Sunday 29 November 2009

Dean Johnson live in Liverpool

Dean Johnson has been described as "the best songwriter in Liverpool today" by no less a person than Radio Merseyside's Spencer Leigh, who certainly knows a thing or two.  Dean hit the news recently when he was asked to complete a fragment of a George Harrison song, "Silence Is Its Own Reply."  His completed version of the song has been generally well received. I think it's excellent and I can't see the join between the two songwriters' words.  You can hear it on YouTube, and also (even better) live in Liverpool next Friday.

Dean will be appearing at the Liverpool Acoustic Blues Lounge, which is hosted by local blues duo, Blue C.  The gig is this Friday, 4th December (doors 8pm ~ music 8.30pm prompt) in the View Two Gallery (top floor), Mathew Street, Liverpool.  This is likely to be a popular event.  Enquiries:  0151 709 5484 or e-mail Blue C.

If you're unsure where Mathew Street is, click on the map below to see a larger printable version.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Smoking in pubs

I’ve read many comments about the ban on smoking inside pubs and it’s clear to me that it’s widely blamed for the ills that currently beset the pub trade. Some people expect non-smoking drinkers to follow the line of opposing the ban because similar tactics are now being deployed against drinking; the thinking being along the lines of: “First they came for the smokers, but I did nothing as I was not a smoker.” The situation is not as simple as that.

In no particular order, the causes of problems for pubs include:
  • Beer taxes rising by more than the rate of inflation. 
  • Pub companies overcharging their tenants for rent and supplies (including drinks).
  • Falling beer sales overall (except for real ale ~ just).
  • Cut-price drink in supermarkets.
  • Sophisticated home entertainment systems.
  • Changes in drinking habits, with young people increasingly going to their preferred bars and clubs, and less to what they call “old men’s” pubs.
  • More choices of places to drink, such as bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs.
  • The recession, leaving people with less cash and either unemployed or worried they might be.
  • Rising costs for brewers (e.g. raw materials) and pubs (e.g. utility bills).
  • The smoking ban.
  • Tougher drink-drive enforcement.
Yes, the smoking ban is definitely a factor, but only one of many.

I have been accused of being anti-smoking. I’m not, but I don’t like the effect a smoky environment has on my sinuses and contact lenses, and I don’t like smelling like an ashtray afterwards. With the ban, smokers are obliged to stroll a few feet out of the door where they can smoke to their heart’s content. I think it’s obvious which is the biggest imposition.

So, my attitude to smoking is simple: I don’t mind you smoking, but I don’t want to share your habit, thank you.

There are usually only two solutions offered: ventilation systems, or go somewhere else. I have yet to experience an effective pub ventilation system that can cope with the smoke on a busy night when the doors are shut and fresh air can’t blow in. Even with the doors open they’re often inadequate. At best they can only reduce the amount of smoke, and at worst do nothing except add to the noise levels ~ they never clear the air. As for saying go somewhere else, that’s just a dog in the manger attitude.

I used to favour the separate smoking room option, which was CAMRA’s policy too, but as one licensee pointed out to me, the primary purpose of the ban was the health and safety of staff, who would still have to enter the room to collect glasses, empty ash trays, clean the room and tidy up. As a former union health and safety rep, I realised that there wasn’t a compromise option that didn’t leave pub staff exposed to a health risk.

In the modern world of work, preventable risks have to be addressed or there may be consequences. If you’re not persuaded, then consider how many people have successfully sued for compensation for asbestos exposures that occurred decades ago. Continuing to allow employees to work with an identified, preventable health risk would be gambling that there won’t be mass litigation in the future. Far fetched? That’s probably what asbestos manufacturers would have said in the 1960s.

I believe there’s little chance of this ban being amended, so those of us who wish to go to the pub are stuck with it, whether we like it or not. Let’s just get on with it.

Friday 27 November 2009

Rock at the George

Local rock guitarist Mick Cooper is running another of his music nights next week at the George (corner of Cemetery Road and Duke Street).  His band will be playing, although I'm not sure under which name, as Mick plays with more than one line up.  There will be some opportunities for other singers in an open mike format.

The George is a friendly local pub, recently refurbished, although it doesn't sell real ale.  Still, the Guinness is well-kept.  It's on Thursday 3rd December from around 8 PM.

