Monthly Archives: January 2011

Valley Park: Two

EPISODE TWO: THE MASTER BAKER

The clouds descended over Valley Park like big limes. The locals looked worried as they recalled the Pancake Storm of ’62. The Baker, Yapa Rolls, was buying a new oven so why did he care?

 

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The Peasant

Address: 240 St. John Street
City of London EC1V 4PH
020 7336 7726

The Blurb: The Peasant has been merrily existing, in its present guise, on a corner of St. John Street for the last 9 years, blissfully unaware that its profile was to be  launched into the Stratosphere by appearing on this very website. You’re immediately put at ease as you enter the pub: the layout, furnishings and feel of the place are  homely and welcoming. There are papers to read on the bar and a roaring open fire in the grate. Plenty of space to sit down too. A good start. Step up to the bar and things get better. If you remember only one thing about this pub make it this: The Peasant has an excellent range of Beers. I counted 13 different pumps in all, which include four Real Ale taps that regularly change and one that serves as a house choice. The rest focus on continental Lager, mainly Belgian, German and Czech. Each of the Ale’s I drank was bang on. Looked great. Tasted great. The pub patronises Micro-breweries, of which I approve, giving a wealth of unusual and interesting stuff. A pint will cost you £3.50 on average, which is OK for London. Not content with offering a dizzying array of draught beer there is also a staggering range of foreign bottled Lager and Porter. Again all very interesting although some come in at over £5 which for 330ml  of beer is pushing it. There is a good wine list and a note-worthy range of Sherry and Port too. Everything else about the pub is good (but not in the same league as the drink selection) and it’s pretty close to Exmouth Market if you want to go on somewhere else after drinking your fill (not that you ever could because there is just so much Goddamn choice!).

The Scores: Accessibility: – 3, Beer Choice – 5, Bar Snacks – 3, Ambience – 4, Value for Money – 3

Overall: 18/25 Pints



Heggies Chardonnay, Eden Valley

Aussie wine is really up against it these days. As a whole the country planted too many vines back in the 90s and went on to produce lakes of pappy, sappy, high alcoholic wine in order to meet an insatiable British demand. Due to this high volume production wine was marketed at bargain-basement prices. Problem was this secured a particular image of Aussie wine in the consumers’ mind and as the market slowly evolved, turning to quality rather than quantity, the Aussies found they had de-valued their own industry. The general, albeit erroneous, contemporary perception of Australia wine is that it should be sold in cardboard, by the litre, and shouldn’t cost more than six quid. Consequentially artisanal wines, beautifully crafted which rightly deserve to command prices upwards of £15, don’t get touched by the British market.

This little number could well change that perception. Yes it’s Chardonnay, of course it is, but it’s a great example of why producers believe the grape to be a “Winemaker’s grape”. Intrinsically Chardonnay doesn’t have a whole heap of character but if you play with it – Oak it carefully, maybe give it a second fermentation – then it can really take you places. This rounded little number gives you vanilla, butterscotch and a hint of apple blossom on the nose followed by green apple, toffee and a wonderful lingering taste of white chocolate on the palate. The whole lot is perfectly balanced with a good back-bone of acidity and a minerality which Oak can mask if not handled properly. All in all it’s a serious little wine and at only 13% abv (only…!) is a far cry from those Aussie behemoths of yester-year.

Vintage? 2009

How much? £10.25 – £13.99

Where? The Wine Society/Majestic/Oddbins

 


A Live Riff

I have just returned from a double-header: two days following my favourite, and perhaps the greatest, band in the world around the U.K. Now I say “the U.K.”, which sounds rather grand but what I actually mean is: “Manchester and then London”, which is not nearly so grand but is at least true. I have returned from this Rolling Stone-esque road trip of hedonistic debauchery with my very dear friend Dave, a man I am friends with almost solely because of this band. Again, I bend the truth a little, because our friendship definitely has something to do with the existence of beer as well as this band so, once more, not wholly accurate. I mention this because it is this friendship, and its fundamental reliance on its association with music, that has brought about Musicology. My life would be a far poorer thing without music in it and ergo my friend Dave. Put succinctly: my life is the proverbial rich tapestry and two seminal strands that make-up what few people would argue is a masterpiece, are Dave and music. Fans of philosophy (so two of you out there) and Shaun Of The Dead (so the whole world out there) may recall that Bertrand Russell once wrote: “The only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation,”. He was of course totally wrong. What he should have said is that “The only thing that will redeem mankind is music,”. Sounds much better right?!

