Monday 31 December 2012

Review of my ale and music year

Around this time of year, bloggers tend to do a review of the year. I don't feel able to speak generally about the whole country on the enormous subjects of music and ale, so I've decided to write a short review of my personal year.

Best Folk Club: Southport's Bothy, which is one of the oldest folk clubs on the country, continues to provide, within the limits of what a voluntary, non-profit making organisation can, an excellent range of guests withing the folk scene, using the broadest definition of that term. Traditional singers, singer-songwriters, old established favourites and rising young stars make up the guest nights. In between guest nights, there are singers nights when anyone can get up to play a couple of songs and tunes: the quality of singers nights is such that some people prefer them to the guest nights. The format hasn't altered since the club was founded in 1965, and it has clearly passed the test of time.

Favourite pub: this has to be the Guest House in Union Street, Southport. Despite being a pubco tenancy, Gail the licensee consistently has up to 11 real ales on, which usually constitute a mixture of microbrewery offerings alongside more familiar regionals. This does mean that occasionally the selection is not especially exciting for lovers of microbrewery beers, but generally I'm more than happy with what's on offer; I don't know of any tenancy that can provide such a range. The pub itself is just over 100 years old, largely unaltered with wood-panelled walls and it hosts acoustic music nights on the first and third Mondays of each month.

Favourite pub in Liverpool is harder: the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street has an excellent range but suffers from a ill-judged 1960s refurbishment, while the Lion on Moorfields also has a good range and is an attractive mini-gin palace as well. The former pub hosts the Woody Guthrie Folk Club (last Thursday of the month), while the latter has my acoustic song session on the 2nd Thursday of the month.

Favourite beers: around the 4% mark, I'd mention Southport Golden Sands (4.0%) and Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold (4.2%). My favourite strong beer has to be Liverpool Organic Shipwreck, a 6.5% IPA. Honourable mentions go to two Wigan breweries: Prospect for consistently good beer and Allgates for its significant improvement. The formerly good Cains of Liverpool continues to be disappointing.

Best Beer Festival: for my money, the Wigan Beer Festival. Although it's in a sports hall with less atmosphere than the now redeveloped Wigan Pier venue, it makes up in so many other ways: much more extensive and interesting range of beers than before, ample seating for all, regular courtesy bus between the festival and the town centre, and it's friendly to boot. To any who still miss the old venue: the festival was outgrowing Wigan Pier even before it moved, and would have no chance of fitting in there now even if it were available. The National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester and the Southport Beer Festival also worth visiting.

Favourite Music Festival: this has to be Whitby Folk Week. I've been going since 1988 (with one year missed since). The setting of a beautiful old fishing town is unique with a good range of guests and events in various venues across the town, pub sessions for songs and tunes all over the town, frequent folk dancing in the streets, plus for me the annual Lunchtime Legends gig in the Elsinore, which has been a fixture of the folk week fringe since 1992. Also extremely good was Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival, which had a completely different character: a big stage in a field with a succession of acts invited by Fairport throughout the weekend. Their big-name guests this year included Squeeze, Joan Armatrading, Bellowhead, Richard Thompson, The Saw Doctors, Dennis Locorriere, Big Country, Ashley Hutchings Morris On, and Richard Digance, plus a load of newer artists, most of whom I hadn't heard of but who were all pretty good.

Best non-folk gig: rock band Karnataka whom I saw in St Helens. Hint of progressive and hint of Goth, but mainly themselves. If you recall All About Eve, Karnataka are vaguely in that style. A seasoned band with good material and a lead singer, Hayley Griffiths, who has a beautiful voice.

Biggest disappointment of the year: being put on tablets in April for four weeks with no drinking for a month. During this period, I went to stay with my friend Geoff in London, but the expected pub crawls didn't materialise and the trip to Fullers Brewery was interesting but lost something with me on the wagon. I also opted out of a Wigan beer festival helpers' trip to Ulverston Brewery during this period, and I cut short my attendance at a friend's stag night once I'd had my fill of pub coffee.

Best apocalypse: 21 December, which was when the Mayans had supposedly foretold our doom.

Favourite blog: after this one? Too close to call!

All the best for 2013!

Sunday 30 December 2012

I wish they'd put a sock in it

One of our local free sheets has given up nearly half a page to the "Dry January" campaign that other bloggers, such as Curmudgeon, have already talked about; the campaign aims to nag people to give up drink for a month. The newspaper stated that "A number of members of the public and organisations [in Sefton] have already come forward to take part in the Alcohol Concern campaign, which aims to give participants time to think about their own drinking."

Well, firstly, can the paper tell us how many members of the public in Sefton have "come forward"? They can cite just one. The organisations are all the usual suspects, plus a couple who probably felt it would reflect badly upon them if they didn't take part, which might explain why the Health and Safety Executive signed up. Their own website states: "HSE's job is to protect people against risks to health or safety arising out of work activities", which is quite clearly a separate brief altogether.

A local chemist, which I won't name, has leapt upon the bandwagon by signing up all its staff to take part. It has been rewarded by a good plug in the paper and a photograph of the shop featuring all the staff, all very valuable free publicity, I'm sure. 

