Saturday 31 October 2009

Southport's Always Had Talent

The Falstaff pub, a taxi firm and our local free sheet are running a "Southport's Got Talent" competition. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, except I do wonder why we have to mimic a TV show before people realise that there is plenty of home-grown talent all around us.
There are two chances for local acoustic singers and musicians to perform in the next few days. On Monday 2nd November, there is a singaround in the Guest House in Union Street from around 8.00 pm. The Guest House has the best range of real ale of any pub in Southport, with up to 10 beers on at any time. Gail sometimes provides snacks; chip butties last time.

On Wednesday 4th, the Mason's on Anchor Street (behind the main post office on Lord Street) is the venue for a singaround, which also begins around 8-ish.  The pub likes to provide supper for all present. The Mason's is the only pub in Southport that serves Robinson's beers.

These singarounds are free and open to all, and performing is not compulsory; just sit and listen if you like. However, if you do want to sing and it's your first time, don't be nervous as it's all very informal: we just go around the room, rather than have a stage area.  The music is completely unplugged ~ no amplification at all.  Free local talent (don't take that the wrong way!) and good beer in comfortable, friendly pubs.  What else do you want for nothing?

The picture is The Guitar Player by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1672.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Music at the George

Tomorrow night will see another music night at the George Hotel in Southport, led by local rock band Blanket Apology, with other guest performers. Come along and support good local live music in a friendly pub. Free, and begins at around 8.30 p.m.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Singin' The Blues

Two blues gigs taking place soon on Merseyside. You don’t have to be a blues hound to enjoy these blues ~ accessible for all music lovers.

Bill Hackney (pictured), blues singer-guitarist from Southport’s Bothy Folk Club has a gig in Liverpool on Friday 6th November at the Liverpool Acoustic Blues Lounge. As well as playing blues old and new, Bill also loves the music of Bob Marley and will no doubt include a song or two from the great man in his set. Doors open at 8pm, and the music begins 8.30pm. £5-00. The venue is the 4th floor of the View 2 Gallery in Mathew Street, Liverpool, across the road from the Cavern and a couple of doors along from the Grapes pub. Nearest station: Moorfields (5-10 minutes walk).

Blues On The Rock presents special guests guitar/harmonica blues duo Barramacca on Sunday 8th November (1pm to 4pm). The venue is Fort Perch Rock (actually in the fort, worth a visit in itself), off the Promenade in New Brighton; easy to drive to with ample parking and about 10-15 minutes walk from the station. £5-00.

Your hosts at both these events are Liverpool-based blues duo Blue C, noted themselves for interpretations of traditional and modern blues as well as accomplished original material.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Save Our Pubs!

I have recently learned about a residents action group who are fighting to preserve the Hesketh Arms at Standish from being demolished and turned into a Wainhomes housing estate. They have successfully delayed demolition for a few months whilst the English Heritage group investigates the history of the site. The residents have traced the property back to 1756 from a map, but they believe it is a lot older. Stories are that it is at least 400 years old, but it is hard to find evidence as the census only came in at the end of the 1700's. Part of their campaign is a petition, which you can sign if you agree with the sentiments.  Incredibly, Wainhomes' slogan is "Building Britain's Heritage."

Fighting for your local is becoming a trend. The Southport Drinker has told us about the campaign to save the Becconsall in Hesketh Bank, which was also reported in the Southport Visiter in August, with an update here in October. And Tyson's beer blog reported a successful purchase of a charming-looking local in Salford by a consortium of residents, showing that these campaigns can work.

Such campaigns prove that pubs are not seen by the public just as retail outlets, like your local Tesco or Asda, but more as focal points of the community. The pub owners are happy to rake in the money that a community local can make, but it just becomes a property asset when developers come knocking. Good luck to the campaigners in both Hesketh Bank and Standish, and well done those in Salford, who have proved that grass roots action can get results.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Jazz nights move to the Shrimper

I have learned that the jazz nights at the Richmond have moved to the Shrimper in Fylde Road (PR9 9XP).  You can find details of forthcoming bands here, and I'll go on putting them in the What's On column to the left.  I've no idea why they have moved, but this jazz club does seem to lead a peripatetic existence; I think it's been based in the Hesketh and the Albert prior to the Richmond.  The Shrimper serves a well-kept pint of Tetley cask bitter, and good value food too.

