Saturday, 28 June 2014

Utterly simple wholemeal bread recipe for breadmakers

As promised earlier today on Google+, this is the second in a slew of recipe posts I'm
The best wholemeal bread 
publishing this weekend. Dave will be pleased! (That's sarcasm by the way!)

About six weeks ago, I blogged my first bread attempt in years. It was successful enough, in that we ate most of the loaf before it got too dry, but it wasn't perfect. Today's attempt was based on a much simpler recipe which has only five ingredients - or six if you count each of the flours. I had tried this one a couple of weeks ago but didn't put all the salt in as I was trying to be healthier. This was an error. It needs all the salt.

Ingredients:
1 cup of lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 cups strong flour (I used 1.5 cups each of plain white and wholemeal)
1 sachet dried yeast (I used the Co-op's own brand)

I put everything in our Morphy Richards Breadmaker in the order stated above, then set it for a 1.5lb loaf of white bread with a light crust. The whole time taken was 2 hours and 53 minutes if that helps to identify a similar setting on your machine.

The bread was delicious! Absolutely perfect!

Steamed porridge recipe

I am being quite the domestic goddess this morning! The breadmaker is whirring away
Steamed porridge with jam 
creating a different version of wholemeal bread to this previously blogged one. There's a saucepan of soup simmering on the hob. And I've eaten a surprisingly good bowl of porridge for breakfast - I say surprising, not because it tasted of anything other than porridge, but because I experimented by cooking it in the steamer.

We have taken the microwave oven out of Bailey because, despite having learned how to microwave pasta and rice, this wasn't particularly successful or convenient and we didn't use it for much else while travelling. At 11kg, removing it frees up weight and space for other hopefully more useful gadgets - which is where our compact Russell Hobbs Steamer comes in.

Another recent post was this steamed saffron turkey and I saw porridge in the same excellent little book, Steaming! by Annette Yates. One of Dave's regular breakfasts is Quaker Oatsos but they're not sold in Spain so he had to do without last winter and I've been vaguely hoping to stumble across an equally easy alternative. Annette's recipe is for two portions so I just made up half for me today.

Ingredients:
25g porridge oats
150ml semi-skimmed milk
1tsp sugar
1tbsp jam

Place the oats, milk and sugar into the bowl you plan to eat from and place the bowl, uncovered, into the steamer.
Steam for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring half way through.
When porridge has thickened, Remove bowl from steamer, stir again and then stir in jam (or honey or syrup etc).

Annette said to steam for 15 minutes and perhaps this would be fine with the plastic bowl that does rice in the steamer. However as I used a cold ceramic bowl and milk from the fridge, mine took 20 minutes. The porridge doesn't dry out so doesn't stick to the bowl like it would to a saucepan and the steamer baskets just need a quick rinse. Easy!

By the by, the jam pictured is homemade (not by me!) Strawberry and Lavender which is delicious and came from the Renee White Community Garden in Eastbourne.

P.S. (edited 28/4/15) In trying to use up storecupboard pots getting close to their use-by dates I discovered that adding a sprinkle of Waitrose orange and lemon peel to the porridge at the beginning of steaming or saucepan cooking gives a delicious citrusy flavour to my breakfast. And I haven't needed to add any sugar with it!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Oedipus The King by Sophocles / Ishmael by Mary Elizabeth Braddon / The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

Oedipus the King by Sophocles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the audiobook download from Audible via Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

Oedipus The King was my second AudioSYNC audio download of the current season, after The Time Machine and, based on these two, I'm very glad to have been let in on the secret of this programme.

It took me about fifteen minutes to really get into this play of Oedipus The King. Not being familiar with the characters, I found it tricky to work out who was who purely from their voices - even failing initially to recognise Michael Sheen. The device of male and female voice speaking together with underlying echo was mystical, but also unclear via my headphones so I missed out on some meaning there. However, once the play took off it had great pace and a dramatic story. I liked how the portrayal of Oedipus showed his fall from all powerful to sheer desperation and the sound effects greatly enhanced the atmosphere.


Ishmael by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the hardback from Waterstones

My copy of Ishmael was another of the books I downloaded from ForgottenBooks, recommended in their daily email. It was highly praised and rightly so.

