Posted by: Richard Frost | 27 Jun 2020

A whole new project

Company logo for TOPHOTELPROJECTSWell the last couple of months have certainly been a bit strange.

Obviously, the UK’s been through a torrid time because of Covid-19, although thankfully our infection and mortality rates seem to be steadily falling, and lockdown restrictions are gradually lifting. On a personal level, I’ve fortunately managed to avoid catching coronavirus so far, though like millions of others I was furloughed from work as a result of the crisis.

At least it gave me the opportunity to finally republish a selection of articles I’ve written down the years, which weren’t available anywhere else outside my hard drive – the world needs to know if Chris Kamara can hold a tune after all. I also took the chance to freshen up this website, improving the layout and launching a new page of testimonials from people I’ve worked with.

We go again

Since then, however, I’ve been rather busy on the job front. The upshot is that I no longer work for Sleeper Media, publisher of Sleeper, Starboard and Supper; I’m now working remotely from Manchester for a German market research company called TOPHOTELPROJECTS as its new editor-in-chief, with a particular focus on its hospitality news website TOPHOTELNEWS.

Basically, I’m responsible for overseeing and improving the editorial side of things – managing a team of writers around the world, commissioning freelancers, copy editing, sourcing and writing articles, and expanding the readership and boosting conversions. In some ways, it’s quite different to what I was doing before as TOPHOTELPROJECTS is probably best known for its hotel construction database, whereas Sleeper Media’s specialism is print magazines. In other ways, though, there are plenty of similarities – both of them cover the hotel sector, both are B2B, and both organise international events bringing the industry together.

Back stronger

It’s a shame that my time at Sleeper Media came to an end because of Covid-19 as I’m proud of what I achieved there, initially as assistant editor of Supper and later as the company’s first online editor. But equally I’m very much looking forward to making my mark as editor-in-chief of TOPHOTELPROJECTS – a whole new project…

Posted by: Richard Frost | 2 May 2020

Chorlton gets its very own cheese shop

Blind cheese tastingAmid all the doom and gloom around businesses closing due to coronavirus, it was a lovely surprise to hear of a new shop opening in Chorlton last week.

Chorlton Cheesemongers, located in the former Barbecue unit at 486 Wilbraham Road, launched on Saturday, 25 April 2020, and certainly seems to have gone down a storm among the people I follow on social media. Admittedly, they’ve had to rethink their business model to reflect the extraordinary times we’re living in, so as well as implementing the government’s social-distancing guidance in the shop and limiting entry to two customers at a time, they’ve also introduced delivery and collection services, which seems smart.

Their heart seems to be in the right place too – talking a lot on social media about wanting to help artisan cheesemakers (many have been hit hard by the closure of hotels, restaurants and bars across the UK and beyond), and not selling products made through intensive farming.

Virtual cheese tasting

I haven’t had a chance to visit the shop yet, but I was lucky enough to sample some of their wares at home yesterday during a virtual cheese tasting to celebrate the birthday of one of my friends, freelance photographer Gill Moore.

There were five of us in total – we each picked a cheese from Chorlton Cheesemongers, then arranged a group video call on WhatsApp to try the runners and riders blind, score them out of 10 and pick an overall winner. I was a bit dubious whether the format would work remotely at first, but I needn’t have worried, because it turns out everyone can cope with the odd technical glitch if it gives them more time to wolf down posh cheese.

Chorlton Cheesemongers cheeseboard ready to eat

As for the tasting itself, the five cheeses were:

  • Mrs Kirkham’s Smoked Lancashire (A)
    By Graham Kirkham at Beesely Farm in Lancashire
  • Harbourne Blue (B)
    By Ben Harris at Ticklemore Cheese Dairy in Devon
  • Innes Log (C)
    By Joe and Aimee Bennett at Highfields Farm in Staffordshire
  • St James (D)
    By Martin Gott and Nicola Robinson at Holker Farm Dairy in Cumbria
  • Stichelton (E)
    By Joe Schneider on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire

Champion of cheese

All five were very different and delicious but, after much deliberation, an overall winner was crowned – Harbourne Blue.

