A Magical Mystery Tour of the United Kingdom

“Sorry, did you just headbutt me?”

I asked this question in the basement of a German-themed bar named Bierkeller, a venue situated in the centre of Bristol. Bristol is a British city about an hour west of London that is home to some of the best live music in the UK, and I was at Bierkeller in the middle of my first ever moshpit. The band I had come to see were one of my all time favourites – a metal group by the name of Electric Wizard. And midway through their classic tune ‘Barbarian’, the crowd – and myself – reached a fever pitch of such headbanging intensity that I felt an enormous noggin thump me right in the back of the neck.

Charged up on the music and adrenaline, I hardly even noticed at the time. But when the song ended, I turned to the greasy-haired metalhead dude behind me and asked, a bit too politely: “Sorry, did you just headbutt me?” He grinned and said, “Yeah, man. I think so.” I couldn’t even be angry – I grinned back and replied: ‘Nice one.”

Moments like these are exactly why I love live music. There’s nothing to compare to the thrill of hearing your favourite artists in the flesh, sharing in the atmosphere and the energy of a performance with like-minded people. In the UK, we’re lucky enough to have some of the best live music venues in the world, and there’s no better way to experience the culture of a city than to get off the beaten path and hear some local bands. So in this article I want to take you through some of the venues and cities throughout the United Kingdom, and recount some tales from the amazing artists I’ve seen there.

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Entering the Big Jeff Zone

The city of Bristol is known for a few things. First, it’s the home of Banksy and some of the best graffiti art in the world. Second is the Clifton Suspension Bridge, an impressive feat of Victorian engineering just outside the city centre. And third is the Bristol accent, full of rolled ‘arr’s and ‘urr’s that are famously difficult for anyone outside the city to understand.

But Bristol is also one of the best cities in the UK for live music. It’s home to a floating nightclub – Thekla, an old German timber ship converted into music venue, which sits in the buzzing harbourside area. And it’s also home to The Fleece, a rock bar which plays host to rising talent from around the south west. The Fleece is perhaps as well known for its music as it is for a small square of tarmac near the stage, which has been affectionately dubbed the Big Jeff Zone.

Big Jeff is a resident of Bristol who is something of a legend in the music scene. The man is a towering seven feet tall, and his love of live music is so strong that he attends a different gig almost every single night. That’s no exaggeration: if you go to a live show in Bristol, there is a very strong chance that you might spot the blond-haired giant himself, right up front by the stage and rocking out to his hearts content. At The Fleece, the big man has his own designated standing space in front of a support beam, where his huge height doesn’t obstruct the view of the poor souls behind him.

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Tales from the UK rave underground

Bristol is also a hub for electronic music, being the birthplace of the short-lived dubstep genre and containing a thriving scene of drum ‘n’ bass, house and techno. The UK has a storied history with raves, or underground parties – in the 80s, many illegal raves were shut down by police as the nation was swept by fear of the drug Ecstasy, and its effect on youth culture. In the aftermath of these illegal raves, many changes were made to laws on UK nightlife, allowing venues to stay open much later into the night.

The impact of those parties can still be felt at music venues around the UK. In Bristol the nightclub Motion, which is just a short walk from the city’s main train station, plays host to regular raves which channel the spirit of years past: huge speaker systems, loud bass and music playing into the early hours of the morning. Some nights end as late as five or six AM, and clubbers leaving to go home are likely to run into early morning commuters catching their next day trains and buses to work.

All drugs are, of course, banned from the premises, and there is tight security at the door. But there are inevitably some who smuggle illicit substances past the bouncers, and you can usually spot them a mile away. The person stood in the corner by themselves, staring intently at a strobe light and dancing like a confused jellyfish, is probably best left alone.

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Music in the capital

It goes without saying that there is plenty of good music in London: the city is among the top billing for almost any international performing artist. One of the best music venues in the capital, though, is the Roundhouse in Camden. This venue, true to its name, is a circular, open space with a stage at the front, and plays host to all the best bands not quite big enough to fill an arena. It is large, but the round shape of the building and fantastic stage setup keep it feeling intimate.

