Wednesday 31 March 2010

Quizzical Graffiti

That's what the quiz night at the Bothy Folk Club on Easter Day is being called. It's the fourth one I've done for the club, and will be mostly musically oriented, although not necessarily folk. Quiz night at a folk club? Well, we only do it once a year on Easter Sunday, there's no charge to get in, and there will be time for some songs and tunes as well. 

Also, Thwaites Bomber will be on hand to wash down all those Easter eggs you'll have been wolfing down all day. If you're at a loose end, why not come along?  8.00 pm at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.

Sunday 28 March 2010

We can do it all again next week ...

Great night at the George last night.  Blanket Apology played a variety of songs, including rock and R&B classics, such as Take Me To The River, with Derek Boak giving his best powerful vocals. They even let me play half a dozen 50s and 50s pop and rock and roll classics, although whether they were classic after I'd finished with them is another matter. The band joined me for some of the songs.  They plan to perform in the George regularly on the last Saturday of the month, but will be playing an extra gig next weekend on Easter Saturday.

I like this pub, a real local, from which the scallies who gave it a bad reputation have been banished. If only it sold real ale...

So that's Easter Saturday in the George Hotel on the corner of Duke Street and Cemetery Road. Free; begins around 8-30pm.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Lunchtime Legends Gig for Haiti

With thanks to Peter Ballentyne who took these and many other photos of our night.  And thanks to all who came along and danced ... and gave to the cause.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Travellers permanently at Rest

I was in Liverpool today with my car, which is unusual, and decided when my meeting ended to drive to the pub where I bought my first beer. The pub was called the Travellers' Rest*, down Aigburth Vale, a cul de sac (although we probably called it a dead end) near Sefton Park. Wearing our macs, convinced they concealed the school uniform underneath, we'd order our drinks and sit in the snug at the back. My first purchase was a half of mild for 10d. It was a regulars' pub and the beer was Tetley, which I felt some loyalty to as my Uncle Bernard ran a Tetley pub in Bootle. I still have the early 1960s pump clips for Walker's Mild and Bitter that he gave to me; the teachers weren't impressed when I brought them to school.

We had a code name for the pub, Vee's (no idea why), in case we were overheard mentioning it in school. We also had a code name for a local chip shop, T. Gong's, as we weren't allowed in chippies in uniform - T. Gong was actually the name of a laundry nearby. I suppose using code names made these ordinary goings on seem more dramatic.

I had decided I'd have one pint in the pub for old times' sake. I easily found the road and at first thought the pub had been refurbished and whitewashed; it even had a pub style sign outside, but it read Travellers' Court. The basic shell of the pub is still there, although barely recognisable, as part of a much larger complex of flats.

Although it's been almost 38 years since I set foot in the place, I felt rather sad.

The picture shows the way it looks now.

* Later amendment: I got confused. This pub was actually called Ye Olde House At Home. The Traveller's Rest was across the road, and is also closed; I never went into it.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Albert closed?

I've not seen anything official to confirm this, but it looks as though the Albert on London Street is the latest pub to join the list of pub closures in Southport. The last couple of times I've walked past it, it has been closed, and other people have said the same to me. There is, however, no notice in the window, and I've seen nothing in the local papers or on local news websites. 

The Albert was a real ale pub and also sometimes hosted live music; a jazz club was there a few years ago. It's advertised to let, and I'd have thought its location just across the road from the railway station would be a prime position, so let's hope the closure is temporary.

I remember when pubs didn't close down between licensees, and keeping the pub open during the changeover was a priority. Pub owners used to understand that if you let your regulars drift elsewhere, they may not come back when you reopen again. But modern pub companies don't seem to understand that. In my opinion, it's because to them, pubs are no more than retail outlets (or worse, just pieces of valuable land); the concept of the community pub is not one that matches their corporate thinking.