As for the ostensible reason for the campaign, that of making us think about our own drinking: this sounds rather patronising to me, that we all have to put ourselves on the naughty step to make us think about our misdeeds. Most drinkers are not problem drinkers, which even the anti-alcohol campaigners have accepted, so why are they trying to impose guilt trips upon them? I believe there is a combination of motives:
  • There are those who truly believe the propaganda and see it as their mission to spread the message; for instance, medical experts or social workers who see the damage that unsafe drinking can do, and extrapolate from what they see to the population at large. Such people can be quite persuasive, even when their sweeping assumptions go beyond their areas of expertise.
  • There are the puritans and morality merchants who see pubs as (to use old-fashioned terminology) dens of iniquity that they'd never set foot in and, although they deny it, they'd prefer to see drink restricted almost to the point of prohibition.
  • There are the law and order people who believe that city and town centres are like Sodom and Gomorrah at weekends, their view no doubt fuelled by live action police programmes, which of course show the worst, not the norm. A trouble-free Saturday night in a town centre won't make good TV.
  • There are the emergency services who'd, perhaps understandably, prefer a quieter life on the streets, but that doesn't mean any remedies they suggest are automatically correct.
Are all these good enough reasons to try to make ordinary people feel that drinking is some kind of aberrant activity? Furthermore, are these tactics likely to work? The answer to both is no. It is wrong to provoke guilt about an activity when you know that most people don't have a problem with it. This approach won't work because the main effect will be to drive drinking out of sight, something which is well on the way to happening with increased home drinking, shown by rising supermarket sales, and reduced pub going, demonstrated by pub closures. Pub closures aren't an economic form of evolution, with the weakest driven to the wall; rather they are a result of what Curmudgeon refers to as deliberate denormalisation of alcohol.

Obviously some pubs do become uneconomic, but the acceleration of closures since the duty escalator was introduced is not coincidental. The campaigners are out to achieve results, and, with government funding behind them (Alcohol Concern is almost entirely funded by us taxpayers, and more insultingly, by us beer duty payers), they have no shortage of our resources to pursue their objectives.

If you want to give up alcohol for January for your own reasons, go ahead, but don't take much notice of these silly, gimmicky campaigns that to me reek of desperation. In the meantime, just remember that pubs are open throughout January.


Tuesday 25 December 2012

Season's Greetings

Happy Christmas
Whether or not you like Christmas, it can always be improved by a decent beer. I hope everyone has a good time. Cheers!

Sunday 23 December 2012

Xmas cheer

Tonight is the Bothy's Xmas Party night. As well as loads of local performers, there will be the Bothy Chorale (and even I'm not quite sure what that it), hot pot and of course the usual Thwaites Wainwright. Old friends often turn up for the party night, and it should be good fun. It's basically a singers night, although if you want to play, I suggest you get there early. It begins at 8.00 p.m. tonight at the Park Golf Club, Southport, PR9 0JS.

The Southport Swords
On Boxing Day, if you need to escape from the flood of "heart warming" Xmas films on TV, you can instead watch the Southport Swords. They will be out on their customary Boxing Day dance tour which begins at the Hesketh, Botanic Road, Churchtown at lunchtime, going on to the Guest House, Union Street, Southport at about 2.30 p.m. These being the Swords, timings are very approximate.

Both pubs serve real ale.

Friday 21 December 2012

Whoops! No Apocalypse!

On Radio 4 today, a traveller was being interviewed after his rail journey had been cancelled. The reporter asked, "Is your journey done then?"
His reply: "Everybody's journey's done; it's the end of the world."

Thursday 20 December 2012

Crawling in Liverpool

Liverpool has a great buzz in the run-up the Christmas, the streets and pubs being full of people out to have a good time as only Liverpool people can. My friend Jean's annual Christmas crawl of selected real ale pubs takes place tonight, the 20th December, in Liverpool. There will the usual mixture of people, including folkies and CAMRA types, but basically anyone who wants to tag along is welcome.  The itinerary is below, and we're usually fairly good at keeping to the times, should you want to join part way through. It must be said, though, that this is a pretty good pub crawl at any time of the year. Cheers!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

State-enforced teetotalism?

A Tory nightmare
Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke has proposed that benefit claimants should receive their money on a special debit card that would not work for luxury purchases such as alcohol, cigarettes, Sky TV and gambling, thus ensuring taxpayers' money was spent "wisely" and "for the purpose for which it was intended".

When I joined the DHSS, as it was called then, in the 1980s, we sometimes used to do something similar in cases where there was serious misspending of benefits; for example, we might make a giro payable to the local supermarket. The DHSS's instructions at the time were to do this only in extreme cases, as it deprived claimants of choice and could cause them embarrassment and humiliation by letting the shop workers and other customers know that they were on benefits. Not an attitude you'd get today when official DWP guidance to staff includes referring destitute claimants for food parcels. It didn't work anyway. Anyone who really was intent on misspending their money would get cash by simply selling on the giro at a loss, and that's what would happen with benefit payment cards: people would buy permitted goods and sell them for cash. This would definitely be the first action of the alcoholic or drug addict.

Furthermore, I doubt it would be technically possible to ensure that every retail outlet in the land is equipped to discriminate between different purchases, such as between food and booze, and some retailers would allow the purchases anyway, either because they were sympathetic or because they just wanted the business.

