Sunday 30 June 2013

What's on ~ next few days

Plenty for music lovers in the Southport area over the next few days:

Tonight (30th): Mary Humphreys and Anahata are the guests this evening at the Bothy Folk Club. Traditional songs entertainingly and tastefully played with concertina, banjo and melodeon accompaniment (and cello if we're lucky).
l "Wonderful and unusual versions of songs and brilliant accompaniments and tunes." Pete Coe, Ryburn Folk Club.
l "I've been playing it over and over as I've been driving around in the car" - Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2.
l "Their music seems to be simple, pared-down, beautiful and timeless" Mick Tems, Taplas.
That's tonight at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. 8.00pm. 

Monday (1st July): is the free acoustic song session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from around 8.30pm. Good range of real ales.

Wednesday (3rd): Mason's singaround on Wednesday, 3 July, from c. 8:45pm. Anchor Street, Southport. This may be the last one until September.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Brewery with a behavioural disorder?

Now an InBev brand, this was
once a welcome sight in pubs
AB InBev is the world's largest brewing corporation. In this country, as well as brewing various lagers, they are also responsible for the production of two formerly great real ales: Bass and Boddingtons. Their website describes these as two "local favourites"; well, perhaps 35 years ago. So what have they been up to?

There is a tiny brewery in Wandsworth called Belleville which produces American-style cask beers. The brewery was started in January this year by a group of friends who had children at the Belleville Primary School, and they sell their beer to local pubs. AB InBev's lawyers have sent the brewery a letter giving Belleville 28 days to stop using the Belleville name because, they claim, it could be confused with the products of their Belgian subsidiary, Belle-Vue which brews lambic beers. For the world's biggest multi-national brewing corporation to bully a microbrewery with a five barrel capacity because of a name that is similar but not identical to one their own products is both ludicrous and distasteful in the extreme. Obviously Belleville cannot afford to challenge this demand in court and so are considering changing the brewery's name to Northcote after the road where the school is situated. It just goes to show that if you're rich enough, you can shamelessly be a bully without breaking the law.

Meanwhile in Canada, AB InBev are facing a strike at their Labatts brewery because of serious assaults on the workers' terms, conditions and wages, and which would destroy collective bargaining. In one way, it's obvious why they're doing this, as individuals negotiating their own rates of pay have much less clout than negotiators representing an entire workforce. But it's not obvious in another way, because even AB InBev's own website states that it has more than 200 brands worldwide that in 2012 generated revenue of $39,800,000,000 (US dollars). Any savings from cutting staff wages and terms in Canada must be less than peanuts to this company. It is another example of this rich and powerful corporation engaging in bullying.

If AB InBev were a human, I seriously doubt it would be allowed out unsupervised.

Click here for more on the Labatt's dispute; there's also a petition here.

Friday 28 June 2013

The Upsteps reopened

The Upsteps in Birkdale
The Upsteps pub in Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale, has been closed for nearly a year, but last week I read in our local free sheet that it has been reopened, so I decided to call in this afternoon. The pub's layout hasn't been changed - there are still four separate drinking areas - but it has been redecorated throughout. There were two handpumps, only one of which was in use serving Caledonian Flying Scotsman. I'm not a fan of Caledonian beers, but this was in reasonable condition.

I noticed that they are starting a quiz night next Monday with a prize of a gallon of beer. They are also putting on a live band this evening: the Sue Raymond Band which features local guitarist Mick Cooper, with local singer-guitarist Derek Boak down to do a couple of sets too. I recall that several years ago, we used to have an acoustic song and music session in this pub when the real ales on sale were from the Coach House Brewery of Warrington.

All in all, it looks as though the new licensees are trying to make a go of it. However, I notice there is a 'for sale' sign outside the pub. The pub is owned by Star Pubs & Bars (the old Scottish & Newcastle Pub Company) who have put the freehold on sale, which suggests to me that the pub's future is not entirely certain. It is the only pub in the area that sells real ale - the Blundell Arms just a few hundred yards down the road has been keg only for years - so let's hope it manages to achieve a more stable future.

