Saturday 31 March 2012

Davenports' unique regional tradition

Tomorrow night's guests at the Bothy Folk Club are Paul and Liz Davenport. Although involved in the folk scene since the 1960s, Paul and Liz both have singing connections from long before their involvement in the folk revival. Song has been a large part of their growing up in their hometown of Hull in East Yorkshire.

Paul & Liz’s singing reflects the tradition in East Yorkshire of unison singing as exemplified by the Staithes and the Filey fisherman’s choirs, and the early output by such luminaries as the Watersons. The technique is well documented but rarely heard, not merely singing the same tune but duplicating the tonal register to give what one critic describes as ‘eerie resonances and harmonics’. In retaining this style they seek to preserve this regional tradition in the face of the overwhelming use of harmony heard uniformly across the country today.

You can see them at the Park Golf Club tomorrow (Sunday) night; it's on Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS from 8.00 p.m.  The venue sells Thwaites real ale.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Boggart Brewery award

Me with the certificate
Last Saturday, the 24 March, Southport & West Lancs CAMRA ran a coach trip to the brewery that won the Beer of the Festival at the Southport beer festival last September: Rum Porter from Boggart Brewery of Newton Heath, North Manchester.

Boggart is situated in Wilson’s Park, an industrial estate on the site of the long-gone Wilson’s Brewery; the brewery is actually in some of the former Wilson’s buildings that have survived the bulldozer. Mark Dade was our host, and invited us to help ourselves to two small casks of beer: a golden ale and the multi- award winning Rum Porter. The latter is made as a classic porter in the usual way but with a full bottle of dark rum poured into each cask. He also offered us a chance to taste the rum porter without the rum. Both beers were excellent, and we were urged to drink up both casks, as anything left would be poured down the drain. We conscientiously prevented that tragedy occurring. Mark chatted about a number of subjects, such as the brewing process, the origin of the brewery’s name and the problems in getting empty casks back. Then Doug presented the certificate on behalf of the branch to our applause, after which Mark told us it was the 19th award the brewery had received in the last 18 months.

Afterwards our coach took us to Rochdale Road to visit two great Manchester pubs: the Angel and the Marble Arch, both of which had a good range of beers, and the Marble Arch with its own brewery. I found the beer good in both pubs. The weather being glorious, quite a few of us sat outside for the first time this year in the Angel’s beer garden, admiring the traffic and the block of flats opposite.

On our return to Southport, some of us went straight home while others carried on, in my case in the Guest House.  A very enjoyable and interesting day.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Dave Thornley + the Dharma Bums

Dave Thornley & the Dharma Bums play a return gig at the Park Golf Club this week, having successfully played here last September to an enthusiastic audience.  It's a free gig, beginning at 8.30 p.m. and the Park Golf Club is on Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The venue serves Thwaites real ale.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Waterloo Beer Festival review

On Friday afternoon, I went to the Waterloo Beer Festival where I'd arranged to meet an old school friend. This festival is held in the Old Christ Church on Waterloo Road, which is now deconsecrated and narrowly escaped demolition a couple of decades ago. It is an old Victorian church, complete with stained glass windows in need of a bit of care and attention (there is, for instance, some subsidence around the pillars, but I'm not sure what you can do about that without a load of cash); it's much better as a distinctive resource for the community rather than just another building site. You'll find it about 10 minutes' walk from Waterloo Station: that's Waterloo in Merseyside, not London.

The festival offered 200 real ales, 50+ ciders and perries and a range of exotic continental beers, and was run by the Liverpool Organic Brewery along the same lines that CAMRA festivals are run, with the added bonus of lots of seating, although I suspect that might be different on Friday and Saturday evenings, both of which were sold out on-line. I didn't have a beer I didn't like, even though I'd decided to try only beers previously unknown to me; trying unfamiliar beers can sometimes lead to disappointment. I was amused to see a brewery called Mr Grundy's Brewery, so I had to try their beers: 1914 was a 5% dark stout which I did like (some stouts can seem overpowering to me), and a pale bitter 4% called Golden Dawn which was more to my taste. I think my favourite of the day was from Great Heck brewery of Yorkshire called Heaven and Heck - 5%, pale, hoppy and full of flavour.

