Monthly Archives: January 2013


Gothenburg is, so they told me, much like my home town of Liverpool – a once thriving port, with its own dialect, music scene and quirky sense of humour. I forgot to ask if it had an underperforming football team, too. But I wasn’t there for similarities, I was there for differences. Unlike Liverpool, Gothenburg is somewhere you go for great food, especially seafood and it is perfectly positioned geographically and culturally to take advantage of the current thirst for all things Nordic and locavore. I was here to eat.

If you want to see the legendary Gothenburg bounty from the sea, you visit Feskekörka – the Fish Church, which really does look like a Piscean house of worship  – market on the riverside, where the downturned mouths and black-button eyes of dozens of marine species stare back at you from their marble resting places. Better yet, you climb the stairs to the mezzanine level, where tiny Restaurant Gabriel (00 46 31 139051,, lunch only, approx £30pp) takes the produce from the slabs below and cooks it as simply as possible – if at all.


Chef Johan Malm won the World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway in 2010 (and came a close second in 2012) and he apologises profusely that he has no Swedish bivalves to offer me, blaming ‘lazy divers’ (all Swedish oysters are hand-harvested and, in fact, there have been storms). Instead, he serves up six fat French numbers and a perfectly poached piece of hake. ‘People don’t really believe this, but our menu is just a guide. If you see a fish you want downstairs, tell me how you would like it cooked, I’ll buy it and I’ll do it. It’s as close as you can get to eating straight from the sea.’

The best way to get to Ulf Wagner and Gustav Trägardh’s Sjömagsinet (Adolf Edelsvärds gta 5, 00 46 31 7755920, is to take a trip on that sea, or at least along the river towards the sea, out past the fish market, the giant Stena ferries and the new waterfront developments to Klippen. Here, in an old East India Co. warehouse, is a very different take on using the local produce.


Sjömagsinet is unashamedly fancy food, not so much in the cooking techniques – there’s no molecular trickery – but in the combination of flavours. So expect baked anglerfish with chipotle jus, ragout of piglet shank and black salsify or saddle of venison with oyster vinaigrette. It was Ulf who told me that Gothenburg has the best seafood on the planet. At Sjömagsinet the meat’s pretty damn’ good too. A set menu is around £65; matching wines doubles that.

It is a long way from hip and heaving Harlem to nature-loving Gothenburg – the nearby archipelago is one of the city’s great attractions – but for Jimmy Lappalainen it is a homecoming. Born in a small village up the coast, as a young cook he went to New York and managed to secure a position with Marcus Samuelsson (Ethiopian born, Swedish-raised in Gothenburg, American culinary star), who opened the ground-breaking Red Rooster up at 125th St, Harlem in 2010, with Jimmy as chef. When Samuelsson was invited to oversee the restaurants at the new Clarion Hotel Post in Gothenburg, he brought Jimmy with him to be Executive Chef in situ (Samulesson pops over from Harlem every other month), although he has since moved up to be overall Food & Beverage manager for the hotel. ‘Obviously I’ve shipped some of New York back with me, too,’ he says. Not least in the scale of the room, which feels like a NYC public building.


The hotel is a new-ish (opened January 2012) conversion of the grand old city post office, and Norda (00  46 31 619060,, its restaurant, is located in the former postal hall, all soaring pillars and panelled ceilings, draped with great swathes of deep red curtains, giving it a vast, theatrical feel. The food is Swedish with an American twist – the classic hot dog is still in a bun, but it’s a wild boar sausage in brioche with home cured pickles (£12), or there’s elk carpaccio with maple syrup (£15). And, again, there is very good plain seafood: ‘Some things you just let talk for themselves,’ says Jimmy. And the oysters all say: ‘eat me’.