Tangy, creamy and sweet, this blue goat’s cheese was universally popular and scored a whopping 41 out of 50 in total, just pipping St James and Innes Log (both of which notched up 39 points) to the entirely made-up title of champion of cheese. Well done to its maker, Ben Harris at Ticklemore Cheese Dairy in Devon!

And well done Chorlton Cheesemongers for defying the doomsayers and taking the brave decision to open a new business in the most challenging of circumstances. We all need something to cheer us up at the moment, and if you like cheese as much as I do, then I’m sure you’ll find plenty to love here.

Posted by: Richard Frost | 27 Apr 2020

Raiders of the lost archives

Poster for the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark

© Paul Shipper

Ok, that’s your lot.

Hope you manage to find one or two things that catch your imagination in this trawl of the deepest, darkest depths of my archives. Think I’m right in saying that none of these are available anywhere else online, so if you’re a big fan of say Super Furry Animals, Idlewild, I Am Kloot or, erm, Chris Kamara (and incidentally, what a great super-group that would be), then perhaps you’ll enjoy discovering something new about them here.

I also appreciate that this is a pretty weird mix of topics, so in the unlikely event that you’re not as fascinated by Venezuelan politics as you are by Tenacious D’s film debut, I’ve put together a round-up of every post below to help you skip to the ones that interest you:

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the reason a lot of these articles are fairly old is simply that my more recent work tends to still be available online.

So if there’s something in particular you’re after that’s not mentioned above, let me point you in the direction of the hotel food and drink features I’ve done for Supper; the regional business news stories I’ve written for North West Business Insider; or the SEO, PR and social media marketing reports I’ve penned for theEword. Alternatively, you may be more interested in my local paper stuff for the Southport Visiter, the Liverpool Echo and the Watford Observer; my travel journalism for Frosty The Nomad; my sports writing for WorldCupComedyPundit; or my quirky pieces for Time Out.

If you want to find out more, or you’re going stir-crazy on furlough like me and just fancy a chat with another human being, I’d love to hear from you!

Posted by: Richard Frost | 26 Apr 2020

I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell Q&A and gig review

Chorlton Arts Festival - logo for the multidisciplinary arts festival in south ManchesterOriginal publication date: May 2013
Outlet: Chorlton Arts Festival
Photos: © Richard Frost

On this evidence, few musicians have more fun onstage than John Bramwell.

The frontman of celebrated Manchester band I Am Kloot was at his irreverent best for Chorlton Arts Festival 2013. Like so many Chorlton Arts Festival highlights down the years, the 2013 launch event took place at one of Chorlton’s grand old churches – Wilbraham St Ninian’s in this case. But Bramwell seemed determined to turn what could have been a staid and formal affair into something much more light-hearted, laughing and joking his way through even the most searching questions from former Hacienda DJ-turned-author Dave Haslam.

I Am Kloot's John Bramwell performing at the 2013 Chorlton Arts Festival

John Bramwell

When asked by Haslam whether his lyrics were a way of expressing feelings that he couldn’t talk about openly, he replied that it was the same for everyone and everything, before conjuring up the image of a mouse singing out his heart to another mouse. When asked by someone in the audience whether he believed in reincarnation, he joked “have we met before?” before veering off into a flight of fancy about caves filled with spiders in South America (me neither). And when there was a momentary break between questions, he dashed out to get more wine.

There were serious moments of course. The most compelling was when he opened up about his “unhinged period” of 5-6 years around the 2005 release of I Am Kloot’s third studio album, Gods and Monsters.

In his own words, he became too pushy as his ego ballooned, and he grew impatient with a music industry that clearly still infuriates him to this day. Even now, he admits to occasional delusions of grandeur, telling the audience: “I sometimes feel like I can write the perfect three minutes that will sum up all your lives, which is mental.”

Manchester music legend Dave Haslam onstage in Chorlton

Dave Haslam

But then the irreverent Bramwell returned for the second half – a surprise full-length solo gig.

During this distinctly low-key and laid-back performance, songs were started and stopped on the flimsiest of pretexts. At one point, he paused mid-track to tell fans about an idea he’d heard that involved composing totally silent music. At another, he made a big show of giving up a track because it was too tricky. And at a third, he wandered straight into Chorlton Book Festival territory, breaking off from the set to read a novel onstage.

