Long Drive South is a new collection of ten compelling short stories by Mark Beasley. Based upon big ideas for unfinished novels, there's a laugh around every dark corner and a wicked twist to every tall tale.
Now available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle e-book. Click here to order
What reviewers say
“If Beasley wrote Long Drive South to prove he can write and entertain; he certainly doesn’t disappoint.”
“Proper laugh-out-loud one-liners.”
“Each story is told with a delicious wickedness at its heart and thumping twist in its tail.”
“He tackles the tropes of class, ambition, school, snobbery, careers and jealousy. From the banality of the everyday to the unexplained and ghostly.”
Now available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle e-book. Click here to order
By my estimation, I am one of an elite group of just 1% of guitarists. We are a shadowy group, ignored by instrument manufacturers, derided by other guitarists, and laughed at in guitar shops.
What makes us different is that we play left-handed, with the strings upside-down (high E at the top, low E at the bottom). My assumptions are that 10% of guitarists play left-handed and of these, 10% string the guitar upside-down (as above). Hence, 1% - but it could be lower than that. I have yet to meet anyone else foolish enough to play like me, although a few better-known players are listed below.
Playing this way has caused me a lot of problems and is not recommended. If you’re a beginner and are playing like this, please stop. Now. This article will explain why.
Play in a Day: regret it for a lifetime
At the age of 13, I bought a cheap guitar. Next, I had to somehow learn to play it - cheese-grater strings, high action, and all. The most common method in the UK in those days was to buy an instruction book called Play in a Day, written by Bert Weedon, an English dance band guitarist who for some reason also appeared on children’s television.
First published in 1957 (and still in print today), Play in a Day was pretty much the only way for a whole generation to learn to play guitar. Ask Eric Clapton, George Harrison, John Lennon, Hank Marvin, Brian May, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, and many others. It’s how they all learned.
There was no other way. Guitar wasn’t taught at schools. The internet and YouTube had yet to be invented, likewise CD and video tutorials. Apart from Bert Weedon, the only way to learn was from friends and painstaking hours in your bedroom trying to copy records.
According to my father, I was ‘cack-handed’, which meant that I was left-handed, in a right-handed world. At Junior School, Miss Mickey’s handwriting lessons were the catalyst for my forced conversion from left-handed to right-handed. There was no choice: in those days, to be left-handed was to be the spawn of Satan and actively discouraged. It was that or being burned at the stake. However, I can still write with either hand.
Despite my enforced right-handedness, my natural inclination was to hold the (right-handed) guitar left-handed, without even knowing that I was doing this. Sitting with my guitar in front of Bert’s book, I mirrored what I saw in his photos and diagrams. As I was holding the guitar left-handed, my guitar neck faced his, which made perfect sense at the time. It also made it easier to follow.
I only learned later that I was holding the guitar the ‘wrong way round’ and therefore playing upside down, when a friend pointed it out. By then, I’d learned four chords and there was no stopping me. Had I flipped the strings and re-learned those four chords, I would have been spared a lifetime of pain.
Having said that, there are some fringe benefits. My playing has consistently attracted more attention than it deserves; other guitarists find it almost impossible to work out what I’m playing; and it is possible to play a few things that would otherwise be impossible.
Who else plays like this?
Nearly all left-handed players string their guitar so that the lowest E string is at the top of the guitar, as it is for right-handers. It’s how God intended left-handed guitars to be. It’s how Paul McCartney and most lefties play.
At this point, people often reference Jimi Hendrix, who was left-handed and played right-handed guitars the wrong way round. However, he also flipped the strings, so the lowest string is at the top. Presumably, in those days left-handed electric guitars were in short supply, so playing a right-handed one was the only option. And Hendrix had such enormous hands and long fingers that having the control knobs at the top of the guitar was a benefit, not a problem, as it is for the rest of us. Some have said that he actually preferred this.
There are some reasonably well-known guitarists who play the same way as me (left-handed, strung right-handed). The ones I know of are: Doyle Bramhall (plays with Clapton and others), Glen Burtnick (Styx), Junior Campbell (Marmalade and solo), Jimmy Cliff, Dick Dale (legendary surf guitarist), Eric Gales (amazing contemporary blues player), Bob Geldof (known to strum a few chords) and Albert King (legendary blues player). Not to forget Coco Montoya, Otis Rush, Dan Seals, Seal, Karl Wallinger and Bobby Womack.
On bass, I have found a few ‘1%’ players. These include Gerald Johnson (Dave Mason, Steve Miller), Lee Pomeroy (top session man, ELO, Take That, later incarnations of Yes) and Paul Wilson (Snow Patrol).
Why do they do it? I haven’t asked (if you’re reading this, please let me know) but I would guess that in nearly every case, they are like me: they are lefthanded, self-taught and didn’t realise what they were doing until it was too late.
I’m guessing that we are a dying breed: in the information age, and with so many ways to learn the guitar, it just wouldn’t happen now.
But there may be other reasons that people are 1%-ers. For example, Eric Gales is naturally right-handed, but was apparently taught how to play by his left-handed brother, on a left-handed guitar (although he now seems to prefer to play right-handed guitars the wrong way round).
