Monday, 31 August 2015

Two cheers - Liverpool's Roscoe Head saved

The Roscoe Head's entry in the 1974 Good Beer Guide.
Descriptions were very brief in those days!
While I was in Whitby, I learnt that the Roscoe Head in Roscoe Street, Liverpool, had been sold by Punch Taverns to property company New River and was at risk of redevelopment. It is an attractive little local near the city centre with a tiny snug on the left as you enter, two lounges and a drinking area by the bar. There are six hand pumps serving five changing guest beers mostly from small breweries, plus Tetley Bitter. It is also one of only five pubs that have been in every edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

New River's response is that existing leases are legally binding, and the Roscoe's runs to 2021. The licensee, Carol Ross, is obviously relieved that in the short term she is okay, but is worried what may happen when the lease expires. She had hoped to benefit from the Market Rent Only option that was recently agreed by parliament, but in order to qualify, the pub has to be part of an estate of at least 500 pubs, and New River has fewer than 300. As she says, she will now have to keep on paying over the odds. The sale was particularly upsetting as she had offered to buy the pub on several occasions, but was refused, and she wasn't offered first refusal when this sale took place. She is particularly bitter because, although her family have run the pub since 1983, she feels she has no rights.

The Roscoe Head (picture borrowed
from pub website)
She is right to be concerned: New River is primarily involved in the retail sector, and although it has bought quite a few pubs, if the potential proceeds of redevelopment exceed the profitability of any pub, the days of that pub would almost certainly be numbered. If the economy improves sufficiently to push up the price of land and make redevelopment and construction more profitable, then ironically the upturn, which might otherwise help pubs survive, may put some of them at risk. This is one of the unforseen long-term consequences of the Beer Orders that led to whole pub estates being bought by the property companies that we call pubcos.

I understand that the CAMRA Liverpool Branch is applying to have the Roscoe Head registered as an Asset of Community Value (AVC), whereby planning permission is required to change a building's use or to demolish it. Let's hope they succeed.

P.S. 1 September: here is a petition calling on Liverpool City Council to list the pub as an AVC.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Whitby - part 2

A view from the balcony of the Abbey Wharf
I'm now back from Whitby. I intended to write another post while there, but I got fed up struggling with the hit-&-miss WiFi connection in The Angel, a JDW pub which, interestingly, had cut some of its prices for real ales: they started at £2.99 last year, but at £2.59 this year.

Many more pubs in Whitby now feature real ale, and the choice overall is far better than it used to be. When I first went to Whitby years ago, the choice was mostly Camerons, Tetley and Sam Smiths. The old Shambles, recently taken over, refurbished and renamed the Abbey Wharf, now has a reasonable choice again; it was quite awful last year, both in beer terms and how it was apathetically run. The Buck, a pub I'd never set foot in before, had a well-kept Timothy Taylors Landlord and Best Bitter, and I was told the nearby Star Inn, which looked like a strictly locals, keg-only pub in the past, now had some decent beer, but I ran out of time before I could find out for myself.

Several pubs had beers from the Whitby Brewery, which was set up in 2013: here are their own beer descriptions. I really wanted to like them, but could not. The 'strong notes of toffee' (brewer's description) in the Abbey Blonde were far too prominent for me, and although I had two or three pints of Saltwick Nab, I couldn't get on with it, but friends enjoyed both.

Copper Dragon Golden Pippin was a good standby in quite a few pubs, including the Middle Earth where it was paired with Saltwick Nab. The Duke of York at the bottom of the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey had an uninspired chloice: Hobgoblin, GK Abbott, Bombardier, Black Sheep, with only Golden Pippin to relieve the boredom. However, the pub does good food and has wonderful views over the harbour. The Endeavour had four beers, three of the ilk of John Smiths cask, and a Salopian (forget which one) which was well worth drinking - although it was £3.70 a pint.

My favourite beers during the week were from Brass Castle: Mosaic, which I referred to in my previous post, and Sunshine (5.7%, but very drinkable), both of which I had in the Little Angel on Flowergate.