Friday 19 March 2010

CAMRA campaign success: Gov't supports the pub ... for a change

I've just received an e-mail from CAMRA about Government proposals to save the pub - a result of persistent campaigning. I've edited this from the e-mail:

"John Healey, Minister for Pubs has announced a major package of reforms to support pubs. The Government's new 12-point action plan promises sweeping reforms on a wide variety of subjects. To support community pubs, the Government has announced:
  • Greater protection for pubs under threat of demolition
  • A ban on the anti-competitive practice of imposing restrictive covenants on the sale of pubs
  • Greater flexibility for pubs to diversify by adding shops and other facilities without planning permission
  • £1 million Government funding for Pub is The Hub
  • £3 million to support Community pub ownership
  • Greater freedom for pubs to host live music without a specific licence
"To reform the operation of the beer tie to ensure a fair deal for tenants and consumers, the Government has announced:
  • A one-year deadline to fully implement the recommendations of the recent Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee report on Pub Companies - before the government intervenes with legislation if necessary - and deliver a beer right and a free of tie option for tied tenants.  
  • The proposals have the potential to totally transform the UK pubs market leading to a free, fair and competitive market where consumers will benefit through greater choice, improved amenity and lower prices.  
"We are now busy lobbying hard to encourage the other political parties to unveil their policies to support pubs before the General Election. We also need to ensure that the Government sticks to the proposals they've announced."

I've no doubt that for some people this will not be enough (while for the anti-drink brigade it will be too much), but if implemented, this represents the first time in decades that a Government has proposed measures to support the pub rather than attack it. From my point of view, the music licence provision will be very welcome: it's nonsense that me strumming an unamplified acoustic guitar in a pub can be illegal, while big screen sports with all the noise they create from both the TV and the audience are completely unrestricted. If you want to lobby your Parliamentary candidates on line, click here, then click on 'lobby your election candidates'. It takes only a minute or two and will help persuade them there are votes in this issue. It's a CAMRA website, but you don't have to be a member.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Ray On The Radio

Local singer-songwriter and guitarist Ray Rooney, who launched his latest CD on 23rd January in Southport, will be discussing it with Geoff Speed on BBC Radio Merseyside's Folkscene on Thursday 25th March (repeated on 30th March). Doubtless some tracks from the CD will be played. The CD is called Lost At Sea, and the radio show will also be available for a while on 'listen again'.

Ray said, "I can't remember what I said but it seemed to go all right." Not too much liquid courage I hope, Ray?

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Moorhouse's trip + I missed my birthday!

I've only just realised that yesterday was the first anniversary of this blog. Still, I inadvertently celebrated it in good style. The Sir Henry Segrave, our local JDW, ran a coach to Moorhouse's brewery so we could see the old brew house before it is demolished and a much larger modern brewery is built there. On our arrival, we were given two Premier Bitter tokens and watched a DVD in the brewery tap, the General Scarlett, just across the road from the brewery. It's named after a general in the Crimean War. (I wonder whether earlier in his career he was known as Captain Scarlett?)

After the DVD, we were taken around the old brewery. It really is crammed to the rafters, in some instances literally, with brewing equipment; it's easy to see why a new building is needed. Working here must be an ergonomic nightmare: you have to bend almost double to get to some of the fermenting vessels. Our guide warned us not to slip on the stairs, often damp in a brewery, not like his health and safety officer who (he said) slipped on the stairs in high heels and broke her arm. The new brew house will be a tower brewery, apparently the first one to be built in Britain for many years. Our guide said that they intend to get CAMRA members in after it's opened to judge whether they've managed to recreate the taste of the beers.

After the tour, back to the pub for our second Premier, all laid out ready on the bar for our thirsty return, and pie and mushy peas. With beer tokens used up, I went on to the Blond Witch and Pendle Witches Brew until it was time to go home, at which point everyone was given a pack with two bottles: Pendle Witches and Black Cat. We got back to Southport in time for a couple in the Sir Henry Segrave before they closed at midnight.

