Wednesday 31 August 2011

Freshfield to be a Hungry Horse

The Freshfield Hotel in Formby sells 10 real ales and a real cider, the best range of beer in Formby by far, and has regular music nights, such as open mike nights, the monthly Grateful Fred's roots and acoustic club and a monthly jazz night.  I am consequently rather concerned to hear that the owners Greene King are going to turn it into a Hungry Horse pub.  A look at the website shows that Hungry Horse is all about food:  the only reference to beer on the entire site is: "Our pubs are known for high quality, big value food, a choice of beers, ales and drinks to suit all tastes."  Notice that even in that one sentence, food is mentioned first.

The function room will probably be converted to a restaurant, which will force out all the music nights and I can't see them retaining the great range of beers, because that is not what this chain is about.  I tried to look on the pub's own website, but it seems to have been taken down.

I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it ~ it will be a shame to lose such a great real ale and music venue.  I'll let you know if I hear anything new.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Always look on the Brightside ...

News of another new microbrewery:  Brightside in Bury, Greater Manchester.  It's some way from where I live, but I'm hoping the beers will find their way to north Merseyside.  It's called Brightside because it was set up at the height (or should that be the depth?) of the recession, and no doubt bar staff are already weary of punters singing the Monty Python song ~ I like to think I'd resist the temptation, but I'm not sure.

Its core range is:
  • Best Bitter, 4.3%, a dark amber best bitter.
  • Maverick, 4.8%, a light amber IPA.
  • Darkside, 4.3%, a black stout.
  • Solstice, 4.5%, a light golden ale.
While that seems a rather good range that would meet most preferences, they also have plans for occasional special beers.  At present they are sold in and around the Bury area, but they plan to sell further afield:  let's hope they come our way soon.

Roy Bailey in Liverpool

Roy Bailey (right) with Tony Benn
Veteran socialist folk singer Roy Bailey is appearing in Liverpool on Saturday 10 September at Radical Liverpool.  Colin Irwin from Mojo magazine said Roy represents "the very soul of folk's working class ideals ... a triumphal homage to the grass roots folk scene as a radical alternative to the mainstream music industry."  As if to illustrate this, Roy has performed in shows with Tony Benn, with Roy singing and Tony speaking.  Roy doesn't just perform political anthems; his music tends to be more thoughtful and varied, not always obviously political, and often humorous.  His stage presence is self-effacing, not preachy.  I have seen him many times and have always been impressed not only by his integrity and commitment, but also by the fact that his performances are entertaining and enjoyable as well.

He will be at Studio 2 of the Parr Street Studios, 33-35 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN.  Doors at 7.00 pm.  Ticket are £9, available here, or £10 on the door.  Support is by Our Morals, the house band, and The Trestles, a local band.  Radical Liverpool is a new music venue in the city that will meet on the second Saturday of each month.

Monday 29 August 2011

Everyman folk Fly to new venue

Chris and Hughie Jones's folk club at the Everyman Theatre has moved to a new venue following the closure of the theatre for a major rebuild.  Their folk club now meets on Wednesday nights (instead of Tuesday) upstairs in the Fly In The Loaf, 13 Hardman Street, Liverpool.  As before, admission is free, although they will as before hold a raffle and pass the hat around.

The Fly In The Loaf was formerly the wine bar Kirklands, which was named after a bakery, once boasting a royal warrant, that used to occupy these premises.  It has six changing cask ales, and is worth a visit anyway, although in my opinion not when the big screen sports are on as they tend to dominate everything completely, something I regard as completely unnecessary in a pub this size.  The building itself is distinctive and interesting both inside and out, as the picture suggests.

Sunday 28 August 2011

1st Ship Inn Beer Festival

The Ship Inn (also known as the Blood Tub), an attractive canalside pub in Lathom near Burscough, will be holding its first Beer, Cider, Pie and Sausage Festival from the 9 to 11 September.  It will be run in a marquee next to the pub and will feature:
  • 32 cask ales.
  • 11 ciders.
  • Ship Ale of the Year voting.
  • Moorhouse’s v. Great Britain Challenge.
  • King Pie competition: 12 varieties prepared by their own chefs.
  • Sausage barbeque.
  • Live music.
The Ship is at 4 Wheat Lane, Lathom, Lancashire, L40 4BX, which is less than a mile from both Burscough Junction and Burscough Bridge railway stations.

The nickname Blood Tub apparently refers to the barrels of blood, used for black puddings, which were carried on the adjacent Leeds-Liverpool canal.

