Sunday 28 February 2010

The future's bright ~ the future's smoke-free!

A recent poll of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training has shown some surprising results about how students today are considerably more conservative than their predecessors from the 1960s and 1970s. I've no intention of reporting all their responses - a newspaper summary is here - but an interesting fact is that 90% of those surveyed would not repeal the smoking ban in pubs.

These are the future drinkers. Whether you like it or not, this is the way it's going to be.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Take the money & run?

One of CAMRA’s most important principles is its independence, which is a necessity for any campaign. I was rather disturbed by a rumour that the Liverpool beer festival has succumbed to external pressure in order to receive sponsorship money.

The main sponsor of the Liverpool beer festival this year was Caledonian Deuchars IPA. This is in itself fine: most beer festivals need sponsors to survive, and in return CAMRA hopes the sponsors benefit from the publicity. Unfortunately Deuchars took this one stage further by demanding that, at the trade session for local licensees and brewers, there should be no other brewers admitted, and Liverpool CAMRA agreed. Liverpool boasts about its commitment to local brewers and has a separate bar for them at its festival but, as one CAMRA member said to me, “How can they support local breweries and then disown them because of some fat sponsorship deal with a national brewer? Made my blood boil!”

It’s not good when a beer festival allows one brewer to dictate to CAMRA whom it is allowed to invite to its own events. This is a serious error of judgement; let's hope it doesn’t set a precedent.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Gallimaufry free concert & new Formby Folk Club

Pete Rimmer has notified me of two forthcoming events:

Gallimaufry and friends: afternoon concert at Birkdale United Reformed Church ,Grosvenor Road, Southport, at 3pm. Its a free event and all are welcome.  This Sunday 28 February.

Formby Folk Club. This will be running on the first Wednesday of each month, beginning at 8pm. It's free and everyone is welcome to perform or just listen - just turn up. It's at the RAFA Club in Victoria Road, only 100 yards from Freshfield railway station, on Wednesday 3 March, and each first Wednesday thereafter. (Postcode L37 1LG)

Free music on your doorstep!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Wigan Beer Festival

Hot on the heels of the permanently sold out Liverpool Beer Festival comes Wigan's offering, which runs from 4th to 6th March. Around 60 beers, plus foreign and bottled beers, ciders and perries, and food. The quiet session for those who value such things is on Friday between noon and 6pm. No advance tickets needed; just roll up and you will be able to get in - it's free if you're a CAMRA member. This festival ran out of nearly everything by 9pm on Saturday night last year, so the beer order has been increased. For full details, have a look at their website.

I was working there last year and will be again this time ~ you can read my review of last year's festival here. Wigan is 30-35 minutes by train from Southport and is also on direct train lines from Liverpool, Manchester and Preston, so there's no good reason not to go really, is there?

The venue is the Robin Park Arena, Loire Drive, Newtown, Wigan (WN5 0UH) - MAP.

Monday 22 February 2010

In my Liverpool home...

"In my Liverpool home; in my Liverpool home;
We speak with an accent exceedingly rare;
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare.
If you want a cathedral, we've got one to spare, in my Liverpool home."
Song written by Pete McGovern, but with so many extra verses added that it must qualify as a folk song.

The famous statue in question is a local landmark and can be seen over the main entrance of Lewis's department store on Ranelagh Street, Liverpool; couples would arrange to meet under it in years gone by. The statue was known locally as Dickie Lewis, a name later given to a small chain of Liverpool pubs in the 1990s that seems to have disappeared (no great loss, as it happens). Some wags used to sing, "If you want a cathedral, we've got two to spare".

The song is something of a local anthem, but without the tribal associations of You'll Never Walk Alone. "I wrote it in 1961," said McGovern, "but a lot of people have said to me, 'You didn't write that. It was written in 1848.'" ... even though the song mentions Hitler, stealing from lorries and the demolition of the Dockers' Umbrella.

One later verse went:
"When my last whistle blows & the Ref Up There says;
'You've supped your last Guinness, lad, it's the end of your days,'
Take my ashes to Old Trafford and spread them around, (dramatic pause)
And they won't win a match while I'm haunting the ground."

These thoughts were prompted by a newspaper headline I saw in Liverpool this morning stating that the store, which was opened 154 years ago, is to close within weeks. Developers intend to create a £160 million Central Village around the store (whatever that means) which will include new hotels, leisure space, shops and restaurants. There's is no certainty that Lewis's will be part of that development and in the meantime 300 staff will lose their jobs.

Thus another piece of Liverpool history and folklore will disappear, only to linger in song and memory.

