Friday 30 May 2014

Home Office acts to curb student boozing

I got a slight sinking feeling as I read about an initiative by the Home Office to discourage students from drinking. Not because it's a Home Office idea; after all, now that the country is being run so well, thumb twiddling is giving senior civil servants repetitive strain injury. No, it was the active involvement of the National Union of Students that seemed odd: all I can say is that the NUS must be a profoundly different body than in my student days when we had mass marches in London demanding full grants for all. Okay, that didn't work, but we tried.

At this stage it's a pilot accreditation scheme involving seven universities to create "a social norm of responsible alcohol consumption by students" (according to NUS vice president Colum McGuire) and the institutions will be expected to restrict alcohol advertising around campuses, punish students who cause problems through drinking and work with licensed premises to ensure students drink responsibly. How on earth is that last proposal supposed to work? Pubs are businesses and students over 18 are legally allowed to drink in them like anyone else. Why should licensees deny themselves trade to which they're is legally entitled? Should they demand that all young people prove they're not students, even though - logically - you can't prove a negative? If local pubs refuse to co-operate, would the university be refused accreditation?

Lib Dem Home Office Minister Norman Baker said: "I hope campuses will be places where students can have a good time, can learn, get a job and while they're there, enjoy themselves including drinking alcohol responsibly. Some of the rough edges of drinking are clearly not helpful - for example happy hours when students are encouraged to drink vast amounts in a short period of time, or alcohol initiation ceremonies, or bars where you can't get a soft drink."

I've noticed that anti-alcohol campaigners always claim that they want people to enjoy drinking, rather like those people who say, "I'm not a racist but ..."

It is utterly beyond me why the NUS is going along with this, seeing that the Lib Dems utterly betrayed their pledges on tuition fees once they'd got the student vote in the bag. The Home Office is providing £90,000 to fund this scheme, but I can't find anywhere what will happen to universities that fail to meet accreditation standards. If I were running a university, I'd want to know whether something presented as a health and well-being initiative could actually become a poisoned, if strictly non-alcoholic, chalice in the event of failure.

The universities involved are: Loughborough, Nottingham, Swansea, Brighton, Manchester Metropolitan, Liverpool John Moores and Royal Holloway.

Thursday 29 May 2014

The soundtrack of our lives

I was quite irritated by a recent discussion on Radio 2 about the rights and wrongs of illegal downloads of songs or illegal copying of CDs. Some people could see absolutely nothing wrong with it, with one saying loftily, "Music is the soundtrack to our lives, therefore it should be free." I know there has always been copying of music, and LP inner sleeves used to have dire warnings that it was illegal. We all knew that anyway, but for my part, if I liked an album that someone had taped for me, I'd go out and buy it.

What irritated me was the sense of entitlement, which may derive in part from the fact that we do get a lot of free music on TV, the radio and on-line, but the broadcasters don't get it for nothing; they have to pay royalties. CDs that I've been involved in usually have a run of about 50 or 100. In the case of our band, our keyboard player has a recording studio. He provides his facilities, expertise and time for nothing, but after we've paid for copyright, duplication and printing costs, we don't get much change out of a fiver per unit. If we'd had to pay for studio time and for an engineer to record and mix it, it could be double. While there are economies of scale for a large company making tens or hundreds of thousands of copies, they have additional costs: studio, engineer, publicity, staff wages and all the usual business expenses.

I'm not a professional, so such things rarely affect me, although I wasn't entirely happy to learn that someone had burnt off several copies of one our CDs and handed them around, especially as at the time it was still on sale. If everyone took the view that music should be free, you'd have a lot less of it. It's not enough to pontificate on air (or elsewhere, for that matter) that the soundtrack of your life should be free: you then have to explain how the costs of being a recording musician should be met and, if the people whose music you're helping yourself to aren't global superstars, how they should pay the mortgage and put a meal on the table. 

Wednesday 28 May 2014

'Worst' local trumps Nick Clegg

Local papers! Today's Southport Champion has as front page headline news the fact that the pub nearest Southport railway station has a new licensee. The local and EU elections were relegated to part of page 3, including a statement by our LibDem MP that perhaps Nick Clegg should go. Our local MP rebelling against the leader of his party and deputy prime minister to boot is clearly less newsworthy than new management at the Albert Hotel.