The best music sessions that I came across (there were many I never went to) were in The Station. There are good English tune sessions in The Elsinore, but this isn't really my thing and I like them best in small doses, and also some mixed sessions in the Golden Lion. The Middle Earth is also a good venue for music during Folk Week.

In terms of beer choices, the best pubs were firstly the Little Angel (not to be confused with JDW's The Angel), and secondly The Station, but if you go to Whitby, it's worth wandering around the other pubs too.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Whitby - part 1

A session in the Elsinore
Back in Whitby for my annual visit for Folk Week; it's the festival's 50th anniversary this year, although I'm a comparative newcomer as I've only been coming here since 1988 (and I missed 1989). Nowadays I tend to favour the fringe: music sessions in pubs, dance displays in the streets and so on because, unfortunately, the queues for the main events are just too long.

We had our annual pub crawl yesterday, beginning in the Elsinore in Flowergate. This is a very friendly pub where some of us from the Merseyside area like to call into, and perhaps join in the music sessions. The beers are Camerons Strongarm, John Smiths Cask and Tetley Bitter. I always go the Strongarm, as I find the other two to be among the most boring beers on the planet. I wonder whether they've moderated the flavour of the Strongarm; nowadays the taste seems to be milder, and a bit more like Doombar than it used to be. The Elsinore is well-known for its musicians' sessions every evening during Folk Week, including a lot of English tunes - despite what some people seem to think, not all folk music comes from Ireland!

A view across Whitby harbour
Across the road is the Little Angel, once a Tetley house but now with a good range of real ales, and there were several beers I'd not had before. Firstly the Scarborough Brewery Citra (4.2%), which was light, citrus (obviously) and altogether a very pleasant pint and a good example of the style. Another new beer to me was Brass Castle Mosaic (4.3%), apparently a collaboration brew with the North Riding Brewery, made with the American hop, Mosaic. Sightly more fruity than citrus, it too was a very enjoyable pint.

As a drinker from the North West, the beer prices here are a bit of a culture shock - around 40p to 50p per pint more than I'm used to. Still, I'm on holiday! More later in the week.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Trying the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain

I called into the Tap and Bottles, a micropub in the Cambridge Arcade in Southport, this evening. One of the cask beers was Tiny Rebel Cwtch, the new Supreme Champion Beer of Britain, so naturally I had to try it. It's a 4.6% red beer, with a very attractive appearance and a head that lasted well. The brewer's website says: "Citrus and tropical fruit dominate the taste that is backed up with caramel malts that balance the moderate bitterness. Drinkability & balance makes [sic] this beer."

The citrus and tropical fruit completely escaped me, but I'd agree that a certain maltiness is combined with a moderate bitterness. It vaguely reminded me of a former Champion Beer, Ind Coope Burton Ale but without the sweetness. It is quite an old-fashioned beer which I found quite pleasant, but unremarkable; I really don't see it as the best beer in Britain. In fact, I'm fairly sure that I'd prefer Burton when it was at its best.

Cwtch: Welsh word for an affectionate hug. There's no literal English translation, but its nearest equivlent is "safe place". So if you give someone a cwtch, you're giving them a "safe place". It can also be used as a place to store things safely (usually a cupboard under a staircase). From the Urban Dictionary.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A whingers' charter

In the Morning Advertiser, the newspaper of the licensed trade, there have been few articles recently about Trip Advisor (TA). Pub licensees have been reporting how there have been some grossly unfair comments posted, and how it is hard to get inaccurate or vexatious reviews removed. For instamce, one customer wrote about the "odd mixture of spices and herbs" used in a lamb dish she'd had at one pub. The licensee asked why she had ordered “Moroccan Spiced Lamb if you is not liking Moroccan Spices and herbs?"