More than the impracticality of the proposal, by what right does this Tory believe the state should control people's behaviour in this way? Unless you think that there is a suitable job available for every unemployed person, and official figures show otherwise, then many people claiming benefit are not unemployed because they want to be. The same applies to many sick, disabled and lone parent claimants. If they choose to spend some of their money on drink or a packet of fags, it's no more anyone else's business than if I choose to do so. Having had several spells of enforced unemployment myself, I well remember going for a pint as a rare treat. People on benefits are entitled to some pleasures in life, even if it is just a packet of fags or some cheap booze from a supermarket every so often. 

Enforced abstinence is never successful; it just makes the banned items seem even more desirable. I yearned for the day when I could go into a pub and not worry about whether I had enough for a pint, or even several! Mr Shelbrooke states that he wants to end the something-for-nothing stigma of the welfare system. Well, he should know about that, seeing that he enjoys the benefits of the most generous and least regulated 
expenses regime in the public sector (and far better than most private ones too); he also benefits from taxpayer subsidies when he buys alcohol and food in the Palace of Westminster. What is it someone said about removing the plank from your own eye before trying to remove the speck of dust from someone else's?

The story is here

Curiously, Mr Shelbrooke's Wikipedia page says he was "Constructed in 1976", rather than "Born". What is it they're not telling us?

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Fresh air or marketing hype?

I first came across Thwaites Wainwright (4.1%) in 2007 when it was put on at the Park Golf Club, Southport, home of our folk club, as an alternative to the usual Thwaites Bomber. It proved very popular with most real ale drinkers there, and the Bomber eventually disappeared for good. It's a pleasant golden ale, named after Alfred Wainwright, author of the famous walking guidebooks, and while it's by no means my favourite, it's quite acceptable and rather better than many of the bland pale offerings some regionals produce. Since its launch, I have been increasingly seeing it all over the place, and it was even a guest beer when I went into a pub in London a few weeks ago (and a pound more than I'm used to paying here in Merseyside). According to Thwaites, it is now the fastest growing top 25 cask ale in the UK and a Top 20 premium bottled ale in the off trade. In short, it's becoming very popular.

I was therefore slightly concerned to read that Thwaites intends to make Wainwright a Top 10 ale in the UK over the next three years beginning with a £2 million investment across the on and off trade. Playing on the brand name’s obvious association with walking and the outdoors, a new slogan "A Breath of Fresh Ale" has been devised. A Thwaites Wainwright Pub Walks App has been created to cross Thwaites' list of Wainwright stockists with Cask Marque's 8000 pubs so you can get pub walks straight on your smartphone. Thwaites will also push the beer through sports sponsorships.

Perhaps I'm being too cautious and should welcome a regional brewery investing heavily in a real ale, but I can't help thinking about other local or regional beers that became national and lost much of their character, such as Boddingtons, Ruddles County or Deuchars IPA. Perhaps times have changed and they can increase sales (or should that be "grow the brand"?) without any loss of quality. I hope so, but as the good Doctor once said, "Time will tell - it always does."

Monday 17 December 2012

Guest House music tonight

A session in the Guest House
The last pub acoustic music session of the year in Southport will take place tonight (Monday) in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. As usual, it's free and playing along with the music isn't compulsory; you can just listen if you like. The Guest House is of course noted for its good beer range, and they usually provide free chip butties on music nights.

If you fancy joining in, get to the Guest House with your instruments at around 8.00 p.m.this evening. These sessions are often very popular, so don't leave it too late if you want a seat.

Friday 14 December 2012

Carols & ale ~ a jolly wassail!

In the Fishermen's Rest in Birkdale, local singers from the Bothy Folk Club and elsewhere will be running a carol singing session. They have been doing this in Southport for more than 30 years, though not always in this particular pub. The Fishermen's Rest is a pleasant little pub, being the only remnant of the former, allegedly haunted, Palace Hotel that used to dominate the area. It has an interesting, if rather tragic, history that I briefly described here two years ago.

This Sunday, singers and musicians will be gathering from midday, with the singing actually beginning at around 1.00 p.m. and going on until about 3.00 p.m. The pub has four changing real ales, always well-kept in my experience.

Admission is of course free, and if you want to join in, although you don't have to, song sheets will be available, but you'll have to buy your own beer. The Fishermen's Rest is on Weld Road in Birkdale, Southport.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Sorry, stats again!

I didn't intend to come back to this topic so soon, having discussed it last month when I said that "the number of hits I received in October was helped partly by all the information I published about the Southport Beer Festival, so no doubt I'll get fewer hits this month now that's over. Perhaps I'll have a corresponding jump in the [beer] blog rankings."

Well, the number of hits has dropped as expected, although not down to its previous level (thanks folks!), but my tongue in cheek suggestion I'll jump in the blog rankings has, to my surprise, actually come about: up 26 places to 38, the highest position ever. Yet again I can't make any sense of it, and in the up-down nature of these things, I'm not holding my breath I'll stay there.

Still, it's nice to see that figure on the blog (bottom of right hand column), if only fleetingly. If you'd like to look at who else is in the beer blog Hot 100, click here.

P.S. Looking at the statcounter to see where the visits to the blog are coming from, I was surprised to see that only 65.4% are from the UK (it's usually around 90%), with 13.4% from the USA and 5.6% from Finland, although it likely that some of the Finnish ones might be accounted for by Harri, the real ale hunter from Finland whom I met at the beer festival.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Scotch Piper songs & ale

The region's most peripatetic singaround that began life many years ago in the Ship Inn in Haskayne has found another new home: the historic Scotch Piper in Lydiate. Following from its leaving of the Ship, it has spent time at the Running Horses and Weld Blundell, both also in Lydiate. Apparently the latest move has something to do with a clash between the requirements of a singaround and those of big screen TVs.

