Category Archives: Events

Birmingham Blues

crayLast weekend we dashed down to Birmingham for a very last-minute treat – a concert by the Robert Cray Band.

I’ve been a fan of Cray for years, ever since I heard his famous track ‘Right Next Door’ on a compilation Blues album.  I shouldn’t like it really since it’s borderline soul which I’m less keen on, but the catchy tune and poignant lyrics have stayed with me and it’s still one of my favourites.  So I was delighted when he turned up on Later With Jools Holland the other week, and even more delighted when Dave suddenly said, “He’s touring.  He’s coming to Birmingham!”

Cue a mad scramble for tickets, not helped by falling foul of Viagogo (overpriced and under-ethical, but more on that later).  But two days before the event, the tickets arrived and off we went.  And the concert was worth every penny.  The first half hour was filled with a back-up act, Jeb Loy Nichols, who sang southern US blues/folk, accompanied only by his own guitar, and quipped about his recent move to Wales.  He was surprisingly good and an excellent choice, but paled by comparison when the lights darkened again and Cray and his band came on.

Like so many legends, the difference was striking and immediate.  The sheer professionalism, the passion, shone through.  His guitar playing is every bit as skilled in real life as it is on his recordings (so no tweaking by the production team) and his voice is as smooth as molten molasses, if you’ll pardon the cliché.  What I wasn’t expecting, but loved, was the sense of mischief as he pretended to grumble at his roadie, told the audience “We not so bad after all” and teased his band by keeping them in suspense at the end of some of the tracks.

We got an hour and a half of great music and entertainment.  Not much of a light-show, perhaps, but then he really didn’t need any gimmicks or extras – the power of his music alone carried the event.  I loved every minute and would happily go and see him again.  Just not using Viagogo for the tickets.

A word of warning – Viagogo aren’t an official seller, they purely act as brokers for people trying to re-sell unwanted tickets for a range of music and sporting events.  And they’re not particularly honest.  They add vast amounts to the face value of the tickets in the shape of tax, handling fees and postage (even for e-tickets!), which can bump the cost up by three or even four times.  They don’t make this clear during the purchasing process; the price you see when you click ‘confirm’ is nowhere near the price you end up paying.  And there is no way, at all, of cancelling the transaction or getting a refund.  All you can do is sell the tickets back to them, presumably at considerable loss to yourself.  In the end, we were ‘lucky’.  The tickets arrived in time (some don’t).  They were legit (some aren’t).  And we only paid three times face value (some cost even more).

But I’d never, ever use the company again, and strongly recommend that nobody else does either.  Over two hundred quid for a concert that should have cost sixty?  Now that really is the Blues.

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Damson Day fun

P1020621The Damson Day festival is yet another event we’ve kept missing, not helped by the fact that the last two years it’s been cancelled due to bad weather and the after-effects of the Storm Desmond flooding.

The festival is held at one of the historic farms in the Lyth (pronounced ‘lithe’) Valley just south of Bowness-on-Windermere, a lovely area famous for its damson orchards.  I can remember my parents stopping off at the farm years ago for Mum to buy ten pounds of the fruit to make jam, and unlike many other local products, this one has not only survived but is now celebrated with the annual festival.

This year, it was back, and the weather was great, and we were determined to go.  And it was lovely.  Quite a small event but packed with entertainments, stalls, goodies damson-related and not, orchard walks, and a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.

We mooched around the various tents, marquees and stalls, had a coffee, listened to a local band (Jim Beans, surprisingly good), watching a hilarious dog agility display, tried one of the walks only to be beaten back by a vicious stile, mooched some more, had some delicious locally-made snacks for lunch, and even tried our hand at the archery.  This was a first for both of us and something I’ve long wanted to try but been nervous about given my bad wrist.  However, with some assistance and tuition I managed to hit the target with one out of my three arrows and felt quite proud of myself!

Pretty much the only thing the Damson Day didn’t have was… damsons, but they come later, in the autumn.  This event is very much about celebrating their birth – the blossom, the pollination, the crop to come.  It was a revelation.  We came home in the afternoon sun-burned and armed with damson pork pies and damson beer, and determined to go again next year.

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Ja Windermere!

Dave and I haven’t been particularly well lately – all kinds of winter bugs at work – but last Saturday we shuffled up the hill to Windermere town centre to see the “German” Christmas market.

Ja Windermere is a brand new venture which has never been run before.  And it was very sweet.  Hardly in the same league as Birmingham’s famous Frankfurt Christmas Market, but it featured around 40 stalls selling food, drink and gifts, and was large enough to have closed two of the roads in the town centre (with parking for reindeer behind the Tourist Information Centre!).

The main difference to other Christmas markets is that it was only German in name and style, not in content.  There were a couple of stalls selling gluhwein, and one doing Frankfurters and German sausages, but apart from that all the produce was local, and the whole event was sponsored by Made In Cumbria, a local trade cooperative organisation.

Even so, it was great fun and had really drawn in the crowds.  We spent an enjoyable 20 minutes strolling round the stalls, bought a handful of bits and bobs (including some Herdwick cards to frame) and then shuffled home again.

I’ve since read in the local papers that it was a roaring success, so hopefully we can expect a bigger and better Ja Windermere here next year.

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Fireworks!

For some reason we’ve kept missing all the good firework displays the last few years.  Either we’ve been travelling, or we’ve been double-booked to do something else, or we’ve missed seeing that they were on.

So we were really pleased on Saturday to be in the right place at the right time to head to Windermere rugby club for their annual display, which has a reputation for being good.  And boy, good it certainly was.  We arrived just after 6.30 pm (along with half the rest of south Cumbria by the looks of it) to find a huge bonfire blazing merrily in one corner of the site, as well as stalls doing food, hot drinks, sparklers, and plastic flashy things for the kids.

