Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Anyone who had a Hart

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is attempting to sign goalkeeper Pepe Reina from Napoli.

On becoming City manager last year, Guardiola effectively dispensed with the club's first-choice keeper for most of the last decade, Joe Hart - sending him out on loan to Torino last season and to West Ham ahead of this - and signed Claudio Bravo from Barcelona.

Bravo ultimately came up short in the shot-stopping department and now looks likely to be sold, but when he was bought Guardiola saw him as a "sweeper-keeper" who could tackle opposing teams' forwards - effectively an extra centre-back - and intitiate attacks with long passes to his own.

The "sweeper-keeper" role was invented in contintental Europe in the 1950's before becoming popular in South America, but has often been seen as a somewhat risky tactic here. Jonathan Wilson in his book The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper says of the 1953 match at Wembley in which Hungary beat England 6-3, "[Hungarian goalkeeper] Grosics charged out to the edge of the box and, with impeccable timing, volleyed the ball clear. 'Unorthordox but effective,' said an uncertain Kenneth Wolstenhome in commentary, seemingly not quite sure whether he should approve of this sort of thing."

I guess Guardiola sees Reina both as an experienced back-up keeper for the young Brazilian no. 1 Ederson and as someone who can play as a "sweeper-keeper" and stop a shot.



Friday, 7 July 2017

Up The Junction

En route to a rugby league match in Wakefield last night, I popped into Woodfest, a beer festival organised by the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood at the Junction Inn, Castleford, which champions beer from wooden rather than metal casks to the extent that they supply them to breweries to put their products into as well as serving Old Brewery Bitter from the best-known suppliers of cask beer in wood, Yorkshire's most traditionalist family brewers Samuel Smith.

Formed in 1963, the SPBW pre-dates Britain's leading beer drinkers' organisation CAMRA by almost a decade and has always been more of a social rather than a campaigning group, although CAMRA itself is I suppose moving in that direction too now. The event was held in a marquee behind the pub and the premises of a refurbished, but from I could see still closed, and certainly unsigned, pub next door to it, the Horse and Jockey. CAMRA stalwart, and former Trotskyist, Roger Protz was also there, making notes for the speech he was to give later, although I had to leave before he spoke.

I hadn't drunk any of the beers I had last night before so it's hard to say what they're like in metal rather than wooden casks, but the latter did seem to have added a bit of Victorian-style funkiness to them, especially Beer Nouveau's Barclay Perkins X Ale, a recreation of a 1852 8.9% mild served from a small barrel on the bar, and Castleford Special, a similarly historic London porter supplied by Buckinghamshire's Baby Animal brewery.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Here is London, giddy London

I've just spent a few days in London for a mate's fiftieth birthday.

I've got one word of advice for fellow Northern beer-hounds heading for the capital: Wetherspoon's.

The pub chain is your best bet for well-kept and conditioned cask beer at the reasonable prices those of us from north of the Trent are used to paying, especially if, like me, you had CAMRA vouchers to use up by the end of the month. Indeed, in the suburb of west London where I was stopping, it was the only pub selling cask beer.

I'm not sure I've drunk beer from Sambrook's Brewery in Battersea before, but the couple of pints of their Powerhouse Porter and (after that ran out) their Junction bitter were easily the best, and certainly cheapest, I found in the metropolis.

I also got to drink in the pub in Clerkenwell where Lenin drank when editing the Russian socialist newpaper Iskra nearby in 1903, and where he later allegedly first met Stalin. Although the building looks pretty much the same as it might have done then, the clientele has changed somewhat.





Thursday, 29 June 2017

Music in Monk Time

It's not often that you get to buy a new album by Thelonious Monk, the jazz pioneer who pretty much invented bebop piano at Minton's Playhouse in uptown Manhattan in the early 40's, but this week I did with a double CD of the recordings he made for the soundtrack of a 1960 French film, Les Liasions Dangereuses.

Although based on the 1782 novel of the same name, the film is set amongst a bourgeois family in contemporary France. Some of the music from it, including material by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, was released as an album at the time, but Monk's contributions lay in the record company vaults until they were rediscovered in 2014.

The sound on the album is as sharp and as fresh as the day it was put onto tape in a studio on the West Side of Manahattan in the summer of 1959. Although Monk is playing music he'd played many times before, rather than newly-composed material, there's less of the angularity and atonality which you normally associate with his playing, and which first drew me to it twenty or so years ago, more swing and lyricism, a romantic feeling even, no doubt appropriate to the theme of the film (some of the  alternate and unedited takes which make up the second disc of the album are in a noticeably faster tempo than the ones which ended up being used in the film). Monk also shares frontline duties almost equally with the rest of his quintet, especially the tenor saxophonists Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen.