Some of the problems we face
You can play the guitar badly or well, however you string it: either way, it’s an unfair contest between ten fingers and six strings. The problems are mainly related to the limitations on the model of guitar (particularly electric) that you can play. Here’s a brief review of your options:
Just flip a right-handed guitar and start playing. No need to change the strings, it's ready to go. But…if you like dot markers down the side of the neck, you’ll have to add them yourself. And if the guitar has a scratch-plate, it will now be in the wrong place. Left-handed acoustic guitars are an absolute non-starter for the 1%-er, as the bridge will be angled to enable intonation for ‘normal’ players. Flip the strings and the intonation will be all over the place.
Electric guitars (right-handed)
Playing a right-handed guitar the wrong way round has one great advantage: the strings, intonation and balance of the guitar are all just how you want them.
But there are a few issues to address. If you like dot markers on the side of the neck, you will now have to add them; if there is a strap knob at the top of the guitar body, you’ll need to move it to the other side (and fill the old hole); and the tuners on some models (Fenders, for example) will now be facing in a more inconvenient direction. These are relatively minor issues, however.
There are more significant problems, however. If there is a cutaway, it’s on the wrong side of the guitar - so forget those high notes; if there is a tremelo arm, it’s also in the wrong place (but still useable); and most importantly, on most models, the control knobs will be located exactly where your left arm naturally falls.
This means that unless you have long, steady arms, you are likely to experience frequent and unexpected changes of volume, tone and pickup as your arm hits the controls. On hollow-body guitars, it is possible to re-locate the controls, although this is unlikely to improve re-sale values.
Electric guitars (left-handed)
This should be straightforward, right? Remove the strings, flip or replace the nut at the headstock end of the neck, and alter the bridge settings, to adjust the intonation (exact length of the string in play) and height of each string. So not that straightforward – plus, you’ll probably have to pay someone to do it.
However, only Fender electric guitars will allow you to do this, in my experience. Most electric guitars, Gibsons are the best example, have angled bridges, making correct intonation impossible once the strings have been flipped. Try as you may, you simply cannot make the lowest string long enough, or the shortest string short enough. This makes all other brands of guitar inaccessible to us 1%-ers.
For that reason alone, I would urge the younger me to start all over again, either as a leftie with the strings in the right place, or, even better, as a right-hander. Famous left-handers who chose to play right-handed include Duane Allman, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Noel Gallagher, Wilko Johnson, Mark Knopfler, Gary Moore, Steve Morse, Joe Perry and Johny Winter.
Forget the 1% - that’s an elite group I really would like to be part of.
Mark Beasley (e) firstname.lastname@example.org
TV cook Jamie Oliver has again attracted widespread derision, as his restaurant empire crashes and burns. Last time he was in difficulties, a conservative MP suggested that he should look closer to home: perhaps his restaurants just haven’t met consumer expectations. This isn't the reason Jamie has given: excessive costs and the general malaise in the High Street seem to be the official reason. However, other chain restaurants have survived, so perhaps the conservative (let him remain anonymous, like most of the current leadership contenders) was right.
After all, it is unlikely that Jamie has much influence on the meal you eat at one of his restaurants. It is more likely that your dining experience will be in the hands of a number of low paid, unskilled young people, some of whom may have only recently learned how to eat with a knife and fork. Let us further assume that the restaurants are operated by a management focused on operational efficiency, supplier cost reduction and zero hours contracts.
Lured in by the promise of Jamie’s loveable mockney personality, cooking skills and love for food, you will inevitably be disappointed. After all, Jamie probably hasn’t been there since the opening – and even then, he kept the engine of his car running. Let's be honest, it’s just another chain restaurant. It's brand promise is built around Jamie. And it is possible that by doing this, the enterprise was doomed from the outset.
Too often, that’s the problem with marketing: the yawning gap between promise and delivery. And the problem for Jamie's restaurants is that many people - especially, perhaps, older consumers (the ones with the money) - will know that Jamie is unlikely to be cooking here tonight. Or any other night.
Remember cognitive dissonance?
If you have studied marketing, you will probably be familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance: that post-purchase state of mind when consumers realise that their product or service experience has not met the expectations generated by marketing communications. If you are an older consumer, you will almost certainly have experienced it. Probably on a daily basis.
I’m going to go one stage further and suggest that many older consumers experience cognitive dissonance before they purchase – as well as after. When exposed to marketing propositions and communications, they know – almost immediately – that this is a promise which cannot possibly be delivered.
Furthermore, they may also think that this is a promise which is quite ludicrous, completely at odds with reality and of no interest or relevance to them – even though they are likely to be potential customers for that product. The over-50s outspend the total population in most mainstream categories, remember?
Take the current TV advertising for MBNA, the biggest credit card provider in the world. Please, take it away. In order to boast about their credit card prowess, MBNA opt to use four nerdy twenty-something ‘payment ninjas’ who ponce about being ‘boringly good at credit card stuff’. Is it really credible that the expertise of such a large organisation (whose directors are all in their 40s, 50s and 60s) is vested in these people? I assume that the target audience for credit cards is quite broad – but is this likely to appeal to anyone of any intelligence or age? This sample of one says not, but I welcome your opinions.
Older consumers and marketing
My hypothesis runs as follows. Older consumers are experienced consumers. And as experienced consumers, they are likely to be less responsive and more cynical to marketing. We’ve been there, seen it, done it and returned the TShirt. We are sceptical about the marketing promise and quick to judge if the experience does not match the promise. And because we are experienced consumers, we like to think that we can evaluate the promise without even needing to experience it. Jamie's restaurant? No thanks - who are they kidding?