I came here to watch a band named Beach House perform a handful of years ago, and had a fantastic evening all around. Beach House are a band who play a style of music known as dream pop: slow, hazy tunes with wistful vocals and steady drum beats. My enjoyment of the gig was only slightly dampened when I found out, having travelled halfway across the country to get to London, that the band were performing at a venue not fifteen minutes away from my house just days later.

Going up north

That home was in Leeds, where I studied at university for three years. Leeds is another hub for live music and is, alongside Manchester, the go-to place for artists performing outside of London. Deep in the student district of Headingley you’ll find the famous Brudenell Social Club, where bands of all shapes and sizes play to adoring student crowds. I visited the Brudenell several times, to see everything from American punk rockers Viet Cong to freaky noise-pop band Deerhoof.

But the best gig I attended in my student days was one that ended with the lead singer pouring a bottle of whiskey on top of my head. Crystal Castles are an electro-pop group with elements of house music, and their shows are a sensory overload of loud bass, flashing lights and jumping crowds. I saw them at the O2 Academy in Leeds, and the crowd were so hyperactive that at one point a girl slipped and fell, causing a domino effect that left about fifty people lying on the floor. The music was stopped to let everyone get to their feet, and then resumed at the same volume as before.

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Having pushed my way to the front of the crowd as the show went on, I found myself up against the barrier for the encore. Lead singer Alice Glass pulled a bottle of whiskey from out behind the stage and took a huge swig from it, then poured the rest into the open mouths of the front row. Unfortunately, the majority of the drink landed squarely on top of my head, but I was so into the music that it didn’t bother me all too much.

That’s the power of live music: an atmosphere and energy so intense it can let you forget being headbutted, or taking an unwanted Jack Daniels shower. And the UK is second to none for gigs: whether you’re up north in Leeds and Manchester or down south in London and Bristol, the country’s cities have a huge variety of shows for all tastes. For anyone visiting the UK, seeing some artists perform is one of the best ways to get in touch with the locals and get a feel for the city, and all the venues above are highly recommended for doing exactly that. Who knows – you might even spot Big Jeff.

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Eating For Free at the #1 Restaurant in Calcutta!

In Calcutta, the #1 and #2 rated restaurants in the city are a thirty second walk away from each other’s doors. Not far from the main entrance of the extravagant ITC Sonar hotel, which is home to six restaurants and a nightclub, you’ll find the rustic Peshawri, which offers a wide variety of Indian cuisine. But within throwing distance is Dum Pukht, the restaurant that has held the #1 spot on TripAdvisor for the last two years. Chef Zubair Qureshi tells us, with a grin, “They know we are #1. There is a lot of friendly competition”.

It is perhaps, then, in the spirit of friendly competition that Dum Pukht is offering a brand new menu throughout February – one which is built around the culinary delights of qaliya curry. From the 1st until the 28th, Dum Pukht is serving a selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian qaliya dishes, ranging from Gosht Chaap Qaliya – lamb chops cooked with yoghurt, brown onion and almond paste – to Nadru Kofta Qaliya – marbles of minced lotus stem and hara masala finished in yellow gravy.

Dum Pukht invited T2 down to the ITC Sonar to try their new dishes, and it was certainly an incredible dining experience. From the moment we arrived, greeted by opulently dressed staff and the huge white stone curves of the front entrance, through to the moment we left – the ITC Sonar was a remarkable venue, and home to some of the best food in Calcutta.

We arrived at Dum Pukht at about half seven, when the kitchen had only just opened and the restaurant was empty. This allowed us to take in the beautiful décor of the room – moody orange and white lights illuminate a marble floor, while onyx cladding along the walls complete the ambience. The kitchen at the back is surrounded entirely by windows, allowing diners to see (and hear) the food being created, and offering a real sense of spaciousness.

It was at this point that we were given the chance to taste a few items on the menu. First up was the Gosht Chaap Qaliya, lamb chops cooked to perfection in a wonderfully rich sauce. Second, and my personal favourite, was the Mahi Dum Sarso Qaliya, a whole baby bhetki fish marinated with mustard, yellow chilli and yoghurt, finished on dum. This fish has an incredible texture: creamy and salty in the extreme, melting in the mouth like butter.

