Thursday 30 July 2009

Drinks employees face sack to fund executive greed

Transnational drinks company Diageo, whose brands include Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan, Baileys, J&B, José Cuervo, Tanqueray, Guinness, Crown Royal, Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards wines, and Bushmills Irish whiskey, have announced the destruction of 900 jobs across Scotland. Diageo is hugely profitable, with rising sales and margins by all its leading brands. Last year, Chief Executive Officer Paul Walsh was paid $5 million. The company has recently been spending close to a $1000 million dollars buying back its own shares.

Diageo employees across Scotland are now being asked to fund even more executive and shareholder greed with the loss of their jobs in communities where few alternatives are on offer. To learn more, and to support their union's fight back, click here. You can send an e-mail to Diageo & vote in an on-line poll. It takes less time than downing a wee dram. I know ~ I did it, even though I'm not a whiskey drinker ... well, not very often.

Monday 27 July 2009

Mandatory Code for (i.e. against) Pubs

The Government is proposing a new, costly, bureaucratic, mandatory code for pubs to cut down on "irresponsible" drinking and anti-social behaviour. Although I go to pubs several times per week, it's so long since I saw any alcohol-fuelled trouble - or even well-behaved extreme drunkenness - in a pub that I can't remember when or where it was. Funny that, isn't it? I really must lead a sheltered life.

If only the Government had shown the same determination to impose a fierce mandatory code upon our financial industry instead of the "light touch" (i.e. zero) regulation that it preferred, then Britain would not be in the financial mess it is now. Micro-managing our lives is not the job of politicians, but it is their job to look after our nation's finances, a task in which they have signally failed (except when those finances funded their expenses claims, of course ~ they can get things right when it suits them ... and don't get me started again on how we taxpayers pay for their cut price booze).

There is a Government consultation out now and the Axe The Beer Tax Campaign has made it very easy for you to put in your two penn'orth: reply to the consultation and lobby your MP at the same time by clicking on enough is enough. The deadline for responses is 5th August, so best not to leave it till later.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Richmond Jazz & Holt's Beers

I went last night to the Richmond pub on Scarisbrick New Road for the weekly jazz night, which on this occasion featured the The Savannah Jazz Band. The old Richmond was demolished a few years ago and a modern pub built on the site; it was taken over a year or so ago by Joseph Holt's of Manchester and remains the only outlet for Holt's beers in the area. The beers on were Holt's bitter, mild and Humdinger, a honey beer. I've always regarded Holt's beers as acceptable rather than exciting, and last night was no different. My first thought was that the beers were a bit too cold for real ale. The Humdinger is a honey beer that I found more bitter and hoppy than honey-flavoured, although in bottled form it won the Tesco beer challenge. I actually preferred the ordinary bitter. At £2.36 and £2.32 per pint respectively, Holt's seemed to have adopted the local average price, rather than applying their own legendarily cheap prices. I may be mistaken, but I thought I remembered paying well under £2 three months ago. I don't think you'd go out of your way for this beer, but it is perfectly acceptable if that's all there is.

The Savannah Jazz Band played well in a New Orleans jazz style, and are therefore traditional, as are all the jazz bands that play every week at the Richmond. I quite often enjoy jazz without knowing as much about it as perhaps I should. If you think you'll enjoy an evening of jazz in a pleasant modern pub which has an open café style, then you'll enjoy Wednesday nights at the Richmond. They also do reasonable food until 8.00 p.m. there, so you can make a evening of it. To find out what bands are on, click on Jazz at the Richmond. Worth looking in on.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

New Guest House singaround

A new free live music night is being launched in a leading Southport real ale pub, although drinking real ale is not compulsory! "First Monday" singarounds in the Guest House will begin on 7th September and will continue on the 1st Monday evening of each month thereafter. The established music session that takes place on the 3rd Monday in the same pub will carry on as normal. While the singaround will mainly be songs and the music session mostly tunes, this is not a hard & fast rule and each style is acceptable at both sessions.

As many of you will know, the Guest House serves up to 10 real ales always in good condition. Please support these sessions, whether you want to perform or just listen.

