Around this time of year, bloggers tend to do a review of the year. I don't feel able to speak generally about the whole country on the enormous subjects of music and ale, so I've decided to write a short review of my personal year.
Best Folk Club: Southport's Bothy, which is one of the oldest folk clubs on the country, continues to provide, within the limits of what a voluntary, non-profit making organisation can, an excellent range of guests withing the folk scene, using the broadest definition of that term. Traditional singers, singer-songwriters, old established favourites and rising young stars make up the guest nights. In between guest nights, there are singers nights when anyone can get up to play a couple of songs and tunes: the quality of singers nights is such that some people prefer them to the guest nights. The format hasn't altered since the club was founded in 1965, and it has clearly passed the test of time.
Favourite pub: this has to be the Guest House in Union Street, Southport. Despite being a pubco tenancy, Gail the licensee consistently has up to 11 real ales on, which usually constitute a mixture of microbrewery offerings alongside more familiar regionals. This does mean that occasionally the selection is not especially exciting for lovers of microbrewery beers, but generally I'm more than happy with what's on offer; I don't know of any tenancy that can provide such a range. The pub itself is just over 100 years old, largely unaltered with wood-panelled walls and it hosts acoustic music nights on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Favourite pub in Liverpool is harder: the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street has an excellent range but suffers from a ill-judged 1960s refurbishment, while the Lion on Moorfields also has a good range and is an attractive mini-gin palace as well. The former pub hosts the Woody Guthrie Folk Club (last Thursday of the month), while the latter has my acoustic song session on the 2nd Thursday of the month.
Favourite beers: around the 4% mark, I'd mention Southport Golden Sands (4.0%) and Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold (4.2%). My favourite strong beer has to be Liverpool Organic Shipwreck, a 6.5% IPA. Honourable mentions go to two Wigan breweries: Prospect for consistently good beer and Allgates for its significant improvement. The formerly good Cains of Liverpool continues to be disappointing.
Best Beer Festival: for my money, the Wigan Beer Festival. Although it's in a sports hall with less atmosphere than the now redeveloped Wigan Pier venue, it makes up in so many other ways: much more extensive and interesting range of beers than before, ample seating for all, regular courtesy bus between the festival and the town centre, and it's friendly to boot. To any who still miss the old venue: the festival was outgrowing Wigan Pier even before it moved, and would have no chance of fitting in there now even if it were available. The National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester and the Southport Beer Festival also worth visiting.
Favourite Music Festival: this has to be Whitby Folk Week. I've been going since 1988 (with one year missed since). The setting of a beautiful old fishing town is unique with a good range of guests and events in various venues across the town, pub sessions for songs and tunes all over the town, frequent folk dancing in the streets, plus for me the annual Lunchtime Legends gig in the Elsinore, which has been a fixture of the folk week fringe since 1992. Also extremely good was Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival, which had a completely different character: a big stage in a field with a succession of acts invited by Fairport throughout the weekend. Their big-name guests this year included Squeeze, Joan Armatrading, Bellowhead,
Richard Thompson, The Saw Doctors, Dennis Locorriere, Big
Country, Ashley Hutchings Morris On, and Richard Digance, plus a load of newer artists, most of whom I hadn't heard of but who were all pretty good.
Best non-folk gig: rock band Karnataka whom I saw in St Helens. Hint of progressive and hint of Goth, but mainly themselves. If you recall All About Eve, Karnataka are vaguely in that style. A seasoned band with good material and a lead singer, Hayley Griffiths, who has a beautiful voice.
Biggest disappointment of the year: being put on tablets in April for four weeks with no drinking for a month. During this period, I went to stay with my friend Geoff in London, but the expected pub crawls didn't materialise and the trip to Fullers Brewery was interesting but lost something with me on the wagon. I also opted out of a Wigan beer festival helpers' trip to Ulverston Brewery during this period, and I cut short my attendance at a friend's stag night once I'd had my fill of pub coffee.
Best apocalypse: 21 December, which was when the Mayans had supposedly foretold our doom.
Favourite blog: after this one? Too close to call!