The Albert doesn't have a particularly good reputation, but Champ's description of it as Southport's worst seems a bit harsh. It is a multi-roomed pub, with a ground floor function room where I once went to see a jazz band: that was one of the most joyless musical nights I have ever been to, and I left before the end. I won the raffle twice, but didn't claim my prizes, as I couldn't see anything I wanted, and thought they'd be better going to someone who might appreciate them. There was nothing wrong with the band, but it must have been like swimming through glue for them. In recent years, they have had a Wychwood real ale when I've gone in and it's usually been kept okay.

I last wrote about the pub four years ago when it was shut and had a 'for sale' sign outside. It did reopen and has had a couple of licensees since then. The new people say they want to turn it around into a good community local, so getting splashed all over the front page is a good start. They're talking about turning one room into a student café; they've certainly got the space for it.

I'd have thought its location by the railway station would have been an advantage with lots of transitory trade, and of course visitors to the town wouldn't know of its reputation. The problem is, owing to lack of investment, it has looked run-down and not particularly welcoming for some time. I'd assumed that it was going down the usual path: owners let the pub become dingy, trade plummets, and then the owners say that it's not paying its way and they have no choice but to sell the site, as though becoming unviable was an unpreventable misfortune, rather than - as it often is - a policy of managed decline to realise some capital.

I hope the new team running the pub succeeds in improving this pub as, other than neglect, there's basically nothing wrong with the building or location.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

An Iron Maiden on X-Factor

Today, a guest contribution by Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden (although he doesn't know it):

“I don’t understand these kids auditioning for X-Factor claiming they ‘just wanna make music’. Cut the crap!

“Let me introduce you to the kid teaching himself how to play guitar, the busker in the train station, the guys and girls recording their own demos and playing the small venues, the unpublished songwriter with countless books full of lyrics, the people who just want to be heard, who want to express themselves, their creativity and their artistic worth.

“They are the ones who just want to make music! They are the real artists! Anybody auditions for X-Factor it’s because they want to be famous. Period! Otherwise they’d already be out there ‘making music’”

I made a similar point myself in a post only 9 days ago: "singing is all they ever wanted to do, apparently, although until the chance to appear on TV arose, they hadn't actually done much to achieve their heart's desire. Clearly the dream was conditional upon the chance of fame and fortune." I think Bruce said it better. Bad-minded people might say "sour grapes" about me - the bitter and twisted will always be with us - but no such accusation could be hurled at the lead singer of one of the most successful heavy metal bands. 

The consequence for pop music is we end up with an anodyne background wash with singers who are interchangeable, which is what happens when they've become just one replaceable component in a marketing package. There are some excellent artists out there, as I've said before, but for the most part they're not the ones getting the publicity and media spotlight. However, in view of the "build them up then shoot them down" mentality of celebrity obsessives, perhaps they're okay with that.

Monday 26 May 2014

Ale & Hearty

I didn't feel like attending the CAMRA Branch AGM this year after I received a phone call from someone in the campaign that was based in a complete misunderstanding about my post on ReARM about GBG entries. The suggestion was that I'd published the list for 2015, when in fact I'd published the current list, as available in every book shop in the country. A quick glance at my blog would have prevented this embarrassing phone call. As it happens, I didn't - and still don't - know which pubs were listed for next year, and wouldn't print them before the GBG publication date if I did.

At the AGM later that week, in my absence I officially ceased to have responsibility for our local magazine, Ale & Hearty. I'm not particularly upset, if the truth be known, because my enthusiasm had been eroded when I repeatedly received insufficient help to collect adverts. I wrote here last year that I'd resigned and explained why. I was never formally reinstated, but stepped in to do the Autumn/Winter issue when we got an outside firm to take care of the adverts. While I was preparing for the Spring 2014 issue, my computer gave up the ghost and was out of action for 3 months, so some other arrangements had to made anyway. Our new editor is Pam Kelly, our first female editor; I wish her well and intend to continue writing articles for the mag.

Back to being an ordinary member, although I'll still design our beer festival poster and awards certificates. Though I say it myself, the certificates do look better than the ones done by CAMRA HQ.

