Thursday 30 August 2012

Higsionary - pt 3

Higsionaries were produced by the former Higson's Brewery of Liverpool, which always had the knack of producing funny, local adverts; their Famous Old Higsonians beermats were legendary, with supposed local Liverpool characters whose names were all based on Merseyside place names: Ann Field, Gwladys Street, Rock Ferry (a local rock star), and Pierre Head. Another example of their quirky humour is here.

This is the third of the three Higsionaries that Clive Pownceby scanned for me. To see the previous ones, click on Part 1 and Part 2All good fun ~ click on the Higsionary so you can read it more easily.

Higson's Beers have been revived in recent years by Liverpool Organic Brewery.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Indian IPA

Downtown cafe and bar,
home of the microbrewery
On the BBC News website, I came across an article called The return of the Indian Pale Ale by Andrew North. The headline caught my attention as I wasn't aware it had been away, but it turns out the article is about the Downtown microbrewery in Gurgaon, near Delhi, India, which is producing what they describe as a genuine IPA called Corporate Ale. The article doesn't tell us much about the beer, which is almost certainly keg; in view of the local climate, it is served cold "instead of the warm beer British drinkers prefer" as North irritatingly writes. Irritating, because real ale should be served at 12 to 14°C (or 54 to 57°F), which is below room temperature - if that's warm, try having a bath in it, Mr North.

There are other Indian micros that brew Belgian-style beers or lagers, but this brewery, by concentrating on a style that largely disappeared from India after independence, is producing something unusual in a market dominated by Kingfisher lager. The owners have plans to import their beer into England - as they say, "back to where it came from". Then North concludes with another of his silly comments: "So British brewers of IPA might be facing competition - from the real thing." No, the real thing was brewed in the UK and exported to India, not produced there. Still, shouldn't let a journalist's penchant for a snappy if inaccurate final line obscure the fact that this is an interesting extension of the spread of IPAs, an increasingly popular style both here and in the USA. And weight gain through excessive consumption of Corporate Ale could give a new meaning to the phrase, "Delhi belly".

By the way, Andrew: the first letter in IPA stands for India, not Indian.

Monday 27 August 2012

Sunday concert in the park

Dave Hirst, without 50p for the meter
At the Bothy singaround last night, I heard the interesting news that that there will be a free afternoon folk concert in Southport featuring a number of local folk and acoustic artists. It’s being organised by Dave Hirst who performs both as a solo artist and as part of the band, Misery Guts. I’ve enjoyed watching Dave perform in the Mount Pleasant and the Park Golf Club in Southport - both with the band and solo -  and he has also played in Liverpool and on local radio.

It will take place close to the café area in Hesketh Park, which can be seen on the top right corner of this map (by Albert Road and Park Crescent), on Sunday 2 September between 2.00 and 5.00 p.m. If you fancy a drink or a meal before or afterwards, the Imperial Hotel (a real ale pub, marked on the map) on Albert Road is a few minutes' walk from the park gates.

Regrettably I can't make it as I'll be at Fylde Folk Festival on that day.

Sunday 26 August 2012

New pub for Southport?

A new Marstons pub in Caterham -
the proposed pub will probably
look something like this.
Marstons Inns and Taverns have applied for planning permission to build a new pub on undeveloped land by the sea front close to the Ocean Plaza shops. Despite the company's claim that it wants to create "a community-style public house", the pub will be food-led, and as the site isn't near any residential areas, I can't see that it will be building up a clientele of local regulars. People will presumably go there mainly for meals, not for drinking. No doubt it will also be handy for a pint when you go to the bowling alley and cinema nearby.

It will be built in the company's corporate style, and will incorporate a drive-thro' (although they spell it 'thru') coffee shop, which doesn't fill me with hope. I expect it will sell at least a couple of real ales from the Marstons range, which is quite extensive due to various takeovers, but if other Marstons pubs I've been to are anything to go by, it won't have any guest beers. I doubt we're looking at a Good Beer Guide contender, but I also doubt that is what they'll be aiming for.  

I wonder whether there'll be any objections; without any local residents to complain about potential noise and nuisance, the only grounds I can think of might be an argument that the wider area has enough drinking establishments as it is, which is usually either a ploy to stave off potential competition or a tactic by anti-alcohol campaigners to block the opening of new licensed premises. We'll see.

