Journey to… Lastbus Works Canteen

In the middle of the north east countryside, scattered with traditional farm houses, sits a retro travel-themed eatery which feels like it’s been transported from some abandoned stretch of US highway. I made a return visit last week for more delicious cooking, just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it.

Bus benches

I’ve eaten at a lot of cafés and restaurants in the north east, and when it comes to decor, there’s often little to shout about. This decor brought tears to my eyes. Everything is recycled, from the bus seats that form booths against the walls to the building itself, constructed by the owner using disused electricity pylons. Vintage posters and record sleeves adorn the bare wood, and oil cans at each table dispense olive oil for dipping bread. It’s ingenious. The room is filled, but not overstuffed, and every item has a purpose – like the bicycle wheel suspended from the roof, home to pots of cutlery.

You can expect a good meal in most places in Aberdeenshire: a hearty soup, standard fillings for sandwiches, home bakes. By and large the offerings are quite similar, allowing for the occasional specialty. In its menu, too, Lastbus stands apart from other eateries.

Lastbus door

On weekdays, soups are accompanied by a selection of cakes and desserts. My first visit brought a flavoursome lentil and bean soup, the second a rich butternut squash and sweet potato soup. The sundaes are not to be missed. Stacked with yoghurt, granola, fresh pineapple, and pomegranate seeds, they’re heavy on indulgence and light on guilt.

For vegetarians fed up of bland, stunted menu offerings, and even someone like myself who is not (more just a cheapskate), Lastbus is a paradise. The menu changes frequently, but you can bet whatever’s on offer is fresh, tasty and totally meat-free.

The singular drawback is that, being nestled atop a hill behind New Pitsligo, Lastbus requires a car (or a walk from a nearby bus stop) to reach. But with fantastic, great value food in dreamy surroundings that you don’t find on just any Scottish hillside, it’s completely worth the journey.

Check out lostcafe.org for more information.

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i am woman?

After having been told by a friend, ‘You MUST read this!’- and finding it in WH Smith at King’s Cross, falling into the category of ‘the only decent book on offer’- I have finally read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be a Woman’. And in the process, although I didn’t magically become a woman, I definitely learned a lot.

At last I am more comfortable with the idea of being a ‘feminist’. For years I thought it was something I should be, though I wasn’t really sure how or what it really meant. As Moran rightly points out, the term is frequently misappropriated and misinterpreted. I myself was conflicted: should I burn my bras? Hate men forever? Begin plotting world domination?

It’s much simpler than that, it turns out. Moran asks, ‘Are you female?’ Yes, I am. ‘Then you are a feminist.’ Well, that was easy. The book claims that as a woman, it’s almost impossible NOT to be a feminist- to not be interested in issues affecting women, from the ‘big’ ones like domestic abuse, to, erm, smaller things, like the appropriate amount of pubic hair to have. I’m now encouraged to actually follow through on my long-postponed vows to read the great feminist texts. And some day soon I will no doubt be stood on a chair, proclaiming those all-important four words, twelve letters: I AM A FEMINIST.

Above all, though, what I got from the text – besides constant hilarious anecdotes – is that it’s OK to do what YOU want. That, as a woman, you have choices. That despite the attempts of society to stereotype and pigeonhole and condition, there is no one universal definition of what ‘woman’ actually is (aside from the obvious biological definition). If you don’t want to do something, then don’t bloody well do it. It seems like a straightforward ‘moral’, if you like, but to be told it in such frank terms BY ANOTHER WOMAN felt very empowering, and seemed to actually mean something.

It seems that being armed with a winning attitude and a refusal to see yourself as inferior to men forms the very core of being a woman. The rest are just accessories, things to figure out on the journey. Just remember to pack your sense of humour. If anything, becoming – and indeed being – a woman is a very entertaining ride.

Review: ‘America Give Up’

As published here: http://www.stand-news.co.uk/album-review-howlers-america-give-up/

Originally written: 22/01/2012

Have you heard? On January 16th the much-hyped band Howler released their debut album, ‘America Give Up’. The Minneapolis five-piece are hotly tipped to rocket to fame in 2012. Already, they’ve had dates supporting The Vaccines and next month they head over to the UK for their own headline tour. They made it to number 5 on the NME’s Top 20 shortlist of ‘New Bands You Must Hear’. It’s fair to say the music world is pretty buzzed about these guys. But do they make the grade? I listened to find out.

Opening song ‘Beach Sluts’ encapsulates their surf-rock vibe (and not just from the title). The rest of the album also delivers Howler’s summery escapist feel. No doubt they’ll be the soundtrack to the summer ahead. The Julian Casablancas-style vocals mingle with Beach Boys-esque harmonies; their inspiration seems to come from several musical styles and eras. Comparisons aside, the music has a hedonistic, carefree feel about it.