The statue is actually called Liverpool Resurgent and is by Sir Jacob Epstein. It was unveiled in 1956.

Friday 19 February 2010

Taking liberties?

I've been told that the pub company that owns the Rabbit (the closure of which I mentioned a few days ago ~ click here) is finding reopening it a bigger job than they probably expected. The last tenant was unable to find a buyer for the remainder of his tenancy, and in such situations the pubco just demands the keys back without refunding any of the tenant's money, no matter how long the lease has left to run. The Rabbit's tenant has consequently stripped the place and sold everything that can be moved, even the urinals, so the pubco has a lot of work and expense before they can reopen the place. Serves them right.

It all seems rather desperate, but I can see this sort of thing happening more often if pubcos continue to treat their tenants like chattels who have to buy everything from them at vastly inflated prices - it's a modern twist on the old company store system - and with no fair way of getting out if they can't make a go of it. It's a sad day when things come to this.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Liverpool and Fleetwood Beer Festivals

I was asked earlier today why I haven't mentioned on ReARM the Liverpool Beer Festival which runs this week from Thursday to Saturday, when I have previously written about festivals in Wigan, St Helens, Preston, Manchester, Scotland Road and Atherton (as well as Southport, obviously). The answer is that tickets sold out a couple of months ago and you can't get in on the door, so there's little point in mentioning it. If you want to know what you're missing, a report in the Liverpool Echo can be found here.

However, if you do fancy going to a beer festival over the next 3 days, the 28th Fleetwood Beer Festival is on too ~ click here for details. I've not been there for a few years, but it was always a good one.

How do pubs get into the Good Beer Guide?

To find out, click on this link here where Tyson reveals all. If only our CAMRA meetings in Southport were this exotic!

Even stronger strongest beer in the world!

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the German-brewed 40% Schorschbock had been proclaimed as the strongest beer in the world. It seems that Brewdog, the previous holder of this pointless record, has responded with a 41% abv quadruple IPA called Sink the Bismarck!, priced at £40 for a 330ml bottle.  You can only buy it from the brewer’s website. Brewdog suggest that such beer should be enjoyed responsibly like a nice dram or a glass of fine wine: "A beer like Sink the Bismarck! should be enjoyed in spirit sized measures."

Some people have found the name of this beer offensive, objecting to jokes about the wartime sinking of the Bismarck with the loss of 1995 men (which itself had previously sunk the HMS Hood with the loss of 1418 men). But Brewdog loves controversy and I've no doubt this choice of name was deliberate, especially as they were reclaiming the record from a German brewery. My view is that this name demonstrates the same mentality as football fans who make Hitler salutes to German football teams. Surely it's about time we British stopped being so WW2-fixated?

At this price, the beer is considerably dearer than a fine malt whisky; if I wanted a drink of such strength, I know what I'd prefer to spend my cash on.

Monday 15 February 2010

Lizzie Nunnery gig in Southport

There is a chance to see an up-and-coming young singer in Southport next week. Lizzie Nunnery is a singer, guitarist and writer from Maghull. At just twenty-seven she's becoming known as one of the most inventive singer songwriters of the moment. Following the release of her EP, Hungry, in 2008, she played venues and festivals across the UK, including support for J.D Souther, Little Feat, and Jim Moray. She’s made several appearances on BBC Radio, including a live performance on Radio 3. Lizzie has drawn frequent comparison with artists such as Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Martha Wainwright, yet her striking vocals and finely crafted songs create a performance that is all her own.

She is also an award winning playwright, with her most recent stage play "Intemperance," receiving a 5 star review in the Guardian. Her play with songs, "The Singer", was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in November 08 and she composed the soundtrack to her short film broadcast on Channel 4 in June 2009. She contributed to the recent BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play, “Postcards From a Cataclysm”.

Lizzie will be performing at an album launch concert to celebrate her new CD “Company Of Ghosts” in Southport at the Bothy on Thursday 25th February at 8.00 p.m. Admission is just £4, and the venue is the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Come and see her while she’s still playing local venues.

This event is the first of a series of occasional Thursday night specials run by the Bothy, which usually meets every Sunday evening.

See Lizzie playing a song called Kicking Off:

More pubs closed

Two more pubs in Southport have closed, although I've no idea whether the closures are temporary or not. The Old Ship in Eastbank Street and the Rabbit in Manchester Road, both formerly real ale pubs although not recently, are closed and look empty. If I get more information, I'll pass it on.

The Old Ship was my local for many years when it sold beers from the Walkers range along with Ind Coope Burton Ale, well worth drinking in those days. For a few years we had a folk club upstairs in the rather good little function room, and the rear of the pub used to boast a boules (pétanque) pitch. The game became surpisingly popular.

