Tuesday 31 December 2013

Hello 2014

I noticed my tally of unique hits reached 60,000 yesterday. Contrary to what my mickey-taking niece suggested, I set the counter to exclude my own visits. I'll be keeping ReARM going because, even though the beer-related posts are the ones that attract most comments, I do know that quite a few people who don't write anything use the blog to find out about local music events. That's fine, being one of the main reasons for the blog in the first place. So ...

Monday 30 December 2013

A real ale revolution?

Tesco's beer buyer, Chiara Nesbitt
Hyperventilating headlines ask: "Could beer replace wine as the UK's festive tipple of choice?" Apparently, in the last full week before Christmas, Tesco sold 1.5 million bottles of "real ale"*, the most it has ever sold in a seven-day period. It has been suggested that the increase is partly due to food and beer matching, which I'm told means more than just a pint of bitter and a packet of crisps. Pale ales are said to go with fish, while malty beers are better for turkey and goose, as well as being a choice for those who dislike wine. The increasing availability of real ale in pubs and the work of CAMRA are also credited.

One news report says that, "Surprisingly, demand for the drink is highest among younger consumers - a sea change in attitudes given that until recently, ale was considered the preserve of older male drinkers. As a result, stores are now stocking a huge variety of different ales, with Tesco alone increasing its offering from 20 types in 2006 to 350 brews in 2013."

However, don't get too excited about this boost in sales, because the most popular ales have been Old Speckled Hen, Newcastle Brown Ale, Theakstons Old Peculiar, Fullers London Pride, and Badger Fursty Ferret - all worthy, but certainly not the most interesting beers around. Tesco ale buyer Chiara Nesbitt said: "Sales of bottled ales have been growing steadily since the mid-noughties but this is by far the highest demand we have ever seen in Christmas week which would indicate that people will be drinking it with their roast turkey." Perhaps, although it's also worth noting that Tesco saw Wine by the Case sales rise by 29% in November.

It is nonetheless an interesting development, although I do wonder whether bottled ales are seen as a premium product worth splashing out on for Christmas; if so, how many of these drinkers will revert back to their slabs of cooking lager once the New Year holiday is over? I've no idea: wait and see, I suppose.

* I wrote 'real ale' in inverted commas because the figures include brewery conditioned ales that aren't actually real, being pasteurised and filtered.

Sunday 29 December 2013

The Young 'Uns

Bending over backwards to entertain you
The Bothy's first guests in 2014 are The Young ’Uns (Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes), who have quickly become one of the most popular and entertaining live acts today. With talent combined with enthusiasm for traditional song, they bring freshness and energy to their arrangements of harmony songs, both with and without accompaniment. Their repertoire ranges from traditional sea and working songs to more recent compositions, all delivered with a combination of originality, irreverence and humour.

They come from Teesside and in 2012 recorded a new CD on their new record label, London's Navigator Records, called When Our Grandfathers Said No. They will taking pre-orders for their next album Never Forget in January.
  • “I think they’re really superb” - Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2.
  • “One of the most popular and entertaining live acts on the folk scene today” - Jez Lowe.
  • “Singing brilliant songs as they should be sung – a great live act” - Fay Hield.
  • “A fantastic repertoire, intricate and pleasing harmonies and fantastic patter to boot” - Bromyard Folk Festival.
They're at the Bothy on Sunday 5 January 2014 at 8.00pm in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. On line tickets.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Post-Christmas musings

This time of the year between holidays is always a bit strange. If you're off work, you tend to forget the days of the week over the holiday period, and when Christmas Day is midweek, as it was this year, the weekend between then and New Year can get a bit overlooked. I suggested to a friend that we'll meet as usual in the Guest House, and he looked surprised and asked why. I replied because it's Saturday. "Oh yes," he said vaguely.

With family visiting, I haven't been to the pub as often as I might have done normally, and in fact I was driving at the end of Christmas Day and so had severely limited my intake. In Liverpool on our customary pre-Christmas pub crawl on the 19th, my impression was that there were fewer people out than in previous years: the pubs were busy, certainly, but it wasn't as frantic as usual. It was a similar experience on Boxing Day in my local, the Guest House, which is usually heaving even before the Southport Swords arrive to do their longsword and morris dances. In fact, apart from a from a few musicians, the place was almost empty when I arrived, although it did fill up later. I can only conclude that in the present economic climate, people are hanging on to their pennies.

As for beer, one of the Christmas offerings on Boxing Day was Southport Brewery's Santa's Brew, described as: "Toffee sweet malt with a touch of butterscotch. Also, present is a peppery grassy hop." They say tastes vary, and I found it more dry than that description suggests. It's a light-coloured beer, not very Christmassy to me, but I liked it nonetheless, and being on the £2.50 handpump was a plus. When it ran out, it was replaced by the darker and definitely more toffee-ish Piddlemas from Wyre Piddle; pleasant enough, but I preferred the Southport beer. On the Liverpool pub crawl, I thought that the Oakham Citra that we had in the Fly In The Loaf was the best pint of the evening, and probably the best I've had for a while.

