Monday 28 February 2011

Dances With Leeks

The Swords airborne in the Town Gardens
opposite the Scarisbrick Hotel on May Day.
Our local traditional dance teams, the Southport Swords and the Argarmeles Clog, will be celebrating Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant (St David's Day) on Tuesday 1st March in the Baron's Bar.  The Baron's usually puts on some Welsh beers for St David's Day, and as well as the dancing, there is usually a quiz and of course the range of real ales that the Baron's is noted for.  The Swords are highly likely to perform one of their dances using leeks instead of staves:  certainly not traditional, but fun.

That's Tuesday evening in the Baron's Bar, which is in the Scarisbrick Hotel, Lord Street, Southport.

Sunday 27 February 2011

Liverpool ~ and Higsons relaunched yet again

Higsons sign on a building next to the
Ship & Mitre (reflected in the marble).
I met my friends Carol and Ken from Wigan in Liverpool yesterday.  Beginning in the Ship and Mitre, I had St David's Ale (4.5%).  I don't remember the brewery, but it wasn't Brains who brew a beer of that name.  For some reason I expected a pale beer, but it was dark and tasted like a good mild rather than a stout.  We next went to the Vernon and Rigby's but stayed only for one in each pub as both were noisy with the football; Everton were apparently playing.  We finished in the Lion Tavern where Brewdog Trashy Blonde was on - an extremely bitter beer that Sean who runs the pub said was too much for some customers, but I liked it.  I wonder whether it would have seemed quite so bitter 25-30 years ago, when beers were more likely to be bitter than now.

I was asked whether I'd had the new Higsons which was launched at the Liverpool beer festival.  I haven't, but I'll keep an eye out for it.  It is brewed by Liverpool Organic, whose excellent 24 Carat Gold I had in the Guest House recently; I wrote about 18 months ago that they were trying to reproduce Higsons.  It is the second time that a brewer has tried to relaunch this long lost Liverpool beer, one of Whitbread's casualties.  There's nothing about Higsons on the Liverpool Organic website, which isn't surprising as brewery websites are often incomplete and out of date.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Wigan Beer Festival - ReARM readers' offer

After extensive negotiations over several months (okay, a five minute chat in the Lion Tavern in Liverpool), I have negotiated free entry for ReARM readers to the Wigan Beer Festival on Thursday.  Just click on the flyer below to enlarge it in a new window, print it off and present it at the door of the Wigan Beer Festival on Thursday evening to get in for nothing at all.  You will have to buy your own beer - my negotiation skills are good, but not that good.

I'm working there on Thursday, so I hope to see you there.  I'm also there on Saturday. Cheers!

Closed pubs

Ship Inn, Haskayne
Fred and I were out visiting pubs about adverts for our local CAMRA mag, Ale & Hearty.  Two pubs we went to in Lancashire were closed unexpectedly:  the Ship Inn in Haskayne, an attractive canalside pub that has won many CAMRA awards, and the Blue Bell, just down the road in Barton.  I'm fairly sure the Ship will reopen, as I suspect the closure is due to the fact that the couple running it have separated, but I'm not so sure about the Blue Bell as it has been almost empty each time I have visited, but I hope my worries are unfounded.  This follows closely on my  recent post about the Railway in Hoscar, and the closure of the Ring of Bells in Lathom, about which the general view is that it won't reopen.  Our rural pubs seem to be having an even harder time than the town ones.

Closing pubs temporarily between licensees is a mistake, and it's certainly something that never happened years ago.  The danger is that regulars will find somewhere else to go during the closure and not return when it reopens.  I put it down to the fact that many pubs are run by property companies (called pub companies) with no real interest of the pub trade.  Pubs are just cash cows and licensees there to be exploited, and if the pubcos decide a pub isn't viable after all, they usually have a valuable piece of land they can sell.  Letting them take over our pubs after the Beer Orders of the late 1980s was like putting Herod in charge of the crèche.