P.S. 29 June. I went to see the band last night, and as I walked through the door, they asked me to do a few songs, so I did. There was a young rockabilly band (Rockabily Rebels, I think they were called) in support of the main act. The pub was busy with a lot of people enjoying the music and generally having a good time. The Upsteps describes itself as a community pub, and it certainly seems to be heading in the right direction.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Ray Rooney CD launch - venue changed

Local singer-songwriter Ray Rooney will be launching his latest CD, Don't You Love Stars?, this Saturday 29 June starting at about 8.15pm. Owing to a double booking, the venue has been changed from the Park Golf Club to the White House next door, Southport Golf Links, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JU.

Everyone is welcome, admission is free, the CD will be on sale, and a range of local performers will be there, as you can see from the poster. As far as I know, the venue has no real ale - well, you can't have everything ...

And this is legal?

Owed £5 million by Cains
Cains Brewery is no more: the liquidators have been called in after it was wound up with debts of around £8 million, consisting of £5 million for excise duty, VAT and PAYE and £3 million to 44 other creditors. This development won't surprise anyone who has been following Cains' declining business this year, which I've written about as recently as last month. I said then that "Managing director Sudarghara Dusanj told them [staff he'd made redundant] to apply to the government’s Redundancy Payment Scheme, but this usually only pays redundant workers when a company has actually failed." Since then, as certain as night follows day, this company has failed. The BBC has more details here, with quite a good short video clip from North West Tonight in which Sudarghara Dusanj tries to claim that the relationship between his management team and the workforce was good. This doubtless explains why their workforce found out they no longer had jobs by phone call, text or even by reading it in the Liverpool Echo, and why they will be getting no redundancy payments from the company, not even those with long service.

The brewery and land are leased from a different company, which is also owned by the Dusanj brothers who hope to redevelop the buildings and site into a brewery village: they intend to restore the original Grade II listed building to house a craft brewery, a hotel, digital studios, a delicatessen-type food hall,  independent shops, a sky bar on the roof, and a supermarket with flats above. I'll believe it all when I see it. 

Two bankruptcies in five years is not a good record, but in both cases the material assets were safely allocated to a separate company that put them safely beyond the reach of the liquidators, so don't expect to see the brothers turning up at Toxteth jobcentre in the near future. In their wake they leave a sacked workforce, a discredited brewing name and a lot of creditors out of pocket, some of them small businesses.

There is around £100,000 worth of beer in vats in the brewery that will have to be destroyed; now that the workforce has been sacked, I suppose there's no one to finish it off and sell it. They are, apparently, negotiating a deal to have Cains beers brewed elsewhere under licence but, as I've asked a couple of times recently, with the decline in quality in recent years, will anyone be interested? 

Bier Palace Beer Festival, St Helens

There's going to be a Summer Beer Festival for Willowbrook Hospice from 26 to 28 July at the Bier Palace in St Helens. 20 real ales, plus a selection of real ciders. Live music: Friday night - Havoc 51; Saturday night - Strums and Roses; Sunday afternoon - Northern lights.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Hannah James and Sam Sweeney

Hannah James and Sam Sweeney
Hannah James and Sam Sweeney are one of the foremost duos performing English Folk Music today. They released their second album, State and Ancientry in April 2012. Their music consists mainly of English songs and tunes on accordion and fiddle, and their live show includes Hannah’s renowned high-energy clog dancing.

Sam plays with multi-award winning folk group Bellowhead, Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings, and Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party. Hannah sings, plays and dances with BBC Folk Award nominated Lady Maisery and Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span.

“An absolutely cracking follow up! I think they’re amazing, not just as young players but as players of any age. Brilliant musicians.” - Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2.