The ‘tales of booze and girls’ theme is always present, but in a different way than usual. Relatable stories of failed relationships and self-esteem issues unfold alongside rock-out riffs and rhythms to give a mix that is at times spacey and flowing, at other times punch-the-air anthemic. The music and its subject matter perfectly fit the summer mood, thoughts of which will surely drag us through the dark winter days and on to the beaches come May. The only thing I found is that, despite several listens, I’m still struggling to tell the songs apart. This becomes something of a problem when they get stuck in your head, as they undoubtedly will be. All in all, though, ‘America Give Up’ is an excellent debut, and a great album to kick off the year. Consider the grade officially made. Howler – welcome to the big leagues.

If you’re still not convinced, listen for yourself. They’re streaming the album at www.howlerband.com, where you can also download their song ‘Back of Your Neck’ for free.

Top picks: Beach Sluts, This One’s Different, Told You Once, Pythagorean Fearem.

You’ll like if you like: The Gaslight Anthem, The Strokes, The Vaccines, old-school rock ‘n’ roll, fun.

‘Review From…’ Arctic Monkeys, AECC, 13/11/11

As published here: http://www.stand-news.co.uk/arctic-monkeys-behind-the-bars/

Originally written: 18/11/2011

There’s no doubt that the Arctic Monkeys are well and truly back. Packing out arenas worldwide, featuring in NME every other week, inspiring a strangely obsessive fanbase on Tumblr… Yup, sounds like the lads from Sheffield who brought us the indie anthems of our teens have gone the distance. They tick all the boxes and have become bona-fide rock stars.

The anticipation at the AECC is palpable – it’s barely 7pm and already fans are jockeying for the best position at the front of the crowd. Bands like Arctic Monkeys don’t normally venture this far north, but tonight is special. Support band, The Vaccines take to the stage shortly before 8pm, and despite the vocals being quieter than they’d have liked, they do a brilliant job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy, storming through an edited version of their debut album, ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’. One fan in particular keeps calling out for ‘Family Friend’, but his calls go unanswered. The band don’t have enough time to play the 8-minute album-closer this evening. Nonetheless, their set is well received, more so than many support bands – probably due to the mainstream fame they’ve received in their own right.

Post-Vaccines set (if you’ll excuse the pun) the crowd grows restless as roadies set up for the night’s headline act. At long last, the strains of ‘Wild Thing’ are heard over the speakers and Alex Turner struts out on to the stage first, to wild cheers from the crowd. Judging from the average age of the audience, most have grown up to the music he and the other Monkeys have made over the years, so tonight many come face-to-face with their musical heroes. Alex and Jamie (Cook, guitarist) look sharp in leather jackets, and the whole band seem to have embraced the rock n’ roll persona ‘Suck It and See’, their latest album, exudes. Sadly Matt’s leather trousers are absent.

They launch straight into the album’s lead single, ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, and the crowd launches its attack on… each other. Mosh pits open up for every song (even slower ones like this) and at times its a chore to move, as those behind pack forward despite there being nowhere else to go. But nobody really minds – Arctic Monkeys continue to play a setlist that seems to please everyone, there’s no absence of hits for those who came on a whim, and there’s a decent number of new album tracks – and ‘Evil Twin’, their latest B-side – to satisfy the more hardcore fans. My only quibble is that, in my opinion, they didn’t play the best tracks from ‘Suck It and See’: ‘Library Pictures’, ‘All My Own Stunts’ and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Within a few songs, they moved from ‘Brianstorm’ to ‘Black Treacle’, showing just how their sound has progressed over the years. ‘Pretty Visitors’ inspired one of the most surreal slow-moshes I’ve ever seen, and as the band launch into following track ‘This House is a Circus’, nothing could be more true. ‘Suck It and See’, the first song of the encore, had the crowd still, singing along, as did ‘Mardy Bum’. Closer ‘505’ inspired something of a mixed reaction – a pit opened up next to people huddling together emotionally, belting out the lyrics.

It seems that with Arctic Monkeys, anything goes. Any way you want to react to what’s happening onstage is fine by them; it’s crowd reaction that’s got them through all these years anyhow. It’s certainly brought Alex out of his shell – earlier gig footage shows him staring at the ground, presumably following the dust rolling by in front of the microphone, with minimal audience interaction between songs. Tonight, he provides the banter, and even delivers some moves (he did the Macarena and even executed a power slide at one point).

The band have a great time, the audience love it, and that’s what it all comes down to – one of the UK’s best bands, playing some of their best songs. There’s not much more you can ask for on a cold November night.

Live Review: Kasabian, AECC, 12/12/11

Originally written: 16th December 2011

Approaching the venue (ok, I ran, in the manner of a small child) I found I could little contain my excitement for this gig. The reason for this, however, was the support act. Miles Kane was 90% of the reason I even bought a ticket. It’s not that I don’t like Kasabian, it’s just that I’ve never really loved them, so much as I feel is sufficient to see them live without feeling like a fraud among the die-hards. Miles has been the soundtrack to my summer, and I felt it only right to show my appreciation in person, so I planted myself firmly at the front, with elbows ready to defend my territory.