Saturday 25 August 2012

The Mathew Street Festival

Over the Bank Holiday weekend (26 – 27 August), the streets of Liverpool will be packed out for the Mathew Street Festival. This free two-day event is 20 years old this year, with over 80 hours of live outdoor music provided by cover, original and new bands, attracting both locals and guests from all over Europe. Five outdoor stages provide live music from midday until 6.00 p.m. More than 95 bands will be performing from as far as USA, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden and Scotland.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles in their best-known incarnation, there will be a tribute to Liverpool’s most famous band: the second day has been renamed Merseybeat Monday, celebrating all things Beatles and Beatles-influenced. Two stages will be dedicated to the Fab Four, as that week marks 50 years since Ringo joined John, Paul and George (and since Pete Best was ousted, which even now some Beatles fans haven't forgiven the three other Beatles for). A selection of tracks from every Beatles album will be performed.

The festival is always good fun with a great atmosphere. My write up of the 2010 event can be found here. Being Liverpool, there is no shortage of great pubs in the area as well.

Friday 17 August 2012

Guest House music

Just a quick reminder to lovers of acoustic music: the 3rd Monday music session will be taking place as usual in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport next Monday 20 August from around 8.00 p.m. With quite a few local musicians away at festivals, I'm not sure how many will be there, but if you're around, why not grab your instrument and go along? All welcome - performing is optional.

The pub serves up to 11 real ales, and they usually provide free chip butties for the musicians. 

Hesketh Arms Beer Festival, Churchtown

Picture borrowed from CAMRA
Southport & West Lancs Facebook page
The Hesketh Arms in Churchtown, Southport, is holding a beer festival over the Bank Holiday weekend. I don't recall this pub holding a festival previously - I do recall the Bold Arms across the road doing so in the 1980s, which were the first pub beer festivals I'd ever heard of.

The Hesketh is an old pub, which unfortunately had its original wood panels ripped out a few years ago to accommodate a new floor layout, and replaced by modern wooden wall panels. The inside is now a pleasant facsimile of an old pub, whereas before it was the real thing.

Still, that can't be helped now. It is a real ale pub that usually has a small but varying range. The festival will run 25 - 27 August and will feature "live music and a great choice of cask" beers. More than that I can't say as the pub website has no details at all, which is a bit of an own goal if you want people to know what you're putting on, but I often find pub websites are pretty useless.

The Hesketh Arms is on Botanic Road in picturesque Churchtown village in the northern part of Southport (postcode PR9 7NA). The 49 bus from the town centre passes it. Close to the pub you can find the Bold Arms, Churchtown village shops and the Botanic Gardens.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Whitby Legends 22 August

If you're in the area of Whitby in North Yorkshire next Wednesday lunchtime, we're playing our 21st consecutive annual rock & roll party at the Elsinore Hotel, Flowergate, Whitby. This gig celebrates twenty full years of the band's existence - not bad for something that began as a one-off jam session. It's bang in the middle of Folk Week, and we know that some in the festival hierarchy have in the past been less than enthusiastic about what we do, although after all these years irritation has dwindled to resigned acceptance.

It begins at around 12.30 p.m. Special limited edition anniversary T-shirts will be on sale - come and grab one while stocks last. The pub sells real Cameron's Strongarm, and Tetley's and John Smith's bitters on cask.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Into the top 50!

I've just noticed that this blog has jumped 23 places in the beer blog Hit Parade to 49: this is my highest position ever. However, I'm not going to get too smug, because my last big jump was a massive 46 places to 55 in January this year, which was immediately followed by a slightly less massive drop of 31 places in February. The blog rankings giveth, and the blog rankings taketh away ...

I've never made any appearance in the Hot 100 music blogs, but I can understand that because my music element is mostly, though not exclusively, slanted to music events where you can get real ale. I'm also not committed to a single type of music, unlike most of the other music blogs I've looked at, although folk and acoustic inevitably feature prominently, being the kind of music I'm mainly involved in.

My prediction is that next time I'll drop to 74, but we'll see in September how my Mystic Meg tribute act works out. It's a good job I don't take these things too seriously since I have previously seen my place in the rankings drop even though the number of visitors to the blog had increased. 

If you’d like to see other beer blogs, click on the badge at the bottom of the column on the right.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Pub games

Table skittles
I was in a pub in Southport a couple of weeks ago and noticed that a poker night was taking place. It's not something I've come across much before and it had me thinking about the various games that I've seen in pubs.