They're on at 7.30pm this Thursday 27 June in the AtkinsonLord Street, Southport. On-line tickets.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Not so Ale & Hearty

The most recent issue of Ale & Hearty
Ale & Hearty has for a long time been the magazine of the Southport & West Lancs Branch of CAMRA. I was its most recent editor. When I took over in 2010, there was a team: editor, sub-editor and advertising manager. First of all, our sub-editor resigned as he was busy with other CAMRA work and being over 70, wanted to wind down. Fair enough, even though I was still getting to grips with what was required. Then the advertising manager resigned, and as he was over 80, that too was fair enough, except that no replacement was forthcoming.

This meant that I was now responsible, not just for writing a great deal of the mag, asking others to write articles, assembling it and preparing the layout and format for the printers, but also for going around pubs canvassing for adverts, often designing them and collecting the money. Some help was forthcoming for the October 2012 issue, which was brilliant, but most of those helpers became unavailable for what should have been the Spring issue this year.

I eventually realised that, despite my repeated requests, I was not going to get committed permanent help such as I'd had when I became editor, and that each issue would be a daunting mountain to climb every single time. The only consistent help offered was from a Branch member who was in my opinion in danger of being over-committed herself. I had an extended period of ill health - nothing serious, but debilitating - for the couple of months on each side of the New Year, and the stress of worrying about the mag and the size of the job didn't make me feel any better. So I resigned as editor. I was reluctant as I knew that would probably be the end of the mag, but I really could do without the worry.

The real problem is that the people involved in voluntary social activities - not just CAMRA - are getting older, some are not unreasonably scaling back their activities or packing in altogether and there are fewer people prepared to take their places. A lot of the people who are still active in CAMRA now became involved when they were in their 20s and 30s, in some cases decades ago. In fairness, there's no shortage of people who are prepared to spend time criticising what others do, but nothing new there.

Two suggestions have been made: an on-line version, such as St Helens Branch do. That will not get to the public in the way that a paper magazine does in the pubs, but it may be better than nothing. Another is to hand the production over to company that gets the adverts while you provide the editorial content. The problem is that there would be more adverts and less space for articles compared to what we've done in-house. The advert charges would be higher, which may well deter some of our regular advertisers, so there is no guarantee that a viable magazine could be produced.

I'm not happy about resigning, but if the Branch is serious about wanting a magazine, then it needs to provide some help, not just as a one-off, but on a permanent basis - and it needs to stop expecting those who are already busy with CAMRA to plug every gap. If such help were to become available for Ale & Hearty, I would be prepared to edit it again, assuming the Branch would still want me, but I'm not really expecting to get the call.

Saturday 22 June 2013

The Freshfield: Merseyside Pub of the Year

The results are in for the CAMRA Merseyside Pub of the Year (POTY). This year the award has gone to one of ours: the Freshfield in Massams Lane, Formby, a short walk from Freshfield railway station. There were four finalists in this year's competition, and this is how they fared (in descending order):
The Freshfield, Merseyside POTY

1. The Freshfield, Formby.
2. Gallaghers, Birkenhead.
3. Stamps Too, Waterloo.
4. The Clock Face, St Helens.

None of the pubs scored badly in the competition, but I can't help noticing that, unusually, no pub in Liverpool city centre made it to the final. The only one I've never visited is the Clock Face, although I often used to drive past it many years ago when it was a Greenall Whitley house. I have been to Stamps Too and Gallaghers, and I like them both. The Freshfield won one of the two local Branch Pub of the Year awards a couple of months ago, and winning this is a credit to the team that reopened the pub in July last year after a major refurbishment.

Congratulations to all concerned; I'm looking forward to the presentation of the certificate, after which I'll be able to report on the range of beers as I haven't been in there for a while.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Jeff Stoker

Catherine and Jeff Stoker
I went to the funeral this morning of an old friend whom I've known since the late 1970s: Jeff Stoker, who died last week in his early 60s. He was a fine practitioner of the art of the accordion and an old friend of the Bothy Folk Club. He was for many years the main musician for the Southport Swords, and he founded the Mr Blundell's Alms ceilidh band with friends from the local folk scene. He played with them and later on he was the caller (i.e. calling the various dance moves needed during the dance). Mr Blundell's Alms was named after the Blundell Arms pub where the Bothy used to meet for more than 35 years. He enjoyed playing along with music sessions in pubs, especially in Whitby in Yorkshire during Folk Week, and sometimes led musicians in medleys of folk tunes at the Bothy.

