Dec 162011

On Wednesday 14th December, Aberdeen College Students Association staged a protest outside the Loch Street entrance of Aberdeen College’s Gallowgate centre  as a fight back against education cuts.  As it stands there will be a reduction of 20% in college budgets in Scotland over the next three years.  Patrick Neville reports.

The damage caused by these reductions will result in catastrophic cut backs that will directly affect colleges. These cuts have a high probability of affecting student financial support, staff jobs and classroom resources and for some colleges may cause course closures and forced mergers. If it is financial support that is affected then students from poorer backgrounds will face another barrier to progress through education and will be segregated from the rest of the students.

College education must be a priority in the budget. Colleges in Scotland serve as a medium for people of all ages and backgrounds to access further education.

With less access to college education, hopes for people to successfully be able to find future employment or develop the skills necessary for their lives are at serious risk.

Lani Baird, President of Aberdeen College Students’ Association, said:

 “The level of cuts the Government are suggesting that colleges should endure is absolutely outrageous. The damage caused by these reductions could result in catastrophic cut backs resulting in a cut to student support, staff jobs and classroom resources. For some colleges these cuts could result in course closures and forced mergers. If there were efficiency savings to be made at Aberdeen College they have been made, if there was fat to be trimmed it’s been done.

“If financial support is affected, the poorest students will be the worst hit and risk becoming alienated from education. When there is less access to college education for our community, the hopes for people to find employment or develop the skills necessary to improve their lives are put at serious risk. This further cutback will have a damaging impact on students in the North East and the Scottish Government need to take their head out of the sand and do something about it.

“We are calling on all North East MSPs to protect our colleges and the future of thousands of students. Colleges in Scotland serve as a medium for people of all ages to access education that helps enable them to work. MSPs must make protecting college education a priority in the budget.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland has begun spearheading a campaign on the matter titled “Our Future Our Fight” which is open to the Scottish public to participate in. A petition has been set up at which enables Scottish residents to sign their name in support of protecting college education. By signing the petition, a letter will be sent out on the senders behalf to their regional MP’s and MSP’s with additional room to add your own comments on the matter.

Please note that if you sign the petition, you should expect to receive an email back from your representatives.

Nov 242011

Experts don’t know why, perhaps the Coen Brothers are responsible, but it seems to be a golden age for bluegrass fans right now.  Well-regarded among the singers, pickers, strummers, bowers and songsmiths jostling for attention, and road and studio action, are the duo from Seattle, Washington, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West. Bob Harris likes them – and that’s usually recommendation enough for Voice’s David Innes, who witnessed Sunday night delight at The Blue Lamp.

The Lampie stage was sparsely furnished with only four microphones and the same number of instrument cases. No percussion, not a wood bass in sight, the Jazz Club’s house grand piano rolled into the corner and kept under wraps. Minor alarm bells rang. Could a bluegrass duo brass this out without as much as a cursory nod to a rhythm section of even the most rudimentary kind?

On they came, Cahalen Morrison resembling Fleetwood Mac-era Jeremy Spencer, whilst Eli West could pass for Grave New World-period Strawb Richard Hudson in dim light.

With a guitar, banjo, mandolin and an octave mandolin – “it has thyroid issues”, according to West – swapped between the duo, there was beautiful balance between sympathetic accompaniment and studied expert soloing.

Where Morrison and West really excelled though, was when they combined in finely-tuned almost celestial harmony, as if Charlie and Ira Louvin had drifted in to shelter from the Gallowgate’s mild November breeze. Cahalen’s more bluesy edge was perfectly counter-pointed by Eli’s gentler, but no less powerful country gospel larynx.

On occasions where Cahalen sang, his phrasing and way with melody was reminiscent of Paul Simon. It was hardly surprising then, when Eli tongue-in-cheekedly name-checked old Rhymin’ himself as “a great father of Bluegrass” before delighting the Lamp’s clientele with ‘Hearts and Bones’ as his featured solo spot, following Cahalen’s sweet solo ‘Ode To Autumn’.

The Cox Family’s ‘I Am Weary’ was my highlight of the evening though. All that is grand in Morrison and West’s abilities came together in a glorious and spirit-enhancing instrumental, vocal and soulful crescendo; almost a template in illustrating the irresistible heart-tugging power of gospel, even to we secularists – when simply but expertly executed by supremely-gifted musicians like these.

They can bluegrass over Gallowgate any time they like.

Sep 012011

A year and a half ago, Steve Bothwell wrote to express some, shall we say, ‘reservations’ about ACSEF’s master plan and where Aberdeen is heading.  It looks as if he had a point or two. 

February 25, 2010 – ACSEF’s plan belies anything that can be comprehended as ‘essential to the future of Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland’. As Jonathon Meades put it, ‘Aberdeen is good at being bad’ – Polite prose indeed.

