Armed with just a train ticket, the Booking.com app on his mobile and a list of music-themed tasks, Paul headed for the south coast’s party capital, Brighton.
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Introducing Paul Dow
London-based Paul Dow is a food and travel blogger who founded the site TravMonkey nine years ago. His love for solo adventure and enthusiasm for trying new technology make him perfect for this music fan’s mission. Time Out and Booking.com set Paul three challenges to show how easy it is to have a great wing-it weekend in Brighton.
Where he booked
On my first night I stayed at the Square hotel, towards the Kemptown area of the city, where it overlooks one of Brighton’s beautiful green squares. This townhouse hotel is situated just off the seafront (I could see the sea from my room) and is a classy boutique hotel with a stylish bar. The staff at the Square were friendly, helpful, polite and, as soon became obvious from the small touches in the room, have a keen attention to detail.
I only found out that I was heading to Brighton on Friday morning, so I made the most of my lunch break by downloading Booking.com’s app to browse and book my hotel. The app makes the process of booking pretty painless. After browsing for a few minutes, I picked a hotel, tapped the screen a few times and it was done. What made my search a little easier was the ability to filter by personal preferences such as price range, number of guests and hotel must-haves – like wi-fi, in my case.
The Square also ticked two key boxes for what I want in a hotel, a great power shower and an amazing king-sized comfy bed. The Square delivered this in a luxury, stylish and friendly environment.
Whilst on the train to Brighton I booked my hotel for my second night in the city, the Queens Hotel and Spa. Although I didn’t get the chance to test out the spa facilities, I had a really comfortable stay. My spacious room overlooked the beach and was a great base to return to after exploring the city.
Challenge one: find a hidden-away record shop
With a theme of music to my weekend away, my first task was to seek out a hidden-away record shop that’s a local secret. Brighton has so many different record stores and I’m not sure any of them are really a secret, at least not to the locals. One shop, though, is kind of special – it’s not what you’d expect from a record store in Brighton as it specialises in musicals and soundtracks.
The Record Album is owned by George Ginn, an 85-year-old ex-Royal Air Force vinyl lover. The shop is covered wall to wall with LPs, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, George is on hand to impart his knowledge and find just what you seek. George has a disdain for CDs and laughs at their demise, while noting that they’re quite useful – for hanging on a piece of string in your garden to scare the birds away.
You may well wonder who’s buying all these old LPs from George. Well, famous fans of The Record Album include Damon Albarn, The Kooks, Thom Yorke and one of his regular customers, Amon Tobin. Many customers are in their twenties and buy the LPs to sample from.
While I was in the shop, George showed me how visitors were fascinated with his cash register because of how old it is. It still operates with pounds and shillings and is like a work of art. George fired up his record player so we could listen to his favourite film soundtrack of all time, ‘Kings Row’ by Erich Korngold, and I left The Record Album having met one of Brighton’s true characters.
Challenge two: venture outside your musical comfort zone
‘Scare yourself silly: find a gig or DJ that a local has recommended to you that’s not your usual musical taste,’ the challenge read. When travelling to far-flung places you get used to finding yourself in unusual situations and experiencing different types of music. At home, however, you don’t tend to leave your own comfort zone. Now was the time to jump in with both feet.
I was recommended a couple of options in Brighton, the live blues at The Ranelagh pub and a new Latin house night called Fiero Loco that had started at the Green Door Store. I decided to give the blues night a miss as it didn’t seem that much of a challenge from the norm, so I headed out towards Brighton’s train station for Fiero Loco and a bit of Latin house – whatever that was.
The Green Door Store is perfect for live music, a gritty, rustic and unpretentious kind of venue hidden away under the station's arches. The club has friendly bar staff and cobblestones for a dance floor. Surprisingly, Fiero Loco is free and there's a good selection of bottled beer too, with plenty of real ales. The night had superb atmosphere, a skilled DJ and quality sound system. I’d certainly recommend it.
Challenge three: find the nearest iconic music landmark
Thanks to Booking.com I'd managed to find both hotels just yards from the seafront, providing some inspiration for finding a music video location. After a bit of research I came up with The Twang’s ‘Either Way’ with Mike Skinner and Professor Green, which looks like it was shot down on the beach towards Kemptown, to the left of Brighton Pier.
