Saturday, 20 December 2014

Deaf Havana - Kasbah Coventry

This was an unusual gig for me and in truth I was a late substitute for someone caught up with the pre- Christmas festivities. So the chance of a new venue and something a bit different was too good to be turned down (especially as the ticket was free). The main act 'Deaf Havana' I was familiar with although I was not over impressed with most of what I had heard. Described as Alternative Rock they were formed in 2005 in Kings Lynn.
I was much more impressed by the guitar-driven five piece band from Cambridge 'Lonely The Brave' who I think have a big future. There are lots of different influences in their music from heavy and hardcore to a more proggy feel. They are unusual in that their singer 'Paul Jakes' is happy to stay out of the limelight 'side on' towards the back of the stage.

Fish - Roadmender Northampton

It had been a long wait but at last the waiting was over. Originally scheduled for May 16th it was cancelled due to the illness suffered by guitarist Robin Boult. Even now some dates are being re-scheduled as Fish is having a few voice issues. So it wasn't surprising that a wag in the crowd greeted him with 'Happy Easter'. With Marillion he made 4 albums before leaving in 1987. As a solo artist he recorded 10 albums including the latest 'A Feast of Consequences' after which this tour is named. It was the most packed that I have seen the Roadmender but it didn't stop Fish remarking on what a quiet crowd it was. 'Nobody has even shouted our for 'Grendel' yet'. 'It's a sorry state when you have to request your own heckles'. Lots of 'Fish tales' between the songs which were interesting and amusing. Highlights for me though were the two Marillion songs ; Heart of Lothian and the brilliant 'Incubus' as an encore. It would have been nice to have sen more Marillion songs in the set list but it seems to be an area consciously moved away from.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Larry Miller Band- Kettering Cornmarket

In Classic Rock's Blues reader's poll Larry Miller was voted no.3 only beaten by Joe Bonamassa and Walter Trout. So this was clearly someone who had to be taken very seriously indeed. Add to that someone hailed as the new 'Gary Moore' and filling the niche left behind by Rory Gallagher then praise doesn't come much higher. The Cornmarket is a lovely intimate little venue in Kettering.Dave Morse and Richard Boyles are the founders of 'Cornmarket Blues'and to promote blues/rock music in Kettering and after two SOLD OUT concerts are moving to a larger purpose built venue in Corby with much better audience and artist facilities. On 2nd May 2015 they are moving to a purpose built venue in Corby called The Raven Hall. Increased capacity of 300, partial seating, real ale bar, separate bar, food, accomodation and FREE on site parking. The venue has a great PA and light system to enhance your enjoyment of the show. Meanwhile Larry Miler continued to prove just what a showman and performer he is. Mixing his own large back catalogue with a few covers all expertly and elegantly crafted. Highlights included the Peter Green classic 'need your love so bad' and Rory Gallagher's 'walkin on hot coals'. On tonight's evidence it is not surprising that 'Blues Matters Magazine' write 'The most fiery and exciting blues rock guitarist on the current scene. Just a word for the excellent supporting act 'Albany Down' who really put on a great set and a bad to keep an eye open for.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reverand Richard Coles Book Signing

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and I was running a bit late for the 2:30 book signing at Harrowden Books in Finedon Northants. I had made the mistake of using the SatNav on my phone rather than the Tom Tom in the glove box. Not quite knowing what to expect I accelerated and then missed the turn into High Street. I needn't have worried, although a small crowd had gathered outside still queuing to see the Rev'd Coles. It was a very friendly queue made up mostly of villagers who seemed to know him anyway. I took the opportunity to check out some of the varied titles on offer in this wonderful and quirky bookshop. One that I will certainly return to at some point when less is going on. Richard Coles has written his autobiography and it covers all sorts. Sex, drugs, death, religion, more sex, many more deaths – You name it. it's the story of a clever and slightly tortured young boy from Northamptonshire family, who becomes a pop musician, and a gay icon almost by accident.Before starting a new life as Church of England vicar. This is a genuine 'warts and all' account unlike the Kevin Pietersen autobiography I have just read which became a bit tiresome and the same relentless tirade at the ECB establishment. The Rev Richard Coles is now parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon and still very active on the radio airwaves. He is the regular presenter of the Radio 4 programme 'Saturday Live'. It was good to meet him and I think that he was impressed that I had brought along my own purple pen. He thought it very ecclesiastical but thought it would be a long while before he would be decked in purple!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Northampton Heritage Weekend

