Thursday 28 February 2013

Lizzie Nunnery on Sunday

Lizzie Nunnery is the guest this Sunday, 3 March, at the Bothy Folk Club. Lizzie is a singer-songwriter and playwright from Merseyside and has been to the Bothy a couple of times previously.

Her songs are often delicate and personal in their approach, but recently have taken a slightly new direction by her collaboration with Vidar Norheim, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and drummer; the rhythmic element he imparts to the music gives Lizzie’s material a different perspective from her earlier work. 

She has recently released her second album, Black Hound Howling. Of her first album, Company of Ghosts, BBC Radio 2's Mike Harding said: "I was stunned by this album the first time I heard it and have gone back to it over and again."

She's on at the Bothy in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS at 8.00 p.m. Click here if you'd like to buy your ticket on-line.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Wigan Beer Festival 2013

The CAMRA Wigan Beer Festival takes place this coming weekend from 28 February to 2 March. It's free to CAMRA members at all times. As the festival is at Robin Park Sports Centre, opposite the DW (former JJB) Stadium, a special courtesy bus service runs between the festival and the Anvil pub in Wigan town centre, close to both the bus and railway stations. 

Opening times and non-member charges are:

17.30 to 23.00

£2.00 all day

12.00 to 23.00

£1.00 before 17.30 - £3 after

11.30 to 23.00

£2.00 all day

Members: don't forget your card.

71 real ales had been confirmed earlier this week. Details of the beer list, cider and perry list, foreign beersbus times, and everything else you need to know are on the festival websiteThere is music on most days, but those who prefer quiet sessions should come along on Friday between noon and 5.30 p.m. 

The gangster theme for the pie man logo is to mark the 80th anniversary of the ending in March 1933 of the American Prohibition, a benighted act that did a great deal to develop free enterprise in the USA. Unfortunately it was of the illegal kind; organised crime gained a major hold on the American economy and politics that still hasn't gone away. Oh, the old Law of Unintended Consequences again! British anti-alcohol campaigners, please note.

I'll be working there throughout the festival, so if you see me, come and say hello.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Ship Inn, Haskayne - April beer festival

View of the canal from the Ship beer garden
N.B. dates changed to 25th to 28th April.
I visited the Ship Inn, a canalside pub in Haskayne, this afternoon to discuss their next advert in our local CAMRA magazine, Ale & Hearty. There were two beers on: Coniston Bluebird and Holts Bitter. The Holts is always there but the other handpump serves a changing guest. Chris the licensee told me that he'd had to cut it down from three beers for quality reasons. In the summer he can have all his handpumps working, but off season it's not practical. I've not had Bluebird for a while, and I found it to be fine. The next beer due on was one from the Heart of Preston brewery, and after that he had Rudgate's Jorvik Blonde lined up. We discussed Liverpool Organic Brewery, as he was interested in possibly putting one of theirs on.

He's planning to have a beer festival just after Easter when he proposes to have 20 beers on, some live music outdoors, weather permitting, and with food available. This will be second one; I went to his first in October last year when the beers that I drank were well kept. One feature of this pub is that during the festival, the beers are extremely close to the cellar, so the dasks are stored there rather than on the usual racks, which is great for keeping the temperature right. The festival dates will be Wednesday 10 to Sunday 14 April changed to: Wednesday 25 to Sunday 28 April. CAMRA are planning to hold vintage bus trips to local pubs, including the Ship, during this period - more information on that when I have it.

The pub serves food and has an open mike night on Fridays They used to have the Britannia Blues Band playing on Wednesdays, but not at present, although Chris is thinking of reinstating that fixture.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Legends at Liverpool Beer Festival

Our Lunchtime Legends gig at the Liverpool Beer Festival went well, despite a late start due to the sound man, Ash, being delayed by bad traffic. Our usual line-up was augmented by Jez Lowe on bass; he had driven over from York especially to play with us. The late start meant we couldn't afford to have a sound check and we had to rely on Ash sorting it out during the first number and, to be fair, he did a good job. During our second spot, the audience began to loosen up, dancing in front of us and hands in the air waving to anthems such as Daydream Believer and Hi Ho Silver Lining. Because we were running late, we had to shorten our set, which was a disappointment and we had no time to play the encore that was being called for. One woman said how she was so pleased to hear us singing Terry by Twinkle, as no one ever covered it, and she bought a copy of the CD that it's on. We sold a few CDs, which was very nice.

One of the perks of playing at a beer festival is you get some free beer, although for obvious reasons you're expected not to get legless. We were given a George Wright beer first, followed by Liverpool Organic Styrian and then one from Brimstage. All good beers, in good nick too, and after 90 minutes of singing, very welcome. It was good to see some friends there at the festival too, including Harri the real ale drinker from Finland. He gave me a few photos he'd taken of me at the Southport Beer Festival.

After the session closed at 4.00 p.m., we went to the nearby Augustus John for a pint before taking ourselves and our instruments home. Beartown Kodiak Gold was my pint. In the evening, Chris (keyboards) and I went for a few pints in the Guest House in Southport. A good way of rounding the day off.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Beer festivals galore!

