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Monday, 30 April 2012

May ~ Mild Month

Not the weather, although let's hope it does improve. Many years ago, CAMRA designated May to be Mild Month - why May I'm not sure, because I'd have thought March would be better (link here, and in right hand column) - but for better or worse, May it is.

Mild is a threatened beer style, having in the past been associated quite inaccurately with cloth caps and whippets, although there's nothing wrong with whippets, they're lovely dogs. It's usually dark, it shouldn't have an overpowering flavour, but that doesn't mean it should be bland and insipid, and it shouldn't normally be strong.

The Willow Grove, our local Wetherspoons Lloyds No. 1, has contacted our CAMRA branch about putting on two or three milds throughout the month in addition to the Cains Mild they have on all the time. This is a welcome idea because milds are a pleasant drink, and quite suitable when you have to go back to work after lunch, or if you have to drive. If I'm driving, I'd much rather have a pint of decent mild than two pints of shandy. In the case of Tetley's, I've always preferred drinking their mild to their bitter, even though I'm normally a bitter drinker.

You may well come across pubs putting milds on to celebrate May and mild month - give them a try. I can't guarantee you'll like them all, but I'd be surprised if you don't find something to your taste.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Satanic reversal

Ozzy prepares to bite
the head off a frog
It was thirty years ago today, back in 1982, that the California State Assembly consumer protection committee heard testimony from self-styled experts who claimed that, when Stairway To Heaven was played backward, it contained the words: "I sing because I live with Satan. The Lord turns me off, there's no escaping it. Here's to my sweet Satan, whose power is Satan. He will give you 666. I live for Satan." 

It's quite bizarre that supposedly sane adults in the USA insisted in all seriousness that rock stars would insert satanic messages backwards - a process called backmasking - in their music, although as many of these conspiracy theorists were fanatical fundamentalist evangelists, you could argue they're not sane by definition. No domestic hi fi set-up could play LPs backwards, so they claimed that listeners would subliminally pick up the backmasked message while simultaneously listening to the normal forward vocal and accompaniment. I sometimes have difficulty working out the normal message, let alone struggle with a hidden backwards one. It can probably all be traced back to The Beatles who were accused of placing a hidden message that Paul was dead in Revolution No 9. Backmasking is in itself a completely innocent process, having been used for aesthetic effect by bands from The Beatles to the present day.

Following a tragic suicide pact by two young men, Judas Priest were sued by their families for an alleged subliminal message encouraging suicide, though the case was thrown out. As the band pointed out, messages leading to the deaths of their fans would be counterproductive; if they wanted to insert a subliminal command in their music, it would probably be "Buy more of our records".

Down to earth hard rockers AC/DC rejected accusations that they had included satanic messages on one of their albums. As guitarist Angus Young pointed out, "you didn't need to play [the album] backwards, because we never hid [the messages]. We'd call an album Highway To Hell; there it was right in front of them." Can't argue with that.

The satanism of bands such as Black Sabbath was only ever theatrical, intended to shock and also to provide a dramatic backdrop of imagery suitable for doom-laden messages. At every gig I've seen Ozzy Osbourne perform (both with Sabbath and solo), he's always worn a crucifix the right way up and ended the gig with a loud "God bless you" to the audience.

There were quite a few backmasked messages inserted in songs to mock the satanic controversy that enveloped many bands: Mindless Self Indulgence included the reverse messages: "clean your room", "do your homework", "don't stay out too late", and "eat your vegetables". The B52s had, "Oh no, you're playing the record backwards. Watch out, you might ruin your needle", "Weird Al" Yankovic included the message, "Wow, you must have an awful lot of free time on your hands", while Soundgarden had a secret message about Santa Claus.

The list of bands accused of satanic backmasking is almost a Who's Who of internationally famous rock bands. Despite the controversy which led to laws passed against undeclared backmasking in California and Arkansas (although Governor Bill Clinton sent the law back to the Arkansas senate where it was subsequently defeated), scientific research has concluded, in the words of psychology professor Mark D. Allen, that "delivering subliminal messages via backward masking is totally and ridiculously impossible".