Last was the Gosht Chandi Qaliya, which chef Qureshi said was his own personal favourite, and the dish he would order from his own menu. This piece of boneless lamb is slow-cooked for four hours until it falls off the bone, and the tastes of cardamom, saffron and turmeric increase the intense flavour. The dish is topped with a garnish of silver leaves for a decadent finish.

The long preparation time of these dishes epitomises the slow-cooking style which Dum Pukht is named after. It is a style of cooking which originated in Persia, but has since become a part of Indian and Pakistani cuisine. For the qaliya dishes, chef Qureshi says he starts from a simple base of yoghurt, coriander and assorted spices before building up his recipes. Each is laboured over carefully, as evidenced by the delicious flavours on show.

Mr Qureshi is a chef with plenty of experience – he has been cooking at Calcutta’s Dum Pukht for over seven years now, and before that spent another six at Dum Pukht in Delhi, at the hotel ITC Maurya. He grew up in Agra, surrounded by a family of chefs, and his grandfather was khansama to the Raja of Mahmudabad in Uttar Pradesh. To put it simply, he knows what he is doing.

All of that experience has been poured into the new qaliya menu which Dum Pukht is providing throughout the course of February. This is an experience not to be missed for anyone who loves great food, great service and world class accommodation.

How to Not Get Laid on Valentine’s Day

Hello everyone. Today is Valentine’s Day, and that means network television and organized broadcasting the world over will be delivering you a steady drip-feed of romantic sap to fuel your plans for getting laid. For those of you who have no such plans – for the freedom fighters rocking it solo on the most depressing day of the year – I’ve put together this list. Here are my favourite subversive movie romances: the tales of love that were weird, dark, or entirely unexpected. All are guaranteed to not get you laid on Valentine’s Day.

Wall-E

Yes, Wall-E. Wall-E is a movie about a pair of binoculars on wheels who falls in love with a floating trash can, and in the process of trying to court her accidentally ends up saving the Earth from a biological apocalypse. For my money, this is Pixar’s finest hour: a screwball romantic comedy starring two robots who never speak, and yet tell us so much about climate change, the nature of humanity and the power of love. And who could forget that intergalactic slow-dance through the vacuum of space, Wall-E flying around with his little fire hydrant, wide eyes staring longingly at his robot darling?

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy contains two of the most romantic movies ever committed to film, but there’s something a little different about Before Midnight, its third and final act. This movie is about the parts of a relationship that don’t get idealized in movies: the late stages, where two people have become so comfortable with each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies they know each other better than themselves. Linklater’s depiction of marriage is dangerously intimate, and shocking in its pragmatism. “If you want true love, this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.”

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien is a coming of age story about two Mexican teenagers who embark on a road trip with an alluring older woman. All three characters have secrets, and Cuaron’s depiction of young love, lust and jealousy are scintillating as the group make their way across Mexico, a backdrop which seethes with political and economic turmoil. Much of Y Tu Mama Tambien’s power rests on a masterful romantic turn at the very end of the movie which I won’t spoil here, but which forces the viewer to reassess everything that came before.

Her

Spike Jonze’s Her is one of the most contemporary and socially aware romances made this decade. In it, Joaquin Phoenix’s Theo falls in love with an artificial intelligence inside the operating system of his apartment, played by Scarlett Johannson. The unusual pair develop a growing intimacy throughout the course of some wonderfully written conversations about sentience, commitment and the nature of feeling. Her is both a glorious satire of modern humankind’s obsession with technology, and a touching, passionate story about the limits of what can (and cannot) be loved.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This excellent movie is all about love and memory: what we remember of the people we used to love, and how we might forget about someone we’ve stopped loving. Couple Joel and Clementine have a vicious argument, causing Clementine to seek the assistance of new age corporation Lacuna Inc, who have the ability to remove all her memories of the relationship. A devastated Joel resigns himself to the same procedure, but midway through decides against it, and the majority of the film takes place inside his mind as he fights to save his memories of Clementine from being erased. Imaginative, futuristic and totally unique: this is a romance like no other.

