Wednesday 29 June 2011

American Beer Festival

The Ship and Mitre is holding its first American Beer Festival beginning, unsurprisingly enough, on 4 July.  The pub's website says, "Throughout the week there will be 6 draught beers available from 5 different breweries, and 45 different bottled beers from 17 different breweries. These beers will all be featuring alongside our selection of American themed real ales, and our regular selection of 8 bourbon whiskies. There’s going to be a mixture of American lagers, stouts, IPA’s, wheat beers and various other ales on offer in this selection so there will be something available for everyone."

It should be interesting because for many of us the phrase "American beer" conjures up images of Budweiser and Coors.  I know people who have been to the USA who tell me that you can get exceptionally good beer there nowadays, but my only experience has been a pale ale from a brewery called Sierra Nevada, which I spotted in a supermarket a few years ago and decided to try.  I rather liked it, thus shattering some preconceptions!  I also like their label.  I'm looking forward to widening my experience beyond this one example without having to cross the pond.

The festival runs from 4 to 10 July at the Ship and Mitre, 133 Dale Street, Liverpool, L3 2JH.

Monday 27 June 2011

Look what they've done to my song, ma ...

I had an interesting exchange recently on Facebook, which had been prompted by an incident in Wigan where a woman recorded a video of Jackie Oates singing, and posted it on Youtube, even though the event organiser and the artist herself had refused permission.  The discussion covered whether it's possible to stop such recordings, and indeed whether we should even try.  The problem is of course exacerbated by the technology which makes it so easy to make such recordings, as well as the fact that music is increasingly seen as a commodity that you can download, often for nothing, from the internet.  It's obvious that some people don't see why they should pay for music at all nowadays.

My view is straightforward:  the fact that you can do something doesn't give you permission to do it.  I don't accept the argument that because the technology exists, we need to surrender all intellectual property rights in regards to music.  I know that copying music is nothing new:  until the 1990s it was with cassettes, and as a child I remember my father recording music on a reel to reel.  Nowadays of course it can be on a mobile phone no bigger than a packet of cigarettes, and the recordings can be posted on the internet within minutes.  What if you were having an off night - would you want your performance to be available forever?  I have been posted once on Youtube without my knowledge; I certainly would have said 'no' on that occasion as I wasn't on form that night (problems with my guitar).  Fortunately they spelt my name wrongly, so no one can find it, but I still wasn't happy. 

But I'm mostly an amateur.  If music is your livelihood, then you may not want bootlegs of your performance to be doing the rounds.  Most performers are not in stellar tax categories:  in fact, many are struggling to make a living, especially during the present recession, and part of their income comes from their CD sales, and sometimes DVDs too. 

While those who post such recordings suggest that it's good publicity, a performer who's unhappy with the recording won't see it as helpful.  More often than not, while the performance itself is good, the quality of the recordings can be dire:  they wobble, miss out the beginning or cut off the end of the song, the view is often obscured by heads, the sound dreadful and the performance drowned out by audience noise.  No artist could take pride in such shoddy videos, and I can't understand the satisfaction anyone can get from posting them.

As a bit of an aside, I think there is a strange alliance across the generations:  old hippies who still believe that, hey man, all music should be free (it's amazing how many old hippies are quite tech savvy) and young people who see music as a commodity to be ordered on-line like your weekly shopping - a stark contrast to those of us who remember treasuring our favourite albums.

A performance belongs to the artist.  If they sing their own songs, a breach of copyright is obvious, but it's less well known that traditional singers who have arranged songs in their own way also have copyright on the arrangement.  To me, recording a performance without permission is like going to a literary festival and stealing a book from a writer's stall.  I have found singers on the folk scene very generous with their songs and arrangements, usually happy to explain what they do to anyone who asks, but that's quite different from a stolen video of their performance, although logically, if permission is granted, it's not stolen.  To be fair, most people in audiences don't behave badly, but enough do to make this an increasing problem.