I'll just leave you with one final thought: if you phone the emergency services with your phone the wrong way round, you'll dial 666, so you'll never know until it's too late who might turn up on your doorstep!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Walker's beers are back!

The Lower Angel, Warrington
I’ve only just opened an e-mail about this mini-festival in Warrington, having been away in London all week. The Tipsy Angel brewery is celebrating its first anniversary with a beer festival this weekend.  Tipsy Angel has been working on the original beer recipes from the old Walkers of Warrington brewery, and these will be on sale at the festival. They are:

Angels Mild, based on Walker Dark Mild.
Angels Folly, based on Walkers Falstaff.
Birthday Angel, based on Walkers Extra Stout.

Added to these are two modern brews, Tawny Angel and Angelic Angel, plus 8 or 9 from other microbrewers in the Warrington area, giving you quite a gathering of local real ales in a town that is much improved in beer terms in recent years. The Tipsy Angel brewery is situated in the Lower Angel pub, Buttermarket Street in Warrington town centre. This pub was the venue of many a great night out when I was student at Padgate College - quite a while ago now - but in a town dominated by Greenall Whitley and Tetley, it was one of the few places where we could still get the old Walker's Bitter, even though it was badged as Tetley. I'm hoping to try these revived Walker's beers soon.

The festival began today and runs through to Sunday 29 April. Regrettably, I'm not able to go - another time, then.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Dónal Maguire gig in Southport

Dónal Maguire is the guest next Sunday, 29 April, at the Bothy Folk Club. While Dónal has been primarily associated with unaccompanied singing, he has significant other 'strings to his bow'. Dónal is a fine interpreter of contemporary material, as well as an excellent singer of traditional material, and can accompany himself on a range of stringed instruments. He is universally recognised as one of the finest players of Irish dance music on mandolin and tenor banjo. The Irish Music Magazine said of his CD The Clergy's Lamentation, "At any level of description, this is a very fine example of traditional singing ... he's one of the originals and should be in your personal archive." Or as Dick Gaughan said more forcefully, "If you haven't heard this man yet then why the hell not?" 

You can see him at the Bothy, which meets at 8.00 p.m. in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale.  You can buy on-line tickets here.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

American Beer

I listen to BBC Radio 4 quite a lot, but when the Food Programme comes on, I usually switch it off as I've little interest in cockle farming in Warwickshire or whatever. Today's edition was therefore a pleasant surprise, being all about American beer. The USA's brewing industry was completely wiped out by the Prohibition of the early 20th century, perhaps the most spectacular example of nanny statism in modern history, although (to look on the bright side) it did give us that great 60s TV series, The Untouchables.

In the last 30 years or so, there has been a resurgence on American brewing, and the programme's blurb on iPlayer says, "From barrel ageing beer to sourcing intensely bitter hops, Dan Saladino reports on the latest trends in American brewing that are starting to influence British beer styles."  American beer is not all Bud and Coors - their craft brewing movement has largely been inspired by British beers, and in return the experiments they are doing across the pond have influenced many British microbrewers. All to the good, I say. Definitely worth 25 minutes of your time - you can find the programme here.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Bert Weedon

Bert Weedon, who, inspired generations of British guitarists, famous and not so famous, has died today aged 91. He wrote the best-selling guitar tutor, Play In A Day, and was the first British guitarist in the British pop charts (or Hit Parade, as it was known then) in 1959 with Guitar Boogie Shuffle.  You can read a lot more about his musical career and the generations of guitarists he influenced in a BBC obituary here.  In the meantime, here's a video of him from around 1982 performing his first hit, and what strikes me is the obvious pleasure he has in playing:

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Throwing away the key

According to an article in the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade's newspaper, "A new Government report on how red tape cuts should be enforced has praised the hospitality industry, calling it 'key to the UK economy'. Regulation and Growth, compiled by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, noted that the tourism and hospitality sector is 'ripe in growth potential' and acknowledged estimates from the trade that 510,000 new hospitality jobs can be created by 2020.

