Thursday 29 July 2010

Man Walks Into A Shop...

There's some vibe going round about The Future Of Beer. Zak Avery over here says that the off-trade is the future, with opportunities to educate and inform, to sell enthusiastically and promote craft beer. Meanwhile, over here, Adrian Tierney-Jones offers a view on the consistency of bottle-conditioned beers, professing ambiguity about them.

Boggle's view? Until we have more of our best draught beer in bottles, whether as BCA or not, then a large number of beer fans will rely on pubs. Will this change the model for business growth in the UK? If it does, I'd expect to see more of what in the US are called 'packaging' breweries, where most of the output isn't for the bar, it's for the off-trade. That means investment in a bottling line or access to a reliable quality bottling (or canning) service. Would smaller brewers be left behind? BrewDog are ahead of the game in that respect, although their QC arrangements have lagged behind. And as the off-licence drinker becomes educated as Zak proposes, will we see more imports on the shelves? And then there's how the off-trade sector operates in terms of price and availability. Would growth in the off-trade be at the expense of pubs? We'll see...

Here's a different take. I liked this story on one of the US beer ticker sites. A beer 'fan' bought some bottles of beer from his local Good Beer Emporium. He logged onto the site in question and noticed some of the bottles he'd bought had received mixed reviews. Based on this, he posted that he was considering returning the beers to his Good Beer Emporium since they weren't to his liking, even though he hadn't tasted them.

Leave aside that a 'beer lover' could be so narrow-minded and easily-led as to rely on somebody else's review rather than drink the beer and form an opinion for themselves, if you were the operator of a Good Beer Emporium and a punter brought some unopened bottles back with that story, what would you do?

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Pre-GBBF Publicity

Today's Independent has a nice feature on US craft beer. Not so nice for British brewing, which they cast slightly more unfavourably than I think is the case, and I think their information on domestic market share for craft beer is a bit out of date (I have a feeling share is more around 7-8%). Still, a good read and should get the juices flowing for next week.

Glyn Roberts, AKA Rabid Barfly and still in denial about being a celebrity brewer, also gets a nice pic and plug.

Monday 26 July 2010

Birthday Cake

I'm straying into Jay Brooks' territory, but I couldn't resist sharing this picture...

(pic courtesy of David Rapoport)

Vinnie Cilurzo, genius brewer at Russian River Brewing Company, happy birthday!

Friday 16 July 2010

Clone Beers

A local spoogebeerian recently sidled up to me and asked if I'd been to Brew Wharf lately. Brew Wharf is/was a joint venture beer-themed restaurant near Vinopolis in Borough which opened in 2005 with its own 5-barrel plant inside the premises.

I hadn't, though I was aware that the brewing plant, which had suffered several false dawns since test brewing commenced in the Autumn of 2005, was now turning out some drinkable and well-regarded beers. The spoogebeerian told me that the current brewer, Phil Lowry, had brewed a clone of RRBC's Blind Pig IPA.

Spot the clone...

I chewed this over. Cloning of craft beer isn't unusual. The large number of homebrewing clubs in the USA are a vast repository of recipes belonging to commercial brewers, which they use to attempt their own versions. However, I believe it's rare for anybody to commercially brew clones. In the end I didn't make the trip, but Matt Wickham from the Evening Star did, pronouncing the beer as very good, and he would know since he spends a week a year drinking the real thing locally around SF and Sonoma County.

For me, I'm curious and a bit split down the middle. Not too many drinkers here would know Blind Pig, so they'll be judging Brew Wharf's on its own merits. But, is it right to use another commercial brewer's recipe in this way? The name of the beer, Hopfather, is also, I believe the name of a different RRBC beer. I'm pleased that somebody is at last making a go of the Brew Wharf plant. I can remember when they were test-brewing and sold (bloody SOLD!) some very sub-par batches. But part of me thinks that using the recipe in this way might be encroaching onto thin ice. Or is there no harm when the original Blind Pig isn't available outside the US?

Sunday 11 July 2010

Wenlock Arms In Developers' Crosshairs?

There's a lot of scuttlebutt doing the rounds about the Wenlock Arms.

