Monday 30 March 2009

Taxpayers subsidise politicians' booze

While ordinary pub-goers have to pay excessive amounts of tax in pubs - for our own good of course - it’s always our round when our politicians hit the ale.

According to a press release issued in July 2008 by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), the House of Commons Refreshment Department received a subsidy of £5.5 million of taxpayers’ money in the 2007/8 financial year, equivalent to total annual tax receipts from 35 pubs. This subsidy, not published in the House of Commons’ Annual Accounts, was 15% higher than 2006/7.

The subsidy makes up 43% of the Department's income, so taxpayers cough up £4-30 for every £10 spent refreshing our politicians, even before they claim back their outgoings without receipts through their notorious expenses system, which they devised themselves. There are at least 12 bars in the Parliamentary estate, plus various dining rooms, brasseries and banqueting suites. As MPs write their own laws as well as ours, they operate without a licence and have no restrictions on hours.Thanks to us, MPs can enjoy much cheaper drinks than we can ourselves. A pint of Foster’s costs them £2.10, compared with a national average of £2.80 (33% higher) and a London average of around £3.00 (43% higher). A House of Commons 8-year-old Scotch costs £1.35, while our politicians can enjoy a Pimm’s on the Thames-side terrace for just £1.65.

How can we ever take their health messages about alcohol seriously again? They must laughing all the way to the bar. One way to protest is to go to and show your support for fairer alcohol taxation.

Full ALMR press release at:

Saturday 28 March 2009

Darwin Songs ~ Radio 4

"Darwin Songs" is a Radio 4 programme about folk singers writing songs about Charles Darwin. The songs sound pretty good. You can hear it on "listen again" for the next 5 or 6 days at:
Worth a listen, if only to show that not all folk song is about frolicking in the new-mown hay!

Friday 27 March 2009

Boo Hewerdine - advance notice

3 Monkeys Folk Club presents Boo Hewerdine at the Southport Old Links Golf Club, Moss Lane, Southport, PR9 7QS, on Thursday 14 May 2009.
Doors 7 p.m. Concert 8 p.m. Tickets: £10.
For information (Richard): 07801 849635 or
For tickets, 01704 540011 - or click here for Boo tickets
No real ale, but you won't see this singer-songwriter anywhere else locally; his website is at:

Thursday 26 March 2009

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Wigan Beer Festival

I came back from Wigan beer festival on Sunday tired but happy. Wigan is run in a way that I think really works:
  • It has no advance tickets, a system which tends to exclude casual punters.
  • It is open all day, just as CAMRA campaigned for years ago in pubs.
  • It is a good venue with acceptable disability access, an indoor queue at opening time and a courtesy bus between the festival and the town centre.
Wigan has a theme each year. In 2-007 it was James Bond, The Pie Who Loved Me. This year it was the light versus the dark, with Darth Pie Eater versus Luke Pie Walker. The light ales were all on one bar and the dark on the other. I was pleased to notice that the first beer of the festival to sell out was Southport Golden Sands. I found Anglo Dutch Apistus with a faint heather honey taste interesting, although I couldn't drink it all night, but it was popular with women who were unfamiliar with real ale. I also liked Dark Star American Pale Ale, Lytham Gold, and Oakham Bishop's Farewell, among others. I tried a few dark beers but nothing attracted my attention particularly.

Wigan is a friendly festival that attracts quite a broad range of drinkers, including groups of young drinkers who start there and then go on to clubs in town. Unlike, say, Liverpool, you get groups of young women on their own, not dragged along by boyfriends. Many of these go straight to the cider and perry bar, but some try the ales. A group of lads come each year dressed in bear costumes, declaring they were told it was a real bear festival. To get a good idea of what it was like, look at the pictures on the Wigan CAMRA website. I can be seen in one unpacking glasses, something we were close to running out of at one point, it was so busy.

The Light Beer of the Festival was Dark Star American Pale Ale. The Dark Beer of the Festival was Dark Star Expresso Stout.

By 9.00 p.m. on Saturday, every single cask and bottle of beer, cider and perry was empty, and only a few fruit wines remained. So we volunteers went to the Boulevard and the Berkeley in Wigan, where I was introduced to Prospect beers. Nutty Slack is a delicious 3.9% mild which I found to be full of flavour but not overpowering. A dark beer, I announced, to add to the small range of dark beers I drink. Then I tried Silver Tally, which at 3.7% is light but still tasty; I don't often drink beers below 4% as they can be thin, but this one certainly wasn't. Another to enjoy. Finally, I tried Big John, a 4.8% dark beer, and found another dark beer to add to my 'dark' list. Keep an eye out for Prospect beers.

If you weren't at Wigan, you missed a treat.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

This Day In Music poll

The website, This Day In Music, is holding a poll for the best decade in music. The 60s and 70s are neck & neck in the lead with the 80s in 3rd place. If you want take part, click on At the time of posting, this is how the polls stand:

  • 50's 3% (290 votes)
  • 60's 27% (2256 votes)
  • 70's 27% (2279 votes)
  • 80's 21% (1787 votes)
  • 90's 15% (1315 votes)
  • 00's 7% (585 votes)

Monday 23 March 2009

What's on this week? 23rd to 29th March

Wednesday: local folk/ceilidh band Gallimaufrey will be giving a free concert in Christ Church, Lord Street. Only tea available I'm afraid, but if you fancy a pint afterwards, the Baron's Bar is just across the road in the Scarisbrick Hotel, where there is usually a good range of cask ales on. I've been told you can get free wine in the church on Sundays.