Whitby Folk Week 2011

My housemates, Alan and Rose, enjoying
a drink at Scalby Mill, Scarborough
I got home yesterday from my annual visit to Whitby Folk Week; we had a great time as usual. Our annual Lunchtime Legends gig in the Elsinore on Flowergate, our 20th in this venue, went down well; it was so hot in this small pub that after our 34-song set, I looked as though someone had poured a bucket of water over me. It was good to have Jez Lowe joining us again on bass, and the great Pete Coe opened for us with a very dirty-sounding distorted guitar, singing songs like I Hear You Knocking, I Fought The Law (And the Law Won) and the Kinks’ song Superman. Although we had no new recordings, we sold 4 CDs - and even 3 cassettes, believe it or not. Candy Rell’s rendition of the Dusty Springfield classic, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, got the whole pub singing. Hi Ho Silver Lining and Your Sixteen finished our set as always; the one time we did Hi Ho half way through, they wouldn't let us go until we played it again at the end!

Boggart's Breakfast dancing in Whitby
The following day, with my voice already slightly hoarse, I ended up doing another couple of hours in The Station pub, which was also good fun. The Station has some good varied song and music sessions during folk week, while the Elsinore is a magnet each evening for accordion-driven tune playing. The standard of performance of many of the music session performers, who play just for pleasure, can be very high, attracting appreciative crowds of drinkers who are happy to stand and watch. In particular, I saw a group of young female fiddle players in the Station performing with obvious energy and enthusiasm.

Whitby wouldn’t be the same without the dancers who performed regularly every day in the streets of Whitby, bringing the festival, like the pub session players, to ordinary holiday makers and residents of the town.

Music session in The Station
(Steve on the left looks shocked!)
Looking back at last year’s pub crawl, not much has changed, except that the steak and ale pie in the Duke of York disappointingly wasn’t as good. Also, £3-20 seemed to be the standard Whitby price for real ale (50 to 70p more than I’m used to paying, and about 14% up on last year, unlike my income!), except in the Elsinore where the Cameron’s Strongarm was £2-90, and the Jolly Sailors, which sold Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter for an amazing £1-61. Perhaps not wonderful, but I find it a perfectly acceptable standard bitter. My favourite beer of the week was Ossett Silver King in the Station; once when it went off temporarily, I had a Directors, which was surprisingly rather good. 
Persephone dancing at Whitby

Overall, Whitby is good place for pubs and brilliant during folk week for very varied live music too.

Only 51 weeks until the next one.

Whitby from Church Street. The 102 year old swing bridge is in the distance

Friday 19 August 2011

Smoke And Mirrors

I've just listened to You And Yours on Radio 4. There were two branches of the leisure industry who are worried about their future: ice cream makers and amusement arcade operators, both of whom are struggling in the recession, and already there have been some bankruptcies. In both cases, tax was given as a significant factor. A new gaming machine tax will be the last straw for some businesses. Representatives of both industries cited the increase of VAT to 20% as a significant problem.

The closure of five shops in Chapel Street, Southport's second shopping street, was announced on the same day a week or two ago. More closures are expected.

Recent excursions into our local pubs have shown some pubs doing very poor business in August, the height of the holiday season in a seaside resort. Some licensees have had to lay off staff, with a few talking about leaving the business altogether.

I should have thought the reasons why the retail and leisure industries are suffering so badly would be obvious to all, the main one being the recession, with its attendant job insecurity, redundancies, wage cuts or freezes, inflation, declining living standards, and 20% VAT. But no: there are those who proclaim that the main reason why pubs are closing is still the smoking ban, introduced four years ago. They must believe that pubs are immune to all the economic pressures bearing on other industries. In fact, they have additional problems, such as pub companies ripping them off and beer tax rising every year at above inflation.

One argument is that pubs survived previous recessions without the current rate of closures, and as the one additional factor is the smoking ban, it must be that that's tipped so many pubs over the edge. You could say the same about Woolworth's - it too survived every previous recession, but closed in January 2009. As the smoking ban obviously didn't kill Woolies, there must be other factors destroying businesses in Britain today, and pubs, after all, are businesses.

In reality, the smoking ban isn't the only additional factor at all. In previous recessions, pubs didn't have rip-off pubcos running them; they were run by breweries who wanted an outlet for their beers and therefore had no interest in driving pubs out of business, unlike pubcos who, if a pub goes bust, have a piece of property they can sell. Neither did they have to contend with 20% VAT, escalating beer tax and hostile anti-alcohol campaigners.

