Monday 31 August 2009

Whitby pubs

Whitby is a lovely town and has some charming pubs serving real ales to match. On the Tuesday of folk week we went on a pub crawl. I didn't take any notes during the week and cannot remember all the beers we had.

The crawl began at the Elsinore on Flowergate. This is a small, friendly one-roomed local that welcomes folkies and also Goths during their weekends. The cask beers on offer were Cameron's Strongarm and bitters from John Smith's and Tetley. At £2-52 a pint, the Strongarm was one of the cheapest pints in Whitby.

Next was the Little Angel across the road with a couple of real ales, one of which was Adnams. This pleasant little pub is worth a visit.

The Station Inn (formerly Tap & Spile) was next. This had eight real ales on, including Daleside Blonde, Copper Dragon IPA, Cumberland, Sharps Doom Bar, Whitby Black Dog (sadly no longer brewed in the town). I liked the Daleside and the Copper Dragon the best.

Crossing the river, we went to the Black Horse on Church Street. This is an unaltered narrow 2-roomed pub, but I can't recall what the 3 beers were. A quaint old pub, though.

Along the road is the Duke of York with 3 or 4 beers,the best of which was Copper Dragon, but it also had Deuchars and Bombadier. This pub is good for food; my favourite was the steak and ale pie. There are tables that have fine views over Whitby harbour; it's nice to sit there with a decent pint and a meal watching the sun set over the harbour.

Our final pub was the Shambles by the market square. This is a new pub, opened only a few years ago in a former Burberry factory building. It is spacious with great harbour views and it serves Theakson's beers and Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and IPA. This pub also does food; I haven't eaten there, but have been told it is good. The picture of the piers and lighthouses was taken from a window in this pub.

Other good pubs, but not on the crawl, are the Endeavour which had a changing range of 6 real ales during folk week, and further down the road the Middle Earth, which had Copper Dragon, but unfortunately ran out of real ale during the week; they must have underestimated the demand.

Being from the North West, I found the prices rather steep: in Whitby, I was paying £2-80 to £3-00 for beers I would normally pay around £2-30 to £2-50 in Southport. Two Sam Smiths pubs, the Plough and the Jolly Sailors, had Old Brewery Bitter for under £2-00, but owing to the eccentricity of the brewery, there can be no music in these pubs as they refused on principle to buy the new-style licences 2 or 3 years ago. I don't understand a principle that turned the Plough from a large pub that was heaving during the 7 days of folk week with music sessions in 3 separate rooms and another in the large back yard, weather permitting, to one that looked almost deserted most of the time. Doesn't Sam Smiths want to make money?

I'm not sure what the beer ranges would be like out of season. However, prices notwithstanding, I like the pubs in Whitby and found the beers were generally well looked after; I would recommend a visit to this picturesque town to anyone.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Whitby Folk Week

This week-long folk festival crams around 600 events into 7 days. Needless to say, when there's folk, there's real ale as well; I'll do a separate posting on the pubs and beer tomorrow.

This year, Folk Week coincided with the Whitby Regatta which took place over the first weekend and meant the town was filled to bursting with very diverse groups of people. The fireworks display on the east pier on Monday at the end of the regatta was quite spectacular.

My folk week included watching various kinds of traditional dance displays (the picture shows Jet Set Border Morris), some concerts, pub music sessions and singarounds, and the launch of the Lunchtime Legends CD, Daze, on Wednesday.

To those who think traditional dance consists only of bells & hankies, you couldn't be more wrong: clog, sword, Irish, Appalachian, North West, and rapper were just some of the styles I saw during the week. The Newcastle Kingsman impressed a lot of people with their humour as much as their skill: they're a young team of students and graduates dancing rapper, which is "... a fast traditional English dance [from] Northumberland and Durham involving five people connected by short, two-handled, flexible swords (called rappers) forming a chain. Without breaking this chain the dancers weave in and out of one another twisting the swords to form locks and breastplates, sometimes even jumping or somersaulting over the swords." So now you know.

Performers I saw included: Bryony, a female trio singing intricate harmonies of mostly traditional material; Strawhead, a male trio who sing otherwise forgotten songs from the 16th to 19th centuries on a huge range of topics, often introduced by Greg Butler's humorous take on events in our history; Tich Frier, an endearing Scot with a great sense of humour, a fine singing voice and a great range of material from trad & Burns to modern songs; Kerr Fagan Harbron, a group of young singers and musicians who take their music from English, Irish, Australian and American traditions; plus too many others to list. Suffice to say I didn't see a bad performance all week.