Pubs 002
The Philharmonic Dining Rooms
The CAMRA Liverpool Beer Festival begins today; no point in rushing down as it's ticket only, and is sold out according to the website. I'll be there on Saturday as the band I'm in, the Lunchtime Legends, will be playing during the afternoon session. Should be interesting, especially in the light of my previous criticism of this festival's arcane ticket arrangements, although I have always acknowledged that running this festival is a massive task and the venue is wonderful.

As the Liverpool Beer Festival is a big occasion, a number of pubs like to join in by putting on their own festivals for drinkers to go to before or after their visit to the CAMRA one, or instead for the ticketless. So, if you don't have a ticket, you still have these fine choices:

·   The Dispensary on Renshaw Street has a festival to the 24 February with up to 50 beers on. Tel: 0151 709 2160.
·   The Augustus John is behind Blackwells bookshop on Brownlow Hill and is running its Beer and Cider Festival to 23 February.
·   The Ship & Mitre, 133 Dale Street, is running its real ale festival to 24 February. This pub usually has about 12 real ales on anyway, and frequently runs themed festivals throughout the year.
·   The splendid Philharmonic Dining Rooms (to give the pub its correct name), 36 Hope Street Liverpool L1 9BX, is running a festival until 24 February.

If you want, you can have a festival pub crawl around the city. As they're all pubs, there is of course no charge to get in.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Anthony John Clarke in concert at the Orwell

Popular singer-songwriter Anthony John Clarke is playing a fundraising concert for the Wigan Diggers' Festival in the top function room (lift available) of the Orwell, Wigan Pier, 4 Wallgate, Wigan, WN3 4EUThe supporting acts are Pauline Blackburn, Laura Taylor (poet), Bob Kettle, and Joan Blackburn.

It takes place on Wednesday 27 February; doors open 7.30 p.m. for an 8.00 p.m. start. Tickets are £5, available initially at Wigan Folk Club. Enquiries: 07833 301336.

The Wigan Diggers' Festival celebrates the life and ideas of Wigan born and bred Gerrard Winstanley and the 17th Century Diggers (True Leveller) Movement. It will take place on Saturday 7 September 2013.

Monday 18 February 2013

Goodbye Higsons (again) ~ hello Bier Head!

The beer formerly known as Higsons
The chequered history of Higsons has taken another unexpected turn - well, I didn't expect it anyway. Liverpool Organic Brewery (LOB), who have been brewing Higsons in recent years, having carefully refined the recipe to try to recreate the taste of the classic Liverpool beer, no longer have the right to use the name. They had an agreement with the owners of the brand to redevelop it and market it for a limited period, which came to an end on 31 January. So no more Higsons from LOB.

The good news is that the recipe belongs to LOB,and they will continue brewing the beer under the name Bier Head. LOB say that they have no idea what the owners of the name (one of whom is apparently an employee of Heineken) intend to do with it. If they're thinking of trying to market yet another version, it will suffer from serious credibility problems, being the third relaunch of this brand in half a dozen years. It would have to be good - cobbling together a recipe and calling it Higsons won't be enough - but I doubt anyone would take the necessary time and care over a new Higsons, certainly not to the extent that LOB did.

As you can see, the Bier Head pump clip retains the Higsons red colour and Liver Bird, so it will look familiar on the bar - although I'm sure that the Liver Bird has been slightly redesigned.

Sunday 17 February 2013

The most magnificent beer festival yet?

The Great Hall
I was sworn to secrecy about this, which is why I haven't mentioned it earlier, but as it's now on the internet the information is clearly no longer embargoed. Liverpool Organic Brewery, who to my mind have yet to brew a bad beer (that's not a challenge, chaps!), have organised a beer festival later this year in the magnificent surroundings of St George's Hall, which is on Liverpool's famous Lime Street. The beer festival website provides the following details:
  • More than 300 real ales and ciders in the Great Hall
  • Ales from more than 100 breweries across the UK
  • Live music at all sessions in the Concert Room
  • Continental beers and lagers
  • Locally sourced food
  • VIP reserved tables 
St George's Hall
The festival runs from Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 September. Admission is by ticket, which you can buy on-line via the website. Organisers of another beer festival in Liverpool might care to ask Liverpool Organic Brewery how easy it is to put tickets on-line! Tickets are £8, with a 38p booking fee. That's a bit hefty, but I expect the hire of this building won't be cheap; just regard some of that fee as an admission to an extravagantly beautiful building.

I've always wanted to see inside St George's Hall, but have never got a round to it; this seems to be the perfect opportunity.

National Pub of the Year

The Baum says cobbles to the opposition
On the 12 October, I wrote that the Baum, a pub in Toad Lane, Rochdale, had won CAMRA's Greater Manchester Pub of the Year 2012. I have learnt that it has now won CAMRA's National Pub of the Year. Although it's not exactly local to me in Southport, it's good to see a North West boozer win the gong. 