Unlike a lot of folkies who like to sing songs about the sea, Jeff had actually been to sea with the merchant navy. I don't know whether it was there he acquired his habit of smoking a pipe, an increasingly unusual sight nowadays, although I don't think with him it was any kind of affectation. He simply preferred it to cigarettes. He also liked real ale and I often used to see him in the Guest House, my local, before ill health began to intervene.

Jeff for many years ran a small music shop in Birkdale called Acoustic Instruments North West, where he would sell, buy and repair instruments. I bought a number of things there over the years, including the speakers I still use with my PA system. I tended to get the impression that the challenge of a tricky repair was his favourite part of the service.

Jeff was happily married to Catherine, and they had two sons, Phil and Nick, but sadly Catherine died several years before him. I don't think he ever fully got over that loss. Not long afterwards, he asked me how I was getting to Whitby for Folk Week. When I said I was going to to drive over, he said, "Let's go together in my car." My protestations that I had my PA system plus two guitars were summarily dismissed by a reminder that he had a large Volvo estate, and so for several years we shared the journey and petrol costs. I suspect the journey to Whitby, where he and Catherine had spent many happy Folk Weeks, was easier with company than alone. I too liked the company, and the fact that - despite offers from me - he did all the driving! He always came to the Lunchtime Legends rock & roll party during folk week and at other times, and was happy to advise me when the sound needed balancing.

For many years, in the run-up to Christmas, Jeff ran a carol singing session in a local pub (originally the Blundell Arms, then the Park Hotel, and latterly the Fishermen's Rest - all in Birkdale); the plan is to keep this going. It was in the Fishermen's Rest today that we gathered after the service in St Teresa's. The three officiating priests included a brother in law of Jeff and a cousin, so it truly was a family affair. The one positive thing was that church was full with Jeff's family and various friends from different strands of his life. He was a modest man and I feel sure the turn-out would have surprised him, but I had thought it might be busy. And deservedly so too.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Cider and perry festivals

All CAMRA beer festivals have a cider and perry bar where you can taste proper ciders that don't resemble Woodpecker or Strongbow in the slightest, and you can try a perry or two, a very rare drink that is hardly ever seen in pubs at all. A perry, for those who don't know, is a drink made in the same way as cider, but using pears. I find it is often less harsh tasting than cider, but I don't claim to be an expert. I do know that these drinks should not be drunk like beer, especially as they can be almost as strong as Riesling.

Some of the big cider makers produce a filtered and pasteurised bottled product that they call pear cider. I've heard CAMRA people say that there's no such thing - the correct term is 'perry', but they're wrong: pear cider is cider flavoured with pears, rather than a drink made from pears. Needless to say, the term 'real' doesn't apply to pear cider, and you'll never see it a CAMRA festival.

Two festivals should be a draw for lovers of fermented apples and pears at opposite ends of the East Lancs Road:

Liverpool: the Ship and Mitre is holding another of its regular and varied festivals. This time it's their Cider Festival, which runs from 17 to 23 June. The pub is close to Moorfields, Central and Lime Street stations, and also the bus station. It's at 133 Dale Street, Liverpool, L3 2JH.

Manchester: the 3rd Greater Manchester Cider and Perry Festival runs from 21 to 22 June. It's a CAMRA event at the Palace Hotel, on the corner of Oxford Street & Whitworth Street, Manchester, M60 7HA. There will be more than 60 traditional ciders and perries, and the festival includes the Celtic and North England Cider Competition. There will also be soft drinks - suitable for nominated drivers - and food available all day.