Some of the smoking ban opponents state that they don't go to pubs any more since the ban, which means - logically - they don't chat to licensees as I do (as opposed to ferreting around on the internet to produce dubious evidence to support increasingly peevish arguments). The view I tend to come across is that, yes the smoking ban is a factor, but by no means the only one and not even the main one.

That's the balanced view. I'm lucky in that I have a fairly wide circle of friends, but I can't think of a single smoker who has stopped going to the pub because of the ban; on the other hand, some friends have said they are finding the prices a problem nowadays.

I have no personal axe to grind: I'm a non-smoker, but not anti-smoking. As far as I'm concerned, people can smoke all they like, but that doesn't mean anywhere they like. I'm a drinker, but in many town and city centres, drinking in public will get you a fine, but I don't go around complaining that I can't indulge in a perfectly legal activity wherever I want to. I accept that it's restricted, even though drinking in the open air on a nice day is a very pleasant thing to do. My last employers banned drinking while working decades before they banned smoking.

The only thing that annoys me about some of the anti-ban brigade is that they ignore economic realities and prefer to blame the rate of pub closures on one factor alone. Simplistic arguments are always irritating and don't reflect well on those who promote them.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

New brewery & other news

A new microbrewery has opened called the Blackedge Brewery.  It's a 2.5 barrel brewery in Horwich, Bolton, on the edge of the West Pennine Moors.  The website states that it is now in full production and at present just shows one beer, a 3.8% pale ale called HoP, but with the promise of more to come.  Another to keep an eye out for.  I like the fact that the pump clip is shaped like a guitar plectrum! 
Thanks to Ken Worthington of Wigan CAMRA for letting me know.

Pub reopens
The Arion pub in Kenilworth Road, Ainsdale, Southport, re-opened on 15th August after an 18 months closure, during which time there were rumours that it would never be opened as a pub again. It is operated by Enterprise Inns and is under the stewardship of Jacki and Andy Phillips. They have a good food menu, including home cooked dishes, and at present have one real ale on offer, Marston's Pedigree, in good condition, and they are assessing how well this sells as they hope to eventually offer guest beers. The pub has been smartly refurbished, with a pleasant outside area. 
Thanks to Mike Perkins of Southport CAMRA for this info.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Home again

I've just got home from Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival; it was excellent.  As well as Fairport Convention (of course, as it's their festival), there were the Home Service, UB40, The Coral, Horslips, The Shee, Hayseed Dixie (with a bluegrass rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody!), Seasick Steve, and others.  All were good in varying degrees.  After Fairport, I think I enjoyed the Home Service best.  Wadworth's beers were on, in surprisingly good condition considering the bar was in a field:  6X, a golden beer, and a 5% named after Fairport, which ran out first

I'll be going out shortly clutching my guitar to the singaround at the Bothy Folk Club (Park Golf Club, Park Road West) to sing songs and drink Thwaites Wainwright.  Tomorrow night is the music session in the Guest House in Union Street, and on Wednesday it's the singaround in the Mason's on Anchor Street.  All free and all in real ale venues.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Last chance to see Isambarde

Isambarde, Chris Green, Jude Rees, and Emily Sanders, are performing their last gig in Southport this Friday 12th August at the Bothy; the band are splitting up at the end of September, having performed together since 2002. 

They have been popular guests at the Bothy before, but had to cancel their last booking on 23 June because Chris had injured his hand.  Their music is a blend of traditional and contemporary songs, and Vin Garbutt said of them: "Isambarde are a really good young band. They’re good to listen to, good to look at and it’s very obvious that they enjoy performing.”

This Friday at 8.00 pm at the Bothy Folk Club, which meets in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  Real ale from Thwaites.

Friday 5 August 2011

A Blighted Panorama

I've just watched a Panorama programme about alcohol misuse, called predictably Dying For A Drink (available here for 9 more days).  Much of the programme concentrated on alcoholics, some of whom regularly drank 20 pints a day, or a bottle of vodka plus beer, or super-strength ciders.  Such levels of consumption maintained on an almost daily basis are indeed shocking, but are in no way typical of the kind of drinking we are likely to see in our local pub.  Drinking levels are actually falling in Britain, but the impression was clearly given that we are being swamped by a relentless tide of increasing misuse.  Alcohol is cheap, we were told, despite the fact that our beer duty is second highest in the EU.  Alcohol is too readily available: well, who allowed supermarkets to sell alcohol throughout the store, thus encouraging impulse buying, rather than in a discrete off licence section where under age sales could be much more easily monitored?  The government, of course, in one of its previous fits of deregulation and "burning of red tape".*