Music is everything that is good about life; when done well it encapsulates everything that is worth feeling, thinking and doing. It expresses – in a way far more primary (and therefore powerful) than the written word or the painted picture – both common and extraordinary experience; it is beguiling, mesmeric, elating, sobering, anger-inducing, beautiful, ugly…..it is dichotomy, paradox, synthesis, synergy, existential. It is everything all at once: the question which has no answer and the answer that has no question. Nothing else can touch good music: nothing else has its power; the ability to so completely encapsulate a moment of which it is such an intrinsic part. And because of music, that moment, a moment music conspired to make eternal, will never be forgotten. Hear the song, the instrumental, the refrain again and you are back there – wherever “there” happened to be. Musical-association, the aural link that has been forged between sense and experience, has to be the most powerful of all associations. We all get this. It isn’t just me. Everyone has a break-up song yes? We all found solace and catharsis in music when the relationship which we horribly pretentiously thought “defined us” went tits up. Who out of you, has a break-up curry? Who makes a Chicken Bhuna and says wistful, “jeez, this reminds me of when I found Rachel in bed with the neighbour….”? No-one. But you’ve all got a song for the occasion. No-one walks down the aisle to the smell of freshly-cut grass. I think we’re all on the page here. Music is the beginning, middle and the end. It is important; important beyond words. In fact only a song – a really, really, really good song – could convey just how important. So why write about it then? Well, if that is going to be your attitude you can funk off right now. I don’t want any nay-sayers here thank you very much. Musicology exists because this stuff is serious and we have to communicate about it somehow. Work with me here. Remember what Bertrand said?


The Compass

Address: 58 Penton St
City of London N1 9PZ
020 7837 3891

The Blurb: Had The Compass retained its original 2009 kitchen brigade and front of house team this competition may well have been wrapped up before it even began, so good were its homemade bar snacks (see stage left), its ever-changing beers and the general level of cheer with which you were greeted. Sadly this was not to be. It is still a good pub, doing decent bar food (when they can be bothered) and serving you in a well-mannered sort of a way, but the spark, the variety and the crazy floor manager with the military jacket and the girl’s bike have all disappeared, leaving in their wake a pub which I doubt will end up making my Top 3.

The Scores:  Accessibility – 5 (2 tubes: Angel and the very well connected King’s Cross), Beer Choice – 2.5, Bar Snacks – 3, Ambience – 2.5, Value for money – 2.5

Overall: 15.5/25 Pints (oh that pint thing is GENIUS)


