Thursday 31 March 2011

Place To Be - tonight and advance notice of Ewan McLennan

A bit late I know, but a reminder that Rich Simcock's acoustic open mike night, called Place To Be, takes place this evening upstairs in the Mount Pleasant in Manchester Road, Southport.  Free to get in, and performing is strictly optional.  Tetley cask bitter is the real ale.

Advance notice:  Richard has booked Ewan McLennan for a return gig at the same venue.  I went to see him last time, and he was excellent.  Since his last appearance here, he has gone on to win the prestigious Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 folk awards, and is going from strength to strength.

That will also be upstairs in the Mount Pleasant on Thursday 21 April 2011 at 8.00pm.  Tickets are £7-50.  Contact for information and tickets:  Richard on 07801 849635 or email him - click here.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Walker's Brewery

The Peter Walker brewing company was founded in the nineteenth century and had breweries in Warrington and Burton.  Walker's pubs were a common sight in Liverpool, Southport and West Lancs.  In 1921 the company merged with the original Cains of Liverpool under the name Walker Cains, which in turn merged with Tetley in 1960 to form Tetley Walker.  My uncle ran a pub in Bootle and he always referred to the brewery as Walker Cains, even after it became Tetley Walker.  My grandmother used to be his relief manager on his day off.  I've still got a pair of pumpclips for Walker's Bitter and Mild that he gave to me in about 1963.

The Walker's beers were rebranded as Tetley’s and although the Walker’s recipe continued into the 1970s, without promotion, it was difficult to track it down; my friends and I much preferred Walker’s.  In the early 80s, the company revived the Walker’s brand, restyled selected pubs as Walker’s and created a new range of beers:  Mild, Bitter, Best Bitter, Warrington and Winter Warmer.  The last two were particularly good.  The Old Ship in Eastbank Street, Southport, was one of the new Walker's pubs, and we regulars waited every year for the arrival of the Winter Warmer.  After a few years, the company must have become bored with the enterprise and the Walker’s name was allowed to lapse permanently and the beers were discontinued.

In 1961 Tetley Walker became part of Allied Breweries, which was acquired by Carlsberg in 1992 (which meant the end of the Walker name), and the Warrington brewery was closed four years later.  Locally, the Cheshire Lines in King Street still displays the old Walker’s trade mark above its pub sign, as you can see in the picture.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Demo and a few pints

"By the time we got to Piccadilly, we were half a million strong..." as Joni Mitchell didn't quite sing. Unfortunately Chris and I had to leave the big demo there, as we couldn't get to Hyde Park and then return in time to catch our train back to the north. However we did get to Euston with over 30 minutes to spare, so we went into the Britannia in the station which had four real ales on: Fullers ESB and London Pride, Speckled Hen and I forget the fourth. ESB it was, but at an eye-watering £3.70 a pint. It was served in a special pint glass, which looked a bit like an oversized brandy glass, but okay when you got used to it. Full-flavoured and bitter without being astringent, it went down a treat. Pity we can't get it in Southport.

I had to change trains at Wigan, but we decided to have a couple of pints first. The John Bull Chop House, down a narrow alley off Market Place, is a local rock pub.  "Get It On" by T-Rex was playing on the juke box while we ordered our Thwaites Bomber, which was fine. Then to the Moon Under Water where I bought two Elgoods Thin Ice, using one Wetherspoons coupon for 50p off. The barmaid gave me the wrong change, so I began to point this out, but she and a colleague both cut me off, saying, "It's gone through the till and that's what came up." I replied, "Okay, but I thought you'd given me too much change." I went back and checked and she had.  Well, I tried...

Chris left to go home at this point so I went to have a pint in the Boulevard, a cellar bar that sometimes puts on live music.  After that, I caught my train to finish the night off in the Guest House in Southport with 3Bs Brewery Doff Cocker.  I was one of the last to drink up, and the landlady shouted at me: "Neville, you've still got a full pint!" 

"No, I haven't," I replied, "It's a short measure!"  But I drank up quickly anyway.  After a day of marching, and good beer in three towns, I had no trouble getting to sleep last night.

Saturday 26 March 2011

There are places I remember ...

I love the Beatles' music, so I was sorry to hear that Liverpool City Council has decided to go ahead with the demolition of 9 Madryn Street in the Dingle area of Liverpool, the house where Ringo Starr was born.  The full story is here.  Campaigners to save Madryn Street compare this decision to the one to demolish the Cavern in the 1970s, pointing out that the childhood homes of Paul and John are preserved by the National Trust, so why not Ringo's? 

