Friday, February 23, 2024

Ruby Turner at Theatre by the Lake

Keswick, Cumbria. Friday 23-February-2024.

We enjoyed Ruby Turner when we saw her at Ronnie Scotts back in 2016 but have not been available for any of her concerts since. When we learned that that our friends, Andrew and Sarah, had tickets to see her at Theatre by the Lake we rushed to buy tickets only to discover that it was sold out. Disconsolate we asked to be put on the waiting list but with no great hopes. Then at 4:30 the very evening of the concert Mary got a call to say two tickets to come free. Result! Tickets purchased and a rapid change of plans for the evening. We gave our friends a lift and off we headed to Keswick.

We had an excellent, early supper of tapas at Bar eS in Keswick, sister restaurant to the one we enjoyed in Ambleside, then drove to the theatre in time to order interval drinks and take our seats.

Ruby was very much on form. Our friends had brilliant seats, literally front row right up against the stage. We were the complete opposite the very back row of the gods under the lighting gantry. Fortunately, the PA was excellent and the sound quality even right at the back of the theatre was fine. Her voice is so powerful that it fills the theatre.

Ruby did lots of banter between the songs so much so that she overran the first half, but that didn’t appear to impact on the second half. We got a full two hours of music from Ruby and her excellent band..

The same as when we saw her at Ronnie, she did a soulful version of "I’d rather go blind" which she also did this time. The 'a cappella' section in the middle was very emotional, but if I were being picky went on a little too long. She ably demonstrated her talent and versatility with a variety of jazz and blues styles including several songs from her chart successes. A great evening organised at the drop of a hat!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Shakers:Under New Management At Penrith Players Theatre

Penrith, Cumbria. Thursday 15-February-2024.

It has been a year since we went along to support our local am-dram society. Then it was a three-hander featuring an all woman cast, Di and Viv and Rose. This time it was Shakers which turned out to be another three person, all female production but instead of three college friends it was three waitresses as the main characters.

Apparently this play has been around for some time, Shakers was first presented by the Hull Truck Theatre Company at Spring Street Theatre in 1984 and this incarnation has been revised and updated to reflect current times.

Not only did the three cast members play the waitresses, but also a whole panoply of customers: teachers out for a birthday celebration, a group of likely lads, some footballers, romantic couples, snobby patrons, and even a Scottish chef. They did a fabulous job of switching between roles with stances and voices to match.

It is easy to see why this is a good choice for a local company as it requires very little in the way of props and scenery. Three chairs and a backdrop was all that was needed to conjure up a slightly run down bar and a set of scarves helped differentiate between the different characters. The rest is down to the script and the talent of the cast.

An entertaining evening out.

Monday, February 05, 2024

UK Blues Festival 2024

Winter Gardens, Blackpool. Friday/Monday 02/05-February-2024.

After five visits to the Great British Rock and blues festival at Butlin's, Skegness (Skeggy) the management decided to discontinue the event which had been going over 20 years. The cynical regulars reckoned it was because us oldies weren’t spending enough over the bar unlike the tequila shot-downing youth. So no winter blues, in a bad way.

UK Blues, Rhythm and Rock Festival to the rescue. Solid Entertainments organise a series of festivals around the U.K. this year at Blackpool for the first time. The line up looked very promising with a number of names we knew so tickets and accommodation were duly booked.

This was essentially the Skegness Blues Festival re-incarnated in Blackpool. We heard 25 bands over 3 days and were astounded by the quality of the music all weekend. The line up was excellent and it was noticeable that many of the performers are on the shortlists for Blues x of the Year in multiple categories. It says a lots about the calibre of acts booked. 

The event was very different to Skeggy. Butlin’s had everything on one site: parking, accommodation, restaurants and the stages. At Blackpool the festival was in the magnificent Winter Gardens but everything else was down to us to organise. Mary found an excellent apartment on literally 2 minutes walk from the venue. The drive down was much easier, 1½ hours almost all on motorway, as opposed to Skeggy which was nearly 4 hours with a lot of A roads. We abandoned the car in the nearby multi-storey at a cost of £26 for three days.

Perhaps because it was the first one, the event was far less crowded than Skeggy. There you queued for an hour to get decent seats in the main stage. Here there were ample spare seats so it was safe to amble around with no fear of being left with standing room only at the back of the hall. No more “seat anxiety”.