To appeal to us, marketing needs to be more realistic. It needs to support propositions with relevant information and facts and to deliver what it promises. It needs to stop patronising us with fatuous drivel (remember when TV advertising was good? But that’s for another day). Instead, we are given payment ninjas, misleading promises and an obsession with youth.
Research has told us this for many years now. Ten years ago, academics Smizgin and Carrigan concluded that ‘despite all the evidence, advertisers continue to pursue youth’. In 2015, JWT found that 73% of people 50-69 say they don’t pay attention to ads because they don’t seem relevant. I could go on about this subject – and in the Mature Market Report, I do.
Positive action for older consumers
I believe that older consumers deserve better. That’s why i formed rhc advantage – to help brands connect better with older consumers: from one-off professional copywriting to educational seminars to strategic planning to brand communications. All with older consumers in mind and not a payment ninja in sight. For a friendly discussion, why not get in touch?
It’s also why a group of us formed the Mature Marketing Association in 2013. We felt that those of us who believed that older consumers would respond to better marketing should get together and promote the subject to the rest of the marketing world. We now run Europe’s largest conference on the subject and this year, launch the Mature Marketing Awards. We’d love you to join us!
With all good wishes for a successful year,
Email Mark here
Does marketing to older consumers make financial sense?What can we learn from the recent poor financial results of Dignity, Four Seasons, Just Group, McCarthy & Stone and Saga?
Five of the largest businesses overtly targeting older consumers have recently announced disastrous financial results. If these large - and till now, proven – businesses cannot make money, what hope is there for anyone else?
Over the years, my consultancy business has been approached by many start-ups looking to capitalise on older consumers, as well as larger businesses and brands. The size and growth of the UK’s ageing population, its wealth and expenditure, and the lack of a correctly-targeted offer (until now), make success inevitable, we are told. Really?
Bad news for big businesses
Dignity (funerals), Four Seasons Health Care (care homes), Just Group (retirement income and equity release), McCarthy and Stone (retirement property), and Saga (financial services and travel) have all recently announced disastrous financial results. These are summarised below.
Four Seasons Healthcare
This business - one of the UK’s largest care home groups - went into administration at the end of April, owing £625 million to a US hedge fund. This is clearly very worrying for the 17,000 residents and 20,000 staff at its 322 homes. With care fees in excess of £1,000 per week in most care homes in the south of England, such businesses should surely be massively profitable.
However, as private equity has piled into the care home business, eager to make a quick buck, the complex, debt-heavy financial vehicles that they constructed have come back to haunt them. That said, the (lack of) funding of social care and the abdication of responsibility by Government are also important factors.
More than 400 UK care home operators have collapsed in the past 5 years, according to a report by accountancy firm BBO. It seems that little has been learned since Southern Cross, with 750 care homes, went into administration in 2011, for much the same reasons. Perhaps we can conclude that a short-term profit driven business model just doesn’t work for care - maybe a little altruism and a longer-term perspective are required.
The Just Group
With revenues of £3.8 billion, the UK-based Just Group is focused on the ‘retirement income market’ – mainly equity release, it seems. Just Retirement is probably their best-known brand.
In March, the company announced a share placement at a heavy discount, the cancellation of a dividend and a £300.1 million pounds debt issue. This and a fall in share price of 50% over the past year led to the immediate resignation of the CEO and rumours of a takeover by Legal and General.
It was tighter regulation on equity release that caused the problem, it seems – forcing the business to guard against a downturn in the property values which are fundamental to the business. Something you’d think they should surely have known, irrespective of legislation. How could you trust equity release as a product if they cannot get even this right?
McCarthy & Stone
The UK’s leading developer and manager of retirement communities claims a 70% share of the owner-occupied retirement property market. However, earlier this year, the firm announced that bottom line pre-tax profit had decreased 66% to £3.6 million in the six months to February 28, as it booked £14 million in charges related to ‘organisational design changes within the sales function’ and ‘planned lower level of releases’.
As the company says, ‘There’ll be five million more retirees and double the number of over-85-year-olds year over next 20 years’. To achieve what look like pretty serious financial objectives, a segmented offering seems to have been developed which sounds superficially promising. However, legacy perceptions of rather mundane small flats on small plots of land overlooking roundabouts may have to be overcome.
Not to mention a history of leasehold exploitation and poor resale values in the retirement property sector generally. Please, don’t get me started.
Saga have pretty much defined the world of fifty-plus marketing for what seems like the past 50 years. Indeed, it is probable that the company invented the very term ‘fifty-plus’. A business with revenues of £850 million has been developed, operating mainly in financial services and travel. Surely, continued growth, market domination, acquisition and diversification are inevitable.
However, in April the business announced a £134.6m loss and a halving of its dividend. Following this shock announcement, its share price plunged 35 per cent to 68p, meaning that the business lost a third of its value.
Commentators seem to agree that Saga had lost its way in an increasingly competitive market, particularly for financial services, and has failed to add differentiation or value to its brand. There are plenty of options for people over 50 wishing to travel or buy insurance products - and most of them do not carry the ageist stigma of the Saga brand. I once observed a focus group where a lady in her sixties said she would rather die than have a Saga label on her suitcase. Brand strategy is a challenge that Saga must have been aware of for some years, but does not seem to have addressed successfully.
