurs To Me, a live show written in the few hours before performance and performed as such. It was then podcast. It made me laugh out loud on the bus a few times – surely the benchmark for all audio comedy. I’m hoping to make the next series live show; despite the fact sending the money I would spend getting there would probably benefit the production more. I now have a serious crush on TV’s Emma Kennedy.

Also looking forward to see how the ‘tache show’s changed at the Glasgow Comedy Festival.

Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School Of Medicine
I got to see Jello Biafra sing Holiday In Cambodia live in the all-too ample flesh. The gig in Bristol was worth the angst and extra expense it took to get there several time over. The ‘original’ stuff was, at points, almost better. Subsequent album The Audacity Of Hype gets mentioned for being essential to keep us on our toes. And, it has the cover of the year by a mile.

Law & Order
We got Law & Order UK and I really liked it. This got me thinking about the original series, which – to me – was something that turned up late at night and you caught one or two episodes. So, I decided to start watching the original and all it’s subsequent offshoots, in order. I’m currently at 2001 (eleven years in) with three flavours running in parallel.

I love a cop show. If you want to buy me enough beer I’ll explain to you how The Bill jumped the shark when it lost the half hour format, and killed itself with Don Beech – no matter how thrilling that was.

David Peace
I read barely anything this year. This makes me sad.

I wanted to read Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace.

Thankfully this seemed to be his year. The Red Riding Trilogy on TV was being advertised in cinemas. The Damned United was storming the critics and filmgoers. I’ve still not seen the latter. The former, was fantastic. Despite the fact it suffered a bit heavily from us being told it was dead good, and the who’s who cast, was very good TV. It could’ve been the best telly of this year. It was never up with the best ever, however.

Took me 6 months to read thart book. But, if I’m honest, I opened it at most six times. So when I was reading it I was feverish with it. I just avoided doing this very often.

I need to read more. Including more of his stuff.

The Phantom Band
Ah, here lies the beast. I first saw The Phantom Band couple of years back at a estival. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed them, they kinda fell off my register. This year they releases their debut album Checkmate Savage. I heard good things and decided to investigate.

I liked it very much, but found nothing exceptionable about it. I found myself returning time and time again, getting more, feeling depths and generally being subsumed by it. By the time I was going to see them at the Festival, I was convinced this was one of the most important (and best) albums I’d ever heard. It’s a record that could only come out of Glasgow. Romantic, but rooted in the industrial. Yet, still so heavily redolent of the west-coast it’s scary. Stunning stuff.

The gig in Edinburgh was cramped but great. The following Glasgow gig blew me away. The one a couple of weeks back, as xmas celebration, was near devotional. Wow.

As an aside, the caught the lead singer doing his solo Rick Redbeard thing. Was baffled by the ‘completely different from the Phantoms’ comments I got. It’s not it’s totally symbiotic to what I’m trying not to get too flowery conveying.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club european tour
What can I say? some friends came over from the states. Within 48 hours one had a broken arm, we’d been to Edinburgh and Argyll & Bute. I was sat in Sleazys talking to one of Trail Of The Dead and feeling the happiest I have done for christ knows how long. This was before the continantal leg involving absinthe in Brussells, the warmth or ‘parisienne arabes’ to americans and my first surreal visit to Switzerland and it’s beautiful people (and a couple of Austrians).

Memories. Ones I should’ve detailed at the time, but I’m keeeping just now.

Oh, and all soundtracked by the TOO AMERICAN TOO LOUD Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. Who I spent New Year with and shall do again in a couple of days.

The Thick of It
So early in the year In The Loop turned up. Basically Armando Iannucci‘s calling card to HBO. It’s very funny, and quite disturbing. But, there’s something not quite right about it. Which is basically the crowbar technique of moving the action to the States. It has one joke that made me laugh so loud I was nearly embarassed, if you’ve seen it I might tell you which. Also, it made the entire Scots contingent in the Curzon, soho cheer very loudly. Again…

Where was the telly series that spawned it going to go from there? (Let’s not mention the loss of the excellent Chris Langham.) What they did….OMG!

Not only did they have they make the astounding choice of Rebecca Front as the new minister, but they sneaked one of the most heartstopping storylines about Malcolm Tucker.

I do not have a TV. If there has been any finer this year than this I’ve missed it. However, I am quite willing to put this series among the best telly ever.

Thank fuck they dropped that Jamie character.

As part of my job I had to look into Twitter. I looked, I didn’t like and I very much didn’t understand.

Nope, still not getting it.

Nope, still not getting it.

Oh, right!

Got it now.

The fact I can send a drunken text to no-one is the best thing ever. My friends agree.

I love it now.

Don’t make me ‘investigate’ Facebook, please.

I suppose malt whisky should be in there too, as this year I developed an appreciation that may well be ruinous.

Here’s to the new year; lord knows it can’t be any worse than the last one. Just a shame I can say that about the decade to. See, I am just an optimist.