But is this a fair comparison?  There are some who regard anything with a Beatles connection as being almost sacred, but there must be a limit to what can be preserved.  Ringo left this house when he was three months old, so it played no part on his musical development, unlike the homes of John and Paul; you can't point to a room and say, "That's where he learned to play the drums."

There is also the important point as to who will pay for its preservation and maintenance in perpetuity.  With public finances as they are now, Liverpool council would be severely criticised if it committed itself for years ahead to spending public money for such a purpose, while at the same time cutting back on essential public services.  As far as I know, the National Trust has shown no interest in taking it on, so I don't see any help coming from that direction.

Campaigners describe the house as "a priceless tourist resource that the city would be mad to destroy" (you can read more of what they say here), but the question of who pays to maintain it still needs an answer.  I really think it would be a shame if it goes, but being realistic, I don't see that the council has any choice.

Friday 25 March 2011

Is keg beer the new cask?

A debate is taking place on certain beer blogs, but not in my experience in the real world among pub goers, about something called craft keg.  It has spilled over into What's Brewing, CAMRA's newspaper, with an article in the current issue by Roger Protz; I've reproduced it below because I can't find a link on-line to direct you to it.  A small number of craft brewers with their blogging fan clubs are in favour of this new type of keg beer, and they tell us it's far better than the awful keg beers that caused CAMRA to be launched in the first place, and superior to the smoothflow ales that adorn most bars nowadays.  I have absolutely no problem with craft keg - no interest, but no problem either.  I might try a glass if I ever find it in a pub, but I haven't so far and, as I've visited at least 15 pubs this month alone in 5 different towns, if it's the next big thing, how come I can't find it anywhere?

Be that as it may, I think Roger Protz, with whom I don't always agree (we were on opposite sides of a debate at the CAMRA AGM a couple of years ago), has got it absolutely right.  I vividly recall the beer scene in the early 1970s, the time I began going to pubs, and it was just as he describes it.  CAMRA does what it says on the tin - it campaigns for real ale, and to whinge that it doesn't embrace craft keg is like complaining that the Cats Protection League doesn't save dogs.  If the craft keg fans find CAMRA doesn't satisfy their beer campaigning requirements, why don't they just go and start their own campaign?  That's not pie in the sky: CAMRA was founded by four blokes in a pub 40 years ago this month, but I expect that sounds too much like hard work, so they'd prefer to gatecrash someone else's campaign and pervert it to their own purposes.  Here's what Roger wrote:

Thursday 24 March 2011

Wigan Beers of the Festival - corrected

Wigan Beer Festival chooses two beers of the festival - one light and one dark.  This year's festival took place from 3 to 5 March, and here are the festival beers as chosen by the customers:
  • Light beer:  Blue Ball American IPA.
  • Dark beer:  Prospect Pickaxe.
Blue Ball is from Runcorn, and Prospect from Standish.

P.S. 25 March:  I've corrected the info above after receiving an e-mail saying I'd been misinformed about the light ale winner.  Dark Star American IPA, which I was told was the light ale winner, wasn't even at the festival!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Final Four Fools Folk Festival

Regulars of the local Four Fools Festival will be disappointed that this year’s festival, the 23rd, will also be the last, as the organisers are retiring to the Yorkshire coast. It will take place over the weekend of 24 to 26 June 2011.  Strangely enough, the organisers forgot to say in the info they've e-mailed to me where this festival takes place ~ I'm assuming it's in or near the Crown at Worthington in Standish.

This year’s guests include: Pete Coe, Roy Harris, Peta Webb and Ken Hall, Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, His Worship and the Pig, Dave Fletcher and Bill Whaley, Barrie and Ingrid Temple, Ken Wilson, Graham O’Callaghan, Mark Dowding, Sid Calderbank, Jim Mageean, John Morris, Peter and Barbara Snape.

Weekend tickets are available now at £20.  Camping (for weekend ticket holders only) can be booked through the festival, and is £5.50 per night for campers and caravans and £4 per night for tents. Make cheques payable to "Foolish Friends" and send to Angie and Ken Bladen, 36 The Oaks, Eaves Green, Chorley, Lancashire, PR7 3QU.

A website is due to be set up soon. In the meanwhile, for more information, either e-mail or phone 01257 263678.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Wednesday ~ Budget Day

Budget Day tomorrow, and this short film is part of CAMRA's contribution to the campaign for a freeze on beer duty - or just lose even more pubs.  Pubs are small local businesses, and it's ironic that the policies of a Tory-led government are driving such businesses to the wall.