The former glory of George St, with high quality retail and high quality architecture/replaced with the now John Lewis building (formerly the Co-Op) – St Nicholas Centre and The Bon Accord Centre, whilst severing the bloodline to the rest of George St, which resembles a down market version of the down-trodden Argyle St in Glasgow.

The old Co-op Building in Loch St/Gallowgate, which with little imagination could have been a gem of high quality boutique-scale retail, instead of Architecturally impotent office/residential blocks.  St Nicholas house dwarfs Provost Skene’s house, one of the oldest and most architecturally significant buildings in the area.

Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame

The Trinity Centre/Trinity Hall, which subsequently moved to an equally, but on a smaller scale, architectural abortion.

The Old Market building (Market Street and the Green) replaced with the New Market building, sporadically raising pointing questions from the public (locals and visitors alike).  Amadeus nightclub on the beach front which offers nothing but bemused and disturbed confusion.

And last but not least, Union Square, which is a glorified retail park with parking. This Architectural abomination will need replaced sooner than we think.

Union Street comes up in conversation with great frequency. For the past 30 years planning and control has become so lax that we are adorned with gratingly luminous patchwork of irregular symmetry. Absentee landlords are never held to task, nor are the lease holders.

Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.

Most City Councils have made errors, and some cities have corrected them. 

Aberdeen City Council still strive forth to allow the most banal picture painting of a living hell, by destroying everything in its path.
Either they are missing the clues which sit firmly on their own created door step or are suffering a serious bout of doldrumitis. The Civic Square planning and design details do not excite but only represent the pointlessness of it.

The City Council, along with ACSEF and Central Government wholeheartedly supported the Peacock scheme, providing local planning guidance was adhered to. This was to make it blend into the historic park. Peacock’s did that.

We now have a scheme, which in its vagueness, is impossible to get to grips with. From that I mean, it is quite obvious that this charade is nothing to do with enhancing our city for future energy companies to get comfy with, because as we know, energy companies care about nothing but energy riches and not about Urban realm Strategies, and especially about retail connectivity.

ACSEF’s approach to retail connectivity is fed through a brainwashing exercise in which the retail ‘Pillars’ unease at motions of failure result in the bandwagon bursting at the seams with the ‘I’m on board brigade’ ensuring their retail offerings, bland as they be, will not suffer the ever-changing movement or trends of public spending.

Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.

It is poignant that public money has been frittered away on asking Joe Blogs about ‘an idea’, an idea which still reveals no real detail of the final outcome, whereas Peacocks had it sorted and without the need for car parking. Their enhancing project upset no one, and has not created the furore that the Civic square has.

Union Terrace Gardens are not frequented often. Perhaps the reason for that is, the general public are more interested in other things. Society has gone through radical changes and people have become armchair deficits. They rage vengeance on slopes and stairs, grass and beauty, nature and health.

Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.

However, Courtesy of Grampian Police, the facts are this: – There is negligible crime in Union Terrace Gardens. The Freedom of Information Act has provided much-needed defence, where Union Terrace Gardens is the safest area in the City Centre.

It’s plain to see that ACSEF have not used Europe as an example of quality city centres but used America and Australia as examples. America and Australia are fairly recent countries but wholeheartedly celebrate their Green Spaces.

Aberdeen City Council’s budget is tight and perhaps tight-lipped. And the Scottish Government should be representing Scotland and its history, which it’s not.

Union Terrace Gardens is not to blame.

BrewDog: Beer – Enthusiasm – Love.

 Aberdeen City, Articles, Community, Featured, Information, Opinion  Comments Off on BrewDog: Beer – Enthusiasm – Love.
Mar 112011

By Suzanne Kelly.

I was never going to be able to write an objective article about BrewDog – it is simply the most innovative and honest craft beer to emerge in the UK (or probably anywhere); I can’t think of any competition.

There is nothing out there in the beer sector that screams craftsmanship, individuality, creativity and…. well, love of beer, more than the BrewDog brand.

I am waiting for Bruce Gray from BrewDog HQ at the BrewDog pub in Aberdeen which opened in mid October.  The fashionably industrial/minimalistic bar sits across from Marischal College. People are queuing to be served and the three staff behind the bar are busy but enthusiastically offering tastes of the dozens of craft beers on offer to those customers unsure what to drink. The music is as eclectic as the clientele and the brews on offer. It ranges from Beck to Massive Attack then goes back a few decades to come forward again.

Behind the bar are dozens and dozens of bottles of BrewDog offerings as well as an international collection of beers that makes my eyes water. Beer is sold in bottles and draught – the draught offerings seem to change with some frequency and limited edition offerings come and go from the tap with speed. In addition, they sell some of my favourite cheeses from Mellis (an enlarged menu will follow soon, Bruce advises).  Bliss.