Set mostly in Paris from the 1840s to the 1860s, Ishmael primarily tells the story of Sebastien Caradec who is born to a woman of failing circumstances and strives to make his place in the world under his own steam. The novel includes lots of detail of both society living and extreme poverty of the period. Fascinating descriptions and several grotesque characters bring the seedier aspects of Paris to life. The complicated political situations are also vital to the story as the city undergoes a major change during the decades.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Ishmael. The writing is dated in its style but fits with the period of the novel so this adds to the atmosphere. Sebastien is a perfect romantic leading man and I was intrigued to discover the lives of the people surrounding him. Perhaps Ishmael's only fault would be that it began to feel overlong with about a hundred pages to go, but then picked up pace again towards the satisfying conclusion.


The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the audiobook download from Audible via Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

My version of The Postman Always Rings Twice was an Audible download read by Stanley Tucci whose style very much reminded me of Matt Dillon's reading of On The Road. TPART is a crime novella so there isn't a great deal of character development. Frank is a drifter who stumbles into a casual job and takes a shine to the owner's wife. Said wife, Cora, married to escape her previous life but doesn't like the one she's ended up in either. I didn't find them sympathetic at all until the point where Cora starts believing that she can make a go of the diner.

The intricate plotting of TPART is great fun to unravel so I mostly enjoyed the story for this reason. I wasn't convinced by Frank and Cora's frequent declarations of love though and this resulted in an interesting conundrum. Did either really care about the other or were they confusing need and want for deeper emotion?


View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Monday, 23 June 2014

I went to an Oxford College

Only for an afternoon, but I thought it would make an eye-catching post title!
Sculpture at Balliol College, Oxford,
 commemorating 30 years of
women's inclusion. 

We visited Dave's family in Bristol over the weekend, taking the opportunity to stop off in Oxford on the way. I'd not been to the city before and it certainly is impressive. The many grand buildings are made of yellow coloured stone and their facades are beautifully preserved. As well as wandering around the streets, we also saw the Martyr's Memorial to Thomas Cranmer and the Protestant Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, put to death at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary. Having read about this period of history recently in Monarchy and Elizabeth, both by David Starkey, it was fascinating to see where the event actually took place.

Being so close by, we chose Balliol College to tour around. Several of the historic colleges are open to us plebians in the afternoons! We saw the chapel, the dining room - complete with full organ just like a church and uncomfortable looking wooden benches. A great education doesn't necessarily mean a pleasant lunch. Three students were playing croquet on the lawn in the sunshine which was amusing to see. The pictured sculpture commemorates thirty years of women being allowed to study at Balliol. A step forwards no doubt, but a bit depressing to learn that this thirtieth anniversary was in 2009 so the first women only arrived there within my lifetime.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas / Paved With Good Intentions by Michael Carter / The Time Machine by H G Wells

The Secrets Between UsThe Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The synopsis on the back of Secrets Between Us described the novel as 'reminiscent of' Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. Blatantly ripped off from would have been more accurate, and it doesn't have the former's eerie style either.
I nearly gave up on this book a couple of times but did manage to plough through to the end eventually. Perhaps a more ruthless editing job would help because, at over 500 pages, it's a lot of ploughing. The main characters are repetitive and flat, but fortunately some of the supporting cast provide a sense of realism. Blue was probably my favourite! The ghostly elements could work with a more subtle approach, but Sarah's continuous whining that Alex must really love her deep down because he ignores her and treats her like dirt, but the sex is great is so cliched as to be laughable.



Paved with Good IntentionsPaved with Good Intentions by Michael Christopher Carter
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I received Paved With Good Intentions through a Goodreads giveaway so did want to find positive aspects of it to discuss. Unfortunately I got about a fifth of the way through -some fifty pages - and have actually given up.
The novel suffers from the indie author's curse of poor proofreading. Commas and full stops regularly fail to appear and one character's name repeatedly changes its spelling. There are also frequent distracting uses of the wrong word - seen for scene, site for sight, etc. However, this is incidental as the main problem for me is the rambling prose style that means it seems to take forever for even the most minor actions to occur, five long sentences being used when five words would suffice. I feel I now know every word of Luke's salesman training yet I still have no guidance as to his real character or why I might want to care about his story.