No offence intended to our hosts, Liverpool Organic, but as I can buy their excellent beers at any time, I didn't have any on this occasion.

All in all a great festival, where I met several old friends, including from where I used to work, from Wigan CAMRA branch, from the Southport Swords and from the Bothy Folk Club, as well as my old school friend, who has already decided to pencil the next Waterloo Beer Festival (22 - 25 November) in his diary.

The only thing I don't understand is why they've got a picture of David Mitchell on the front of the festival programme.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Soul Searchers at the Mount

This Saturday 24 March, 7-piece soul band, the Soul Searchers, will be playing a gig for popular local charity, Queenscourt Hospice. They'll be at the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport, from 9.00 p.m. The Mount sells cask Tetley Bitter.

The band, which is based in the North West, has been described as "one of the best live soul bands in the UK."

Wednesday 21 March 2012

The Budget - more stupidity

I am humiliated: despite intense lobbying by this blog and many others, George Osborne hasn't taken a blind bit of notice. According to the BBC website, "duty on all tobacco products to rise by 5% above inflation from 18:00 today - the equivalent of 37p on a packet of cigarettes.  No change to existing plans on alcohol duty - meaning the duty will rise 2% above the rate of inflation, putting more than 5p on the price of a pint."

Frankly, I don't think anyone is very surprised, but if the Coalition tries to claim they can't afford to cut beer duty, or at least freeze it, for financial reasons, then they will be lying, because even some in the Treasury are realising that increases on beer and cigarette duty are increasingly self-defeating and will raise little or nothing. Many people will simply spend the same money buying less, so no tax gain there; some may stop going out altogether. By making the smuggling of alcohol and cigarettes more profitable, the amount lost to the Treasury will continue to escalate, while giving our pubs an increasingly hard time, resulting in closed small businesses and lost jobs. None of this makes any economic sense.

Politicians whom I don't agree with are one thing; politicians who are incredibly stupid, as this lot are, are an insult to our intelligence. There are many more reasons to despise this budget, but I've kept within the remit of my blog here. Please sign the beer tax escalator petition to the right if you haven't done so already.

Mason's tonight

Monday night's music session in the Guest House  proved to be jolly affair, and tonight it's time for the third Wednesday singaround in the Mason's Arms.  Songs, sandwiches and Robinson's beer are on offer.  Free, of course, and open to all.  The Mason's is behind Southport's main post office.

Friday 16 March 2012

Club of the Year + blog birthday

The Farmers Club, Ormskirk
In my recent post about Pubs of the Year, I forgot to mention the local Club of the Year (COTY). The choice is the award-winning Farmers Club in Burscough Street, Ormskirk.  This club won the Branch COTY award last year and went on to win West Pennines Region Club of the Year for 2011.

It's an unusual colonnaded building and the front doors open into a foyer that houses a full-size snooker table and has a raised glass ceiling.  It was built in 1830 as a dispensary, and operated as such until the opening of the local cottage hospital.  It became the Farmers Club in 1898, so it has quite a history.  Because of the awards it's received, the club is the the cover story on the latest issue of Ale & Hearty.  Worth a visit - I think you can get served there if you show a CAMRA card or copy of the Good Beer Guide.

I see that today is the third anniversary of my first post on this blog, which was about a singers night at the Bothy Folk Club.  My first beer-related post was a day later, a tirade against Gordon Brown for the increases in beer duty, a topic I covered yet again a couple of weeks ago - perhaps I need to change the record.  This is my 619th post and at the time of writing I've had 30,316 unique hits, although I didn't instal the counter until five and a half months after starting the blog.

The blog originally only had information of about half a dozen music events per week in real ale pubs; now it has dozens of events per week, plus pages about local beer festivals, pub crawls, town pub maps, my discography [!] and numerous links.  I hope the information continues to be of use.  I remember wondering whether I could keep it going for more than a few months.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Singaround on the move again

Bernie Blaney has told me that the folk singaround at the Running Horses in Lydiate has moved to the Weld Blundell, Southport Road, Lydiate; it's still on Thursday nights.  I've never set foot in this pub, but Bernie says it doesn't sell real ale, although the licensee is apparently considering it.  This singaround has been rather peripatetic of late:  it had been in the Ship Inn in Haskayne for many years, then it moved to the Running Horses, some time last year I think it was.  Let's hope their new home proves more permanent.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Fleeting fame!

