The Ship Inn and Gangstagrass at the Cluny

I seem to split my time fairly evenly these days between the Quayside (Live Theatre) and Ouseburn – and, following Friday’s snowy visit, I returned in mercifully better climes for a gig at the Cluny to see Gangstagrass.

I was going with my friend L of Raven in a Graveyard – and her parents, who are an absolute delight, and way hipper than I will ever be. It’s not often you see a couple of pensioners getting down to a mix of bluegrass and hip hop – not in my life, anyway – but her folks were long time fans, having seen the band in Edinburgh and the US. (They were chatting away like old friends before the gig – I was impressed!).

Dinner first, and we decided to try The Ship, in no small part because of its proximity to the venue. But it’s a place I have been keen to try for ages, but have so far only managed to walk past when it’s stowed. It’s is an old-fashioned pub – dog friendly, good beer, some board games – but has also successfully established itself as a venue for vegan food. I had the ‘fish’ and chips with mushy peas, which was filling, but not amazing: the chips were great, but the ‘fish’ – tofu wrapped in seaweed and then fried in batter – was a little bland, and the peas looked processed rather than marrowfat: L said she’d had better on previous occasions. Her parents fared better with a pie, gravy and chips that they said was great (and certainly looked fantastic). I’d definitely go back, though – a good range of options, really friendly staff (who were great about my nut allergy) and it’s a lovely space – no wonder it gets so busy.

The gig was in Cluny 1 again – the same place I saw Rob Heron. My only knowledge of the band was that they did the Justified theme, but their hard-to-quantify sound – an engaging mix of bluegrass and hip hop – and their fantastic stage presence made for a great gig, and I’m really pleased L suggested it – part of what I wanted to do when I moved was broaden my horizons, and do more than just go to the theatre all the time, and I’m actually doing pretty well on that. I’ll never be as cool as her folks, though…

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Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra

The reason I was in Ouseburn in a blizzard (see previous post) was to go to a gig – my first at the Cluny. My friend Linda (of Raven in a Graveyard) is a regular there, and said that Rob Heron and his band were a fun night out. Well, she wasn’t wrong – the band were a delight. They’re a band that’s hard to categorise – I’ve seen them described as ‘swing honkytonk rockabilly’, and there was certainly some rockabilly style in the audience – but enormous fun, and with one of the most personable front men I’ve seen in a while. The music was toe-tappingly good, touching on everything from unrequited love to gentrification and bargain wine at Lidl, and the atmosphere was great (though we could have done without someone sending Linda’s drink flying then, instead of offering to replace it, just giving a cheery thumbs up. Er, thanks, love.)

The Cluny itself is a nice venue: small enough to feel intimate but not so small you feel squashed in, and with a decent programme of gigs (which is a good thing, since I’m going back this week…).

The Cluny Cheese Festival

The first weekend after New Year – traditionally when all those resolutions to eat and drink less still seem like they might have a chance of working – seems on the face of it to be an odd time to have a festival devoted to the love of all things cheese, and hold it in a pub. But no one ever got poor counting on the hedonistic impulses of the Geordies, so when myself and my friend L (of Raven In a Graveyard) wandered down to the 2nd Annual Cheese Festival, we found it busy and in full swing.

The pub itself was heaving: part of it set aside for a small cheese market, and the menu of the day very much cheese influenced. We opted for cheesy nachos and a grilled cheese sandwich, both of which were fine, rather than exceptional (the Biscuit Factory has raised my standards for grilled cheese forever), and some of the pubs excellent beers.

To make the day more family friendly, not everything was in the pub. There was a cheese hunt in the morning for kids, and in the afternoon a range of ‘sporting’ events held in the Chedderena in the ‘Olympic Village’ – the bit of grass near the pub – where, when we wandered down, an enthusiastic crowd was cheering on those taking part in the cheese shot put (some with more success than others, since more than one cheese ended up in the river). Since the festival was right next door to the family-friendly Ouseburn Farm, I could imagine this could easily be turned into a cheap and entertaining day out for those with kids.

In search of more adult entertainment (calm down, I just mean beer), Linda and I decided to do a mini pub crawl of the area. L is a real ale enthusiast, so we decided to retrace the steps of a recent real ale tour she had done, stopping first at the excellent Brinkburn Brewery St Bar and Kitchen, another one of those Ouseburn venues that skillfully balances the hipster regeneration vibe of the area with actually being a nice place to hag out, and then onto more traditional climes – the proper old-fashioned pub that is the Cumberland Arms, a warm, welcoming space (where we met one of the dogs we had seen in the Cluny, whose owners had clearly had the same idea) where we had a couple of fine ales in front of a roaring fire before wending our way home.

All in all, a more exciting start to the year than some lettuce…