The report discusses how regulations, rather than getting in the way, should assist the industry to reduce costs and support growth at local and national level. So will they now look at our grossly over-regulated pub industry and analyse what unnecessary interference is seriously damaging what is still a major part of the hospitality industry, and a major employer to boot? I seriously doubt it:  reports are all well and good, but it's what the government chooses to do with them that counts, and very many reports are shelved if when they don't suit ministers' prejudices. 

As John Ellis of the Crown Inn, Oakengates, says in the comments underneath the article, "If we are so 'key to the economy', why are they trying to tax us out of existence?" Good question, which deserves an answer, but won't get one.

The Advertiser has told the government to "put your money where your mouth is" by setting up an e-petition to Parliament to reduce the reduce VAT to 5% for the hospitality sector, pointing out that '21 countries in the EU have a lower VAT rate for the hotel sector and 13 for the overall hospitality sector. In France, tax was reduced from 19.65% to 5% and led to the creation of 21,700 jobs in the first year. A cut in VAT could help create 320,000 jobs in the post Olympic years and help save pubs, restaurants and hotels.'

Even if these figures are over-optimistic, the general point is still true. The petition has a long way to go before it reaches the 100,000 signatures that would trigger a Commons debate. Why not help it along by signing it here?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Abstinence makes the heart go fonder

My preferred kind of wagon
As I reported a few days ago, I've had a cough and sore throat for a couple of weeks that has affected the taste of beer. Fortunately they seem to be going now, but last week I began to get vertigo, unrelated to drinking before you say anything, and I've been given a 28-day course of tablets. I read the leaflet, and I'm sure you can guess what it said: strongly advised not to mix with alcohol (probably the only bit most of us look out for). I could have thought, "That's not an absolute ban", and even the doctor said to cut down rather than cut out, but I want these to work, so that's it until 10 May.

I should have been on CAMRA Wigan Branch's trip to Ulverston today, which included a visit to the brewery and a tour around that picturesque town's pubs. Pity, as I was really looking forward to it. The week after next, I'm off to London to visit my friend (and sometime songwriting collaborator), Geoff. I'll still go, but the pub visiting side of the trip will be curtailed. I've never spent much time in London and the knowledge that I won't be paying London beer prices is a sort of compensation (well, that's what I keep telling myself), so I'm sure I'll still have a good time.

It's slightly strange being a beer magazine editor and a beer and music blogger when you're not drinking. I attended a CAMRA meeting on Wednesday in the Conservative Club in Formby to give an update on our magazine. The others had decided that I wouldn't turn up because of the venue, probably because I have previously stated that I don't believe we should have meetings in political clubs of any description, an argument some of them regard as spurious because the Labour Club is all keg so we wouldn't be meeting there anyway. I went in the car as I knew I wouldn't be drinking, otherwise I would have caught the train and had a few pints, but I did wonder whether anybody had assumed I was refusing to drink there because it was a Tory club.

On Thursday we had our usual singaround in the Lion in Liverpool. It turned out to be a particularly lively affair, with someone who hadn't turned up for the session - he'd just come in for a pint - proving to have a large range of songs, Irish mostly. As luck would have it, the licensee bought two rounds of drinks for the singers. Not only that, a group of visitors from Birmingham were enjoying the evening so much that they were generously keeping the singers in beer all night. And I couldn't drink.

Timing - never my strong point.  But I predict it will be just right on 10 May.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Vicky Swann and Jonny Dyer

Once known mainly for for their instrumental skills with Scottish smallpipes, accordion and Swedish nyckelharpa, Vicky Swann and Jonny Dyer are now being accepted as impressive song arrangers and writers. They effortlessly blend traditional material with contemporary interpretations whilst equally creating original self-penned tunes and songs that are entirely at home in the tradition.

They went down very well at their last visit to the Bothy, and they're playing there again this Sunday 15 April at 8.00 p.m.  It's at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  The venue sells real Thwaites Wainwright.  On-line tickets available here.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

We're not all hooligans!