GETTING THERE: SAS (0871-226 7760, flies to Gothenburg from Heathrow. The Clarion Hotel Post (00 46 31 61 90 00, has doubles from £130, room only.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Visit Sweden ( and Gothenburg (


A couple of years ago Guy Barker took dZf, his 75-minute jazz-noir-suite loosely based on The Magic Flute libretto, to Aldeburgh.  It was performed at Snape Maltings, Benjamin Britten’s spiritual and musical home, with, as always, Michel Brandon narrating my script. It must have gone down well because the Aldeburgh Music people asked Guy to come back and do something similar for the centenary of Britten’s death. But what? Guy asked me to come up with some ideas for a narrative. After all, Britten used outside sources as inspiration – Herman Melville for Billy Budd, Henry James for Turn of the Screw, Thomas Mann, John Dowland, John Donne, Shakespeare, for other works. At first I thought about something to do with the piece BB wrote for POWs in Germany (see below), but neither Guy nor I could detect a jazz component in there. Guy and I have long been fascinated by Geraldo’s Navy, the jazzers who worked on the transatlantic ships in the ‘40s and ‘50s, who played strict dance tempo on board, but once in New York sought out Bird, Dizzy, Bud, Max and other beboppers. That combo of America, the sea (both an integral part of the BB story), British dance bands and the gradual absorption of the new music from across the Atlantic, gave us a starting point. It now forms the overture to a piece called That Obscure Hurt, based on a Henry James short story (Britten used two of his supernatural tales, we’re completing the trilogy) called the Jolly Corner – a misnomer if ever there was one – about the homecoming of a New York businessman after an absence of many years who finds his old house haunted by a monstrous presence. Having set dZf in New York, we decided that this piece should be centered on London. So the action has shifted to Soho, but the premise is the same as James’s original – a man who haunts himself. Now with added CCTV cameras. And, although initially I suggested there be no spoken word and no songs, it looks like we are having both. Yup, it’s in great danger of turning into a jazz-opera with ghosts. One thing we can promise: as with Mozart and dZf, no music by Benjamin Britten will be harmed in this project.608

STOP PRESS: The BBC Concert Orchestra today announced the appointment of composer, arranger and jazz trumpeter Guy Barker as its new Associate Composer. The position, previously held by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and the Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley, will be for an initial period of two years beginning in April 2013.


There is a report by John Dugdale in the Guardian today ( on the author event I took part in last Monday with Barry Forshaw, Mark Billingham, Laura Wilson and pathologist Carla Connelly at the British Library. He correctly says we discussed violence in our books at length and considered any taboos in our writing. I forgot to mention that in Dead Man’s Land there was to be a scene of gang rape. I sat at the head of that chapter for days thinking: my wife and kids are going to read this. I really didn’t want to write it. Yet it was a pivotal inciting incident. Then the solution came to me: tell it in song. Not some cheery ditty, but a murder ballad (or rape ballad I suppose). In the end I re-worked the lyrics of Fairport Convention’s Matty Groves (a sort of Lady Chatterley’s Lover tale with added murder, marvellously sung by Sandy Denny) and had one of the characters sing that. I checked with Joe Boyd, who produced the album Liege and Lief,


that I wasn’t breaching any copyright by keeping one line of the original words in as a clue to its origins, but he assured me it was a traditional piece. I was subsequently asked (of which more later) to help with a piece for the forthcoming Benjamin Britten centenary at Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh. And I discovered that Britten, too, had used a version of the Matty Groves story in a piece called The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard (for male voices and piano). If you look up that piece, it will say, bizarrely, that the world premier was at Oflag V11b, a POW camp in Germany. Britten composed it in 1943 or Richard Wood, the husband of one of Britten’s singers who was a POW at the camp at Eichstätt, Bavaria. He organised a music festival for the prisoners between February and March 1944 and Britten’s work – sent out in a Red Cross parcel – was performed at seven of the concerts. The Imperial War Museum has the original score. As part of the Britten centenary celebrations Jon Boden, BBC Radio 2’s ‘Folksinger of the Year’ 2010, weaves a new work into The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard at Snape Maltings on August 11 (see My efforts – with someone else supplying the music – will be at the same venue on June 12.