The Scotch Piper boasts that it is the oldest pub in Lancashire and displays the year AD 1320 on its sign. It has whitewashed walls and a thatched roof and is undoubtedly ancient. According to local legend, the pub was named because in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie's retreating Jacobite army left wounded piper in the care of the pub. When he recovered from his injuries, he stayed and married the landlord's daughter. The pub has a tiny bar and snug to the left as you go in and two rooms to the right; the singaround is in the farthest. Unlike the previous pub that the singaround met at, it does serve real ale, which was in good nick when I was last there a few weeks ago. Like all singarounds, there is no admission charge and you can either perform or just listen, as you prefer.

The pub is worth a visit at any time and is very close to the Leeds-Liverpool canal. It is on Southport Road (the A5147), Lydiate, L31 4HD. This is a good pub; I hope the singaround can find a permanent home here.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Bothy guests: James Hickman and Dan Cassidy

The guests this Sunday at the Bothy are James Hickman and Dan Cassidy, a newly formed transatlantic folk and roots duo. Dan Cassidy (USA), provides an exciting array of fiddling renditions, while James Hickman (UK), brings his driving guitar playing and wonderfully unique interpretations of songs to their mixture of new and old folk music.

They're on this Sunday 9 December at 8.00 p.m. at the Bothy Folk Club in Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale. On-line tickets here.

Here they are at the Uxbridge Folk Club playing The Tiger Rag:

Monday 3 December 2012

London to close?

Photo from Oakwell brewery website
We're hearing worrying rumours that the London Hotel on Windsor Road, Southport, is to be demolished and houses built on the site. As the pub has a bowling green, it's sitting on a sizeable piece of land, so I can see why the owners might be tempted to cash in on the value of their property. However, I have checked on the local authority website and can see no record of planning permission being applied for.

The London sells Oakwell beers, including Barnsley Bitter, a highly regarded pint in some circles, at extremely low prices (well under £2 a pint last time I was in earlier this year). I won't repeat previous posts: you can see what I wrote about it in January here. The London's in a residential area with no other pubs in the immediate vicinity. I'll try to find out what is going on and let you know.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Charity fundraiser total

The total we raised at the fundraiser in tribute to our friend Bernie Blaney in aid of the Southport Kidney Fund was £518. As admission was free, this amount was raised solely from the raffle and donations into the charity collection boxes. It was an excellent evening of music, featuring folk group Patchwork, blues singer Raphael Callaghan, the Wayfarers Singers who specialise in barbershop and with whom Bernie had sung, plus singers from the Bothy and Maghull Folk Clubs.

We were pleased to welcome members of Bernie's family, especially his wife Sue and daughter Judith, and also John Pugh, MP for Southport and five local councillors; Bernie had been active in his local Liberal Democrat Party branch, but the evening was not one for politics.

The night climaxed with a ensemble rendition of the song Bernie was probably best known for singing, Strike The Bell, which really did have everyone joining in. I have accompanied Bernie on that song so many times in the past that it felt strange to have to take the lead.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the evening such a great success.

P.S. a subsequent donation of £100 has increased this total to £618.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Return to the Zetland

Men O' Th' Mere Morris February 1981.
I'm at the back with the guitar.
I went into the Zetland Hotel the other evening for a CAMRA meeting. It's a large pub in a residential area and I used to go there regularly more than 30 years ago when I was a musician for a Morris team and more recently for Labour Party meetings, until I left the party over Iraq.

It has recently been nicely redecorated, and I was pleased to see they had kept the separate bar. It also has a small meeting room suitable for up to about 15 people. Although I don't play the game, it's nice to see they've kept up the bowling green. This used to be a Burtonwood house, but when we visited, the real ales were: Bateman's Combined Harvest, Jennings Cumberland and St Austell. I had only the Bateman's which was well-kept and tasted very nice, but another of our group said the St Austell was also in good nick. I'm told the pub does good value meals too.

The licensee recently had a beer festival, which I mentioned on this blog; unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend it myself. He said that he hopes to hold another in March. The atmosphere when we were there was friendly and relaxed, and this is certainly a pub I hope to visit more often. I've no excuse really, as it's only ten minutes' walk from where I live!

Friday 30 November 2012

Music events over the next few days

A reminder of the fundraiser this evening at the Park Golf Club in tribute to our friend Bernie Blaney and to raise money for the Southport Kidney Fund: you'll find full details here

Although our local paper, the Southport Visiter, responded to our press release by phoning me and discussing the event for a good 10 minutes or so, they have published nothing about it at all. The paper has four pages full of pictures of women in ball gowns (plus a few men to even things out) at other fundraisers, and a further two pages of pictures of people dressed as Pudsey, but they couldn't spare just a few column inches for a fundraiser for a small local charity. Our other local paper, the Champion, received the same press release but was equally silent. Both claim to represent the community.

Other events in the next few days:
  • There is a singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale. If you perform, you get in free.
  • Monday 3 December: singaround in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. Good real ale range.
  • Wednesday 5 December: singaround in the Mason's, Anchor Street, Southport. Real ale from Robinson's.
See my What's On page to see what else is happening.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Treating us like kids

As I'm sure you will have heard by now, Theresa May has announced a 10-week consultation on the proposal of a minimum price for alcohol of 45p per unit in England and Wales. Multi-buy promotions may also be banned. I have written on this subject several times previously and really can't be bothered going over old ground, but if you didn't see my words of wisdom first time round, click here to see my previous posts.

