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.