The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the couple of duff book choices above, I plumped for classic sci-fi next and a book I probably should have read twenty-five years ago. H G Wells' The Time Machine was one of the first pairing in this year's SYNC audio giveaway (http://www.audiobooksync.com). Not only free but also narrated by National Treasure Derek Jacobi - what more does a girl need!
I believe The Time Machine was the first time travelling novel and, for a book written almost 120 years ago, it is surprisingly accessible in both its themes and its language. Perhaps the recent emergence of steampunk has attuned me to the style because I could vividly imagine every scene as it was being described to me. Jacobi does a fantastic job of the narration bringing everything from the dining table to the Morlocks alive. I find that I prefer old books on audio because I tend to read 'too fast' thereby sometimes missing out on detail. With audio, the book is revealed at the narrator's pace so is particularly rewarding for richly described stories such as this one.
The Time Machine has dated but mostly nicely so. I loved that the artefacts most prized by the Time Traveller were matches and pink hued clouds had nothing to do with data storage. There is, of course, rampant misogyny and plenty of that particularly English patronising of anyone from Elsewhere. Also I have no idea if any of the science is valid and I don't intend to find out. The magic of the story is enough in its own right and I'm glad I've finally caught up with the rest of the world in discovering H G Wells.

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Monday, 16 June 2014

Saffron turkey with pine nuts recipe

We're planning to take our Russell Hobbs Steamer away with us on our next travels so I retrieved a neat
Saffron turkey with pine nuts 
little book from the charity shop pile, Steaming! by Annette Yates. I want to perfect a steamed steak and kidney pudding, but have started with something far simpler - today's saffron turkey. In the book this is made with chicken, but as you'll know from previous posts, we generally get turkey breast because it is low fat and considerably cheaper! There's a lot of butter in this recipe so any fat saving elsewhere helps.

I cooked the meat in my brand new little plastic pudding bowls which have lids and so are far easier than faffing about with greaseproof paper and tin foil. They were £4.99 for six at Lakeland and three just fit into my steamer. Which is fortunate as a turkey breast pack from Sainsburys just fitted into three pudding bowls. I did want one of the posh metal clip-close bowls, but they would be too big for the steamer so I've had to get individual portion size ones instead. Being plastic, they are lighter too and we still have weight limits with Bailey -even with our shiny new car.

Ingredients:
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
50g butter
Good pinch of saffron
40g pine nuts
3 fresh bay leaves
Turkey breast for two
Good squeeze of lemon juice

Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat then fry the onion, garlic and saffron until softened but not browned (about 10 minutes).

Add the pine nuts and increase the heat a little. Fry together for about 5 minutes until onion begins to brown.

Put turkey into pudding bowl(s) or onto a large piece of tin foil. The Sainsbury pack has three pieces and I cut each in half. Season the turkey, add bay leaves and cover with the buttery onion mixture. Squeeze lemon juice over the top.

Put lid(s) onto bowl(s) or fold and crimp tin foil into a sealed parcel. Steam for 15-20 minutes until turkey is cooked through.

Serve immediately with couscous.


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: Monarchy by David Starkey / Niedermayer and Hart by M J Johnson / The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Monarchy: from the Middle Ages to Modernity by David Starkey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk

I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!

I remember reading Monarchy when it first was published and it is cram packed with information. However, there is so much that this second reading seven years later felt like a new book.

I like David Starkey's writing style which is often drily humorous. Having recently also read his book solely about Elizabeth I, much of the early section was familiar. However, he gives plenty of space to the shorter reigned monarchs and I was very interested in how much of the 'divine' hereditary succession was actually the result of political wrangling behind the scenes. The seemingly incessant violent disputes between the opposing Christian factions of Catholics and Protestants was in some respects hard to fathom - they're all supposed to be the same overall faith aren't they?!

As non-fiction books of this topic go, Monarchy is far more accessible than many and, as an overview or to inspire more in depth study, I'd recommend the read.