More facts about cider and perry here.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Guest House at the Ammies

Our local paper, the Southport Visiter, and the town's snappily-named Business Improvement District Development Group holds an awards ceremony called the Ambassador Awards with the aim of "celebrating the best of our town’s hospitality, leisure and retail". Nominations are made for a range of jobs, such as best waiter/waitress, chef, receptionist, shop assistant, and also for best restaurant, chippy, pub, cafĂ© and so on. As many of the awards go to ordinary members of staff in some of the categories, I have no great objection to them, although the Visiter has largely failed in its attempts to make us call them "the Ammies".

The Guest House in Union Street, Southport
This year, the award for best pub/bar went, for a change, to a proper pub: my local, the Guest House. The newspaper report about the event stated that "Landlords Fred [Hook] and wife Gail have been at the Guest House for 12 years". This will probably be news to Gail's husband - Fred is Gail's business partner - but isn't that about par for the course for a local newspaper?

The runners up were the Sandgrounder (previous post here) on Lord Street, and the Phoenix (previous post here). Both are fine when they're not deafening you with sport, but neither is what you'd call a proper pub. Both have similarities to Wetherspoons, which isn't a criticism, just a description. The Guest House is undeniably a pub; it has three separate rooms and is just over 100 years old. Until the brewery was closed, it was the only pub in Southport belonging to Higsons of Liverpool. When I first went in there in the 1970s, the room on the right as you entered had a sign on the door stating "Gentlemen only", which disappeared on the day the Sex Discrimination Act came into force. That was also the first day that I entered that room, but even now out of habit I still tend to use the room on the left.

So well done the Guest House: yet another award to add to the many that it has won over the years.

For the record, Visiter is the correct spelling for the newspaper.

Friday 14 June 2013

My Sweet Patootie

According to their own website, "My Sweet Patootie is an acoustic roots group from rural Ontario that brings twinning vocal harmonies, monstrous fingerstyle guitar, sizzling fiddle, percussion and abundant charisma together in one perfect package. Their music is a tongue-in-cheek Canadian blend of old country, vintage jazz, western swing & blues."

I haven't seen the band but that sounds like a recipe for an upbeat evening of lively music, as shown in this YouTube video:

That's this Sunday 16 June at the Bothy Folk Club at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. It begins at 8.00pm. The venue serves Thwaites real ale. You can buy on-line tickets here.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Liverpool sessions

The Everyman Folk Club used to meet in the Everyman Theatre bar on Hope Street for many years. When the Everyman closed down for major rebuilding, the club moved to the Fly In The Loaf on Hardman Street. Both venues were noted for good beer. After only a few months, they moved again, this time to Osqa's Arena Bar, corner of Oldham Street & Roscoe Street, L1 2SU, where it continues to meet every Wednesday from 8.30pm in a singers night format. This venue has no real ale, which is why I don't feel inspired to go along, but if real ale isn't top of your list of priorities, I'm told this is a good session. The excellent Roscoe Head, which has been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide, is only yards away.

Every Thursday afternoon between 2pm and 4pm there is a singaround in the Belvedere Hotel, 5 Sugnall Street, Liverpool, L7 7EB. This cosy two-roomed pub usually has 4 real ales on.

The domed ceiling in The Lion
(it's not a small dome ~ it's a large lamp)
This Thursday, 13 June, is the monthly singaround in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool, across the road rom Moorfields Station. There are always 8 real ales on. The Lion's etched glass, tiles and wood panels make it a very attractive pub, and the singers meet in the rear room with the glass dome. This singaround, or acoustic song session, takes place on the second Thursday of each month, and it begins at around 8.15pm.

Of course, if you're feeling energetic on the second Thursday of the month, you could go to the Belvedere in the afternoon, and then to the Lion in the evening. I haven't done that yet, but I'm sure I will some day.

Monday 10 June 2013

Unpredictability and stats

I don't spend a great deal of time analysing the stats for this blog, but I decided to have a look today after I noticed that a post I wrote nearly a year ago called "The Lost World of Smoking" had yet again appeared in the list of most read posts. It's a slightly nostalgic piece about how perceptions of smoking have changed in my lifetime, and it also covered my personal experiences, although I have never actually smoked myself, with a non-smoking father who worked in the tobacco industry for about 40 years and a smoking mother. It was definitely not about the smoking ban, which I have covered elsewhere. This is my most read post with 1736 page views, which I find quite extraordinary.