When a customer suffered a heart attack at a wedding reception at The Carrington Arms in Milton Keynes, an employee saved the sick person's life. Despite that, one member of the party, who had booked a room for the night in the pub for £60, posted an angry review because breakfast was not included in the price. Surely it's entirely his own fault: he should have checked what he was getting for his money. The licensee isn't happy with TA's reply, which is to post a response to the comment concerned. As he says, it just looks as though you have a bad attitude towards complaints. There are instances when TA haven't taken reviews down when they have been proved to be wrong: one complained that the home made-chips weren't up to much and that the car park was empty in August when the licensees were away on holiday. The pub replied that they don't do home made-chips, they weren't away in August and they don't have a car park. Although the review must refer to somewhere else, it hasn't been removed. Some proprietors have complained that malicious reviews demonstrably by business competitors have been left on too.

Some customers demand discounts or they'll write a bad review on TA. I'm not a legal expert, but I do wonder whether this could be viewed as attempted extortion; it is certainly despicable. Owners of one or two B&Bs I've stayed at have told me they have occasionally had such threats. Then there are those who take to TA to whinge about every fault without raising their complaints with the owners. Some fail to understand that you get what you pay for: if you're in a cheap B&B, don't expect five star hotel levels of service. I thought it quite funny, though wrong, when a Blackpool B&B fined anyone who put bad reviews on TA. While the B&B didn't sound much good, it was extremely cheap - were some customers expecting more than they'd paid for?

I'm very British in that I don't particularly like complaining, but I'll do so if necessary, always politely. I've rarely had a problem with that approach. Better getting the matter sorted out than fuming and writing an adverse review later. It would never occur to me use TA to find out about a pub, restaurant or B&B: I'm conscious of how much it allows whingers who lack the courage to deal with problems face-to-face to vent their frustrations afterwards. I'm not sure I'd value the views of such people.

For info, before writing this post I looked up on TA a number of establishments that I am familiar with. To be fair, nearly all comments were positive: most people seem to use TA to say what a good time they've had. It's the negative ones I wouldn't trust: are they accurate, are they unfair, or are they just horrible because the reviewer didn't get a discount? We have no way of telling, which for me negates the value of the TA website.

Here's an article about TripAdvisoritis, the publican's disease.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

On this day ...

1938
American blues musician Robert Johnson died (probably poisoned by a jealous husband) at the age of 27 at a country crossroads near Greenwood, Mississippi. His recordings from 1936 - 1937 have influenced generations of musicians including Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.

1977
Elvis Presley was found dead lying on the floor in his bathroom by his girlfriend Ginger Alden; he had been seated on the toilet reading 'The Scientific Search For Jesus'. He died of heart failure at the age of 42. His first record for RCA, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, was also his first US No.1. He starred in 31 films. Elvis holds the record for the most entries on the US Hot 100 chart with 154. Elvis became the first rock 'n' roll artist to be honoured by the US Postal Service with a stamp.

1997
On the 20th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death over 30,000 fans descended on Memphis Tennessee for a 10-minute mourning circuit circling his grave. A poll found that almost a third of the fans were keeping an eye out for him in the crowd.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Religion versus Beer

When Christian students at a Texas university began wearing T-shirts with the slogan "10 reasons Jesus is better than beer", the agnostic and atheist student group produced this response:

Ten Reasons Why Beer Is Better Than Religion
  1. No one will kill you for not drinking beer. 
  2. Beer doesn’t tell you how to have sex. 
  3. Beer has never caused a major war. 
  4. No one forces beer on minors who can’t think for themselves. 
  5. When you have a beer, you don’t knock on people’s doors trying to give it away. 
  6. No one has ever been burnt at the stake, hanged or tortured over their brand of beer. 
  7. You don’t have to wait more than 2000 years for a second beer. 
  8. There are laws preventing beer labels lying to you. 
  9. You can prove you have a beer. 
  10. If you’ve devoted your life to beer, there are groups to help you stop.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Smoking ban won't be extended

The Royal Society of Public Health has published a report suggesting that the smoking ban should be extended to pub gardens, outdoor eating areas, parks, squares, children’s playgrounds, and outside school gates. They state that the aim is 'denormalise' (no, that's not actually a word) smoking and make it less convenient, thus encouraging people to give up altogether. The Society claims that 400,000 people have stopped since the ban was introduced in 2007.