Monday 23 December 2013

ASA bans accurate advert

An advert for the Let There Be Beer campaign has been banned for implying alcohol helps overcome nervousness and is linked to social success. It showed a man nervously meeting his girlfriend's father and a woman drowning in office work - both apparently liberated from their stress by a glass of beer.

Personally, I find the advert a bit silly, but it will be obvious to most people that it's not meant to be a serious documentary on modern life. The objections were made by the Alcohol Concern Youth Alcohol Advertising Council, which I assume is an organisation for trainee busybodies. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the advert linked alcohol to social success and helped overcome problems. As alcohol can do both of these things in my actual experience (as opposed to just an opinion, which is what the ASA based its judgement upon), I don't see it as misleading. For example, as a trade unionist, I sometimes found that seemingly intractable disagreements at a meeting could be resolved over a few pints in the pub afterwards, and who hasn't relied on Dutch courage in social situations, at least occasionally? The post-work pint, a decreasing occurrence nowadays, has long been a way of relaxing after a stressful day. 

Anyway, here is the censored advert in all its glory - what do you think?

Saturday 21 December 2013

Celebrate Solstice!

It's the Winter Solstice today, and here's a seasonal tune for all pagan and druid music lovers. After all, the pagans had been celebrating the mid-winter for millennia before Christmas made an appearance on the calendar. From now on, the nights will be drawing out again. Thinking about celebrations, I've seen plenty of beers for Christmas, but none for the solstice.

Friday 20 December 2013

Last couple of events of 2013

A sword lock - you can
see one on Boxing Day
At this time of the year, with all the additional festivities going on, some of the usual events either get lost or don't take place. Here's a couple:

On Sunday 22 December, it is the Christmas Party night at the Bothy Folk Club in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. There will be seasonal songs, food, and the venue serves Thwaites real ale.

Southport Swords Day of Dance on Boxing Day: our local Longsword and Morris side will dance at the Albert by Southport station early lunchtime, at the Bold in Churchtown at late lunchtime, and at the Guest House, Union Street, Southport mid-afternoon. This being the Swords, more precise timings aren't possible. There is also usually a bit of a music session in the Guest House too, along with up to 11 cask beers.

In terms of local folk/acoustic events, that's it until January.

Monday 16 December 2013

Plastic glasses jeopardise GBG entry

The Southport Swords dancing in the
Baron's Bar in pre-plastic days
The Baron's Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel in Southport has long been a haven for lovers of real ale in Southport. In the 1970s, it was the only place you could get Boddington's beers in the town and in 1990 it sold Boddingtons Bitter, Ruddles County, Tetley Bitter, Theakstons Best Bitter and a guest beer - nothing special nowadays, perhaps, but exceptional at the time. Recently it has had eight handpumps in use and was voted into the 2014 CAMRA Good Beer Guide (GBG).

This long-standing real ale track record is probably coming to an end, and the hotel has only got itself to blame. A few months ago it adopted a policy of plastic glasses in its ground floor bars, which includes the Baron's Bar. Initially staff were blaming Sefton Council, but this turned out to be completely untrue. It may have arisen from a request by the police, but no one seems to know for certain; my guess is that it is a policy centrally imposed by Britannia Hotels who now own the formerly independent hotel. I'm not sure why anyone would require the Baron's bar to use plastic glasses, as many of its customers have tended to be of - shall we say? - mature years, and I have never seen any trouble there. It is a residential hotel, and if I were staying there, I'd be miffed to be expected to drink out of plastic; there's already one complaint about the plastic glasses on Trip Advisor.

I was talking to a friend yesterday who has been there more recently than I have, and he said that the range of real ales is very poor and no longer particularly well kept. I'm not surprised: most real ale drinkers I know would prefer glass. Although the Baron's Bar is cheap, the Sir Henry Segrave is nearby with beer in real glasses at usual Wetherspoons prices, if low cost is a criterion. We discussed the problem at a recent local CAMRA meeting and I proposed that our Branch officers approach the hotel about the issue and that if we don't receive a satisfactory answer, or if they won't speak to us, we delete it from the GBG. I've held off writing about this in the hope that the situation would be resolved satisfactorily, but it seems that the Baron's Bar no longer wishes to be taken seriously on the local real ale scene. Well, that's their loss.

Friday 13 December 2013

Mandela tribute in Woolworth's

Members of the Soweto Gospel Choir posed as customers and shop workers in the Woolworth's Parkview store in Pretoria to sing this tribute to Nelson Mandela. The song is Johnny Clegg's Asimbonanga, written during Mandela's inprisonment as a call for his freedom. Beautifully sung - definitely real music - and it's a pleasure to see the reactions of all the customers. I just can't see it happening over here in Tesco's though. There's a translation here.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Local music events

December gets busy but here is a selection of local music events over the next week.
    Starting with an evening for a good cause: tonight The Corduroy Folk Club is hosting an evening of folk music to raise funds and supplies for the Southport Soup Kitchen. Group songs in between some fabulous solo performances from 7.00pm until 10.00pm. Drop in for a drink or stay all evening but please bring a donation for the soup kitchen. The performers will include: David Hirst, The Dharma Bums, Keith Price, Pete Rimmer, Kevin Littlewood, Will Simmons, Chris & Siobhan Nelson and Bill Hackney. The venue is Shush Hair and Beauty, Liverpool Road, Birkdale, across the road from the Crown Pub.

