The Bill Murray, Islington, June 2018

It’s Edinburgh preview season. And fortuitously I’m in London for work, although the fortune comes at a cost, five days of training and two exams, the second of which is two and a half hours long. I keep vowing to stop doing exams, and one day I will eventually keep that vow. This week however, I have a daily cycle of 20 minutes of sweaty tube journey, 90 minutes of learning, 15 minutes for a coffee, 90 minutes of learning, a sandwich in the park, 90 minutes of learning, 15 minutes for a coffee, 90 minutes of learning,  20 minutes of sweaty tube journey.

Anyway, on to the pub for a double bill of Edinburgh previews, a relaxing evening instead of doing mock exam papers. The Bill Murray is somewhere I’ve heard about quite a bit since I’m very much a follower of the live comedy “scene”. It’s a short-ish walk from Angel tube station (home to the UK’s longest escalator – one for you pub quiz fans).

Something that usually happens on these pub comedy nights is that you will bump into one or more of the acts at some point. This was in full effect tonight, as I followed opening act Sofie Hagen into the venue, and Mark Watson was hanging around at the interval before his set, and chatting with the audience. This is a proper preview experience, a small room in a pub, tiny stage, microphone, and a few lights. And the acts walk on from the back of the room, there’s no backstage area behind that curtain on the right hand side.

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On a warm night in London, a beer was needed to keep refreshed during the evening. Beer at comedy venues is generally pretty awful. The Soho Theatre try and break the mould by getting some reasonable cask ales in, but they need a crash course in how to look after cask ale, since it almost always suffers from mistreatment. And the way that the bar staff treat the beer engine, you’d think it was a piece of gym equipment with 50kg on the end of it. And they certainly don’t embrace the sparkler.

So it was a nice surprise to find a St Mungo from Glasgow’s WEST brewery, who produce all of their lagers and wheat beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law. A Munich style lager with a sweetness to it, and one of the best comedy venue beers that I’ve had. That is damning with faint praise, but it was good.

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As was the comedy. Sofie Hagen is trying out material for her 2019 Edinburgh show (nothing like being prepared), so the set was a proper tour through random bits and pieces that may or may not form a show one day. Mark Watson will be in Edinburgh in August (and likely touring after that), so his show was much more polished, although it got a bit derailed by someone finding a folder for him to balance his wine glass on (you had to be there). The show covers a few topics, but there is much about family and his recent-ish divorce. If I were in Edinburgh I’d be going to see the finished version, and hopefully we will catch it in Leicester or somewhere else local next year.

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The Crown and Two Chairmen, Soho, June 2018

Good to be back at my new favourite Soho pub after another evening at the Soho Theatre. A typically manic performance from Robin Ince (trying to squeeze a good few hours of material into an hour slot).

On my last visit, they were in the middle of a Thornbridge craft beer residency, a kind of mini-tap takeover. The next instalment of craft beer residency just happens to be up and running now. It’s an American theme this time, with Sierra Nevada and Anchor both represented here tonight.

First up was West Coast Hazy IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Yes, that’s a west cost NEIPA, very easy drinking and refreshing, and only 4.2% too.

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Alongside this was Blood Orange Blonde from Anchor Brewing Company, a rather non-descript blonde ale with not a lot of blood orange in evidence.

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Dinner was a simple pub classic, fish’n’chips. Nothing to get excited about, just plain fodder. Some pub fish’n’chips are fantastic, others are just ok. This was just ok.

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Still a great Soho pub, just avoid it at the weekends as it gets absolutely rammed! It was busier than usual because they were showing the World Cup, but the game was almost over and it soon emptied out afterwards.

Soho Theatre, London, June 2018

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Beer at comedy venues is generally pretty awful. The Soho Theatre try and break the mould by getting some reasonable cask ales in, but they need a crash course in how to look after cask ale, since it almost always suffers from mistreatment. And the way that the bar staff treat the beer engine, you’d think it was a piece of gym equipment with 50kg on the end of it. And they certainly don’t embrace the sparkler.

If you have a keg beer (and they have one or two reasonable ones) then you’re fine, but they seem to wreck every cask ale that they touch. This T Drop by Adnams might have been nice, with subtle notes of jasmine, hibiscus and Earl Grey tea.

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However, there was none of that here, and it just tasted a bit beery. At least it was cool on another hot night in the big smoke.

One person who was not cool, was tonight’s entertainment, Robin Ince, trying to fit about 2 and 1/2 hours of material into about an hour, whilst breaking in a new cardigan. Manic doesn’t even begin to describe it, but brilliant does. Try and see the full length version, where Robin’s joy of performing in London doesn’t overtake his ability to perform at least some of the routines. A deranged delight.

Soho Theatre, May 2018

Working in London again. After a meeting in Ealing this afternoon and a warm walk in the late spring sunshine, I was checking in to my hotel at the wrong end of Ealing Broadway (in terms of proximity to the station). Soon afterwards I was heading east to get to the Soho Theatre. Once again, Transport for London had other ideas, deciding to keep us sitting around on the tracks outside Acton for quite a while. This put paid to my plans to have a bite to eat at The Crown and Two Chairmen before the show (not for the first time this year), as I just made it into the Soho Theatre before the first show of the evening, Sarah Kendall’s latest story telling effort One-Seventeen.

After that show finished it was up to the bar and there was just enough time for a wrap and a pint. Once again, the chicken wrap comes to my rescue, and there was enough time to enjoy the garlic dip with it this time. It’s much tastier than it looks in this photo.

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As for the pint, once again it was spoilt by bar staff who think that a beer engine is some form of multi-gym workout device. This Adnams Freewheel was a new beer to me, but I don’t think I experienced it at its best.

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No time to sit and reflect, more comedy was on the agenda. Up the stairs for Shappi Khorsandi’s latest show, Mistress and Misfit, an energetic performance boosted by her joy to be performing in London again. Much of the show is about Lady Emma “bury me in a Y-shaped coffin” Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, but also very much a character in her own right. There’s also material about her appearance on last year’s “I’m a Celebrity”, which is something that had totally passed me by.

Another great night at the Soho Theatre, now time to get back to Ealing…

The Lansdowne, Leicester, May 2018

If we’re at The Lansdowne then you know it only means one thing, another night out at De Montfort Hall. On to that in a bit. What’s for dinner tonight? Well, a kind of a cross between a risotto and a paella, this dish from the specials menu has some flecks of chorizo, pieces of chicken, onions, sweet red pepper and creamy saffron rice (and token pea tops). It was not bad but not really special enough to deserve a place on the specials board.

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Luckily, the beer is consitently good in here, and tonight was another example of that. This pint of Peacock from Très Bien Brewery is a testament to the enduring pleasure of a good pint of cask ale. Lots of bitterness, lovely lacing and some maltiness thrown in for good measure.

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Another consitent evening at The Lansdowne, decent food and good beer. Perfect for an evening of fantastic comedy from the ever brilliant Dara O’Briain who was on fantastic form as ever, mixing great banter and off the cuff reactions with the prepared show. An excellent performance.