I'm not sure this thinking really stands up, judging by the number of pub goers I've seen huddling against the rain around pub doorways. Smoking is notoriously difficult to give up, and I'd imagine that any smokers who chose not to ignore an extended ban outright would simply decamp to areas where it was still allowed.

I also wonder how such a ban could be enforced. With pubs, the responsibility would doubtless be dumped on the licensee who'd be subject to horrendous fines if their customers break the law. Probably the same with cafés and anywhere else with outdoor eating areas, but parks, squares, playgrounds and outside school gates? Who's going to enforce it, especially with severe cuts to local councils and police forces? There is a very simplistic view among so many people that all you need to do is pass a law banning something, and Bob's your uncle! I often see it in the letters pages of the local papers.

The Department of Health has just confirmed that there are no plans to extend the current ban. This is consistent with the original, perhaps ostensible, purpose of the ban, which was brought in under the guise of health and safety in the workplace. Such an argument could not be applied to applying the ban to outdoor areas, so the government would have been overtly and undeniably straying into the area of deliberate control of people's usage of a legal product. I wonder whether the degree to which a wider ban would extend state intrusion into personal freedom was a factor in the government's decision. Or did they just conclude it would be unnecessarily unpopular at a time when they have so many other unpopular things they hope to get away with?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Champion Beer of Britain 2015

CAMRA has just announced this year's Champion Beers of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in London. I've never had most of these beers, and haven't even heard of some of the breweries. Disappointingly, there are no local breweries in the list.

Supreme Champions
  • Gold - Tiny Rebel - Cwtch
  • Silver - Kelburn - Jaguar
  • Bronze - Dancing Duck - Dark Drake
Mild
  • Gold - Williams Brother- Black 
  • Silver - Rudgate - Ruby Mild 
  • Bronze - Great Orme - Welsh Black
Best Bitter
  • Gold - Tiny Rebel - Cwtch
  • Silver - Highland - Scapa Special 
  • Joint Bronze - Barngates - Tag Lag
  • Joint Bronze - Salopian - Darwin's Origin
Speciality
  • Gold - Titantic - Plum Porter 
  • Joint Silver - Kissingate - Black Cherry Mild
  • Joint Silver - Saltaire - Triple Chocolate 
  • Bronze - Hanlons - Port Stout
Bitter
  • Gold - Pheasantry - Best Bitter
  • Silver - Acorn - Barnsley Bitter
  • Joint Bronze - Purple Moose - Madog's Ale
  • Joint Bronze - Timothy Taylors - Boltmaker 
Golden
  • Gold - Kelburn - Jaguar
  • Silver - Adnams - Explorer 
  • Bronze - Blue Monkey - Infinity
Strong Bitter
  • Gold - Dark Star - Revelation
  • Silver - Salopian - Golden Thread
  • Bronze - Grain - India Pale Ale
Champion Bottle-Conditioned Beer
  • Gold - Harveys - Imperial Extra Double Stout
  • Silver - Fyne Ales - Superior IPA
  • Bronze - Mordue - India Pale Ale

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

5 music events in next 7 days

A busy week ahead for lovers of live music in real ale venues: five events in the next seven days.
  • Tomorrow evening, the 12th, there is an open mike night in the Tap & Bottles micropub in the Cambridge Arcade, Southport. Three real ale and loads of bottles.
  • On Thursday the 13th, there is my monthly acoustic song session in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool, from around 8.15pm. 8 real ales.
  • This Sunday afternoon, the 16th, there is a free Folk In The Park concert in Hesketh Park, Southport, starring Bob Fox, and various local artists, including Bothy Folk Club regulars.
  • Sunday evening, the 16th: a free singaround at the Bothy Folk Club in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport.
  • On Monday 17th in the evening, there a folk tunes session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. The pub has up to 11 real ales.
  • On Tuesday, time off to recover!
I've just noticed that this is my 1111th post.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Corner Post micropub

The Corner Post
I'm happy to report that yet another new micropub has opened locally: the Corner Post in Brighton-le-Sands in Crosby, less than ten minutes' walk from Blundellsands & Crosby railway station. The premises used to be the local post office, and there is still a postbox outside. It is not large, but good use has been made of the available space: the door is on the street corner, there is a drinking alcove where the fireplace used to be, and it is pleasantly and unobtrusively decorated. 