Worse, Saga have been accused of unethical business practices. For example, James Moore in the Independent (04.04.19) says that Saga ‘doesn’t deserve its customers’ trust’. The company has sought to attract new customers to its financial services products by offering low prices, before increasing prices in the second and third years and hoping they won't notice.
This so-called ‘loyalty penalty’ is not unusual in the financial services industry and has been widely criticised. However, perhaps Saga should have been different. A brand for older people, based on understanding and trust, could and should have been behaving better than this.
That it behaved in this way tells us that, like too many businesses in this sector, Saga is entirely financially driven and should not be mistaken for a friend or champion of the older consumer.
Dignity, the funerals business, has just reported a 42 per cent drop in underlying operating profits to £21.7 million in the first three months of the year. This was attributed to the fact that the number of deaths over the period fell by 12 per cent to 159,000 thanks to the mild winter and a marked reduction in winter flu.
The company is very much hoping that more people will die during the course of this year, in order to satisfy the demands of the business and its shareholders, saying: " Achievement of full-year expectations will rely heavily on the number of deaths in the remainder of the year compared to 2018."
In March, the competition regulator announced a full inquiry into the £2 billion funerals market, citing concerns about inflation-busting price rises, a lack of transparency and vulnerable customers.
What if anything can we conclude?
These are all large, experienced and hitherto successful businesses. How could they have got it so wrong? And why would I know any better?
One thing we do know is that older consumers are a large, complex and diverse group. In fact, we are not a consumer group at all – we are people defined by age, but for whom age and generational targeting are increasingly irrelevant and ineffective. Hence, building a business and a brand based on a claimed understanding or empathy with the older age group is inevitably problematic. In fact, saying that your business is designed for this age group just won’t work anymore – we don’t identify as a group and in any case, we just don’t believe you. You’re here to make money.
Most people over 50 are no different to people aged under 50 in their needs and requirements. Most of us buy the same sort of stuff – nothing changes. The bigger business opportunity is for mainstream brands to be more inclusive, not for specialist over-50 brands. Stop all this ridiculous pandering to millennials and the implicit exclusion of anyone aged over 40. We are all consumers now and the brands that recognise this are benefiting.
And if you are an ‘over 50s’ brand, please stop all this ‘time of your lives’ nonsense. Stop agonising over all those images of ‘young old ‘ models and actresses, intended to mirror our self-image. We don’t care. We want the benefits that your products and services can bring us, not for you to tell us who we are. Give us the facts, we’ll decide. It’s not about who we are, it’s about who you are. And what these stories are telling us is that behind your flimsy facade of branding, you’re not very likeable.
Perhaps a short-term profit-driven corporate business model is just not compatible with claiming to be the older consumer’s friend. It would be nice to think that the future will be more inclusive, less corporate and, above all, more altruistic.
My name is Mark and, like most people I know, I like a drink or three. This year, instead of a Dry January, I have decided to aim for something more – maybe even permanent abstention. It’s not that I’ve been waking up in skips or adding vodka to my cornflakes. Well, not every day. However, after many years of regular, enthusiastic drinking, often above and beyond the call of duty, it’s time to slow down while I still can.
I’m not alone. A quarter of us are apparently looking to cut back on our alcohol consumption and one in 10 are attempting a Dry January. And it looks like drinks producers and retailers have been listening. Sainsbury and Tesco have large gondola-end displays. Claims of ‘no compromise on taste’ are being made. Sales of alcohol-free beer are up 40% year-on-year (admittedly from a very low base). After many years of massively disappointing products, is this the year that low or no alcohol drinks finally come of age?
By the way, from now on, I will use the term ‘alcohol-free’, as the legal definition of no or low alcohol varies by country of origin. All the products discussed in this article have no more than 0.5% alcohol, some as little as 0.05%: it’s impossible to make wine or to brew beer without ending up with some alcohol – and it is equally impossible to get even slightly inebriated when drinking them. But are they worth drinking?
To drink the impossible dream
If we're going to drink less alcohol, we need to have an alternative. We'll want something close to what we've previously enjoyed - not just water and soft drinks, no matter how 'adult' they are. Ideally, the same beer and wine, but with less alcohol. Just the one variable, please.
Is this possible? For many years, we have been told that the quality of wine depends upon alcohol – reduce the alcohol and you reduce the integrity of the wine. And all the alcohol-free wines I have tried have proved this – they taste nothing like wine and often like nothing on earth. So the options have been: drink less or drink something else.
But what if we want to continue drinking wine? After all, it's about more than the alcohol. After drinking many gallons of wine over the years, we have grown to like the aroma, taste, mouth-feel and so on. Social reasons are important too – holding a glass of wine attracts less comment than holding a glass of juice or water. Wine that looks and tastes like wine, but has low or no alcohol – this is surely the holy grail.
When we decide to reduce our alcohol consumption, my assumption is that we want to change our behaviour as little as possible. I don't want to start drinking glasses of alcohol-free concoctions made from rare herbs and exotic fruits by hipsters and health-fiends. I just want to drink beer that tastes like beer, in a pint glass, but with less alcohol.
Because beer is not just about getting alcohol into the system. Many of us have become accustomed to holding a pint glass, to swilling large volumes of liquid and to enjoying the taste and sensation of beer fizzing around our mouth before swallowing. Yes it’s all a bit old school, a bit male-orientated and Gillette would probably not approve, but I would regard it as a traditional social ritual.
