Thursday 30 September 2010

Crosby Beer Festival

I've just heard about the Crosby Beer Festival, which takes place next weekend, 7th to 9th October. It's being run by Rotary for charity (they raised more than £8000 for local good causes last year), and will take place at the Crosby Civic Hall, Crosby Road North, about 5 minutes walk from Waterloo railway station.

Opening hours are:
Thursday and Friday: 5.00 pm to 11.00 pm.
Saturday: 1.00 pm to 11.00 pm.

You can get full details from their website.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Mason's extra singaround tonight

I meant to mention this earlier, but the Mason's regulars decided to have an extra singaround this month on the fifth Wednesday. It's today, the 29th September, from approximately 8.30 pm. You're welcome whether or not you perform, sandwiches are usually provided by the pub, it's free and very informal. Real ale from Robinson's.

The Mason's is on Anchor Street, just behind the main post office on Lord Street in Southport.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Mini Oktoberfest

The Inn Beer Shop
This Friday, the 1st October, the Inn Beer Shop will be holding an Oktoberfest Day with fine beers and German food delicacies on offer. 

For those of you who don't know it, the Inn Beer Shop is at the northern end of Lord Street, opposite Farmfoods. It stocks more than 300 bottled beers from Britain, Germany and Belgium, and you can drink them there in the cafĂ© area or take them away. It has a pavement licence too, if the weather is warm enough, or if you're hard enough. They sell draught Southport beer at weekends.

I was in there on Sunday afternoon for CAMRA stalwart Mike Perkins' 'significant' birthday drink. I had a Erdinger Weissbier Kristalklar, which I suspect is rather unimaginative, but I know little about these beers, then a Rauchbier on Ian Wareing's recommendation, which was smoky as the name suggests. A bit of a shock to the tastebuds, but I liked it once I got used to it.

Do try to visit the Oktoberfest Day, but note the shop closes at 7.00 pm.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Nelsons' Launch

Something special is happening in Southport this Thursday 30 September: local acoustic duo Chris and Siobhan Nelson are launching their third CD, Early Birds. The title track has lyrics written by poet Geoff Parry, who has written the words to quite a few songs I sing. Siobhan is noted for her clear and expressive singing voice, and Chris is a great fiddle player, while also contributing vocally too.  With various guests being asked to add their talents, it should be a great night.

Come along and find out: it's free, and it takes place at the Bothy in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, from around 8pm. The new CD will be on sale, and as usual Thwaites real ale will be available.

Friday 24 September 2010

Union Resolution To Tackle Pub Companies

The GMB trade union will expose the links between inflated rents levied by pubcos and business schemes that transfer money to offshore accounts to avoid paying UK tax. The union has recently been running a campaign against a number of pubcos and brewers in recent weeks on behalf of pub licensees, and has recently blamed a 25% drop in alcohol sales in pubs on "artificially high prices that tied pub tenants have to charge to recover the [alcohol prices] and rents charged by the pubcos who own the ... pub". They will table a resolution at the Labour Party's annual conference at the end of September in Manchester. Among other things, the resolution will call for action on tax avoidance schemes which apparently cost the UK economy £50,000 million a year. 

We drinkers know that more than a third of what we pay for a pint goes straight to the government, but to realise that we are also unwitting partners in a scam to avoid tax by use of offshore tax havens is another matter altogether, and is especially galling when we are facing an increase of VAT to 20% in the New Year.

The GMB's resolution is not just about the pub industry - the full text is in this article in the Publican - but it deserves to be passed and should be taken seriously by the Labour Party. Well, we can dream ...

