It was Ron’s idea, another beer festival to nicely wrap up August, neatly closing the bracket opened by the Great British Beer Festival in the first week. It was the bank holiday weekend, there would be jazz, a decent range of beers, and it was his birthday. Nothing earth-shattering on the jazz line-up, but we decided we liked the idea, even if we didn’t really know what we were in for.
The Hampton Court Beer & Jazz Festival would be a different bushel of malt from the Great British Beer Festival, which is run by CAMRA. I couldn’t really see who ran HCB&JF. I had visions of Tudor-style hog roasts in the garden of the Palace, crumhorns brimming with foaming ale. Somewhat disappointingly, the actual venue turned out to be a field across the road from Henry’s pile. A big field, nevertheless, and a sizeable queue to get in, even at 3.30 in the afternoon. A decent-size stage and PA too.Pint glasses bought, hands stamped for re-entry (club-style), amusing beer sign photographed, the first job was to size the beer up. There was a whole tent devoted to Greenwich’s Meantime Brewery, a Belgian bottled beer tent, a marquee with a line of casks, and the first sign that this was not a CAMRA do; some flavoured bottled ciders. And all the Meantime draught beers were… keg. Definitely not CAMRA friendly. Interesting. Unlike yer average CAMRA member, the champions of so-called “real” ale, I am not an exclusive cask-conditioned beer person. I’m a card-carrying CAMRA member, but I don’t frown and spit on anything that doesn’t come out of a cask. I’ve had so many great keg beers from American craft brewers like Flying Dog, Sierra Nevada and Great Divide. Scottish enfants terribles BrewDog even sent out a blog saying that keg was the future of beer in the UK. Although I think that was designed to give Great British beer writer Roger Protz apoplexy (again), rather than a pure mission statement. Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter and BrewDog Hardcore definitely ain’t Guinness Extra Cold nor John Smith’s Smooth. And once you’ve got over years of your own cask conditioning: that these beers, ought to be served from a hand pump to be worth anything, you can start entertaining the idea that maybe some beer styles could actually be more suited to filtration and delivery under pressure. This was perhaps what Meantime’s game plan was; to showcase a range of beer styles from London Stout to Oktoberfest lager to London Pale Ale. Deciding to save the Meantimes for later, we went to the more conventional (for Britain) cask ale tent. There were 30 beers on offer, rather than the 100 or so on the list. This turned out to be a logistical problem of not enough hand pumps, however, there were enough interesting local micros, like Twickenham Fine Ales, and some from outside the South East, for it not to be too much of a disappointment. On closer inspection, and indeed sampling, most of the beers turned out to be low to mid-strength golden ales. Too many variations on a safe theme. Sure, this had a wheaty tang, another a citrusy aroma, but it was like a stream of Katie Melua and Jamie Cullum – nothing wrong, but it left me wanting a bit of Acoustic Ladyland or Led Bib to spice things up. And so to the Meantime tent to supply variation if not improvisation. London Stout was deeply bitter choclatey, the Kölsch malty and slightly nutty. The Oktoberfest was refreshing, if a bit bland, and I preferred the cask Oakland India Pale Ale to Meantime’s keg London Pale Ale, but it was served very cold. Ron was duly celebrated. A cracking set from Ruby Turner, enhanced by savouring the earthy hoppiness of the Oakland, couldn’t be dampened as the expected Bank Holiday shower passed. There was enough for us to consider giving Hampton Court another go next birthday. But today, Hampton Court felt like an unsettled score between cask and keg. Nothing that Henry would send anybody down the river to The Tower for, but next time, bolder champoins from both sides to the challenge, please. Hampton Court Beer & Jazz Festival
BrewDog Blog about keg
My posts about The Great British Beer Festival
Having written a preview to tonight's gig, I can hardly not do a review of the gig itself. It's billed as Three Friends playing the music of Gentle Giant. It's hard to write this, though. Not because I can't be objective, but who am I writing for? Everyone interested in music has a band they feel is theirs, and Gentle Giant is (one of) mine. And as I am part of the online Gentle Giant community of fans, it would be natural for me to write for them. "Great to see 3F live again in an intimate venue… Gary on great form… They played "Proclamation/Valedictory" for the first time…" All true, but not what I am about here. I'll save that for the On Reflection gang.I find myself thinking, "What would Sid Smith do?" Sid is the music writer who wrote an acclaimed bio of King Crimson. But even that doesn't work for me. I am not Sid. When I let all those thoughts pass, what I am left with is wonder, if not downright astonishment. Why on earth do Three Friends do this? It's a thought that occurred to me midway through the concert. But as I took my seat, in what used to be a church; formerly All Saints, Lewes, I suppose, I made a small connection with the guy next to me. "Is this Steve Reich?" I say, commenting out loud on the before-gig music. My fellow audient