Monday 19 October 2009

Liverpool Irish Festival

The 7th annual Liverpool Irish Festival is under way and runs to 1st November.  There is a large range of music and other cultural events, including music and song sessions in various Liverpool pubs, at least two of which, Peter Kavanagh's in Egerton Street and the Edinburgh in Sandown Lane, Wavertree, serve real ale.  You may have to settle for Guinness in other venues.  For the festival website, click on: Liverpool Irish Festival, and the programme can be downloaded here.

Saturday 17 October 2009

We're on the move...

The announcement that Newcastle Brown Ale production is to be transferred to the John Smith's brewery in Tadcaster will no doubt cause a lot of dismay in the North East. It seems bizarre that a beer that is so closely associated with Geordie Land will now come from Yorkshire, but regrettably such moves are nothing new. Geordies will already have seen production move to Gateshead in 2005, but at least they could console themselves that it was in the same area, cross-Tyne rivalry notwithstanding. Newcastle Brown isn't a real ale, of course, and has been for me a beer to fall back upon - along with Guinness - if I found myself in a pub or bar with no real ale, but I suspect a lot of people will be upset on Tyneside.

At the CAMRA conference in Eastbourne this year, delegates from Leeds were genuinely mourning the announcement of the closure of the Tetley Brewery, with production due to be transferred to Northampton. Tetley used to be brewed in Warrington as well, and drinkers who regarded themselves as discerning always claimed that it wasn't as good as the Leeds Tetley. I have to admit that the two brews tasted very similar to me, with the Leeds version sometimes having a slight edge, perhaps, but I did feel that when the Warrington brewery was closed down and production moved to Leeds, the taste of Tetley Bitter declined so that - in my view - it was far worse than both previous versions. I will try the Northampton Tetley when it becomes available with interest, but I don't expect any improvement. At the Southport Beer Festival, you could actually get Tetley Bitter free using tokens printed in the local paper. Despite this, Tetley Bitter was the only cask with any substantial amount of beer left. It says it all, really ~ you can't even give it away.

The most notorious example locally of wandering beer was of course Higson's of Liverpool. The brewery was taken over by Boddington's of Manchester in 1985. They sold it to Whitbread in 1990, who closed it shortly afterwards. Production was moved the Hillsborough brewery in Sheffield and, when that closed, to Castle Eden in County Durham ~ a long way from its Merseyside origins. Production finally ceased in 1999, by which time the beer bore absolutely no resemblance to the original.

There are many more examples. Some drinkers, myself among them, believe that Young's beers have suffered from the move from the historic Ram brewery in Wandsworth after the merger with Wells. Other examples of peripatetic beers  include Ruddles, Old Speckled Hen, Ind Coope Burton, Bass, Courage Directors ~ the list goes on. While some of these are still drinkable, none is as good as (and often bears little resemblance to) its original form. In fact, I can't think of any beer from a big brewery that has been uprooted and moved elsewhere without a loss in quality. Geordies should enjoy their brew before its taste wanders into history.

As a footnote, after the failure of the recent relaunch of Higson’s, drinkers who remember the original with fondness may wish to know that the Liverpool Organic Brewery is working on a new Higson's brew.

Friday 16 October 2009

Drinking in Scotland Road

Ales from the crypt Last night I went to St Anthony's Church in Scotland Road, Liverpool. No, I haven't seen the light ~ I was drinking in the crypt at their Oktoberfest. There were 29 beers and 4 ciders available in the crypt, which is a very atmospheric place for an evening out. 19th century plaques show where former parishioners lay interred and the ceiling is barrel-vaulted; I was told that scenes from a supernatural BBC drama starring Martin Shaw were shot here.