Our CD launch filled out the Elsinore, a small pub on Flowergate, and was opened by festival guest, Jez Lowe, a great singer songwriter from the North East, who showed his rock & roll roots with a set including Get Back and House of the Rising Sun. We did 3 sets, ending with Hi Ho Silver Lining, which as ever raised the roof wonderfully. We also sold a few CDs.

Spontaneous pub sessions are a feature of folk week, and I particularly enjoyed an afternoon playing with other singers and musicians in the Elsinore, including a young man just up for the day whose guitar style was tremendous. The songs ranged from Steve Earle, Steely Dan, Al Stewart, Johnny Cash & others, to traditional songs and tunes.

Wednesday night is always rock & roll night with Shagpile, a group led by veteran folk singer Dave Burland that attracts a huge range of punters from some old hippies who can show everyone how to jive properly to young kids who make up their own rock & roll dances or just conga around the hall. Unmissable for many of us.

I didn't get to any of the many workshops and ceilidh dances that took place every day throughout the week, but they're there for those who want them. My folk week ended on Friday night listening to musicians in the Station Inn until closing time at 2 a.m. We had to be out of our flat by 10 a.m. on Saturday, and I made it ... just.

Saturday 29 August 2009

Drinkers Just Want To Have Fun

Beer blogger, the Pub Curmudgeon, has come across this piece of research from Norway that shows that non-drinkers are more likely to face mental health problems and lack social skills. This is a refreshing dose of common sense in view of much of the dodgy anti-alcohol "research" and propaganda that is being used to justify unreasonable tax increases whereby the Government by its own admission wants to price alcohol beyond the means of all but the wealthy.

Such price rationing is a poll tax on drinkers; now we can see that it is also an enforced negative therapy that will reduce our happiness and well-being ~ and we won't be able to afford to cheer ourselves up by drowning our sorrows.

The Elsinore, Whitby

This pub is where I have spent much of the last week (which was Whitby Folk Week) drinking Cameron's Strongarm, playing guitar and on Wednesday, launching our new CD, Daze. The other 2 real ales were Tetley's Bitter and John Smith's Cask~ I drank neither.

More details in another posting.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Well, fancy that!

Let this be a warning!

Helping at a beer festival

Working at a beer festival can be good fun. You can try different beers in moderation, meet different people among both staff and customers, and help popularise real ale at the same time. Beer festivals are sociable places where there is rarely any trouble, despite the numbers of drinkers, because people are generally there to enjoy different beers, not to get plastered.

The Sandgrounder beer festival takes place in Southport Arts Centre from 10th to 12th September, and although a lot of people have volunteered, more help would be very welcome. For insurance reasons, only CAMRA members can work there. There is a variety of tasks; contact the staffing officer Mike Perkins at to discuss what you can do to help, as there's more to running a beer festival than just pulling pints. If you wish to volunteer, fill in a staffing form and e-mail it to Mike. Even if you can help for only one session, that will be useful.

Go on ~ do something different.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

The Sir Henry Segrave

Now, that's better!
Last night I was in the Sir Henry Segrave, a Wetherspoon house on Lord Street, for the Southport CAMRA beer festival planning meeting. The pub is named after Sir Henry Segrave who, in 1926, raised the land-speed record to 152mph in his 33hp 4.5-litre Sunbeam Ladybird, on Southport’s Birkdale Sands.

Considering how unimpressed I was with this pub the last time I visited, I am pleased to report that it has been transformed by the new licensee who took over fairly recently. There were 12 real ales on, and I managed to get through six. I checked on the usual Wetherspoon trick of having the pump clips facing the customer whether or not the beer was on. It did not apply here ~ all the beers were actually on. In addition to the usual suspects (Pedigree, Abbott and Ruddles Best) there were beers from Saltaire, Titanic, Hawkshead, two from George Wright, two from Moorhouses, and two from Phoenix. All the ones I had were definitely in good nick. Too much choice!

It's a pleasure to withdraw my previous criticisms of this pub and state that it is now definitely well worth visiting.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Guest House Music Session

This was quite well attended as usual, with a mixture of drinkers/audience and musicians. It was good to see and hear Colin, a friend who is folk singer from Liverpool, and also Clare, a student in Liverpool, whom I didn't hear sing, which is a pity as she is a lovely singer of traditional songs. The evening is mostly traditional tunes performed on a variety of instruments, although I finished the night off with "Won't Get Fooled Again" on 12-string guitar, accompanied by Les on accordion.