There have never been more wines and beers claiming to offer all the taste but no alcohol. Has this impossible dream become a reality?
But first, a fowl digression
For many years now, I have been involved with brands and products that offer ‘all of this, but none of that’. Brands that look good in a marketing presentation (and I’ve written a few of them) but ultimately fail to convince the consumer – and to survive.
For example, many years ago, I was at the lavish launch of the ‘Churkey’ at the Cafe Royal, London. A chicken that had somehow become the size of a turkey, this monstrous beast provided lots of easy-to-carve breast meat, but very little bone. It was just what the consumer had been waiting for.
Except it wasn’t. I took one home at the weekend and my Mother threw it away soon after cooking it. And she never threw food away. Yes, it was indeed fowl and not surprisingly, the Churkey never saw Christmas. To this day, the descendants of escapees are said to roam East Anglia, waddling across fields, scaring ramblers and injuring sheep.
More recently, I was involved with developing and launching a reduced-alcohol wine (called Sovio). This used spinning cone column technology to reduce the alcohol content of wine, while maintaining all the wine characteristics, including flavour (or so the story went). To cut to the chase: the entire first batch, sitting proudly in a vast semi-derelict Victorian warehouse in Huddersfield, was impounded by the Wine Standards Authority (part of the Food Standards Agency) on the grounds of illegality. The business never recovered: but it was very clear then and now that there is latent consumer demand and trade interest – provided that the ‘all the taste, none of the alcohol’ proposition can be delivered. So, can it?
Let’s hear it for the beers
I have made it my mission to taste as many of the new alcohol-free products as possible. In the process, I am hoping that I will become alcohol-free myself – or at least, a much more moderate drinker. To start with, I have focussed on what is available in three retailers - Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco – as they have been promoting their alcohol-free ranges with a new degree of confidence. This confidence may be partly due to the greater use of ‘new’ technology to reduce alcohol (the spinning cone referred to above), which has some claim to improving taste and quality, but I will put that to one side for now.
Let’s start with beer. Beer producers have become increasingly bullish about alcohol-free beer of late and sales have been increasing rapidly. For example, Heineken 0% has recently invested in TV advertising – to ‘make alcohol-free beer cool’, according to their agency, Publicis. Back in 1986, Guinness launched Kaliber (alcohol-free beer) on exactly the same basis . However, anyone who remembers it will surely agree with Which magazine, which described it as ‘bitter and unrefreshing’. My view is that coolness cannot be separated from taste.
And the good news is that many of the new alcohol-free beers do actually taste like beer. Amongst the ales, Ghost Ship 0.5% has an eerie resemblance to the real thing, as does Marks & Spencer Southwold Pale Ale 0.5%. Both are brewed by Adnams, and are remarkably similar. They were a revelation to me and I’ll be drinking more of them.
The secret seems to be the heavy use of hops to mask the lack of alcohol and they’ve gone for that fashionable IPA American hops sort of taste, resulting in the tang and flavour reminiscent of ‘real’ beer. In a 500ml bottle, both beers look and perform much like a real pint – as long as you don’t over-think it - and are worthy of consideration by any ale drinker wanting to cut down a bit. Brewdog’s Nanny State is in a similar style and is also more than acceptable – but in a smaller 330ml bottle.
However, Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol (0.5%) is a great disappointment. Its proposition is apologetic to start with, claiming taste and aroma that are merely ‘evocative’ of the full-strength variant. To my palate, it’s nowhere close and not even particularly pleasant. It does a great disservice to such a trusted parent brand.
The lagers impressed me, too. Ales have strong malts and hops to lean on for flavour, whereas lager relies more on alcoholic strength, meaning that reducing alcohol also reduces flavour. And as mentioned earlier, expectations are low in the first place, having been managed by Kaliber and Barbican (both launched in the 80s).
So both Beck’s Blue Alcohol-Free and Budweiser Prohibition Alcohol-Free were a real surprise. Beck’s in particular had all the crisp flavour, fizzy mouth-feel and slightly bitter after-taste of standard lager. That ‘fizzing behind the eyeballs’ characteristic of strong lager is absent, but otherwise, properly-chilled, these are excellent alternatives to full-strength lager. And by properly-chilled, I do mean very, very cold indeed. What's more, Beck's Blue contains only natural ingredients (malt, barley, hops and water) and has a third of the calories of normal beer.
Let’s whine about the wine
For many years, alcohol-free wine has been the poor relative of full-strength wine. And I mean the sort of relative whose name is never mentioned, even at Christmas. For good reason: to get from 14% down to 5% or below is asking a lot – and flavour is almost always lost with the alcohol, along with body and what we wine experts like to call ‘finish’ or ‘length’. As a result, it is usually little more than fruit juice. Until now, we are led to believe.
Unfortunately, my experience with all the alcohol-free wines I have tasted this week has been slightly disappointing. But there are some positives. First, they are pleasant to drink: all are a massive improvement on any alcohol-free wine I have tasted before and at the very least, they offer a superior standard of fruit juice. Second, they at least look like wine: all the packaging cues suggest good quality wine. And thirdly, at around £3 per 75cl bottle, they are significantly cheaper than even the most basic normal-strength wine (as they should be – there is £2 duty on a full-strength bottle of wine).