I spent the morning strolling up and down the beach vainly trying to recreate the video by matching it with my backdrop. Finally, I struck gold. Walking back towards the pier, phone in hand, I discovered The Kinks’ ‘Do It Again’ was shot right there. Frontman Ray Davies rode the haunted house train and strolled the pier nonchalantly strumming his guitar and the band rode the dodgems and the helter skelter.
It was fascinating to see just how much the pier has changed over the years, so much so that it was actually quite a challenge to replicate a shot from the music video. After I’d attempted it I strolled back down the pier with my fish and chips, with the remainder of the day still left to seek out some of Brighton's hidden gems before catching a train back to the capital.
Ten things to do in Brighton
Brighton Open Air Theatre
Head along the front to Hove and find the beautifully created grassy amphitheatre which in the summer presents plays on a simple wooden stage. The setting is stunning and the performances mesmerising. For 2015, two of Shakespeare’s enchanting classics make perfect outdoor theatre fare: ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.READ MORE
This innovative theatre company hosts live shows by a variety of adult and youth theatre groups in all kinds of spaces around the city. Supporting new writing, performance and dance, their programme is an exciting chance to see local culture as it evolves.
Forget that shopping experience of seeing the same brand names in every city you visit. North Laine’s boutiques, stalls and quirky street life are unique to Brighton and all the better for it. There’s a café culture atmosphere too. From vintage furniture to jewellery to contemporary art, there’s plenty here for a day’s browsing.
Yellowave Beach Sports
The UK’s only permanent multi beach sports venue, Yellowave is a friendly activities club with a sandy kids’ play area (free) and café, as well as the chance to hire courts for beach volleyball, soccer, footvolley, beach rugby and ultimate Frisbee. Grab something good to eat from the Barefoot Café while you’re here.
This contemporary art gallery is set in a former Regency church. Light and airy, the gallery also supports upcoming artists. For summer 2015 artist Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva has created a site-specific work called ‘Fragility’, an installation which makes use of animal materials.
Veggie fine dining at Terre à Terre
Brighton’s legendary vegetarian restaurant is a bright and welcoming dining space that bustles with loyal regulars and veggie pilgrims, who come for the colourful and inspired menu of innovative and modern vegetarian cooking. A fine-dining treat in a funky atmosphere and a reputation for amazing cakes, too.
The Little Fish Market
If being beside the seaside gives you a hankering for fish and chips, dine of the sea in true style at this classy restaurant with a passion for the best sustainable seafood. It’s at the ‘spoil yourself’ end of the dining out spectrum in the city, but the flavours are inspiring: lobster risotto with orange and basil, or sea bass with crab mayonnaise, fennel and pink grapefruit, for example.
A bit of a legend in Brighton, Komedia is a great club space to see live stand-up comedy, cabaret, spoken word shows, theatre and live music – new and established. There are regular club nights too, if you fancy a dance, but if a giggle is what you’re after, the Krater Comedy Club has five shows every weekend.
The Marina has created a whole new district of Brighton, and while the waterside restaurants and the view make it tempting to put on your shades and stay outside, there are plenty of things to lure you indoors too – fashion shopping, an eight-screen cinema, a bowling alley and a casino.
Brighton Open Market
For everything from organic foods and ethical products to jewllery, kids’ toys and homewares, the Open Market features stalls from over 50 local producers and craftspeople. Come and find a one-off outfit for your night on the town, sample world cuisines, or pick up a plant to take home for your garden.
Top-rated hotels on Booking.com
With sea views, a spa and pool, and an elegant atrium bar, Thistle Brighton is a sleek chain option with plenty of opulent detailing for a special stay by the sea.
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The Grand Brighton
Living up to Brighton’s past as a resort for the wealthy who stayed in palatial style by the sea, the sumptuous Grand Brighton has huge luxury rooms and a top-class spa.
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Overlooking Brighton Marina, this stylish hotel has free parking, a bar, a restaurant and modern rooms with monsoon showers. There are also outdoor terraces with views of the water.Book with Booking.com
Old Ship Hotel
With a magnificent Georgian seafront exterior and comfortable, modern decor inside, this hotel is handily situated close to Brighton Pier and the shops and bars in the centre of town.
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