Friday 25 February 2011

Legends gig postponed

Unfortunately, our Lunchtime Legends gig at the Rivington Bowling Club that I mentioned here a few weeks ago has had to be postponed until later in the year.  Disappointing, but these things happen.  I'll post the new date here when it's been arranged.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Bob Fox at the Bothy

"Bob [Fox] is a local lad and blessed with one of the best voices you will ever hear. He is also a very talented musician playing guitar, piano and dulcimer. Add to that a full and varied repertoire of traditional and modern songs and plenty of good 'crack' and you can be sure of a good night." Terry Freeman - Davylamp Folk Club, Tyne and Wear.

Having seen Bob several times before, I can only agree with this description.  The YouTube video below shows not only Bob's performance of the Whitby Tailor, but also his sense of humour.  I'm certainly looking forward to the evening.  He's on at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday 27 February at 8-00pm.  While he will be solo on this occasion, he has appeared previously in Southport in collaborations with Stu Luckley and, more recently, Billy Mitchell.  It's likely to be a busy night, so get there early - or buy tickets on-line here.  The venue sells real ale from Thwaites.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

The Pieman and the Liver Bird

It's the Liverpool beer festival this weekend, but if you haven't got a ticket, don't bother going along; it's a ticket only do at a mind boggling £7 a session.  The Catholic Cathedral crypt is a great venue without doubt, but the festival's policy of selling tickets in Liverpool in the freezing weather in November means it is not serious about campaigning - one of the reasons (originally the main reason) for beer festivals.  This was brought home to me quite forcefully when I was queueing to enter the festival a couple of years ago and a group of women rolled up and asked about getting in.  Upon being told they needed to have queued three months earlier for tickets, they left in a huff while the real ale drinkers (who clearly needed no converting to real ale) looked on.  Surely these are the kinds of people a beer festival should be welcoming, not turning away.  If Liverpool beer festival cannot be open to anyone but committed real ale drinkers, then it's no more than a successful drinkers club.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it's not what I think CAMRA is for.  This is not anti-Liverpool bias ~ I was born in Tuebrook. 

The Pieman supporting the pub.
In contrast, there's the Wigan beer festival on 3 to 5 March.  This festival has a great selection of beers and does not have a ticket policy - just pay on the door.  The venue is about a mile from the stations, but a regular bus will be running between the festival and the town centre from outside the Anvil pub, a good pub to have a drink in while waiting for the bus.  The venue is a sports hall, but it really doesn't detract from the good range of beers, the friendly welcome that I have always received in Wigan, and the fact that you can just roll up on the day and be certain of getting in.  Plus there are loads of seats.  Prices are:
  • £2 Thursday
  • £1 Friday afternoon
  • £3 Friday evening
  • £2 all day Saturday
  • CAMRA members FREE entry at all sessions
Give it a try.  I'll be working there as usual and I hope to see you there.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Martin McGuffie

Yesterday Clive Pownceby from the Bothy and I had the sad task of attending the funeral of Martin McGuffie, a local singer songwriter, who had died aged 40 (I'd thought he was even younger than that) of a brain tumour.  I had met him at open mike nights and similar events in Southport and had always liked his music; he was a close friend of Rich Simcock who runs the Place To Be acoustic nights in the Mount Pleasant.  It was at November's Place To Be that I last saw Martin; at first I didn't recognise him, owing to weight gain and hair loss caused by his treatment.

Southport Crematorium was full with his family and friends, quite a few from different strands of the local music scene.  At the end of the committal, one of Martin's songs was played, and was followed by a spontaneous round of applause.  Afterwards everyone went to the Mount Pleasant where friends of Martin paid tribute by playing heartfelt versions of his songs to a very full pub that went quiet for their singing - a suitable mark of respect for his talent.

You can hear some of his songs - click here, then click on 'music - it's well worth your time.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

End of the line for the Railway?

On a trip of West Lancs pubs for the Good Beer Guide, we stopped at the Railway in Hoscar.  The landlady was temporarily not in and the couple of regulars who had agreed to keep an eye on the place until she came back must have had heart attacks when they saw our coach pull up.  This is a cosy little country local right next to the railway station.  The handpumps showed Tetley Bitter and Black Sheep: most of us opted for the latter, but it almost immediately ran out, so Tetley it was, as these regulars couldn't change the barrel.  I never cease to be surprised by the popularity of Tetley's, considering how insipid, tasteless and boring it seems to me.