Monday 21 March 2011

No change to drink-drive limit

Common sense has prevailed in the discussion about lowering the drink-driving limits from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg, which would have brought us in line with much of Europe; the government has announced they will enforce the current law more rigorously rather than following Sir Peter North's recommendation to lower the limit.  Safety campaigners assert that such a measure would save around 160 lives per year, basing their assumptions on computer models, but these are quite logically only as good as the computer programming that creates them.  The full story is here

The argument "if it saves only one life" isn't easy to argue against, especially when it comes from a bereaved relative, but most of the drink-drive casualties on the road are not caused by someone who drinks within the current limit - they are caused by people who habitually booze well over the limit before driving; such people would carry on drink-driving even if we introduced zero tolerance.  These are the ones that need stopping, not someone who carefully drinks within the legal limit.  To ignore such people, who are - it seems to me - only found out after they've had an accident, is to ignore the suffering and damage they cause and instead go after the easy targets.

I've no doubt that this will not be the end of the subject, as there are some people who won't be satisfied until there is a complete ban.  And then, while drunken drivers would continue cause mayhem by ignoring the ban completely as they do now, the campaigners would congratulate themselves on a job well done.

With police cutbacks on the way, let's hope the intention to enforce the existing limit more strictly isn't just politician's rhetoric, seeing that it is by far the more expensive option. 

Thursday 17 March 2011

A Blanket Apology for a Shot In The Dark

Blanket Apology
Blanket Apology and Shot In The Dark - two linked bands, but with different lead singers.  Blanket Apology perform an eclectic mix of blues, classics and originals, while Shot in the Dark play rock 'n soul at its best!  They have been seen in the last year or so playing in the George Hotel, where they have sometimes backed me on a few songs, but they won't be on this occasion.

You can see them at the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport this Saturday 19th March from around 8pm  It's free to get in.  The real ale is Tetley Bitter.

Mason's singarounds relaunched

The side room in the Mason's
showing the real fire.
I got in from the Mason's a while ago after the first of the relaunched singarounds.  It was back to business as usual really, despite the three months lay off.  As always, Brenda provided plates of sandwiches, and the pub regulars were generally appreciative.  Nice to be back in this cosy town centre pub behind the main post office.

The singarounds will continue on the first and third Wednesday of each month.  All welcome to perform or just listen - and drink Robinson's Unicorn or Dizzy Blonde, both of which were on tonight and in good form.

It was good to be back there with my guitar.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Happy Birthday!

It's CAMRA's birthday today.  It's exactly 40 years since four disconsolate beer drinkers were sitting in a pub in Ireland, bemoaning the state of British beer, and - unusually for pub moaners - decided to do something about it by forming CAMRA, the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (later changed to the snappier Campaign for Real Ale, much easier to say after a few drinks).  Since then, CAMRA has gained another 122,000 members, so next time you hear someone moaning in a pub, you never know what might come of it - although being barred is also a possible outcome.

I have perused copies of the first two Good Beer Guides to see whether pubs in our CAMRA Branch's area (Southport and West Lancs) get a mention, but there's none in the hand-typed and, I presume, spirit duplicated 1972 edition, in which the nearest pub is the Myerscough in Samlesbury on the far side of Preston.  I also noticed that it featured no Liverpool pubs either, which is interesting in view of the assertion that the Roscoe Head in Liverpool has been in every issue of the guide. 

In the 1974 guide, which looks rather more professionally produced, there are two pubs mentioned for our area:  the Guest House, Union Street, Southport and the Lord Nelson, Out Lane, Croston, both Higson's houses at the time, and both good real ale houses still.  I've cut and pasted the entries into one document and so I present to you our local and complete Good Beer Guide, 1974 style.  Cheers!

Monday 14 March 2011

Axe beer tax ~ e-mail your MP

Since 2008, beer duty has gone up by an incredible 26%, and VAT has risen by a third from 15% to 20%.  In 2008, the Government also introduced the “beer duty escalator”, which automatically increases beer duty by an additional 2% above inflation every year.  This year, that would mean a further 7% tax rise and would put 10p on a pint in the pub.  CAMRA has forecast that, with duty and VAT on a typical pint approaching £1, the average price of a pint of real ale in the pub could reach £2.90 in 2011 - up from £2.45 in 2008.