What was abundantly clear is that he relished the freedom of being able to say and do whatever he wanted. So we were treated to not one but two Beatles tracks taken from the White Album (his musical inspiration), as well as rarely played numbers from the I Am Kloot back-catalogue that others had previously told him were simply too downbeat to perform live. The conviction with which he delivered those songs showed just how misguided some people can be.

There are many more musicians left to perform at this year’s festival, not least during the Chorlton Weekender. But I’d be willing to bet none will have quite as much fun as Bramwell did here.

Dave Haslam hosted a Q&A with John Bramwell at Chorlton Arts Festival 2013

Posted by: Richard Frost | 25 Apr 2020

Yerba Flamenco Dance Group review

Chorlton Arts Festival - logo for the multidisciplinary arts festival in south ManchesterOriginal publication date: May 2011
Outlet: Chorlton Arts Festival

Chorlton enjoys a slice of Spain

I may as well come clean now because you’re sure to work it out sooner or later. I know very little about flamenco. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching it done well, and I’ve seen a fair few performances since it became something of an obsession with my other half. Nevertheless, I’m not what you’d call an expert.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to watch an amateur flamenco show in the unlikely environs of Chorlton Conservative Club (which, incidentally, is exactly what you’d want a gritty northern social club to look like). It formed part of a diverse array of events under the Chorlton Arts Festival 2011 banner.

But would Yerba Flamenco Dance Group manage to grab my attention?

A taste of things to come
The evening started with a flamenco taster session. There was an impressive amount of audience participation here – of the 50 or so spectators, more than half were persuaded to give it a go. Dance instructor Brenda Story then proceeded to teach a short flamenco routine that had everyone flailing their hands and feet in unison (more or less).

Then came the proper stuff as Yerba Flamenco took to the stage. This was where the five members of the group, dressed in full flamenco garb, could show off their repertoire. There was a sevillana, a farruca, a fandango and an Arabic tango, all accompanied by pre-recorded music. Our instructor did a great job of introducing each dance, explaining both its history and what area of the Spanish-speaking world it came from.

Dance the night away
At this point in the review, it’s traditional to talk about whether the performances were actually any good or not. Now this is where I come a cropper. However, to my untrained eye, the dancers demonstrated a real confidence in their routines, and maintained their rhythm and intensity throughout. The solo farruca was particularly dramatic and my personal favourite.

The evening came to a close with some bulerias, which I’m reliably told is a popular way to end a flamenco show in Spain (you learn something new every day). As the two guitarists sprang into life in the corner, members of the audience were again encouraged to show off their flamenco moves, before Yerba Flamenco rounded things off with another passionate display.

Guitar heroes
If there was a criticism to be made, I’d argue it would’ve been nice to hear more live music from the guitarists and less pre-recorded stuff. As I understand it, the music is every bit as important as the dancing in flamenco, so it seemed a shame not to make greater use of the musicians on hand. However, as a free show put on by volunteers, it’s hard to pick faults, and the superb choreography ensured the lack of live music wasn’t keenly missed.

That reminds me. If it wasn’t for the guitarists, we would’ve missed out on a memorable heckle from our dance instructor. As the sound of their feedback momentarily brought the room to a standstill, she cried out: “Has a cameraman sat on your didgeridoo?” I didn’t understand it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Much like the flamenco in fact.

Posted by: Richard Frost | 24 Apr 2020

Travel feature: Things to do in Newcastle

Logo for UK travel magazine BackpaxOriginal publication date: March 2009
Outlet: Backpax Magazine

Sports and socialising are the lifeblood of Newcastle. Locals spend most of their free time (and money!) on one or the other, so why not live like a Geordie when you visit?

Newcastle is quite simply sporting mad and boasts top-flight rugby, basketball and ice hockey teams. But even the draw of rugby superstar Jonny Wilkinson is no match for the main passion: football.

Newcastle United are perhaps the most fervently supported club in England, and an endless source of debate at pubs across town. If you arrive at Central Station on a matchday, head straight over the road to Gotham Town. At this cavernous bar, you can hear hundreds of Geordies discussing players and formations amid outrageous gothic furnishings, revolving racks and secret passageways!