P.S. what a coincidence! On the very day I posted this, I bumped into Dave, an old friend of mine from the Old Ship days, in the Guest House last night (Monday); I hadn't seen him for at least 15 years. He married everyone's favourite barmaid, but we don't hold that against him. Now their kids are growing up, which is rather disconcerting!

Saturday 13 February 2010

Don't cut music education in schools!

During the current economic mess, there is a real danger that music lessons will be seen by education authorities as a soft option to be cut as they try to balance their books. Music can provide kids with an interest for life; it can give them confidence and it is an activity that requires commitment and hard work, but has its own rewards too. It can therefore be character building and go beyond just being a hobby.

While some musical instruments are cheaper than they used to be, they can still be beyond the reach of many families, as can paying for private lessons. Musical tuition in schools will open doors for kids that may otherwise remain firmly closed. In addition, if music education is cut, it would take years to build it back up; music teachers would presumably not be waiting around for things to pick up again, and a generation of children will have missed out, with fewer studying music at university, thus creating a downward spiral.

There is a petition to Number 10 calling for free music lessons in schools; if you agree, please sign it here ~ the deadline to sign is 5 March 2010.  For anyone on Facebook, there is a group opposed to cutting music tuition in schools, and you can reach it here

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Cocking up a tribute...

... never a good idea!
I've just been listening via BBC iPlayer to the tribute on Radio 4's Broadcasting House to Johnny Dankworth who died on 6 January. They correctly said that he wrote the theme tune to Tomorrow's World and The Avengers, which is true, but then they went on to play at length Laurie Johnson's later theme for The Avengers that replaced Johnny Dankworth's tune when Diana Rigg joined the cast. Sloppy research, not excused by the fact they added the tribute to their programme at very short notice: I managed to find the correct version in about 30 seconds. I've sent them an e-mail.

The original theme tune is a good, atmospheric piece of jazz, well suited to the espionage/thriller style of the early episodes; you can listen to it here. And as for Johnny, who did so much to popularise jazz, we've lost another of the greats.

P.S. Since writing this, I have learned that in 1959 he became chair of Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship, set up to oppose the the nazi White Defence League, and which was a forerunner of the 1970's Rock Against Racism and the current Love Music Hate Racism and Folk Against Fascism. He found racism incomprehensible as well as abhorrent. A fascinating (but still completely relevant) tribute to this is in a TV documentary item from that time which shows not only Johnny but also Lonnie Donegan and Cleo Laine talking about the formation of this anti-racist group ~ you can see it here on YouTube. The organisation was founded by Anti-Fascist folk singer Karl Dallas, and included musicians as diverse Tommy Steele and Humphrey Lyttelton.

P.P.S. I've just received the following reply from the BBC:
Well spotted, and sorry for this schoolboy error which I think was broadcast during the news bulletin, and in our programme we raised other great compositions and performances. I think you sum it up well by saying "oh dear!" and thank you for taking time to put us right.  Best wishes.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Shakespeare to be demolished?

I've heard a rumour that the Shakespeare, Southport's local hard rock pub on Scarisbrick New Road, may be closed down and demolished to make way for new homes. 
The Shakespeare (formerly WD Suttons, and before that hasn't sold real ale for years and had been closed down once already.  It reopened in April last year as a live music venue with a Harley Davidson in the window, and it's been dubbed the Shakespeare Bard Rock Cafe with its own Facebook group. However, since late last year the live music seems to have been stopped, perhaps as part of some wind-down. Not looking good.

Many years ago, the Lunchtime Legends, the band I play in, was performing in the function room upstairs. The beer was Moorhouses Pendle Witch (5.1%), but they only had a Premier (3.7%) pumpclip ~ no one believed me when I pointed this out to them. Not until next morning, that is. I think it was the liveliest gig we've ever played. I really doubt our style of music would suit the current clientele! On another occasion I was asked to play Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" at my friends' wedding do, also in the function room.

It's not a pub I'd be inclined to go into nowadays, but it would be a shame to see it closed and knocked down.

Monday 8 February 2010

Valentine's Day at the George: rock ... and belly dancing

This coming Sunday there is a Valentine's Day special in the George Hotel on the corner of Duke Street and Cemetery Road.  There will be live music from Blanket Apology, a local rock band that performs both covers and original songs - they've played in the George before and have even lent me a guitar on occasion to bash out some old time rock & roll.  Good musicians and some fine material.

Also performing is Maryem from Egypt who will be doing some authentic belly dancing, so this will definitely be a night out with a difference.  It's on this Sunday 14th February (of course), runnning from 8.30pm to around 11.00pm.