says, "It's Terry Riley." I immediately turn to my friend Chris and say, "I just said that, you did hear me, didn't you?" My excuses don't matter, we have made contact and start talking about Gentle Giant. It's a conversation familiar to me; "When did you first hear them?", "Did you ever see them live?", "How come you are here tonight?" And that's the one that interests me. Why are a couple of hundred souls gathered here together to see what might be called a tribute band. The objects of their musical offering a cult progressive rock group that finished playing in 1980? My new concert buddy admits to knowing the bass player: Roger Carey, having accidentally met in a pub where Roger had been playing recently. He admitted to being knocked sideways during innocent enjoyment of a quiet pint when he recognised a Gentle Giant number the pub band was playing. The previous song had been a Van Morrison song, nice to hear, but not unusual. He was totally unprepared for this: Gentle Giant?! He had to investigate and saw it was his old friend Roger, who revealed that he was in a Gentle Giant tribute band who were playing next week in Lewes. And now he was chatting to me. Gentle Giant fans connecting in the UK is a bit like recognising a fellow mason. In the second set, I catch myself with that thought, questioning the very existence of Three Friends, "Why are they doing this?" Well, on the face of it, it is an interesting gig; to play for an audience of locals and friends, but to then see it grow into a few gigs in Europe, Japan, North America. But jeez, you've got to really want to do this. This is hard, hard music to master, and on top of that, Gentle Giant fans are very picky. As they finish Schooldays, and on receiving genuinely rapturous applause, the faces of the band betray triumph and delight. Gary Green admits to us that it had been "crap" in rehearsal. Their reward is their satisfaction in their accomplishment, partly. But also they get the acknowledgement that they nailed it in front of this audience. From that moment, Three Friends flew. What had up to then been very enjoyable – accomplished, even, became something extra. And maybe that's getting near the why; It's the love of the music, no doubt, but that's not the whole story, I'm sure. I wonder, if perhaps Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimore – the only two Giant alumni in this band – along with the other superbly accomplished musicians (themselves Giant fans) get a sense of Three Friends putting right some of the injustice that the music of Gentle Giant didn't quite get the appreciation it deserved in the band's lifetime. Three Friends becomes bigger than the band members. If that's anywhere near what's driving them to learn the almost absurdly complex rhythms, the bonkers melodies (and their counterpoint), then isn't that the real tribute? Otherwise, why do it? Sticking to Van Morrison covers or jazz standards, or whatever they all do in the rest of their musical lives, is surely a much more sensible choice. Not merely a cover band, but a band on a mission.??
Tonight, June 8 2010, a small town close to England’s South Coast becomes the centre of my musical world. Lewes in East Sussex might well be home of one of the finest of Englands traditional small breweries, but even for a beer lover like me, this malty fact is insignficant compared to the knowledge that the music of the mighty Gentle Giant will be played live at the unlikely venue of of the All Saints Centre. And I wouldn’t miss it for all the mild in Harveys.
Now, I don’t have a problem with tribute bands. I don’t even have a problem with bands trading on an ancient famous name, with only one original member left (not the case with 3F). As long as the music is true to the spirit of the band they are covering, it’s fine by me. I find it odd that some tribute bands want to dress up and look like their heroes, as seen on the very dodgy “I’m in a Rock n Roll Band, Live” on BBC2 last Saturday.Three Friends play the music of Gentle Giant, and more than do it right. And, if any further reason were required to gain my approval, they play songs that the original band never played live. So I don’t have a problem with them; fine musicians serving the music. In fact I rejoice in their very existence. Thankfully, the white jumpsuit and satin Robin Hood gear are nowhere to be seen. However, if I, and a huge part (if not all) of the remaining fans of Gentle Giant don’t have a problem with Three Friends, Ray Shulman, clearly DOES have a problem with Three Friends’ existence. Ray Shulman was not only the bass player and multi-instrumentalist, he was one of the main composers of Gentle Giant’s revered cannon, along with Kerry Minnear. He maybe feels affronted by Three Friends making money off his work, I don’t know. What I DO know is this music deserves to be heard live. See for yourself, and if you can’t make one of the live dates, there are some cracking vids on YouTube taken both from concerts and live in the studio.
Just the Same Three Friends Live at the Ropetackle Shoreham, with Kerry Minnear in October 2009
School Days Three Friends in the Studio
Buy the newly-released 180 gm direct metal vinyl versions of two classic Gentle Giant albums: The Power and the Glory, and In a Glass House, direct from the band.
The situation we are in at this time, neither a good one nor is it so unblest…