Mick says, "Anyone who wants to do a couple can just drop by, or for a longer spot can email me in advance."  Click here for his e-mail address.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Martin Carthy Sings "Sovay"

Video of this Sunday's Bothy Guest
As reported here on the 9th November, the legendary Martin Carthy is the guest at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday, 29th November.  Here is a video from 1989 of him performing the traditional English song "Sovay" on Yorkshire TV accompanied by Dave Swarbrick, former demon fiddler with Fairport Convention.  The song is about Sovay cross-dressing and deceiving her boyfriend to test his devotion in a rather drastic way ~ an 18th century 'bunny boiler'.   Dave Swarbrick himself appears at the club on 2nd May 2010. 

Tickets £5 members & £8 non-members.  Enquiries: 
phone 0151 924 5078 or e-mail club organiser Clive Pownceby.

The Bothy meets every Sunday at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport (Thwaites real ale on sale). 
Postcode:  PR9 0JS.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Lancashire Week ~ 24 to 27 November

As someone who was born in Liverpool, then in Lancashire, I regard the Lancashire Week celebrations as a bit of fun and nothing more: the boundaries were changed 35 years ago and they won't change back. That shouldn't stop anyone joining in, although dressing up is not my thing.  Besides, I'm doubtful of the stereotypes of Lancashire dress, but so what? It's not an historical reconstruction. Take your pick from the following Lancashire celebrations:
  • Tuesday, 24 November, Lancashire “Neet” with The Southport Swords at The Guest House, Southport.
  • Tuesday, 24 November, Lancashire Quiz Night at The Robin Hood, Mawdesley.
  • Thursday, 26 November, Lancashire Beers and Quiz at The Scarisbrick Hotel (Baron’s Bar), Southport.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Volunteer Arms, Southport (Community Pub of The Year).
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Hop Vine, Burscough.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Ship Inn, Lathom, Burscough.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Stocks Tavern, Parbold.
  • Friday, 27 November, Lancashire “Neet” at The Robin Hood, Mawdesley. (All Lancashire Cask Ales at £2 per pint).
I'm told all pubs will be serving traditional Lancashire beer and Lancashire food, and there will be a prize for The Best Dressed Lancastrian:
  • Men: flat cap, belt, braces, waistcoat, clogs.
  • Women: mop hat, flat cap, clogs, shawl, pinny or pendle witch.
We'll then all look like extras from "Brass"!

Friday 20 November 2009

The Richmond Pub

I met my friend Steve in Liverpool after we'd both attended the commemoration on 11th November in the Peace Garden in Liverpool. Naturally the word 'pint' sprang to mind. Chatting over a beer in the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street, we found that neither of us had ever been to the Richmond, a real ale pub in the heart of the city centre, so off we went.

The Richmond is on Williamson Street, which is close to Williamson Square. It is a small, narrow pub with an outside seating area where hardy smokers were ensconced. It was advertising beer at £2 a pint, with Everards beacon at £1.60, so definitely worth trying.

The beers on were: Moorhouses Pendlewitch, Draught Bass, Southport Golden Sands, George Wright Drunken Duck and Harviestoun Hoptober Festival. I was pleasantly surprised to see local brews there, including the award-winning Southport beer. Erdinger wheat beer was also on, and the pub boasted a wide choice of Scotch whisky. I thought all of this was quite impressive for such a small pub. As I walked in, I noticed and chatted to some fellow drinkers from Southport who were out on their weekly pub-crawl in Liverpool.

The beers we had were all perfectly fine, including the Everards, and its central location makes it very convenient to drown those city centre shopping blues. Its support of local breweries is a good reason to visit, and the pub advert makes it clear that this is policy, not just a happy chance when we visited.

Another to add to the long list of Liverpool pubs worth visiting.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Ship Ahoy!

The Ship Inn in Haskayne has been voted the Summer Pub for 2009 by the Southport and Districts Branch of CAMRA.  I wrote about this pub only last week after I'd played (and had a few beers) at the weekly Thursday singaround.  The Ship is noted, not just for good beer, but also for its music nights.  For more details, go to my recent posting on this great pub. 

The Ship was awarded the best country pub by the Southport and Districts Branch of CAMRA only two months ago at the Sandgrounder Beer Festival, so a different award so soon afterwards is a real accolade.

On another note:
I was at the Masons singaround last night when I heard a customer ask for a pint of Unicorn.  The landlady said, "It's real ale you know ~ would you like to try a taste first?"  He replied, "Yes ~ I'd like to try a pint."

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Live Music at the Zetland

The Zetland Hotel is the venue for a gig by local progressive band, the Frank Flight Band. Their sound has been described as "psychedelic, challenging, melodic music". This band isn't afraid to put a 16-minute song on their MySpace website, and are clearly prepared to take all the time the music may need.