The landlady returned and the Black Sheep was put on.  She told some of our group that she was leaving the following week and the pub would be closing.  Whether the closure is permanent or not wasn't clear, but even if the pub company did intend to replace the licensee, the supply of people willing to try running a pub with all the massive risks that now entails is, it seems to me, beginning to dry up.  Fewer willing mugs with the dosh to gamble.

I hope this little rural pub can get back on its feet, but with the small number of customers in there on a Saturday afternoon when we arrived, it's not promising.

Monday 14 February 2011

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan in Southport

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan were due to appear at the Bothy last year but had to cancel because Nancy was unwell.  I've seen them several times, most recently at Warwick Folk Festival, and have always enjoyed their mix of traditional material and original songs, and the interplay of fiddle and guitar.  They are the winners of the 2011 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Duo.  Their latest CD, Twice Reflected Sun, was released in August last year.  Their rearranged gig at the Bothy Folk Club is this Thursday 17th February at 8.00pm, where the CD will be on sale, with support from local duo Chris and Siobhan Nelson and myself.

“The purity of Kerr’s singing and some unerringly tasteful arrangements make for a subtly persuasive collection.” - review of the CD in MOJO.

Tickets available here or on the door.  The Bothy meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.

Friday 11 February 2011

Burscough Brewery

Last Saturday, our local CAMRA branch had a coach trip to pubs in West Lancs for beer scoring purposes (for the Good Beer Guide).  One of our last stops was at the Hop Vine in Burscough, which has recently opened a microbrewery in an old stable to the rear of the pub.  The brewery was set up last year by Mike McCombe, who runs the pub, and Andy Brocken who is responsible for brewing; it's first beers went on sale in the pub last December.  After I had bought a pint of the Burscough Priory Gold (3.8% - I quite liked it, even though it's below my preferred strength), Andy showed us the brewery, which is in a room not much bigger than a large garage.  He told us that the beer is already being sold elsewhere, including at a couple of beer festivals, and seems to be well received.
Andy in his brew house:
drinking the profits?

A local in the pub proudly showed me the write-up about the brewery in a copy of Swiggin In Wigan, Wigan CAMRA Branch's magazine.  It was almost word for word what I had previously written on this blog.  Well, they say that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery!

The Hop Vine has a good range of well-kept real ales, not just its own beers, including a house beer called Hop Vine, brewed by the excellent Prospect.  It's on the A59, a couple of hundred yards from Burscough Bridge station and about half a mile from Burscough Junction.  Postcode: L40 4BY.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Askew Sisters in Southport

Emily and Hazel Askew are a young duo who are making waves on the folk scene with their energetic brand of English folk music.  Using fiddle and melodeon, they play and sing with obvious enjoyment and love for the music.  Their repertoire largely comprises traditional songs and tunes.  In 2010 they released their second CD Though Lonesome Woods - a follow up to their debut All in a Garden Green in 2007.

"Hazel's rich gutsy voice and inventive melodeon playing combined with the skill of Emily's singing fiddle or soulful cello are a new force to be reckoned with!" - Stirrings Magazine

You can see them at the Bothy Folk Club in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday.  On line tickets available here.  The venue sells real Thwaites beers.  It all begins at 8.00pm.

Monday 7 February 2011

Death of a bluesman

By now you've probably heard of the sudden death of blues and rock guitarist Gary Moore yesterday morning. I saw Gary live with Thin Lizzy during the band's Black Rose era, and I've also got a couple of his later solo blues CDs.  I think he was underrated as a guitarist, never quite seen in the same league as Clapton or Jeff Beck, but to me he was very versatile, easily capable of hard rock, blues and the lyrical guitar playing you hear in the video below. Peter Green was a great influence (he bought a guitar from Green), and he played along with blues greats BB King and Albert King. It is disrespectful and sloppy of some websites to describe Parisienne Walkways, as well as the great Out In The Fields, as Thin Lizzy tracks: they weren't. They were Gary Moore tracks with Phil Lynott as a guest artist.