Afterwards, make the pilgrimage up to St James’ Park, but be sure to stop in for a Newcastle Brown Ale at The Strawberry pub opposite. This local institution is famed for its sporting memorabilia and raucous atmosphere.

Be warned though, if Newcastle United win, every pub in the north-east will be rocking as delirious fans celebrate all night long.

Did you know?
Newcastle United play their home matches at St James’ Park. With over 52,000 seats, it’s the fourth largest football stadium in Britain.

Posted by: Richard Frost | 23 Apr 2020

Travel feature: Things to do in Manchester

Logo for UK travel magazine BackpaxOriginal publication date: March 2009
Outlet: Backpax Magazine

There’s no city in Britain that loves its music more than Manchester.

Having already given the world Oasis, The Stone Roses, New Order, The Smiths and The Hollies, there’s simply no better way of understanding Manchester than through its music scene. Intimate venues such as Night & Day, The Roadhouse and The Star & Garter all host band and DJ nights most nights of the week, and are well worth a visit.

But while Manchester comes alive at night, there’s plenty to do in the daytime as well. Manchester is the shopping capital of the north-west with something for everyone in the Arndale. Or if you want to avoid the chains, seek out the Northern Quarter, which is jam-packed full of independent curio shops and uber-cool record stores.

Of course, you’ll want to take time out to relax too. And where better to do that than at The Old Grapes pub? It’s part-owned by Liz Dawn (better known as Vera Duckworth in Coronation Street), and is a popular haunt with actors, footballers and Manchester’s legendary musicians.

Did you know?
Dry Bar in the Northern Quarter was the first European-style bar in Manchester – both Shaun Ryder and Liam Gallagher are barred!

Posted by: Richard Frost | 22 Apr 2020

Travel feature: Things to do in Chester

Logo for UK travel magazine BackpaxOriginal publication date: March 2009
Outlet: Backpax Magazine

Built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago, Chester is a city positively brimming with history.

An awe-inspiring cathedral is the undoubted focal point for visitors, but there’s so much more to see and do. Take a walk round the most complete city walls in Britain and you’ll get some stunning views of the famous Eastgate Clock, as well as the impressive facade of Chester’s 1,000-year-old castle.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to The Rows. These picturesque two-tier galleries date back to medieval times and are unique in Britain. There’s simply no better place to watch the world go by than in one of the many peaceful cafes here overlooking Chester’s bustling streets.

After lunch, you have a choice to make between checking out the imposing Victorian-era Town Hall and Grosvenor Museum, or picking up some Cheshire cheese and speciality meats from the 100-odd stalls at the Market Hall.

Round off your evening by wandering through the cobbled streets on a spine-chilling ghost walk. Well, a city with this much history has plenty of skeletons in the closet!

Did you know?
Chester is home to the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain. Find out more about the city’s founding fathers at the Dewa Roman Experience.

Posted by: Richard Frost | 21 Apr 2020

Cage the Elephant gig review

Original publication date: November 2008
Outlet: Hive Magazine
Photos: © Richard Frost

Let’s get one thing straight. Cage the Elephant are not reinventing the wheel. To read recent reviews in the music press, you’d think every new band on the circuit had to instantly top OK Computer, or deservedly fall by the wayside. Cage the Elephant are not Radiohead. Nor are they Muse. Or The Clash.

So what are Cage the Elephant? Well, they’re a good-time Kentucky rock band with a searing punk edge. And they’re not ashamed to wear their influences squarely on their sleeves – Led Zep, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, The Who. You know, the usual. Funny thing is though, it doesn’t sound jaded in these hands.

Kentucky rock band Cage the Elephant performing in Manchester in 2008

There’s a good reason for this. The driving forces behind Cage the Elephant are Matt Shultz (vocals) and his brother Brad (guitar). Both were brought up in a hard-line Christian commune by a strict father, the kind who liked to smash his sons’ CDs whenever he detected sacrilegious lyrics. The brothers didn’t discover all the bands we grew up with until they left home. It means each song here sounds fresh and alive – every riff sounds like they’ve never heard anything quite like it before.