Perhaps I am being picky. Maybe these are wines to be quaffed, swilled or gulped (my normal method), not sipped, rolled around the palate and analysed. On that basis, the alcohol-free whites and rosés – whilst way too sweet for my palate – would undoubtedly be drunk in volume, without question, by just about anyone - if the weather were hot enough and the liquid cold enough. For the barbecue season, these could be real winners. The Tesco low alcohol Garnacha-Rosé (fruity and sweet) and Rawsons Retreat Semillion Chardonnay (crisp and citrus-like), both at 0.5%, are recommended on this basis.
The Marks & Spencer Sauvignon Blanc (0.05%) was a poor third. It had the best aroma of any of the wines I tried – comparable with any Sauvignon Blanc, I’d say - but is otherwise little more than an extremely pleasant fruit drink.
The biggest challenge must be red wine. More complex and substantial than white or rosé, this is the province of most wine connoisseurs and their poor relations, red-trousered wine snobs. So I was a little surprised to find some reasonable contenders which, while you would never mistake them for the real thing, are much closer to it than previous efforts. The top tips here are to give them some air – both of the following ‘wines’ improved massively overnight after the bottle had been opened – and to serve them at a cool room temperature.
Tesco low alcohol Cabernet Tempranillo and Sainsbury Taste the Difference Cabernet Sauvignon (both 0.5%) were not unpleasant: medium-bodied, smooth and fruity – but with no ‘finish’ or ‘length’. It is hard to imagine that anyone who has ever drunk red wine would mistake these for anything but a very poor relation. The experts say that expectations should be lowered for alcohol-free wine – but this should not be the case if the promise of ‘no compromise on taste’ is to be delivered.
As I’ve discovered whilst researching this piece, there is a lot going on in this market. This is great news and I will continue my research. I am genuinely delighted to have found alcohol-free beers that I can happily swill. And with fewer calories, lower cost and no artificial ingredients, there is no excuse not to keep swilling. As for the wine equivalent – my search continues.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised by this article, please contact me: email@example.com
Review of Glenn Tillbrook. St John's Church, Farncombe, November 7th 2018
Glenn Tillbrook’s solo performance in an atmospheric St John’s Church demonstrated a rare breadth of talent which was greatly appreciated by a sell-out audience. The writer of songs that are catchy and smart, he not only sings beautifully – his clear, distinctive voice seemingly untroubled by 40 years on the road – but also embellishes those songs with creative and dextrous guitar solos.
As part of Squeeze, the band he formed in the 1970s with Chris Difford and Jools Holland, Tillbrook has been responsible for many highly-acclaimed hit songs. The evening’s set also included selections from his own impressive back catalogue.
After a tolerably short opening set from his son Leon, Tillbrook senior bounds on stage to an enthusiastic reception, opening with the infectious ‘Ter-wit Ter-woo’, accompanied by his own acoustic guitar. ‘Do we roll? Yes we do’ he sings – and the audience is clearly in no mood to disagree. Squeeze songs are not forgotten and the audience particularly enjoy Up The Junction, the moving Labelled With Love and From the Cradle To The Grave, written for the recent TV series.
Switching to his Fender Telecaster, he makes a number of cover songs his own, including the Bacharach and David classic Always Something There To Remind Me. These preface more Squeeze songs, including Slap And Tickle and Pulling Mussels From The Shell, which enable us to appreciate the sheer inventiveness and fluidity of his solo guitar work. He closes with the mini-drama of a song that is Tempted.
As an encore, Tillbrook is re-joined by his son to perform an impressive version of the Fleetwood Mac classic, Oh Well. They are joined by the audience for two early Squeeze favourites, Take Me I’m Yours and Goodbye Girl. Did he roll? He most certainly did - raising funds for foodbank charity the Trussell Trust into the bargain.
As published in the Surrey Advertiser, 16.11.18
Photo by Peter Earle
Review of The Eskies, The Star Inn, Guildford. Friday 23rd November 2018. Written for local paper, 300 word count.
‘Tonight, all our songs are called ‘Save the Star Inn’ ’ announces Ian Bermingham, lead singer of The Eskies. A sentiment shared by a full house, who danced, sang and swayed along with these talented purveyors of ‘sea-soaked gypsy folk’ at one of the last gigs to be held at the Star Inn before it is forced to close as a music venue.
Hailing from Dublin, the Eskies have spent the past few years touring Europe and Ireland, playing countless gigs and festivals and releasing two highly-acclaimed albums. As a result, we see a confident, exuberant performance which grabs the audience by the lapels from the opening song and doesn’t let go. Front man Bermingham has real star quality, with an engaging sense of humour and a strong voice which enables him to sing without the aid of a microphone during quiet passages.
The Eskies are living proof that folk music may well be the new rock and roll. Their stirring, well-crafted songs crackle with emotion, intelligence and wit, displaying influences that range from traditional folk to gypsy jazz, sea shanties and more.
They were performed with energy, swagger and great musicianship in a set which ranged from the humour of ‘I’m Not Sorry’ and the infectious ‘Fever’ to the darkness of ‘Jesus Don’t Save Me’ and ‘Tear Along The Line’, closing with the rousing ‘Wild, Wild Heart’ and the driving rhythm of ‘Jailhouse Sun’.
If there is any justice in this world, the Eskies will be a headline act by next Summer – and the Star Inn will be able to re-open as a music venue. If this is the case, I look forward to a well-deserved return from tonight’s support act, Huw Eddy and the Carnival.