Niedermayer And Hart by M.J. Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my Favourite Five Horror Stories for Halloween 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I went through a Dennis Wheatley phase as a teenager, but haven't really strayed near to horror fiction since so Niedermayer And Hart is a departure from the norm for my reading. The book was recommended on twitter - and very reasonably priced for kindle - so I took a chance. I'm glad I did! The subject matter is classic for a horror story but with a sharp, contemporary viewpoint that I enjoyed reading.

The story has two strands, one set in the thirteenth century and one set in the 1990s. I liked that their writing styles were markedly different and the contrast gave authenticity to each. The characters were generally well developed with both female and male being believable. A few were perhaps more caricature than character, but in the setting, this worked and did not detract from the overall narrative.
Johnson has a good eye for detail and descriptions of his creepy venues really did feel intimidating. I could see dank cellars, torchlit tunnels and snowbound landscapes. There is gore and plenty of truly horrific violence but this wasn't portrayed in such a way as to turn me off from the book which has happened with other titles. Quite the contrary! I was glued to find out where we would be led and how it would all pan out.


The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Australia

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
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The Unknown Terrorist is a fairly standard thriller which employs the mass media and an unscrupulous journalist as its evil. Our supposed heroine, Gina, also named throughout as The Doll, is hounded to madness over the period of just a few days by drummed up hysteria and the cynical machinations of anonymous powerful men in suits.

I was interested in the descriptions of Sydney, having never been to Australia. However, Flanagan's vision of the city is hardly tourist friendly! I liked his frequent mentions of the various immigrant populations, showing a country made up of many layers of cultures, much like Britain, and the way this was set against rampant hostility towards Muslims was also sadly familiar as this attitude is also widespread over here. The main characters never leapt from the page for me though which made it difficult for me to really invest in their story.

I'm not sure this book had decided what it wanted to be. It doesn't have the pace-at-all-costs approach of slick American thrillers, but the occasions where it tries for literary fiction fail too because of their isolation. My audio version was nicely narrated and passed a week of bus journeys, but I had hoped for a deeper novel and was ultimately a bit disappointed.


View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Thea Gilmore and Kirsty McGee and the season's first strawberries

You might remember in one of the early posts on this blog, I talked about going to see the talented Anais Mitchell with Jefferson Hamer in Brighton. We had previously seen Anais several times including an amazing gig at Union Chapel in London where she performed her folk-opera Hadestown with a cast of invited singers. One of these who impressed us was Thea Gilmore who sang the part of Persephone. Although I knew next to nothing about Thea’s own music, we took advantage of an opportunity to see her sing at Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre yesterday evening. Together with our friends Andy and Barbara, both Dave and I were blown away by how brilliant a singer and songwriter she is.

Joined by husband, Nigel Stonier on guitar, piano and vocals, Liz Hanks on cello and Susannah Simmons on violin, the sound created by Thea Gilmore’s quartet was unusual and gorgeous to hear. I love the cello being incorporated into popular music, also being a fan of Ray Cooper and Crooked Still, and the combination of Thea’s voice and Liz’s playing made last night’s gig an emotional experience. We hadn’t taken a punt on a gig for ages so I’m very glad this was the chosen one! I’m not sure if I will feel the same about her recorded albums or if Thea will be more of a ‘jazz thing’ for me in that I love the live performances but am not so taken with listening at home.

My musical taste is definitely changing over the past few years as I am drawn to search out strong women songwriters, whereas previously most of my favourites seemed to be men. My support on crowdfunding platforms has been rewarded by great new music from American artists including Rachel Ries, Kris Delmhorst, Rebecca Pronsky and BettySoo and British group Sunday Driver. Currently I’ve pledged for Kirsty McGee whose Kickstarter appeal has about a week left to run. Kirsty is from Manchester and has a wonderful turn of phrase to her lyrics. What I’ve heard of her new album, Those Old Demons, sounds beautiful and how could anyone resist the deer in a bikini artwork? Pledge now!


On a different note, Thea Gilmore wasn’t the only good thing about yesterday. I also got to taste the first few of our new season’s strawberries fresh from the garden. They were delicious and there’s more on the way. We’re hoping we might still be in Southfield for the harvest of our other garden fruit in the summer. The plum tree is doing very well, plus there are pears and apples. This might be the year that the pears actually ripen by themselves – if not, I can poach them in red wine again which usually makes them perfect!