During their sets we heard similar messages from all the bands. They thanked the organisers for putting on the event and specifically someone called Steve. They thanked us, the audience, for supporting live music. And told us how much they enjoyed playing for us. It really brought home to me how many bands really need the buzz they get from playing live, getting the feedback from us and selling merchandise direct to existing and new fans.

The * ratings represent Mary's scores out of 3 for each band.

Friday 02-February. 

  • Backbone Blues Band (Introducing) *½ 
  • John Carroll (Introducing) * 
  • Brave Rival (Main)** 
  • Cardinal Black (Main) ** 
  • Colosseum (Main) * 
  • DC Blues Band (Blues) *½ 
  • Terraplanes Blues Band (Blues) **½ (missing Eduardo!) 
  • Eric Bibb (Main) *** 

Saturday 03-February. 

  • Brave Rival (Acoustic) *** 
  • Mississippi Macdonald (Acoustic) **½ 
  • Jim Kirkpatrick (Acoustic) **½ 
  • Mississippi Macdonald (Main) **½ 
  • The Cinelli Brothers (Main) ** 
  • Elles Bailey (Main) *** 
  • Catfish (Blues) **½ (only two songs due to timetable clash) 
  • When Rivers Meet (Main) ** (only two songs as we were tired and cold) 

Sunday 04-February.

  • Jube (Acoustic) * 
  • Connor Selby (Acoustic) *** 
  • Rambling Preachers (Main) **½ 
  • Bison Hip (Introducing) ** 
  • The Shakers Blues Band *½ (incl John Carroll) 
  • Connor Selby (Main) *** 
  • Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse (Main) *** 
  • GA 20 (Main) ** (only two songs) 
  • Climax Blues Band (Blues) **½ (new vocalist, good but different)

The Winter Gardens is an amazing Art Deco building with a variety of rooms to host the various stages.

The main stage was in the Empress Ballroom which will be recognisable to fans of Strictly.

Friday 02-February. 

Backbone Blues Band (Introducing) *½. Like Skeggy this festival had an "Introducing Stage" where new bands got a chance to showcase their wares and the audience could vote for their favourites each day. The band with the most votes each day gets to open on one of the main stages the following year. 

Brave Rival (Main) **. This was band one of the discoveries of the festival. Reading all the bands write-ups it was noticeable that many of them started around five years ago. I guess it takes that long to get their act together (literally), record an album and start to build up a following such that they get booked for these kind of events. Certainly there were lots of Brave Rival t-shirts in evidence.

Cardinal Black (Main) **. They were good buit to my mind didn't generate the same excitement as Brave Rival. 

Colosseum (Main) *. A long-standing, innovative jazz rock / prog rock band so I stayed for them while Mary went next door to see Terraplanes Blues Band. They featured blues legend Chris Farlowe who we last saw on stage with Van Morrison. They were OK but as they were not on my playlist back in the '70s didn't make as much impression as I was hoping for. I popped next door to join Mary for one last song from Terraplanes Blues Band.

Terraplanes Blues Band (Blues) **½. Mary's choice over Colosseum. She enjoyed hearing them again however they were missing Eduardo, their flamboyant harmonica player, and she felt his absence. 

Eric Bibb (Main) ***. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival. We had listened to his latest album Ridin' on the drive down courtesy of modern technology (Qobuz streaming service played through my phone into the USB socket in the car). This is "proper" blues but with a 21st century sensibility - songs about getting respect (Call Me By My Name) and forgotten black history (Tulsa Town).

Saturday 03-February. 

In the Acoustic stage I was amused by this cup-holder. When you need one hand to use your crutch you need someone to hold your beer.

Brave Rival (Acoustic) ***. Having seen Brave Rival of the big stage with the full band it was an interesting contrast to see the stripped down version on the Acoustic Stage. There was a debate about what counts as acoustic; they had drums and an electric bass guitar. This was a very enjoyable set with some of the same songs in a more relaxed style.

Mississippi Macdonald (Acoustic) **½. Now this was definitely acoustic, nothing but an acoustic guitar. Mississippi Macdonald played a set of his own compositions very much in a delta blues style. With a genre that has been a round for a while it is hard to avoid pastiche and cliche but he managed to walk that delicate line. 

Jim Kirkpatrick (Acoustic) **½. Jim first appearance at the festival, he was on later that same day with his full band whilst we were in the main stage. He did a good set earning two and half stars on the Mary-o-meter. His guitar skills were impressive 

Mississippi Macdonald (Main) **½. The reverse of Brave Rival in that here we saw the acoustic version first then the full band, an interesting inversion. Musically this set moved north from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and upped the energy levels.

The Cinelli Brothers (Main) **. This band seem to have a good reputation and following but, never having heard of them or their music they had some work to do to appeal to us. 

Elles Bailey (Main) ***. Of course Elles was the main attraction for us having seen her in concert on a number of occasions. She and her great band lived up to all our expectations.

Catfish (Blues) **½ (only two songs).  First seen at Skeggy, the timetabling clash with Elles Bailey meant a limited listen for Mary while I stayed to listen to Elles.

When Rivers Meet (Main) **. The Empress ballroom was not the warmest. With cold weather outside it would take some heating so heat up the cavernous space. Despite enjoying their music, by this time we were cold and tired so headed back to the warmth of our apartment.

Sunday 04-February 

Sunday morning we went for a bracing walk along the sea front past a number of interesting sculptures to the Pleasure Beach (closed) and the largest glitter ball in the world.

Then back to the apartment for lunch and off to the Winter Gardens for the final day.

Connor Selby (Acoustic) ***. The second time where we got the acoustic set followed by the full band. Some nice song writing and guitar picking. 

Rambling Preachers (Main) **½. They were good, we bought the CD. 

Bison Hip (Introducing) **. We enjoyed this band were pleased to learn that they were the favourites, as voted for that day, so will come back next year on one of the main stages. 

Connor Selby (Main) ***. Back on the main stage with full band. Very enjoyable. 

Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse (Main) ***. Given the very New Orleans influenced name of this band we were hoping for some southern style music and they did not disappoint. High energy and excellent musicianship.

Climax Blues Band (Blues) **½. They had a new vocalist, good but different to the last time we saw them. The previous vocalist, Graham Dee, had a very distinctive voice so for us not quite as enjoyable this time. However I'm sure once we get used to the new boy we will enjoy them just as much.

We believe in supporting the artists by buying their merch direct. They get so much more than the peanuts from streaming services and if we have a CD we can rip to our NAS drive for ease of playing. We came away with 7 CD's, 1 vinyl and 3 t-shirts! 

Only disappointment of the whole weekend was missing the unannounced appearance of Robert Plant as we were in the other hall listening to Eric Bibb. But overall, throwing in the impressive Winter Gardens, a parkrun, a breezy seafront walk with interesting sculptures, some lovely old art-deco buildings, a great apartment literally 2 minutes walk from the venue and a tasty curry, it was a brilliant weekend.

Definitely coming back next year!

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Historic England Missing Pieces Project

Penrith and elsewhere.

Historic England have a project to crowd source photographs of listed buildings called Missing Pieces. They are the organisation responsible for maintaining the register of listed buildings, but their database is text based so they are asking the public to contribute photographs. They are happy with phone pictures. They ask for "Images: from phone snaps to scans of vintage photos and architects’ drawings, from wide angles to close-ups."

Avon Cottage, our first home together after we married, was Grade II listed and I have unique photographs not available to anyone else so that was a good place to start: 

The cottage was 14th century with a cruck frame construction. The end wall during repairs shows an original mediaeval wattle and daub panel.

Full listing for Avon Cottage.

Next, I have some never before published photographs of the interior of Coventry Baths for which my father was the Principal Architect. He had various memorabilia which I hope to donate to the archives at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.

Full listing for Coventry Central Baths (original part including sunbathing terraces).

In Penrith, now our home town, there are many listed buildings within easy walking distance without any photographs. So what I’ve been doing is wandering about the town taking photographs on my iPhone and uploading them. 

Some examples: 

13, Brunswick Square. An early C19 Gothic cottage. Apparently at one time a pub and a house that Mary would have loved to buy. Unfortunately, due to the asking price and renovations required, just too expensive.

3 and 4, Devonshire Street. 18th century as is much of Devonshire Street. All you have to do is look up above the 20th century plastic shop fascias to see Penrith's history.

12, Devonshire Street. Late 18th century again. Most of the street is listed as a result.

While we were in Blackpool, I looked up the Winter Gardens which unsurprisingly were listed. Looking at the map I saw a listing for a group of eight iconic K6 red telephone boxes without a photograph on the website. 

When I searched to see if there were any other listed telephone boxes, I was surprised to discover there were 2,402 entries for K6. I guess if you’re going to list one, then you can’t play favourites and so have to list them all!

All my contributions here:

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Wine Tasting - Showcasing South Africa

Bassenthwaite Lake Station, Cumbria. Thursday 01-February-2024.