The Guest House
Drunken misbehaviour banned
A couple of weeks ago, a college friend I’ve known since the late 1970s came to stay for a weekend. While discussing what we were going to do on the Saturday evening, I suggested going into Southport town centre for a pub crawl.  Having heard all the horror stories about what happens in town centres at weekends, she said she hadn’t done such a thing for years. In my last job, I used to get a similar reaction from colleagues if I happened to mention going into town at the weekend: “I wouldn’t dare!” they’d say, as though I had proposed a night on the tiles in Baghdad. Anyway, I told my friend she’d be all right – she’d be with me. And no, she didn’t say, “That’s what I was worried about”.

We had dinner in Wetherspoons - I know how to treat a girl - and then wandered into a variety of drinking haunts, including two more pubs and two hotel bars down Lord Street, Southport’s main street, and ended up in my local, the Guest House.  She agreed that she’d seen no fights, no vomiting, no vandalism, no girls being assaulted, and actually not heard a great deal of noise, even though there were quite a few people around.  We both had a great night out doing something the media usually suggests would be unpleasant, if not downright foolhardy.

And yet, undoubtedly there is trouble in our town centres, as we hear from the police and casualty units. Regrettably, all drinkers are tarred with the same brush, even though only a tiny minority of all the drinkers out on any given night causes trouble. In all the pubs, bars, hotels, restaurants, social clubs, bingo halls and nightclubs, there must a thousand well-behaved drinkers for every scumbag who creates problems.

I think the key to this is timing.  In pub time, which is up to around 11.00 p.m., perhaps 11.30 p.m. or midnight at weekends, you will rarely see any problems.  It’s so long since I’ve seen any trouble in a pub, and I do get around quite a few, that I can’t actually remember when it happened.

From around midnight, club time takes over. If I’m out at such times, which is less frequent nowadays, there is more noise, you will hear people shouting in high spirits, or sometimes screaming at each other, and you may see the occasional punch up. It’s usually at this time that the nasty assaults that appear in our local papers tend to happen, and this is the time the awful Theresa May, Home Secretary, was referring to recently when she spoke of the “mayhem” (yes, she used that word) on our streets every weekend. However, she predictably made no distinction between the well-behaved majority and the out-of-control minority, or between the vastly differing levels of trouble relating to different types of drinking establishments.

This relentless propaganda, for that is all it is, reinforces the impression that many people have that our town centres at weekends are like the Wild West. The fact that this is a grossly simplified caricature doesn't matter if your aim is to fuel the lie that Britain is a country in which alcohol misuse (although they prefer the emotive word “abuse”) is spiralling out of control, necessitating ever more draconian measures to combat it. It’s also a good pretext for increasing taxes above inflation every year, even though our leaders know that alcohol consumption in Britain has been in slow decline for many years.

The drip feed of such misinformation is gradually influencing the attitudes of the general public, and those of us who care should do what we can to oppose it in letters to the local papers, in our local CAMRA magazines as I have recently, on our blogs and in any other available forum. CAMRA nationally would be better placed campaigning against such prejudices, rather than sucking up to the government by supporting minimum pricing for alcohol.

Unlike most politicians and journalists, who tend unthinkingly to swallow the propaganda-dressed-as-science of the anti-alcohol lobby without question, we drinkers do actually go out there and we know what it’s really like. Nobody’s saying there are no problems, but if we can get the message across that the peaceful majority is being punished for the bad behaviour of the minority, perhaps we’ll appeal to what’s left of the British sense of fair play. It’s either that or we just accept whatever lies are being thrown at us and live with the consequences.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Tom Doughty - blues in the gym

Tom Doughty became disabled after a road accident in 1974, and re-learnt the guitar in an entirely way to how he had played previously; he has been described as "the Django Reinhardt of Slide Guitar".  He has performed in many venues, including Southport's Bothy folk club, and has 3 CDs under his belt. His music is blues-tinged but he doesn't limit himself to one style.

