ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Drinking Dodgy Bastards

Three years ago I came up with the Wintersmith cocktail, inspired by the Steeleye Span album of the same name (which, furthering the circularity, was itself inspired by the Terry Pratchett books).

Well, Sir Terry is sadly no longer with us, inventing cocktails is still a lot of fun, and Steeleye have a new album out called Dodgy Bastards, so I thought it was high time I came up with a new drink to go with it, and maybe even do a little reviewette of the album.

Album of the Year?
In recent years the band have developed a fairly heavy, proggy sound, though Maddy Prior's arrestingly clear voice remains very much at the heart of it all. It's a striking combination and right from the opening track, the multi-sectioned Cruel Brother, you know what you're in for: Elaborate tales, exquisite vocal harmonies and top-notch playing throughout.

That's just one of four songs on the album that exceed seven minutes in length, but before you start rolling your eyes, none of them get boring or repetitive for even a second. Case in point, Cromwell's Skull, an epic masterpiece from long-serving bassist Rick Kemp proves that the old boy can still turn out thoughtful lyrics and complex changes of key and time at the ripe old age of 75!

The relatively recent addition of virtuosic violinist Jessie May Smart has dragged the average age of the band right down and provides hope that Steeleye might continue even after the stalwart members finally retire. (Or worse - two former members are already keeping Sir Terry company.)

For all her tender years - she's not only younger than me, she's younger than 30! - Ms. Smart is quite, quite brilliant and makes her songwriting debut here with the spookily psychedelic Brown Robyn's Confession that tells the tale of a beleaguered sailor punished by fate for a life of incest. Dodgy bastards indeed.

Just having a pint with the world's greatest bassist...
Even-newer member, Andrew 'Spud' Sinclair makes his recording debut with the band and contributes the stomping instrumental that is the title track. The new integrates seamlessly with the old, including a brand new arrangement of All Things are Quite Silent, a defiantly sad tale of losing a lover to the Press Gang which featured on Steeleye's first album over 45 years ago.

There's The Gardener where Maddy and Julian Littman share spiky harmonies; the melody strongly reminiscent of the wife of Usher's Well, a track from their best-selling All Around My Hat album.

Other highlights include the revisited Boys of Bedlam with Jessie's manic, screeching octave violin, a mighty bass riff and a disturbing spoken word interlude from Littman, who performs a similar trick on his original composition Bad Bones, with its unbelievably catchy hook that will earworm its way deep into your head in no time.

Then there's Johnnie Armstrong, another seven-minuter, with highly contrasting halves penned separately by Kemp and Littman but woven together in the most convincing cut'n'shut job in musical history.

Steeleye have aired several songs from the new album on their tours this year, and will probably do so again during 2017, so catch them where- and whenever you can. Buy the album too - there's not a weak track on it.

Now, about that drink I mentioned...

The Dodgy Bastard

Ingredients - per glass:

Brandy - a standard shot
Bourbon - a standard shot
Cocktail of the Year?
Tonic Bitters - a few drops
Cherry Cola - to taste
Ice - a couple of cubes


Shake the Brandy and Bourbon in a cocktail shaker with the ice and pour into a tumbler or highball type glass when the ice begins to break down.

(The Brandy/Bourbon combination has been on trend this year - needless to say as this is going into a cocktail shaker, there is no need to use your finest 30-year old spirits; bog-standard mainstream brands will do just fine.)

Add a few drops of Tonic Bitters, then top up with Cherry Cola - and that's it. You don't want to dilute the spirits too much - this is supposed to be a dodgy bastard of a cocktail after all!

Garnishing it with cherries would probably be uncharacteristically wussy, so I didn't bother. It would probably also work 'the other way round' - e.g. using Cherry Brandy and regular Cola, so feel free to experiment away. Though possibly not with incest shortly before a sea voyage...

Dodgy Bastards is out now on Park Records. You can hear a sampler here.

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