And all that after a busy day at work. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m currently temping on the Procurement Hub at Wealden District Council. Today I helped set up their brand new departmental twitter feed. They’re @ESProcurementHub If you’re also on twitter, give them a follow and welcome them aboard!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Trying out the new tow bar and failing to walk

Eastbourne and Wealden Walking Festival flyer 
In spite, or perhaps because, of the fabulously hot sunshine today, we completely failed to go for a walk this afternoon. We meant too, but somehow the prospect of lazing in the garden with a good book was far more enticing. I can't imagine why! Dave's now gripped by Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, the thriller I reviewed a while ago, and I tore through Niedermayer and Hart by M J Johnson, a supernatural thriller that I discovered via Twitter. (Full review coming in a few days.)

But while we're not talking about walking, the photo illustrating this post is of a cute card boot flyer advertising Eastbourne and Wealden's Walking Festival at the end of September. There was a bag of them on the noticeboard at work. It's going to be a nine day extravaganza of all things stroll related so make sure you get into training now! I'm pretty sure Dave and I will be long gone by then which is a shame, but we'll be walking in solidarity in Spain, I'm sure!

Yesterday we went to visit Bailey who looked a bit sorry for himself. However, after we'd borrowed the water hose and got out the car shampoo, he was almost as shiny as new. We also hitched up to the new tow bar on the new car to make sure all that works ok. It's a swan neck this time so a bit different but still simple enough to negotiate. EuroTow did a good job - again. Hopefully we won't keep visiting them every year though. Other new toys we tried out were both gas related - a Gaslow connector with a gauge for the Calor gas bottles and a proper fitting for the big Spanish gas bottle so we can now actually use it. Woo hoo!

Current +eBay auctions that might interest you include fishing gear, a tall bookcase and two big books about the Second World War. Auction ticker thing at the end of the post - it's all got to go eventually.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Review: Brain Within Its Groove by L.N. Nino / Stain On The Snow by Georges Simenon / Tinder by Sally Gardner

The Brain Within Its GrooveThe Brain Within Its Groove by L.N. Nino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my Favourite Five Horror Stories for Halloween 2015

I nearly didn't return to Story Cartel after a disappointing first experience, but I'm now glad I gave them a second chance. If you don't know it, the website offers free eBooks in return for writing honest reviews and has a varied selection of independent publications. The Brain Within Its Groove by L.N. Nino is one such story.
This literary novella is titled for an Emily Dickinson poem, a connection that initially passed me by as I'd not read any of her work. Nino's writing is beautifully elegant and 'old-fashioned', but in a good way, the prose flowing like that of a classic Victorian author. His imagery is vivid with each word appearing to have been considered and deliberated over. I was surprised to read writing of this calibre for free! Whether the psychiatric science is valid or imagined I cannot say, but certainly the mood and atmosphere ring true and I particularly appreciated the restraint of the writing as we grew closer to its horrific conclusion. Scenes are generally far more frightening when the reader's imagination is primed then let loose, and Nino has gauged this perfectly for maximum effect. Perhaps I would have liked characters other than the narrator to have been more fully developed, but I understand that within the short space of a novella this would have upset the pace of the tale.
I will definitely be looking out for more work by L.N. Nino and would recommend this book for fans of subtle creeping horror.



The Stain on the SnowThe Stain on the Snow by Georges Simenon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read a Crime Masterworks edition of The Stain On The Snow so, from the blurb on the back cover, was expecting a crime story in the Maigret mould. The Stain On The Snow is not such a book. Instead it is a novel of war and of the effect on a population of living under occupation for an extended period of time. Presumably the country in Simenon's thoughts was France under German occupation, but the reader is never given enough information to confirm this. The main protagonists have Germanic names and I believe the point is that this could be any people in any country. I thought of Philippe Claudel's haunting novel, Brodeck's Report, which conveys a similar resigned anger.