The album includes a booklet with black and white and colour photos from the session featuring Monk himself in a fetching hat, his wife Nellie and patron Pannonica Rothschild, as well as extensive liner notes. My favourite are from the English, indeed Mancunian, jazz pianist and critic Brian Priestley who recalls seeing the film while living in Paris as a student in the early 60's, and even hearing a couple of Monk's musical contributions to it which were released as singles in France on jukeboxes in bars and cafes there.




Sunday, 18 June 2017

Belgian Blonde

I went to a CAMRA meeting in Stockport last week at which a marketing and pubs manager from Robinsons, the Victorian brewery whose redbrick tower still rises above the town centre, gave us a presentation about recent additions to their draught range, and, very kindly, some free bottles of Blonde Tom, their new Belgian-style strong ale, to sample.

Blonde Tom belongs to the same family of beers as Old Tom, the 8.5% dark strong ale first brewed in 1899 which is one the company's best-known products, although at 6% it's not quite as potent as its older brother and, as the name suggests, has a golden colour. It combines English hops with a Belgian yeast strain rather than the one they normally pitch into their open fermenters to give it a different taste to that of their other beers. The beer one of them mentioned as the kind of strongish golden ale they were aiming for was Duvel.

Blonde Tom is a thinnish beer with a quickly dissipating head, quite sweet, but with a refreshing sharpness too. I'm not sure I picked up any specifically Belgian notes, but it defintely doesn't have the normal Robinsons taste. It'd be interesting to try a cask version to compare it to the bottled one.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Post-election number-crunching

Although less so than others in the past, last week's General Election result threw up some clear differences between the votes won by each political party and the number of parliamentary seats which that gave them.

First Past the Post as a voting system obviously favours parties who are able to build up large votes in individual constituencies, even if some of those are then wasted because they end up surplus to returning their candidate there, and punishes those whose support is spread more thinly across the country. So what would the House of Commons look like if a proportional representation voting system had been used for last week's poll?

There are different forms of PR, from single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies to national lists with thresholds for representation, or a mixture of the two, but assuming a strict correlation between votes cast and seats won it would have given the Conservatives (42.4%) 275 seats rather than 317, Labour (40%) 260 rather than 262, the Liberal Democrats (7.4%) 48 rather than 12, UKIP (1.8%) 11 and the Greens (1.6%) 10 rather than none and one, the Scottish National Party (3%) 19 rather than 35, and the Democratic Unionists (0.9%) who with their 10 Northern Irish seats now hold the balance of power half that with only 5 MP's returned to Westminster.

The outcome might still have been a Conservative minority government, albeit one short of the necessary votes to get its legislation through Parliament without appealing to parties apart from the DUP, but Labour too would have had a possible route to power with the support of other centrist and centre-left parties such as the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Way out west

I went to Warrington yesterday afternoon for Salford's rugby league match there.

Warrington has a bit of a mixed character: halfway between Manchester and Liverpool (I think it's the furthest east I've ever heard opposing fans called Scousers), with most of its big industries, such as wire-making which gave the rugby league team its nickname, long gone, although there are still a few cement plants and factories around the town centre, north of the River Mersey, the historic boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire, but inexplicably transferred by local government reforms to the latter county, at least administratively, in 1974.

There are some quite imposing redbrick Edwardian building as you come out of the station, including a couple of pubs still in the liveries of the town's two defunct breweries, Greenall Whitley, whose former offices now house parts of the civil service department for whom I pushed a pen for a decade or so, and Tetley Walker, demolished to make way for the Halliwell Jones Stadium where yesterday's match was played.

I hadn't been to Warrington's new ground since it opened in 2004, the club moving there from its former home at Wilderspool, a name I always associate with the office of the North West regional Labour Party in the district of the same name, and was unexpectedly impressed by it. Some of the new rugby league grounds have a bit of a characterless, "identikit" feel to them, but Warrington's has a pretty decent atmosphere: the stands are much closer to the pitch than they appear on TV, the home fans stand on a large terrace along the touch-line opposite the seated main stand, as they once did in The Shed at Salford's old ground, The Willows, the roofs are low enough to trap sound and the filled in far corners help with that too. And unlike Salford's new ground at Barton-upon-Irwell, it's easy to get to, being right in the town centre, only a five minute walk from Warrington Central station.