I think the answer is quite simple:  all you need is common courtesy.  Just ask, and if they say 'no', respect that decision, because you don't have the right.  As for the woman in Wigan, I commented underneath the video that to post the song when permission had been refused showed no respect whatsoever.  She was quite irate and blustered, first with me then with the event organiser, claiming that she'd had permission, then that she wasn't sure but it would be good publicity for all concerned.  She ended up taking it down.  Quite right too.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Our local beer

Paul Bardsley of Southport Brewery with a pint of Golden Sands
Over the last couple of days, I've been drinking our local Southport beers.  Breweries often have a house style, and brew their different beers within that style - Phoenix Brewery of Heywood is a good example.  The Southport beers tend to be golden in colour, dry and hoppy.  Golden Sands (4.0%) was the Champion Best Bitter at the Great British Beer Festival in 2009 and Sandgrounder (3.8%) has recently been on sale in Parliament.  On Friday I was drinking the Sandgrounder, although I don't tend to go for beers under 4%, and last night I finished the day of with a couple of pints of Natterjack (4.3%).

During yesterday afternoon, some of us from the local CAMRA branch took a group from the Chester branch around several of our good pubs:  the Baron's Bar, the Guest House, The Windmill, the Lakeside Inn (our pub of the year) and the Mason's.  The last was serving Robinson's Dizzy Blonde, which I prefer to the bitter, Unicorn; the pub is also very convenient for the station.  What surprised me during the chat was hearing some of our branch telling our guests that the only place you can get Southport beers regularly was the Baron's Bar.  I did of course put them right, as the Guest House usually has them on too, even though it is a tied house unlike the Baron's, and has frequently sold them ever since the brewery was launched in 2004.  I'd expect local CAMRA members to know better, but there you go.

The Southport press gets in a tizzy every so often, and did so again recently, because most local pubs can't put on the locally brewed beers owing to PubCo restrictions.  MPs can have our local award-winning Southport beers, the argument went recently, but not drinkers in Southport itself.  May I respectfully suggest to our local papers that the next time they decide to run that that story, they phone up a few of the PubCos concerned and ask them why not?  Spend half an hour or so on a little bit of investigative journalism?  Tell them that Southport beers usually sell well wherever they are put on, then print their excuses?  It might make interesting reading.  Besides, I really do doubt the PubCos subscribe to our local papers, so they won't actually see you fulminating against them.

While I'm waiting for pigs to fly, I'll just remind myself that we do have some very good beers brewed locally.  I think the Natterjack is my favourite, but they're all good.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Mike Waterson

The Watersons - Mike is
wearing his trade mark cap.
Mike Waterson, member of the Watersons folk group, died yesterday aged 70 after a long illness.  The Watersons were a family folk group who were highly influential from the 1960s onwards, making great use of vocal harmonies rather than musical accompaniment.  Their influence on folk harmony singing has been and remains immense to this day, and I have known local vocal groups who have been happy to admit their debt to the Waterson's style.  I saw the Watersons only once, in Southport in the early 1980s, and it was something of an eye opener to me at the time, both in terms of the material and the way it was sung. 

As well as singing traditional songs, Mike was also a talented songwriter who wrote on a wide range of subjects that caught the imagination of other singers; I heard his song A Stitch In Time (about a woman who sews her drunken, violent husband into his bed so he can't move) sung at the Guest House singaround just a fortnight ago.  Another of his songs, Bright Phoebus, the title track of an album recorded with his late sister Lal Waterson, who was also a song writer, is regularly sung at folk clubs and festivals.

Mike was brother to Norma Waterson, who herself had a life-threatening illness recently, brother in law to Martin Carthy, and uncle to Eliza Carthy, one of the most prominent young folk performers today.  Here is Mike's obituary in The Guardian.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Isambarde cancelled - singers night instead

Isambarde, who were the special guests tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Bothy have had to cancel the gig.  Chris from the band has strained, or perhaps torn, his trapezium muscle in his wrist (whatever that is) and his doctor has instructed him not to drive or play guitar for a week.  I'm told it's rather painful, so there's no chance of him disobeying doctor's orders!