Everyone agreed that a return coach trip to Burnley, with two pints, a brewery trip, pie and peas and two bottles of ale for just £13 was an extremely good night out. The plan is to have another trip after the new brew house is open.

As for the blog, I have written 210 postings in the year, an average of 4 a week. Not too bad.

I'll be off to the singaround in the Mason's later. I must dust down my song about Ireland for St Patrick's Day, although I'll be drinking Unicorn, not Guinness.
The picture (added 18.3.10) shows me at one of the fermenting vessels.  Thanks to Sam for the photo.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

How to do absolutely nothing about drunk-driving

You've no doubt heard that the Government has proposed reducing the drink-driving limit from 80mg to 50mg following a review by Sir Peter North. Many years ago, a young woman whom I was acquainted with was killed when a drunk driver ploughed into her car. This was a terrible and unnecessary tragedy, but the point here is that the driver was drunk; he was well over the limit. He had not been carefully nursing a couple of pints all night.

Fatal alcohol-related accidents almost always involve drivers who have completely ignored the current limit, so they're hardly going to care about a lower one, especially as they know they are unlikely to be caught anyway. This measure is just an example of appearing to do something about a problem, but in reality doing absolutely nothing at all.

The way to deal with drunk driving is to increase the chances of being caught, which are extremely low, especially now that traffic police have largely been replaced by speed cameras.  I would propose large-scale random breath tests carried out without warning, perhaps occasionally blocking off the entire town centre at night and breathalysing every driver. Yes, this may cause hold-ups, but it would greatly increase the chances of being caught drunk behind the wheel, thus creating the real deterrent that we don't have now. We should enforce the current law far more rigorously and not introduce one that drunk drivers will still ignore, but which penalises the careful driver who conscientiously drinks within the present limit.

P.S. (added 17 March): there's a saying that what's seldom is wonderful. In this case, it's me agreeing with a Tory. I've just read that Tory transport spokesperson Theresa Villiers said her party wouldn't cut the limit: “We do not believe the case has been made to justify such a change. We would focus on enforcement of the current rules.” The problem here is that if this issue becomes a party political battle, "New" Labour will never back down on principle - can't be seen to be yielding to the enemy, even if they're right (at least on this one point).

Monday 15 March 2010

Legends fundraiser

Our band, the Lunchtime Legends, played our fundraising gig for Haiti on Friday night at the Park Golf Club. It was a great atmosphere, with people up dancing and waving their arms in the air for 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. We raised a total of £207. Thanks to everyone who helped make the evening a success.

I ended up leaving my PA and my car at the venue until the next day after I'd had a few post-gig pints of Thwaites Bomber. Our next gig is in Whitby next August in the Elsinore ~ the pub where it all began in 1992.

P.S. (added 17 March):
Late donation ~ total now £213 + 28% Gift Aid = £273

Sunday 14 March 2010

Supporting Live Music

This week is a particularly busy week for music sessions, singarounds and open mike nights. There are eight that I have listed in Forthcoming Events between today and Friday. All give you a chance to perform if you want to, or just listen. If you know of any sessions I haven't listed, tell me using the e-mail address on my Welcome page. The music must be real (not karaoke or performing to pre-recorded backing) and the venue should preferably serve real ale, but I don't insist on this - if I make no comment on the beer in my events list, you can assume it's not real.

If you like music but haven't tried any of these sessions, why not give them a go? I don't list well-advertised events, but my wide range of links includes two jazz clubs, Sefton Arts and the Ents 24 website, which gives a range of concerts, including those at the Southport Theatre, as well as folk clubs and other acoustic music info. I'm aware that the local pub rock scene hasn't featured strongly on this blog, but there are only so many things I can go to! I hope to improve this aspect.