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Georgian Quarter Pub Crawl

Perusing the website of the Roscoe Head, the only Merseyside pub to appear in every Good Beer Guide, I came across this Georgian Quarter Pub Crawl, helpfully provided by the pub for your entertainment. It features nine pubs (including the excellent Roscoe Head itself); I've tried them all at some point and each serves real ale.  The various pubs have very different characters, from the gin house splendour of the Philharmonic (with one room called Brahms and another Liszt ~ devilishly subtle Scouse humour) to the bohemian ambience of Ye Cracke, where we used to go for a drink after union branch committee meetings years ago. If you get peckish part way round, the food in the Everyman Bistro is particularly good. The Everyman also has a folk club which meets every Tuesday evening at 8.30 pm in the third room.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and compile a similar crawl myself, I thought I'd just put a link to it. If you try it, have fun!

The Rocoe Head is about 10 minutes walk from Central Station ~ slightly more from Lime Street.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Claire Hamill in Southport

Claire Hamill has been active in the music business since 1971 when, at the age of 17, she was launched as one of Britain's first female singer-songwriters; she wrote the song 'You Take My Breath Away', which was recorded by Eva Cassidy whose recording of it was used in a movie soundtrack. Claire's individual vocal style has ensured her a place in the pages of contemporary music history through more than thirty years of recording and performing, both in her own right as a solo performer and with artists as diverse as Jon Anderson, Wishbone Ash and Vangelis.

Claire will be appearing in Southport at the Bothy Folk Club, which meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, PR9 0JS, on Thursday 7 October at 8.00pm.  This is a rare opportunity to see her locally. 

Tickets available on-line from HERE, or from the Bothy on any Sunday evening.

Thwaites real ale is served at the Bothy.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Liverpool Beer & Pubs Festival

St Anthony' Crypt.
As I write this, the Liverpool Beer & Pubs Festival is taking place. It is run by Liverpool CAMRA in conjunction with many Liverpool pubs.  Events run into October and include the Southport Swords and Argarmeles Clog dancing at the Roscoe Head Beer Festival, Roscoe Street, Liverpool 1, later today (Sunday the 19th) at around 2pm. They will then go up to Hope Street to dance, and finally back to the Roscoe Head. The Roscoe Head is one of only nine pubs nationwide to be in every edition of the Good Beer Guide.

Other events include a week-long beer festival in the Lion Tavern in Moorfields (home of my monthly singaround) from 22 September, and my favourite, a beer festival in an old crypt:  St Anthony's Church in Scotland Road. You can drink surrounded by inscriptions on real tombs (14 to 16 October).

You'll find full details of all the events here.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Government rejects minimum pricing in favour of maximum tax

The Publican, the magazine of the pub trade, petitioned the government to introduce a minimum price of 50p for every unit of alcohol sold. They argued this would end cheap booze promotions in supermarkets and bring off-trade prices closer to the cost of alcohol in the pub. 
Supermarket booze
The government's response was:
"There are no plans to implement a minimum unit price at this time. The government is concerned about the impact of low-cost alcohol on consumption levels and alcohol related crime and disorder. To tackle this we are committed to banning the sale of alcohol below cost-price.

"In addition, as part of the government’s commitment to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, we will undertake a wider review of alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure that it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries. We cannot prejudge the outcomes of this review, and therefore will not make any further commitments regarding alcohol pricing until the results are published."

While I agree with The Publican's assertion that the pub is the home of responsible drinking, I don't agree with the call for minimum pricing of alcohol, for reasons that I wrote about on 7 August last year - click here if you wish to see what I wrote then.

As the ConDem government has said it will maintain the beer tax escalator, whereby beer tax goes up by more than inflation, it would seem that maximum taxation is what's really on their agenda. Minimum pricing would simply put more money in the pockets of retailers, whereas the escalator puts it into Treasury coffers. So, I don't think there's any altruistic motive for rejecting minimum pricing, and talk about tackling "binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers" is just so much eye wash.

Friday 17 September 2010

Live Band & Open Mike at the George

Owing to a cock up by the pub, who are entirely to blame, this night has had to be cancelled. Sorry about this.

This Saturday there'll be another acoustic night in the George Hotel (corner of Cemetery Road and Duke Street), organised by Mick Cooper and featuring the band Blanket Apology, who will also offer performers an open mike opportunity.