The beers that were on when I visited with my friend who lives locally were: Peerless Pale; Rock The Boat Dazzle; Liverpool Organic Joseph Williamson; Red Star Formby Blonde; and Henry Weston's Family Reserve Cider. Other drinks include red, white, rosé wine and Liverpool Gin. I tried three of the beers, including the Formby Blonde and the Dazzle, neither of which I'd had before. Of the two I preferred the Formby Blonde, but there was nothing wrong with any of the beers on offer.

Although the micropub had been open for little over a week when we visited, there was a comfortable, relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and I bumped into a former colleague whom I had not seen for at least seven years, which led to some nostalgic chatting. I gather that the launch had been nerve racking, but they seemed to have got into their stride; my friend certainly anticipated calling in regularly. The Corner Post is at 25 Bridge Road, Brighton-le-Sands, Crosby, L23 6SA. Enquiries: thecornerpost@gmail.com

Other micropub news

Subject to planning permission, Molloys furniture shop at 589 Lord Street, Southport, will be converted into a real ale bar with outdoor seating to the front.

In Waterloo, an application has been made for change of use from a shop and café to a micropub brew-tap and off-licence at 77 St Johns Road.

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

With friends like these ...

Looking at the Morning Advertiser on-line, I came across this startling headline: "Violent crime at London pubs shoots up". It is illustrated by a picture of someone in a pair of handcuffs photoshopped against the background of a busy street scene at night. In 2014, the figure for violence against people in or outside pubs was 3,129 incidents, which was itself an increase on previous years. In 2015 to June, there were 1,777 offences. Licensed clubs, wine bars and bistros have shown a similar increase.

It all looks quite damning, until you read on. In October 2014 the police launched an operation to combat the rise in violent crime across the capital, specifically targeting licensed premises after research suggested they were hot spots for violence. The Met has stated that the rise in recorded offences can be partly explained by this crackdown "rather than a rise in violence per se". The British Beer & Pub Association point out that these figures cover 23,500 licensed premises in London, and sensibly state they'd want more evidence before concluding there was an upward trend.

It's good that the police are chasing up violent crime with more vigour, especially in the context of major reductions in funding, but to depict the predictable rise in detection of incidents as an actual rise in the number of incidents is misleading, if not downright mischievous, especially when the police themselves have made that very point. It is particularly disappointing that the deceptive headline was in a journal that calls itself "the industry's oldest and most-respected magazine", supposedly on the side of the licensed trade.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Lytham Brewery Open Day

Something to do if you're at a loose end over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Click on the poster to enlarge it.

Back to school for Atherton beer bash

On 24 June I wrote that the famously quirky Bent & Bongs Beer Bash in Atherton had lost its customary venue, Formby Hall, due to redevelopment. I understand the hall has now fallen into a state of disrepair.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Ken Worthington, who is involved in the festival, stating that a new venue has been found. It will be held at the Atherton Community School in Hamilton Street, Atherton, M46 0AY.

The dates of the 2016 festival will be Thursday 18 February to Saturday 20 February to coincide with half term. It's further from from Atherton railway station than the previous venue: I estimate about nine tenths of a mile in total. Still, good news that the old BBBB has its future assured.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sue Raymond Band at the Mount

The Sue Raymond Band is at the Mount Pleasant on Manchester Road, Southport this Saturday 8 August from around 9.30pm. The band play both covers and originals, led by singer/guitarist Sue Raymond. I've seen them quite a few times - always worthwhile.