The Home Office says: "We are consulting on these measures because too many of our high streets and town centres have become no-go areas on a Friday and Saturday night." Do these people ever actually go out, or do they base their views on TV programmes that, naturally, only show the worst behaviour? After all, a programme that just showed people going to the pub, having a few pints, a laugh and a chat and then going home peacefully wouldn't make very interesting viewing. I do go out to pubs several times a week, including weekends, to my town centre and to others, such as Liverpool. It would be a lie to say I have never seen any trouble, but the last incident I witnessed is so long ago that I can't remember what it was.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance claimed that, "The evidence shows us that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are more affected by higher alcohol prices than moderate drinkers." Well, if you're talking about alcoholics, that's correct: they will spend even less on food and other essentials like heating and housing costs. They'll be affected all right, but they won't drink less. My opinion is based on having dealt with alcoholics through my job and having known a few personally. As for young binge drinkers, I doubt it would make much difference at all; only the onset of kids and mortgages will do that.

I'll just quote David Cameron, and for once I agree with him: "The big society is about changing the way our country is run. No more of a government treating everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions. Instead, let's treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives."* 

Yes, David, let's.

* The Observer 12 February 2011 - the full article is here.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Lancashire Day Events

The Guest House, Union St, Southport, "Lancashire Night" on Lancashire Day, Tuesday November 27th, with the Southport Swords, a selection of Lancashire beers, Lancashire food, charity raffle of "Lancashire Goodies" with proceeds in aid of Macmillan Support Nurses, quiz and prize for best dressed Lancastrians, proclamation and loyal toast by Ainsdale Town Crier, Stuart Elliott,at 9pm.

The Inn Beer Shop, 657, Lord St, Southport, Lancashire beers, Lancashire nibbles, from Sunday November 25th until Tuesday November 27th.

Sir Henry Segrave (Wetherspoons), Lord St, Southport, Lancashire beers, entertainment, charity raffle of "Lancashire Goodies" in aid of Macmillan Support Nurses, Saturday November 24th until Tuesday November 27th. Wigan Ukulele Band, Saturday November 24th at 2-00pm.

The Hop Vine, Liverpool Road, Burscough, "Lancashire Night" on Lancashire Day, Tuesday November 27th, selection of Lancashire beers, food, quiz, charity raffle and entertainment by the Wigan Ukulele Band.

The Scarisbrick Hotel, Lord St, Southport, reading of the Lancashire Day Proclamation by Don Evans, West Lancashire Town Crier on Lancashire Day, Tuesday November 27th at 1-00pm, selection of Lancashire beers in Barons Bar at £1-90 per pint.

Please support these events and bring your friends along.

Thanks to Jeff Carter, proud Lancastrian, for compiling this list of events.

Monday 26 November 2012

Robb Johnson goes to church

The Guardian says that singer-songwriter Robb Johnson is "an English original", and Radio 2's Mike Harding says "he's the real deal when it comes to song writing".

He will be performing the "Ghost of Love" seasonal song suite. You will hear of single mother Mary in "Fairy Tales in Feltham", and encounter the 3 wise social workers. You'll find out what Big Ears and Noddy are up to in "Father Christmas down Hounslow High Street". You will be reminded what this time of year is like for some in "Poundshop Christmas". There is a song to celebrate the mystery and wonder of "Magic Pockets" (and so much more). This will be the only North West performance by this supremely talented songwriter of a very special seasonal show with a difference.

He is appearing on Saturday 8 December at Wigan Parish Church, Crawford Street, Wigan, WN1 1NL. Tickets £10 in advance, £12.50 on the night. Further details/tickets from the event organiser Dave Cartlidge: e-mail or phone 01942 824291. Real ale pubs close by.

Friday 23 November 2012

Bernie Blaney Night

Bernie Blaney
This is a music night organised by the Bothy Folk Club to raise money for the Southport Kidney Fund and as a tribute to our friend, Bernie Blaney, who sadly passed away a couple of months ago. Everyone who knew Bernie is welcome to come along. Bernie was former deputy treasurer of the Fund, and a stalwart of the local folk music and pub quiz scenes. Those appearing include the Wayfarers Chorus, the folk group Patchwork, and a number of resident singers from Southport's Bothy Folk Club and from Maghull Folk Club.

The event is at 8.00 pm on Friday 30 November at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  Free admission; a collection will be taken, and raffles and auctions will be held during the evening. 

Plenty of free parking and the venue serves Thwaites Wainwright real ale.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Dan McKinnon this Sunday

I first saw the next Bothy guest at the Moor and Coast Festival in Whitby a few years ago. Listening to his singing, I said to my companion that I judged by his accent that he was Canadian. I was ridiculously pleased when I found I was right, although my companion just accused me of reading the programme, but I hadn't. I was very impressed by him on that occasion, and when I've seen him since. Here's what some other people think:

Nova Scotian singer/songwriter Dan McKinnon hails from a region steeped in traditions shaped by the influence of the North Atlantic. He has a beguiling ability to temper past and present in songs that revel in gentle melody and deeply reflective narratives. His austere guitar style and sense of musical immediacy blend seamlessly with his warm baritone voice to make him “one of the most engaging and genuine performers on the scene.” David Kidman, The Living Tradition, September/October 2006.

