Thursday, March 28, 2013

Local Ale

Before Pip and I moved to England, we'd made certain assumptions about how life here would be. Spending countless hours in pubs, hearing about football non-stop from anyone we dared to interact with, and being shamefully up-to-date with Coronation Street.

What we did learn though was for us it doesn't matter where we live, we will (and should) get involved only in things which 'we' enjoy doing. To that degree we spent more time sipping coffee, talking about music non-stop, and being shamefully out-of-date with any TV shows at all (We haven't had a TV the whole time we've been here, and we've not missed it).

The point I'm trying to make is that Pip and I have learned a lot about ourselves and what 'we' find important. Much of this will be taken back to New Zealand with us.

The exceptions to these rules do however pop up from time to time and generally involve a bit of large quantity drinking, or a few back to back episodes of 'One born every minute' on the laptop. Last night Pip and I were treated to a local tour of a few hidden drinking establishments across town. Having finished his last week at work, my workmate Anthony wanted to have a catch up before he leaves to live in Australia for a year. It was great to see him outside of work and he took us to a few drinking establishments to give us a look-in at a few interesting spots.

Our first stop was 'The Angel Pub', a cosy tavern with a fire, a concert piano, and some guitars littered about.  The Angel Pub has a huge selection of local ales, from which we made our selections before retiring to a corner to chat and observe the goings on in the pub. If you click here you can see what it looks like inside (Although it is much darker and rougher than it appears in the photos).

We then made our way to the 'Marble Arch' which was an absolutely beautiful pub and I wish we'd known about it when Pip's Dad was here a few months ago. We couldn't stay as it was packed out with nowhere to stand or sit but if you click here you can see how nice it is. I also love how one of its slogans is "Not serving Fosters for 125 years".

So on we went, now heading back toward the Northern Quarter and onto a less-traditional English pub called 'Odd' where we sunk another ale and shot the breeze some more. Click here to see what this one is like.

Being shown around by a local lad to taste local ales is not quite the cliché pub experience we'd held in our heads. It was a wonderful way to see a side of Manchester Pip and I would not have usually bothered with or even know about. And although we are both very excited about traveling and returning back to New Zealand soon, it is nice to see that Manchester still has plenty going on to hold its appeal to us. It's not all about football and bar fights.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pip's Birthday Bash

As our time in the UK draws near to a close, we celebrated Pip's final English birthday on Saturday the 23rd.

The day was rather action packed and actually began the previous evening when her colleagues at Comic Relief baked her cupcakes and brownies before taking her for wines at the exclusive Media City UK club. Waiting patiently at home for her return, I decided as it was technically her birthday in New Zealand so we might as well begin spoiling her now. We took a bus to Home Sweet Home in the Northern Quarter for a very late dinner before retiring home to finish off a bottle of wine.

I was the first to wake up the next morning and like a child at Christmas, I couldn't wait to wake Pip up, so I didn't... pulling her out of a blissful dream and into the harsh reality of turning 24. With the usual coffee-in-bed routine we've had for years, she unwrapped my little gift to her, then after some breakfast we headed out.

Spring officially began on the 21st but today it was lightly snowing, blowing and gale and quite possibly the most wintery day of the year to date. We headed to the Peoples History Museum where there was a vintage fill-a-bag day happening. We paid our pound for a bag and joined the hundreds digging through creates of old clothes trying to find something that looked half decent and might stand a chance of fitting, though there was neither time nor room to indulge in such high street routines. After quarter of an hour we got our four items weighed, paid for it was burst back out into the alpine conditions outside.

A crowd of people fighting over vintage clothing

I am notoriously bad at surprises and Pip generally knows well in advance what I am getting her on most occasions. I did well this afternoon however as all she knew was that we had to be somewhere at 4:30pm. Speculation ensued as she received birthday wishes via a phone call from Holly who had plenty of inappropriate suggestions. Pip did manage to guess a few hours before we had to go after I suggested not eating too much for lunch... "Is it high tea up Beetham Tower by any chance?" Pip asked. Indeed it was.

We made our way to our 4:30 booking and rode the elevator about half way up the tower to Cloud 23, the bar which sits hight above the city. Our waiter had crazy eyes but was a delightful fellow and we enjoyed views along with cakes, scones, and savory treats. High Tea up high was something I'd wanted to do with Pip for a while and I'm glad it was enjoyable despite Holly taking her for High Tea in London just a week ago (When I found out Holly had gotten Pip the very same thing for her birthday, I was devastated though she wasn't to know).

If all this wasn't enough for one day, we traded in the posh heights of Beetham Tower for the gritty underbelly of the Ritz club to see the legendary Johnny Marr perform in his home town. When I bought tickets for this gig, I read the date wrong and thought it was one month earlier. We almost actually went along but I read the ticket at the last minutes only to realise we were one month early. The date then fell on Pip's birthday which wasn't ideal as it was mostly me who wanted to go.

Johnny didn't disappoint as he blasted his way though a very enjoyable set of tunes from his debut solo album and threw in four Smiths songs for good measure. This alone was enough to ensure Pip had a great time.  It was great to see him perform in Manchester and he too was clearly enjoying himself. The highlight for me was his speech about playing his first gig as a professional musician on that very stage with the Smiths in 1982 before launching into 'Big Mouth Strikes Again'. I was very impressed despite the few dull songs and we were both glad to have seen him in his home town.