The Mount sells three real ales: Doom Bar and two changing guests.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Turning the corner

According to the latest Greene King Leisure Spend Tracker, the amount people spent on drinking out rose by 5% in June compared to twelve months previously. The corresponding figure for eating out was 6%. As they say, one swallow doesn't make a booze up, so I look at these figures with some caution - they might be no more than a statistical blip - although the fact that drinking out went up 3% compared to May suggests otherwise (eating out 1% down for the same period).

Other findings included:
  • 27% would like facilities, such as WiFi, to enable them to work away from both the office and home.
  • 64% thought the pub was an important economic and social asset to the community.
  • Only 14% thought pubs should do more to contribute to the local community.
Technology and flexible working mean the pub can be a plausible place to work. A Wetherpoons-style operation with tea, coffee and food as well as alcohol, combined with no music or loud sports, is well suited to benefit from this shift in working practices. Expensive coffee chains benefit from customers arriving with their laptops and getting to work over a coffee, so there's no logical reason why suitable pubs can't do the same.

This is not for every pub, of course, but then we have moved a long way from the essentially similar pubs with similar clientele (and similar beers) that prevailed until the effects of the Beer Orders kicked in more than twenty years ago. Variety in the pub industry is greater now than it has been at any previous time in my 40+ years of pub-going, so work-friendly pubs is a logical development of that diversity.

All this speculation may all be premature - next month could show a massive drop in the spending on drinking out - but I hope not, and I think not. I'll be ready to eat humble pie if I'm wrong.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Tour of Waterloo pubs – part 3

Stamps Too
Turn right out of Waterloo railway station, cross the road and in a minute you will reach Stamps Too, a pub that is noted for two main things: decent beer and live music.

First the beer: they have five changing guest real ales and on my visit, they were serving: Liverpool Organic Brewery Bier Head; Parker Centurion; First Chop AVA; Redwillow Mirthless Pale Ale; and Thirstly Cross Whisky Cask Cider. With the exception of the cider, which is from Scotland, these are all local. Stamps Too prefers to supporting local breweries, which is why it is the CAMRA Liverpool Branch Locale Pub of the Year, awarded for supporting local beers. I had three of the beers, and all were in good form. 

There was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and I unexpectedly bumped into a couple of people I knew there. The boss told me about winning the Locale Award, but added that he hadn't officially been told about it yet. Stamps Too is at 99 South Road, Waterloo. Enquiries: 0151 280 0035. 

The Liver Hotel
Just down the road is the Liver. It is a local landmark as it prominently sits on the corner of Crosby Road North. It is externally an attractive pub with an outdoor drinking area to the front, and inside it has several rooms which have retained some woodwork and original features. 

They have changing guest beers: the beers on offer when I was there were Sharp's Doom Bar and Robinson's Dizzy Blonde; there was also a George Wright pump clip, but it wasn't on at the time. There is a generous 20% discount if you produce your CAMRA membership card. 

As for food: there is a good value menu, a specials board and they have just introduced a menu of pizzas that will be all made on site. Events they put on include: live bands on Saturday, open mike night on Sunday, and a percussion workshop every Monday. They intend to put on darts nights soon and they show Sky Sports. The Liver is at 137 South Road, Waterloo, L22 0LT. Phone: 0151 928 1708.

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for our local paper, the Southport Visiter. 
To see the full Waterloo pub crawl, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The early bird doesn't catch the punter

I wrote on 4 July that the Falstaff in King Street was reopening after an extensive refurbishment. This pub was my local for a while, so I was interested to see what had been done. On Monday, a friend and I went in at 9.45pm to have a look. There were only two or three other customers in, and as we approached the bar, the barman said, "You're just in time."
"For what?" I asked.
"The landlady wants to close the pub at ten tonight."
I replied: "I'm not drinking somewhere with stupid opening hours", and walked out. We went across the road to the Cheshire Lines, which was buzzing with a couple of reasonable beers on.

I heard yesterday that the manager had been dismissed - after just two weeks - because the pub wasn't making enough money. If she's been closing it on a whim, I'm not surprised.

