Sunday 30 October 2011

Chris Foster gig & other events this week

Next Sunday 6 November the Bothy presents Chris Foster. Chris is a singer/guitarist from Somerset originally and is known for his interpretations of traditional and contemporary songs.  He trained as an artist at the Norwich, and Chelsea Schools of Art.  His professional break as a musician came in the early 1970s when a music agent spotted him singing at Dingles Folk Club in London. This led to eight years as a professional solo folk singer/guitarist.  He recorded two acclaimed albums in the late 1970s: Layers and All Things in Common.  Both featured mainly traditional songs with often complex fingerstyle accompaniments.  Chris's career has taken several twists and turns since those days, and he now lives in Iceland, so it is a rare treat to be able to see him locally.

That's at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS at 8 p.m.  On-line tickets here.  The venue serves Thwaites real ale.

Ü  Tonight (30 October) at the same venue is a Singers Night.  Performers get in free.

Ü  Wednesday 2 November sees the next singaround at the Mason's Arms, Anchor Street, behind the main post office on Lord Street.  All welcome, especially performers.  Free admission and real ale from Robinson's of Stockport.

Thursday 27 October 2011

"Why don't they believe us?" whinges minister

Public health minister Anne Milton has bemoaned the fact that, despite government warnings, some people still continue to drink above the level they say is good for us.  She also said that, despite the incidence of problem drinking, there was not currently any evidence available to justify altering the recommended safe limits.  By alter she presumably means lower - no, Anne, you don't fiddle figures that lack credibility at their current levels.  She recognises that many people simply don't believe government warnings.  I wonder why that is Anne?  Perhaps it's because politicians sometimes lie to us.  We remember the weapons of mass destruction and the dodgy dossier, which politicians of all parties fell for, but, strangely enough, rather less of the general public did; or more recently, Theresa May's conference lies about the cat and the immigrant.  On top of that, the simple truth is that most drinkers can't believe the recommended alcohol levels, especially since one of those involved in setting them admitted a couple of years ago that the figures were more or less plucked out of the air - more deceit.

In one respect, she shows some sense of reality by recognising that a minimum price for alcohol - favoured by her Labour shadow, Diane Abbott (the Lefty who sent her kid to private school) and the nanny statist Scottish National Party - is probably illegal, but steers straight back on track with her support for manipulating the market by the use of alcohol duty, such as the recent increase in duty on strong beer and reduction on weak beer that I discussed here.  I can think we can therefore safely assume that the beer tax escalator is likely to stay.

But undeniable hypocrisy comes into play when she looks at her colleagues.  She acknowledges that MPs were "susceptible" to "risky behaviour" like excessive drinking because of their anti-social hours and the time they spend away from family, but says she does not believe that any of Parliament's many bars should be shut down in a bid to make them more sober.  And no mention at all of ending the taxpayers' subsidy of the prices they pay in those bars.  With such double standards, Anne, is it really surprising that we find believing you and your mates so hard?

The original article is here.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Josh Harty and The Good Intentions

Josh Harty
Grateful Fred's next guest is Josh Harty.  Josh is the third generation of a family of musicians from the Dakotas.  His latest CD, A Long List of Lies is proving popular with lovers of authentic American music.

"Harty has a warm, intimate performance style.  You can ease into his songs from the first note and his voice has that perfect combination of resignation and hope.  The songs are all downbeat, even mournful, and Harty's performances are utterly convincing, whether on the doom-laden Whiskey & Morphine, the more upbeat tune (but downbeat lyrics) of Sweet Solution" - Jeremy Searle, Americana UK, 2011.

The Good Intentions - the bank manager years
Josh will be supported by The Good Intentions, the Liverpool-based Americana/Bluegrass trio whose latest CD Someone Else's Time is receiving great reviews.  They are winners of the British Country Music Awards - Best Americana Act of the Year 2011.

Grateful Fred meets at a NEW VENUE:  Formby British Legion, Whitehouse Lane, Formby, L37 3LT.  Full directions here and tickets are available on-line here.  The music begins at 8.00 p.m.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Great Northern Beer Festival

It's on this week in Manchester - click on the poster to read it more easily, or go to the festival website.  Southport residents should remember that the trains are not running between Southport and Wigan, although you can go by train from Southport to Manchester via Liverpool.

Thu:  4.00 pm to 10.30 pm.  Fri & Sat:  midday to 10.30 pm.
£3 admission, including a £1 refundable deposit on the glass.  Concessions apply.

Take Flight In Birkdale

Local progressive band, the Frank Flight Band are playing a gig in the Blundell Arms in Birkdale this coming Saturday. Their sound has been described as "psychedelic, challenging, melodic music". They are happy to put a 16-minute song on their website, and are clearly prepared to take all the time the music may need.  They are supported on this pre-Hallowe'en gig by a certain Nev Grundy.  Come along and hear for yourself this Saturday 29th October upstairs at the Blundell Arms, Upper Aughton Road, Southport.