A Pub For The Capital

In 1993, at the tender age of 13-and-a-bit, I was plucked from the womb-like safety of Mrs. Stokes’ Design and Textiles lesson (a class that required no more ability than it took to tie up your own shoe) and herded into my secondary school Gym Hall, along with my piers, to take The Morrisby Test. The test was divided into a number of categories, each focussing on a different part of the individual’s personality: Verbal, Numerical and Perceptual aptitudes, Abstract Reasoning, Spatial and Mechanical awareness, that kind of thing. The idea behind this new-fangled waste of conventional schooling hours was to divine exactly what job the individual taking the test was most suited to undertake. No doubt the rigours of the examination process would herald the next Captains of Industry, the beacons of creative light and the shit-shovellers of Dalston. That is not to say that the Morrisby test would pigeon-hole any one candidate: the result would be multi-various, offering a number of possibilities to which you were most suited. Or at least that was the idea. My own Morrisby result was uncomplicatedly focussed; After an hour and a half of integrated paper and pencil based tests just one conclusion was reached. One thing at which I would excel. My print out read simply: Sitting in the Pub. It appeared that my complex network of intellectual talents, preferred learning styles and manual speed and practical abilities singled me out as the perfect candidate to sit in a corner and drink beer. And how right Mssrs. Morrisby and Test turned out to be! I am brilliant at sitting in the pub and drinking beer. So good in fact that of late I have added eating Pork Scratchings to my skill-set. How do you like dem apples Morrisby?! Not just a one-trick Pony! And so, after years of visiting and drinking in Pubs all around the country, nay world, I have decided to launch a competition – a competition hell bent on finding the greatest pub that London, which is the capital, has to offer. The reasons I have limited my search to just one city is three-fold: A) I live here 2) London has more pubs than any other city in the world (this may not be true) and C) I lack imagination. Despite the daunting amount of Public houses that my fair city has to offer I do believe there is a real dirth of what I would call a really great pub. This is the real reason I’m undertaking this mammoth feat. I want to sort the wheat from the chaff – or the hops from the mugwort if you will. Which brings me neatly on to what I consider to be a “great Pub”. Obviously this is highly subjective so in order to establish an even playing field on which pubs can be compared I have set out a number of criteria by which the pub in question must be judged. Each criteria is to be scored out of five. There are 5 criteria which means that despite Morrisby’s damning conclusions about my mathematic ability, even I know that each pub will be scored out of 25 points – or as I have brilliantly devised, PINTS!!!!! That’s right – each pub can garner up to a maximum of 25 PINTS. But what are those criteria I hear you cry? Well my friend they are this and thus:

1: Accessibility – it’s all very well discovering an absolute gem of a place but if nobody else can find it then it’s not much good.

2: Beer choice – In this age of multi-media madness we are bombarded with choice at every turn. We no longer want the same thing all the time. The perfect pub will reflect this by providing a varied and quality driven range of beers, and other beverages, to suit the fickle and ever-changing moods of a restless and dissatisfied society.

3: Bar Snacks & Food – by this I do not mean that the pub must have a seasonal menu constructed from the finest ingredients,  all sourced within about a mile of the pub (where possible!). We aren’t talking gastro here – if you want a fully fledged meal then do it on your own time and don’t waste mine. This category focusses very specifically on food as an accompaniment to beer: bar snacks, be they Twiglets or a home-made Scotch Egg.

4: Ambience – comprises of a number of things including Music, Aesthetics, Staff, Furnishings, incidental idiosyncrasies which augment your all-round experience and, crucially, Seating. Nothing annoys me more than finding a great pub, buying a beer and finding you can’t sit down. That is a vital part of the equation. As all these pubs are in London you will probably want to visit each candidate at least twice: once in the week and once at weekends, to make sure that at all times the comfortable seating is available for all and sundry (very tough call this category).

5: Value For Money – in these times of austerity we are all looking for a good deal. Not necessarily an absolute bargain, but at least something that approximates value. £4.75 for a pint of Fosters, for example, is the polar opposite of what I’m going for here. And if you are ordering a pint of Fosters I don’t think you should be reading this….

There isn’t a time limit by which submissions must be made, but I would remind all participants that this competition/quest is entitled “A Capital Pub 2011” so really there is a time limit. The scoring system outlined above is to be undertaken subjectively but all finalists will be adjudicated and ratified by an objective, non-interested third party meaning that any attempts at Lobbying or prejudice will be exposed and dealt with in the most draconian of ways.

For my part I shall record potential candidates for the Golden and Wooden Pint awards as and when I see fit. Submissions can be made through the Comment fields that appear at the bottom of the “A Capital Pub” webpage on DLVdotcom.


Valley Park: One

EPISODE ONE: WELCOME TO THE VALLEY

It was hot shit in Valley Park. Barnsey the trouble-maker was out and about doing shouting. The locals were playing pool and not happy. One local, Gumber, finished his bagel with beans and told Barnsey where to go: Barnsey took heed and went south.