NOTE TO EDITOR
The Star Inn is being forced to close as a music venue by Guildford Borough Council as the result of a complaint about potential noise by a property developer who bought neighbouring offices, which are being converted into flats. The Star Inn has been a music, theatre and comedy venue for many years. Council leader Paul Spooner pledged his support but has been unable to resolve the situation so far. 30,000 people so far have signed a petition at www.saveourstar.pub
The Surrey Pumas are live, local and gigging! More information is on the website or read on below.
The Surrey Pumas are a group of veteran musicians, based (as you may have guessed) in Surrey. We play laid-back rock songs with tunes, harmonies, tasteful guitar solos and a beat that you can tap your feet to. The sort of beer-drinking music we all enjoy, in fact.
We like to keep it local: playing at pubs, clubs, parties, festivals and events in the Surrey area. We have all our own equipment and between us have played thousands of gigs - from big stages and large venues to small crowded bars and dark cellars. To have a chat about your event, please get in touch.
We play a wide range of music - mostly laidback bar-room rock, with a touch of country and blues. Mainly covers - Clapton, Dire Straits, Eagles, J J Cale, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, The Who. All good songs to drink a beer to, tap your feet, join in the chorus, maybe even get up and dance. You can listen to us here
The Surrey Pumas are: Alex Gilbertson (guitar); Malcolm Brickell (vocals, guitar), Mark Beasley (guitar, vocals), Steve Marshall (bass, flute and vocals) and our new boy: Ray Smithers (drums). We're all experienced musicians, with many years experience and stories to tell!
We are fully self-contained and have all the equipment necessary - all we really need from you is some electricity and a stage!
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A review for the local paper of Chris Difford, at St John’s Church, Farncombe, May 11th
It’s a long way from Madison Square Gardens, where he has performed a number of times, but St John’s Church provided an intimate and atmospheric setting for Chris Difford’s entertaining and confessional one-man show.
As an award-winning songwriter and co-founder of the band Squeeze, Difford has made a lasting contribution to English music over the past 40 years, building a reputation as a clever lyricist and co-writer of many hit records and albums. His current tour is to promote his autobiography, Some Fantastic Place, and it is from this book that the night’s anecdotes were drawn.
From a childhood spent on a south-east London council estate to his success as a rock star and problems with relationships and alcohol, the stories are honest, witty and often raw. Highlights included the postcard in a shop window that led to the formation of Squeeze, early experiences with girls, embarrassing encounters with celebrities and the many support acts who subsequently became more famous than Squeeze – such as Woking’s The Jam. As he said when tuning his guitar, ‘I used to have staff to do this’.
Backed by his own acoustic guitar and Melvin Duffy on pedal steel guitar, Difford performed a number of Squeeze hits, such as Cool for Cats, Take Me I’m Yours and Up the Junction. The audience joined in throughout, to his evident pleasure. A number of his solo songs were also played: the moving Battersea Boys, based on the life of a man he met in a hospice, was particularly memorable.
In support, Kent-based trio, Arcelia, sang their own well-crafted songs, beautifully and with immaculate harmonies. They also provided back-up towards the end of Difford’s set, notably on the emotional Some Fantastic Place - an apt description of St John’s Church on this highly entertaining evening.
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The Mature Marketing Summit took place on October 10th, 2017. It was the fourth such event, organised by the Mature Marketing Association (MMA), sponsored by Accord Marketing and run entirely by volunteers.
150 delegates - from businesses and organisations large and small - enjoyed a full day of eight expert speakers and four networking sessions, including a seated ‘Power Lunch’, in a modern air-conditioned conference centre in Central London.
This review is by Mark Beasley of marketing consultancy rhc advantage, who is also Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association.
The best and only conference of its type in Europe. Why?
The feedback was overwhelming: it was an excellent event and the best summit yet. But as one delegate commented: ‘Given the importance of the subject-matter, it is absolutely amazing that the Mature Marketing Summit is the only conference of its type in Europe. What is even more amazing is that it is also one of the best marketing events I have ever attended. In fact, despite being run on a voluntary basis by the MMA, it out-performs most so-called ‘professional’ marketing conferences on all counts. ’
As this delegate suggests, the lack of attention paid by marketing to our ageing population is indeed amazing. After all, this is one of the most important megatrends to face business: the size, growth and partially-tapped economic power of older consumers offer huge business potential. Get it right and both consumer and business will benefit. But to get it right, marketing needs to grow up. An obsession with youth made sense in the 1950s and 60s, when marketing developed to meet the needs of a much younger population. But that was then, and this is now.
It is perhaps not surprising that the inconvenient truth of population ageing is at odds with today’s technology-driven, fast-moving, cool-grooving marketing culture. The fact that the vast majority of people working in marketing are aged under 40 may also be a factor – but while this is a good debating point to make, there is limited evidence to support it. Age, as we all keep saying, is irrelevant – and this cuts both ways.
However, Marketing’s Inconvenient Truth – that the majority of consumers are actually aged over 40 – is not going to go away anytime soon. The Mature Marketing Summit is part of the MMA’s continued efforts to address the age myopia of business and marketing.
Marketing’s Inconvenient Truth
The facts about population ageing and its implications for marketing have been in the public domain and the marketing press and literature for the past 25 years – perhaps more. These three things we know: population ageing in developed markets is a megatrend which will continue for the foreseeable future; this group represents significant economic power, but also presents complex economic challenges; and if older consumers are not ignored all together by marketing, they are targeted en masse, expected to default to the norms of younger people, or stereotyped in unrealistic and often patronising ways by advertising.