It starts around 8.00pm, it's free and all are welcome.  The pub doesn't serve real ale, unfortunately, but is in most other ways a good local ~ and all the scallies who gave it a bad reputation in the past have been barred months ago.

I'll be there, clutching my guitar ~ hope to see you there too.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Real Cider & Perry

CAMRA obviously campaigns for real ale, but did you know that it also campaigns for real cider and perry? Most people have an idea what cider is, but mention perry and they’ll either think you’re referring to Babycham or they’ll just look at you blankly.

Real cider is an old traditional drink produced naturally from apples and is neither carbonated or pasteurised. Unfortunately, real cider is in a similar situation to that which faced real ale some 30 years ago with the number of outlets for real cider is diminishing, even in the West Country. The situation with perry (which is made by a similar process, but from pears) is even worse, as it is rarely available away from the farm where it’s made. As a result of the difficulties facing these drinks, CAMRA set up a cider and perry committee within CAMRA to let drinkers know about the choice of real ciders and perries available and to encourage the producers to continue making them.

Many of the most well-known ciders in Britain are cold, fizzy keg products which have been produced artificially rather than naturally. Perry is in a worse position as it is even losing its name: a lot of pear-based drinks are being sold in bottled form under the name of ‘pear cider’. The explanation is two-fold: firstly, they don’t want their product to be associated with drinks like Babycham or Lambrini; and secondly, a lot of people don’t know what perry is anyway. And yet perry has been common for centuries in Britain, particularly in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and in parts of South Wales, and France – it is not a new drink.

So what’s in a name? If people are now drinking more of it, does it matter whether it’s called pear cider or perry. Well, if it were just a question of the name, then I don’t suppose it would matter much, but that isn’t the case. Most of the pear cider produced is actually not the same as perry, but a cider-style drink flavoured with pear concentrate, whereas perry should be made by traditional methods from pears only. So pear cider is actually a seriously bastardised form of perry.

Why have they done this? The big cider manufacturers have seen the craze for keg cider collapse and were desperately scrabbling around to replace lost sales. The result was pear cider, which has proved to be very popular, but like most fad drinks, the bubble will burst sooner or later. In the meantime, while pear cider sales have gone through the roof, real perry is still a niche product, rarely available outside the areas where it’s made, except when it’s on sale at CAMRA beer festivals.

Most people aren’t accustomed to real cider and perry and make the mistake of drinking it like beer because it’s usually served like beer. Real perry and cider have more in common with wine than beer, both in the way they’re produced and in their strength. They can be up to 8 or 9%, almost the same strength as some German wines. You wouldn’t down a pint of Liebfraumilch like a pint of ale, would you? Well, perhaps you would, but only if you weren’t planning to make a whole evening of enjoying drinking.

It is well worth tracking down some real ciders and perries, and more people are discovering for themselves how deliciously mellow, aromatic and varied the flavours of naturally produced real cider can be. The problem is that there are very few outlets for real ciders in this part of the country, and no more than a handful in Southport and its surrounding areas.

CAMRA has introduced a new window sticker for pubs (pictured); it’s intended to help pubs by telling their customers that they sell real cider. This in turn will raise the profile and increase sales of real cider, and support pubs so that they stand out from other drinking establishments – important in these difficult times. I've suggested to the local CAMRA branch that we supply these where necessary.

In a future post, I'll list the local real cider outlets.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Drew Nelson in Freshfield

Drew Nelson is the guest at our newest local concert club, Grateful Fred. He is a singer songwriter from Michigan, USA, who is currently on a tour in this country. He can be seen this Friday 17th September 2010 at 8.00pm at the Freshfield Hotel, Massams Lane, L37 7BD, about 10 minutes' walk from Freshfield Station.  It's only £5 to get in (see website about tickets), and the Freshfield is noted for serving 10 real ales and a real cider.