Story goes that property developers are once again interested in acquiring the site, and that an offer in excess of a million beer tokens has been put before the owners. We await developments (no pun intended...)

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Let's Get Fantastic Frank To Number One!

It's happening! iTunes are selling downloads of the 'new' Frank single Guess Who's Been On MOTD/The Robins Aren't Bobbins.

This is a live version (recorded at the Reading Festival, likely in 1989) of the song he wrote to mark his appearance on an FA Cup edition of MOTD in the late 80's, while The Robins Aren't Bobbins was written when he was Altrincham FCs official mascot at around the same time.

Both are classic Frank songs and his fans are eager to try and get him in this Sunday's chart, so please get along to iTunes and plonk your £1.58 in cyber-Samoleans down!

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Sidie & Me: Remembering Frank And Chris

Chris Sievey, creator of Frank Sidebottom, was laid to rest last Friday. Fans had raised over £20,000 to give him a decent send-off when it was revealed he'd died virtually penniless. And those same fans are committed to getting him to Number 1 in the charts and having some kind of memorial to him in the town he made famous, Timperley, a small satellite of Altrincham just off the A56.

Chris Sievey drained his pint of Kronenbourg. His partner Gemma headed into the pub to get another round as we shot the shit and reminisced about London Frank Sidebottom psychogeography, and other things.

It was July 2007, and I was heading into The Morpeth Arms on Millbank for a lunchtime pint. Vicious mid-morning downpours had cleared away all the London summer fug, and the day was fresh and clean. I'd been to see Frank Sidebottom at his Chelsea Space Is Ace installation near Tate Britain and laughed myself stupid.

To mark the event, I was wearing a vintage "Shed Show" tee shirt I'd bought on a pilgrimage to Timperley in 1992, and I took my pint and sat outside. I was aware of a small group sitting to my right. They'd been there when I went in. I got on with sipping my pint of Youngs Ordinary when I was interrupted. The girl sitting with the group came over and asked if I'd like to join her and her friends. I looked over, but the penny didn't drop. I looked at her again, and vaguely recognised her as the girl with Frank at the show earlier. Then I realised that I was finally going to meet Chris, the man underneath the "pumpkin head".


I first heard Frank on Mike Read's Radio 1 Breakfast Show. He was much taken with Frank's "Oh Blimey It's Christmas" record and played it repeatedly in the run-up to the 1985 festive season. At first, I thought it was a joke. Another Northern club-circuit comedian emulating Fred Wedlock and his "Oldest Swinger In Town". But I was curious. The song had a pleasing hook, and I loved the "oh! blimey!" I consulted a recent arrival from the NW who was a fellow City fan and member of Hacienda. He'd know. "Remember 'The Freshies'?" he asked. Yes, I did. I remembered their powerpop classic "I'm In Love With The Girl From The Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk". Well, Frank was Chris Sievey out of The Freshies.

Acquisitions and learning followed. The Timperley EP, "Space Is Ace", "Christmas Is Really Fantastic". Through his interpretations of other peoples' songs, he'd set out this entire parallel universe where he ran a showbiz empire out of his garden shed, had to hide his fame and stardom from his mum, and his list of chores would compete with his "showbusiness". His Jiminy Cricket in the form of little frank, was always rescuing Frank from scrapes, despite the fact that he was supposed to be Frank's ventriloquist puppet. It all seemed so normal, so easy to get into. I was totally hooked.

My first chance to see him came as a result of a phone conversation with Jon Ronson, who was then in Frank's Oh Blimey! Big Band. He was doing a Christmas gig at North London Poly and Ronson was selling the tickets. I rang to try and get hold of four. No dice. I asked if he was playing anywhere else, and learned he'd be playing in a pub called The Cricketers at Kennington Oval. Perfect! Just round the corner and tickets on the door.

The place was heaving. We got in and managed to force our way to the front. He did two sets, one an Xmas-themed medley, the other running through his greatest hits. At the interval, while he went to change, two of us drunkenly stormed all the toilets looking for him. We wanted pictures. Having failed miserably, at the end of the gig we tried to go behind the bar. "Sorry lads" we were politely but firmly rebuffed, "'e's taken 'is head off." And that was that.