The Bothy is looking to see whether the band can be fitted in again before they split up later in the year.

P.S. I've just heard that the evening will go ahead as a singers night: that's the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Rd West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale. Usual deal:  performers get in free.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Lancs 2011 COTY & POTY

Next Tuesday, 28th June, CAMRA will be presenting the Lancashire Club of the Year (COTY) award to the Farmers Club, 65 Burscough Street, Ormskirk.  It is an impressive Georgian building that was built in 1830 as a dispensary for Ormskirk people by Thomas Brandreth, a wealthy local merchant.  It became the Ormskirk Agricultural Club in 1898, and is now known locally as the “Farmers”.  You can see a picture of the building hereAs far as cask beer is concerned, the club had one handpump serving an excellent Tetley’s Bitter, but Elaine Gore, the Club Manager for more than 20 years, listened to her customers and has now installed a second pump serving cask beers from the Taper’s list.  The club is also Cask Marque accredited, ensuring good quality beers, and has recently been awarded a Hygiene Certificate.

The Swan With Two Necks
 The Lancashire Pub of the Year (POTY) award will be made on Saturday 25th June at The Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton, BB7 1PT, starting at 2pm to celebrate winning the Lancashire Branches POTY.  Everyone is welcome.  When they held the presentation for the local branch's POTY, most of the village turned out & hopefully will again, although they may need some good weather as the pub is fairly small.  Pendleton is not the easiest place to get to, but a taxi from Clitheroe will only cost around a fiver.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Goodbye Tetley's

The brewery on 30 October 2010.
Last Friday, 17 June, saw the Tetley brewery in Leeds close for the last time.  The local branch of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) held a silent vigil at midday on Saturday to mark the end of a brewery that has been associated with Leeds in much the same way that a certain brown ale has been with Newcastle.

Joshua Tetley established his brewery on this site in 1822, so the closure brings 189 years of brewing history to an end.  In a way, even longer as the Tetley brewery replaced a previous brewery on the same site dating from the late 18th century.  Carlsberg UK, owners of Tetley's, said that the beer market faces the "perfect storm of falling consumption, increasing costs and rising tax", leading to over-capacity in the brewing industry, which had rendered the brewery uneconomical.  Although cynics might point to the value of the large piece of land that the brewery was sitting on in the centre of Leeds, the truth probably combines both reasons.  Tetley isn't my cup of tea, and if I'm in a pub serving Tetley real ales, I prefer the mild to the bitter, except that, unfortunately, a lot of pubs serving Tetley's have put the mild on smoothflow. 

Southport CAMRA visited the brewery on 30 October last year, and I asked our guides whether they had a lot of brewery trips.  I was very surprised to be told that this was the first one in 2010; the previous one had been in summer 2009.  Most of Southport CAMRA’s trips tend to be to smallish regional breweries or microbreweries, so going around an enormous beer factory was something very different.  The processes were essentially the same, but on a far greater scale, and in this case, automated.  Computers controlled much of the brewing and we were shown a control room that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Starship Enterprise.  Part of the brewing process was done in vessels called ‘coppers’, which used to be made out of copper, but are now made of stainless steel.  The last actual copper was still there; it dated from 1966, and had a plaque commemorating that it was last of its type to be installed by the manufacturer.

The brewery was on its annual shutdown, so not much was happening, but we were still taken around the brew house, fermenting room with the famous Yorkshire squares (actually oblong), boardrooms, and the bottling and canning plant.  It was very quiet, whereas normally we would have had to wear ear protection for much of the tour.  What struck me was, although the production rooms were huge, how few people were needed actually to operate it all.  Altogether, only about 150 people worked on the entire site. 

At one point we were taken through what I assumed was the old entrance foyer, sumptuously fitted with wood-panelled walls, a grandfather clock (still working), old-fashioned office furniture, an old rotating door and a caged lift.  It was beautiful and looked like a hotel foyer from ‘Jeeves and Wooster’.  We were also taken through what had once been offices, again with wood-panelled walls, and a low wooden railing, but otherwise empty.  I hope none of it is dumped in skips now the brewery has closed.