“The beauty of McKinnon’s voice is arresting … Its richness, timbre and certainty enthral the listener.” Rich Warren, Sing Out! Spring 2006.

See him at 8pm this Sunday at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The venue serves Thwaites real ale, and the music begins at 8.00 p.m. Click for on-line tickets. 

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Legends' Beer Festival Gig

It seems highly likely that the Lunchtime Legends, the rock & roll band I play with, has been booked to play on the Saturday afternoon of the Liverpool Beer Festival, which is on 21 to 23 February 2013 in the Liverpool RC Cathedral crypt, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool. Admission to this festival is by ticket only; so find out more about that, go to the festival website

Monday 19 November 2012

A child at 24?

What The Metro wants you to believe 
Shock-horror headline in The Metro: "Sobering thought: British children blame cheap booze for drunkenness." The article went on: "They told researchers that alcohol promotions encouraged excessive drinking, pointing out it was 'cheaper to buy a three-litre bottle of cider than buy a ticket to go to the cinema'. The 16- to 24-year-olds also claimed there was a widespread culture of 'drinking to get drunk'."

Hang on: 16 to 24 year olds are children? All in that age range are old enough to have a job, pay taxes, get married, have children and for those over 18, buy alcohol, vote and risk their lives going to war. So who's doing this study? Our old friend, fake charity Alcohol Concern (AC). Fake, because, as I've pointed out before, nearly all of their funding comes from taxes, which makes it a quango with tax relief in my book. AC also claim that alcohol is now 44 per cent more affordable now than it was in 1980. I don't know how they work that out, but using an inflation calculator on the Bank of England website, I've calculated that beer prices in pubs have gone up at more than twice the rate of inflation in the last 40 years. How 44% cheaper fits in with that I've no idea.

Meanwhile two studies, one on the UK and one in the USA, both suggest that more intelligent children grow up to drink alcohol more frequently and in greater quantities than less intelligent children. Click here for more information: I wonder why AC and our compliant press haven't publicised this?

The Metro has clearly just printed the AC press release without applying any critical faculties whatsoever, but that's typical of what our free press does on this issue. Judge for yourself here, if you can be bothered.

P.S. I've done some checking on the internet. Beer was 35p in 1980, so using the Bank of England inflation calculator, that was the equivalent of £1.23 in 2011, which makes a pint more than 200% dearer nowadays in real terms.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Singing among the socks

The Bothy Folk Club in Southport was established in April 1965 and is still going strong. It has over the years had four permanent homes:

1. The Railway Hotel, Chapel Street, 1965.
2. The Blundell Arms, Birkdale, 1965 - 2002.
3. The Shelbourne Hotel, Lord Street West, 2003 - 2005.
4. The Park Golf Club, Park Road West, 2006 to date.

My first visit to the Bothy was to the Blundell Arms in 1978. I never knew the Railway; it was demolished in the late 1960s, long before I began going into pubs and even before I moved to Southport. A pity, because I see it was a Walker's house, and I used to like Walker's Bitter. The only snippets I have picked up are that it had an extremely long bar and that the club moved from there because its popularity meant that it had soon outgrown the Railway's function room.

Click on the picture for an enlarged view.
I found this picture of the Railway on the internet recently along with an old map showing where the pub had been. For those of you who know Chapel Street, it was where Marks and Spencer is today, which means that folk songs were once sung where the men's clothing department now is.

Another interesting building in the picture is the old railway station which was demolished at the same time to make way for the current concrete and tile monstrosity. Some Southport people like to complain that our council, being linked with Bootle and Labour-dominated, is responsible for the decline of our attractive seaside resort, but this demolition took place at a time when Southport had its very own Tory council, who presumably granted planning permission for what was probably portrayed as an exciting and modern development. The picture proves that the decline of our town did not begin with local authority reorganisation in 1974; the now-saintly previous council sanctioned acts of vandalism such as the destruction of a fine old railway station and a viable public house. The 60s might have been great for music but they were a disaster for architecture.

The Bothy did not begin in Southport; the Southport Bothy was an off-shoot of the Bothy Folk Club in Liverpool, established in 1964. That Bothy lasted only a couple of years and was closed down when there were, I'm told, folk clubs every night of the week in Liverpool, whereas Southport had none other than its own Bothy. I think the idea was to concentrate efforts where the need was greatest. I don't know enough about the Liverpool Bothy to write a post; perhaps I'll invite a guest to contribute something. But in the meantime, with this picture I have seen for the first time a lost pub of Southport and my folk club's first venue.

Friday 16 November 2012

Mr Bean’s Own Goal

Ernesto commented on my post of 5 November that the Bold Arms in Churchtown has done away with the happy hour, a fact which someone confirmed last night in the “pub news” section of our local CAMRA meeting. The excuse he was given is that the pub is the only one in their chain that still has a happy hour.  As he cynically comments, “Of course we're all rolling in cash up in Churchtown/Crossens”.

