May 24th, 2013 / Posted in General News
In our first post of the tour, we presented the potentially controversial point that, despite popular opinion, and more significantly, that of our mothers, we are connoisseurs, not of dishonourable public houses and sordid saloon bars, but rather of more delicate and refined establishments. To prove this, not that we need to, we embarked on a Sunday tea-shop crawl in mid-Wales, managing three such sojourns between Presteigne and Newtown – quite a feat considering the short distance involved. In addition to tea, the first call involved CDs and books – Yarborough House (www.yarboroughhouse.com/) has a fine selection, both new and second-hand (not the tea). The next visit was over the road to the Poppy House (www.poppyhouse.co.uk/) for tea and a homely lunch, although we stayed past closing time. It’s quite an achievement to get thrown out of a tea-shop, and takes some doing. Finally, a trip to Montgomery, to our old favourite, the Castle Kitchen (www.castlekitchen.org/). By this stage we were rather tea-logged, but we managed to endure a cup or two. It might even be said, for the once and only time in our lives, that we were tea-totalled. That night, the ubiquitous veggie chilli appeared (we must change our rider), although it was delicious; after our tea-quaffing travails, we even allowed ourselves a soupçon of Bordeaux, and rhubarb syllabub dessert.
Following a few couple of days’ rest and recuperation (and much-needed exercise, for one of us at least), our next gastronomous outing of note was to our hostess’s house in Lewes. The casserole and vegetable crumble (all goodness negated by the rich topping) were presented first, so we loaded our plates eagerly. But what folly! The final savoury dish to appear was a formidable concoction of conchiglie in garlic, or rather, garlic in conchiglie. And we had no spare plate room. Never has a first helping disappeared so quickly. And never has a side-dish eclipsed a main one so thoroughly and effectively. And, furthermore, let it nevermore be said that we are unwilling to share our experiences, nay our innermost beings, our true essence, with our audience. A stuffy room and lashings of Harvey’s beer that night surely enhanced the concert experience, especially for those in the front row.
We ought to mention, by way of a more savoury, or rather less savoury postscript to this incident, that our hostess, Valmai Goodyer, baked not one but two cakes for pudding. The poor quality of the picture may be due to the miasma surrouding the dining table.
Only a sliver for us, though. Got to watch those waistlines.
The following day we turned up to play at the Fleece Inn in Bretforton (www.thefleeceinn.co.uk/), the quintessential English country pub, and the first to be owned by the National Trust. Unbeknown to us, the Fleece is at the centre of the Vale of Evesham’s asparagus-growing operations, and hosts the British Asparagus Festival and other events to celebrate the undervalued wonders of Asparagus officinalis. Propieter Nigel is a leading authority on asparagus, and as such is always ready and willing to pass on a few tips. Remarkably then, our meal, accompanied by Wyle Valley ale, consisted of asparagus spears/asparagus and butternut squash soup, followed by veggie burger with cheese and asparagus/salmon and asparagus tagliatelle.
Pleasantly sated , we were unprepared for the surprise that lay in store as we entered the mediaeval barn which served as the evening’s venue. Maureen Musson, a.k.a. ‘Mummy’, presented us with a colourful and charming picnic hamper, replete with liquid and solid refreshments, and even freezer bags to maintain an ideal temperature for the victuals contained within. Let that be a lesson to all of you. And thanks Mummy – do you want the freezer bags and basket back or can we pinch them?
Our final stop this May was in Cottingham – a gentle trip to East Yorkshire and back to round off the tour. Following an unusual yet wonderful vegetable Wellington, our hosts served us the third and final rhubarb dessert of the tour, this time in a flan incarnation. As rhubarb is out of season, we can’t help wondering if we are being served it repeatedly for non-culinary reasons . . .