Thursday 20 October 2011

But I don't drink 7.5% beer ...

As you may know, the government has introduced a higher rate of duty for beers above 7.5%.  They say it will pay for cutting the duty on beers below 2.8%, but frankly I'm not convinced; anyone who accepts this excuse at face of value has underestimated the deviousness of governments.  Having established the principle of different levels of duty, it would be a simple matter in future to reduce the percentage point at which the higher level of duty is payable, say to 6.5% in a couple of years' time, then to 5.5%, and so on, all rationalised by arguments about health, binge drinking and public disorder.  Once the principle has been established, changing when the higher rate of duty kicks in is a mere detail.

I rarely drink beer of such strength, but if the trigger point for higher duty was reduced in stages to, say, 5%, then it would begin to affect me, my preferred strengths being in the 4 to 5.5% range.  So that's one of the reasons why I've signed this petition calling on the government to reverse the tax increase, even though it doesn't affect me at present. 

The petition gives other reasons to oppose this measure: "the higher rate of tax levied on beers brewed at 7.5% or above will have an adverse effect not only on small innovative British Breweries, but also on the independent retailers and local pubs who stock their produce.  The way to tackle binge drinking amongst the young is with education not taxation." 

The social anthropologist Kate Fox argued recently (see my previous post) that scaremongering and punitive tax increases are not only ineffectual but often counter-productive, meaning that government alcohol initiatives are a complete mess.  This measure is just more of the same.  It's time politicians took a mature and sensible approach to alcohol, not driven by tabloid headlines and the desire to be seen to "do something", believing that doing anything is better than doing nothing.  Too often that simply isn't true.  Please sign.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

BBC Radio Merseyside Folkscene for the chop?

BBC Radio Merseyside Folkscene is the country's oldest folk radio show.  Stan Ambrose and Geoff Speed set up this excellent programme 44 years ago with their own money and have made it what it is today: the most listened to folk music programme on local radio.  As you probably know, the BBC intends to make cuts by taking off the air such programmes.  If they do, Radio Merseyside will end up sharing programmes with other regions of the country, almost certainly not folk, most likely current pop and golden oldies programmes.  If you object, you have the following options:
  1. Write to the Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson and the BBC Trust which is currently carrying out a review of local radio.  It's important to stress the uniqueness of Radio Merseyside Folkscene service, how NO OTHER station does what 'Folkscene' does and how important it is in reflecting the culture of the area please.  Mark Thompson's e-mail is and the BBC Trust's is  This is probably the best option.
  2. Visit the complaints page of the BBC website and make (in the strongest terms) your objection to this type of cut. Website
  3. Write to Mick Ord, Editor of Radio Merseyside to express your support for Folkscene.  By e-mail.  By fax:  0151 794 0909. By post to: BBC Radio Merseyside, 31 College Lane, Liverpool, L1 3DS.  Mark your e-mail, letter or fax: “For the attention of Mick Ord”.
Facebook page here.  Save BBC local radio petition here.

Monday 17 October 2011

Australian bouncers

Good old Oz.  They've come up with a novel solution to injuries caused by drunken falls:  rubber pavements.  They were originally installed to reduce the clanking noise caused by beer kegs and help keep them free from dents, when it was found they also cushioned the falls of boozers as they hit the ground.  As a result many bars and clubs have begun replacing their concrete floors, especially around dance floors where drunken wannabe John Travoltas are most likely to come a cropper.  A1 Rubber, a company that instals these floors, made from recycled tyres, has seen a 35% rise in business in the last 6 years.

Some people insist they don't solve the problems caused by excessive drinking, but one 22-year old Australian drinker doesn't give a XXXX for that, saying that the rubber sidewalks outside the his local were a much better option than "cracking my head on the kerb."  He's right, you know.  Full article here.

Thanks to Dave Thackeray who posted the link on Facebook.

Friday 14 October 2011

Charity CD launch and concert

On Saturday 22nd October, there will be a charity folk fundraising night for Queenscourt Hospice, Southport.  The focus of the evening will be the launch of "The End of the Line", the latest CD of songs and poems written by Geoff Parry and recorded by various artists, including Chris & Siobhan Nelson, Raphael Callaghan, Chris Harvey, Pete Rimmer and Clive Pownceby.  Many of the artists on the CD will be performing their songs on the night.  The evening will be dedicated to the memory of friends of the performers who were looked after in the hospice.