Dave had hoped to sneak a sausage from the barbecue but the queue was half way round the pitch (and never did seem to go down) so as we’d already eaten he showed great fortitude and managed without.

The fireworks were due to start at 7 pm but there was quite a lengthy delay, possibly because they were still trying to let people in through the main gate.  We reckon there could easily have been several thousand attending – quite amazing for a small rugby club in a very small town.  It was worth the wait, though, because the display was spectacular.  Not quite Madeira at New Year, perhaps, but then few places are.  And we more than got our money’s worth with fifteen to twenty minutes of colour, light, and above all noise.  Definitely better than scurrying around trying to light Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels one by one with a taper in the back yard!

The only slight fly in the evening’s entertainment was getting back out again.  Several thousand people converged on the main gate at once, and the lane outside was completely unlit and partly blocked with cars.  One lass had already tripped up and hurt herself, and the scene had all the makings of a nasty stampede.  Luckily we got through with nothing worse than a few accidental bruises, but we’re hoping they sort that out for next year because it would be a shame to see such an enjoyable event cancelled as so many others have been.

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Borderlines on the border

Carlisle is a lovely little city – about as far north as you can go in north-west England without sticking your toe over the Scottish border – which is rapidly turning into something of a literary venue.  Just a few months ago I went to a crime writing weekend there with a bunch of friends, and on Saturday it was the turn of the annual ‘Borderlines‘ literary festival.

This is much more varied than the crime weekend and involved writers, poets, historians and even a shepherd, all giving workshops or talking about their books.  Speakers included tv historian Kate Williams, Terry Waite, shepherd James Rebanks who wrote a stonkingly popular autobiography about his life with the famous Lakeland Herdwick sheep, and many, many more.

I chose a couple of talks that were about as far removed from each other as possible, while still being on the subject of books.  The first, by Jenny Uglow and Steve Matthews, was about the nearby Wreay Church, which was built in the 1840s and most unusually for that time, designed wholly by a woman.  The woman in question was Sarah Losh, the daughter of a local land-owner, who was staggeringly well-educated, had been on the ‘Grand Tour’ to Italy, and decided to build a church for her local community when her beloved younger sister died. Not only was this exceptional for a woman back then, but she chose to build in a simple Romanesque style rather than the much more fashionable Gothick, and included various symbols of life and re-birth which are still being discussed today.

The talk would have benefited from a few slides, as I’ve never visited the church and would have loved to be able to picture the architecture that was being described, but it was still a fascinating dip into a subject I’d heard nothing about.  I feel a visit to Wreay coming on very soon!

In the afternoon, after a pleasant lunch with a couple of writer friends, I went to a talk by two writers of conspiracy thrillers, Tom Harper and Simon Toyne, who described how they chose their particular settings (the Amazon and the Arizona desert, respectively) and what elements go to make a book a conspiracy thriller.

Throw in catching up with another writer friend who I discovered sitting right behind me, plus a spectacular train ride skirting the Lakeland fells, and it made for a really enjoyable day out.  Hats off to Carlisle for organising the whole thing; I’ll be back next year for sure.

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Cars in the Park

Nope, not a car park!  This was a classic car rally held in the grounds of Hutton-in-the-Forest, a stately home to the north east of Penrith.

We’d read about the event in the local press but almost decided not to go given the poor weather yesterday morning – mist, low cloud, and frequent heavy showers.  However, we thought ‘oh, it can’t be that bad all day’ and breezed up the M6, arriving at Hutton just before eleven.

Of course, the minute we got out of the car it started to throw it down, and we spent a soggy half hour or so wandering up and down a field full of sheep poo in the pouring rain!  However, the old cars – everything from Austin 7s from the 1920s to surprisingly modern ‘cult cars’ via the usual assemblage of Rover 2000s, Triumph Stags and Ford Capris – were interesting enough to take our mind off wet or sheepy feet.

After a coffee in the ‘Cloisters’ tea room the rain seemed to have eased off so we pottered round the beautiful gardens – wild meadow, streams, a lake, and a fabulous walled garden which is one of the best I’ve ever seen – then bought a ticket for a tour of the house.  This was fascinating.  The earliest part dates back to around 1250, when the Houghton family were made rangers of Ingleby forest, an area of ‘wild wood’ stretching from Penrith right across to the west coast.  They built a peel tower to keep off the “marauding Scots”, and the building has been added to steadily over the centuries – Tudor wing, Carolean hall, Victorian gothick portion – to create a wonderful jumble of styles and dates, but all with the same wealth of history and homely atmosphere.

By this stage the rain had stopped, the clouds blown away and the sky turned an unusual shade – blue – so we had another wander round the cars before getting back in our own and heading for home.  All in all a very enjoyable day out, and one we’re glad we persevered with!

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Borderlines Book Festival

borderlines

Carlisle is rapidly turning itself into something of a ‘book town’.  Last year saw the first (as far as I’m aware) Borderlines Book Festival, and earlier this year they added the Crime Writing Weekend to the mix.  Now Borderlines is back, in early September, with a packed itinerary including workshops, author talks, and even a murder mystery night!

They’ve got some big names coming along, which even I recognise.  Amongst many others: Kate Williams, Owen Jones, and the Cumbrian shepherd James Rebanks who has written a stonkingly successful book about his farming life in the Lake District.

You can find more details about the venues, events, and how to book tickets at the Borderlines website.  I’ll almost certainly be going to something.  Hope to see you there!

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