Why You Have to See ‘The End of the F***ing World’

“I punched my dad in the face and stole his car. That seemed like a good place to start”. So says seventeen-year old psychopath James (Alex Lawther), in the first episode of UK drama/comedy The End of the F***ing World, which made its international debut on Netflix this past month. James is a troubled child with a traumatic past, and in his spare time he sneaks off into the woods to murder cats, dogs, and butterflies. He is planning to murder his first human target when he meets Alyssa (Jessica Barden), a brash and outwardly confident young girl at his school who he pretends to fall in love with.

Things don’t quite go according to plan, and James’ scheme is put on hold when he and Alyssa decide to leave town in his dad’s car – but not before delivering the unfortunate man a punch to the face. This sets in motion a darkly comic and wildly unpredictable journey, brought to life by the fantastic acting of Barden and Lawther in the lead roles. Straight-faced and socially inept James is the perfect foil to Alyssa, whose fiery personality is a front for a lot of vulnerability and pain.

It quickly becomes clear that The End of the F***ing World is more than just a comedy with a dark sense of humour. As the series progresses, it tackles delicate topics like mental health, parental role models, masculinity and domestic abuse. But it does so very subtly, and never loses its ability to make us laugh out loud. In fact, some of the shows funniest moments are those that arise out of the bleakest situations: in a later episode, we are introduced to local drug dealer Johnny, who only ever wears shorts. “What did you wear to your ma’s funeral, Johnny?’ someone asks him. ‘Black shorts’, he replies.

The show’s production is fantastic all around, too. Its editing is snappy and stylish, cutting quickly between scenes and jumping backwards and forwards in time. The soundtrack features plenty of memorable songs, and a score put together by Graham Coxon of Blur. And the cinematography is gorgeous, particularly in the later episodes, which feature long shots of desolate, windswept beaches and sunsets.

The End of the F***ing World performs a deft balancing act between comedy and tragedy, making us laugh in order to get us thinking about some important and under-explored issues. It had me completely hooked for the entirety of its short duration, and it’s shocking ending left me wanting more. Simply put: The End of the F***ing World is one of the best shows to come out of the UK in some time, and wider international release on Netflix means you have no excuse not to check it out.

Confessions of an English Backpacker in Australia

There are a lot of ways to swear in Australia. This was one of the first things I learned about the country, having newly arrived in Melbourne after a 26 hour flight from London, Heathrow. My friend and I were sat in a bar in the city’s north district with an Aussie bloke named Patrick, who’d had a few drinks and was now explaining, in great detail, the many ways you can swear in Aussie slang, and the different meanings behind each one.

As introductions go, it was certainly unique. We were struggling to pay attention, having spent all of the last two days on planes, trains and buses. When we arrived at our hostel (ambitiously titled The Mansion), I had slept for fourteen straight hours under the effects of jetlag and extreme tiredness. And now I was being delivered a drunken lecture in profanity by a man I could hardly understand.

My friend and I had decided, quite impulsively, to move to Australia for a year on a working holiday visa. I quit my job in Bristol and we flew out at the end of summer, arriving at the start of September. The city of Melbourne was our starting point: a fashionable and multi-cultural melting pot of Asian, European and Australian.

It might have been 10,500 miles away from London, but the second lesson I learned in Australia is that the world can sometimes be a very small place. While in Melbourne, I received a message from a friend I lived with at university, who told me he was working in Tasmania and coming to Melbourne that weekend to do some sightseeing. By complete chance, he had booked to stay in the exact same hostel we had, on the exact same floor, in a room three doors down from ours. The universe can be a crazy, mystical thing sometimes.

In our first week in Melbourne, my friend and I ended up at a hippy commune. A small group of us, based on a tip from someone at the hostel, made the long walk through the city’s Fitzroy district, in search of a restaurant that was rumoured to serve food on a pay-as-you-wish basis. When we got there, following a trail of wild lemurs through dark suburban streets, we were served Sri Lankan pancakes by dreadlocked staff wearing tie-dye t-shirts, as psychedelic New Age music played on the speakers overhead. That was an experience I won’t soon forget.