Here is a YouTube video of Drew:

Sunday 12 September 2010

After The Feast, The Reckoning

After months of work, with some of the preparations going back nearly a year, the beer festival seems over in flash - or at least a weekend. There wasn't a lot of beer left, the ciders and perries were near enough sold out and most customers seemed to enjoy themselves. Friday night was particularly packed, as we didn't have the use of an overspill room that we were able to use on Saturday owing to a wedding. That room was where we had the music on Saturday, with me playing in the afternoon, although this nearly didn't happen when I couldn't get the hotel's PA to work. Andy from the hotel also couldn't get it to work either, so I tentatively asked whether the power cable might be faulty. "Unlikely," he replied. After he'd checked everything else, he found another power cable, and the amplifier lights came on!

Gallimaufry played a varied set in the evening that impressed the beer festival audience, which are notoriously difficult to win over as people don't go to a beer festival primarily for music, but this audience was attentive and appreciative. Galli played a suitably eclectic set, comprising a mixture of tunes and songs, from Beatles played classically to traditional folk.

We had the usual mixture of customers, from the familiar real ale eccentrics to apparently sane ordinary people with a full age range from young to pensioners. I saw three young women walk to the bar, knowledgeably order what they wanted and walk away, one with a dark beer and two with lighter ales. The days of a young woman just tagging along as the long-suffering girl friend do seem to be heading into the past, and that mixed choice of drinks is one in the eye for people who think women only like a certain style of beer (i.e. light, citrussy and without too powerful a flavour). On the Saturday we were invaded by a load of people dressed as clowns. I never found out what that was about.

During the festival I had confirmed something I had suspected for some time now: someone from a local paper said he liked this blog and had sometimes had scrutinised it for items for the paper. Well, if it helps get the word around about the events this blog mentions, then I suppose that's all right.

Today involved taking down the festival, emptying the barrels and pouring the unsold beer away (the worst part of any festival), dismantling the heavy scaffolding, loading it into a van and trying the convert our festival room back into a hotel function room. Our review meeting is in a couple of weeks when early decisions on next year's festival will be taken, then the whole cycle begins all over again.

By the way, the beer of the festival as voted by the customers was Golden Sands yet again. Congratulations to Southport Brewery.

Dave Thackeray has written about the festival on his blog, which includes a short video report you might like.

Friday 10 September 2010

Lion Singaround + Meet The Brewer + Beer Festival

The bar in the Lion.
Our third singaround in the Lion went rather well: six performers, including a couple of new people. There was a young group consisting of three Englishmen and an American woman, who were already there when we arrived. They chatted through a few songs, as is their right - it is a pub after all - but then they began to listen, ask us about the songs, and were very appreciative, to the extent that when I did "The World Upside Down" about the Diggers, I ended in an historical discussion with one of them. When songs and tunes finished, I could hear drinkers elsewhere in the pub clapping.  These sessions do seem to be quite successful - I'm pleased as it's the first time I've organised such a thing in Liverpool. I even had a request from one singer to increase the frequency, but it's too soon to be thinking of that. But who knows in time?

I noticed a poster advertising a Meet The Brewer Night next Thursday the 16th September in the Lion from 8.00pm. The brewer concerned will be from J. W. Lees of Middleton, Greater Manchester.

This pub also has a beer festival for one week from Wednesday 22nd September with a good range of beers lined up.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Beer Festival Music

Quite a few people have asked me whether there will be music at the Sandgrounder Beer Festival, as there has been some disappointment in recent years that, apart from me playing, there hasn't been any. This was due to the surcharge imposed by the Arts Centre for live bands, although they didn't charge extra for just me and my guitar. There will be some live music on Saturday (Thursday and Friday are still there for those real ale drinkers whose taste buds don't seem to work if there's music in the background!).

Saturday afternoon: me! Just me and my guitar with songs from the 1950s onwards, mostly covers, but with a few originals in the mix. A couple of CDs by the band I play in, the Lunchtime Legends, will be on sale.