We have been most fortunate on this tour, in large part due to the kindness of friends and strangers – our thanks to them all. Mealtimes are invaluable punctuation points in the day of a touring musician; a chance for relaxation, and something to look forward to whilst enduring interminable motorways and traffic jams, as well as each other. It is somewhat ironic, to say the least, that after sampling such culinary delights, this should be our last meal together:
Having (with one late-night exception) avoided the all-too-easy snares and temptations of service station fare and and maintained our dietary dignity for so long – oh, the shame of it. Still, perhaps we can appease our consciences and soothe our troubled souls with this consoling maxim – if you haven’t tasted of all of the multiplicity and variety of fruits on the tree, then you will never have knowledge of or appreciate the difference between good or evil. Now that’s something for you to chew on.
May 12th, 2013 / Posted in General News
As promised, here’s the first of our food guides, hastily written before we stop off and debauch ourselves at Little Chef. Friday night’s food was provided by the cafe upstairs at our lovely venue. Ruskin Mill is, along with a significant number of establishments, run by a charitable educational trust (www.rmt.org) – at the Mill, young people with autism and learning difficulties learn practical skills, and the cafe plays its part in that. We, along with one of our mummies, were given a hefty veggie chilli with intrepid side salads. Indeed most of the organic menu is of a vegetarian and healthy leaning. Except the cakes, which delicious as they looked, were forbidden as we are both on diets. It’s worth noting that the cafe isn’t licensed (not that that stopped us).
The folllowing night we dined at Shardana in Guildford (www.shardanarestaurant.com), accompanied by our personal GP. Both traditional and modern (like us), trendy yet family-friendly (unlike us), it serves Italian cuisine with a Sardinian twist, in an attempt to pack them in. And very large glasses of wine, so we’re struggling to remember what we had. Certainly garlic bread – that’s stayed with us, as it did during the concert that night. PS’s parpadelle porcini had a delicate hint of truffle, but lacked sherry, whilst PS’s tagliatelli al bue certainly went on a while. Altogether a pleasant, if hazy experience.
Last night featured Norwich’s Spice Paradise (www.spiceparadise.co.uk). On the surface, it was an amalgam of all that is dodgy about such establishments. Unprepossessing on the outside, the inside plumbs 1970s-style depths, with salmon-pink partitions, suspiciously-stained ceiling tiles, gaudy menus and Gallic facilities (even before we arrived). However, we weren’t there to admire the decor, or even the presentation of the food, which could be described as homely, especially if you’ve seen PS’s cooking. Once we had finished prevaricating and chosen from the selection of North and South Indian dishes, we were in for a gustatory treat. Just goes to show, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, nor a restaurant by its tablecloths.
Next, a special mention to Gill Munday, who responded to our pleas in our previous post and presented us with a bottle of homemade damson or sloe liqueur – she couldn’t remember which (we wonder why) – at Norwich Folk Club. We can now confirm it was a wonderfully syrupy damson conconction. The gift was made all the more sweet by the knowledge that it was originally intended for Spiers and Boden, but we were delighted to inform Gill that neither of them drink.
Yesterday’s lunch was taken at Smith’s at No. 4 in Oundle (http://www.facebook.com/smithsatno4cafebar). The food didn’t quite live up to the sophisticated prices, nor match the quality of the all-female service, but it was a pleasant spot in which to break up our Norfolk to Wales marathon.
Supper was cooked by our old friend and colleague John Hymas. Not the threatened veggie chilli (thank goodness) but frittatta accompanied by homegrown purple-sprouting broccolli presented in an Ottolenghi-inspired tahini-based dressing. We allowed ourselves dessert – all the benefits of a healthy dose of homegrown rhubarb were negated by dollops of cream, then washed down with large amounts of ‘Up and Down’ and ‘Spitfire’ in the Duke’s Arms. Look out for John’s pop-up restaurants in Presteigne, and check out his music at http://johnhymas.com/.
Off to Newtown today, and looking forward to more of you taking a lead from Gill Munday’s example. Bon appetit.