Here he and Phil play Parisienne Walkways live, the full version that goes on for almost another two minutes after the point where the single fades out.  It's one of those melancholy coincidences that Gary died 25 years and one month after Phil, whom he'd played alongside on and off since they were both in their teens in Dublin.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Nothing new under the sun

With the moral panic about so-called binge drinking - what we used to call boozing - it's often forgotten (in my opinion deliberately so by the anti-alcohol brigade) that drinking is steadily falling in this country, that drinking establishments have never been so strictly regulated, and that pubs are closing at a rate of around 40 per week. Just to shock you, here is an account of uncontrolled binge drinking that I read recently:

Gin Lane by Hogarth
"At closing time back and front streets crowded, some people dancing, men and women doing foxtrots and a group of women trying to do a fling. Three observers independently estimate that at least 25 percent of the crowd are drunk. Along the promenade the air is full of beer smell that overcomes sea smell. It arises from people breathing. A swirling, moving mass of mostly drunk people, singing, playing mouth organs, groups dancing about. Chaps fall over and their friends pick them up cheerfully and unconcernedly … A fight starts among four young men: the crowd simply opens up to give them elbow room as it flows by … One of the fighters is knocked out cold and the others carry him to the back of a stall and dump him there … In a litter of broken glass and bottles a women sits by herself being noisily sick."
Beer Street by Hogarth

People who don't venture out at weekends would probably conclude it was any town centre last weekend. In fact it was Blackpool in the 1930s but it could have come from yesterday's Daily Mail, apart from the mention of foxtrots. I'm not suggesting that there aren't problems associated with drinking. My point is that the media likes to create the impression that uncontrolled binge drinking is a recent phenomenon arising from the ashes of cosy, safe drinking habits that used to prevail until whichever decade the writer believes the moral decline of our country began.

Foreigners used to be shocked by English drinking habits during Elizabethan times, and Hogarth's famous pictures, Gin Lane and Beer Street, make it clear that excessive gin drinking was a major worry in the eighteenth century. It's ironic that Beer Street was intended to show the merits of drinking beer, as opposed to the ruinous effects of gin; such a comparison nowadays would elicit strong disapproval from the anti-booze brigade with their spurious unit-counting diktats. So not only is there nothing new:  official attitudes are actually more illiberal than they were 250 years ago, and certainly no more rational.

Few people would object to a mature, sober discussion about alcohol. With screaming headlines and politicians who fear the tag "soft on antisocial behaviour", we're not going to get it.

Friday 4 February 2011

Microbrewery opening delayed

Dave White has told me that the beer is not yet flowing from the new Tipsy Angel microbrewery in Warrington that I wrote about on 13 January. Apparently the recent cold weather had affected the yeast, and it'll be late in the month before the beer is ready. The brewery is located behind the Lower Angel pub in Buttermarket Street. Despite this delay, it's good that more micros are opening.

I think I’ll defer my planned trip to Warrington for a few weeks.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Lunchtime Legends next gig

We're off to Rivington Bowling Club again on 26 February for another night of rock & roll. It should be good fun, if our gig there last November was anything to go by. We had decided that we would probably be treated as background music, but we couldn't have been more wrong: these people had come out to have a good time - dancing, singing along, with a woman of, ahem, middle years sliding down the body of her partner to the music, much the embarrassment of the young people present (there were a few). Yes, embarrass the young - always good fun! And real ale from Prospect brewery too - wonderful.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Led Convention

Founders of British folk rock, Fairport Convention are on in the Crosby Civic Hall this Thursday 3 February. Founded in the 1960s, the group has had innumerable line-up changes, but still boasts one original member and several very long-standing ones. They have an annual festival at Cropredy joined by luminaries from the worlds of folk and rock.

The video here shows the band joined at Cropredy by Robert Plant, formerly of Led Zeppelin of course, singing The Battle Of Evermore with Fairport Convention in 2008. Former Fairport lead singer, Sandy Denny, had sung on the original recording, which was on Led Zeppelin IV (1971), and this special rendition of the song was to mark the 30th anniversary of Sandy's untimely death. Kristina Donahue sings Sandy's words here; she is the daughter of Jerry Donahue, who in the 70s was himself in Fairport and Sandy's own band, Fotheringay.

I really doubt you'd hear this song on Thursday, but there'll be loads from Fairport's own extensive back catalogue. I've checked and there are one or two tickets left (£17-50) - available here. The venue is about 5 minutes' walk from Waterloo Station. Bottled beers in the venue, but Stamps 2 is between the station and the civic hall, and sells a choice of cask beers.