The One Word Book Review

War And Peace Leo Tolstoy

Review:

Long

 


Pearl Jam – “Backspacer”: A Review

When I was twelve I used to borrow stuff from my brother. I say “borrow” when what I actually mean is “steal”: to borrow implies consent and there was none of that going on. I would sneak into his bedroom when he wasn’t around and nick stuff that I thought looked interesting. To my mind this was perfectly legitimate; I was merely re-addressing the uneven balance that his superior age had gifted him. He was a whole 2.5 years my senior and therefore had access to better things than me – Arnold Schwarzenegger films, Penthouse magazines and music, tonnes and tonnes of music. I remember very clearly that for his 14th birthday he asked our Grandad for some CDs. Back in ’92 CDs were quite the phenomenon. I was still stuck in the ice-age that was tape (Bananarama’s Greatest Hits no less) so I paid particular attention to their arrival in his bedroom. He asked for three: Cowboys From Hell by Pantera, Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacationand Ten by a band called Pearl Jam. He played them ALL the time, always with his door firmly locked. He was mired in that horribly cliched period of his life when he thought he was “difficult”: he was growing his hair, which apparently symbolised a life-long commitment to not washing, painting band emblems on his Doc Martins in Tip-ex and not letting me listen to his music. So, predictably, the very first opportunity I got to steal these CDs, I took. This was my first introduction to Pearl Jam and what an introduction it was. I thought Ten was brilliant. Definitely much, much better than Bananarama. I can’t admit to seeing the brilliance of songs like Black or Alive back then: my appreciation of the album went no further than me thinking it sounded really good. That was the extent of my insight, but now, some 17 years on I rather like the simplicity of my analysis. I have liked Pearl Jam since the day I stole that album from my brother. I have listened to their music more than any other band in the world. I own all their albums, far too many of their live performances, their b-sides and a good smattering of their vinyl singles (even though i don’t own a Gramophone and therefore cannot play them); put simply they matter to me a lot. Over the years my appreciation of their incredible collective talent has definitely increased. I do now think I fully appreciate just how good Black and Alive are but there will always be an element of “just really liking how they sound”.
I include this rather indulgent historical pre-amble not because I want to write for NME or The Times Cultural Supplement but simply because I want to highlight my (almost) life-long affiliation with the band’s music and the importance of a personal relationship with it. I grew up with their stuff: I have listened to their songs at every important point of my life, regarded them with the subjective perspective of an 18, 19, 20 year old me; their music has often mirrored what I have been feeling (or perhaps more accurately I have made it relevant to my life) and that is of huge importance to my love of this band. Ten was a simply stunning debut and to follow it with what is my favourite of their albums, Vs., just two years later is a great achievement. Quite how a band only recently formed can produced work of this quality beggars belief. To hear the songs they recorded in ’91-’93 that DIDN’T make their first two albums is to understand the size of the talent that these guys possess.
Fast-forwarding to 2009 brings us slap-bang in front of my appraisal of PJ’s 9th studio album Backspacer. If truth be told I’ve been a little worried about this album. I heard the first two singles and didn’t really like them. They weren’t bad, just not that great. And coming off the back of their very average eponymous album in 2006 I didn’t have high hopes. It seemed increasingly likely that after 17 years of producing incredible music Pearl Jam were running out of ideas. The stats didn’t bode well either: at just 11 tracks long, culminating in barely more than 36 minutes of music this is by far their shortest album. I was fast beginning to predict a disaster……..Thank funk I was wrong. The more you listen to Backspacer the better it gets. Now I don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up here: it’s not on a par withTen, Vs., Vitalogy or No code but then frankly I don’t think we should be comparing something written at the end of a 17 year career with material recorded at the start of it. Pearl Jam are a very different bunch of people to the guys that formed in 1990 (just as I am a very different appreciator of music): They’ve had a fair deal of success, are all married, some of them have kids and it would seem are pretty content. And contentment does not ground-breaking music make. If there is one thing they don’t believe they have, it is commercial appreciation. I recall an interview with McCready in which he bemoaned the fact that they didn’t get more radio play in the States. This seemed a little strange to me: it’s not as if they are under-appreciated. Their concerts sell out in nano-seconds, they’ve spent their entire careers doing exactly what they want to do and have earned a hell of a lot of money in the process. To worry about whether some gibbering, idiotic DJ chooses to play their records or not seems trite to me. But then maybe if you function on such a high musical level all you want is to reach as many people as possible. Who knows? Up-shot of all this is that there is a discernible sense of the commercial in their new stuff. Some people will no doubt rally against this commercial slant, branding them sell-outs, but to do so is to miss the point. Sure, the music on Backspacer isn’t as visceral as it used to be. But then if they were still churning out material of the same ilk as their early work it would strip the intensity and life from those songs. Things change….hairstyles change…get used to it.
That is not to let them off the hook: they still need to produce the goods. If they had written eleven terrible songs I’d let rip. To my mind their last 3 albums have failed to deliver and it is because they have had no stand-out tracks. The early stuff seemed to be made-up entirely of highlights and although the latter albums continued to showcase well executed, tight song writing, something was definitely lacking. For a while it looks like Backspacer is going to continue in this vein. Tracks 2 & 3 (incidentally the two singles I didn’t really like) aren’t mind-blowing. They are well-crafted and do grow on you but fall short of PJ brilliance. It is not until track 5, Just Breathe,that things start to look up. Reminiscent of something from Vedder’ssolo soundtrack to Into The Wild this is a genuinely affecting and dare I say rather beautiful song. It out-classes anything Pearl Jam have written in the last 9 years. Amongst the Waves keeps things ticking along, gaining in momentum and featuring a really good solo fromMcCready before Unthought Known is released on a listener starting to believe again. There is a brief diversion from greatness in the next two tracks which aren’t bad, just not very good. But that’s OK because by the second listen through you know what’s coming. Track 10, the penultimate song, is the one they kept in the locker. And its positioning just adds to its greatness. You think the albums gone, over, finished. You think, “yeah….bit of a shame….two really good songs sandwiched between a slice of ok-ness and one of mediocrity. The album is just going to peter out now, confirming that my favourite band have lost that….oh…hang on….HANG ON…..what the funk is this? OH SHIT!” Force Of Nature, Track 10, is an absolute monster. A song you can play over and over again and never tire of. It’s got it all: great vocals, one hell of a riff, a soaring, elating chorus and a superb solo. THIS is how you write a great song; a song that would be every bit at home on any of their very best albums. After this it doesn’t matter how the album ends (well enough as it happens) because your still thinking about what you’ve just heard. Pearl Jam are a different band to the people I heard when I was twelve. But then so am I and that is no bad thing. I will listen to this album at important points in my life that are yet to come and Force Of Naturewill grace any compilation of their work I choose to cobble together. They have delivered, I am delighted to say, and if my brother owned this album I would steal it and wouldn’t give it back.
If you want a media-friendly, dare I say “commercial”, summary of Backspacer then it is this:

At times the album achieves what has eluded PJ for the last 9 years. It isn’t a classic, but it is a worthy addition to what has to be the greatest canon of song writing in the last two decades: ***1/2 Stars

TRACK LISTING

1: gonna see my friend
2: got some
3: the fixer
4: johnny guitar
5: just breathe
6: amongst the waves
7: unthought known
8: supersonic
9: speed of sound
10: force of nature
11: the end

Vina Mayu Reserva

Intense purple in colour the wine reveals blackberry, blackcurrant, raspberries, spice and vanilla on the nose. The palate follows, delivering all of the above along with chocolate and a warming spice which compliments the velvety, opulently rounded mouth-feel perfectly. The finish lasts for sometime, confirming it as a fantastic wine for the money you pay. This is a serious wine, a complete bargain given the quality and an all round lovely job!

Vintage? 2007

How much? £10-12

Where? Majestic Wine


Tyrrell’s Vat No.1 Semillion

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was either an oaked wine, one that had spent some serious time on its lees or had undergone some serious malolactic OR perhaps even all three such is the creamy, buttery, vanilla-esque toastiness of its incredibly expressive nose but you would be wrong….on all counts! The palate reveals the extent to which this beautiful young thing has led you down a blind alley, bursting open with wonderful citrus, racy acidity and a final flourish of tropical fruit. This is a truly schizophrenic wine, presenting great expressions of opposing varietal character at each stage of the tasting process. And all wrapped up beautifully under the roof of one very under-used and under-appreciated grape. A cool climate + Semillion = superb wine.

Vintage? 2002

How much? £25

Where? Majestic/Waitrose


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