Tetley Bitter is still the second biggest selling real ale in the UK, so it won't be disappearing:  brewing of cask Tetley's will move to the Midlands while the smoothflow will be brewed in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire.  Carlsberg UK said that “The brewery may be closing but we are keeping some of the site open and have managed to secure the future of 114 Carlsberg UK employees in Leeds. They are mainly based in the telesales and credit control functions in Tetley House.”  I could be wrong, but I suspect that such jobs, welcome as they no doubt are to the individuals concerned, are something of a let-down after working in the brewery.

Although I wasn't a fan of Tetley's, I'd have preferred them to brew more interesting beers, which they had begun doing with seasonal specials, rather than close down.  The government should (but almost certainly won't) note that ever-increasing beer tax was one of the reasons given for the closure of this historic brewery. 

Photo by Ms Sam Thomas, taken on our CAMRA trip to the brewery.

Friday 17 June 2011

Two Bothy gigs in a week

Guests at the Bothy over the next week range from an experienced and craftsman-like stalwart of the folk scene to a young group imbued with youthful energy and enthusiasm.  Both acts are very enjoyable, although in quite different ways as you'd expect.

This Sunday, the 19th June, John Kelly, "the harmonium hero" is the guest.  A singer of mostly traditional material, John was first drawn into music performance, like many others, by skiffle and slid via the 'pop folk' of the 60s towards traditional music.  He has played with the fondly remembered local Irish group Il Danach, he has been involved in various folk and traditional music ventures over the years, he dances or is a musician for Morris sides, and he does play more than just the harmonium.  A slightly out of date website can be found here.

On Thursday the 23rd June, the Bothy is putting on one of its Thursday specials with Isambarde.  This young group appeared at the Bothy almost exactly a year ago on 20th June and went down very well.  If you've seen them before and enjoyed what they do, you'd better come along next Thursday because the group will be splitting up this Autumn and their appearance in Southport is part of their farewell tour.

Both events are at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  get there for 8-00pm.  The beer will be real Thwaites Wainwright.

Monday 13 June 2011

Real ale lingo

I'm sometimes amused, or slightly irritated depending on my mood, by the language that certain real drinkers tend to use.  For some reason, there can be a tendency to speak or write in the pompous style of a country squire bestowing his custom upon the local inn.  Some examples:

Sample ~ drink.  "I sampled the Timothy Taylor's ..." i.e. I had a pint of ...
Partake of ~ drink.  "I think I'll partake of the Copper Dragon." i.e I'll have the ...
Wickets ~ row of handpumps.
A pint of your finest ~ pint, please.
Mine host ~ licensee, as in "Mine host in the Pint and Cliché was ..."
My good man ~ yes, I've heard this.  Cringe-making.
Serving wench ~ I've actually heard this, and it's even more cringe-making.
Beer engine ~ handpump.  Technically correct, but still naff, as hardly anyone uses the term. 

It's no wonder that Viz magazine so tellingly took a pop with their 'Real Ale Twats' comic strip (worth googling), which Wikipedia described as, "Three rather pompous men who speak in an affected style and only drink real ale, even going so far as to keep extensive 'reviews' of all the real ales that they have supped.  Also known to criticise lager drinkers."

In a recent CAMRA magazine I saw a female brewer described as a 'brewster', with an explanatory note that this was the term for a women brewer. Well, it was once, but it isn't now: a woman brewer today is called a brewer.  My Collins Dictionary doesn't even list the word 'brewster' (except as a person's name), because it is now completely obsolete. You wouldn't refer to a woman working in a bakery as a 'baxter', or a woman who spins cloth as a 'spinster'.  Explaining the obsolete word may be interesting, but using it as a current term is pretentious.

