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Alices-Adventures-in-Wonderland-cast-1140x395There are few places better for summer fun than Central London. The range of beautiful parks and outdoor spaces and a vibrant, engaged, diverse populace mean you can barely take the dog for an evening walk without stumbling on a festival or gig.
But what if your tastes are more Glyndebourne than Glasto? Or you have guests who’d rather sit and sip Prosecco than hurl themselves into a mosh pit? We check out a more sophisticated way for Londoners to enjoy music in the park this summer.
The long-standing outdoor theatre in front of historic, ruined Holland House in West London’s Holland Park presents an impressive bill of world-class opera each summer, with divas only occasionally upstaged by the park’s resident peacocks. The organisers know how to look after their outdoor patrons, and there’s a marquee in case of rain and even an alfresco dining area.
The 2015 season is already underway, with an adventurous programme from 2 June until 1 August. First up was Puccini’s collection of one act operas, Il trittico. Well regarded but ambitious to stage, it’s impressed the critics. New work is always a bit of a gamble with traditional audiences, but Jonathan Dove’s 1998, English-language opera Flight, set in an airport departure lounge, also received great reviews.
Verdi’s popular Aida, a mainstay of the operatic repertoire, is also quite tricky to stage, and reviews suggest while it sounds great, the bold new visual treatment on offer here is not to all tastes, so it may be one for the inveterate opera buff. If that’s you, it’s on throughout July. If you’re just looking for a bucolic idyll in the middle of the city, a rare staging of Delibes’ Lakmé, famous for its ‘Flower Duet’ might be a better bet, with dates from 9 July.
Opera Holland Park‘s production of Montemezzi’s L’Amore Dei Tre Re was rapturously received in 2007. Its riveting, non-stop 90-minutes (no interval) of drama, passion and gore are back from 22 July. If you’re a mixed party of opera connoisseurs and adventurous novices, this might be the one for you.

Another popular favourite back this year is Will Todd’s 2013 short opera Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in a promenade performance on the nearby Yucca Lawn. Specially commissioned for Holland Park, it’s been called ‘Punchdrunk for kids’ and is headed for the Royal Opera House this November. If you’re looking for a way to keep some youngsters amused while not being driven mad yourself, or simply don’t want to miss out, performances start from 19 July.

What are your experiences of opera in the open air?


Yeah, alright, so summer may be coming around the corner but there’s still plenty of us that would choose a lightly chilled dark bitter on a sunny afternoon. Sure they’re heavy but they’re flavourful and lip-smackingly good, so here’s two of the finest English dark bitters: Buttcombe Original Bitter Ale and Bath Ales Barnsey Dark Bitter – let’s see which comes out on top.

Round One – Appearance

I don’t know about you, but unless a bitter is a draught I don’t want to see a head on it. Thankfully, neither of these beers have much of a head and look deep, full and very easy on the carbonated quality.

The Buttcombe is ever so slightly lighter than the Barnsey with a mahogany-red colour. Barnsey, on the other hand, looks closer to Coca-Cola or Guiness than it does a bitter, but to me that’s the sign of a bitter with that beautiful caramel quality.


Round Two – Aromas

Gravel-like aroma with rich and full caramel-oozing cake character sums up Buttcombe’s bitter the best. It has that mineral water freshness and a mellow, dry raisin note. Putting it all together it’s as seductive as a good sticky-toffee pudding.

The Barnsey is less potent with notes more in line with stout; those bready notes and a subtle creaminess, maybe a bit of bitter chocolate too.


Round Three – Drinking the Stuff

Buttcombe is a lot less sweet in the mouth than it suggests on the nose. It has a stinging nettle note mixed in with the largely full and boastful caramel character; there’s also a frothy (albeit bitter) mocha-like length. Best of all, it lingers for a fair amount of time and makes you want more. I can imagine it going well with roast beef, too. Body-wise it’s pretty light and easy-drinking for a bitter, but as we’re heading into the summer days a light bitter is going to be a much better buy.

Barnsey, on the other hand, tastes exactly like that cocoa-rich chocolate. Ever tried something like the 70% Green & Blacks chocolate bar? It’s pretty much exactly like that. A little thicker than the Buttcombe too, but still light and you could comfortably manage two pints.

All in all, I’ve got to give it to Buttcombe. There’s just more to the experience of drinking it.



Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Edited by : Laura Thompson 

11428476_713635235408912_4579898273733229528_nNew York rock band The Strokes, kicked off the British Summer Festival in Hyde Park last Thursday, with the set being the first of the park’s 2015 summer shows.

Front man Julian Casablancas headed the bands first London show in five years, playing to a crowd of 60,000 which included the likes of Cara Delevigne, Arctic Monkeys rock star Alex Turner, Gwyneth Paltrow and a number of other famous faces.

The Strokes blasted out an 18 track set which included a variety of their most popular hits ‘Is This It’, ‘Reptilia’ and ‘Last Nite’, filling London’s finest park with an audience of nostalgic and contented fans.  After waiting years for another performance, it was all fans really wanted to hear – old classics from the band’s first album. A three track encore finished the performance off with ‘Take It Or Leave It’.

Although there was no new material at the gig, according to NME, in a recent interview, the band revealed that they are working on new music following their last album ‘Comedown Machine’ in 2013.

Reviews from the event praise the band, stating that the cool Casablancas kept his unique voice on key throughout, remaining as suave as ever. The band was able to execute their raw American funk rock ‘n’ roll persona in continued style. The set concluded with wise words from Casablancas; “Be safe, but not too safe,” he told a satisfied audience.

Despite a demand from fans, on The Strokes official website, the band has dismissed any rumours that they may be appearing at Glastonbury Festival this week. They are set to play at the Landmark Music Festival in Washington at the end of September and at Austin City Limits Festival in Texas at the beginning of October but other than these two dates, no other performances or tours have been announced.

Other acts appearing in the series of Barclaycard Presents British Summertime shows include Taylor Swift and The Who this weekend. Although tickets for some of the events have now sold out, there is still some tickets available for Britain’s Biggest Family Event, Jim Jefferies and Ed Byrne.

Have you got tickets to any events this summer? Let us know who you are looking forward to seeing the most!


If you’re a lager drinker, chances are you’ve already discovered how well lager and a decent curry go down. But by far the best of the bunch when it comes to lager and curry matches are the Asian lager juggernauts Tiger and Cobra.

Serve both of them chilled and enjoy their trademark extra-smoothness, light body and impressively-dominant malted character. While they’re both pitch-perfect when it comes to drinking with a curry, they’ll also do wonders on their own as easy-drinking “not-too-bloaty” lagers.

But which is better?

As Harry Hill said a number of times over the years, there’s only one way to find out…

Round One – Appearance

Both Tiger and Cobra look near enough the same in a standard tall pint-glass. Tiger has a much frothier head and speedier bubble movement in the body, which, despite looking more appealing, suggests a lighter body and a more bloating effect.

In comparison, the Cobra pours pretty much no head and is a smidgen more dense and golden in colour. The bubbles move slowly, too. So while you might not have that attractive beer head, it looks much smoother and more flavourful.

Winner: COBRA

Round Two – Aromas

This being a lager battle, there’s not really much to go on here. Well, not really anything at all. You get more of the water side than anything else, with Tiger giving you little hints of bread and malted barley.

Cobra’s pretty much along the same lines but a little zestiness is there as well – albeit the flavour of Cobra overall is much more mellow on the nose.

Winner: TIGER

Round Three – Drinking the Stuff

Finally, the fun part! Tiger is actually pretty full for a lager on the palette and it bites you with cool refreshment in every nook and cranny of the mouth. It’s smooth, not really at all bloating (although it would be after a couple of the 64cl bottles), and has a bit of a wholemeal bread note too. It lingers well and definitely quenches thirst, so a good all-rounder.

Cobra is not as refreshing, but has much more punch when it comes to flavour. There’s a creaminess, sort of digestive biscuit character and then a big plunge of spring water that makes it impossibly smooth down the throat. Great stuff…

…but, there can be only one winner. While I think Cobra will always be my number one choice with a curry, in terms of great quality, smooth lager to drink on its own, there’s only one winner. That’s Tiger. Full, startling refreshment and a great example of top Asian lager-brewing.