Sunday: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West. Performers free, and the beer is Thwaites Lancaster Bomber.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Wigan Beer Festival

I'm setting off very soon to work at the Wigan Beer Festival. Some people still lament the loss of the Wigan Pier venue, but the move was dictated by the redevelopment of the site. Besides, the festival has grown in its new venue and would not fit in Wigan Pier, were it still available. For more details, go to the Wigan CAMRA website. It opens at 5.30 p.m. today and is open all day Friday and Saturday. No advance tickets ~ just roll up! There is a courtesy bus between the town centre and the festival.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Masons singaround

Wednesday night will be the singaround at the Masons in Anchor Street. Performers welcome, but it's purely acoustic (no PA). Food is usually provided by the pub. Robinson's beers. It begins around 8.30 p.m.

Music session at the Guest House

Clutching my 12-string, I went last night to the Guest House for the monthly music session. First port of call was the bar. I ignored the Bombadier and Spitfire and tried the Allgates 50 Marks, a pale beer which I found pleasant enough but unremarkable; it was popular with others, though, and soon ran out. For me, Allgates attained a standard with Brightblade that their other beers don't quite reach, so I don't understand why Brightblade might be reduced to seasonal beer status. I then went on to Moorhouses Blond Witch and stuck with it all night. Blond Witch vanishes quickly in the Guest House.

The session was particularly busy, with more singers than usual ~ I'm often the only singer among all the musicians. Colin and Claire from Liverpool had rolled up for the night and sang for us, and as Claire is a student, her presence made a significant reduction in the average age. It was a good lively night, which inspired someone who just happened to have sat in the same room to give a song. The music was the better for not being entirely accordion-based, with a couple of violins and other string instruments added to the mix, along with a penny whistle; accordions are fine but can dominate en masse. Pub regulars sometimes refer to the motley collection of musicians as a band, not surprising as some of these musicians can join in with songs or tunes that they're not particular familiar with, but it's just a session for whoever happens to turn up.

Overall, a good night for music and beer.

Thanks for nothing, Gordon

Gordon Brown has announced that he is not going to implement the recommendation that alcohol be sold at a minimum price of 50p a unit because, he says, he does not want to penalise the majority of sensible drinkers. Yet he is happy with his Chancellor's beer escalator whereby beer duty will increase at more than the rate of inflation, which is hitting pubs the hardest out of all the outlets that sell alcohol. A bottle of supermarket vodka is in alcoholic terms the equivalent of about 12 or 13 pints of standard beer, and locally you can buy it for around £7. Compare that to the price of 12 or 13 pints in a pub and then explain how this pricing regime favours the sensible drinker. The duty on scotch has scarcely changed since 1997; is it a coincidence that Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Tony Blair are all Scottish?

I'm not convinced that a minimum price on alcohol will cut alcohol problems - alcoholics will find a way to drink no matter what the tax regime is - but a real cut in beer tax will definitely help struggling pubs and the sensible drinkers Gordon claims to care about.

Monday 16 March 2009

What's on this week? 16th to 22nd March

Monday ~ free music session in the Guest House tonight from around 8.30 p.m. The Guest House normally has around 10 real ales on, always in good nick.

Wednesday ~ free singaround in the Mason's Arms in Anchor Street. Begins around 8.30 p.m., with free supper provided. Robinson's Unicorn always on, and sometimes Dizzy Blonde or Cumbrian Way.

Thursday to Saturday ~ Wigan Beer Festival. No need for advance tickets; just roll up. Excellent festival; come and say hello to me as I'll be working there. For more details, go to: Over 50 real ales, and some live entertainment.

Sunday ~ Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West. Guest singers from the USA are William Pint & Felicia Dale, who are old Bothy favorites back for a long overdue return to these shores. As usual, the beer will be Thwaites Lancaster Bomber.

Sunday night at the Bothy

When I was working, I used to look forward to my Sunday nights - a lot of my colleagues didn't because they had work the next day - but unlike them, since 1978, I've had the Bothy Folk Club to look forward to. The Bothy has been going since 1965 (when I was in lower school) and now meets at the Park Golf Club in Southport. The beer is usually Thwaites Lancaster Bomber, and is generally well-kept. It was in good form last night.

Sunday was a singers night, with no booked guest, just local performers and club residents; it's the same principle as an open mike night, but no PA. I was going to write a summary of the night, but Alun Parry, who will be appearing at Southport Arts Centre next month supporting Roy Bailey, put the following on his blog.

"I decided to head off to the Bothy Folk Club in Southport last night. They were holding a singer's night and I thought I'd go and join in the fun. For those who say live authentic music is dead, you should really head to the Bothy each Sunday. It was packed and was a thoroughly enjoyable night of entertainment. Wonderfully hosted by the very amusing and charming Clive, an array of singers got up to do their turn for two songs, ensuring lots of variety and giving the warm feel of the best kind of family party.

"I performed two songs myself. I chose The Ship Song for audience nah nah nahhing, and You Are My Addiction for the largely comic premise and lyrics. It's great to put your guitar down and be so royally entertained by your peers too. I particularly enjoyed Ellen who delivered two songs with real showmanship and gusto. And Stuart on his squeezebox was a treat too. As was Keith, who did the most extraordinary song about a boozy night in a burning pub! With much help from the audience who provided sound effects and more! Marvellous stuff. Was nice to bump into Pete Rimmer again too, and hear Neville Grundy sing Billy Bragg's Which Side Are You On."

I think that sums it all up pretty well.