Friday 23 May 2014

Southport’s Newest Pub: The Guelder Rose

"I wonder if Blackpool can see us?"
The Guelder Rose is a new pub on Southport’s sea front, very close to the pier. It's been open a for few months now but I've only just got around to going there. Although built in a traditional pub style outside by Marstons, the inside with its light wood furniture resembles more a modern café or restaurant than a pub. This isn’t surprising, as food features prominently: they offer a good range of reasonably-priced pub food, a carvery, various specials, a children’s menu and an allergy menu.

The real ales when I visited were Jennings Cockerhoop (4.6%) and Ringwood Filly Drift (a seasonal beer - 4.7%), which both struck me as a bit strong for what is obviously a family-oriented pub, but they do put on other beers from the Marstons range. There are indoor and outdoor play areas for children, and an outdoor seating area with, on a clear day, a great view over the bay to Blackpool.

As it is on the Marine Drive, it is unlikely to feature in town centre pub crawls, but its proximity to Ocean Plaza with its shops, cafés, cinema, bowling alley and hotel means it should get a lot of custom from people using those facilities, both locals and visitors, especially those with children.

This is first of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Other reviews are here.

The Outside Track at the Camp & Furnace

News of a local gig by The Outside Track, a young, five-piece Celtic group who hail from Scotland, Ireland and Canada. They combine virtuoso fiddle, accordion, harp, guitar, whistle & flute with songs and step-dancing interludes. They won the Live Ireland "Group of the Year" award in 2012. They spend a lot of time touring and have just arrived in the UK after a successful tour in Germany; now they're appearing in Liverpool on Friday 30 May.

Die Band „The Outside Track“The venue is the Camp and Furnace, 67 Greenland Street, Liverpool, L1 0BY, which is to the south of the city centre - you can buy tickets on-line. I don't know this venue but its Facebook page has this description: street food, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, pop-ups and food slams; late bar, live music, nightlife; art installations, exhibitions and performances; theatre, comedy and music; arts festivals, event space and galleries, photographic studios.

Thursday 22 May 2014

April Moon in town

April Moon is the name of a duo, Jason Moon and Jaime April, who are from Saskatchewan in Canada originally but who are currently living in Southport. Their repertoire includes a wide range of classic rock songs. I had the pleasure of performing before they went on when they played at the Blundell Arms in Birkdale a while ago. They sing and play very well with energy and enthusiasm - singer Jaime actually bounces when she's really into the song - that rubs off on their audience. There are two chances to see them in Southport in the next few days:

April Moon queueing for the phone:
"Don't tell me you left your mobile at home too?"
  • On Saturday 24 May, they are playing in the evening with a full band in the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road. The Mount has live bands most Saturdays and serves 2 or 3 real ales, Sharps Doom Bar being a regular.
  • On Sunday 25 May they are playing in the afternoon as an acoustic duo in the Masons Arms, Anchor Street, the home of a folk singaround twice a month. The Masons serves real ale from Robinsons brewery. This gig begins at 4.30pm.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Saracen's Head Beer and Live Music Festival

I've just had details of another pub beer festival - it must be the sun bringing them out. I learnt about this one from a sign tied to a traffic light post as I drove through Ormskirk (the lights were on red as I looked at it.).

The Saracen's Head is an attractive canalside pub in Halsall, recently refurbished internally in a restaurant style. While it is food-orientated, it does have a changing real ale range. It is holding a beer festival from 29th May to 1st June, a marquee event with more than 20 real ales and 6 real ciders. This is what they've got lined up:
  • Thu 29 May - 6pm: live band and curry night.
  • Fri 30 May - 12pm bar opens. 6pm Bad Cats live band and curry night..
  • Sat 31 May - 12pm hog roast and bar. 6pm Undercover live band.
  • Sun 1 June12pm hog roast and bar. 1pm to 4pm Lucy Rhiannon, Jack Hartley and Paddy Rogan.
The Saracens Head is at 100 Summerwood Lane Halsall, near Ormskirk, L39 8RH, less than 7 miles from Southport town centre.
Tel: 01704 840204.