Over 30 buildings and events were open to visitors as part of the National Heritage weekend, co-ordinated locally by Northampton Borough Council. Our first port of call on a sunny Sunday afternoon was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. One of only round churches in the UK and inspired by the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This spectacular church was founded around 1100 AD by Simon de Senlis after returning from the Crusades. The church has a long standing military history and is the church of the former Northamptonshire Regiment. The Regiment was based just over the road and contains a collection of memorabilia associated with the regiment. Throughout the weekend free rides on classic buses let you hop on and off at your leisure to visit the different events. Next stop was 'The Guildhall'; a gem of Victorian architecture. It was built between 1861 - 64 and further extended in 1889- 92. We had our own personal tour from a member of the Northampton Youth Forum. Today the Guildhall is mostly used for Council meetings and civic purposes, but has also served as a court with it's own prison cells in the basement. The building also houses the records of births, marriages and deaths. The basement is quite extensive and eerie in places. There is also a hidden room in the attic accessible via a secret staircase and this was possibly once the home of a caretaker or other similar worker. The building's facade is decorated with a number of statues and friezes. The statues are mostly of monarchs who either visited or had connections with the town. The town's theatres were next on the list 'Royal and Derngate'. In 1999, the Royal Theatre and the Derngate Theatre became a combined organisation, run by the Northampton Theatres Trust. Previously they had both been seperate entities despite living next door to each other. The Royal, then called the Theatre Royal and Opera House, was built for John Franklin by Henry Martin and designed by renowned Victorian theatre architect Charles J Phipps. The Derngate was built in 1983 and now also includes the impressive Errol Flynn cinema house. The Royal auditorium seats 530 and banks up steeply to 'The Gods' which is not for those who suffer with Vertigo. Unfortunately on this occasion we didn't witness the resident ghost 'The Grey Lady'. For many years I have marvelled at the fantastic artwork that is the Royal Safety Curtain. The theatre’s safety curtain was painted by Henry Bird (1909-2000). He was much influenced by Rembrandt, with whom he shared the same birthday, 15th July. Exhibitions of his work have included those held at the Royal College of Art; the Society of Mural Painters; the Tate Gallery; the Victoria & Albert Museum; and Lambeth Palace. The Northampton mural includes a series of vignette portraits of those who had been involved at the theatre, among them Henry’s wife Freda and Errol Flynn - but with each on the opposite side.. Mr Flynn certainly created a reputation in Northampton not only with the ladies but also leaving behind a trail of debts and unpaid bills.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Irchester Country Park


It was almost by accident that we happened upon Irchester Country Park on the way back from a fruitless trip to Wellingborough. It was a nice day so why not enjoy the Autumn sunshine and fresh air on offer? Unfortunately the place was rammed with families all thinking along the same lines. Finding somewhere 'off the beaten track' wasn't going to be quite so easy.

ICP is a former ironstone quarry and has 3 circular walks of easy walking through 83 hectares of mixed woodland. The park is home to the Irchester Narrow Gauge Railway museum. We opted for the 'Ironstone Trail' which was about 2 miles in total and 4,650 footsteps. I say this with some certainty as we had already been equipped with Pedometers as part of a drive by the Council to raise awareness of obesity.... The aim being that Northampton as a County complete 20 million steps over the weekend. With Northamptonshire currently occupying 5th place in the 'fattest county in the country league' it does seem a forlorn hope. The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum was very interesting actually and home to a collection of exhibits from steam and diesel locomotives. Lots of information and display models show just how the quarry would have looked back in the heyday of steam railway. But what is Narrow Gauge ? As you enquire so kindly I will explain ... The gauge of a railway is the distance measured between the heads of the two rails. Standard gauge, which is used on the Mainline, is 4 feet 8.5 inches. Railways which measure less than this are known as narrow gauge. At the museum the main railway is laid to Metre Gauge (3 feet 3 and a bit inches ),which was the gauge used by the old Wellingborough Iron Company to the north east of Wellingborough.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Dovedale - Derbyshire Peak District