From February 2011, second with 965 page views is "Nothing new under the sun" which explained how moral panics about drinking are nothing new and go back to at least Elizabethan times.

Third with 865 page views was a short piece I wrote in 2009 called "MP's bill to protect pubs". It was about a bill proposed by Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, to give local amenities such as pubs, banks, chemists, post offices, shops and restaurants extra protection. This gained 865 page views, but I'm not sure why; I had in fact quite forgotten about it. I even managed to get a fact slightly wrong and was corrected by Curmudgeon in the comments section. I have left mistake and correction unaltered.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, posts about the Southport Beer Festival always get quite a lot of page views. The average number of page views per post is 164, but this is deceptive as the range is enormous: a few of my posts in the early days had page views in single figures, a significant contrast to the top three scores. If I had tried to predict what my most read posts might be, I'm sure I'd have got them completely wrong.

Friday 7 June 2013

Ormskirk RUFC beer festival

Ormskirk Rugby Club is putting on a beer festival in a couple of weeks on Saturday 22 June, and have just decided to tell the local CAMRA branch about it, even though it's been on their own website since April. Below is their poster but, oddly, they haven't given any useful details such as where it is, opening times, admission charges, etc. Never mind, I've been doing some digging: 

Address: Ormskirk RUFC, Green Lane, Ormskirk, Lancs, L39 1ND.
Opening hours: 10:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.
Website: click here.
'01695 572523.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Karaoke ~ invitation or deterrent?

Around 1990, when I was chair of the office sports and social club, someone suggested that we have a karaoke night. "What's karaoke?" I asked, as I hadn't heard the term before. Oh, those innocent days! Regrettably, no need for an explanation nowadays. Wikipedia tells me the word comes from the Japanese for "empty orchestra".

In my experience, people like singing, but most don't bother much after they've left their school singing lessons behind them, except perhaps in the bath or along to the radio when no one else is around. Folk club audiences are well-known for joining in choruses, even people who wouldn't get up and sing a song themselves, and a good audience may throw up an impressive range of harmonies. In pubs, I've found that people sometimes like to join in old pop songs that they know. Karaoke is designed for people who wish to sing, but who don't play an instrument or belong to a group. So far so good.

In some countries, karaoke is taken very seriously with competitions and championships. According to the New York Times, the dozens of karaoke bars in Portland, Oregon make it not just "the capital of karaoke" in the United States, but "one of the most exciting music scenes in America." I've never been there, but I suspect that this is seriously over-egging the pudding, but it does perhaps highlight the difference in attitude to karaoke in Britain and elsewhere.

Many years ago, I saw a biker girl in a club sing a beautiful version of the Fleetwood Mac song, Dreams; I wondered whether she was a singer in a band, but generally speaking such quality singing is a rarity. Too often in this country, young lads egg each other on to have a go after quite a few drinks, and when they do get up, they deliberately sing badly, as though bad out-of-tune singing is an eternally funny joke. I put this down to the tendency among certain elements in this country not to be too clever, not to aim to do something well: while they want to get up and show off, they don't want to be seen as caring too much about it, and so they act the goat. Fine, except for those who have to listen.

I'd never have a problem with people who get up and try their best, even if they aren't very good singers, because that is the whole point of karaoke. It's the yobbish attitude I find irritating. I did karaoke once at an office party, performing an old rock & roll song that I knew from singing with the band. The DJ running the karaoke kept trying to get me to stand behind the screen so I could read the words, while I kept saying, "I know the words!" I have to say that on that occasion, my colleagues who had a go didn't deliberately sing badly; in fact, a couple of lads dressed up as the singers they were taking off. Not being too serious, having a laugh but not deliberately singing badly. Perhaps I've just been unlucky, but that hasn't been my usual experience with karaoke in pubs. 