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Tuesday 20 May 2014

Haddo at the Bothy

"Any chance of a lift to Southport?"
Haddo is a duo comprising husband and wife Nicky and Will Pound, who are young performers in the English folk tradition playing fiddle, viola and melodeon. Will is also well known for his harmonica playing and contributed to the Christmas hit single for Hillsborough, He Ain't Heavy; he has performed with musicians as diverse as Martin Simpson, Guy Chambers and Concerto Caledonia. Nicky has worked with conductors Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Colin Davis. She is popular as a session musician, including live concerts with Elton John. More recently, she featured on singer-songwriter Blair Dunlop's début album Blight and Blossom.

This talented duo is appearing at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, this Sunday 25th May at 8.00pm. Click for on-line tickets. The venue serves Thwaites real ale (usually Wainwright).

Monday 19 May 2014

Zetland Guest Brewery Festival

The Zetland Hotel (white van optional)
The Zetland Hotel is the second closest pub to my home. It is a large, comfortable and friendly suburban pub with two large separate rooms, and it also has a small room suitable for meetings. It is the last remaining pub in Southport with a bowling green, which is extremely popular and permanently booked up. It also has a large beer garden. Once a Burtonwood pub, it is now owned by Marstons and has a changing range of two or three real ales. It is in the 2014 CAMRA Good Beer Guide and has won a Community Pub award from the local CAMRA branch.

The beer range will be rather bigger next weekend when they will be putting on their Guest Brewery Festival, which runs from 23rd to the 26th May. Prices will start at £2.30, with a try before you buy policy. Here's the beer list:
  • Okells 1907 4.5%.
  • Springhead Black Tom 3.9%.
  • Fullers Chiswick Bitter 3.5%.
  • Titanic English Glory 4.5%.
  • Adnams Ghost Ship 4.5%.
  • York Guzzler 3.6%.
  • Hook Norton Lion 4.0%.
  • Thwaites Magic Sponge 4.1%.
  • St Austell Proper Job 4.5%.
  • Upham Punter 4.0%.
  • Purity Pure Gold 3.8%.
  • Bateman's Yella Belly Gold 3.9%.
The Zetland is at 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH. It is about 2/3 of a mile from Southport railway station.

Click here for other beer festivals.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Talent, genius or vanity?

"Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke.

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New Faces judges
'Talent shows' is the term we used to apply to shows that offered aspiring stars to appear on TV. In the days of New Faces or Opportunity Knocks, the appearance on TV often gave the performers the boost they hoped for, even if they didn't win: taglines such as "As Seen On TV" or "Star of New Faces" were useful selling points. Generally the standards weren't very high, and people often watched just for a laugh, although I do remember a three-piece band with the awful name Candy Rock doing a surprisingly good version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. But appearing on TV was your reward and, although occasionally some stars did come through, it wasn't the show that steered whatever career you might subsequently have. Not so now. Being chosen as a winner on one of Simon Cowell's shows leads to a recording contract, a tour and - the aspiring stars hope - a lifetime of living the dream. Three years later, most of them are desperately performing at village fetes and holiday camps or switching on Christmas lights (I can think of actual examples). The luckier ones may get seasonal work in pantomime. Then, presumably, back to the day job with photos, cuttings and a couple of discs to show for it all.

I have occasionally watched these shows, as I believe that if you're going to express a view about something, you should at least have an idea what you're talking about, but I have always found them uncomfortable viewing. They seem to have developed some rituals of their own: singing is all they ever wanted to do, apparently, although until the chance to appear on TV arose, they hadn't actually done much to achieve their heart's desire. Clearly the dream was conditional upon the chance of fame and fortune. Sometimes there is the dedication to "Me Nan" who apparently spent her life yearning to see her grandchild on TV - this guarantees a sentimental round of applause. Many of the female contestants have spent their time honing their Whitney or Mariah soundalike skills, and the lads usually seem to take their inspiration (if such it be) from boy bands.

The judging panel always includes someone rude to be booed by the studio audience: Mickey Most used to fulfil this function on New Faces, and Simon Cowell currently wears that mantle. This can be self-defeating because if someone crumbles into tears as a result, they usually get a sympathy vote, leading to rolling eyes and tutting by Mr Cowell. However, if you intend to put yourself in the public eye, you have to accept that not everyone will think you're wonderful, and that the audience owes you nothing. When I was in a regularly-gigging local rock & roll band, we would go down a storm one night, but the next perhaps face utter indifference or worse; criticism was rarely constructive, but you have to take it. Even the most sensitive of singer-songwriters have a certain hard edge and a drive to perform; you won't get many gigs crying into your pillow at home.

