Friday 30 July 2010

Belgian Beer Festival

It was a good night at the Woody Guthrie Folk Club in the Ship and Mitre, Dale Street, Liverpool last night.  Some great songs and as usual some good beers.  I had two golden beers, Northern Hit and Run (4.5%) and JW Lees Scorcher (4.2%) and finished with a 5.2% dark ale, Northern Deep Dark Secret, which was full bodied and slightly chocolatey. I think my favourite was the Lees.

While there, I noticed the Ship and Mitre was in the middle of its Belgian Beer Festival, which I hadn't known was on. If you're interested, its last day is Sunday 1st August.

Thursday 29 July 2010

Belly dancing at the George

For an evening with a difference, why not go to the George Hotel, corner of Duke Street and Cemetery Road this Sunday 1st August? Local belly dancer Maryem will be dancing three 20-minute spots from 9pm to about 10.45. Maryem's dancing is the real thing, as she was born and grew up in Egypt. 
If that's not your thing, then also on Sunday the Bothy has another of its free summer singarounds from around 8.00pm at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport. Thwaites real ale.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Live music reform plans

The government's review of the live music restrictions, which among other things makes it illegal to play an unamplified acoustic guitar in a pub without the appropriate licence, is being held up mechanics of the review. John Penrose, the minister responsible, told the Commons that the options for changing the rules are being considered “as quickly as possible”. He said a series of options are being looked at to see which one “comes out best in the business case”, whatever that means. The main bone of contention is whether exemption from licensing should be set at 100 or 200 people; I can't see why that decision can't be made quickly. 

As I've written previously, it's nonsense that 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 it's going to take a while to bring some common sense into this matter, let's hope it's worth the wait.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Mike Silver in Maghull

Singer-songwriter Mike Silver will be playing at Maghull Folk Club tonight (Tuesday 27th). Mike now lives in Launceston in Cornwall and has been performing live and writing his own brand of sensitive songs for over 30 years. He's been a guest at Southport's Bothy on a couple of occasions and has always turned in an engrossing performance. It begins at 8.30pm upstairs in the Maghull Community Association in Green Lane (L31 2JH).

You can listen to "An Old Fashioned Saturday Night" on YouTube.

Sunday 25 July 2010

It's No Place To Be for the Summer

Place To Be, Rich Simcock's acoustic music nights on the last Thursday of the month in the Mount Pleasant in Manchester Road have closed down for the summer. They will return in September. However, there is no shortage of other events where you can perform, or just listen, usually with decent beer ~ see my events page for details. To pick a few out:

The Bothy continues through the summer with free singarounds every Sunday in the Park Golf Club (Park Rd West) until the new season begins on 12 September with guest Ken Nicol. Thwaites real ale.

The Woody Guthrie Folk Club also meets on the last Thursday of the month and will continue through the summer. Upstairs in the Ship and Mitre, Dale Street, Liverpool. Probably the best real ale selection in town.

The singarounds/music sessions in the Guest House (1st & 3rd Mondays) and the Mason's (1st & 3rd Wednesdays) will also carry on through the summer. Both real ale pubs.

"What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play."

Saturday 24 July 2010

World Cup pub bonanza a damp squib

Mitchells & Butlers', owners around 2000 pubs and restaurants in various chains, including Harvester, Toby Carvery, All Bar One, Nicholson's and O'Neill's, have reported that, compared to the same period last year, sales dropped by 2% during the World Cup month. Food was especially affected.

This reinforces my long-held view that the way to sustainable profitability for pubs is not through one-off events, such as big sporting competitions, because that does not encourage sports fans to become pub regulars. On the contrary, I believe it could reinforce a view of pubs as somewhere you go to just for such special occasions, rather than being a part of your normal social life.

The problem is that if some pubs didn't put these events on, there would probably have been more people staying at home with their sandwiches and supermarkets drinks, leading to even greater downturn in trade. It's a sad state of affairs that some pubs feel they have to rely on big sport events rather than regular trade, but M&B's findings suggest that they are merely an inadequate life support system rather than a solution. I know licensees who are getting rid of Sky Sport as it doesn't pay its way in their pubs. I wonder how many after the World Cup are weighing up which is better: less trade but no Sky, or a bit more trade and paying Sky a fortune?

I don't have the answers, and I avoid pubs showing sport like the plague, but it seems clear to me that big sporting events cannot be the pubs' salvation.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Hope for the Bec

The Bec in happier days
Una McBride, who with her mother - also called Una and known to all as Mrs Mc - is running the Save The Becconsall Campaign in Hesketh Bank which I have referred to several times previously, tells me that an entrepreneur with a track record of rejuvenating and running pubs/eating places is showing a real interest in taking on the Bec in partnership with a family brewer of six generations standing. For commercial reasons, names can't be revealed yet.