There were nine beers on when I arrived, and I began with Davenports Heatwave, which I thought unremarkable. Micro-brewers have successfully developed the golden ale style in recent years, and there seems to be a tendency among other brewers to jump on the bandwagon by producing their own slightly insipid versions ~ missed opportunities, in my view. Guzzle from York Brewery was quite enjoyable, with more flavour than I expect from a 3.6% beer. The Allgates 5% Pale Ale was a pleasant surprise, as I'm not always keen on Allgates beers, but the Hopback Summer Lightning was better.

All the beers were as usual well-kept, so all in all a good night for music and beer.

Monday 17 August 2009

More In Sorrow Than In Anger

As a CAMRA member, I have just received a copy of the nominations for the awards to be made at the Southport CAMRA beer festival and was surprised to see that the Guest House, a pub that regularly serves up to eleven real ales from various breweries, was not among the nominees. The Guest House is a fine community pub that has regulars who have been going there for 30 or even 40 years, but it is also sometimes on the circuit of younger drinkers on their pub tours. You also see couples having a quiet drink together ~ it is a mixed clientele. Since the current licensee Gail Heyes took over, the gender balance has has slipped away from the male-dominated pub that it once was to become more representative of the population at large. I remember when I first went into the pub in 1974, the room on the right as you entered had a sign stating, "Gentleman Only." I never entered that room until the Sex Discrimination Act made the sign unlawful; my brother, perhaps more principled than me, boycotted the pub entirely.

That is all in the past now, and I would argue that the Guest House is a leading pub in Southport. Once a month (on the evening of the 3rd Monday of the month) there is a free music session when local folk musicians come along and provide entertainment, not for money, but just for the love of playing. Additionally, a singaround on the first Monday evening will begin on 7 September.

Unfortunately, some CAMRA meetings clash with my music nights so I wasn't there when these nominations were made. I know that a lot of CAMRA members who perhaps don't attend meetings regularly agree with me about the Guest House. You can vote for pubs that haven't been nominated ~ I urge you to do so if like me you consider the Guest House deserves recognition. For a Good Beer Guide pub to receive no nomination is bizarre, especially after the fiasco when the local CAMRA branch (my branch!) forgot to include the pub in the Good Beer Guide a couple of years ago, even though it had been voted in. I have to advise some of my fellow CAMRA members that there are some drinkers, including other members, who are regarding this omission as deliberate. I don't think it is, but am less certain than I was. If you are a CAMRA member and agree with me and want to vote for the Guest House, contact Mike Perkins straight away, as the deadline is Tuesday 18 August.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Swiggin' In Wigan

On Friday, I went for a drink in Wigan with my young friend Helen, a fellow trade unionist until I succeeded in escaping last year. Helen joined CAMRA at the Wigan Beer Festival earlier this year, but tends to prefer cider to ale. Our first drink was in the Berkeley, a pleasant,comfortable pub just across the road from the railway station, and the beer was a rather nice Prospect golden ale, the exact name of which has slipped my mind. Prospect beers are usually worth seeking out.

A few minutes walk away down a side street and scarcely visible from the main road is the John Bull, a rock pub with an excellent juke box, and serving 3 Thwaites beers, Original, Wainwright and Bomber. The Wainwright seemed a little insipid to me, so I stuck with the Bomber. I didn't get around to trying the Original. We met some other reps there on their Friday night out. A great pub, but with my hearing being what it is due to too much heavy rock in the 1980s, I found conversing difficult.

The final pub was the Anvil, a pub that has won many awards from the local CAMRA branch. There was a selection of golden ales: Banks & Taylor Golden Fox, Northumberland Jolly Rogers Ale and Bad Ass True Blonde cask lager. All were pleasant but tended to taste much of a muchness to me.

There are other good pubs in Wigan, which is well worth a trip out for a change of scenery and a few different beers. I intend to publish a proper pub crawl of Wigan some time in the Southport CAMRA magazine, Ale and Hearty, but as a starter these three pubs are worth trying.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Lunchtime Legends New EP

My West Coast band (from West Lancs and Merseyside), the Lunchtime Legends, will be performing our fab new EP, “Daze”, in the Elsinore, Whitby in Yorkshire on Wednesday 26 August ~ at lunchtime, of course. This is our 6th release, and our first on Boozaphone, a subsidiary of Cock Robin Music who have issued all our previous 5 albums since 1995. If you’re in the area, please come and see us. Otherwise keep an eye on this blog for our next gig in the Southport area

“Daze” features the following classic songs:
1. Days.
2. True Love Ways.
3. Saturday Night At The Movies.
4. Terry.
5. Runaway.
6. You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.

It features Chris Harvey on keyboards, Candy Rell on vocals, Clive Pownceby on drums and me on vocals and guitar. It's only rock & roll, but we like it.