Come along and hear for yourself at 9-00 PM this Friday 20th November at the Zetland Hotel in Zetland Street, Southport.
(Postcode PR9 0RH)

Monday 16 November 2009

Southport Beer Festival Venue 2010

Southport's Sandgrounder Beer Festival has for the 10 years of its existence been held at the Southport Arts Centre. This will not be available for at least two years because of the lengthy closure and refurbishment of the arts centre, along with the adjacent library and art gallery. There was no question of the festival not being held, so a new venue had to be found.

The local CAMRA branch has agreed that the next festival will take place in the Barker Suite, an upstairs function room in the Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street, just across the road from the arts centre. This decision was made after a visit to see the room and discuss the festival's requirements with George Sourbutts from the hotel. The Scarisbrick is, of course, well known for its Barons Bar, which serves up to 10 real ales at competitive prices and has won CAMRA awards. This experience of real ale means they are well placed to host a beer festival.

So here's to another successful and enjoyable festival in September 2010!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Falstaff runs out of beer ~ again

The Falstaff won a CAMRA award at this year’s Southport Beer Festival for the most innovative licensee. In many respects this award is deserved, as licensee Adrian Davies has certainly been innovative in attracting customers to his pub by hosting drama, rock bands, and the heats for the Southport’s Got Talent competition. The problem is that, as the award is a CAMRA one, there has to be real ale involved.

At the Falstaff on Saturday night when local rock band Fag Ash Lil was performing, there was only Wells Bombardier on offer (normally the range includes beers like Theakston’s Bitter and Deuchars IPA), and this ran out during the course of the evening. To my certain knowledge, this is the third time that the Falstaff has run out of real ale in the last couple of months.

I regret having to write this, as Adrian is a likeable person, but real ale drinkers aren't inclined visit a pub that has a reputation for running out of real beer. This pub has to decide whether it wants to be a serious real ale contender in Southport or not. If it does, then the first step must be to ensure that real ale is available at all times. The next step may well be to consider more interesting beers:  a predictable PubCo range isn’t going to excite knowledgeable real ale drinkers, especially when a revitalised Wetherspoons just yards away is selling a bigger and more imaginative range at significantly lower prices. But the main thing is that a pub with a CAMRA award has to sell real ale, or otherwise give up any hopes of being taken seriously.

Friday 13 November 2009

Beer and music at the Ship Inn

Last night I went to the Ship Inn, Rosemary Lane, Haskayne, for the folk night. The pub is on the Leeds-Liverpool canal and is reputed to be one of the oldest canal-side pubs in the country, dating back to 1787, although it has been extended a few times over the years. It has outside seating areas where you can have a drink and watch the barges go by in summer.

In the singaround, there was as usual a variety of songs and tunes, including songs by Mike Harding, Allan Taylor, Christy Moore, Paul Simon and the Beatles. A couple of hornpipes, one or two Lancashire songs and a gospel song all added to the variety. As it’s a friendly and welcoming singaround, it’s less intimidating for an inexperienced performer than, say, an open mike night. An enjoyable music evening.

There are two George Wright beers brewed specially for the pub: Ship Ahoy, a pleasant light beer, which they’ve had on for a while, and a new porter called Dark Side Of The Ship. Paul said it needs further tweaking, but I found it very drinkable for a dark beer and stuck with it most of the night. Both are 4.1%. The other beer was Southport Carousel (4.0%), completing a good selection. Paul told me the Ship Ahoy is very popular: he sells 5 or 6 nine-gallon casks per week. The pub has a fourth beer on in summer, a changing guest, and they hope to hold a beer festival next year.

As well as the folk night every Thursday, there is an open mike night every Friday, and on 11 November, the Britannia Bluegrass Band played the first of a weekly spot at the pub on Wednesdays.

So there is live music three times per week and at least three good real ales on, plus they also do food. If you like live music and/or real ale, this pub is well worth a visit.
(Postcode: L39 7JP)

I took the picture while on a barge near the Ship to show the surrounding countryside.

Thursday 12 November 2009

MP's bill to protect pubs

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, is proposing a bill to give local amenities such as pubs, banks, chemists, post offices, shops and restaurants extra protection. It would ensure that local authorities could insist on planning permission before the demolition or change-of-use of “all premises or land used or most recently used as a local service; and for connected purposes”. It’s nicely phrased to chime in with the government’s legislation on sustainable communities, although not with the anti-alcohol puritanism that is increasingly permeating government thinking.