As a result, Manchester Club Academy is treated to a hi-octane set that judders straight out of the ’70s. Matt Shultz is a whirlwind of hyperactivity and attention-seeking antics, while the rest of the band feel morally impelled to jump off tall objects and dive into the crowd at every given opportunity.

Blame it on the music. James Brown, which despite the name sounds rather like The Hives, gets the improbably young crowd pumping, while Beck-tinged hit Ain’t no Rest for the Wicked sparks a mass crowdsurf. Even the most derivative tracks from Cage the Elephant’s eponymous debut album sound brilliant in this setting. You half expect them to give up playing their own tunes altogether and start raiding Iggy Pop’s back-catalogue instead.

Cage the Elephant's lead singer Matt Shultz at Manchester Club Academy in 2008

And then – gloriously – they do!

Such bare-faced cheek for a bunch of impudent upstarts to defile The Stooges’ I Wanna be your Dog. And on their UK tour debut as well. But somehow, they pull it off, with a rip-roaring version that takes you right back to the very first time Iggy blew your mind.

Derivative? Yes. Thrilling? Definitely.

Posted by: Richard Frost | 20 Apr 2020

Steve Coogan comedy gig review

Original publication date: November 2008
Outlet: Hive Magazine

As any stand-up will tell you, there’s nothing quite like testing material in front of a live audience. Delivering the same punchlines night after night can sharpen up even the flabbiest act faster than a million practice sessions at home. But that leaves one major problem. Those early performances run the risk of being, to quote Steve Coogan’s creation Paul Calf, “a bag of shite”.

Just such a problem has plagued the Middleton comedian’s new tour, Steve Coogan is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. At the opening night in Stoke, The Telegraph lambasted a “mediocre shambles”. In Derby, audience members watched incredulously as he blatantly read jokes off cue cards. And in Liverpool, there were heckles and a mass walkout at the interval. So would there be another car crash of comedy at Manchester Apollo?

Thankfully, no.

After 20-something dodgy or downright disastrous performances, Coogan has finally pulled a decent show out of the fire. Steve Coogan is Alan Partridge… is a success – though by no means a triumph. Well, it’d have to be something pretty damn special to make you forget about the £35+ ticket prices.

Poster from the 2008 tour Steve Coogan is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters

Act I
The first act features Pauline Calf, Saxondale, Paul Calf and Duncan Thickett. In all honesty, this is fairly average, with a few cracking lines and a nagging feeling that none of these characters were all that good in the first place.

Value for money?
A generous person might pay £10.

Act II
The second act is where we get what we came for – Alan Partridge. Radio Norwich’s finest was always going to be the highlight of the show, and Coogan duly pulls out all the stops. Resisting the temptation to recycle old lines (“Wings – the band the Beatles could have been” and so on), Coogan imagines a whole new future for his star creation. Partridge is now a life coach using his extensive knowledge of bouncing back to help no-hopers like Ross Kemp and Gok Wan. It works a treat, giving Coogan the chance to exhibit his full range of catastrophic interviewing, tone-deaf singing and moronic presenting.

Value for money?
The performance is too short (show me one person here who’d rather watch Duncan Thickett than Alan), but still worth £20 to a hardcore Partridge fan. Me, in other words.

Encore
For the encore, Coogan pokes fun at his tarnished public image, following a string of salacious tabloid scandals. Cue the Mary Poppins-esque song and dance number, Everyone’s a Bit of a C*nt Sometimes. It’s immaculately choreographed and enables Coogan to finish on a high.

Value for money?
Worth another £5.

Overall
Now audience members at his early shows (ie the first 20) might argue Coogan was “a bit of a c*nt” taking £35 for an act that was clearly half-finished. After all, has he never heard of warm-up shows? But at least he’s learnt his lines for Manchester, which bodes well for the rest of the tour.

Value for money?
If you’re a diehard Partridge fan who knows his Blue Nun from his Lexi, you’re probably willing to pay through the nose to see him live. In that case, £35 is just about worth it. But if you don’t think Partridge is the greatest comic creation since Blackadder, steer clear.

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