Our anti-hero, Frank, is cold, selfish and violent in a similar fashion to Anthony Burgess' Alex. Living with his mother, Lotte, in her illegal brothel, their reasonably comfortable lifestyle is funded by the officers of the occupying forces leading to the pair being ostracised by their neighbours. With no hopes for his future, Frank spends his time having sex with the brothel girls or drinking with an array of equally hopeless characters in seedy bars near his home. He deliberately courts danger seeming to try and push his luck past breaking point. He allows himself to be seen just prior to a murder, and openly flaunts both cash and a stolen weapon.

I found it impossible to care about Frank, or his mother, yet was still fascinated to discover what becomes of them. Their harsh world is generally atmospherically portrayed and the other tenants in their building have wonderful cameos allowing the reader to picture each person immediately. I liked the feel of the town. The coldness of the winter and its dirty snow everywhere made for great metaphors, however I think reading this book in its original French would have made even more of this. Occasional phrases felt clumsy and awkward and I wondered if this was the fault of the translation - perhaps a colloquialism that would make perfect sense to a French reader did not work in English. The sense of attempting to live despite occupation is a strong theme, the desperation of many of the people was harrowing to read and this is not a book to be undertaken lightly. I did think that its power waned in the third section when Frank is in prison following his arrest and his apparent redemption in the eyes of the two people he had hurt most didn't quite ring true for me. However, his acceptance of his fate - perhaps having finally found some semblance of purpose - is moving.



TinderTinder by Sally Gardner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not quite sure why, but Tinder didn't enthrall me in the way I hoped it would. I enjoy fairytales by modern authors such as +Neil Gaiman but felt this one lacked a truly magical spark. There are a number of unexpected flashbacks which made the story a bit tricky to follow on +Audible.co.uk audio as if I missed a few seconds, I wasn't always able to pick the story up again easily.
Based on The Tinderbox tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Sally Gardner has cleverly worked the trauma of child soldiers and civil war into her story and set it in the period of the 30 Years War about which I know precious little but am now intrigued to research. She tells us a little about her influence and inspiration after the tale which was interesting to hear.
Robert Madge does a good job of the narration and his voice fits how I imagine Otto would sound. The story trips along at a good pace with frequent fantastical imagery, but some descriptions are overly repeated which I found annoying. For example, the 'pointless quill' of a lawyer is a great visual phrase, but I didn't need it hammered home so many times in quick succession.
As is typical of fairytales, the characters are not particularly well developed, there are goodies and baddies a plenty and they tend to stick to type. I did like the Lady of the Nail and the hotel keeper is fun.
Reading other reviews, I have discovered the printed book is illustrated by David Roberts which adds greatly to the atmosphere of the tale. Perhaps for Tinder, this would have been the better option, however I don't think I will be buying a second version to find out.


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Monday, 2 June 2014

Going to see Sam Baker on a school night

Sam Baker in Lewes All Saints Centre
photo by Rebecca Kemp 
What's more, not just any school night but the Sunday night before my first full week's working since September. Some people might almost call such hedonism foolhardy, but it was so worth it! And 'late home' was only just gone 11pm so it's not like we were dancing until dawn. I did have to miss out on my +Horlicks though.

Sam Baker is a fascinating musician. Partially deaf and with a damaged hand as a result of a terrorist bomb, he has a unique vocal delivery and playing style. Both have matured in maybe half a dozen years since we went to our first of his gigs. He's scrubbed up pretty well since then too. Sadly Sam wasn't accompanied by the wonderful pianist Chip Dolan for last night's gig, but he still put in two full sets of beautiful songs. I loved the version of Thursday and he also played my all-time favourite, Boxes. He is a chatterbox and the segues between songs were very funny, a few of them even intentionally so. Sorry, Sam! His humour contrasts with the often stark images in his songs which frequently portray despondent people, defeated by their lives. I always find a Sam Baker gig to be an emotional evening.

Last night was at the All Saints Centre in Lewes and the gig was put on by Union Music Store who get some fantastic Americana musicians to the town. All Saints is a bit of a weird venue, good acoustics but not always great for atmosphere as it's very dependent on the number of people there. Yesterday was practically sold out, seated and intense acoustic music which worked well. When we saw Larkin Poe there last year, it wasn't full enough so the gig didn't really work. I digress. There's only seven dates left on Sam's current UK tour and then your next chances to see him this year are in Canada. I hear tell he'll be back in the UK next summer though. Looking forward to it already!