Written & Photography by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks

Edited by: Laura Thompson 

download_2015Download 2015 became the first of the major UK festivals to go completely cashless, in a bid to cut food and bar queues and improve on-site security. The Donington Park weekend, which features around 150 acts across five stages, was this year headlined by Muse, Slipknot and Kiss. Each of the more than 70,000 ticket holders was issued with a Dog Tag wristband designed to work with German RFID specialists YouChip’s wireless, contactless system. The technology is increasingly popular, with Standon Calling and larger festivals like Wireless using it successfully, but this year’s Download was the first major not to accept any cash at bars, stalls or funfair rides across the entire site.

After registering online, each ticket holder was able to preload money onto their personal tag’s RFID (Radio frequency identification) chip. They received their smart wristband on arrival at the site, and free wi-fi was provided to make it easy to top-up their chip using the Download app. Balance check and top-up points accepting cards and cash were also provided. As well as allowing contactless payments, the chips helped to speed up movement around the site with frictionless security checks via remote readers at gates and arena thresholds.

Unfortunately, many people arriving on the Wednesday found their wristbands wouldn’t work, resulting in long queues at the festival’s information points. Some complained on Twitter that they’d had to go without food or drink, branding the system “useless”. Organisers Live Nation acknowledged “some minor technical issues, affecting around 1 per cent of attendees” and opened additional help desks on the Thursday.

There are privacy concerns in some quarters about digitising every single transaction, and some detractors suggest the system merely shifts the queues to the Top Up machines. Others point out that contactless payment is already possible, and question the value of a closed system like this.

The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) is working for a code of practice for similar systems to protect traders, currently dependent on organisers to repay them. The proposed code would require organisers to hold such funds in a trust account, rather than their own, and to repay traders daily to allow them to restock and pay staff.

While there are clearly some issues still to be ironed out, there’s no doubt the new system had the desired effect on Download’s queues. A typical post on Download’s own online forum read: “My personal experience with the cashless system was near enough fantastic, I love it and hope it rolls out to more festivals. Don’t think I ever had to queue for a drink for longer than 90 seconds, even later in the day before headliners.”

We continue to be excited about the potential of cashless payment options to make life easier around the bars and to generally improve the festival experience for everyone.

What do you think?

Musilac_Muse-1000X396-1Bon Vacances! It’s holiday time again and you may well be planning to make the most of our Gallic neighbour’s rich culture, stunning scenery and (let’s face it) vastly superior beach weather.  If you also love festivals as much as we do, why not incorporate one into your French adventure?  There’s a whole season to explore – we’ve picked out a few to look out for in July.

 Les Eurockéennes, Belfort, 3-5 Jul    

Created by not-for-profit Territoire de Musiques as an independent alternative, this now 26-year-old French festival near the Swiss and German borders takes place on a beautiful peninsula jutting into the Lac du Malsaucy. The four arenas can together accommodate more than 60,000 fans, yet the vibe is relaxed and friendly, in part due to policies aimed at making everyone feel welcome.This year’s diverse musical offerings include Alabama Shakes, Sting, Major Lazer, Eagles of Death Metal and Seasick Steve.

Tickets range from €46 day passes to €108 weekend tickets, all incuding camping.

Musilac, Aix-les-Bains, 10-13 July

A stunning lakeside site in the foothills of the craggy Alps annually hosts one of France’s newer, hipper music events.  The first Musilac, in 2002, showcased an eclectic mix of local musicians and new bands. The bills have got more impressive since, with this year’s hipster treats including Muse, Chemical Brothers, Hot Chip and Alt-J, and now attract crowds of more than 70,000 music lovers from across France, yet it’s still got that idyllic, small-festival vibe. An open-air stage in the centre of the village now hosts a free, new-bands gig on the night before the festival proper.

Tickets range from €53 day passes to €204 for four days with camping. There are campsites and B&Bs nearby.

Les Vieilles Charrues, Carhaix, Finistère, 16 – 19 July

France’s biggest music festival, near Carhaix, is similar in scale and age to Les Eurockéennes, but a large part of the appeal for visitors is its strong Breton cultural vibe – it’s almost worth going just for the food. This may have something to do with its origins in small private barbecues organised by the Mayor! Musically it prides itself on catering to all tastes, and this year, you can expect to see Muse, SBTRKT, The Prodigy, Joan Baez. Tom Jones and London Grammar, as well as a thoughtful bill of jury-selected new talent. The main arena is a grassy natural amphitheatre meaning you can see and hear even from right at the back.

Tickets from €44 day passes to €144 four-day passes include camping, or there’s a range of local B&Bs and hotels


What’s your favourite French festival?