The venue is the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 9DU, beginning at at 7.30 p.m.  Admission is free, although there will be a collection for Queenscourt.  Sales of the new album (minimum contribution £5) will also be donated to the Hospice.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Drunken disorder - all in the mind

When I was a student, it used to interest me seeing how the various student tribes handled their drink.  At the extremes, the PE students would all sit around in track suits singing rugby songs - I got fed up of hearing the tedious and rambling misfortunes of Constable Peckham - and the drama students would become even more luvvy-ish than usual.  The politicos would sit in corners to talk about the latest international trouble spot, say things like, "It's all happening in Nicaragua", and sup their Greenall Whitley while waiting for the revolution.

If the media caricature of the effects of alcohol had any basis in reality, there shouldn't have been these marked differences in behaviour and instead you'd expect a lot of trouble and fighting, but in fact that was rare.  I formed the view a long time ago that people develop certain habits about drinking quite early on and tend to stick with them, meaning that a lager lout of 20 years ago may well be a saga lout in 20 years' time. 
Kate Fox

I was therefore interested to see this notion supported in an article by social anthropologist Kate Fox, who says:  "The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol."  In other words, if we think we should get aggressive after drinking, then that's what will happen.  Similarly, if we think we should get flirty, then that will happen too, and so on. 

I do recall reading in the 1970s that some researchers asked young lager drinkers to take part in a bogus study and their reward was as much tinned lager as they wanted, which of course was the real research. The drinkers didn't know the lager was alcohol-free and they began to behave as though they were getting drunk.

Kate Fox explains why all our alcohol education programmes are self-defeating - the old Law of Unintended Consequences again - and asserts: "If I were given total power, I could very easily engineer a nation in which coffee would become a huge social problem - a nation in which young people would binge-drink coffee every Friday and Saturday night and then rampage around town centres being anti-social, getting into fights and having unprotected sex in random one-night stands."  She then tells us how she'd do this - it's quite funny, but utterly credible.

Her article also prompts the thought that the excessive penalties heaped upon the heads of licensees who serve under age drinkers only prevent young people from developing acceptable patterns of behaviour in controlled environments, instead sending them to shape their own drinking habits with the help of super-strength lagers, ciders and vodka, heavily influenced by hysterical and inaccurate propaganda about the effects of booze on behaviour.  That old law again.
I wonder if the pretend charity Alcohol Concern has read her article?  I doubt they'd want to because in around 1400 words she completely demolishes their entire strategy, which is almost completely funded by public money - now even more obviously a complete waste, especially in the current economic climate.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Ease Olympic stress with a beer ~ official

We all know that London is going to be bulging at the seams during the Olympic Games next year, and that the capital's elderly transport systems that are already operating near capacity will face a challenge (we're not allowed to use negative words like 'problem' anymore).  Transport for London Commissioner Peter Hendy recently briefed London Assembly officials on the capital's readiness for the Olympics and he had several ideas for coping with the conflicting demands of the Games and the rush hour.  As well as some worthy-but-dull advice, such as working from home, staggering working hours, use your bike, telephone conferencing, etc, he also suggested:  "On one or two of the days [London Bridge] will be very, very crowded and the best thing to do ... is to have a beer before you go home."

I suppose that's one way of staggering your journeys.

The full BBC news item is here.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Spoons beerex

The Sir Henry Segrave, Southport
I've just realised that the Wetherspoons Real Ale and Cider Festival, which they modestly describe as the world's biggest, began last Wednesday and will be on at all Spoons and Lloyds No 1 pubs.  Their website says, "This time we are featuring five American craft ales as well as plenty of new and special brews to try. On this site, you will find the full list of 50 festival Ales." 

Our local Spoons in Southport is the Sir Henry Segrave, which I much prefer to our Lloyds, the Willow Grove, but there are those I know who hold the opposite view.  It's on for another two weeks until the 23rd.  On past experience, I'd say it's definitely worth a visit.

Friday 7 October 2011

Simon Barron and Rosalind Brady in Southport

I don't know a great deal about Simon Barron and Rosalind Brady other than that they live in Devon and their repertoire includes their own songs and interpretations of traditional English folk song.  They are the guests this Sunday 9 October at the Bothy Folk Club in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  You can get tickets on-line here, or on the door.  The venue sells real ale from Thwaites.

I rather like this video of one of their songs:

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Bert Jansch

I've just learnt that Bert Jansch, one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, died last night of cancer at the age of 67; I hadn't known that he was ill.  Bert Jansch was admired as a solo performer, but was also known for many musical collaborations, particularly as part of a duo with John Renbourn and as a member of innovative folk-jazz band, Pentangle.  Many guitarists in the folk and the rock worlds have acknowledged their debt to and admiration for Bert Jansch, including Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin who recorded Jansch's arrangement of Black Waterside virtually note for note and renaming it Black Mountain Side.  This was controversial as Page neither credited Jansch or paid him any royalties.