There were 2 bars, one for local beers and the other for the rest of the country. There were 8 beers from Liverpool Organic Brewery, and quite a varied bunch they were: 24 carat is a light dry beer, the best seller, apparently. Also there was Shipwreck, described as a true IPA, and deceptive in that it didn't taste like a 6.5% beer. Mordue All Hallows was a dark beer that had none of the excessive heaviness that some such do. I also enjoyed the Triple FFF Stairway To Heaven. Betwitxt Storr is called a lager, and was very drinkable, but I must admit to a general difficulty in distinguishing the cask lager style from the golden ale style.

This unique little festival runs until Saturday. Tickets £5 per session from Lion Tavern, the Belvedere or the Church Office 0151 207 0177.

From the Liverpool Mercury 4th October 1833:  The crypt beneath the chapel is deep and allotted for vaults, so constructed as to form a cemetery; each vault is calculated to receive a single coffin ; and they are built in rows and tiers, each tier containing five vaults; these rows are intersected with passages and each passage has a corresponding window. Over each of these vaults there is a separate arch of brick-work, so that the coffins placed in them do not rest upon another. The mouth of each vault, as soon as a coffin is received within it will be closed with brick-work , or with a slab of stone on which will be inscribed the epitaph of the person who lies there interred.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Beers in Liverpool & Churchtown

I was in Liverpool for a meeting yesterday and, having an hour to spare, decided to visit a couple of pubs, as you do. First was the Globe opposite Central Station. There was steady late afternoon custom with locals mostly, and a nice comfortable atmosphere ~ I have written about this great pub before. There were four beers on: Copper Dragon Challenger IPA, Sharps Cornish Coaster, bitters from Cain’s & Black Sheep and Weston's Scrumpy. I had the Sharps, as it's the only one I hadn't tried before. A pleasant 3.6% beer, light in colour and flavour. While I quite liked it, it's not one I would seek out. I do like Copper Dragon IPA, but had decided to move on.

I next went to the Swan in Wood Street, a rock pub since the 1970s. It's actually an unremarkable pub when not busy, as on this occasion, but has tremendous atmosphere later in the evening when it's busy and the juke box is blaring out. When I arrived Ozzy Osbourne was singing "So Tired" on the jukebox, which then fell silent. Seven of the nine hand pumps were on with 6 beers and Weston's Scrumpy; several of the beers were unfamiliar to me. I tried Cottage Fifteen Guinea Special, another light coloured beer, but at 4.7% with more body than the Sharps: I quite liked it but thought it needed to be cooler. However, I'd suggest visiting this pub when it's rocking, later in the evening.

After the meeting, I caught the train to Southport and then the bus to Churchtown, a picturesque urban village north of the town centre. I was going to a CAMRA meeting in the Bold Arms (pictured), which is an old pub going back around 400 years, if not more; it has 4 or 5 drinking areas, with various nooks and crannies. In addition to Tetley Bitter and Mild, there were two guests: Celt Native Storm 4.4% and Wooden Hand Brixham Buccaneer 4.3%. The Wooden Hand was not bad, but I much preferred the Celt, a nice light-coloured, full-flavoured beer, dry but not astringent.

I don't get to the Bold that often as it's out of my way, but the beers I tried were on good form. Although I didn't try it, Tetley Mild features here, a beer that is becoming harder to find and which is - in my opinion - much better than Tetley Bitter.

All in all, a pleasant little exploration of pubs and beers in two quite separate parts of Merseyside.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Cask beer sales up ~ especially to women

Sales of real ale, or cask beer if you prefer, have increased by 1% over the last year, according to the annual Cask Report. This is a modest rise but, as the preamble to the report says, "Over the last few years, cask beer has seen a remarkable turnaround. It's now outperforming every other beer style, benefiting from the increasing demand for products with local provenance, natural ingredients and interesting flavours."

The report states that the number of women who say they drink real ale has doubled, but many women commented that they have been put off trying real ale because of the negative, macho image it often has. Brewers who feel their pump clips should look like pictures from Loaded with silly sexist names to match should perhaps consider how they may be losing sales.

If you haven't time to read the whole document, BBC News summarises it here.