Like buses, nothing for ages and then two South African wine tastings come along at once. It was only at the end of November that we attended a wine tasting of Swartland wines from Edmond Wines. There I noted that our first trip to South Africa was designed around visiting a number of the wine districts. Our purchase of a holiday home there resulted in visiting many wineries in that country. Even so there are always more to discover and it’s always good to try wines available locally.

We did our usual routine of booking ourselves a Dinner, B&B deal in the Pheasant Inn which is staggering distance from the tasting. We have an early supper before the tasting, they do provide a small cheeseboard but it is more like a snack.

I resisted nibbling on the cheese until halfway through when we switched from the whites to the reds. Chatting to one of the pourers I introduced her to the phrase “Buy on apple, sell on cheese” - a maxim in the wine trade. Wine always tastes better if your palate has been coated with some tasty cheese, so if you’re looking to buy from the producers you nibble a piece of apple to keep your palate clean. However, if you are a merchant trying to sell to a customer, then a little bit of cheese will make your wines taste even better.

Name of wine Vintage Region ABV Shop or Supplier Retail price

Bassenthwaites notes

  • Mary's notes and ✱ star rating

1. The Capeography Co. - Grenache Blanc 2022 Swartland 12.5% Booths £10

Grenache Blanc from the Swartland is an exotic affair of jasmine and white tea notes over a generously fleshy yet spicy palate. The drought-hardy, dry-grown variety loves the Swartland's deep sandy soils and granite bedrock.

  • Powerful nose, pear drops, floral; rich texture, good, acidity, and balance, spicy, floral, short, potentially slightly flabby? ✱

2. Vergelegen Millrace - Sauvignon Blanc 2023 Stellenbosch 13.5% Majestic £11

Vergelegen Estate is the third-oldest wine producing estate in South Africa. Established in 1700, this heritage estate is known for crafting wines of exceptional quality. Grapes are meticulously picked by hand and crafted in their innovative gravity-flow winery. They're all about purity of fruit, and you'll certainly taste it in this elegant bottle. Expect vibrant flavours of guava, passionfruit lime blossom and quince.

  • Smoky, grassy, herbal; smoky, slightly, not typical, SP, good acidity, some length ✱

3. Stellenrust, Stellenbosch Manor - Chenin Blanc 2023 Stellenbosch 13.5% Sainsbury’s £10

This Chenin Blanc is crafted with the exact detail and harvested from traditional bush vines delivering ripe zesty pineapple, pear and white peach with a refreshing lime acidity. The proud history of Stellenrust, founded by master stonemason and builder of the Castle of Good Hope, Douwe Steyn, is depicted in the gabled manor house on the 1692 Stellenrust wine farm.

  • Less powerful nose, tropical fruit; fresh, acidic, minerally, light, tropical fruit ✱

4. Discovery Collection - Field Blend Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc & Marsanne 2022 Paarl 13.5% Majestic £10

This rich and honeyed white is a fabulous example of what can be created from South Africa's old vines. Ripe stone fruits on the nose lead to poached apple and pear notes on the palate with hints of dried pineapple and an underlying salinity. The Wildeberg winery is set against the dramatic backdrop of the majestic Franschhoek Mountain. Here, head wine maker JD Rossouw works with grower partners to source these grapes from old vines in Paarl, where the varied soil types and mediterranean climate make for perfect growing conditions. This generous white is great with simply cooked fish and seafood dishes.

  • Tropical fruits; good flavour development – tropical fruits, spicy apple; good body, some length ✱

5. Grand Vinde de Stellenbosch Village - Viogner 2023 Stellenbosch 13.5% Majestic £12 

Bernard Fontannaz, founder of Origin Wine, acquired Le Grand Domaine in 2016 with a view to it becoming his 'South African Château. Little wonder he was attracted to the property: set at the top of the beautiful Devon Valley overlooking the majestic peaks of Stellenbosch, it's in a beautiful spot that's consistently produced premium grapes since the 18th century. Winemaker Debbie Thompson crafts wines including this Viognier from iron-rich soils, ageing different components separately in amphora, French oak and stainless steel before blending. The wine is rich and spicy with mouth-watering notes of apricot, peach and honeysuckle - and a rounded, smooth finish. Its full and fruity flavours makes it a great match for poultry dishes, Thai green curry or grilled salmon.