Una said, "This is all a long way off a happy conclusion at this time, however, it does show that it is possible and it is something to get excited about! There are people out there who may be able and willing to bring The Bec back as The Bec instead of more housing!"

So although nothing has been finalised yet, I doubt things would have got this far without the campaign Una and her mother have organised.

Monday 19 July 2010

Real ale drinkers are role models

There I was, just thinking I simply enjoyed my real ale, when I come across an article from the Independent posted on Facebook stating that Britain's beer drinkers can serve as role models for the nation as it struggles to emerge from recession. An academic study by Nottingham University Business School came up with the findings after examining the history of brewing in England. They believe the industry's rebirth in the wake of the Campaign for Real Ale's founding in 1971 has implications for much of the UK economy. The full article is here.

So, I now know what they mean be drinking responsibly: as a role model, I have a position to maintain and duties to fulfil. I must take these responsibilities more seriously in future. Perhaps the Government will reduce beer tax to enable more citizens to become role models?

Sunday 18 July 2010

Liverpool Pride Acoustic Line-Up

I've just learned that the Organisers of Liverpool Pride have announced the line up to play the Acoustic Stage at Liverpool’s first ever Pride Festival, which takes place in and around the Dale Street area of Liverpool on Saturday 7th August. Ian McNabb, former leader and main songwriter in the Icicle Works, will be headlining a very full line-up.  You'll find a lot more detail here.

If you combine the festival with a pub crawl, there are plenty of great pubs in the area, some of which are listed in my Dale Street pub crawl; I think you can expect them to be busy on the day.

And before anyone asks the predictable question: no, you don't have to LGBT.

Sunday 11 July 2010

At home ...

I'm not at the Bothy tonight because my ear infection, which I thought had been cleared up by antibiotics, has flared up again. Third time this year. Not only is it sometimes painful, but I can't hear myself sing properly; it sounds horrible to me, like listening to music in the bath with your head under the water. Now it's possible, of course, that I'm simply experiencing what my audiences have had to put up with for years.

While I'm on about the Bothy, the end of season guest next Sunday is Anthony John Clarke, a singer-songwriter who lists his favourite songwriters as: Al Stewart, John Martyn, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, John Prine, Conor Clarke and Ray Davies. 8pm, Sunday 18th, in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport. Real ale from Thwaites.

Friday 9 July 2010

The Lion sings tonight ... well, last night

The front room in the Lion Tavern
where we held the singaround
My first singaround in the Lion Tavern in Liverpool last night was quite a success. I had been worried I might be sitting there clutching my guitar on my own, but in the event eight other singers turned up, including local folk luminaries such as Colin Batho, Keith Price, Helen McCall and local singer songwriter Lizzie Nunnery, who accompanied her own compositions on a ukulele played in a rather unusual way. She doesn't do any George Formby, though. There was a great variety of songs, including traditional, gospel, originals, the Great American Songbook and a bit of rock & roll ~ not from me, for a change.

A good range of real ales was on, including JW Lees, but I stuck with Midsummer Madness, 4.7%, dry and golden, just the ticket when singing on a warm summer evening. 

After that promising start, we'll do it all again on Thursday 12 August.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Patron saint of lost causes
There has been some excitement among the anti-smoking ban lobby about a survey among pub licensees that showed 76% thought smoking should be allowed in separate well-ventilated rooms in pubs, and 64% felt it had been detrimental to their business.  The survey was in the Morning Advertiser, the newspaper for the pub trade; the article is here, and I came across it via Curmudgeon's blog.

This looks fairly decisive, until you actually analyse it.  156 licensees responded to the survey, 76% of which is 119.  With 52,000 pubs*, this represents 0.23% of the total number of licensees in the UK; in other words, fewer than 1 in 400 licensees actually responded that they wanted smoking in separate well-ventilated rooms. The sample is so low it is statistically invalid, and I really doubt it was scientifically selected. Like most newspaper surveys, it was probably self selected, and such surveys are notorious in that those with a gripe are most likely to respond, thus skewing the results. While I'm sure there are quite a few licensees who regret the smoking ban, this survey is utterly worthless and proves nothing. The attitude of most licensees I know is, that's the way it is, we just have to get on with it, but that's not a scientific survey either.

In February, I told you about an attitude survey of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training which, among other things, showed 90% opposed to the repeal of the smoking ban. They're not only the drinkers of the future, but also the next generation of the UK's politicians, lawyers and opinion-formers, so it's reasonable to conclude that's the direction things are moving. People who put faith in the Morning Advertiser survey and its ilk are desperately clutching at straws, especially in the light of my previous posting.