Anyone that gets back to me on genuine typos, I’ll despise (but possibly amend them). Words that should’ve been picked up by spellckeck, but are actual words, have their own circle in hell for the pedants.

Some beers what I have drunk

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So, a couple of months back me and J got out of bed on the Saturday and dragged ourselves to the Tesco A Taste Of Scotland food fayre on George Square. We had a whale of a time scoffing free nosh and partaking of the many free samples of fine beers and whisky’s from around the country. The few wines there were not available for tasting so boo to the wine producers. TBH, we were quite cheery when we left. But, as we were going to be out late (going to the late showing of Let The Right One In) we didn’t buy anything. Next day, we just managed to haul ass and get there before they stopped letting folk in. There was then a whirlwind dash round to pick up the various beers we wanted buy. It may have been sponsored by a major supermarket chain, but they certainly don’t stock everything we had liked (certainly not the huge 24 hour one we’ve got). Anyhoo, here are the boys (note: all unopened, so no idea why they’re so blurry).

Unopened. Dunno why they're so blurry

Broughton Brewery (you might want to look to that website) is the home of one of my favourite Scottish Ales: Old Jock. This weekend they were punting their award winning (a common theme) Champion Double Ale. This is a new one to me. We picked up a pack of 8 for £10. Win already!. But is the beer any good. Yes, very. A lovely deep red/black colour with a nice caramac head. A good mincemeat nose to it. And, rich fruits and chocolate in the taste, bit of a hoppy aftertaste. Although not too heavy and quite light on the fizz. Damn tasty. The kind of beer I wish my local sold.

Onto 8 mixed bottles from the Williams Brothers of Alloa (another pretty dull site, but not as bad as the one we were looking at back then). Famous for Fraoch which is thankfully not included here (it’s a fine beer, but we think we’ve drank enough of it in our time). We had quite a nice chat with the bloke that was on Oz & James Drink To Britain. My great uncle worked in the Alloa brewery so I find this potted history pf SCotland’s second brewing epicentre (after Edinburgh – we don’t have the water apparently). He keeps feeding us the Midnight Sun in the hope we’ll get the ginger in there. J can see it I can’t. But, it’s another very lovely porter style beer. Fruit, hops, vanilla and, yes, spices but not specifically ginger. I get the gooseberry in the Grozet. Bang, can’t miss that. Clean and refreshing, had we kept this it would have gone down a treat frosty when we had the summer a few weeks back. There’s a brilliantly floral hops packed IPA in there, the name of which escapes me. And, my surprise favorite, the Red. A good dry hopppy edge and a splendid breakfast beer. Some lovely labels from these guys too.

We sampled some stuff from the Arran Brewery and the non-Ab branded Arran blonde (considerably less fizzy) was fab. They’d packed up by the time we were buying, though. And another dull website.

Next up, for us, the main reason for being here: Brew Dog. As their, rather smashing, website says Beer was never meant to be bland, tasteless and apathetic. Amen, brothers, amen. If you are not familiar with the works of this lot, shame on you. Some of the finest ales in this country ar coming out of their Lossiemouth brewery. We’re particualrly fond of the awesome Rip Tide twisted merciless stout. At tthis bash they’re pushing their new Zeitgeist dark lager. We don’t do enough decent (nevermind dark) lager in this country. This stuff rocks. If you look around at the fayre you’ll see two tediously bored dolly-burds at the Tennents stand. No-one’s touching their filth. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

What we’re hoping for is to try the Paradox, the imerial stout matured in whisky casks. They do not disappoint and we make off with a dozen bottles for £20. Later when buying some more I resent not having brought the car and filled it with the stuff. This is the Isle Of Arran batch (No 16, apparently). It’s awesome. Rich chocolate and licorice bite. Thick and smooth with, obvious whisky overtones. I love this beer. It even encouraged me to buy the whisky which is damn fine too.

Dark Island Special ReserveOrkney Brewery make seriously quaffable (and much maligned) Skullsplitter and the excellent Dark Island. Go anywhere outside the central belt and you’ll find stuff this good on draught everywhere. Why do we get landed with the tosh? While enjoying some samples of the latter on the Saturday we spot for sale the limited edition Special Reserve. It’s a handmade version, matured in Orkney malt whisky barrels. It is also £15 a bottle. We scoff at it, but it plays on my mind. So, come Sunday, a bottle is bought. By the gods, it is special. A thick dense subtle whack in the face. All round chocolates and vanilla playing with the malt and that deep spicy citrus of the Orkney whisky. I would encourage anyone even tempted to treat themselves to a bottle of this. At least you’ll have a good anecdote.

So, some excellent brews. Beer in this country is looking more interesting than ever. If only hostelries would cotton on. A winner? Not really. But, if pushed I’d have to go for the Paradox. Much as the Special reserve is so much more (again) special, I’ve been enjoying the different characteristics bestowed upon the beer from the different barrels (now tried Springbank and Speyside) that it keeps giving. And, hey, recyling!

Written by Tony Kiernan

04 August 2009 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Drinking, Food