Then there are the dismissive terms for lager:  chemical fizz, chemical lager and one I've only just come across, zombeers.  It is here that real ale lingo ceases to amuse and begins to grate.  I recall working at a beer festival (I forget which one) when a group of young women came and asked for lager.  My neighbouring CAMRA stereotype folded his arms and said loftily, "This is a beer festival", so I stepped in and found them golden beers they were happy with.  But he was wrong anyway:  lager is a beer.  If you're going to be a pedant, better make sure you get your facts right, but it was his attitude that was wrong: supercilious, bordering on hostile.  No prizes for guessing whom they came to for their refills, which I didn't mind at all.

Does this matter at all?  I think it does, because as a real ale drinker I don't want to associated with pomposity, pretension, crass condescension or arrogance.  In my experience, most real ale drinkers don't talk or write like this, but those who do help reinforce the stereotypes that some people like to foist upon us all.  Also, it makes sense, particularly when you are trying to communicate with the general public, to use everyday language.  In-jokes, jargon, archaic language and gratuitously insulting people's drinks will at best make reading your text heavy-going and at worst put people off altogether.  Not a successful method of getting your message across.

P.S. I'm surprised I omitted the word "quaff" for "drink" from my list.

Friday 10 June 2011

Brulines and pub closures

The rate of pub closures has slowed since two or three years ago, but that's not really good news as it means we're still losing pubs.  I gave my views on this 18 months ago (you can read what I wrote here if you want) and don't intend to cover old ground, but the latest issue of Private Eye has suggested another one: Brulines.  These monitor the amount of beer dispensed, and if they show that the pub has dispensed more beer than it has bought from the PubCo, the tenant is fined for breaking the terms of their tenancy agreement as it is assumed that they have bought the excess elsewhere.  These fines amount to millions of pounds per year and are an additional burden on already struggling pubs, and may be enough to tip some into closure.

The Brulines website states: "Our core product, Dispense Monitoring, records the exact volume of liquid that passes to each fount at any minute, of any hour, on any day."  The problem is that, despite this confident claim, more than 400 tests by the National Weights and Measures Office failed to produce a single precise reading.  An error rate of 7% either way was common, and one test was 23% out.  Despite this, PubCos treat Brulines as though they are reliably accurate.

Several tenants are taking their PubCos to court over the issue (there's an article in The Publican here).  I wish them every success but I do wonder whether such inaccuracies would tolerated by the government in any other industry where products are measured and sold in bulk, such as milk or flour?  Official unconcern about this scandal to me is symptomatic of the antipathy that our rulers have always had towards the pub trade, an attitude that goes back centuries.  I'm certain that they take the view that it might be unfair, but if it closes pubs, they'll tolerate it

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Of all the ale houses in all the towns in all the world ...

Last night's singaround in the Guest House was a bit unusual.  The pub began to be filled with loads of very young women all looking suitably dressed for a night in a club, except this is the Guest House.  It seems there had been some kind of show at the local college.  One or two of them poked their heads into the room where we were playing, but didn't stay for more than a few seconds.  Probably not ready for such a musical experience yet.

The music was quite varied, with a mixture of contemporary, trad, and some contemp in the trad style, and it was nice to see Richard, who normally comes to the Lion singaround in Liverpool, at his Guest House debut.  As always, it was all very informal.

At one point, Lydia behind the bar topped up my pint without being asked, so I told her how diligent she was.  She thanked me for what she assumed was a compliment, but added that she didn't know what 'diligent' meant.  I told her to ask Gail, the licensee.  She did and then came straight back to me and said, "That wasn't very nice."  When I asked what she meant, she replied:  "Gail told me diligent meant, 'not very good behind the bar!'" 