Call me biased, but he was brilliant. Hopefully this tour has gained Miles more recognition, his solo debut Colour of the Trap is a rather underrated release this year. A newly-announced tour next year should also help him fully emerge from Alex Turner’s shadow and establish himself as an artist in his own right. His set moved through fast and slow songs, all with that distinct old-style rock ‘n’ roll sound. He even threw in a Jacques Dutronc cover. Altogether he met a great reception from the crowd, and at that point I would have been happy to leave.

My mind was changed when Kasabian took to the stage, opening with ‘Days Are Forgotten’. For a moment I was confused, I could hear singing but there was no sign of Tom Meighan (lead vocals). It turned out my poor positioning behind a speaker stack had hidden him from my view. There was no miming. From that first song, I realised how wrong I’d been to write off the band all this time- I was blown away.  The diversity of their sound is amazing, one minute you can be shouting along and rocking out, the next minute you’re being led through a psychedelic storm of sound. They translate their music from record to stage excellently, some bands omit parts, or just generally manage to mangle what on record sounded so good, but with Kasabian everything is there- what’s  recorded is recreated perfectly live. ‘ID’ slotted in nicely to the set- a very trippy, mostly instrumental song compared to the rest. ‘Take Aim’ was a definite highlight in my opinion- Serge (Pizzorno, lead guitar and backing vocals) took the lead and, well, I was enraptured. I’ll admit, the first time I heard the song properly was when I knew they would be playing it, but I thought it was excellent- despite not being able to remember the words.

Unlike Arctic Monkeys, my positioning on the barrier allowed me to actually watch the band, and appreciate the performance more, I think. Both Serge and Tom managed to get the audience going, but in their showmanship they are somewhat lacking. There was little banter between songs, clearly they prefer to let the music do the talking. Thankfully, this is something they have no problem with. Tracks old and new were well-received, but ones from West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, their breakthrough third album, were the ones the audience were most responsive to.

I don’t normally really notice, but the stage effects were great. During ‘LSF’ a camera skimmed across the crowd, displaying audience members on the large screens. Every few seconds a photograph would be captured, and these end up on the Kasabian Facebook page, which is a brilliant idea in theory. However, logging on later to check where my photo was, I was met with a set of pictures which mostly show one group of people. Where are the rest of the audience? Where am I?! If anything, it’s a novelty, and a nice memento of the gig- for those five or six people. Surely whoever uploaded the pictures must have noticed the same people were in each one?

Despite the obvious oversight in failing to feature me in all my sweaty gig glory (come to think of it… Maybe it’s for the best there’s not a photo of me), Kasabian were a very pleasant surprise. I had expected to go and sing along to all the songs I knew, but I didn’t expect them to actually be… good. Scratch that, I didn’t expect to be absolutely blown away. Kasabian, I feel, have always been somewhat underrated- it took three goes for them to really break into the mainstream as much as their classmates, The Killers and Arctic Monkeys. But now they’ve done it, they’ve proved there’s no doubt they’re worthy of every piece of recognition they get, and that they can completely conquer any arena they set foot in.

Photographs courtesy of Emma Morgan

Overdue #2

Originally written: 1st September 2011

 THEY’RE (STILL) RED HOT

 While not as ‘overdue’ as my last review, it’s still a bit after the release date of I’m With You, the latest offering from Red Hot Chili Peppers- their tenth album to date.

Before even listening, one wonders how an album without John Frusciante on guitar will sound, but new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer comfortably slots in to the line-up. He has helped them build on their signature style. Some will argue he will never match up to Frusciante, but Josh has a different style altogether; Flea claims, “It’s not so much about the big riff- it’s more subtle, sublime…” and he’s right, it works brilliantly here.

The sound has progressed but it still remains upbeat, with the jazz/funk influence that runs throughout their works. However, what really grabbed me was the lyrics. The meticulous attention paid to rhyming, typical of the Chili’s style, comes into play throughout and though the music sounds incredible you can’t take your ears off Kiedis’ vocals. He defies you to be moved by Brendan’s Death Song and Police Station. Even the faster, ‘happier’ songs pack an emotional punch.

All 14 tracks are nothing short of a delight- once again the band has produced a great work, one that’s a definite contender for album of the year.

Their name is well known, they’re one of the most prolific rock bands of the past 20 years. The album went straight to number one around the world, but there seemed surprisingly little hype about it. Kiedis was featured in Q a couple of months back, but it seems that for a band at their level this album has almost… slipped out unnoticed. But that is perhaps the hidden beauty of it- it may not contain so many obvious ‘anthems’ as their earlier works but it is not to be dismissed. From the first listen, it’s obvious they’re on to something special, further plays only reinforces it.

Fans will complain when a band keeps the same style too long, and complain when they change their sounnd. What RHCP have done is merely capitalise on the sound they have honed for many years now, taking it another step further, and one thing’s for sure- they’re (still) red hot.