It was not the early closing that irritated me; after all some micropubs have early closing times, such as the Barrel House in Birkdale and the Liverpool Pigeon in Crosby. The difference is that these are their scheduled times. Closing early than the normal closing time is usually the sign of a pub that is on the way out, not one that has just reopened after a £325,000 revamp. Anyone arriving during normal pub hours to find it shut is unlikely to bother trying again: there is, after all, no shortage of other real ale pubs nearby.

Let's hope the replacement licensee is more on the ball.

I didn't get much of a chance to look at the refurbishment, but here is how the Southport Visiter reported the opening.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Concert for Bangladesh - 44 years on

It was 44 years ago today that the Concert for Bangladesh took place at Madison Square Garden in New York. Fundraising concerts are now commonplace - Live Aid is the most obvious example - but the concept was a novelty in 1971. Money from the sales of the album and DVD still go to the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

Here is the man himself bringing the concert to a close by playing his classic song, Something, backed by an all-star band:

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

More Waterloo pubs

Turn left out of Waterloo railway station on the Merseyrail Northern Line and in less than five minutes you will reach two pubs that are in the Good Beer Guide.

The Queens Picture House
The Queens Picture House, 47-49 South Road, is a Wetherspoons pub converted from a furniture shop, but the name reflects the fact that the site was originally a cinema. It is decorated in a bright modern style with a single bar and an enclosed outdoor drinking area to the rear. Like all Wetherspoons pubs, it has TV screens with the sound off, and free WiFi. It has good disability access with a ramp at the front and suitable toilet facilities. 

There are photographs and information about local history and people of the area, such as shipbuilding and the aviator Henry Melly who flew from Waterloo. There are pictures of the Anthony Gormley statues and information about the captain of the Titanic who lived locally. 

The real ales that were on were: Ruddles Best; Greene King Abbot; Sharp's Doom Bar; Bateman's Gold; Roosters Wild Mule; Coach House Postlethwaites; Brecon Red Beacons; and Old Rosie cider. There is something there for most beer tastes. Phone: 0151 949 2070. 

The Old Bank
Nearby is the Old Bank at 43 South Road. It's an attractive building externally, but the inside is quite a contrast to the sober exterior: it is very much a music orientated venue with music posters and memorabilia all around. They have music on six nights: Tuesday Karaoke; Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday are acoustic nights; and live bands on Friday and Saturday. Monday is described as their chill-out night. 

The only beer on when we visited was Liverpool Organic Brewery Liverpool Pale Ale, along with Lilley's Lemon and Ginger Cider. They explained they had had an extremely busy weekend (our visit was on a Monday) and that there were normally four ales on, such as Allgates and Slaters: indeed there were usually 3 or 4 on my previous visits. 

They show live football and other major sporting events; there is a beer garden and a function room upstairs. This pub also has free WiFi. Contact number: 0151-928 7020.

This is one of a series of pub reviews that I am writing for our local paper, the Southport Visiter. I wrote about the Volunteer Canteen in Waterloo here.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Cork Jackets and Drill

In December 1886, the worst lifeboat disaster in RNLI history occurred on the Southport coast. Two lifeboats, Southport's Eliza Fernley and St Annes' Laura Janet, went to the rescue of the crew of the Mexico which had run aground in a full gale. Of the 29 impoverished workingmen, mostly fishermen, crewing the two lifeboats, only two survived. A third lifeboat, the Charles Biggs, ultimately managed to rescue the twelve crew of the Mexico. There's a more detailed account on the RNLI website.

Cork Jackets and Drill, written by established local playwright Len Pentin, tells the story of that terrible night through original songs and narration. It is performed by leading singers and musicians from the local folk scene and has been doing the rounds of local pubs, clubs and community groups for a while. This week it will be performed at the Atkinson, Southport's arts centre on Lord Street, on Friday 31 July at 7.30pm. More details and tickets here.