Friday 5 February 2010

Dave Ellis & Boo Howard live

This Sunday's guests at the Bothy are Dave Ellis & Boo Howard, not an act I've seen before, but I've listened to a few of their songs on YouTube and I think they're going to be rather good. 

From the Bothy website
"Dave & Boo are based in London with a musical partnership that began in 1979 ... D&B's present acoustic style evolved in 1998 with Dave's intricate guitar work and Boo's mellow vocal combining to create something new and all their own. Dave has become known around the clubs for his unique guitar style plus his highly individual banjo tunes, while Boo completes the D&B sound with her exceptional voice and superb bass playing. Their harmony singing is second to none."

Here is a video of them playing the Chris Smither song "Love Me Like A Man," which has been covered previously by Bonnie Raitt and more recently by jazz singer Diana Krall:

The Bothy meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West. There's Thwaites beer and the music begins at 8pm prompt.

Reassuringly strong?

Expect howls of outrage from the anti-alcohol campaigners when they hear about Schorschbock, a lager from the German craft brewer Schorschbräu. At 40%, it’s as strong as Scotch and probably not for swilling, not unless you like quick sessions. It’s apparently fermented by “a rarely-used method for producing ice bock, supplemented by extended cold-lagering for a minimum of six months.” Well, I’m sure that all means something to someone.  This brew, described as "whisky-like," has gone on sale in Scotland where it sells for £10 a glass.

I tend to view the arms race of ever stronger beers to be rather like the urge of some countries to construct the tallest building in the world ~ intriguing, but ultimately pointless. Last November, Scottish brewery BrewDog caused a furore among the alco-puritans with a beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which at 32% was at that time claimed to be the strongest beer ever made; it costs £35 a bottle. This is where the campaigners show they haven’t a clue: problem drinkers will never spend that much on a bottle of beer when they can get a bottle of own brand spirits for under £7, so there's really no need to get all hot under the collar about it. Out of sheer curosity I’d be interested to taste these beers, but not at such prices.

Speaking of alco-puritans, Alcohol Focus Scotland has another of its alcohol-related polls on its home page, and this one asks whether alcoholic drinks should show the calorie content on the packaging. Like most of its polls, it’s getting a response it doesn’t want with 64% of respondents currently voting "no". Oddly enough, they don’t show the results of previous polls on their website, no doubt for reasons of space.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Musical celebration of George Strattan's life

Family, friends and fellow campaigners will gather this Saturday to celebrate the life of George Strattan, veteran peace activist, folk singer and trade unionist who died in Southport last December aged 89. Tribute will also be paid to his late wife Viola, who worked tirelessly alongside George, particularly in the peace movement. The evening will be mostly musical, with spoken tributes from their son Richard, and representatives from CND and his union AEUW-TASS.

The musical line-up is still being finalised, but acts confirmed so far include Merseyside band the Peacemakers and regulars from the Bothy and Maghull Folk Clubs, with other performers trying to clear their diaries to be there. There will be a sale of George’s books, and CDs of him singing, with proceeds going to a good cause.  Richard has stated that he wants us all to have an evening of entertainment that George himself would have thoroughly enjoyed.

This event will take place at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, (click on map to enlarge) on Saturday 6 February; doors at 7-00pm, and the music begins at 7-30pm. We expect a big turnout and ask you to arrive promptly if possible ~ especially if you want a seat!

If you knew George, whether through the folk scene, the peace movement, his trade union or any other way, you will be very welcome.

The Park Golf Club has a fully stocked bar and serves Thwaites real ale.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Meet The Brewer ~ Allgates

On Wednesday 3rd February at 8-00 pm in the Sir Henry Segrave (Wetherspoons), Lord Street, there will be another Meet The Brewer evening, featuring Allgates of Wigan.  Allgates Brewery opened in 2006 and its flagship pub is the excellent Anvil, close to Wigan train and bus stations, well worth visiting if you're in the area.

Monday 1 February 2010

Music sessions this week

Just a quick reminder that there are two free singarounds in real ale pubs this week in Southport town centre ~ your chance to support local live music while supping a decent pint.

First is tonight (Monday) at the Guest House in Union Street. Up to 10 cask beers, and Gail usually provides chip butties, while on Wednesday it's the turn of the Mason's in Anchor Street. Robinson's beers, and Brenda usually provides sandwiches.  Generous licensees both.

In both cases, performing is optional and the music will probably begin at around 8-30pm.  Live music, good beer and food ~ what more could you want?

For other music events in the area this week, check my What's On column to the left.