Friday 9 October 2009

Baron's Bar Oktoberfest

The Baron's Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel is currently holding a beer festival on the theme of English versus Scottish beers.  I was there last night for the opening night and listended to Patsy from the excellent Wigan micro-brewery Prospect talking about her brewery and how she went from being involved in nursery education to brewing.  The beers are not all on at once (not enough handpumps), but even so I was surprised that there wasn't even one Prospect beer on, in view of Patsy being there, and the fact that there are several Prospect beers lined up for later in the festival.

Among the beers that were on, I had Harviestoun Hoptoberfest, a light-coloured 4% beer that I found very pleasant. I also had a Brentwood Hope & Glory, a beer that was malty but not especially sweet that I couldn't take to.  The best beer I tried was undoubtedly Orkney Dark Island, a fine dark beer that I stuck with all night, to the surprise of my drinking companion who is used to see me drinking paler beers.  I noticed there were three real ciders on, although I didn't try any on this occasion, as I'm not keen on mixing cider with beer.

This festival runs until Monday 12 October. If you have any outdated illusions about Scottish beers being thin, sweet and malty, come along and be prepared for a pleasant surprise.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Meet the Brewer

Patsy from the excellent Prospect Brewery of Wigan will give a presentation at 7.00 pm in the Baron's Bar this evening.  The Baron's is in the Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street.

The Baron's beer festival begins on the same day.

Update: Prospect Silver Tally has come second in the Champion Beer of Greater Manchester awards.  I have written in praise of this beer before.  This micro-brewery just keeps winning awards.  Tandleman gives more more details here.

Tuesday 6 October 2009


Lindisfarne & Jack the Lad singer BILLY MITCHELL and BOB FOX, famous for his duos with Tom McConville and later with Stu Luckley, have teamed up. You can see this inspired partnership on Wednesday 7th October at the 3 Monkeys Folk Club, Mount Pleasant Pub, Manchester Road, Southport, PR9 9BD.

Doors: 7.30 pm. Tickets: £10 on the door.
Info: 07801 849635.

Probably your only chance to see these consummate artists together in Southport.

Sunday 4 October 2009

First Monday singaround

A reminder that the free Guest House singaround on the 1st Monday of the month will take place tomorrow (Monday) evening, from around 8.30 pm.  The singaround is open to all, and performing is, of course, optional.  As regulars will know, this Good Beer Guide pub serves up to 10 real ales.  I hope to see you there.
The music session on the 3rd Monday in the Guest House will take place as usual.

Hopping for the best:
I usually switch off when Radio 4's Food Programme comes on but today it was about hops.  They spoke to people from Shepherd Neame and BrewDog, and had Roger Protz, Good Beer Guide editor, in the studio.  Towards the end there was a tasting of beers from BrewDog and Meantime brewery, with some of the pretentious descriptions that people like to invest the simple process of drinking beer with, but don't let that put you off.  It's repeated on Monday at 4.00 pm and then will be on BBC iPlayer.  Definitely worth listening to.

Friday 2 October 2009

Liverpool Delta Blues

Tom Doughty is a superb lap slide guitar player; I have seen him at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport on several occasions (blues have always featured at the Bothy). He is on in Liverpool tonight in the new Liverpool Acoustic Blues Lounge, which is hosted by local blues duo, Blue C.  The venue, View Two Gallery, is in the legendary Mathew Street on the opposite side from the Cavern, and just two or three doors along from the Grapes pub where The Beatles used to drink.

It's only a few minutes walk from Moorfields Station.  Highly recommended.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Take It To The Top

I wrote a few days ago about the British Medical Association's recent calls for further increases in alcohol taxation and a reduction in pub opening hours.  I am certain that these proposals will do nothing to combat binge drinking and alcoholism, and will instead penalise social drinkers and force pubs out of business.  CAMRA has set up a petition to Number 10 calling on the Prime Minister to reject the British Medical Association's proposals.  If you agree, you can sign it here.

There's Hope For Cider Yet

Real cider and perry isn't seen often on Merseyside, so this is a rare opportunity for lovers of fermented pears and apples.  For more details, go to the cider festival webpage on the Liverpool CAMRA website.  And beer drinkers beware: it might seem inoffensive when you drink it, but this stuff can blow your brains out if you're not careful.  Take it easy and you'll enjoy it a lot more. I speak from experience.