My main objection to modern talent shows is that they give the impression that only a tiny minority can sing: the show has selected half a dozen finalists from thousands of applicants, implying that these are the cream of the cream. Complete nonsense, of course: there are many local artistes in many genres of music who perform as amateurs or semi-professionals: they drive themselves to a gig, set up their own drum kits and sound systems, do their gig, and then the reverse process of taking down and going home. A two-hour gig in a pub can easily take six hours of your time, and if there's a fee, it may just cover costs. For every glory-seeking TV contestant claiming to have a dream, there are tens of thousands of people (at least!) who perform various styles such as rock, jazz, soul, folk, country, choral or classics for the love of it with no need of the lure of TV glory. I find the implication that singing is an elite activity quite objectionable because most people can sing. Tone deafness is quite rare, and people often believe they can't sing simply because they rarely do it. That doesn't mean everyone can be a brilliant singer, but then people often enjoy a kick around in the local park even though they will never be in a premiership team.

It's worth remembering that by the time the Beatles recorded their first hit single, Love Me Do, although they were still very young (between 19 and 22), they'd already performed more gigs than most modern performers will do in their lifetime. Nowadays, the music business doesn't want artists who have spent years honing their skills, and talent show contestants want an instant route to the top, not realising that, with the occasional exception, what goes up quickly usually comes down even more quickly. Still, I suppose it gives them something to tell the grandchildren.

"Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful." John Wooden.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Beer, debt and morality

It's funny how some things unaccountably stick in your head. I can remember some of the prices in our student bar when I arrived at Padgate College near Warrington in 1972:
  • Mild 11p a pint.
  • Bitter 13p a pint. 
Lager and Guinness were 15p and 18p, but I don't remember which was which. The fact that I recall them may reflect my priorities at the time (and ever since, some might say, citing this blog in evidence). Our college bar was cheap, but only at the level of the cheaper public bars* in the area - not cheaper. Using the Bank of England Inflation Calculator, these are the adjusted prices today if beer had increased only at the rate of inflation.
  • Mild £1.27 a pint.
  • Bitter £1.50 a pint.
As these are what you'd pay for a half in most pubs here in the North West, it's obvious that the price of beer has increased at roughly double the rate of inflation since the early 1970s. I don't blame the brewers for this and we know from the rate of pub closures that it's not the licensees raking it in, so perhaps we need to look to the government and the pubcos for an explanation. Some evidence in support of this is the fact that brewery-owned pub chains, where they still exist, can be significantly cheaper than pubcos.

My objection to the pubco industry is that it is a business that rewards failure, something that should stick in the throat of everyone who believes in a free market economy. Rack up the charges to the tenants, who have to pass much of that on to the customer, and if the pub survives, you have a nice little earner to help pay off the ridiculous crippling debts with which pubcos are burdened (no tears here - they brought it on themselves), and if it fails, you can cash in by selling the property for redevelopment. Tenants theoretically own their own business, but they are tied to the pubco for supplies. Such a monopolistic situation inevitably leads to profiteering, rather like the company stores of old where employees of a company were paid partly in vouchers that could only be used at the company's own shop.

kipper1303-460.jpg (460×563)Notwithstanding the 2p reduction in beer duty in the last two budgets, our beer is still one of the most highly taxed in the EU. Politicians justify higher duty on both health and law and order grounds, although I don't recall any more mayhem and disorder on the streets in the 1970s than I see nowadays. My view is that taxation is a mechanism to pay for the costs of running the government: it should not be used as a form of social control, as it is with alcohol and cigarettes, because morality is a variable thing. What next? Heavy taxation on getting divorced to encourage families to stay together? Not as silly as it sounds: after all we have the married couple's tax allowance, an irrational bribe to stay together based on morality, not fiscal prudence. We all know that public schools get a tax break in the form of charity status, a situation based on ideology that defies any rational explanation. Unfortunately our society seems to heading in the direction of more and more of our life being dictated by politicians and lobbyists with a moral agenda. The concept of letting people do their own thing as long as you don't hurt others is being eroded by a subtle new puritanism that uses tax and bans rather than burning at the stake to impose its will.