I was on Allgates Caskablanca (4.1%), a pleasant golden beer, and evidence that Allgates are back on form, having in my opinion gone through a bad patch.  I got a blank look at the bar when I said, "Here's looking at you, kid," (corny, I know) but then she is very young.  Later she told me I wasn't the first to say it ~ just the first to explain it.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Singing in Southport & Liverpool

Unusually, two music sessions I run will fall into one week:

Þ  First Monday singaround in the Guest House in Union Street, Southport. Good range of real ale in a comfortable wood-panelled pub.  That's tomorrow night, 6 June.
Þ  Second Thursday singaround in the Lion in Moorfields, Liverpool. Another attractive pub with a good range of ales, across the road from Moorfields Station.  It's on this Thursday 9 June,

Both begin at around 8.30pm, are free and you sing only if you want to.  All welcome.

Saturday 4 June 2011

The Wilsons at the Bothy

The Wilsons are a vocal harmony group consisting of five brothers and a sister from Teesside.  Here are some comments about them:

"There's a musical honesty about them that links past and present together. They are among the people who go about singing traditional songs that move me - which I really love, because that's what I try to do. But what appeals to me about them, apart from their musical skill, is their honesty. They are what they are and do what they do and say what they say and it's very direct and I love that. They're not pretenders." - Dick Gaughan

"The Northern Wilsonia - a vocal orchestra..." - Peter Bellamy

"They have synthesised the qualities of all their major influences, which sets them apart as one of the foremost harmony groups entertaining folk audiences today" - Roy Harris

"Singing with the Wilson Family makes life a whole lot easier" - Louis Killen

They're appearing at the Bothy tomorrow night at 8.00pm. It's likely to be busy, so get there early.  The Bothy meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  The real ale will be Thwaites Wainwright.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Browned off? No chance!

I played at a fundraiser in the Southport Railwaymen's Club in Sussex Road recently. They had two cask beers on:  Tetley Bitter and Bombardier.  I didn't try the Tetley, but the Bombardier was fine.  It's good that a social club is stocking real ale - my grouse when I used to go to the Labour Club was that it only had Federation keg beers on - but it's interesting how it came about.  I was having a chat with the steward and she told me that they'd begun to serve real ale solely because of demand by their members.  Tetley's was first on, but then they began to stock a changing guest as well.  They found by trial and error that their members prefer brown, nutty beers - the kind of beer that 'discerning' real ale drinkers tend to turn up their noses at nowadays.  Apparently golden beers haven't gone down so well, not even those from our local Southport Brewery, and the two real ales now outsell the other beers.

The preferences of these drinkers may cut across what's innovative or fashionable, but they definitely know what they want, and good luck to them.  It's worth remembering that most real ale drinkers aren't much interested in experimenting, and even when they do, they often prefer to have a familiar ale to fall back on.  Not everyone wants to be slapped in the face by their drink, to pinch Meer For Beer's lively metaphor.  The reason why the brown beers are still brewed in such quantities is simply because plenty of people still like drinking them.

People who don't want innovation and experimentation are no less real ale drinkers than people who rejoice over the latest golden brew made with a carefully selected blend of hops from several different countries, with who-knows-what size of carbon footprint (dray print?).

This is a nice example of customer power at work in the beer world and, for a change, succeeding.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Chris While, Kellie While & Julie Matthews in Wigan

On Friday 17 June, there is a special fundraising concert at Wigan Parish Church:  a concert featuring Chris While, Kellie While, Julie Matthews, with support from Ruth Angell and Becky Mills.  Chris, Kellie and Julie are talents in their own right and have performed solo, in duos with each other, and have all been in the Albion Band, although not at the same time.  They have appeared at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport, and I recall getting them all to play for nothing at the Bold Arms Beer Festival in Churchtown many years ago.  I doubt I could pull that off now; not with their current standing in the acoustic music world, which is well-deserved as they are all formidable singing and songwriting talents.

Tickets:  £15 in advance; £17 on the night.  All profits to DIAS (Wigan Womens Refuge) and Manchester Domestic Violence Helpline. Contact 01942 824291 for tickets and further details.

The church is on Crawford St, Wigan, WN1 1NL, about 5 minutes' walk from the railway stations.  I understand wine is available in the venue, and I know that there several good real ale pubs only a couple of minutes' walk away.