I used to play darts and even had my own set, which were black with black flights. Someone once said they looked like something out of Star Wars - as used by Dart Vader, I replied. My playing, like the joke, wasn't very good.

Chess and draughts are other games I've played in pubs, and although I enjoy a game, I am, again, not very good at either. I've seen backgammon, but I've no idea how to play it, but as it's associated with gambling, I'm not likely to find out as gambling has never interested me.

Table skittles and shove ha'penny are games I haven't seen in pubs for years, although dominoes can sometimes be found still. Table football was very popular in our student bar, and I did become quite adept, often taking on two opponents single-handed and beating them, which actually isn't quite as impressive an achievement as it sounds, but it looked good.

Bar billiards 
Bar billiards is a game I haven't seen since the 1970s, the last time was possibly in the Plough in Croft near Warrington. You'd hit the cue ball from one end of a table about the size of a pool table into one of 9 holes, easy enough so far, except that there also three mushroomed-shaped skittles; if you knocked one of these down, your break ended and you lost points. It was good fun but much harder than you'd think, and far more interesting than pool.

Very few pubs today still have full-size billiards tables, probably because they take up so much room. The last time I had a go, which was in a pub in Warrington, I couldn't get the hang of it at all - the level of skill required is far higher than pool, and certainly much higher than my ability. I did use to play pool a lot, although I wasn't very good, although one Saturday afternoon in my (then) local I beat all comers for about 3 hours, and in a pool competition at work, I once lost the game on my last shot in the final: I completely missed the black that I was trying to pot. My opponent had already started walking to the bar and had to be called back to take the final shot, and win the cash prize. Generally, though, my tenure of the pool table tended to be short.

I'm glad that quite a few pubs still have bowling greens. I remember when we students would go to the Plough in Houghton Green near our college and occasionally have a game of bowls. Although we enjoyed ourselves, the old fellows watched us and had a good laugh at us hippies (as they thought of us) being utterly useless on the bowling green. Still, it was nice way of spending a sunny afternoon, especially when you were supposed to be in a lecture.

A game I've only come across only in one pub was pétanque, in which you throw metal balls on a gravel pitch and try to get closest to a jack; it's also sometimes called boules. Another good summer game, but the pub concerned doesn't have the pitch anymore.

The key point about all of these activities is that they are social; you play them with other people, and you can still have a pint and a chat. Games machines, on the other hand, are solo activities: the companions of the player are reduced to spectators and often have to remain quiet so as not to disturb his or her concentration. They're not sociable activities and don't really fit into the pub ethos; their natural home is the amusement arcade. Proper pub games should enhance your enjoyment in the pub, not restrict it.

Monday 13 August 2012

From Burscough to Kilimanjaro

In about 5 weeks' time, Andy Brocken of Burscough Brewery will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which is actually a dormant volcano in Tanzania, and at 19,341 feet above sea level the highest mountain in Africa. He is doing this to raise funds for the Beating Bowel Cancer charity in memory of Harry Turner, a friend who died of the illness in April this year. He hopes to reach the summit on 27 September. To support the fundraising, the brewery is launching a beer called Kilimanjaro 2012, a 4.0% blonde beer brewed using American hops. All profits from the sale of this beer will go to the charity, and anyone who wants to support Andy's challenge can drink the beer, and if you can spare a few bob perhaps donate on-line. As Andy wryly points out, it's not easy for a real ale brewer to lose three and a half stone and get fit enough to scale 19,000 feet!

The Burscough Brewery Company is situated behind the popular Hop Vine pub (which I visited last month and wrote about here) on Liverpool Road North, Burscough. I wish Andy the best of British.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Acoustic Roots In Wigan

In the parish church, no less, which is a short walk from the train stations and the bus station, and on the A49 at the junctions of Hallgate, Wallgate, Bishopgate and Standishgate.

27 October - Blair Dunlop (with special guest Ashley Hutchings).
8 December - Robb Johnson, who will be performing the whole "Ghosts of Love" album with associated narrative. It's a Christmas song suite, and it's the only place he'll be doing it in the North West.
4 May - Steve Ashley, one of the singer/songwriter greats. You will most certainly know his songs, even if you haven't seen him perform.

All tickets are £10 in advance, £12.50 on the night. For more details or tickets, either phone 01942 824291 or e-mail. Dave Cartlidge, the organiser says there'll be more musical treats to come - maybe even some American artists.