Dovedale is a renowned beauty spot, around 2-3 (4.8 km) miles of easy walking along the river Dove. The scenery is stunning with the impressive rock outcrops that line the limestone ravine. We started our walk in the southern Peak District at the Izaak Walton Hotel, named after the author of a book called The Compleat Angler. He fished the River Dove in the mid-17th century. The name The name is derived from the old Norse word dubo, meaning dark. Despite greeting over a million visitors a year Dovedale gorge supports a vast range of rare habitats and wildlife. For this reason, it became a National Nature Reserve in 2006. Early on in the walk you come across 'The Stepping Stones' first set down for Victorian tourists to cross the river. The footpath continues for 2.5 miles (4km) to Milldale at the north end of the gorge and a set of steps climb to a limestone promontory called Lover's Leap. The original steps were built by Italian prisoners of war captured in the Second World War. The recommended walk ends in the picture postcard setting of Milldale, but we decided to continue with the aid of the trusty ordinance survey map. We went 'off piste' to get to the village of Alstonefield and a couple of pints in the local. Compared to the Dovedale trail this was almost devoid of any other walkers. It was a lovely walk back to Dovedale if a bit steep at times ! There was more excitement to come as we reached 'Thestepping stones' coming back there was a man clearly in some distress. It was difficult to tell exactly what the problem was but it must have ben serious as the Air Ambulance was quickly on the scene.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Gozo 2014 Part 3

Last year the walk from our base at Ghammar across the salt pans to Marsalforn was a painful one. Having decided the day before to go running to the top of the lighthouse my legs failed me and a taxi was required to get home. This time it all started very well! The sun was scorching and probably the best snorkelling of the trip was had at the most northerly point of Gozo at Wied il-Għasri. A small curved low spur which juts into the sea. Wied il-L-Għasri is very popular with divers who like to explore the surrounding underwater caves. The very narrow and secluded bay is also a haven for those who seek a quiet bathing area. The problem for me on this occasion was one of 'inappropriate footwear'. My flimsy canvas shoes were no match for the hard, sharp and abrasive rocks that created cuts and blisters galore. It was with some relief that we approached the village of Marsalforn, the most popular tourist resort on Gozo. During the summer the village is a busy, vibrant place, teeming with both local and foreign visitors. My priority was an ice cold pint of Cisk beer that went down a treat. Speaking of ice I also managed to obtain some cooling for my feet that was discarded from one of the fridges outside the many restaurants. The downside being that it had been used to keep the fish fresh that was on the menu so there was a strong aroma. I have to mention the amazing lamb shanks eaten overlooking the sea. Absolutely huge and I struggled to finish. A couple of days later we went to the south of the island to Mgarr Ix Xini Mgarr a small, but very picturesque bay set within a creek and a steep sided natural valley. It is not the easiest of places to get to and the descent to sea level is extremely steep. The Mgarr ix-Xini Kiosk is also the best spot for fresh fish - It is a greasy spoon type of restaurant and do not expect silver service but by far the best food. The place is run by the owners - the cook and his wife who are really nice people. The cooking area is is outside/open air and the cook goes about his work in full view of the guests! Apparently last Summer the Maltese Prime Minister arrived in the bay on his yacht in company with the former President of France Sarkozy. They made their way up the hillside to the restaurant only to be told that as they hadn't booked there was no table available! On the hillside a large amount of scaffolding had been erected. Apparently an upcoming movie titled'By The Sea', starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is being filmed here starting towards the end of the year. Couldn't resist a photo opportunity until an over zealous security guard insisted that we move on.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Lakenheath Fen


 Been a while since I caught up with my Old Mate Eddie Mallet over in Suffolk. He has been telling me that the Kingfishers are making regular appearances around the reed beds at RSPB Lakenheath. Not to mention regular sitings of Bitterns, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits and Sedge Warblers. During the Summer the reserve is awash with over 100 species of fenland plants. These provide a home for all sorts of insects and colourful Butterflies and Dragonflies
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It's hard to believe that twelve years ago, the land that is now Lakenheath Fen nature reserve was a carrot field with little to offer in the way of wildlife interest. There is a flexible nature trail network, four viewpoints and a visitor centre. It was at the Mere hide that we knew there was a good chance of seeing the Kingfishers. We didn't have to wait long before there was a sudden flash of orange and blue taking up it's perch searching for a fish.

 
 The highlight had to be seeing the Kingfisher dive into the water and come up with a fish. It all happened in a split second and the fish never stood a chance.
 

 Not to be outdone a Common Tern had also been circling with his eye on a fish and quickly made his presence felt swooping to take another fish.

 
Nothing better than strolling around the reserve on a beautiful Summers day taking in the peace and quiet and enjoying the scenery.

 

Moving on from Lakenheath we called in at Weeting Heath probably the best site in the country to watch the rare and unusual stone curlew. The species requires open, stony ground with short vegetation to breed, making the close-cropped turf of Weeting an ideal site.