Friday 17 July 2009

Jackie Oates ~ from the Bothy to the Phil

On 28th June, the Bothy Folk Club featured Jackie Oates accompanied by guitarist James Dumbleton. Jackie is a young fiddle-singer whose material is mostly traditional and her playing and singing certainly wooed the Bothy audience, who know a thing or two about good music. I had the pleasure of putting these two young people up for the night and they were unassuming and good company ~ no airs and graces, and long may it stay so.

I have noticed that Jackie has a gig in the Rodewald Suite of the prestigious Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 17th October. The admission charge of £10 is modest by Phil standards, but almost double what the Bothy charged. I fear that this very talented and endearing performer may become unaffordable for our local folk club, especially if her career follows the well-trodden path blazed by Kathryn Tickell and Kate Rusby. Kate has also appeared at the Bothy ~ before folk stardom beckoned.

Incidentally, if you fancy giving the Bothy a go, the beer is usually Thwaites Bomber, although at present it's Thwaites Wainwright.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Singarounds ~ old & new

Firstly, just a reminder that the successful Mason's singaround will be taking place tonight in the Mason's on Anchor Street from around 8.30 p.m., behind the main post office on Lord Street. Robinson's beers always on, and sandwiches are usually provided by the pub.

I am proposing to launch a new singaround in the Guest House, Union Street, on the first Monday evening of the month from 7th September. There is already a music session on the 3rd Monday evening in the same venue (the next one is next Monday, the 20th), and my view is that this new singaround will complement, not rival, the sessions in the Mason's on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month. I'll put a reminder on this blog closer to the date. The Guest House has up to 10 real ales on at any time.

All these sessions are free, and anyone is welcome to perform, or simply listen if you prefer.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Once An Orange, Always An Orange*

Yesterday we had the Orange Lodge marching through Southport as they do every year around 12th July, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1688. I wonder how many Orange folk realise that when the Catholic James II was beaten by the Protestant William of Orange, the Pope held a celebratory mass (James II was an ally of Louis XIV of France, who was an enemy of the Pope ~ it always boiled down to politics, even with Pontiffs).

Anyway, the immediate result of the march is that half our town centre pubs are closed and the other half are full of people dressed in orange, some with Union Jacks emblazoned with "No Surrender" around their shoulders, while the bandsmen were sweltering in thick military-style uniforms and the hordes of police were happily adding up their overtime. I found the Guest House wasn't scheduled to open until 5.00 p.m., so I went to the Lakeside Inn, the smallest pub in Britain, and had a surprisingly nice pint of Fullers London Pride while sitting on the balcony overlooking the Marine Lake.

Southport people aren't really keen on these Orange Scousers taking over their town, but it does bring in a lot of trade, and if we're being honest there is very little trouble considering the numbers involved. As a Liverpudlian of mixed origin (my father's from the Orange and my mother's from the Green), I have no specific allegiance, although I can find nothing in the Orange cause that I can identify with at all. The Orange man who shouted abuse at two harmless buskers and a Big Issue seller did strike me as a complete pillock, and two Orange girls fighting in Chapel Street did no favours for my home city, but these are the extremes.

There seem to be fewer Orange people in Southport every year, so perhaps the commemoration of this 321-year old battle in a war that is no longer relevant is losing some of its resonance, especially as power-sharing in Northern Ireland is now a reality. I hope so.

I finished my afternoon with a fine pint in the Guest House ~ once it had finally opened. It's nice to get our pubs back.

* This is the title of an Al Stewart song from the 1972 album, 'Orange'.

Friday 10 July 2009

Singaround at the Ship Inn, Haskayne

Last night, I went to the Ship Inn in Haskayne for the first time since the pub reopened. There has been a singaround in this pub for many years, and it's nice to see it has begun again after the closure.

Thirst things first. There were three cask beers on: Southport Golden Sands, George Wright Blonde Moment and Springhead Surrender 1646. I like Golden Sands but concentrated on the other two, as I'd had neither of them before. The George Wright was much as you'd expect a blonde beer to be and was extremely drinkable. The Springhead was a complete contrast: a copper beer with a combination of hoppy bitterness and malt. All the beers were well kept, and Paul, the licensee, told me he wanted to concentrate on local brewers whenever he could.