* Source: the British Beer and Pub Association.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

No review of the smoking ban

Our Con-Dem government has said it is ditching the review of the smoking ban that should have taken place now, three years after the ban came in, so the situation is 'no change' at least for a while. There had been some pressure to extend the ban to pub doorways and beer gardens, while on the other hand there are numerous requests on the website to propose scrapping laws for the ban to be reversed. Both these extremes will be disappointed.

I know singers who often used to find singing in a smoky room difficult, and asking the audience not to smoke immediately in front of them sometimes went down badly, even though this request was motivated solely by the effect of smoke on the singer's voice and throat. Some smokers were prepared to co-operate but others took offence, but even when they did co-operate, the general smokiness in a room could still cause problems. Singers have had to refuse bookings in venues they knew would be smoky; performers generally prefer not to turn down work, but they have to put their voice first. My late Uncle Arthur was a good singer in the style of Frankie Vaughan, whom he knew when they were both starting out; one of the reasons he gave up performing professionally was the deleterious effects of cigarette smoke in pubs and clubs.

Personally, I'm quite happy with the ban as it is - I don't want it extended or eased - so I've no complaint about this decision.

Saturday 3 July 2010

You can't hide your Lion eyes ...

The glass dome in the Lion
This Thursday sees the first of the free monthly singarounds in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields in Liverpool. The idea was mooted when I went into the Lion a couple of months ago for a pint and saw Sean, who used to be involved in the Mason's pub in Southport; he asked whether there could be a singaround similar to that in the Mason's. I thought, "Why not?" and as it's just across the road from Moorfields railway station, getting there is easy.

Assuming anyone turns up, the format will be simply to go around the room and ask whether people want to perform. There's no PA, and no room for drum kits, so it's about as basic and unthreatening a venue you can get outside your bedroom. Just bring your acoustic instruments along, or just yourself if you sing unaccompanied, but performing is not compulsory.
The original Lion steam engine,
after which the pub is named.

The Lion is noted for its choice of well-kept real ales and fine architecture, and so will be great, if rather cosy, venue for an informal singaround, which will run approximately between 8.00 and 11.00 p.m.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Smiling your way to the stars

My friend Geoff has sent me a link to a book review: Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich. It challenges the assertion that a positive attitude can help you achieve almost anything you want, from good health to wealth and success, and if you don't succeed, it's because you weren't positive enough. While a positive attitude is no bad thing, it's clearly not a universal panacea. I have seen motivational speakers, and found their smug homilies about how a positive attitude got them through being shot, house repossessions, job losses, divorces, bereavements (I'm not making this up) and you can do the same. It seems we're no longer allowed to grieve for losses and setbacks in life.

Relating this to music, I've long thought that the American wannabe culture is responsible for the huge numbers of people who think that if they wish it hard enough, they will become pop stars via TV talent shows. I have occasionally watched episodes of X-factor and Pop Idol, and have been quite amazed at the utter mediocrity or even awfulness of some of the contestants, who are absolutely convinced, not only that they are brilliant, but also that this is the way to achieve their "life's dream". It seems to me that stating that something is your "dream" is enough to destroy any self-critical faculties you may possess, and X-Factor and its ilk is precisely designed to tap into that positive thinking delusion.

There is also a self regarding motive here: if you can become rich and famous by merely wishing hard enough for it, why spend years trailing up and down motorways in an old Transit for gigs in pubs and clubs: just go on X-Factor where you will be set on the road to instant fame and fortune. What else can explain the genuine tears after rejection? It's more than mere disappointment: it's the frustration that comes from feeling you were deprived of something you were entitled to. Listening to disappointed contestants talk after failing, it's clear that many of these people think success is their right. If not via X-Factor, they will become successful another way, they assert as they take their steps back into obscurity. It's all a sort of cheap pop version of the positive thinking scam that Barbara Ehrenreich has written about.

The commercial success of Girls Aloud is undoubtedly due to the length of their legs and corresponding skimpiness of their outfits, because their studio-enhanced, relentlessly unison singing is mediocre. I have written previously about the appalling Cheryl Cole, but I recently saw an item about her on a news website and was amused to see many readers comment about the mediocrity of her singing ~ except for one distraught fan who wrote that, okay she isn't a brilliant singer but she's pretty and dances well. As she is meant to be a pop singer, that says it all really. But the main point about Girls Aloud is that their commercial success, along with Ms Cole's "heart-warming" rags to riches story, is probably what continues to motivate loads of wannabes to try to repeat the trick: they only have to wish hard enough with the right positive attitude and the "dream" will be theirs for the taking. Of course their efforts always do lead to fame and fortune ... for Simon Cowell.

I have other complaints about shows like X-factor, and those designed to get lead singers for West End musicals, but in this posting I wanted to concentrate on the damage caused by this bastardised motivational claptrap which, by giving the likes of Simon Cowell excessive control over what gets in the charts, is converting pop music into insipid, safe muzak with a sugar coating of synthetic seductiveness.