DSC_0174-001If you’ve ever explored the world of ale in any depth, you’ll recognise straight away those zesty, hoppy notes as you read the words “pale ale”. Yep, these are beers for true beer lovers; a collection of limes, grapefruit, wheat, barley and malt. Gorgeous pithy bitterness designed with summer in mind.

There’s a whole world of them out there to try, but if you want a really good place to start, then here’s three delectable and refreshing summer pale ales you can find pretty much anywhere – and they’re delicious too…

Bath Ales Wild Hare, 5.0%

While the last crop of hops struggled and wasn’t organic, this pale ale usually is. Nevertheless, the flavour is still in full throttle with grapefruit, lemon and tight, mouth-skewing hoppy notes that are best served chilled. Brewed slightly outside of Bath, it makes the most of its 5% alcohol with punchy, rebellious character. Golden and bubbly, it’s not bloating either, so certainly one to watch out for.

Adnams Southwold Ghost Ship Pale Ale, 4.5%

Brewed from Pale Ale, Rye Crystal and Cara malts, this is the definition of character. Stuffed with brilliantly zesty American hops like Citra, it makes the best of both sides of the Atlantic: ballsy, characterful flavour from American-grown crop with stunning, classic British beer-making at its best. Serve well-chilled and, if you’re feeling brave, pair with buttery salmon for a surprisingly tasty experience.

Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Strong Pale Ale, 4.3%

Not too strong, but all the same a truly good bitter beer experience. Full, toasty and crazy with citrus fruits, the finish is one of the most lingering I’ve ever encountered. If you love hoppy beers, then invest in a few pints of Timothy Taylor’s and engulf yourself in one of the nation’s most award-winning beers. This is a very special beer.

Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks 

Edited: Laura Thompson 

If the idea of cold, clammy ruwelliesbber intermittently touching your foot is putting you off the idea of venturing to a festival, don’t despair. Your welly problem these days is more likely to be the myriad options now available. We’ve put together a few tips to help you make that crucial festival purchase wisely.

1. Buy rubber

There are cheap, colourful PVC fashion wellies in all sorts of funky designs, some specifically marketed as ‘festival’ wellies, but unfortunately, as with tents, this can be code for ‘not built to last’. You may find your new flowery footwear has split even before the weekend is out. These ‘fun’ options invariably end up in huge piles around festival bins.

Take it from us, when the mud’s six inches deep, you won’t envy the girl in the shiny zebra-prints that are already leaking. That said, you can find wellies with rubber soles and uppers in a surprisingly fashion-conscious range of styles, colours and patterns, even from institutions like Barbour or Hunters. Some don’t even look like wellies, and rubber’s not always particularly expensive. So do check labels.

2. Choose the right lining

If you plan to stand or sit around the main stage all weekend, consider neoprene-lined or fur-lined wellies, which will keep you cosy even into the long, cool night. They can become uncomfortably hot, though, so if you tend to rush around or dance, take a pair of separate welly liners or purpose-made socks for more flexibility and another opportunity for a style statement. It’s also worth remembering that welly-tops can chafe bare skin, so take lighter over-knee socks or tights with you to wear when you need to feel cooler. A thermal insole helps stop the cold creeping up from the ground.

3. Check calf size

Some simpler welly styles are narrow and may not accommodate everyone’s calves, so make sure you can get them on and that they’re not too tight to walk in. If calf size is an issue for you, or you like to tuck your jeans in, look out for a buckled vent on the side, or for ‘wide calf’ fittings.

4. Consider transportation

You’re unlikely to arrive and leave in wellies, and are probably hoping to wear sandals for some of the time. For when you’re not wearing them, you can buy handy zip-up welly-storage bags, but really all you need is something waterproof – a simple drawstring bag or even a bin-bag or large plastic carrier will do. The other option is to choose a folding pair, which usually come with their own little bag. It’s worth bearing in mind that these may be lighter with thinner soles, but could still be ideal if you think you probably won’t need them much.

And finally…
Remember to take a sun hat and sunscreen too – in the UK you’re highly likely to need both at the same time.

4667872158_44e574c355_bA natural extension of bookish activities in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, the Hay Festival is now replicated in Ireland, Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico and Spain. So what is it about this local celebration of literature that’s attracted the tag ‘Glastonbury for books’ and led the Hay brand to take the world by storm?