The simple fact is that further increases in beer tax will simply result in ordinary people spending less on beer, as it is increasingly becoming prohibitive for people on restricted incomes, and there will be little or no net revenue gain. It also will not deter the binge drinkers and alcoholics. We have reached (if not gone beyond) the point of diminishing returns, and the cost in terms of lost pubs (which are small businesses, and this government is supposed to be pro-business), lost jobs, lost homes for some licensees and lost focal points for communities, will far outweigh any minimal tax benefits. For all these reasons, the argument about the size of Britain's debt doesn't apply here.

Britain’s beer drinkers are paying 40% of the entire beer duty bill in the European Union, which means the other 26 states combined pay 60% - more details here.  If you think this is unfair, why not e-mail your MP?  It will take only a minute or two.  This lobbying campaign is organised by CAMRA, but you don't have to be a member to take part (just delete 'and as a member of CAMRA' from the first line of the text of the e-mail).  You can e-mail your MP here.

Sunday 13 March 2011

On festivals and CAMRA mags

While working at the Liverpool Beer Festival, Ken and Carol of Wigan CAMRA and Doug, of my own CAMRA branch, were questioned about my previous post, The Pieman and The Liver Bird, which contrasted Liverpool and Wigan beer festivals.  Ken was asked whether he'd put me up to it, and Doug was so taken aback by what he was being told I'd written that he went and read it for himself.  He later said to me he didn't think it was that bad, and of course it isn't:  there is no personal abuse, and the most that can be said about it is that Liverpool branch and I have different ideas about how beer festivals should be run.  For the record, it was all my own work and when I wrote it, I never expected the overreaction that has ensued.

Since then, I've come across a spoof of Mersey Ale (Liverpool CAMRA's magazine), called MerZoeAle, full of pictures of a young woman who works in the Dispensary and who has appeared many times in the mag or on its cover.  It's simply a skit at Mersey Ale's tendency to print pictures of attractive young women, which I know doesn't please some of the women members of Liverpool branch.  I understand Zoe herself, an intelligent young woman who is genuinely enthusiastic about real ale, had no part in the spoof.

Because of what I wrote about Liverpool festival, I have been asked by more than one person whether I had a hand in MerZoeAle.  This post is to set the record straight: it was nothing to do with me, and I haven't a clue who was behind it.  All I'd say is that if you make yourself into a target, sooner or later someone will take a pot shot at you!

One or two people in Southport have pointed out Mersey Ale to me and suggested that I do the same and put pictures of attractive young barmaids on the front of Ale & Hearty, our Southport CAMRA mag.  My answer is no - we want to attract women to CAMRA, not reinforce stereotypes of it being a LAD's organisation!

While on the subject of Ale & Hearty, I have been harangued by no fewer than three former chairs of CAMRA Southport and District Branch for a decision that I made when I became editor, which was to remove the old Southport Corporation coat of arms from the cover.  My reason was simply because the Branch now covers a large part of West Lancashire for whom the coat of arms has no relevance - I don't want those areas to think CAMRA sees them merely as an appendage of Southport.  However, one shouldn't lightly dismiss criticism from such distinguished sources, so I asked them when they had noticed it had gone, and they told me it was when they read my report to the AGM last month - by which time two issues had been published without it.  In other words, they hadn't noticed until I told them myself ~ so much for it being a cherished symbol of our heritage.

Joni Mitchell sang, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone." Or, in this case, until someone tells you it's gone 5 months after the event!

Saturday 12 March 2011

Music tonight and tomorrow

It's the Strattan Fundraiser tonight at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport (PR9 0JS), and a new group I'm in, Black Lamp, will be making its debut - it's Keith Price, Kevin Littlewood and me.  I'm looking forward to that, but also to the evening as a whole: great music & hot pot for a fiver!  Still some tickets left on the door.  The event is to honour the memory of George and Vi Strattan and to raise money for the scholarship set up in their name.

Tomorrow night at the same venue the guests of the Bothy Folk Club will be Linde Nijland and Bert Ridderbos from the Netherlands. Linde is known for her renditions of Sandy Denny songs.  Joe Boyd (former producer of Nick Drake, Fairport Convention & Pink Floyd) wrote about her album: "Linde Nijland has given Sandy Denny's music the respect it deserves, and made a lovely and fresh record that shows off her beautiful voice as well as her good taste". 