There may be further beer tax cuts as Osborne tries to curry favour, but he is hitting stiff opposition from the anti-alcohol lobby with their predictable nonsense of "sending all the wrong messages". The only message I get when buy a pint is that it's expensive.

* Public bars - vanished along with 1970s prices.

Monday 12 May 2014

Beer festival - Derby Arms, Aughton

Jan, the landlady at the Derby Arms, has e-mailed me with details of their forthcoming Aughton Beer Festival:
  • Friday 16th to Sunday 18th May.
  • 20 beers, stouts and porters.
  • 4 ciders.
  • 2 perries.
  • Wines.
  • Food available.
Derby Arms, Prescot Road,
The Derby Arms - a landmark pub
on the Ormskirk to Kirkby road
The Derby Arms is the local CAMRA Branch's Pub of the Year (West Lancashire area). It is on Prescot Road, Aughton, Lancs, L39 6TA (tel: 01695 422237) and boasts beers from £1.50 a pint. The nearest station is at Town Green, Aughton, but it is a bit of a hike from there. Despite that, the pub is popular and has a well-attended acoustic music session every Wednesday evening.

CAMRA will be presenting the award on Thursday 15th May at around 8.30pm, with this will be a chance to preview the festival.

Click here for other beer festivals.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Barons Bar defies owners' repeated death wish

I wrote in December how the Barons Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel on Southport's Lord Street seemed to be bent on alienating drinkers with their introduction of plastic glasses. My proposal to the local CAMRA branch that we threaten the hotel with removal from the Good Beer Guide if they didn't reinstate real glasses was passed unanimously, but was subsequently overturned after a sustained e-mail campaign by a few who hadn't been at the meeting. Obviously the word "Campaign" in CAMRA's name has passed these e-mail lobbyists by, a couple of whom asserted that they had no problem with plastic glasses; that's up to them of course. Despite this defence of plastic, sales in the Barons Bar plummeted to the extent that in March real glasses returned, so I feel somewhat vindicated, although disappointed that the branch lost its nerve. Plastic glasses have their place, for example at open air events, but not for everyday use in pubs. I had e-mailed the company to state why I thought they were making a mistake, but received a bland 'thank you' for contacting them, an assurance that my views were valued, and a statement that this was now their policy and they were sticking to it.

Scarisbrick Hotel Southport
A view of the Barons Bar
It's not the first time that corporate decisions by Britannia Hotels, who took over this formerly independent hotel around three years ago, have nearly destroyed the Barons Bar. When they acquired the hotel, they told the bar manager to order real ale through their regular supplier, rather than shopping around for an interesting range of beers, as had happened previously. The result was a boring range of the usual suspects such as you can find anywhere and sales predictably went through the floor - well, I predicted it even if no one else did. Britannia demanded to know what had gone wrong with the sales, and when told why, they reluctantly to give the bar manager more freedom.

To me this is just further proof that corporate businesses are often not very good at business with their 'one size fits all' approach. The Barons Bar has managed to survive, and the beer recently was fine, but it is no thanks to the owners. I hope it recovers from this latest unwitting attempt to kill off its real ale sales, but I wouldn't be surprised if the accountants in head office are dreaming up more silly schemes that will have disastrous unintended consequences again.

I know this is late news, but this is the first chance I've had (due to computer problems) to write a follow up to my December post which was rather doom and gloom. I think it's worth mentioning the good news that Britannia saw sense unexpectedly - well, I certainly wasn't expecting it.

Friday 9 May 2014

Back on line at last + 2 news items

Hello everyone.

I hope you all remember me after all this time. I finally got my computer back in working order: it's had a three and a half month career break in the computer repair shop, which means this blog is now hopelessly out of date. Over the next week or two I'll be updating my various pages (beer festivals, music events, etc), and adding posts to this blog. I've received a number of comments about the blog being out of date by people who didn't know that I've been off-line for so long: Thanks - nice to know you've missed it.

Two quick items of news:

1. The guest at the Bothy this Sunday is the excellent Gordon Tyrrall. Traditional folk songs and instrumentals and own songs delivered with style and exuberance - and a decent chap to boot. 8.00 pm at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday 11th May.

2. The Southport Swords Day of Dance takes place tomorrow. There will be many visiting Morris sides dancing in and around the town centre. If you're in Southport, keep an eye out for them.