We stayed, for most of our trip, in hostels. There are plenty of horror stories about hostels, some of which I experienced first-hand. In one, there was a mysterious red stain on my bedsheets, which could have been either blood or ketchup. In another, an entire colony of ants emerged from out of the plughole at the same moment I decided to take a shower. And in another still, a backpacker on the same floor as ours consumed some illicit substances, then started screaming as he hallucinated that the hostel staff were demons with horse heads.

Generally, though, hostels are a fun and cheap way to live if you don’t mind the lack of privacy. Here are a few tips for anyone planning to stay in one: first of all, avoid that guy in every hostel who sits on the stairs and badly plays the guitar, in an attempt to impress the ladies. Second, don’t let yourself be bullied by dishonest hostel owners and landlords – the majority are very friendly, but there are some who try to take advantage of travelers who don’t speak the native language well, and don’t stand up for themselves.

And lastly, be aware of the person who sneaks into the communal kitchen and steals any food that isn’t padlocked shut. One anonymous backpacker in Brisbane became my mortal nemesis, after he/she repeatedly stole the strawberry jam (and nothing else) out of my fridge bag, forcing me to leave a very sternly worded note (that’s about as angry as the British get).

I mentioned already one stroke of fate. But there was another coincidence later in our trip, when my friend and I moved to the city of Sydney. The apartment we rented here was home to an Indian man by the name of Sheldon, who was originally from Goa but had moved to Australia to study. When we told him we were English, he said that he used to live in England, in a little town by the name of Chippenham. My friend and I stared at each other in disbelief – Chippenham is the very same small town both of us live in, and Sheldon had lived there for a year when we were in school. We’d probably walked right past him.

Sydney itself is a sight that has to be seen at least once: the grandeur of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the hustle and bustle of George Street, the restaurants and bars shining under the coloured lights of Darling Harbour. I spent New Years Eve in the Botanical Gardens, queueing all day to get a view of the bridge and the spectacular fireworks show that brought in the New Year. That was a fantastic way to welcome 2017.

The nightlife, too, is very colourful. Sydney’s Ivy Bar is worth the cost of entry: an enormous complex spread out over two buildings, each with multiple stories where you can buy fancy cocktails, Australian beers and just about any other alcoholic beverage imaginable. The rooftop bar even features an open air swimming pool, if you fancy taking a dip while you sip.

The only downside is the cost. Everything in Sydney is very expensive, from the $15 pint of beer I spotted on a restaurant menu to the cost of a hostel, which can be as high as $60 a night. That’s about three times as much as you can expect to pay in other parts of Australia, and five times what you might pay in another country. For anyone thinking of making the trip, make sure you book accommodation far in advance: in Sydney, every hostel in the city will be booked a week ahead.

My favourite place in Australia, though, and the one I would recommend above all others, is Brisbane. Brisbane is a gorgeous city, one which seems to be in a perpetual state of tropical summer. The streets are busy but not crowded, and the views along Eagle Street Pier, which follows the river from the city center through the Botanical Gardens and beyond, are magical. If you take this path all the way down the river, the Brisbane River Walk is a hidden treasure – a running/cycle path built right on top of the river, which takes you right alongside the shining lights of Story Bridge.

Running and cycling are a huge part of Australian culture, both in Brisbane and beyond. If you make the trip, pack a pair of running shoes and experience it firsthand. At 5pm in Brisbane, the city becomes a fluorescent explosion of runners and cyclists as everyone leaves work, allowing you to witness Australia’s famous fitness culture for yourself.

And you can’t leave the country without experiencing a proper Aussie barbeque, either. Streets Beach is a must see in Brisbane: cross over the bridge from the city center into the South Bank, and there are parks, free access swimming pools, and a huge playground for the kids, all of which feature free barbeque stations. It’s the perfect way to soak up the sun and enjoy the city views.

Wherever you go in Australia there is lots to see, and backpacking is a cheap and exciting way to experience the sights and get off the beaten path. I was sad to leave, but the year I spent there was full of stories and people that I’ll remember for many years to come. If nothing else, I learned how to swear like a proper Australian.