My view of this upsurge in local music is that as commercial pop and rock acts become ever more expensive (a year or two ago I saw tickets for guitar legend Jeff Beck in the tatty Manchester Apollo on sale for £105), affordable local music of whatever style becomes more attractive. It's a similar situation to the 1970s when mega-rock bands became so overblown, the simplicity (and cheapness) of punk led to a rock music revolution. I don't see any revolution at pop chart level today, but if you have a choice of driving to Manchester or Birmingham to see a big name act for £100+ per ticket, or going down to a local pub to see performers or bands for little or nothing, why choose the former? Especially as some top artists lip-synch even at 'live' gigs, although they wouldn't tell you, of course ~ in effect you're paying a fortune to watch your hero miming to the CD! And as for those high energy dance routines by many female pop stars: you try doing them while singing without your voice jolting with the more vigorous movements, and you'll realise the seamless vocal performances that you hear are probably not live. So you're paying just to watch somebody dance.

Another aspect of going to big gigs is that the bars usually sell rubbish beer (often only tins of lager) at vastly inflated prices. Contrast that with a music night in a local pub ~ better beer and no driving contraints either.

I can assure you I have never used lip-synch. 100% live music ~ and it's all around.
The picture shows local rock band, Blanket Apology.

Saturday 13 March 2010

New Acoustic Music Night in Southport

There's a new monthly music night in Southport being organised by Rich Simcock who started the Mason's singarounds a few years ago. He has also run a series of concerts in Southport under the name "3 Monkeys Folk Club", featuring guests who would not normally be seen locally. 

Named "Place To Be", these will be evenings of "acoustic song and music on the last Thursday of every month. Candle lit. Club-style. Relaxed". It's in the upstairs room of the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport - map. Performers of songs, tunes and poetry are welcome and admission is free; there will be a small PA. As Rich points out, there won't be the background noise you sometimes get with pub singarounds. The first night is Thursday 25 March from 8-00pm.

It's always a pleasure to report new live music nights locally, especially as this new venture comes hot on the heels of the launch of the new Formby folk club. Do support Place To Be: it just won't be the same without you.

Friday 12 March 2010

Gonna make you an offer you can refuse...

A peculiar piece of news: from 15 March Molson Coors is relaunching Caffrey’s Irish Ale with its strength reduced from 4.2% ABV to 3.8%. To publicise the relaunch, it will be sold in pubs with a scheme offering, “Buy three, get a free one next time you’re in.”

If sales of a real ale had declined as much as Caffrey’s have, it would probably be discontinued with an apologetic press release expressing regret that it was no longer viable. But as it’s a smoothflow, it is relaunched with a bribe for drinkers to buy it on their next visit to try to get them back into the Caffrey’s habit. If this liquid, steeped as it is with fake Irish tradition, was any good, such schemes would of course not be necessary.

Mega-brewers say they simply want to offer choice, but this relaunch proves that they want to change people’s drinking habits to suit their corporate strategy. People have chosen to stop drinking Caffrey’s, but this was the wrong decision and drinkers are being induced to try again until they get it right.

This whole thing is just a reworking of the old smoothflow attack on real ale, only this time repackaged with a sweetener, which means they must be desperate to get us drinking the stuff. Funny how the option of brewing decent beer never crosses their minds, isn’t it?

Picture: the staff of Caffrey’s Brewery at the opening of new premises in Belfast in 1905. Click to enlarge it in another window.

Thursday 11 March 2010

FemALE Jewel in the Crown

The Crown at Worthington is an award-winning pub about 20 miles from Southport.  It has just come second in the CAMRA National Pub of the Year for 2009, losing out to second time winner, the Kelham Island Tavern of Sheffield. It has also won various awards from the Wigan CAMRA branch. It is the brewery tap for the excellent Prospect Brewery that I have written about previously.

I think we can therefore safely assume they know something about beer, so it's with interest that I learned that they are putting on a "FemALE Real Ale Festival" from today. They say: "Beer isn't just for Blokes, or by Blokes! We want to explode the myth that beer, beards, and beer goggles are the only connection. We’re the brewery tap for Patsy, owner and award winning brewers of Prospect in Standish. She’s promised us a barrel of the new “120” - a tribute to the late Beth Slevin."