It was broadcaster Robert Elms who first told me about Matthew Halsall’s music. ‘Mancunian Modal’ he called it and it was a fair description – on Colour Me Yes, the first album I picked up (and have hardly put down since), the young trumpeter channels the sounds and ethos of Kind of Blue and late John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane. Last year, live at Ronnie Scott’s, in the midst of a power cut, he even did Alice’s Journey in Satchidananda (featuring Rachael Gladwin’s harp and the great Coltrane-esque Nat Birchall’s sax). If there was a slight unease about the whole project, it was that although he captured the mood and spirit of those Miles and Trane  albums perfectly, was there a danger of it becoming a retro dead end? The feeling at the end of the evening was: brilliant gig, but where does Halsall go from here? The answer is, all over the place. As well a gigging as a DJ, helming Gondwana Records and remixing, he is now running not one but two working groups (the regular band, usually a sextet, that plays Ronnie Scott’s on the 24th of this month and a bold new trio with beats and electronics; not to mention the occasional 12-piece Gondwana Orchestra), as well as performing with those cutting-edge hipsters, the Brighouse & Rastrick Band.


Plus his new album, Fletcher Moss Park, shows a marked shift in direction, with various changes in personnel and a string section. Although recorded over a number of years, it has a genuine coherence, even when Halsall himself sits out for two numbers and lets the strings take the melodic weight.

Fletcher Moss Park, which is an actual green space on the fringes of Manchester, is elegant, reflective, tinged with melancholy at times, but like all Halsall’s albums, very life-affirming. I’ll be watching him at Ronnie’s, but down the line I also can’t wait to see his synth- and effects-laden trio with either the Cinematic Orchestra’s Luke Flowers or GoGo Penguin’s Rob Turner on drums, both hypnotic players to listen to and watch, and Taz Modi on squelchy bass lines.


Don’t ever buy second-hand books with a New Year’s Day hangover. Wondering around a local used bookshop with my eyes narrowed against the punishing light, I came across what I thought was a true-life adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called Lone Dhow. When I got home, my eyes focussed a little better and I saw it was by ADRIAN Conan Doyle, ACD’s son by his second wife Jean. Lone Dhow is a tale about trying to capture a live tiger shark for the University of Geneva and there517DDydHxOL._SL500_AA300_ is something rather self-regarding about the tone. Certainly ACD’s biographer Andrew Lycett is less than complimentary about Adrian, calling him ‘a spendthrift playboy…who used the Conan Doyle estate as a milch-cow’. Adrian wrote a volume of Holmes stories (apparently with the help of John Dickson Carr), published as The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, and established a replica of Holmes’s 221b at his home in Switzerland. Some of the tales are rather stilted but the best match the quality of his father’s later tales. There is an interesting interview by a young Joan Bakewell Adrian with on You Tube that includes him driving his Lamborghini and showing off his medieval castle and its Holmes’s shrine:


The new novel Dead Man’s Land (out today, January 3rd) is dedicated to Clive Powell, “a genuine Leigh pal”. Some of you may know that Clive Powell is the real name of one of Leigh’s most famous sons, Georgie Fame. I have met him several times over the past few years and his famed all-nighters at Soho’s Flamingo club in the early 60s were referenced in my book Signal Red, about the Great Train Robbery.


This time I wanted his help because the regiment in the new novel is a ‘Pals’ battalion, one of the units of Kitchener’s New Army that were raised to replace early losses, and consisted of men from the same village or profession. So there were Salford Pals, Liverpool Pals, Taxi Driver, Artist and Footballer Pals. There wasn’t, however, actually a Pals from the cotton town of Leigh, although I’ve invented one. Originally I used quite a lot of ‘Lanky’ dialect and local phrases for the soldier’s conversations, and Georgie was going to help out by checking their authenticity. Sadly, early readers said they found those sections impenetrable and I re-wrote them in more straightforward language, meaning I no longer needed Mr Fame’s help. Still, Georgie’s concerts have given me much pleasure of late and, coming up to 70, he shows no sign of stopping – his new record Lost in a Lover’s Dream is a laidback corker and he will be playing Ronnie Scott’s for the week starting April 8th, where he’ll no doubt telling stories about the Zagreb club owner and vibes player who inspired the new album.