£5 [plus £1 P&P if by post]. For more details, e-mail

Wednesday 12 August 2009

PubCos Won't Stock Local Beer

Shock story in local press!!

Southport's Midweek Visiter has published a front page article on how Pub Companies won't allow their pubs to stock the award winning local beer, Golden Sands. It may be the top Best Bitter in the land, but PubCos don't want to know. While I welcome the Visiter publicising this real problem, I was disappointed to see that they hadn't attempted any investigative journalism by phoning a PubCo or two to ask them for an explanation.

But, to be fair, the Visiter did list venues where Southport Brewery beers are often on: the Guest House [Union Street], the Baron's Bar [Lord Street], Southport FC, Southport & Birkdale Cricket Club, Ainsdale Sports Club and Ainsdale Tory Club. You will notice there are more clubs in this list than pubs.

More generally, CAMRA recently exercised its 'super-complainant' status to require the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) urgently to look at practices in the UK pub market that cause high prices, restricted choice and pub closures. CAMRA wants tied pub licensees to be able to sell a guest real ale of their choice, not just those in the PubCos' own portfolio. If this were accepted, local pubs that wanted to sell our local beers would be legally allowed to do so.

Sunday 9 August 2009

Golden Sands at the Guest House

I went to the Guest House last night and saw the prize-winning Golden Sands was on. It is golden as the name suggests and quite a dry-tasting beer ~ definitely moreish. Word has got around about the beer's award at the Great British Beer Festival and it was disappearing quickly. I stuck with it all evening.

I received an e-mail today from Paul Bardsley, owner of Southport Brewery, asking me what he had won; he didn't know as he is New Zealand on holiday. Naturally I told him straight away and forwarded him a link to an article in the Southport Visiter about the award. The article also mentions the Lancashire Heroes off licence on Shakespeare Street run by brother John Bardsley and the new Inn Beer Shop on Lord Street run by another brother, Pete Bardsley. Quite an alcoholic dynasty.

Someone sent me a mistyped e-mail arranging to meet me in the Guest House, so my friend Pete has appropriately photoshopped the pub's sign.

Friday 7 August 2009

The Price Of Booze

Earlier this year, the Scottish government proposed a minimum price for alcohol, and Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, has called for a 50p per unit minimum price for England. Some beer campaigners have seized on this proposal as a way of redressing the imbalance between pub and off trade prices and thereby helping pubs. At first glance, it seems an attractive idea, as a minimum price of 50p per unit will not affect pub prices at all, but will narrow the gap between pub and supermarket prices. I consider it a mistake for pub-goers to support this suggestion.

Firstly, do we want the government to dictate to businesses how much to charge for their products and services? If so, we would be taking the first steps away from a market economy to a central command economy. This would perhaps be welcomed by some on the left, but that doesn't include a socialist like me, especially as the politicians who would implement such a measure have shown a singular inability to run a capitalist economy, so I'd rather not let them loose on a command one. A true socialist economy would be structured to include as many people as people, and not, as with price rationing, exclude everyone except the well-off. Besides, the historical record of command economies so far does not inspire me with confidence. If, unlike me, you are a supporter of the free market economy, you cannot logically support government price controls.

Secondly, it would be the thin edge of the wedge. Once a minimum price has been established, there would be nothing to stop politicians increasing the price until it does begin to impact upon pubs, all in the name of health and public order, of course. In fact, I'd be astonished if that didn't happen. Minimum pricing is a two-edged sword.

Thirdly, a minimum price will impact on people who can't afford pubs or whose circumstances restrict them going out. A single parent interviewed on Radio 4 news said that she'd love to be able to meet her friends in the pub, but she couldn't, partly because of the prices, but also partly because she had to look after her children. Instead, she sometimes had a couple of drinks at home, but felt that minimum pricing would deny her even that small pleasure. Are we entitled to do that?

The problem with pub prices is caused by a mixture of factors: the tax escalator, greedy Pub Cos and supermarket prices. I consider the first two are the biggest causes of the problem, and that increasing supermarket sales are the consequence. Everyone knows and expects that eating and drinking out will be dearer than at home, but the we're now in the position that the differential is becoming too great for many people to afford. That's why pubs are struggling and closing. Making off sales more expensive will not make pubs cheaper: if you can't afford to go to the pub when there's no minimum price, you won't be able to if there is one.

Supporters of real ale and pubs should steer clear of minimum pricing for alcohol: there's too little to be gained and too much to risk losing.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Decriminalise Live Music

The music licensing laws are a ridiculous bureaucratic farce that could only have been dreamt up by someone whose idea of live music is karaoke in a trendy wine bar favoured by footballers ~ my idea of a hellish night out. We do not need costly, restrictive Licensing Act legislation to "combat disorder" at folk clubs, pubs, etc.