None of this is new. However, it continues to be important and we need to be reminded of these facts – or in some cases, have them brought to our attention for the first time. Many of the speakers at the Mature Marketing Summit did what advertising does best – they dramatised a known truth, commanded our attention and interest, and made us want to do something about it.
So what actually happened on the day?
The speakers - all highly-rated by delegates - covered topics ranging from advertising, design, digital and direct marketing through to a marketing case study, middle-aged women. PR and research.
No-one demonstrated my previous point (what advertising does best) better than the first speaker, Robin Wight – founder of WCRS and advertising legend. ‘Does advertising have any idea of how to talk to the biggest spending consumer group of all time?’ he asked, going on to answer his own question with a clear ‘no’. The fact that he is 72 should of course be irrelevant, but given that this is unusual in advertising, let it be said that he retains all the enthusiasm and intelligence for which he is famous.
Apart from anything else, this was an object lesson in presentation skills, although quite why the presentation ended with a series of ads for Warburton’s bread, amusing as they were, was a little unclear. Robin also entered a plea for agencies and clients to avoid youth bias by involving more ‘late radicals’ like himself – older people with solid marketing credentials – in their planning and campaigns. A service offered by the MMA, incidentally (contact me for details).
Robin’s credentials as a ‘late radical’ were eclipsed by those of another speaker: direct marketing guru, Drayton Bird, 81. David Ogilvy said that "Drayton Bird knows more about direct marketing than anyone else in the world" and Drayton spoke from the heart (rather than from notes or PowerPoint slides) about how ultimately, mature marketing is simply good marketing. As one delegate said, ‘When Drayton stopped swearing, he spoke a lot of good sense.’ I disagree: the swearing made sense too.
Karen Strauss, Chief Strategy and Creativity Officer, and Kelly Kenny, from Ketchum, one of the world’s largest PR and communications firms, took a different approach. No swearing was heard and inter-generational working partnerships were preached and practiced: Kenny, in her 20s, and Strauss (possibly a few years older, who can say) work together. Their main hypothesis was that age is – or should be - irrelevant, and marketing should be inclusive.
The winners of the first-ever Mature Marketing Awards were announced by MMA Vice-Chairman, Kevin Lavery. Intended to celebrate and promote excellence in mature marketing, the five category winners were: Age UK Mobility, Doro, Grand UK Holidays, SunLife and Sunswept Resorts. These provided five excellent case studies: an essential ingredient in any marketing conference. More information
There was a time when lunch played an important role in the world of marketers and (especially) advertising folk. To commemorate these great days, we didn’t just have lunch, we enjoyed a Power Lunch. With a seating plan, a table host, and an agenda of pre-prepared questions from each delegate, conversation flowed easily and indeed volubly – as did the wine (unusual for any conference these days). This innovation made it very easy for delegates to meet and talk and made ‘networking’ less of a cliché and more of a reality.
More great speakers
Professor Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design, Royal College of Art, was the highest-ranked speaker at the first Mature Marketing Summit and did not disappoint this time either. Drawing on the successful ‘New Old: Design for our future selves’ exhibition that he curated earlier this year at the Design Museum, he gave practical examples of solutions to the key design challenges for an ageing society.
‘Welcome to the Big Five –Oh – Yeah’, was the theme chosen by Ian Atkinson, Marketing Director of SunLife. Ian explained the thinking behind SunLife's new £23m advertising campaign, drawing upon what is believed to be the largest piece of research ever conducted amongst the ‘over 50s’, which included interviews with 50,000 people. This case study of ‘mature marketing’ in action proved to be one of the highlights of the day.
Professor Leela Damodaran , Professor of Digital Inclusion, Loughborough University took a more academic approach to dispel some myths around digital technologies and older people. However, this was far from dry as Leela – as well as her impressive academic credentials – was able to draw on her experience of working with government departments, ‘blue-chip’ companies and groups such as Ofcom and the Government Digital Strategy team.
‘How can brands connect better with middle-aged women?’ asked Sandra Peat, the co-founder of consultancy Superhuman. This is something that brands clearly need to consider, as although women dominate the consumer economy, controlling 85 per cent of global spend, 74 per cent of women aged over 40 feel that brands do not accurately reflect their needs and desires.
The final speaker was Sophie Schmitt, CEO of Seniosphere Conseil, who took as her theme ‘How are Baby Boomers preparing for their longevity?’ Sophie based her presentation on 'Ageing Well 2017', which focused on the attitudes of 1500 respondents aged 50-75 years, carried out across the UK, France and Germany.
The day was ably chaired by Mark Beasley, Chairman of the MMA, and Sally Winfield, CEO of sponsors, Accord, who provided humour, insight and statesmanlike skills in equal measure.
The event received extremely positive feedback from delegates, with scores in excess of previous years. Approval ratings of 90% and above were received for the overall event, the speakers, the venue and the catering, with the Power Lunch also getting an honourable mention.
The event was also covered by Marketing Week https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/16/age-in-advertising-wrong/
And next year? We need to raise the bar higher, with more delegates and new ideas. This will require resources that the MMA does not have, especially in the form of event planning and promotion. To fund this, sponsorship is required: we’ve already proven the event is a success, so there is a strong business case to discuss.
Please contact Mark Beasley, MMA Chairman: firstname.lastname@example.org