The singaround was run on the usual lines of going around the room. There is a big range of styles and performances, including country, folk songs and tunes, and singer-songwriter material; the Beatles' Blackbird was played as a instrumental. This singaround is very informal and friendly, and is not at all daunting ~ to the extent that a man who hadn't intended to perform borrowed a guitar and gave us a version of John Martin's 'May You Never'. Performing is not compulsory; if you just want to listen, you're welcome to.

Paul told me that there are open mike nights in the Ship on Wednesday evenings; I must check them out as well.

The Ship is on Rosemary Lane just off the A5147, about 7 miles from Southport. (postcode: L39 7JP)

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Rockabye Sweet Baby James

I went to see James Taylor in the O2 on Monday. It was a brilliant night, he had a great band with wonderful backing singers, his voice as mellow as ever, and he showed a sense of humour that seemed slightly English on occasion. I also found out at last, after 35 years, what the song 'Sweet Baby James' is about. He played all the well-known songs his fans would expect, along with a selection of more recent material, including a pleasing cover of the old Jimmy Webb song, "Wichita Lineman", a song which, although I'm no country fan, I've always liked.

No real ale of course, as you'd expect. A bottle of Becks was £4 (I'm sure I could get a box of 12 for that in ASDA, not that I would ever want to) and the very cheapest wine was £17.50 a bottle ~ it looked like £3.99 supermarket plonk to me. So, I didn't bother with a drink, which improved my evening tremendously as I would have begrudged drinking disgusting booze at astronomical prices.

Once I had successfully ignored the bar, I had a great evening.

Saturday 4 July 2009

No more live music at the Falstaff

I mentioned a few days ago that the Falstaff does little to advertise its music nights, except to bury a mention of a band in an incredibly detailed newspaper advert, but no adverts in the pub or on its website. I've learned recently that the pub has decided to stop putting on live bands. It's a pity, but I'm not surprised really.

Thursday 2 July 2009

John Mayall ~ last of the summer blues?

Yesterday found four of us in a car heading to the Picturedrome in Holmfirth to see British blues legend, John Mayall. We first went into the Old Bridge Hotel next to the venue for some food and drink; Copper Dragon, Timothy Taylor's Best and Summer Wine Brewery Teleporter (5%) were a welcome sight. While we were there, the man himself with two of his band also came in for something to eat.

The venue is a former cinema as the name suggests with acceptable Taylor's Landlord on hand pump; it's a welcome change for a rock venue to have real ale. First up was a group from the Manchester area called Tantrum playing energetic blues rock at full tilt. They are an enthusiastic three piece (drums, bass, guitar), well worth seeing if you get the chance.

Then came the headliner: John Mayall announced his first song as one he had learned from Sonny Boy Williamson ~ high class name dropping. He also did songs by other blues greats, such as Freddy King and Albert King, as well as many of his own. His band are all Americans (and they all look less than half of his age) but still managed to produce that British blues sound, sometimes organ-driven, for which Mayall has been renowned for since the 1960s. As is always the case in John Mayall bands, they are all excellent musicians.

As I listened to one of his own songs, I was thinking that it quite experimental. It went down a storm, and Mayall said delightedly, "I thought that might be too jazzy for you guys." Another song was written after Mayall had dreamt about the blues greats and made a dreamy blue song out of it, complete with references to Robert Johnson and others. I was left thinking how versatile the blues format can be.

During the evening, Mayall played keyboard, guitar and a lot of blues harp. By the end, the crowd were shouting for more, and two encores ensued; for the second Mayall was on his own with just a keyboard. Technical problems caused him to disconnect the microphone and encourage the crowd to sing the chorus while he played. Audience participation thus took the night out.

Mayall is now 75, but played with unflagging enthusiasm and energy; there is no doubt he was thoroughly enjoying himself, as was the crowd, which included many who were too young to remember the Bluesbreakers in the 60s. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Licensees losing everything

The Morning Advertiser, the pub trade newspaper, is reporting that 117 licensees facing eviction have contacted the trade union Unite and Justice For Licensees in the last four weeks alone. The article is here. For many licensees, eviction is the final stage: they will at this point have lost their business, lost their savings, and finally in many cases are losing their home. While the political wheels move slowly, and we debate the causes on our blogs, ordinary hard-working people - many with families - are losing all hope and going to the wall.