NewMusicMondays – 31 August 2020

Two more tracks for you this week – though the second choice is not exactly ‘new’ – it’s a bit of a Bank Holiday (if you’re in England and Wales) treat… Read on!

First up is Kronos Quartet (and friends), whose Long Time Passing pays tribute to the music, political philosophy and social impact of Pete Seeger, who would have been 100 in 2019. The Quartet’s typical line-up, with two violins, viola and cello, is supplemented here with a range of other vocalists. The album, due out in October, features 13 songs written or popularised by Seeger, either independently or as part of The Weavers, and includes ‘If I Had A Hammer’, a riotous performance of which I have somewhere on an old cassette tape when Seeger, otherwise shut down by Senator McCarthy’s ‘Unamerican Activities’ Committee, was taking the message around university campuses (to no little acclaim). [late September EDIT: an aural recording of that performance can be found on YouTube – and, actually, it seems, from 1964, long after McCarthy had been legally discredited. I was correct on all other details, though.]

Here, however, is ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, Seeger’s lament of the cycles of violence and brought brilliantly to life by having a different vocalist for each verse. This was the first single off the album, although released just last Thursday was the union battle anthem ‘Which Side Are You On?’ turned here into a jig with the aid of Seeger-style banjos.

The second track up, and courtesy of information from Marc Riley’s 6Music programme on Wednesday last week, is T. Rex’s ’20th Century Boy’, famous for Mickey Finn’s handclaps, a misheard lyric and a top-of-the-class straight A guitar riff which somewhat blinds us to the fact that it’s nearly fifty years old.

But also – catch the ‘backing’ vocalists stridently pile-driving the tune on over the top of Marc’s own lusty vocal line. Gloria Jones, perhaps, Marc’s girlfriend at the time, and a noted Northern Soul singer (‘Tainted Love’) and producer? Nah – no less than Sue and Sunny. Who you might ask? Well, backing vocalists with a quite astonishing list of hits and acts in their credits, but also for three years members of Brotherhood of Man. (No, not quite this one, though; the earlier incarnation up to 1971 and whose big hit was ‘United We Stand’ – once again driven along by the powerful vocals of Sue and Sunny).

Little known fact about me: I once won a Brotherhood of Man LP in a local radio comp.

Dance floor fillers

6Music put out one of its regular tweets this week looking for listeners to supply their top tracks for doing x, y or z thing: this time looking for tracks to fill a dance floor – six of them, of course (they’re nothing if not clever, 6Music’s social media team).

Usually, I resist this sort of thing on the grounds that these things change from day to day anyway, depending on the mood – but supplying half an hour of half a dozen absolute dance floor bangers turned out to be, a day or so later, to be irresistible. So, here’s my choices – at least, as of yesterday evening after a few glasses of something cold:







And, having got them there, I’d keep this particular crowd there with Sister Sledge, Stacy Lattisaw, the Pointer Sisters, Brothers Johnson, McFadden & Whitehead, Gary Byrd….

NewMusicMondays – 24 August 2020

A friend said to me yesterday that there really isn’t enough music on this blog. Checking back my posts, the last music related item was a book review back in May; and, before that, a gig review last September.

So, in the attempt to remedy this clearly appalling state of affairs, and to help soundtrack your week, I’m going (unless otherwise derailed) to add a series of posts over at least the next couple of weeks linking to different pieces of music which are currently hitting the spot from artists that I don’t otherwise know a lot about.

First up this week, we have Bai Kamara, a guitarist who grew up in the UK and currently based in Belgium, where he’s lived for the last 25 years. This track has a strong Chicago blues vibe while the style recalls John Lee Hooker’s scene in The Blues Brothers (as ‘Street Slim’, apparently); but this was shot in Freetown, Sierra Leone and the ‘blues’ of the lyrics is entirely contemporary. Features plenty of distortion, too, for those who like that sort of thing. This is off Bai’s album Salone, released back in January.

I heard this on DJ Ritu‘s ‘A World in London’ show to which I’ve been a regular listener over the last ten years. In these times, Ritu is sill managing to put the show out on Mixcloud and, with a slight twist, features a few oldies alongside plenty of new stuff to compensate for the lack of live guests. And welcome to the long-awaited new website, Ritu!

The second track this week is by the retooled Nick Pride & The Pimptones and is an out-and-out Northern Soul stomper with a fresh pop soul sensibility. It’s got crashing drive, horns and a shimmering vocal line with cutely observed lyrics of love and (potential) loss. The band are straight out of Newcastle, soul music centre of the UK, and I heard this of course on Craig Charles’s 6Music show on Saturday (at about 1:34:45, just after Etta James and just before Craig’s ‘Talcum Time’, if you want to catch it in context). It’s off the forthcoming album Ideology.


A wee bimble* up Beinn Mhor

* Not really. For a fuller explanation, see also the opening chapter of Simon Ingram’s Between the Sunset and the Sea.

Beinn Mhor (= ‘Big Mountain’) is the highest of the three major peaks on South Uist (and correctly called GÚideabhal) – it’s on the right-hand side of this picture I took looking south-east across the machair almost exactly a year ago last August:

South Uist Hills 2

While generally enjoying a bit of hill-walking, the stars are rarely aligned sufficiently to do very much of it; and so, when such an opportunity presented itself last Sunday ahead of a week-long trip down to Perth (where the schedule has been a little hectic), we jumped at the chance. Now, Walk Highlands describes the walk linking all three peaks as a ‘rough, tough but magnificent hillwalk… Beinn Mhor has a spectacular summit ridge…’; while Mike Townsend’s Walking on Uist and Barra describes the ascent of Beinn Mhor itself as requiring ‘the calorific output of many Munros’ (he has also described the journey from left to right, via the south-western slopes of Beinn Mhor, i.e. to Taobh a Tuath Loch Aineort, as ‘not one to replicate in reverse‘ although I think he was thinking more of ensuring that transport was available there rather than having to repeat the journey to the starting point.)

The route that most people take up Beinn Mhor is via Sniseabhal starting from the A865 main road, which essentially follows the broad shoulder seen below the summit in my first photo and then on up the ridge to the top. The view from Loch Aineort, which is the other side, shows it as a sizable wall of some impressive bulk (Loch nam Faoileann – Loch of the Seagulls – in the foreground):


Note the three landslips on the centre right, to the right of the main summit and the amount of scree and loose rock below the outcrops of the summit ridge. (Pic reproduced by kind permission!)

Beinn Mhor is only 620m above sea level (2,034′ in old money) – a bimble, in ordinary terms – but, secondly only in the Outer Hebrides in height to An Cliseam (799m) and dwarfing Eabhal on North Uist (347m) – which dominates the header pic at the top of this page – this is clearly not a walk to take lightly. Thus advised, we set off, assured by some decent equipment, including map and compass, proper provisions and warm clothing, as well as by a mutual pact of quitting without question should one of us no longer fancy it. Following a short section through a lovely, largely natural woodland out on to the open moor, our route, broadly, was to follow the obvious burn dominating the lower slopes (Allt Bholagair) and then strike a traverse right across the rocky section, hoping to find a grass path, towards the large outcrop on the centre left.

The lower sections are, even after warm, dry-ish weather, slightly marshy in places and, despite a few squishy bits, largely safe to cross. The absence of any sort of path, exacerbated by the lack of (m)any walkers over the five months of lockdown, made it difficult to pick a route and our initial approach to the lower slopes, characterised by knee-deep, tussocky grass, largely ungrazed by sheep, (dryish) peat bog and detours around streams and negotiating deer fences, was long and slow, and which actually meant we didn’t get close to the burn until much higher up. Hearing the call of eagles even in the woodland, no fewer than three appeared, circling above us as we took short breaks (and clearly eying up potential carrion).

But the really difficult bit was the final traverse – rocky, and so precipitously steep that hands and feet were both required to make any progress. While looking to exploit what we hoped were grassy paths, it quickly became clear that going up a grass slope is more difficult than a rocky incline, so we tended to rest on the grass sections, on our backs, rucksacks wedged into rock holds, trying not to contemplate either the drop visible below our feet, given the angle, or that we didn’t know what the top actually had in store for us, before crossing over to the rocky section for the next bit. Not for the faint-hearted, this was a climb – not a hillwalk – in which the higher we went, actually the more impossible it became to keep our promise to call it off if necessary, not because we were nearing the summit but because getting back down again the same way was even more potentially tricky than getting further up.

Eventually, more exhausted and relieved than exhilarated, we reached a grassy plateau just below the main summit, where the main views are pretty spectacular:

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Looking north and a bit west to Beinn Corradail (right of centre) and Thacla (left of centre)

IMG_5807 (2)South over Loch Aineort to Beinn Ruigh Choinnich (though a bit murky) and then down to Barra

Our route down again was intended to take us south along that summit ridge (which apparently presents ‘no difficulties’ according to Walk Highlands) before turning west back to the starting point but, to be honest, we were a little tired and, despite the fine, sunny weather, didn’t really like the look of it, especially the sharp drop to the east (to the left of the ridge):

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Perhaps it would have been different had we not had such a tough scramble over difficult terrain to get up this far. So, proper ‘top’ omitted, we still had the challenge of getting off the mountain safely, which we achieved by heading north-west towards the Sniseabhal route and then walking in a long arc curving south again to omit the worst of the top part of the climb before determinedly following Allt Bholagair’s delightful course (including waterfalls) as far as we could back to base. From a more comfortable vantage point for photographs, here’s the view north over Loch Bi and the machair up to Ardivachar:

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And south to the fish farm (‘caught in the cold waters around Scotland’) – noting the angle of the hill in the foreground, the angle reflecting the one we climbed:

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Ahead of us lay the remaining lengthy yomp downwards over peat bog, uneven ground where a twisted ankle in hollows made invisible by the long grass was a frequent threat (though not as much of a menace as the midges out celebrating a calm evening and, worse, ravenously hungry flies which, evidently, hadn’t had a thing to eat for weeks), before arriving back to the woodland and to the calmness of Loch Aineort (better view of Beinn Ruigh Choinnich in the background):

IMG_5860 (2)Overall, a grand day out – but a long and tiring one (from parking the car at 11.45 until returning to it at 8.15 – much longer than the 5-6 hours expected: it took us five hours to get up!) and one in which disaster could have happened at several points. No phone signal was one thing (though people knew where we were), but the other was that we saw absolutely no-one, and no signs of anyone, all day: eagles, sheep and – I think – a young dotterel were the only living things of note (no deer! no rabbits!).

From the perspective of these enthusiastic, but cautious, amateurs, general advice would be to stick to the Sniseabhal route – less direct it might be, but somewhat less challenging in terms of the final approach to the summit. Do go and visit the woodland, though – it’s ace and offers stunning views over the sea entrance to Loch Aineort from the woodland paths up the lower slopes of Beinn Bheag Dheas.

Just add time

This is probably the last of this sort of post for a while, not because I’m stopping brewing – far from it – but, well, there’s probably more interest in the taste of the beer than in the actual brewdays; and, shortly, I’ll be able to brew much bigger batches of beer (up to 30 litres at a time, rather than the 4.5 litres I’m currently used to) so the brewing posts will anyway be less frequent, and more selective as regards what I’m brewing, while I work my way through each batch that I make. But it’s still quite magical to turn such few, standard, even humdrum ingredients into something that tastes wonderful, and using just a few pots and pans, too.

For those interested in what my beer tastes like, I’ve added a separate page via the links on the left giving some tasting notes (or, otherwise, via this link).

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So, this one was supposed to be the first one of me making small quantities of my own beer, rather than from pre-supplied specific kits, mixing up a bit of this and a bit of that as regards the malt with some of these hops and fermenting it with a drop of that yeast. Beers that will have their own names, and labels, and legends…

Intending to brew a few darker beers, I ordered from my usual supplier some speciality grains (amber malt and chocolate malt; and some crystal malt – all in roughly equal quantities), as well as some flaked oats, on top of a base load of pale malt (the lot totalling about 9kg); but, unfortunately, I ordered through a a ‘recipe builder’ under which my supplier simply assumed that I was making one large batch of beer and mixed all the grains together in one bag. My problem, of course – not theirs; I just didn’t understand how the thing worked. I can work with this mix, alright – but it will make some very dark beers and my idea of drawing on appropriate quantities of different barleys to make a stout, a porter and an oatmeal stout, for comparative purposes, is now out of the window: they will all be oatmeal ‘dark beers’ of one description or another, and no further customisation will be possible, not as regards the grain bill, anyway.

As you can see, I have some hops both from the UK (Target and Challenger) and from the US (Columbus and Mosaic) – some 50g of each; and a few different packets of dried yeast, both new and also with some left over from previous brews, carefully stored in the fridge. And I can attempt other customisations, with the following top of the list. I have enough malt to make probably five 4.5 litre batches, depending on how strong I brew:

1. a basic ‘black beer’, probably with an advanced hop profile, so in line with a black IPA

2. a raspberry oatmeal stout, with the raspberries added as an aroma steep after the boil

3. a porter-style beer with the addition of some chocolate and some coffee, along the lines of Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil, which is one of my favourite beers (Target hops should add the liquorice notes, too)

4. a vanilla and bourbon stout, with the late addition to the fermenter of some vanilla pods steeped in bourbon

5. a low-alcohol stout (2% ABV or lower) – something I’ve been researching for some time. Should be possible to lower the amount of malt, while still retaining flavour with the darker malts and judicious use of hops both in the flavour and the aroma.

But – these are just some early ideas: do point me the way of something else you think I should be crafting in this sort of style via the comments!

That 30 litre capacity, by the way, will be via one of these Danish-origin shiny all-in-one systems, selected after some fairly exhaustive research and not least on the back of this Pub Sheds Review. This is now working its way to me – at least, once the supplier gets some more in stock; Covid-19 lockdown having wiped most such systems from the marketplace as a result of the increase of interest in home brewing. You don’t need one of these things to brew beer, essentially – but it does make brewing slightly larger quantities much easier in terms of the handling of the grains and the boil.

But, until that comes, I’ve got a few stovetop brews still left – and probably starting this weekend, after another busy week of editing coming up. Furthermore, I’ll probably still continue to do things that way when I want to try out something new (rather than risk being left with a full quantity of beer that, for one reason or another, doesn’t really work). Just now need to pick some of the beers that I’ve enjoyed the most, and start to dream of a production line in full swing…