The full article is in the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade's newspaper. On the surface it looks good, and it would make a pleasant change to see Parliament do something positive about community pubs, instead of wittering on about communities while asphyxiating the amenities that sustain them.

I do have some reservations, as Mr Mulholland is not an unalloyed hero. He is the MP who last year proposed limiting the size of wine glasses in pubs and restaurants to 125ml because he felt larger glasses leads to people losing track of how many units they had consumed, as if they’d be counting. Smaller glasses might simply encourage them to buy the whole bottle to avoid multiple trips to the bar and thereby cause them to drink even more, but MPs are good at causing unintended consequences.

Still, this bill looks interesting, although I’m not confident that it will get anywhere.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Fag Ash Lil at the Falstaff

Local rock band Fag Ash Lil are playing a gig at the Falstaff, King Street, Southport this weekend. If you fancy a bit of classic rock with a touch of blues and, as the mighty Lil tells us, "Too many influences to quote and we play a variety of styles all under the 'rock' umbrella", the Falstaff is the place to be on Saturday 14th November.  Fag Ash Lil never give anything less than a great show, which will begin at 9.00 PM.

The Falstaff sells real ales of the Theakstons and Bombadier variety.

Monday 9 November 2009

Martin Carthy at Southport's Bothy

Folk legend Martin Carthy will be appearing in Southport at the Bothy Folk Club on Sunday 29th November. This man has been highly influential since the 1960s: Paul Simon “borrowed” (without crediting him) his arrangement of Scarborough Fair from Martin’s debut album in 1965 and Dylan used the tune and the narrative style of Martin's version of the song Lord Franklin for his own song Bob Dylan's Dream. Apart from superstar plagiarists, hosts of other artists have been more grateful in acknowledging their debt to this man.

Although he has been part of bands such as Waterson:Carthy, Blue Murder, The Watersons, Steeleye Span, Albion Country Band, and Brass Monkey, it is probably as a solo artist that he is best known. His friendly low-key stage persona belies the deep respect with which he is held among fellow musicians and audiences alike.

Click on Martin Carthy to see a picture of him with C.F. Martin IV of the legendary Martin guitar company at the launch of the Martin Carthy Signature Edition guitar, as well as his (frankly) incredible discography.  While there, you can also watch a wonderful You Tube video of The Imagined Village (a multi-cultural folk line-up) performing Cold Haily Rainy Night on Later with Jools.  Martin can be clearly seen playing along and thoroughly enjoying the craic.

Tickets cost £8 for non-members and £5 for members from the club on Sunday evenings. They are also obtainable by post from club organiser, Clive Pownceby. E-mail: or phone: 0151 924 5078.

If you want to take a chance and just roll up on the night, I can only suggest you arrive early to see whether there are any tickets left. Even then, you may still be disappointed as we expect a full house. The music begins at 8-00 PM, and the real ale is Thwaites Bomber.

Friday 6 November 2009

The Guest House & Good Beer Guide

I borrowed the pub copy of the new Good Beer Guide [GBG] in the Guest House recently and turned first to the entries for pubs where I live, like most people do. I wasn’t surprised to see the Guest House listed, but I was at the wording, which stated that the licensee was doing her best despite PubCo restrictions. As this sounded like damning with faint praise to me, I had a word with Gail the licensee and - as I expected - found that she was rather unhappy with the entry (that’s something of an understatement, by the way).

For those who don’t know Southport pubs, the Guest House has had the best range of beers ever since Gail took it over several years ago, routinely having up to 10 cask beers on at any time. Granted, the PubCo limits the range, but Gail stretches those limits as far as she can. She supports small local breweries whenever possible, and the beer is always well kept.

Other pubs, such as the Falstaff and the Windmill, don’t try to stretch PubCo restrictions and concentrate on limited ranges of beers, to which the GBG makes no adverse reference. No disrespect intended to those pubs as they provide what their own customers want; I was simply contrasting their treatment in the GBG with the Guest House’s. The choice of words in CAMRA’s flagship publication implying a very restricted range when the opposite is true could discourage visitors to Southport (a destination for holidays, day trips and conferences) from visiting the pub.

Following from the error that excluded the pub from the GBG a couple of years ago, even though it had been voted in, and the initial failure to nominate it for an award at this year’s Sandgrounder Beer Festival, this is yet another faux pas by the local CAMRA branch in relation to this pub. As a CAMRA member, I have even been asked by Guest House regulars to explain what they see as a campaign against their pub, and my assertion that there is no conspiracy is sounding increasingly hollow.