As an excuse, it’s somewhat unconvincing. What difference does it make if it is the only pub in the chain with a happy hour? If consistency across the estate is what they want, why not spread happy hours to the other pubs? The thinking is clearly that of the bean counter: we’ll get more money from the beer we sell. This of course doesn’t take into account the fact that they will quite probably sell less, because drinkers will be encouraged to catch the 49A bus into town and go to the Sir Henry Segrave, the Willow Grove, the Sandgrounder, the Baron’s Bar, the Phoenix and (slightly further out) the London Hotel for cheaper beer. And once people establish new drinking habits, they tend not to revert to their old ones even if the cause of their move to another pub has been put right.

The original point of happy hours was to get people into pubs at times when they might otherwise be empty. Most happy hour customers won’t pay the full price and some can't afford to: they’ll simply go elsewhere. A bit of an own goal there, I think.

Thursday 15 November 2012


Last month, October, saw the highest number of hits this blog has ever had since I began it in March 2009. My ranking in the top 100 beer blogs has during the same period dropped by 12 places to 64. I do understand that the number of hits isn't how the rankings are determined. They explain it this way: "Blog ranking according to the score calculated by ebuzzing, based on various parameters (network of links to the blog coming from other blogs, shares of its articles on facebook, Twitter, …)"*, but I can't help feeling it odd that the main measure of a blog's success, i.e. how any people are reading it, doesn't count. I therefore can't take the rankings too seriously, even when, as has happened, I go up, because I fully expect to come down the following month, and I usually do.

The number of hits I received in October was helped partly by all the information I published about the Southport Beer Festival, so no doubt I'll get fewer hits this month now that's over. Perhaps I'll have a corresponding jump in the blog rankings.

That is, presumably, in English.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

So much for people power

Most people reading this will probably be aware that beer tax is increased annually at 2% above inflation using a mechanism known as the escalator, which was introduced by the "New" Labour government in 2008 and carried on by this lot. As a result, beer duty has gone up by 42% since then. CAMRA recently forced a debate in the Commons by getting more than 100,000 signatures on an e-petition to have the escalator removed, and in that debate MPs voted unanimously for a reassessment. The government response a few days later was quite unequivocal: “There are no current plans for a review of the beer-duty escalator but we do keep all taxes under review. We will continue to engage with the alcohol industry, including pubs and breweries, on how the tax is affecting them.”

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) have responded by agreeing to make joint representations to the Treasury - yet again. While ministers have repeatedly argued that they cannot remove the escalator because they need the revenue for schools and hospitals (funny how they always mention schools and hospitals and never wars and nuclear weapons, isn't it?), in fact their obstinate refusal to move on this is more because of the moral panic about alcohol being deliberately stoked up by fake charities such as Alcohol Concern (fake because it's funded almost entirely out of our taxes). They don't want to be judged as soft on alcohol seeing that it is increasingly associated, in the manner of Pavlov's dogs, with anti-social behaviour and disorder.

This government set up the current system of e-petitions; to dismiss in such an offhand manner the concerns of more than 100,000 drinkers and the associations representing the industry shows the level of their respect for public opinion. Perhaps they're calculating that there aren't too many votes in scrapping the escalator. A lobby of Parliament is planned for 12 December. I've been on enough lobbies of Parliament not to hold my breath about that, but it's got to be done: in our democracy, failure to protest is interpreted as agreement. I consequently hope to be on the lobby.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Sarah McQuaid at the Bothy

This Sunday sees the return of Sarah McQuaid to Southport's Bothy Folk Club. Looking back on this blog, I see it's been nearly three years since she was here, which I find hard to believe: perhaps it's because I've had two of her excellent CDs to listen to in the meantime.

She is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Her songs are accessible, covering a range of themes and moods, such as letting your children go, Bess of Hardwick, hard times (see YouTube video below), feeling sad (and don't say cheer up!), historical themes, traditional songs, and carefully chosen covers, such as Bobby Gentry's Ode To Billy Joe and John Martyn's Solid Air. She has a mellow, expressive voice and her guitar playing is excellent. It has been said of her that she is both a song crafter and song collector, equally at home with traditional Irish and Appalachian folk songs, Elizabethan ballads and 1930s jazz numbers.

"A great songwriter and traditional singer, and a wonderful guitarist." Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2.

"Diese Frau hat Stil." (This lady’s got style.) Volker Dick, Folker, Germany.

Sarah is appearing this Sunday 18  November at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The venue serves Thwaites real ale, and the music begins at 8.00 p.m. Click for on-line tickets. 

Here is a song, The Sun Goes On Rising, from her latest album, The Plum Tree And The Rose:

Monday 12 November 2012

Called To The Bard

I spent three days in Stratford upon Avon last week. Drinking real ale wasn't the main purpose of the trip, especially as my companion never touches the stuff, but what else can you do in the evenings? The pubs we went into were certainly picturesque, such as the Garrick, the Old Thatch Tavern and the Pen and Parchment, but the range of beers seemed mostly to be derived from the Fullers and Greene King range. Only the Wetherspoons pub, the Golden Bee, had anything different. Having said that, a glance at the local CAMRA website reveals lots of real ale pubs we didn't have time to visit, so perhaps I was just unlucky. I don't have too much of a problem with beers from regional breweries, but after a while they all begin to taste much the same.

Me outside the Garrick
The Garrick is the oldest pub in Stratford, and it certainly looks it; outside it proudly proclaims "real ale served here since 1594". It had three real ales on: Speckled Hen, Greene King IPA and a house beer which I judged by the flavour was also brewed by Greene King. The best beers I had during my visit were bottled Purity Mad Goose in the RSC Theatre bar (we saw The Merry Wives Of Windsor) and a wheat beer from Bath brewery in Spoons.