    Lion singaround this Thursday 12 December from around 8.15pm. Free - all welcome, even if you don't want to sing. Lion Tavern, 67 Moorfields, Liverpool, L2 2BP, right by the station.

    This Sunday at lunchtime, there will be carol singing in the Fishermen's Rest, Weld Road, Southport. This annual session was run for many years by our friend Jeff Stoker, and we are carrying them on in his memory.

    On Sunday evening there will be a residents night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The club's team of residents will have a chance show off! Thwaites real ale.

    Next Monday, the 16th, there will the usual 3rd Monday acoustic music session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from c. 8.00pm. Up to 11 real ales.

    For more events, click here.

    Monday 9 December 2013

    Drink driving - a genuinely tough approach

    A seasonal topic
    There has been some discussion on Curmudgeon's blog about the thorny subject of drink driving. It's a topic I have written about before several times (including  here), and I tried to comment on his blog, but it wouldn't let me for some reason, so this is an expanded version of what I was going to write there. One comment below his post drags out that old chestnut about reducing the limit to zero.

    As a drinker and a driver, I don't approve of driving over the limit, but reducing the limit to zero is a cheap and easy way of appearing to be strict while doing nothing whatsoever. The idiots who have a skinful will take no more notice of a zero limit than they do of the present law. The only people who will be affected will be those who carefully stay within the limit. But the desire to be seen to be doing "something - anything" about the problem would have been satisfied, until it eventually becomes clear the nothing much of value has been achieved.

    So what would I do? I'd keep the law as it is for first offenders, because most of them never do it again; they learn their lesson, and the ban, fine and hefty insurance premiums are punishment enough. In terms of modifying unacceptable behaviour, in most cases the present law does the job.

    The problem lies with those who haven't learnt from being caught and who never will. I'd propose three strikes and you're out. A lifetime ban for any driver found driving over the limit on 3 separate occasions (or perhaps even 2; I'm not fixated on 3). If found driving during a lifetime ban, prison. If found driving during an ordinary ban, automatic lifetime ban. The fact that you would be able to progress quite easily from the present law for a first offence to prison would certainly have a greater deterrent effect than making the limit zero. Drivers have a licence to drive on the road, and the word 'licence' means permission, not entitlement. A lifetime withdrawal of permission for those who repeatedly put other people's lives at risk by taking a dangerous piece of machinery onto the roads while unfit is in my opinion quite reasonable. It's no good being sorry after you've killed someone.

    All we need now is enough traffic police to apply whichever law we have, as there clearly aren't enough now.

    Friday 6 December 2013

    Nanny gets ready for Christmas

    Often known to happen after drink
    Now that it’s nearly Christmas, the West Lancashire Community Safety Partnership has issued the ritual Christmas warning about the horrors of drinking. Apparently, you might:
    • Be ill.
    • Become a victim of crime.
    • Have an accident.
    • Get into a fight.
    • End up in casualty.
    • Lose your friends and possessions.
    • Accidentally set your home alight.
    They then go on to warn about the perils of preloading - which they acknowledge many people do for cost reasons - as it often results in people drinking too much before hitting the town. Good idea; I must try it some time.

    But they do also say: “We are not trying to stop people having fun and we really want everyone to have a good time at Christmas.” So not all doom and gloom then.

    It’s interesting that they mention cost as a reason for preloading, seeing that groups like them usually claim that alcohol is far too cheap in this country. And if drinkers are finding alcohol in pubs and clubs too dear, it’s partly because anti-alcohol groups have campaigned for higher prices. Some mixed messages there, I think, or more likely, muddled thinking.

    There are two comments beneath the article: one says “nanny state” and the other “Why doesn't the West Lancashire Community Safety team get a frigging life and stop patronising me!!” Good question.

    Tuesday 3 December 2013

    Maggie is the final guest

    Maggie Holland
    The Bothy's final guest of 2013 is Maggie Holland. She has been in many blues/folk line-ups since the late 1960s (more details on her website), and more recently has become established as singer-songwriter, accompanying herself on guitar and five-string banjo. In 2000, she was awarded the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for the best song of 1999 for A Place Called England. She has appeared on her own at the Bothy previously a couple of years ago, and in the duo, Hot Vultures, with Ian A Anderson in the 1980s. This gig was originally meant to be with Shelagh MacDonald, but as Shelagh cannot make it, it will now be solo.

    It's at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday 8 December at 8.00pm. Tickets are available on-line. Thwaites real ale on sale.

    The Bothy will continue with a resident singers night on the 15th and the party night on 22nd. It will then close for Christmas, reopening on 5 January with guests, The Young ‘Uns.