Bruce gets free from the bar and joins me; the first thing we discuss is the BrewDog philosophy. He extols the virtues of craftsmanship and explains that the company’s willingness to take risks and experiment has been key to its current considerable success.  BrewDog opens in Edinburgh in March (Bruce had been down yesterday and reports it may open earlier than scheduled) and other pubs will soon emerge in Glasgow and London. I think they will be coining it in.

The company was started by Martin and James who sold their ‘Punk IPA’, ‘Paradox’ and ‘Trashy Blonde‘ offerings initially at the Aberdeen Farmers’ Market on Belmont Street. The next stop for the Dog was the export market where the following grew as the products’ quality spoke for itself.

Collaborations with international breweries followed as did a mountain of awards. These two founders are currently employing some 50 people, and BrewDog has experienced a profit increase from last year to this of some 260%. Unprecedented.

Bruce puts this down to the quality of the beers and to the skills of the guys in marketing. I can’t argue with that. Courting controversy has brought publicity – some negative – but it has not hurt the firm. You may recall scandalised newspaper stories on ‘Sink the Bismarck’ and ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin‘ extra strong beers.

The press would have you believe that children would be buying bottles of these strong beers (some as powerful as 33% ABV) and getting paralytic in the streets.

Having tried the ‘Sink the Bismarck’ – these strong beers are only sold as ‘nips’ by the way – I can promise you that no one would sooner guzzle this down than down than they would a gallon of whisky. It’s like nothing else – a concentrated rich, cordial of a beer, a nip of which took me about twenty minutes to finish.

It is the flavours which really excite. While I love beer and attend beer/real ale festivals, I don’t have the vocabulary to fully describe just how unique these beers are. The ‘Trashy Blonde’ is described on the label as being a ‘statuesque fruity ale’ and I certainly can’t do better than that.

I love the honey notes in ‘Paradox’, and the classic ‘5 a.m. Saint’ is a strong ale which was the winner of the top overall award at the Hong Kong International Beer Awards in 2010.

Bruce and I discuss ‘Bitch Please’ which comes out at the end of 2011 – if you think you taste shortbread and toffee when you get your hands on this one, that will be because they’ve thrown some in. One of my favourite offerings so far was ‘Eurotrash’ – they took the ‘Trashy Blonde’ recipe and substituted the type of yeast used.  The result of making this one change was, well, delicious – and completely different in taste to the original Blonde. You are left in no doubt that the brewers are ruled by their imaginations, not profit margins. Don’t look for ‘Eurotrash’ any more – it’s all gone. I ask Bruce to please consider bringing it back; watch this space.

I feel I must ask Bruce some grown-up business questions so I ask what kind of demographic they are targeting; the answer is that they are not after any one group at all and they find women are very interested and want a taste of everything (a wooden pallet holding 4 x 1/3 pint beer tasters is a popular seller).  In fact, the place is devoid of the stereotypical real ale fan; I see no obligatory man with beard, beer gut and woolly jumper.

I’ve added a few things to my ‘must do’ list; namely, getting the soon-to-be released ‘Beer School’ booklet and the new collection of four single hop IPA – ‘IPA is dead’.

I thank Bruce for his time, and come away (well, go to the bar to buy a half of Camden Town Brewery’s wheat beer and a half of ‘5 a.m. Saint’ ) impressed by the genuine enthusiasm that permeates every aspect of this operation. I should probably be trying to think of some clever pun or other for an article headline – no doubt something about ‘bark’, ‘hop’, ‘every dog has its day’ – but it is totally unnecessary. BrewDog is Beer for Punks and everyone else who honestly loves an honest beer.


Aug 202010

Last week in Aberdeen Voice, Alex Mitchell brought us a history of Aberdeen from its recognition by the Romans as a settlement, through its development as two separate burghs, the influence of the burgesses and the benevolence of Robert the Bruce. Part 2 of The Old Burghs of Aberdeen continues.

A Mint was established by the end of the 12th century, most likely at Exchequer Row, which issued coinage in the forms of sterlings, groats and half-groats until the reign of James IV (1473-1513). A weekly Sunday market had been established in 1222 and an annual fair in 1273. The local economy was based on fishing and the processing of wool and leather. Continue reading »

Aug 062010

Aberdeen Voice’s Dave Guthrie reports on an afternoon when Union Terrace Gardens provided the backdrop for a tri-partite cultural gathering and a small community festival brought together Gallowgate residents and group.

It was a busy day in Aberdeen last Saturday.
First of all, there was the modest and little-publicised Gallowgate Festival centred around St Margaret’s Church, you know the one with the big golden Christ on the cross opposite the Blue Lampie.
Continue reading »