To tie in with this special event, there will also be a free talk the same evening at 6.00pm in the gallery: “Wrecks off the Southport Coast” by Martyn Griffiths.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Pub breathalysers

I've just read an article about pubs breathalysing customers before they enter to ensure they aren't already drunk when they enter. Anyone whose breath registers two and a half times the drink-driving limit is not allowed in. Such tests have been taking place in pubs in Norwich and Torquay, with Truro and Newquay to follow soon. Predictably, the police welcome the idea, with the Cornwall force claiming that a comparison of figures for December 2014 when the scheme was introduced in twenty three venues with a year earlier showed that:
  • Violent crime fell by 22%.
  • Violent crimes against the person (excluding domestic violence) fell by 39%.
  • There were 10 fewer admissions to hospital.
I'm not particularly impressed because, in themselves, these figures prove nothing. Do they describe crimes in the whole community, or just in the venues concerned? Are there other factors that might explain the reduction? How much random variability is to be expected in the annual figures? For the figures to have any scientific validity, all other factors in the town would have to be identical in the two Decembers concerned, which is quite obviously impossible. For example, a big sporting event in one month without an equivalent in the other would by itself be enough to explain the variation.

Such crude and imprecise statistics amount to disinformation, but I can foresee that they may provide an excuse for licensing authorities to impose a requirement to use breathalysers as a condition of granting new licenses or renewing existing ones. They'd thus be imposed upon us by stealth.

As for the level of 2.5 times the drink-drive level: it's impossible to be precise, but wouldn't that be around five pints? That's not exactly binge drinking, and it would definitely inhibit the great British tradition of pub crawls. Breathalysers are associated with breaking the law, and I'd expect them to irritate customers who'd not appreciate being treated like offenders.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to eroding personal freedom. Drinking is a legal activity; even being drunk isn't illegal as long as you're not disorderly. It's worse than the nanny state because the use of the breathalyser is not compulsory, at least not at present: we'd be foolish to sleepwalk into regulating ourselves when there is no legal requirement to do so, and where there are no genuinely quantifiable benefits.

Friday, 24 July 2015

SABMiller's true colours

"We are all workers" reads the first line.
This may be of interest, especially if you like Meantime beers, Carling, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Fosters, Grolsch, Miller, Coca Cola, Fanta - among many others.

Workers at Cervecería Nacional, Panama's beer and soft-drink subsidiary of global brewing corporation SABMiller, have been on indefinite strike since July 10. The workforce is represented by two unions who have worked together to produce joint proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement, but the employer has refused to deal with more than one union. It has also told the workforce to give up their collective bargaining rights, barred active reps from the workplace and withheld wages earned before the strike. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a thinly disguised attempt to divide and rule the workforce by an employer who doesn't want to work with unions at all.

The Meantime Brewing Company, a London craft brewery recently acquired by SABMiller, should note this display of true colours. As Woody Allen once said, "The lion will lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep."

What can we do? Well, there's more info here and if, like me, you don't agree with the company's actions, please sign the petition: I've noticed that bad international publicity sometimes does get results.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Truman's Lazarus

I was at the Wednesday lunchtime song session in the White Star in Rainford Gardens, Liverpool, yesterday, and a good afternoon it was too. I haven't been in this pub for some time, although in the 70s and 80s my friends and I used to seek it out for the quality of its draught Bass.

Truman's Lazarus was on the bar. I knew Truman's had been revived a few years ago, but hadn't really expected to see its beer in Liverpool. I've no recollection of ever drinking the original Truman's, but then I've never been a frequent visitor to London.

As the pumpclip suggests, it is very pale, typical of the golden ales that are increasingly popular at present. It is made with Cascade and Chinook hops and Pale Barley malt, and the brewery website describes it as "juicy and zesty, without ever becoming overpowering". I'm not sure I'd quite agree: it is certainly citrusy and hoppy, but I found the bitterness quite pronounced, definitely far too much for lovers of beers such as Thwaites Wainwright or Robinsons Dizzy Blonde. I like beers with noticeable bitterness so I did enjoy it, but after three pints, even I found I wanted a change, so I switched to the Bass, which is still well-kept in the White Star.

It's a good example of the style, but I suspect too bitter for some.