The LibDems have proposed a Live Music Bill, which will exempt venues with a capacity of less than 200 from music licensing, exempt performances by two musicians or less and ban the Form 696. The Bill has passed its first reading and will be debated later this year. Please support this Bill by signing the No 10 Petition ~ to do so, click here.

The petition reads: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop criminalising live music with the Licensing Act, and to support amendments backed by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and the music industry, which would exempt most small-scale performances in schools, hospitals, restaurants and licensed premises."

Wednesday 5 August 2009

CAMRA reaches 100,000 members

The Campaign for Real Ale - an organisation reviled by some beer bloggers for not doing what they want, as opposed to what its own members want - has reached a milestone with 100,000 members. Whatever CAMRA's faults are, and no thinking member would pretend it's perfect, it must be doing something right. I have read a number of criticisms of CAMRA, some well thought out, others just ignorant or prejudiced, but none has persuaded me to relinquish my membership. I spoke at this year's AGM in Eastbourne on the losing side of a vote, but that's democracy for you ~ accepting that not everything will go exactly as you want it to.

CAMRA research has thrown up some interesting facts:
* 50% of all adult drinkers have now tried real ale, compared to 35% in 2008
* 67% of male drinkers have now tried real ale, compared to 50% in 2008
* 30% of women drinkers have now tried real ale, compared to 16% in 2008

Amongst those who try real ale, 40% convert to drinking it afterwards, and 64% tried a beer brewed in their local area. This explains why the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has reported a 7% volume growth for local brewers in each of the last two years. There are now over 670 brewers in Britain, more than at any time since the Second World War.

I don't think our favourite drink is dying just yet, despite the best efforts of the Chancellor, PubCos and supermarkets. In the meanwhile, well done CAMRA!

Southport Brewery wins Great British Beer Festival Award

I have just heard that Southport Brewery's Golden Sands has won the Gold in the Best Bitter category at CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival in Earls Court, London, the biggest beer festival in Britain.

This is a fine accolade for a beer that I have loved since I first tasted it. Congratulations to Paul Bardsley for this tremendous achievement. Southport beers just seem to go down well wherever they're sold: for example, Golden Sands was the first to sell out at the Wigan Beer Festival, as I reported in March this year. No holidays for Paul and Elaine for the next few months, I suspect...

Post script: for a complete list all of the winners, go to the CAMRA website.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Warwick Folk Festival

Last weekend I was at Warwick for the annual folk festival. This takes place in the grounds of Warwick School, apparently the oldest boys school in the country. A large marquee housed the main stage, while other events took place in the school or in the town itself, about a mile walk away. There is also a real ale tent which featured a lot of Church End brewery beers, unsurprising as they are one of the sponsors of the festival, as well as stalwarts like Old Hooky and Landlord. The beer was as well-kept as you could expect in a marquee in summer, and much better than many festivals.

Musical highlights included seeing Eric Bogle, writer of "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and "No Man's Land", songs I have often heard massacred at folk sessions, on his extensive final tour of Britain, Ireland and Canada. Kate Rusby was less fey than usual, being 7 months pregnant, but her show was much as you'd expect ~ a range of songs sung in her trade mark plaintive style. Tom Lewis sings nautical songs with a conviction derived from 24 years in the navy, unlike many singers of sea songs. I also enjoyed the French Canadian group, Le Vent Du Nord, Australian Martin Pearson, the Wilsons, and Keith Donnelly who rose to the challenge of his set being doubled in length with no notice, and kept everyone in stitches nonetheless.

I saw quite a few young acts, and I think Rosie Doonan and the Snapdragons and Isambarde were possible among my favourites. The much-hyped Jim Moray was competent and had some interesting arrangements, but ultimately left me uninvolved. The Kel Elliot Band played in a bluesy jazz style that had little to do with folk; she sings, plays double bass and writes much of her own material, but also included jazzy interpretations of pop songs, such as the Acrtic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor."

There were various folk dance sides - Cortswold, Border, North West - but the most unusual was Barefoot Bellydance, whom I saw them in the street outside the Zetland pub, which sold only Pedigree and Broadside, neither in any way local, and at £2.95 a pint, rather dear. I also liked the the Soft Option Appalachian dancers, who were high kicking and stepping to the sound of bluegrass fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar.

It was cracking the flags on Saturday but cool and drizzly all day Sunday ~ typical English summer. A great weekend, and I doubt I'll leave another 7 years until my next visit.