April 27th, 2013 / Posted in General News
Preparations are well under way for our annual May tour, and alongside bouts of Jane Fonda’s Workout we are adhering religiously to a strict and fastidious diet. In fact, and perhaps despite appearances and rumours, we are a healthy-living and refined duo, and like nothing more whilst on tour together than to compare and swap recipes, and sample the wholesome and vigour-inducing delights of health-food shops and delicatessens. Not for us the hurly-burly of the public house, or the rough-and-tumble of fried chicken salons. We are never more at home than whilst sipping afternoon tea in some refined provincial tea house or hearty farm shop cafeteria (preferably stimulating our intellects with a crossword – broadsheet of course), or perambulating among the wondrous cornucopia of wares and delights of an al fresco market setting.
During the following month, we will be posting up our dining and purchasing recommendations as and when we find suitable establishments on our travels, for your perusal and delectation. We would welcome any suggestions you might proffer, in order to ease our wearisome passage and brighten our otherwise tedious and joyless itinerary. Purveyors and provenders – should you wish to donate edibles and consumables to our worthy and edifying cause, you will recieve not only our eternal gratitude but perhaps also some token of our indebtedness (in CD format). We hereby throw down the gauntlet, and challenge you to disprove the adage, and demonstrate by your selflessness and generosity that there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch.
November 29th, 2012 / Posted in Reviews
When Paul Sartin finishes his current tour with Bellowhead, he’ll be back on the road playing small clubs with Paul Hutchinson. The duo have worked together as Belshazzar’s Feast for nearly 20 years, and developed a style that mixes their celebrated sense of humour with some very fine musicianship. This is a Christmas-themed album, but that shouldn’t put you off. More than half of the tracks are instrumentals, with Sartin’s oboe, cor anglais and violin matched against Hutchinson’s accordion on elegant, stately tunes scuh as Coventry Tango or the sturdy, hypnotic Mr Marsden’s Maggot. They make the traditional songs their own, too, with Sartin’s sturdy vocal work joined by choral backing on the elegant Sussex Carol and The Shepherd’s Song, an 18th-century Gloucestershire story of shepherds in a pub. There’s also a comedy treatment of Silent Night – dedicated to John Cage.
Robin Denselow / The Guardian, 15 November (3stars / 5)
Christmas albums come in all sorts of musical shapes and sizes: this one is not exclusively seasonal! Perhaps that’s part of this duo’s continuing humorous take on traditional music. Keeping to the theme, though, there is the much-loved ‘Sussex Carol’ (noted by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Mrs Verrall) – with the Andover Museum Loft Singers on chorus – and ‘Joseph and Mary’ (again, noted by RVW, with Ella Leather, in Hereford – shire). ‘Coventry Tango’ takes ‘The Coventry Carol’ tune as its starting point! And there’s the bonus track – ‘Silent Night’ – dedicated to John Cage: the humour pops up everywhere, although the track only lasts 2 minutes 43 seconds, not 4 minutes 33 seconds, which would have completed the joke!
It is in the instrumental tracks that the musical expertise of these two Pauls really shines. The CD notes (as hilarious as their spoken introductions at concerts and musical jokes) explain that ‘Parson’s Farewell’ here is their third recording of the tune: another cleverly arranged version of this Playford favourite. There is more from The Dancing Master in ‘Playford’s Christmas Ball’: ‘Nonsuch’ (with a chorus of the Russian song ‘Kalinka’) and ‘Jamaica’ (with an added phrase from Harry Belafonte’s ‘The Banana Boat Song’). As with the other tracks, the subtlety of the musical jokes and the excellent musicianship mean that there is something new to hear every time you listen to the CD.
The CD includes two of Paul Hutchinson’s excellent compositions: ‘Bumpers’ and ‘Mr Marsden’s Maggot’, though he (and perhaps Paul Sartin as well) could surely claim ownership of the two arrangements of ‘Green Sleeves’. Paul’s tune, ‘Will’s Jig’ follows ‘The Shepherd’s Song’. Like their last seasonal offering (Frost Bites in 2009), Stocking Fillers will surely, and deservedly, have a ready sale on their annual Christmas concert tour and, indeed, throughout the year.
Derek Schofield / EDS Winter 2012