There are many real ale pubs in Wigan, quite a few close to the church, as you will find on the Wigan real ale map.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Getting drunk

Mediaeval monk raiding the wine cellar
Drinking isn't about getting drunk. CAMRA says that, as do certain beer snobs who claim that we don't pay enough for our carefully brewed real ales. This may seem fair from the point of view of the small brewer who is struggling to make a decent living, but in fact they are all wrong because we are paying too much for our beer, not because brewers are ripping us off, but because the government is. I've written before about the levels of beer tax, and if you haven't signed the petition to Parliament about the beer tax escalator (by which beer tax is increased by 2% more than inflation every year), I'd ask you to click on this link and do so.

Going out and getting bladdered is now very expensive. I can remember on one occasion when I was student drinking 22 pints from lunchtime until we were chucked out of a Manchester night club at 2.30 in the morning. A year or two ago I mentioned this exploit in my local, saying I couldn't do that now, at which point my friend Sam pointed out that I'd rolled up at the pub just a few weeks earlier and said I'd had 19 pints in Liverpool, and had then proceeded to have a couple before being chucked out at pub closing time. The probability is that I have exceeded that 22-pint high point many times without realising it.

Although I rarely do it, every so often I enjoy a good session that lasts all day, and on one occasion, more than 30 years ago, I went a 28-hour drinking session. I know that I can drink 20+ pints and still walk home, lock the front door, take my contact lenses out and get undressed before going to bed, although I'm fairly certain I've never done it when I've had to go work the next day. I have never collapsed on the couch and slept fully dressed until the next morning. But I rarely indulge in such a drinking spree; on the contrary, quite often nowadays I don't arrive at the pub until after 10.00 p.m.

I'm not sure why I feel this desire every so often to go completely overboard, and I don't know anyone of my age who can keep up with me pint for pint when the mood takes me. I am for the most part a social drinker, but sometimes I like to blow away the cobwebs.

All I can say is that I have never been arrested, never been actually thrown out of a pub or been barred from one. The wife of a friend once told me I was the most polite drunk she had ever come across. I believe that bad drunken behaviour is not caused by the alcohol, but by the mindset that some idiots have that being drunk is a licence to behave badly - so they do. This view is supported by social anthropologist, Kate Fox, whose interesting assessment you can read here. My post on her findings is here.

Although it's now very unusual for me to embark on such all-day sessions, my experience of them has caused me to laugh at news reports which declared in shocked tones that some yob or other had committed offences after a 10-hour drinking session. Although drink is no justification for bad behaviour or criminality, the media seems to endorse that pathetic explanation by constantly repeating it. Why can't they see that they are giving yobs the excuse they need by allowing them to claim that their misconduct was caused by the drink? That it was not them really - it was all out of character - the drink took over. This is of course nonsense and an abdication of personal responsibility. It seems quite simple to me that if you can't behave when you're drunk, don't drink, at least not to excess.

In the meantime, on the rare occasion I have an all-day session, I still really enjoy it. I do recommend it: it's good for the soul. Just don't get into any fights.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Acoustic sessions this week

Old Higson's handpump
in the Guest House
You wait ages for a pub music session, than three come along at once.

Sunday 5th: summer singaround at the Bothy, which meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Rd West, Southport, PR9 0JS, from 8.00 p.m. Thwaites Wainwright real ale always on sale.

Monday 6th: my monthly acoustic song session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. Up to 11 real ales available.

Thursday 9th: it's my acoustic night at the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool, from around 8.30 p.m. Eight real ales. I can't make it on this occasion - the first one I've missed - but the other regulars decided go go ahead without me.

All of these sessions are free and you can perform if you wish, but it's not compulsory. Neither's drinking, but it would be a shame to miss out on the great real ales that these venues serve.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Fiddler Wanted!

No, this isn't a recruitment advert for the chief executive of a bank.

Colin Maddocks, who runs the successful monthly Grateful Fred roots and acoustic nights once a month in Formby, is looking for a fiddler to play in the Grateful Fred house band, which acts as a opener for the booked acts. They are also hoping to get some other gigs in between GF evenings. If you're interested, or if you know someone who might be, contact Colin on

Grateful Fred events are held at the British Legion, Whitehouse Lane, Formby, L37 3LT. They usually meet on the first Thursday of the month, but their next event is on Wednesday 5 September - Jeff and Vida from Nashville, Tennessee. Tickets available here.