  • Light nose; Rich, spicy, pear / peach / peach kernel, good acidity, good length ✱

6. Jordan Stellenbosch - Unoaked Chardonnay 2022 Stellenbosch 13% Booths £14

Situated at the upper end of Stellenbosch Kloof, with views overlooking Cape Town, Table Mountain and Stellenbosch, Jordan is a family-owned estate and premium destination offering a unique Winelands experience. The pure, primary fruit flavours from Chardonnay grapes grown on the cooler, morning sun vineyards are enhanced through cool fermentation and lees maturation in stainless steel tanks. The extended lees contact intigrates the bracing citrus flavours with layers of creamy tropical fruit.

  • Soft, creamy nose, good acidity, tropicals fruit, smooth body, lovely unoaked Chardonnay ✱

7.  Southlands Cool Climate - Pinot Noir 2022 Western Cape 12.5% Sainsbury’s £9 

Sourced from vineyards at the tip of South Africa, influenced by the cool climate surrounding the Cape of Storms, these grapes benefit from a long and gentle ripening season. A delightfully smooth & fruity pinot noir. Light-bodied and bursting with ripe cherry flavours, perfectly balanced with subtle notes of spice and a touch of oak.

  • Light, very slight vegetable; light ✱

8. Journeys End The BlueGum - Merlot 2021 Stellenbosch 14% Sainsbury’s £10

Ruby, clear and bright. Aromas of blackcurrants and raspberries with hints of violets and vanilla from well balanced French oak. Pallate displays nutmeg and vanilla with elegant, polished tannins providing enough grip to reward patient cellaring. Mineral rich, granite soils, cool coastal breezes ang long sunny days have played their part in delivering healthy concentrated berries, handpicked and carefully selected to provide the perfect foundation for this wine.

  • Ripe, soft, fruit, raspberries & violets; minerally, blackcurrant/raspberry, smooth, lovely aftertaste ✱

9. Kanonkop Kadette - Pinotage 2021 Stellenbosch 14% Majestic £14

Kanonkop was named Outstanding Producer of the Past 50 Years at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2019. The family-owned estate is considered to many as the equivalent of a South African First Growth. And when you taste what they've done with the country's star grape, Pinotage, you'll know why. Made in a soft, fruit-forward style, it spends 12 months in French oak barrels to give a silky-smooth texture. This is a complex Pinotage wine, with notes of raspberry, strawberry, red cherry and chocolate. Try it with a hearty beef burger.

  • Soft, fruity nose; some tannins, complex, good flavour development, good length ✱

10. Dynamite Factory - Shiraz 2022 Cape Coast 14% Morrisons £7

Unearthed from the Cape Coast region, this Shiraz shows aromas of red cherry and plum which explode on the palate along with black cherry and a hint of pepper and spice. The tannins are soft and silky with a lingering dark chocolate finish.

  • Soft, green peppers, peppery; plum, soft tannins, good finish. Fantastic value for money. 

11. Rustenberg Stellenbosch R.M.Nicholson - Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot 2020 Stellenbosch 14% Booths £11 

Rustenberg's Murray Barlow is the only person to be named Young Winemaker of the Year twice by Diners Club. And he's a specialist in creating exceptional reds under the Stellenbosch sun. This is a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. An unconventional mixture of traditional Bordeaux and Rhône varieties that creates something truly fantastic. It has flavours of blackcurrant, black pepper and spice that are a treat with a chargrilled steak.

  • Lovely dark fruit nose; smooth, lovely fruit flavours; good finish ✱ 

12. Journeys End The Pioneer - Malbec 2022 Western Cape 13.5% Majestic £10 Coastal Region,

While most associated with Argentina, Malbec thrives in South Africa too thanks to an ideal mix of Southern Hemisphere sun and refreshing ocean breezes. This example comes from the Gabb family, originally from Shropshire in the UK, who purchased 20 scenic hectares of vines in the Western Cape in 1995. Their terroir, nestled in the Schapenberg Hills, is some of the finest in South Africa, and this wine comes from three different vineyard blocks set 350m above sea level. Carefully picked at optimal times of day to ensure perfect ripeness, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks before ageing in oak barrels for six months. Expect plenty of plum, cherry and blackberry flavour with a subtle note of cooked banana. Soft and silky, it'll go well with both red and white meats, as well as stews and pasta dishes.

  • Plum and blackberry nose; good tannins, and acidity, soft ripe fruits, shortish ✱

As always an educational and fun evening with some interesting wines at reasonable prices and all available locally.