CAMRA branches consist of unpaid volunteers who generally do their best to decide GBG entries, make local awards, put on a beer festival and publish both a magazine (Ale & Hearty) and a website. With those activities goes a responsibility to bear in mind how the public will perceive our actions, especially in relation to local pubs. After all, what we say or do could have a real impact upon people’s livelihoods, especially at a time of recession and punitive tax on beer.

As a footnote, I know the popular Baron’s Bar also has a good range of beer, but as it's a hotel bar rather than a pub, it has no PubCo tie. Although I do like going to the Baron’s sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a pub.

Wednesday 4 November 2009


I don't really understand why the English love to mock their own traditions while showing reverence for those of other peoples. Morris dance is a case in point, even though when I see Morris sides out dancing, they usually attract quite a crowd. English folk song is often dismissed by the ignorant with jokes about "wack fol de rol" and other clichés, whereas Scottish and Irish music is usually treated with respect. There are actually quite a few people on the folk circuit who satirise the scene much more accurately and funnily than non-folkies: Sid Kipper and Les Barker are just two examples that prove folkies are not precious and have no problem in laughing at themselves. Not being a traditional performer myself by any stretch of the imagination means that I have no personal axe to grind, but I get just as bored as anyone with uninformed mickey taking.

As a contrast, I was surprised and pleased to find on You Tube a rendition of the beautiful English traditional folk song, Geordie, sung in English by a Chinese singer from Taiwan, Chyi Yu. Perhaps folk music, like the biblical prophet, hath no honour in its own country. I hope you enjoy this lovely song.

P.S. After the song ends, you'll be offered several other versions.  If you click on "Fabrizio De Andrè Geordie" or "Geordie - London Bridge", you will hear Fabrizio De Andrè sing the same song in Italian.

Monday 2 November 2009

Maghull Folk Club ~ guest cancelled

I've been told that the guest at the Maghull Folk Club tomorrow (Tuesday) night has cancelled.  I assume it will therefore be a normal club night.  If you want to make certain, I suggest you contact the club organisers direct here. This event has been listed in my 'What's On' column for a couple of weeks, which is why I've mentioned the cancellation.

P.S. Clive Pownceby, who usually knows about these things, has told me, "I think they’ve got Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby to sub."

Sunday 1 November 2009

Birthday pub crawl

On Friday, I was in Liverpool for my mate Steve’s annual birthday pub crawl, although a year or two ago we never got out of the first pub. This year we gathered at lunchtime in the spectacular Philharmonic pub (on the corner of Hope Street and Hardman Street) ~ there are some pictures here & here, including of the famous gents’ toilets. The fine workmanship in this pub was apparently done by craftsmen who normally worked on the luxury liners.

My first pint was Harviestoun Hoptober Fest, which was a dry, light 4.0% beer. I was enjoying this when it ran out. The Brains SA tasted a bit flat and tired, but the Hobgoblin was acceptable. There were about 4 or 5 beers on, and when we left, I noticed the Hoptober Fest was back on ~ I could have had more!

The Fly In The Loaf was next. This former bakery used to be a wine bar called Kirklands, until Okell’s Brewery of the Isle of Man took it over a few years ago. I had Fuller’s London Porter, which I don’t recall drinking before. I tend not to drink dark beers, but this tasted good without the overpowering heavy flavour that some dark beers have, and I happily stuck with it. The Fly, on Hardman Street, has several guest beers alongside the Okell’s offerings. I like this pub, except of course when big screen sports are on.

A stroll around the corner into Renshaw Street took us to the Dispensary, a Cain’s pub that always has several guests. Holden’s Golden Glow was my choice there, and a pleasant mellow beer it was too. As Steve pointed out, this pub does a better range than the better-known Dr Duncan’s, which tends only to stock Cain’s beers.

The last port of call was, as usual, the Globe opposite Central Station, Steve’s favourite pub in Liverpool, and it’s not hard to see why. I had Saltaire Stein Gold, a 4.3% golden beer. With the name Stein, I assumed it was a cask lager, but not so, although it does use continental hops. A good beer to finish on and rush for the final train. I noticed the Globe still has a cask cider as well as 4 cask beers, so I assume that it’s now a permanent fixture.

All in all, a nice mini-tour of some great Liverpool pubs. I think the Harviestoun was for me the beer of the day.