It's true that drinking behaviours, particularly among young people, can be very different nowadays.  For a night out, as students we used to meet in the pub or college bar at around 7.30 pm and take it from there.  Young people nowadays often preload before leaving home, and then go on to bars and then clubs.  Why?
  • The price of alcohol in pubs and clubs is much higher in real terms than in the past, especially after the excessive tax increases of recent years.  If beer had increased only by normal inflation since 1972, the year I went to college, a pint of bitter would cost around £1.40.  Drinking in pubs is not a cheap activity, so preloading cuts the high cost of a night out.*
  • The zealous drives against under age drinking mean that young people can't go to pubs and learn what is and isn't acceptable behaviour from older drinkers.  I first bought beer in a pub when I was 16; the last thing I wanted to do was to draw attention to myself by behaving wrongly, so I tried to fit in.  But nowadays, a lot of young people are developing their own approach to drinking free of any scrutiny, and often choose high strength drinks, which they do not have the experience or capacity to cope with.* 
Several people in the programme referred to drinking vodka by the bottle.  In alcohol terms, that's 15 pints of ordinary beer, but in its effects a lot more because it's concentrated into a pint and a quarter of liquid that can be knocked back quickly.  I have never seen anyone drink a bottle of vodka in a pub, so such vodka misuse must be taking place at home or in the park where there are no controls whatsoever.  This means that the fanatical enforcement of under age drinking laws in pubs is itself actually driving young people into unsupervised consumption of very strong drinks.*  As an aside, I can't understand why council officials who use under age people to entrap pubs into selling them alcohol aren't themselves guilty of inciting an offence.

This programme is clearly part of a campaign to foster moral panic about drinking in the hope that the very act will be seen as antisocial or even deviant, leading to a decline in consumption, but the consequence is more likely to be even more home drinking, which has shown a steady increase over the last 20 years.*  Moral panic is no way to deal with genuine problems because you generally get bad laws that backfire on you unexpectedly, and alcohol is no exception.  Besides, why the rush?  There have always been people who misuse alcohol; it's hardly a recent phenomenon, so surely we can take the time to address it properly, rather than adopt quick fixes that can do more harm than good.

This programme was big on tut tutting but didn't actually come up with any answers that will make a difference - just the usual anti-alcohol strategies, most of which have, I feel, contributed to the problem.  It was a missed opportunity.

* These are all examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences in action, and why I consider that anti-alcohol campaigns tend to be part of the problem, not the solution - not a point of view that the programme showed any awareness of in the slightest.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Never Mind The Dovecotes

I suppose quite a few readers of ReARM will remember the arrival of punk in the late 70s: brash, iconoclastic, rebellious (I'm beginning to sound like a Q magazine reviewer here), etc.  To relive those wild days, a compilation album is being released by Decca featuring, among others, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, G.B.H., Siouxsie and The Banshees, Lene Lovich, The Fall, Sham 69, and X-Ray Specs.  As it's hardly the first such compilation, so what?  Well, this one's called Never Mind The Dovecotes and it's to raise money for the - er - National Trust.  Apparently, nearly half a million of the Trust’s members were aged between 16-25 in 1977, so they anticipate a lot of interest among nostalgic, and now parental, punks playing it in the car as they take their families to Trust properties. 

Good luck to them ~ it's a vast improvement on John Lydon advertising dairy products.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Eureka to reopen

I've received an e-mail from the new team taking over the Eureka pub in Ormskirk that it's about to re-open.  They tell me, "We intend to be famous for our range and quality of fantastic local and national real ales; we will also be regularly having live music and great food. We are passionate about these things and want this pub to thrive once again." 

The new landlord and landlady are Gary and Sharon and they are aiming to have the pub open early this month.  The pub's address is 78 Halsall Lane, Ormskirk, L39 3AX, a short walk from Fiveways, the A59/A570 junction. 

The Eureka is a long-standing real ale pub, and I'm looking forward to visiting it again next I'm in the area.

Monday 1 August 2011

CD Launch for charity - postponed

Postponed due to Geoff being unwell. New date to be notified.

Geoff Parry is launching his 9th album called The End Of The Line this Saturday.  As usual it consists of his own poems set to music by various artists, and a number of the artists involved will be performing their songs from the CD live on the night (including yours truly who sings the title track).

Admission is free, although there will be an opportunity to donate to Queenscourt Hospice, and all the proceeds from the CD sales (£5 minimum contribution) will also go to Queenscourt.  All the artists are playing free of charge.

All welcome at 7.30pm on Saturday 6th August at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, which serves real ale from Thwaites.