I saw him several times on solo gigs and once with John Renbourn, and the first LP I ever owned was the Bert Jansch Sampler; my own attempts at the instrumental Angie were derived from playing the track from that album over and over again.  I still sometimes like to listen to his lyrical album Rosemary Lane

The video below is of Bert Jansch playing Black Waterside, a song that he learned from the legendary folk singer Anne Briggs, a debt that that he did acknowledge.  BBC report here.

Kellie and the Lion

Singer-songwriter Kellie While is making a return visit to the Bothy Folk Club after an absence of several years.  Kellie used to live in the Southport area and is the daughter of singer Chris While, who has herself performed at the Bothy on several occasions.

Kellie has performed with many folk luminaries, including a spell with the Albion Band and E2K and has worked as a duo with her mother.  The Sydney Morning Herald said that she had "surely the greatest voice to emerge from the English folk scene since Sandy Denny".  That's quite a compliment!

I first saw Kellie about 19 years ago when she agreed to play at the Bold Arms Beer Festival for which I had arranged a folk evening featuring various local artists (headlined by Kellie's mum!).  Although she was then only in her mid teens, she impressed the audience with her voice, her songs, some original, and her endearing stage presence.  One friend said to me on the night: "That girl is really going to go places."

The gig is at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, on Thursday 13 October at 8.00pm.  Tickets on-line here, or on the door, subject to availability.  The venue sells real ale from Thwaites.

Lion Tavern Singaround
Unfortunately I can't make Kellie's gig as the event clashes with my monthly singaround at the Lion Tavern in Moorfields, Liverpool, which starts at around 8.30 pm, is free and all are welcome.  The Lion serves eight cask beers.  It's disappointing when things clash like this.

Monday 3 October 2011

CAMRA ... there for the well-heeled?

I've just read a headline in October's What’s Brewing (the CAMRA newspaper), "Booming real ale sales", and below it in the article, "cask only dipped by an estimated two per cent". Since when does a dip constitute a boom?

Also portrayed as good news in the article is the fact that 69% of real ale drinkers are now in social class ABC1. Is real ale expanding its customer base upwards or, in a declining market, is it losing its working class customers? I suspect a bit of both, but the loss of the working class market to whole swathes of inner city pubs that serve only smoothflow is not the good news that the WB article implies. 30 years ago my uncle ran a back street pub in Bootle, which sold real ale through electric hand pumps – not unusual then, but almost unheard of now. A mass market for real ale was wiped out without, apparently, a single tear from CAMRA, possibly because these pubs didn't meet the approved ABC1 demographic.

With above-inflation beer duty rises and pub company rip-offs, ale is increasingly an expensive niche product that ordinary people - not your wealthy professionals - are finding harder to afford. Feel-good articles should not blind us to the reality of the situation: beer sales are dropping and pubs closing.

If CAMRA is turning into the voice of the well-heeled drinker, as this article seems to suggest, I may begin to have doubts about being a member.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Cigarette machines banned in England

As from today, cigarette machines are banned in pubs in England, with the rest of the UK following suit next year.  The BBC News item with stats and arguments for and against is here

I was in the Thatched Pub and Grill on Monday when a man came in from the vending machine company to tell the licensee that they would probably collect the machine by Saturday (i.e. today), but if they hadn't, to turn the machine around so it faced the wall.  I thought that odd - why not just switch it off? - until I learnt that licensees "must ensure all tobacco advertising on vending machines is removed.  Any person found guilty of displaying cigarette adverts on a vending machine could face imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of £5,000, or both."

Prison for displaying a cigarette advert?  That's worse than the smoking ban laws whereby a failure to display "no smoking" signs could result in a fine of up to £1000, or even the £2500 maximum fine for not preventing smoking on the premises, even though the actual smoker faces a maximum fine of only £200 (I've never thought it fair that the licensee faces heavier punishment than the smoker).  Such criminalising of licensees for these offences is grossly disproportionate.  As a regular pub goer, I don't recall ever seeing children buying cigarettes from pub vending machines, which is not to say it never happens, but I do wonder how far the stats and figures quoted are speculative?  The BBC news item states:  "It is ... estimated that 35 million cigarettes are sold illegally through vending machines to children every year."  (My emphasis)

Also, Trading Standards sending in under age volunteers and finding children can buy cigarettes this way isn't proof that children do in great numbers. Besides, isn't this a form of entrapment?

If the government wishes to ban cigarette machines as potentially being subject to such misuse, fair enough, but the penalties introduced are draconian and excessive*, seeing that cigarettes are not actually illegal.  I wonder whether any trade association is taking the matter further?

* Please note:  I am not referring to the existing penalties for selling tobacco to children, but to the new penalties for not closing the machines down and for not removing the adverts.