Saturday evening: Gallimaufry, a local band which plays a range of music from folk dance tunes to traditional and contemporary songs, with the odd bit of jazz and classical thrown in for good measure. And, yes, that is a double bass in the picture, and he certainly knows how to play it.

Here is the list of beers and other drinks that will be on. I hope to see you there.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Kingsway Goes Up In Flames

The Kingsway in its heyday
The Kingsway on Southport's Promenade has burned down tonight. This was a fondly remembered nightspot for Southport residents of certain generations. It was the venue for the first ever appearance of the Beatles with Ringo Starr in the line up, not long after he had been poached from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes as a replacement for Pete Best. A poster advertising the Kingsway night in 1962 featured the tagline: ‘Pa’s gone down to the dog track, mother’s playin’ bingo. But everyone else is going to see The Beatles’.

Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck also performed there, which gives some indication of the prestige that this establishment once had. In the 1990s it became a nightclub called Bliss, but finally closed down for good a few years ago.

The Kingsway was due to be demolished to make way for yet another block of flats, but it's a shame that it all ended like this. You can see pictures on the local news website Southport GB.

Monday 6 September 2010

MPs' beer and food subsidies reduced

As Tyson tells us here, MPs are having to pay more for their food and drink, hitherto heavily subsidised by us taxpayers. I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation for having a bee in my bonnet about this issue, which I have referred to only several times previously, and I note that their food and drink will still be subsidised, although to a lesser extent. Apparently a salary of £65,738 (+ expenses & benefits) is unsufficient to pay the full price of food and drink, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Thanks to Tyson for pointing this out; the BBC news item is here.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Sandgrounder Beer Festival

I went to a meeting of the beer festival committee on Thursday night in the Windmill. As there was live music in the pub and it was quite warm, we had the meeting in the large beer garden in the front. Caledonian 80/- was on, but soon ran out, leaving just Theakstons. Judging by the discussion, everything seems to be coming together well for the festival, barring any last minute setbacks. Full details of the festival can be found here and the beer list here.

It opens to the public at 6pm on Thursday 9th September, and at 7pm the Branch awards to local licensees will be made. Some cynics say that licensees don't value these awards and accept them just to humour the local Branch of CAMRA, but I don't believe that's the case ~ not unless every licensee is a superb actor. I won't reveal the results until they've been officially announced.

It's in the plush surroundings of the Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street ~ we've gone up-market! The theme of this year's beer festival is "North West and Some of the Rest", which, as the name suggests, will concentrate on beers from our region, so there'll be plenty for you to choose from.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Out and about in Liverpool & Haskayne

Side view of the Crown
As I was in Liverpool for an eye test on Thursday, I decided to check a couple of pubs afterwards. My first port of call was the Crown on Lime Street, next to the railway station, which I wrote about nearly a year ago.  This two-roomed pub is often overlooked by real ale drinkers, but I can't see why. It has many original features, including an elaborate ceiling, wood-panelled walls and a largely unaltered exterior. Owing to the demolition of an adjacent office block, you can now get an unobstructed view of the side of the pub (as in the picture), and it is now much more of a landmark on Lime Street than before.

I noticed that the beers were much the same price as last year: Marstons EPA was £1-69, Cains Bitter £1-79, and Brains Rev James and Spitfire were both £1-89. The EPA was a pleasant light beer, quite enjoyable on a warm sunny day.

The tiled room in Dr Duncan's
I next went to Dr Duncans, which only sells the Cains range. This pub is impressive, and part of it, a spectacular tiled room, used to be offices for the Prudential. I had a pint of Cains Raisin Beer, which I can remember happily drinking all afternoon a couple of years ago, but which I found merely acceptable but nothing special. It was in good condition, so I'm not sure if my tastes have changed or whether the beer isn't brewed as well as it used to be. I suspect the latter, as I generally find I don't enjoy Cains beers as much nowadays. The pub is still worth a visit though.