There are two signs outside a pub that will usually deter me from entering: Sky Sports and karaoke night. Karaoke was never intended to produce high quality performances; it was designed to democratise singing by allowing people to sing along to a familiar backing, just as they might do to the radio at home. It's a shame it is too often hijacked by silly drunks. 

Tuesday 4 June 2013

The musical pint

The Elsinore Hotel, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Curmudgeon has written a blog post called The unquiet pint, in which he talks about piped music:

It is, by and large, wholly unnecessary and intrusive, and even if you like it, the odds are that other people won’t. What is music to one person’s ears will be an unholy racket to someone else. While it is claimed to create instant “atmosphere”, almost invariably it detracts from a pub.

Interesting, especially to me, not only as the writer of this blog with its main theme of places you can get real ale and live music, but also as a performer of live music in pubs. Live music and piped music are, of course, two quite different things: the more live the music is, the more attention it tends to get: piped music is the most ignored, especially as it tends to reflect just one person's tastes, followed by a juke box, which is more popular as you can choose what's playing. The pecking order goes on with: a disco, a singer using pre-recorded backing music, then most popular, live performance.

Playing live in a pub, I'm most frequently playing acoustically with no amplification whatsoever. It doesn't dominate proceedings, and in the particular pubs I play in, there are other rooms that people can move to, should they want to, and sometimes they do, often with apologetic smiles and saying they didn't want their chat to disturb our music. These acoustic song sessions take place no more than twice a month in a single pub, and always on weekday evenings; unlike piped music, it's not a permanent imposition.

I have also, much less often, played through a PA in a pub, either solo or with a band. Licensees will put bands on in the hope that they will get customers through the door, and there are some extremely successful music pubs. In other instances, I've seen a band play to a half empty room and wondered what kind of loss the pub will make. It's also quite disheartening for musicians to play to a room where no one seems to be interested, but there does seem to be a critical mass of customers required before people don't feel embarrassed about paying attention. Occasionally a licensee will refuse to pay a band because they didn't draw enough customers in, but this is self-defeating in the long term as word gets around and bands won't accept bookings there.

My nearest pub, The Mount Pleasant, has live bands, often very good, every Saturday; if you don't want the live music, you can go somewhere else on that evening, but in fact the pub is usually heaving. My various experiences suggest that live music tends to be welcome in pubs, but part of the attraction is that it's a change: pub goers would not want live music all the time. It also has to remembered that some pubs are not structurally suited to amplified live music and in others it's not suitable for the regulars.

There were some fears that the deregulation of music licences last year that I wrote about here, would result in problems: the Noise Abatement Society claimed there will be a "dramatic rise" in noise complaints that will "set residents at odds with local businesses", but the economics of having to get enough extra customers through the door to cover the band's fee has ensured the NAS's predicted free-for-all hasn't happened.

This is all very different from the imposition of indiscriminate piped music at all times in a pub, and if you don't share the licensee's taste for country and western, Mantovani or Val Doonican, then it's really going to get on your nerves.

I'd argue that live music does have a place in pubs, although not in every pub and not all the time, but that piped music should really be used quite sparingly, if at all.

An afterthought: I once had a strange experience with piped music. I'd sold one of my band's CDs to a licensee and a few weeks later was drinking in her pub when one of our songs came on the piped music system. I also happened to be drinking with Geoff Parry, who'd written the words to that particular song. As the song was one of 14 on the CD, itself one of many CDs on the music system, and he just happened to be on a visit from London, the chances of him hearing it during a rare visit to the pub were incredibly slim. Where's a bookie when you need one?

Saturday 1 June 2013

So cool they don't exist!

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place in California every year. It's extremely popular, especially with what Americans call hipsters, people who like to know (or to appear to know) every obscure band going: what we'd call posers over here - different terms, same principle! So ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live show sent a camera crew this year to ask festival goers about bands that are so obscure that they don't exist! The clip last 2:45, and it's one of the very few things for a good while that has made me laugh aloud.