Yesterday I was Walton Vale, Liverpool, and agreed to go for a pint with my friend Tom in the Raven, the local Wetherspoons, but he had something to do before he could join me.  After I'd ordered two pints of George Wright Cheeky Pheasant at £1.85 a pint, I said to the barmaid that, for a horrible moment, I thought I'd left my money at home (it was merely in the wrong pocket). She asked if I lived far, and I replied, yes, Southport.  She laughed and said she'd have given me the money.

At this point, the man next to me said, "Southport?  Are you the one I've seen playing at the Southport CAMRA beer festival?"  I said, yes I usually played on the Saturday afternoon.  At this point the friendly barmaid said, "If you're in CAMRA, you get more off."  And so the two pints were £3.10; very nice, especially as a few hours later I paid £3.05 for a pint in the city centre. 

My companion at the bar said that he thought he'd recognised me from the festival when I'd come in but didn't say anything in case he was mistaken.  So we chatted about beer festivals, and I gave him a copy of Ale & Hearty, until Tom rolled up.  I suppose this kind of recognition is something Sting has to put up with all the time - but then again, I doubt he'd be seen in Wetherspoons, which is a pity as the beer was in good nick!

Sunday 11 March 2012

Jinski in Southport

Jinski - Steve Jinski & Dave Kennedy are the guests at the Bothy Folk Club next Sunday, 18 March.  They are two distinctive singer-guitarists based in Newcastle upon Tyne who sing mostly original songs.  Rock 'n' Reel magazine said of their album, Hurry Home''From the direct, clipped opener 'In My Backyard' through the polished potential hit 'King Of The Radio' to the rugged country blues of 'My Father's Hands', Jinski offers a consistently appealing brand of intelligent songwriting ... his strongest recording yet''.

That's at 8.00 p.m. at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  You can buy tickets on line here, or pay on the door.  The venue sells Thwaites Wainwright.  Here is a video of them singing I Will Not Be Broken.

Pubs of the Year

As I'm sure many of you know, local CAMRA branches choose Pubs of the Year.  Here are some local results.

The Southport and West Lancs Branch (my own branch) chooses two pubs of the year:  one for Southport and Formby, which are in Merseyside, and one for West Lancashire.
  • For Southport and  Formby, the branch voted for the Guest House, Union Street, Southport.
  • For West Lancs, the branch voted for the Hop Vine in Burscough, very close to the station on the Southport to Manchester line, and with its own brewery.
These are two fine pubs, chosen from a selection of the many great pubs we have in the Southport and West Lancs area.

Liverpool and Districts Branch has chosen the Roscoe Head, 24 Roscoe Street, as its Pub of the Year. This pub is remarkable in that is one of only a handful of pubs to have been listed in every edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.  From personal experience, well worth a visit.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Glad to be back

Specially for ReARM readers, here's an advance viewing of the latest Ale & Hearty, the Southport and West Lancs CAMRA magazine, the first since early last year, for reasons covered in previous posts.  Thanks to Dave Thackeray for transforming the PDF in printer's pairs into this page-turning, easy-to-read version.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Rail Ale

One leaflet out of the many I picked up at Wigan beer festival particularly caught my eye: Steel, Steam and Stars III. It describes itself as a Mega 9-day Steam Gala Beer Festival at Llangollen Station, organised by the Betton Grange 6880 Society, whose website states: "In 1955 when British Railways announced its modernisation plan there were over 13,000 steam locomotives at work in the British Isles, by 1968 these had been entirely eliminated. These pages [i.e. on their website] are dedicated to one class of locomotive of which none survived the cutters torch, the Great Western Railway ‘Grange‘ class, and our plans to build a new locomotive to this seventy-five year old design."

The event will feature the society's own steam engines along with some special guests with the opportunity for various rides, plus of course the beer festival at the station. I like steam trains in a general way, but this seems to me to be a very unusual event that is especially suited to real ale-drinking steam buffs. There is a lot more detail on the society's website here. Presumably the beer festival is to help raise funds to recreate the steam engine the society is dedicated to - good luck to them.