His popularity grew, and as well as TV show appearances, he did the Reading Festival, produced a regular full-page comic strip in Oink! Comic (a sort of kiddie Viz), lecture tours and more records appeared through the early Nineties. By this time I was working in Germany. I used to try and get the BFBS DJs to play him. They'd go "eh?"

After two years I came home, and on my first weekend back, he was on at The Cricketers. No band this time. He came on stage with a dustbin and there was just the single keyboard that would become his main stage prop, along with little frank.

And that would be the last time I saw him live until 2006.


Outside the Morpeth Arms that July afternoon, myself and another fan had a chance to recount our favourite Frank moments with Chris. He didn't realise the Chelsea Space was only 10 minutes from the former Cricketers pub he appeared at so many times. I recalled a Channel 4 documentary called "The Spirit Of Christmas", where numerous 'celebs' were invited to a full dinner and asked to ponder the meaning of it all. Frank had been booked, and chipped in that the Meaning Of Christmas was going out on Christmas Eve with your favourite auntie to buy Pink Paraffin. Warren Mitchell was there and took a serious dislike to him. Chris couldn't explain why, but he quite liked to idea of rubbing Alf Garnett up the wrong way.

He'd stopped 'being' Frank for over a decade, with only a greatest hits CD called 'A B C & D' being released in around 1998. When he came back, he explained away his absence from 'Showbiz' by saying his mum found out about his career and had made him get a proper job. That job was as an animator, a talent he put to excellent use by making a pilot episode of 'Frank's World', 11 minutes of subversive, clever and literate animation.

In 2006, word came out that Frank had been booked to appear at one of Chelsea's shows called Researching/Samuel Beckett. He turned up and did a bizarre double-act with a 'Darlek' fabricated by a couple of Chelsea College of Arts students. He 'narrated' all of the Beckett exhibit on the basis that Sam had nicked all of his ideas from Frank and the proof was in the correspondence. Then he did a duet of 'Anarchy In The UK' with the Darlek as it discharged Co2 all over the place.

That same summer, Late At Tate did an Evening With Frank Sidebottom, where his Mark Kennedy-created mosaic was unveiled. Frank sits at the centre, surrounded by Mark Radcliffe, Jon Ronson, Caroline Aherne as Mrs Merton, and Chris Evans. The event also premiered his 'Frank's World' animation pilot. His association with the Art Space and Tate Britain continued into 2007 when he 'hosted' his Chelsea Space Is Ace installation and performed at the August 2007 Late At Tate evening.

In the meantime, Channel M based at Urbis in Manchester had given him a TV show. Part performance, part chat show, part showing 'Frank's World'; part vox-pop. He memorably ambushed Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to ask what colour pens they wrote their scripts with.

After our afternoon with Chris, I was able to spend a little more time with both he and Gemma. I watched with a mixture of amusement and horror as he closed the Chelsea Space Is Ace event by repainting the entire front of the Art Space. He never said a word, he was Francois Sidè-Bottem. Mime-like, he took bottles of poster paint and, having painted the glass screens, included the porous sandstone front and the uplighters set into the ground.

When it was all over and he re-appeared as Chris, we all sat on the ground and watched as the Art Space volunteers tried to clean the paint off with liberal applications of water, only succeeding in diluting the paint into the stone facade. Later, over a pint, when I recounted all this to Director of Exhibitions Donald Smith, he looked at me sternly. "I had to come back and get him to apologise to one of the volunteers", he said. Then his face cracked into a rueful smile. "I just wish I could have seen it", he said.

I last saw Chris in Brighton at The Albert at the end of 2007. I had a quick chat before he got his head on and did a cracking show for the 80-odd squeezed into the performance space upstairs at the pub.

His creation has given me 25 years of joy. Amidst the feelings of loss and sadness, there are the little regrets. I wish I could have seen him in New York. His account of his day trip to New York is classic. I wish I could have been on one of his 'Sunday With Sidie' open-top bus tours and events. And I really wish he'd taken on board my idea of a game show called 'Stars In Your Big Blue Eyes'. A rip-off of the Matthew Kelly-hosted impersonations show, in this version, Frank would compere while celebs had to perform as him.

But, he also left a substantial body of work, which I hope won't be allowed to disappear from view. That would just be bobbins.