View from the Ship's beer garden
On Friday, I was in the Ship Inn in Haskayne, an attractive canal side pub which features frequently in my 'events' page as it has three music nights every week. I have written about the folk singaround previously. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I thoroughly enjoyed the house beer, Ship Ahoy, brewed by George Wright. Two other real ales were on, including Black Sheep.

Standing at the bar, I overheard the barmaid chatting to some male customers. She was saying, "I was ten minutes from finishing my shift when ..."
"Finishing your what?" asked one.
"My shiFFFFt!"

I did hear the disturbing news that the Kings Arms, just down the road from the Ship, is up for sale, and that the potential buyers may convert it into a restaurant. I remember going to folk nights in the function room upstairs years ago. With the Ship being so successful, the PubCo that owns the Kings Arms hasn't even tried to compete, with the completely unsurprising consequences we see today.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Phil Ochs Song Night

This Friday in the fine surroundings of the View 2 Gallery, Mathew Street, Liverpool, there will be a night of songs of war and peace in honour of Phil Ochs, a protest singer songwriter who died in 1976, aged just 35. His songs have been covered by dozens of singers, including Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Nanci Griffith and Billy Bragg. The singers in View 2 will include Al Baker, Benjamin Stead and Jules Grey.

Friday 3rd September at 7.30 p.m. All proceeds to Merseyside CND.
Please note: it's on the 4th floor and there is no disabled access.

Bottled ales only in the venue, but good cask ale pubs
(Grapes and White Star) just a minute's walk away.

Unfortunately I'll miss it as I had previously agreed to play somewhere else.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

The Mathew Street Festival

Bank Holiday Monday saw me in Liverpool for the 18th Mathew Street Festival with my friends, Steve & Sharon. This festival just gets bigger every year: the city centre is blocked off and large stages erected across them. You're allowed to take your beer into the streets (in plastic glasses) so you can watch the performances suitably refreshed. The streets were packed out, as were the pubs, and the weather was beautiful.

Water Street
Tribute bands are not everyone's cup of tea - not mine when they're rubbish - but there was something about hearing Clube Big Beatles, who are from Brazil, playing the entire White Album all the way through, although I only heard the second disc and the end of the first. It was lovely seeing a tiny girl on her dad's shoulders punching the air with both hands to Helter Skelter. We also heard another band play Help! right through. Apparently every Beatles album was played in its entirety at some point in the festival.

To another stage, and we watched a set by the Small Fakers followed by the Kinx. Again tribute bands, but it was good to hear these great songs live. The Kinx set particularly turned into a community singalong with nearly everyone in an entire city street joining in, including to my surprise many young people, clearly born decades after these songs were in the hit parade. 

There was loads more to this festival than I saw, and it's not all tribute acts ~ Billy J Kramer played on the Sunday, and Boomtown Rats made an appearance too.

The beer:

We met in the Lion pub in Moorfields and took our pints of Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold and a half of Deuchars IPA in Sharon's case to watch the White Album being played. After that we went back into the Lion and refilled with JW Lees Bitter to drink while watching Help!

Ye Hole In Ye Wall provided Steve and me with, respectively, St Austell Tribute and Palmers Bitter, which we took to watch the Small Fakers and Kinx.

After it was over, we went to the Globe in Cases Street, which was packed the rafters, with most of the punters singing on the top note to the CD player: Beatles numbers (of course) but also some even older, such as Happy Days and Lonely Nights and a few George Formby songs. I had Keltek Gold and Steve was on Black Sheep - Sharon was on 55 Orange by this point. The Globe is a wonderful pub, but as Steve said it's good points can be its downfall if you are being crushed against the bar or find it hard to follow a conversation. But it's a very good-natured clientele in there, always friendly and ready to chat. Not for nothing is it Steve's favourite pub.

Sharon had to catch a train, after which Steve and I ended up in the Dispensary, Liverpool CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year, on Renshaw Street. The Brimstage Scarecrow and Fernandez Ale to the Tsar were both in very good nick.

An enjoyable day, even though I missed the train I'd intended to catch and didn't make last orders in Southport.