If I go again to this beautiful part of England, I'll do some pub research in advance. The pub prices do seem to be at London levels, except of course for Spoons at £1.99 a pint, but I wouldn't let that put me off.

Monday 5 November 2012

Lots of events this week

Quite a busy week if you fancy some time away from X Factor:

Tonight, the 5th, is my usual first Monday evening acoustic song session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. This pub has a good range of real ales. From around 8.30 p.m.

On Wednesday 7th it is the turn of the singaround in the Mason's in Anchor Street, Southport. Robinson's beer. From around 8.30 p.m.

On Thursday 8th, the monthly acoustic song session in The Lion, Moorfields, Liverpool, which serves eight real ales. From around 8.30 p.m. Regrettably, I am unable to be there myself.

On Saturday 10th, the Argarmeles Clog, along with several guest Morris sides, will be dancing at various times between 10.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. in Chapel Street, Southport in aid of Children In Need.

Also on Saturday, the Zetland Beer Festival begins (see previous post).

On Sunday 11th, it is a singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale. Performers get in free. From 8.00 p.m.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Festival aftermath

The Argarmeles Clog
The Sandgrounder (Southport) beer festival seemed to be very popular. There were lots of positive comments about the venue, used by CAMRA for the first time. The festival received good press coverage both before and afterwards.  As most of the beer was sold, it should have turned a good profit, which will be used by CAMRA for further campaigning, not for lining the pockets of the volunteers! The winning Beer of the Festival, voted by festival goers, was Lytham Berry Blonde, which will mean a helpers' trip to Lytham Brewery, probably in March next year.

The Southport Swords
Local folk dance sides, the Argarmeles and the Southport Swords, along with some singers and musicians, entertained the drinkers on Saturday afternoon. It all seemed to go rather well. You can find more pictures here on the On The Spot local news website.

Will we be back in this venue next year when the Arts Centre, our venue for the first ten years of the festival, should have reopened? I'm not sure, as I've no idea what the council will charge for their newly refurbished premises, especially in the current climate of local authority cutbacks. I'm sure they'll be tempted to hike up the price, but if they do, CAMRA won't be able to afford it. Personally, I liked this venue, but it's not my decision: we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Scolds Bridle

Scolds Bridle
I first saw Scolds Bridle about 30 years ago in the former Old Ship Folk Club, where as I recall they went down very well. They are an acoustic duo comprising Sue Bousfield (vocals, English concertina) and Liz Moore (vocals, guitar, bouzouki) and their songs range from the poignant or wistful to ballads and rousing chorus songs, often presented with fine harmonies.

"Fine harmonies, good music and excellent presentation; splendid." Alan Bearman, Sidmouth International Festival.
“Scold’s Bridle just get better and better.” Jan Lardner, BBC Radio Lancashire.
A scold's bridle, yesterday

Scolds Bridle are appearing this Sunday 4 November at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The venue serves Thwaites real ale. It begins at 8.00 p.m. Click for on-line tickets. 

It's unusual for the Bothy to have guest artists in such quick succession (Pilgrims' Way are just two days earlier; see previous post), but they're worth two nights out in one weekend.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Pilgrims' Way replace stranded Jez Lowe

Jez Lowe has been trapped in New York by Hurricane Sandy and is unable to appear at the Bothy this Friday. Young folk trio, Pilgrims' Way, have stepped in at very short notice and will be appearing in his place. The band is named after the Rudyard Kipling poem, which was set to music by the great Peter Bellamy; they state that their aim is to present gimmick-free English folk of the finest kind.

This is a Friday Special at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Click here for on line tickets; the club house sells Thwaites real ale. 8.00 p.m. is the start time.

Here's a sample of what they do:

Monday 29 October 2012

Zetland Beer Festival

I picked up a flyer at our CAMRA beer festival about one being held at the Zetland Hotel. It's planned to run from the 10 to 18 November with beer being sold from £2.25, with a try before you buy policy. They are also advertising three course meals for £4.95.

The last beer festival I remember at the Zetland was around 20 years ago when Dave Dobson, who invented the idea of the pub beer festival in the late 1980s when he ran the Bold in Churchtown, was in charge. The Zetland is a large pub in a residential area close to the Southport town centre.

The beers listed are:
  • York Guzzler.
  • Youngs Bitter.
  • St Austell Trelawney Bitter.
  • Nook Norton Cotswod Lion.
  • Bateman's Autumn Fall.
  • Everard Equinox Autumn.
  • Titanic A Night To remember.
  • Jennings Cumberland Ale.
The pub is in Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH. ( 01704 808404. If anyone's wondering, Zetland is an old form of the name Shetland.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Jez Lowe solo gig

For update, see post of 30 October.
Singer songwriter Jez Lowe makes a welcome return to Southport after a long period of absence. He is especially noted for his songs about life in his native North East England, many of which have been recorded by other artists. Some of his songs are regarded as folk classics, such as "Last of the Widows", written to mark the death of the last of the many widows created by the Easington Colliery disaster. There are 13 albums on sale on his website, and I know that is an incomplete list.

Jez is currently completing a tour of North America, but will be back in Blighty in time for a solo gig in Southport on 2 November. It's at a Friday Special at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. You can get tickets on-line, anf the venue sells Thwaites real ale. 8.00 p.m. is the start time.