Monday 5 March 2012

Musical Lion

I forgot to mention in my post on 1 March about the singarounds in Southport that this Thursday 8 March is also my singaround in the Lion in Moorfields, Liverpool.  It begins at around 8.30 p.m. and there are eight changing real ales.  All welcome.

Weekending In Wigan

I've just spent three days working at the Wigan Beer Festival and staying with my friends Ken and Carol, who help organise the event.  I've described this festival in previous years, and while it was run in much the same in the way, it does seem to be getting ever more popular.  One or two people still mourn the loss of the Wigan Pier site, but that venue was perhaps a quarter of the size of this one, and the festival was outgrowing it anyway, even before it was developed and put to different use.

The foreign beer bar was all draught, no bottles at all, and was handed over to the young CAMRA members to organise and run, as was the cider bar.  As Ken says, they are the future.  The foreign beer bar manager told me on Friday that he estimated that sales were up by 40% on the previous year.

Something always goes wrong.  At a peak moment on Saturday when the Wigan Athletic match across the road had just finished and the festival was filling up with thirsty football fans, the glass washing machine decided to give up the ghost, and a queue quickly backed up.  Fortunately there was another one in the centre's bar, which was brought into use after we reminded them that CAMRA had paid for the use of a glass washing machine, but for a short while the well-oiled machine came off its wheels.

What strikes me about Wigan is how many groups of young women, many very stylishly dressed for a night out, roll up in groups.  They aren't there with boyfriends and they aren't CAMRA members; often they know little about what's on sale, but they're prepared to give it a go.  I was asked a few times whether we had anything a bit like Fosters or Carling.  I just offer them a sample of a light-coloured beer which isn't too dry or hoppy; ones with a citrus tinge usually seem to do the trick.  All right, they won't go from there to seek out obscure microbreweries, and will probably revert to their usual drinks later, but on the other hand, they'll know that they can actually enjoy certain real ales.  And as they looked as though they having a good time, I expect they'll be back next year.  If they'd had to queue for hours for advance tickets on a cold winter's morning in - say, off the top of my head - November, none of them would have been there.  Wigan festival has a better gender balance than any other festival I've been to, and it's a fact that where the young women go, the young lads are likely to follow.  Advance ticketing would kill all that at a stroke: Wigan has no tickets, and yet one employee of the centre estimated that there were perhaps 1400 people there on Friday evening, proving that ticketless mass attendance can be achieved.

All in all, another successful festival at Wigan, which is definitely one of my personal favourites.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Singarounds in Southport next week

On Monday evening, I will be running a singaround, as I usually do on the first Monday of the month, in the Guest House in Union Street.  Up to 11 real ales.  From 8.30 p.m.

On Wednesday evening, there will the first Wednesday singaround in the Mason's on Anchor Street, just behind the main post office on Lord Street.  It's a cosy little pub, sometimes with a real fire when it's cold, serving Robinson's Unicorn, the only place to sell it in Southport.

Both are of course free, and singing is not mandatory.

Don't just whinge ~ lobby!

In just three weeks, the Government will announce the Budget for the coming year. This is expected to include yet another tax increase for beer of at least 5% or about 3p a pint, which will probably translate into a 5-10p a pint increase in the pub.

We all know that our pubs just can’t handle any more tax increases - the Chancellor already takes over £1 of tax in every pub pint you buy - and as a result, they're under enormous pressure, with 16 closing every week. They're battling through the economic downturn handicapped by the 35% rise in beer tax in the last 3 years:  any further increases will just make their fight to survive even harder.

An Early Day Motion (EDM) has been tabled in Parliament for MPs to show their support for Britain’s beer and pub sector by asking the Government to suspend the beer duty escalator to help reduce pub closures, create 5,000 additional jobs and ensure pub going remains an affordable leisure activity. Please use this website to take two minutes to email your MP and ask them to sign up to this EDM and help increase the pressure on Government to take action.

We can whinge on websites, or we can lobby the people with the power to do something about it.  Let’s get lobbying!