To begin to understand, you have to start with Hay the town, which has more than 20 bookshops for a small population of around 1,500. The original Hay festival, conceived around a local kitchen table nearly thirty years ago, is a natural extension of this love of the written word, so is curated from a place of genuine enthusiasm. It’s directors invite the writers they most admire, the greatest contemporary practitioners and the most exciting new voices, with the acknowledgement that great writers work in all media, not just print. They consult publishers, writers and many other experts including the festival-goers themselves, and celebrate great writing not just from novelists but from poets, lyricists and comedians, filmmakers, scientists, environmentalists and politicians.

So this year, for example, the hundreds of talks and discussions on offer feature writers and thinkers including Stephen Fry, Kazuo Ishiguro, Germaine Greer and Michael Morpurgo, and there are gigs by King Charles, Frank Turner, Texas, Tinariwen and The Unthanks. Don’t pretend you’re not already tempted.

But if the Glastonbury comparison reflects the international respect for this remarkable event and its joyous, art-for-art’s-sake ethos, it doesn’t begin to hint at the unique flavour of a glorious intellectual free-for all that’s centred on a tent village but takes over the entirety of this picturesque little town on the edge of the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park.

While most of the high-profile events are individually ticketed, there’s no admission charge to the ten-day meeting of minds, and plenty of free events to entertain you as you browse the bookstalls of the tent village soaking up that unique Hay blend of powerful stories, transformative ideas, thoughtful laughter and moving music. Perhaps that’s why the organisers prefer ‘The Woodstock of the mind’.

It’s great for families, too, with a whole section devoted to toddlers and parents, and the Hay Fever kids’ festival-within-a-festival which this year features Jacqueline Wilson and How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell. For lovers of Young Adult fiction the Hay YA programme features Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Ness and Geek Girl creator Holly Smale.

And if your brain ever starts to feel overloaded, you can always nip off for a walk, swim, ride or paraglide in the gorgeous Welsh countryside nearby.

21 -31 May 2015 , in a tented village in Hay-on-Wye, admission free, Early Bird booking for individual events currently open

5710285365_b9e336f2fa_oEmily Eavis has taken the unusual step of blogging in response to the online petition recently launched against Kanye West’s booking as Glastonbury 2015′s Saturday headliner, which has received more than 100,000 virtual signatures.

Acknowledging a policy of eschewing comment on such matters of opinion, she said she had felt compelled to respond to this because of the scale of international news coverage.

The festival organiser said in her post for Guardian online: “We think the story this year should not be: “Why is Kanye coming?” but: “How amazing is it that Kanye is coming?” One of the world’s biggest superstars and a music legend, always interesting, never boring. He has agreed to play a festival where headliners get paid a fraction of their normal rate.”

The petition, on Change.org, read: “Kanye West is an insult to music fans all over the world. We spend hundreds of pounds to attend glasto, and by doing so, expect a certain level of entertainment. Kanye has been very outspoken on his views on music….he should listen to his own advice and pass his headline slot on to someone deserving! Lets prevent this musical injustice now!”

Eavis went on to admit she had been moved to “question the dark underbelly of the web”, adding “Who are those people silently shouting in disgust, throwing out threats from behind their screens?”

Neil Lonsdale, who originated the campaign, told NME: “Glastonbury is an institution. It is expected that it has the biggest names. The biggest performers. Kanye does not represent that,” going on to exclaim “Two years ago we had The Rolling Stones playing the Saturday night, and this year we get Kanye West? It’s an outrage!” before admitting he’d never actually been to the festival.

Meanwhile, just four of the 135,000 ticket-holders asked for refunds following the headliner announcement, while wags have countered the petition with another demanding organisers ‘Cancel all acts at Glastonbury other than Kanye West’.

While Kanye West (unquestionably big enough to merit the headline slot) is probably of interest to more music-lovers that ‘heritage’ rock acts like the Stones anyway, savvy ticket holders who don’t particularly enjoy his music are already sighing with relief at the prospect of one less heartrending programme clash.

It is a bit dispiriting, though, that we have to have this dubious outcry every time a black American hip-hop star tops the bill, when what makes Glastonbury so uniquely wonderful among festivals is it’s joyful all-inclusiveness.

We’re with Micheal Eavis, photographed recently holding up a banner reading “Yeezy does it!”