Thwaites real ale on sale for both events.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Extraterrestrial ale drinkers

Following my post on 27 February about the new Higsons being brewed by Liverpool Organic Brewery, I came across this Higsons beer mat. Higsons were well-known for their funny beer mats, with the Famous Old Higsonians series probably being best remembered, but I like this one from the Higsons dictionary, which combines my favourite beer of the past with my favourite TV show.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Tomorrow's Lion

A reminder that my monthly singaround in the Lion Tavern in Moorfields (near the station), Liverpool, is on again tomorrow night. As usual, it's free, performing is optional and the pub provides sandwiches.  The singaround takes place on the second Thursday of each month.

And it's a really nice pub - lots of carved woodwork, etched glass and old tiles, as well as eight changing real ales.

Monday 7 March 2011

Jumping Ship

The long-standing folk singaround every Thursday at the Ship Inn in Haskayne has moved to another canalside pub, the New Running Horses, 25 Bells Lane, Lydiate, L31 4EN.  This follows the temporary closure and change in management at the Ship.

The pub is called "new" because in 2008 it was closed for six months for extensive refurbishment after an arson attack.  It is a food-based pub, although I'm not certain about the beer, but I remember many years ago it used to sell Walkers ales.  I'll check what the position is now.

As before, the singaround is free and open to all who want to join in or just listen.

8 March - P.S: I called into the Ship today. They were serving Celtic Gold, Holts IPA and England's Pride, with a Holts Bitter pump clip turned around. Although Chris the licensee is free trade, he does his business through Holts.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Triumph of the Pieman!

Before opening on Thursday
I arrived home just before midnight last night after another successful Wigan Beer Festival. I've worked at Wigan for many years now and have always enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.  The beer, as is usual with beer festivals, was in good condition, but when I'm working at a festival, I tend not to experiment very much - you are, after all, there to do a job.  In my case, I spent some time behind the bar, and on the doors. 

On Thursday, I was asked to help judge beers in the golden ales category of the regional bout of the Champion Beer of Britain competition.  I was sitting next to the Mayor of Wigan, Michael Winstanley, who joined CAMRA at last year's festival.  He was very cheerful and told me that not all his civic duties were as pleasant as this one, which I can well believe.  I gave him a copy of Ale & Hearty, our Southport CAMRA mag, so no doubt his joy will now be boundless.  A surprisingly varied bag of golden ales were served up to us, anonymised of course, and the results were:
    A few hours later
  1. Cumbrian Legendary Ale Loweswater Gold.
  2. Southport Golden Sands.
  3. George Wright Pure Blonde.
I was interested to see that my own first and second was the same as the final result.

I was struck by the number of young people present compared to some other festivals, including the presence of several all-women groups.  I didn't ask them, but I suspect that if they'd had to queue for tickets on a cold winter morning three months earlier, they wouldn't have been there.  Some went for the cider and perry bar or the foreign beers, but quite a fewwere trying the ales.

Beer running low on Saturday night
There was some good music on: jazz, rockabilly and a rock covers band on Saturday, and there was a Northern Soul night on Friday when I wasn't there.  Unfortunately the sound quality of the venue isn't good, but there's nothing that can be done about that, and it didn't seem to hinder the pleasure of those who wanted to listen.

On Saturday, some of my friends rolled up, so I spent a while having a chat to them.  By the evening the beer was running very low, although the festival didn't actually run out; I had been wondering whether it might.

As I reached Wigan Wallgate Station to catch the last train to Southport, there was a group of three policemen standing at the entrance.  As I approached, they looked me up and down and one said: "Wigan Beer Festival?" "Yes," I replied. "Thought so - I could tell by your nose!" at which the other two cracked up.

Told you - Wigan's friendly.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

George Strattan Fundraiser

Family, friends and fellow campaigners will gather on Saturday 12th March at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport for a night of music and song to celebrate the life of George Strattan, veteran peace activist, folk singer and trade unionist who died in Southport in December 2009 aged 89, and also of his late wife Viola (known as Vi), who worked tirelessly alongside George, particularly in the peace movement.  As well as the music, hot pot with meat and vegetarian options will be provided - and the Park Golf Club's hot pot is excellent.  Thwaites real ale will be on sale too.

The evening is to raise funds for the Strattan Scholarship, which has been set up by George's family and friends to send an aspiring musician with similar ideals to George and Vi to the Workers Music Association annual Summer School at Wortley Hall in South Yorkshire. George attended this school himself many years ago and found it very fulfilling.

This night of varied music is a mere £5; you can buy a ticket on-line here or phone the numbers below to be sure of getting in, although you should be all right paying on the door. Good music, good food and a good cause - all for a fiver!

Click on the flyer to enlarge it in a new window.