Tonight he will be performing in the gymnasium of the Spinal Injuries Unit, District Hospital, Town Lane, Southport at 7.30 p.m. Tickets £5.00 (all proceeds to Spinal Unit Action Group). Contact Julie Jones 01704 547471, or pay on the door.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

No songs or beer

I've had a bit of a chesty cough and a sore throat for a few days, and during that time I've not really enjoyed a pint. I can only assume my taste buds have been affected, because even beers I usually like have seemed fairly tasteless to me.  So I'm off to do my Easter Quiz at the Bothy shortly, and I doubt I'll bother having a pint at all. I also won't be giving a song as my singing voice is all croaky, although my speaking voice sounds fairly normal. Going to a folk song club in a real ale venue has lost a lot of its point.

Let's hope normal taste bud service is resumed as soon as possible.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Easter sounds

Happy Easter everyone! The only musical events happening locally over the weekend that I've heard about:

Local rock band, The Re-Sessions, are playing a return visit to the Mount Pleasant in Manchester Road. They begin at approximately 9.00 p.m.  Tetley real bitter available.

Sunday night at the Bothy is free and features my 6th Easter Quiz - described in the publicity as Eggsquizate. There will be time for some songs and music, as the quiz will not take up the whole evening. 8.00 p.m. at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites Wainwright available as usual.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Toy Hearts at Grateful Fred's

I have just checked the Grateful Fred website to see whether there are any tickets for Toy Hearts, who are guests at the club this evening, Wednesday 4 April.  I was surprised to see there were 15 (14 now I've bought one). Toy Hearts are a British bluegrass-tinged band fronted by sisters Hannah and Sophia Johnson, and they sold out the club last time they were on. I was very impressed, which is why I'm going back.

"As well as producing quite possibly the finest and most authentic-sounding blend of Americana of any UK act, The Toy Hearts possess a trump card in the heart-melting voice of Hannah Johnson … With ‘Femme Fatale’ as a calling card, the UK Americana crown is The Toy Hearts’ for the taking". 
Sean McGhee, R2 (Rock and Reel) Magazine, Oct 2010.

Supporting them is Pip Mountjoy, a 17 year old singer-songwriter from North Yorkshire whose debut EP, Louisiana, was described as "a beautiful, sweet and delicate thing" by Bob Fischer of BBC Tees.

You can buy tickets on-line here.  Grateful Fred's is at the British Legion, Whitehouse Lane, Formby, L37 3LT, and 7.45 p.m. is the starting time.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Watney's revival - a bridge too far?

The new Red
Barrel pump clip
Watney's used to be a brewery with a respectable pedigree dating back to the early 19th century. Regrettably, it became a pioneer in the keg revolution that produced awful beers which were regularly advertised in the most expensive slots on television, and which very nearly destroyed real ale. Their most famous, or perhaps notorious, product was Watney's Red Barrel.  Advertised using the old music hall song, Roll Out The Barrel, adapted as Roll Out Red Barrel (which you can see here, if you want to see how the 1960s weren't always wonderful), the beer became incredibly popular.  "Incredibly" to us, I suppose, but this was an era when real ale was really hit and miss, and returning drinks could result in summary ejection from the pub (many licensees took complaints about the beer as a personal insult), so many drinkers tended to welcome the consistency of keg.

That was then - this is now.  I'm quite astonished that a microbrewer called Roger Brown has decided to revive the brand, having - I assume - bought the recipes from whoever owns them nowadays, to produce what he describes an "authentic real ale version of Red Barrel". Roger tells us that small quantities of Red Barrel were brewed and sold in real ale form in the 1960s with a view to softening up the public to switching seamlessly to the keg version as it was rolled out. He has decided to reproduce this interim style because he considers it to be a rather good 1960s bitter that was ruined by the keg process. That's as may be.

I can't help thinking that the Watney's brand is still so toxic after all these years that Roger's efforts to rehabilitate it are doomed to failure, although I say good luck to him.  If I see it, I'll give it a try, but I suspect it's likely to be available only in the London area.

Strange!