So now we have four weeks to go here in Manchester. Pip has one week of work remaining, and we are planning and booking our trip home.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Inside Abbey Road

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance/justification of pilgrimages. On Saturday I indulged myself once again, this time my pilgrimage was centered around an event at one of music's most famous locations, Abbey Road Studios in London.

When Pip and I first moved to London, we paid a visit to the studio. As you cannot go inside, we did what everyone else does and took a photo walking across the crossing and reading the graffiti on the walls outside.

Taken at the end of 2011, I think we got a pretty good shot.

Late last year, Abbey Road began selling tickets to an event called 'Inside Abbey Road: The most famous studio in the world' and so I snapped up a ticket for £80.

This was only the second time they had opened up Studio 2 for such an event and so I am very lucky for the chance to go inside. The event was centered around a new book documenting the studios history and so I wasn't sure if it were going to be more of an advertorial or a tour.

I made a day trip to London and prior to the event caught up with my good friend Bradley in Carnaby Street. As we were catching up, I felt a huge nostalgia for the city I once called home. I was probably the only person smiling when riding the tube to reach St John's Wood.

At Abbey Road they had very tight security as I entered the building, we were only allowed to take photos in the studio itself. The hallways leading to Studio 2 were lined with photos of the many artists who have recorded there over the years. I entered Studio 2 and panned my eyes around the room which was filled with chairs, a stage and a mini museum containing a selection of historic studio equipment and instruments.

As you can imagine, it is quite hard to build a feeling of awe when the environment is filled with people and lecture gear. They had done a good job of laying out some equipment of historical significance and gave us some time to walk around, take photos and climb the staircase.

Me on the stairs.
We sat down to a lecture by the two authors of the Abbey Road book which was very good. They ran us through a history of the studio and played us a few clips and audio bytes which helped add context to the famous room in which we sat. The highlight for me was the 'Day in the life' recreation where one of the lecturers played the intro to the tune on the same piano that was used on the recording. The sound was amazing as it filled the space, a familiar sound that I know so well from the record reflecting off the walls in the very room where it was first played. They also invited three people up to play the final note of the song with the long sustain, this was met with a huge round of applause.

It was definitely worth the price and trip down to London for the day. It's not often you can enter this room, in fact it's extremely rare unless you spend £2000 a day to hire it out. This will be something I remember for the rest of my life. Below are a few more photos from the event which highlighted such an amazing day where I was back in London for the first time since our move to Manchester, I sort of miss that city...

The Beatles recorded the song 'A day in the life' on this piano.
This mixing console was used to record the 'Abbey Road' album by The Beatles.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Melody at the Deaf Institute

Some of the best things happen by accident, and even fewer happen by a series of accidents. I do not believe in fate (for me, it ruins the whole point of living), so when a series of accidents occur leading to something special, it's hard not to feel rather fortunate to experience them at all.

Such a series of accidents concluded last night as Pip and I found ourselves seated in a very small music venue called the Deaf Institute in Manchester, watching a band who most likely won't be playing small venues for much longer.

I discovered Melody's Echo Chamber by accident a few months ago before they released there debut album. The track 'Endless shore' was featured on NME's '10 tracks you have to hear this week' section, and I loved it. I got the album not long after it was released and went about enjoying it as you would any album.

Two weeks ago, Pip and I were enjoying a coffee at our favorite cafe (North tea power in Manchester's northern quarter) when I picked up a local art magazine called 'Crack' to sift through while enjoying our beverages. On the cover was a band whom I recently discovered called 'Daughter' that I'd missed recently for not looking to see whether they were touring. A few pages in I found a gig section which included Melody's Echo Chamber playing in a couple of weeks for only £8. Naturally, we finished our coffees and when straight home to book our tickets.

The evening arrived, and we turned up in good time thanks to a strangely punctual bus. The deaf institute is a neat little venue with different floors which have a cafe/bar on one, and upstairs a tiny music venue. As you can see by the photo I took, it can only hold a few hundred people but this made the show extra special. We purchased our usual drink at the bar and were able to take a seat behind the mixing booth on the mini grandstand. Why were we not closer down the front? We are elderly at heart and although a few years ago Pip and I would only be found in the front row at any given gig, we now like to observe in comfort, except on the occasions where we've had too many of our usual drinks.

I would love to find out who the opening act was. A well dressed, hipster looking man with a long fringe took to the stage and began in a brave a-capella style. His performance consisted of backing tracks and songs of self pity, but his brilliance was how he'd incorporate wit, vocal ability, and when he did pick up a guitar or ukulele, excellent musicianship. Who was he? I'd love to know, hopefully another accident. Melody's Echo Chamber does not have a dedicated website that I could find outside of social media. This added to the feeling that everyone here were very fortunate to be at this gig.

   I don't agree with taking camera-phone photos at gigs as they rob you of the experience and phone cameras do not perform well under the conditions. But, to demonstrate the point of this post, I decided to be a hypocrite just this once.
All of the aforementioned accidents lead up to the point where Melody and her band took to the stage and played a set which I wished would just keep going. They performed most of their debut album plus a new song and finished with a Jam. Pip and I loved it, and after the band left the stage we filed out of the beautiful but scorchingly hot venue, onto the street, and caught the (again strangely punctual) bus home.

A series of accidents had resulted in one of the best gigs we've ever been to. It is crazy to think that there are likely many artists who's names I see on a gig list, a music review site, or a poster pinned to a parking lot wall that I will miss out on for not looking them up. Perhaps I should take more notice in future and allow more accidents to happen.