I suppose calling the stereotype of the real ale drinker a myth is good, and a way of grabbing people's attention, but I do wonder whether there is any such thing as a female drinker. At the Wigan Beer Festival last weekend, there were plenty of women who preferred darker beers and stouts. They didn't all just want light beers with hints of lemon or other fruits, although such beers are perhaps a way in for people who are used to lager but who are prepared to try something different, but that applies to men as well as women. We are long past the age of the glass of sweet sherry "for the ladies", and I can remember my grandmother enjoying the occasional bottle of milk stout, as did many older women in those days, so women drinking beer is hardly new. Beer's macho image should really be old hat by now, but it lingers on anyway.

Irrespective of these musings, all credit to the Crown for trying something a bit different from putting on a festival that simply goes down the laddish route. I just hope it doesn't have the effect of reinforcing new preconceptions about the female drinker - to help you form your own view about that, you can peruse the beer list here, which looks quite extensive. The festival runs to Sunday 14 March.

Platt Lane, Worthington, Standish, WN1 2XF.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Gaga about the prices

I'm finding it quite funny that fans of Lady Gaga are complaining that, while seats for the current set of dates on her tour cost £27.50 to £35, tickets for her new shows in May and June, which go on sale this week, will cost £50 to £75.  Some are even saying that Trading Standards should look into it. Why? Legally promoters can and will charge whatever they can get away with; you in turn are under no obligation to buy the tickets. That's the free market economy for you ~ glorifying (and overcharging for) the latest big splash. A boycott would be a highly effective weapon, but that's never going to happen.

Being involved in the amateur end of the music world, I know there is loads of great music of many varying types that you can listen to inexpensively or even free, so my sympathy is rather limited. But many people won't take anything seriously until it's been been hyped to death on TV, radio and in the gossip pages. Fair enough, if that's what you really want ~ but don't then whinge about the price of your celebrity fix. If anyone's interested, the link is here.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Wigan Beer Festival

I returned from Wigan beer festival on Sunday evening. As usual, there was a great atmosphere, and even though the beer order had been increased by 25% after last year's festival (when the beer ran out at around 9pm), stocks only just lasted until closing time on Saturday night with the help of emergency supplies shipped in. Beer range and quality was good and, as last year, the beers were arranged with light beers on one bar and dark beers on the other, an arrangement which seemed to go down well with the punters once they'd realised.

For the first time ever, the festival was part of the Wigan Food and Drink Festival, which itself had booked big names such as Jilly Goolden and Antony Worrall Thompson (neither scheduled to appear at the beer festival though), but this an indication of the stature this festival now has in the community. 

On Sunday, we visited the Berkeley and the Boulevard in Wigan town centre, both good real ale pubs across the road from the railway station. As I left the the Berkeley, I saw the sun shining on the buildings opposite, as shown in the picture above. The sign is outside the Boulevard, and is almost identical to this blog's description.

If you weren't at Wigan beer festival, you missed a good do.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Lunchtime Legends ~ Gig for Haiti

The Lunchtime Legends rock & roll band, of which I'm a member, will be playing a gig for the Haiti earthquake appeal on Friday 12 March at 8.00 p.m. The venue is the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport. Admission £3, with children under 13 free. The music is classic pop and rock & roll played in our own individual fashion.  You don't have to take my word for it: a review in Folk North West magazine said: "Cheerful ... a lot of fun to be had."

The Legends have 6 albums under their belt, some of which will be on sale at the gig, including their recent EP 'Daze', that was premiered in August 2009 to much acclaim on the Whitby Folk Week fringe, where they have played every year since 1992 as an antidote to squeeze boxes and diddly tunes.

Come along and rock & roll for an excellent cause. Thwaites Bomber is the real ale on sale.

Postcode: PR9 0JS. Loads of free parking on the street and in the car park.