As you can easily read what I wrote about it previously, I don't intend to repeat myself, except to point out that this quite an achievement, seeing that the building was an ironmonger's until just over 30 years ago. As I said recently in a different context, it is not easy to create that unique atmosphere that we associate with the word "pub" - it usually has to develop organically over many decades. Well done to the licensees; I hope to visit some day. It has eight handpumps, does a good range of food and has a large beer garden to the rear. It looks good in the picture.

My friend Tandleman has more details on his beer blog. The Baum is at 33-37 Toad Lane, Rochdale, OL12 0NU. ( 01706 352186.

Friday 15 February 2013

Molson Coors - not the cuddly capitalists after all

Molson Coors has pleasantly surprised many real ale drinkers by taking over and investing in - rather than shutting down - the Cornish brewery, Sharp's; I wrote about it in January. A news story I read recently in Private Eye suggests to me that we'd be unwise to set aside all our suspicions of this multinational corporation.

Alton Town FC is a local football team that plays plays in the regional Wessex League; it has been told it is to be evicted at the end of this season from a sports ground owned by Molson Coors. Football has been played on this land since the 1920s when it was used by the staff teams from the Courage and Bass breweries. In 1935 a covenant between Courage and the council was intended to protect the land for sport and recreation in perpetuity. Molson Coors is using its vast resources to find ways of getting around this obstacle in order to build houses on the site.

Carling, a Molson Coors brand, is sponsor of the current Scottish national side and was until recently sponsor of the English League Cup. So while Molson Coors, the world's seventh biggest brewer by volume, gain plaudits and publicity for supporting football nationally, they are happy to evict a grass roots team just to squeeze the last ounce of profit from a tiny asset, irrespective of the consequences for the local community. They obviously believe, probably correctly, that such disgraceful behaviour won't garner much interest nationally. Finding a new football pitch will be extremely difficult; if it proves impossible, that will be the end the end of Alton Town FC. No one can argue that this plan is essential for the future profitability of the Molson Coors, so there can no other motive than greed, which neatly puts this quote in perspective: "Carling, the UK's best-selling lager, continues to be a leading sponsor of sport in Scotland and the UK."

What's this got to do with Sharp's Brewery? Quite a lot. Molson Coors are nurturing Sharp's as they want to gain credibility among real ale drinkers, and they have succeeded in that to quite an extent. We must however be under no illusions: if Molson Coors decide that the costly business of maintaining a small brewery in Cornwall, not exactly handy for transport routes, no longer fits in with their strategy or "vision", the brewery will go, production will be centralised, Doom Bar et al will simply become brands devoid of any resemblance to the original beers, and the brewery site sold for profitable redevelopment.

I'd like to be wrong, but the treatment of Alton Town FC proves that this huge capitalist corporation hasn't changed its spots. Irrespective of how profitable Sharp's is in future, they'll maintain it just as long as it suits them, and not a day longer.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Elbow room at the Mason's

It was a good singaround in the Mason's last night, accompanied by a real log fire, ham butties, cheese & crackers, and pints of build a rocket boys! It's a beer created by the band elbow and brewed by Robinson's of Stockport. I saw an item about it in a CAMRA mag a while ago; the band seemed very pleased about having a beer made to their own specifications. It's pleasant enough and golden and it has some of the characteristic taste that you expect from a Robinson's beer. Like the beers of a lot of regional breweries that have leapt on the golden beer bandwagon, it's unremarkable, inoffensive and surprisingly successful. But then, I never expected Thwaites Wainwright, a similar - though for my money better - beer, to become the brewing phenomenon that it has. build a rocket boys! will satisfy a lot of ordinary real ale drinkers and some non-real ale drinkers, but not those who seek the "innovative" (i.e. with loads of hops). But breweries can't live by such drinkers alone.

The pump clip is a CD of the band's 2011 album build a rocket boys! Brenda, the licensee of the Mason's, tells me that they now scratch the CDs before using them as pump clips because so many were being pinched. It was originally intended as a limited edition (one hit wonder?), but is now Robinson's fourth best selling beer. A share of the profits goes to Oxfam's East Africa Appeal, and it has so far raised more then £25,000.

No one referred to it as build a rocket boys! during the evening. We all just asked for a pint of elbow, even Brenda who eventually gave up trying to correct us all.

Monday 4 February 2013

Blanket Apology for the Blundell

Local guitarist and band leader Mick Cooper tells me that his bands, Shot In The Dark and Blanket Apology, are playing in the Blundell Arms this Friday 8 February, and again on Friday 22nd. They're one down this week because of availability problems, but I am told it's the full complement on the 22nd. Canadian duo April Moon are also down to do a spot this Friday and I'll be there to do a few on both occasions as well.

The Blundell has recently gained new management who are keen to present live music. It's had a chequered history in recent years, garnering something of an unfavourable reputation, but if they're putting live music on, it's a distinct sign that the new management want to turn things around. Perhaps even real ale next ~ who knows? It used to serve real ale, but about ten years ago they took it out, stacked the shelves with lager and alcopops, filled the rooms with pool tables, and then wondered where all the locals had gone. What a mystery! But that was then. Nowadays, it's even got its own Facebook page, so they are clearly trying.

This is now: live music this Friday, 8.30pm onwards at the Blundell Arms, Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale.