Tuesday 28 July 2015

More Waterloo pubs

Turn left out of Waterloo railway station on the Merseyrail Northern Line and in less than five minutes you will reach two pubs that are in the Good Beer Guide.

The Queens Picture House
The Queens Picture House, 47-49 South Road, is a Wetherspoons pub converted from a furniture shop, but the name reflects the fact that the site was originally a cinema. It is decorated in a bright modern style with a single bar and an enclosed outdoor drinking area to the rear. Like all Wetherspoons pubs, it has TV screens with the sound off, and free WiFi. It has good disability access with a ramp at the front and suitable toilet facilities. 

There are photographs and information about local history and people of the area, such as shipbuilding and the aviator Henry Melly who flew from Waterloo. There are pictures of the Anthony Gormley statues and information about the captain of the Titanic who lived locally. 

The real ales that were on were: Ruddles Best; Greene King Abbot; Sharp's Doom Bar; Bateman's Gold; Roosters Wild Mule; Coach House Postlethwaites; Brecon Red Beacons; and Old Rosie cider. There is something there for most beer tastes. Phone: 0151 949 2070. 

The Old Bank
Nearby is the Old Bank at 43 South Road. It's an attractive building externally, but the inside is quite a contrast to the sober exterior: it is very much a music orientated venue with music posters and memorabilia all around. They have music on six nights: Tuesday Karaoke; Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday are acoustic nights; and live bands on Friday and Saturday. Monday is described as their chill-out night. 

The only beer on when we visited was Liverpool Organic Brewery Liverpool Pale Ale, along with Lilley's Lemon and Ginger Cider. They explained they had had an extremely busy weekend (our visit was on a Monday) and that there were normally four ales on, such as Allgates and Slaters: indeed there were usually 3 or 4 on my previous visits. 

They show live football and other major sporting events; there is a beer garden and a function room upstairs. This pub also has free WiFi. Contact number: 0151-928 7020.

I wrote about the Volunteer Canteen in Waterloo here.

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

Monday 27 July 2015

Cork Jackets and Drill

In December 1886, the worst lifeboat disaster in RNLI history occurred on the Southport coast. Two lifeboats, Southport's Eliza Fernley and St Annes' Laura Janet, went to the rescue of the crew of the Mexico which had run aground in a full gale. Of the 29 impoverished workingmen, mostly fishermen, crewing the two lifeboats, only two survived. A third lifeboat, the Charles Biggs, ultimately managed to rescue the twelve crew of the Mexico. There's a more detailed account on the RNLI website.

Cork Jackets and Drill, written by established local playwright Len Pentin, tells the story of that terrible night through original songs and narration. It is performed by leading singers and musicians from the local folk scene and has been doing the rounds of local pubs, clubs and community groups for a while. This week it will be performed at the Atkinson, Southport's arts centre on Lord Street, on Friday 31 July at 7.30pm. More details and tickets here.

To tie in with this special event, there will also be a free talk the same evening at 6.00pm in the gallery: “Wrecks off the Southport Coast” by Martyn Griffiths.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Pub breathalysers

I've just read an article about pubs breathalysing customers before they enter to ensure they aren't already drunk when they enter. Anyone whose breath registers two and a half times the drink-driving limit is not allowed in. Such tests have been taking place in pubs in Norwich and Torquay, with Truro and Newquay to follow soon. Predictably, the police welcome the idea, with the Cornwall force claiming that a comparison of figures for December 2014 when the scheme was introduced in twenty three venues with a year earlier showed that:
  • Violent crime fell by 22%.
  • Violent crimes against the person (excluding domestic violence) fell by 39%.
  • There were 10 fewer admissions to hospital.
I'm not particularly impressed because, in themselves, these figures prove nothing. Do they describe crimes in the whole community, or just in the venues concerned? Are there other factors that might explain the reduction? How much random variability is to be expected in the annual figures? For the figures to have any scientific validity, all other factors in the town would have to be identical in the two Decembers concerned, which is quite obviously impossible. For example, a big sporting event in one month without an equivalent in the other would by itself be enough to explain the variation.

Such crude and imprecise statistics amount to disinformation, but I can foresee that they may provide an excuse for licensing authorities to impose a requirement to use breathalysers as a condition of granting new licenses or renewing existing ones. They'd thus be imposed upon us by stealth.

As for the level of 2.5 times the drink-drive level: it's impossible to be precise, but wouldn't that be around five pints? That's not exactly binge drinking, and it would definitely inhibit the great British tradition of pub crawls. Breathalysers are associated with breaking the law, and I'd expect them to irritate customers who'd not appreciate being treated like offenders.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to eroding personal freedom. Drinking is a legal activity; even being drunk isn't illegal as long as you're not disorderly. It's worse than the nanny state because the use of the breathalyser is not compulsory, at least not at present: we'd be foolish to sleepwalk into regulating ourselves when there is no legal requirement to do so, and where there are no genuinely quantifiable benefits.

Friday 24 July 2015

SABMiller's true colours

"We are all workers" reads the first line.
This may be of interest, especially if you like Meantime beers, Carling, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Fosters, Grolsch, Miller, Coca Cola, Fanta - among many others.

Workers at Cervecería Nacional, Panama's beer and soft-drink subsidiary of global brewing corporation SABMiller, have been on indefinite strike since July 10. The workforce is represented by two unions who have worked together to produce joint proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement, but the employer has refused to deal with more than one union. It has also told the workforce to give up their collective bargaining rights, barred active reps from the workplace and withheld wages earned before the strike. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a thinly disguised attempt to divide and rule the workforce by an employer who doesn't want to work with unions at all.

The Meantime Brewing Company, a London craft brewery recently acquired by SABMiller, should note this display of true colours. As Woody Allen once said, "The lion will lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep."

What can we do? Well, there's more info here and if, like me, you don't agree with the company's actions, please sign the petition: I've noticed that bad international publicity sometimes does get results.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Truman's Lazarus

I was at the Wednesday lunchtime song session in the White Star in Rainford Gardens, Liverpool, yesterday, and a good afternoon it was too. I haven't been in this pub for some time, although in the 70s and 80s my friends and I used to seek it out for the quality of its draught Bass.

Truman's Lazarus was on the bar. I knew Truman's had been revived a few years ago, but hadn't really expected to see its beer in Liverpool. I've no recollection of ever drinking the original Truman's, but then I've never been a frequent visitor to London.

As the pumpclip suggests, it is very pale, typical of the golden ales that are increasingly popular at present. It is made with Cascade and Chinook hops and Pale Barley malt, and the brewery website describes it as "juicy and zesty, without ever becoming overpowering". I'm not sure I'd quite agree: it is certainly citrusy and hoppy, but I found the bitterness quite pronounced, definitely far too much for lovers of beers such as Thwaites Wainwright or Robinsons Dizzy Blonde. I like beers with noticeable bitterness so I did enjoy it, but after three pints, even I found I wanted a change, so I switched to the Bass, which is still well-kept in the White Star.

It's a good example of the style, but I suspect too bitter for some.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Southport Convention? Fair enough

Who forgot to switch on the flash?
A bunch of local musicians have decided to get together to perform an evening of Fairport Convention songs of the 1969 to 1975 era. Chris & Siobhan Nelson, Richard Simcock, Dave Thornley and Maurice Watson have decided to operate under the tongue-in-cheek moniker, Southport Convention. Knowing these particular performers as I do, I'm confident that they will do the material justice, although these are certainly big shoes they are filling. Their special guest is David Hirst.

They're playing at 8.00pm this Friday 24 July at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Tickets are £4 on the door. The club sells real ales from Southport Brewery.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Manchester Beer & Cider Festival back on track

Happy real ale drinkers at this year's festival
(photo borrowed from festival website)
wrote on 10 May that the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival had been evicted from the the National Cycling Centre, known as the Velodrome, where it has been held for the last two years. The good news is that agreement has been reached for it to be held in Manchester Central, formerly known as the G-Mex. This venue could have been made for a beer festival, although in fact it was originally the old Manchester Central railway station. It's in the city centre and is thus extremely convenient for public transport. My only previous visits to this venue have been to see bands, such as Deacon Blue, Simply Red and AC/DC.

Festival Organiser Graham Donning said “We are very excited to be bringing the festival right into the heart of the city. With direct access from the newly improved Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink station and Deansgate rail station, we couldn’t have a better location for our customers who flock from across the region and indeed from all over the country to attend.” He added that, although other locations were considered, this was always the first choice.

The festival will offer more than 500 beers, ciders and perries at several bars, and they fully expect to beat this year's attendance of 11,500. With this much more convenient location, I'd be very surprised if they don't succeed.

The dates of the next festival are 20 to 23 January 2016, and tickets will go on sale on Tuesday 1 September via the festival website.

Monday 20 July 2015

Ormskirk pub losses

I've heard that the Ropers Arms on Wigan Road has just closed down after struggling along for a while. I recall it used to be a Burtonwood pub; in recent years it has offered accommodation and meals, but there simply hasn't been the trade to keep it going, especially in the summer when the large student population at the local university evaporated overnight.

The Buck I'th Vine is a picturesque former Walkers pub on Burscough Street that has been little altered over the years: it has a courtyard to the front, several separate drinking areas, a serving hatch with glass above, and still some of the old Walkers signs. The last time I was in there, the only real ale it sold was Tetley Bitter, which isn't likely to entice me back. It has been closed down for a while. Mike McComb, the force behind the successful Hop Vine in Burscough, hoped to take over the ground floor and preserve it as a pub, but could reach no agreement on the terms of the lease. It is likely to be converted to student accommodation.

The Plough on Church Street is the third pub lost in Ormskirk this year. It's ages since I've been in there, but more recent reports suggest that it sold no real ale and had become slightly down at heel.

The closure of three pubs this year constitutes quite a big loss in a small town (it has a quarter of the population of Southport). Let's hope the culling is now over.

Thanks to Peter Lloyd for the info, which I received via Mike Perkins.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Wetherspoon pushes Tories upstairs

I was in the Conservative Club in Three Tuns Lane, Formby, a couple of years ago. I'd gone there for a CAMRA meeting, and when I rolled up, the others looked surprised and said, "We never expected to see you here!" I can't remember what real ale was on, but it was fine. After the meeting, one of the club's officials was explaining to us that there were plans to sell the ground floor to Wetherspoons and move their club upstairs. I can see why, as it is a big building that must have been stretching the club's finances, and I suspect that their choice was either to do this deal with Spoons or to close.

Finally, around two years later, planning permission has been granted. I had occasionally been wondering why there'd been no progress, but it turns out that Sport England had objected to the plans because they involved the loss of the bowling green. However, it hasn't been used for over twelve months and there is now no money to restore and maintain it, so on that basis planning permission has been granted. There will be an extension added to the building and the bowling green will become a family beer garden.

The loss of another bowling green is a shame, coming not very long after the loss of the one at the London Hotel, now being demolished for housing, but the addition of a Spoons to Formby is welcome. Some Formby people don't like the idea, possibly influenced by some of the myths that surround JDW pubs, perhaps with a dash of nimbyism as well, but in a couple of years' time, they'll probably be wondering what the fuss was about.

The way the building appears now and the proposed frontage can be seen here.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Season finale - Dave Burland

Dave Burland
'Dave Burland is one of the most well-respected and long-established performers on the folk scene. His apparently effortless singing and guitar playing gained widespread acclaim 40 years ago when his first album, A Dalesman’s Litany, was voted Melody Maker Folk Album of the Year. Nic Jones summed up Dave Burland perfectly when he said: “He’s a uniquely calm, gentle and clever singer who makes you feel it’s all so amazingly simple.” He’s also been described as the Frank Sinatra of traditional folk music. And he’s also got a deliciously wicked sense of humour.' - Costa Del Folk Festival.

Dave is an old friend of the Bothy Folk Club and has played there many times, He has been playing the folk scene since the late 60s and is noted for his laid-back style, his humour and, most importantly, his delivery of good songs. He is the final guest of the summer season at the Bothy, and this will be a chance to see a master of his craft at work. The Bothy meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Tickets on-line or on the door, subject to availability. The venue sells Southport real ales.

Monday 13 July 2015

Freshfield Beer Festival

For some reason the Freshfield never puts the address of the pub on any of its beer or cider festival posters. You'll find it on Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7BD, less than 10 minutes' walk from the railway station. Telephone: 01704 874 871.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Another Saturday night

Last night outside my local, the Guest House, an old man who was well into his 80s fell and gashed his head. Both the licensee, Gail, and a barmaid, Marilyn, went out to help, taking out towels and sitting with him. After a while when the ambulance still hadn't turned up, a couple of pub regulars helped him inside to sit in the warm to wait. They checked he was okay before leaving themselves.

When the ambulance did arrive, the two female paramedics were very cheerful and helpful, and he confirmed that he had simply fallen, and not been mugged, before they took him away. In the meantime, the pub staff were trying to track down his daughter on a smart phone, as the info he gave them about her whereabouts was out of date, probably a result of confusion brought on by his fall.

I just saw a lot of concern. Where, I wondered, was the violent, selfish, drunken mayhem that the anti-alcohol brigade constantly claims fills the pubs and streets of our town and city centres at weekends? After all, they wouldn't lie just to try to scare people into staying at home at weekends, would they?

Saturday 11 July 2015

A pub reopens

An old photo of the Up Steps
At a time when pub closures are everyday news. it's nice to hear about an old pub coming back to life. The Up Steps in Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale, reopened for business yesterday after having been closed for about a year, and as I happened to be in the area today, I decided to pop in at around teatime.

It is a cosy pub with four separate drinking areas served by one bar. The refurbishment has involved an attractive redecoration that has brightened the place up considerably without changing the basic layout. There are three handpumps, two of which were in use when I was there, serving:
  • Southport Brewery Golden Sands (£2.90);
  • Up Steps Beer (£2.30), brewed by Thwaites.
  • Thwaites Wainwright (not on - pump clip turned round).
I had a pint of each of the two that were on and both pints were fine. The Up Steps Beer was quite a pleasant, middle of the road beer with no strong flavours, but certainly good value at the price. The sign outside the pub says that it's a free house and, as the house beer will probably always be on, I'm assuming that at least one of the other pumps will have a changing guest beer. I had a chat with the people on each side of me at the bar and it was all very friendly.

I've always liked the Up Steps - I've played at many open mike nights there in the past - but unfortunately the pubco had let it become rather dingy. Let's hope this new start encourages the people who live nearby to make good use of a much improved pub in their neighbourhood.

Friday 10 July 2015

Yet another micropub application!

Further to my post last week about a new micropub in Hillside, I've just read that planning permission is being sought for a new real ale bar on Lord Street, Southport. It would supply real ales and beers, tea, coffee and light refreshments to eat in or take away in what is currently Molloy's furniture shop. They have also applied for outside seating in front of the shop, like quite a few other pubs, bars and cafés along the street.

If this and the Hillside proposal are granted permission, the number of micropubs in Southport would increase to five: three in the town centre, the new one in Hillside and one in nearby Birkdale village. I'm wondering whether this reflects what is happening elsewhere in the country, or is Southport something of an exception? Is there a micropub bandwagon effect building up here? I'm also wondering whether any of these people might have considered a pub tenancy if what was offered by the main pub companies wasn't so exploitative, or are these people drawn specifically to this kind of small business?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but would be interested to hear what is happening elsewhere.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

You're not going??

Around this time of year, someone usually asks me: "I suppose you'll be going to the Great British Beer Festival?" It's funny the surprise the answer "no" seems to elicit. I have been to the GBBF twice: it was in the late 1980s when it was in Leeds. It was a much smaller affair than it is now, and I did enjoy my visits, staying in student accommodation and working on pub games for the most part.

But London? The cost of travel and accommodation (and admission if you're not volunteering) would add up to a tidy sum even before you raise your first glass to your lips, and frankly I wouldn't find it worthwhile any more. I could easily wander around Southport pubs and find twenty different types of real ale in a day, although I'm not sure whether I could manage that in pints nowadays. The next day, I could travel to Liverpool and find an even bigger range - and this is before you consider Wigan and Preston. Admittedly, these choices will include some familiar beers, but increasingly with the proliferation of micro-breweries, I can usually come across quite a few that are new to me. If I want to try a good range of beers, I can do so with the minimum of travel, and sleep in my own bed.

I'm not criticising the GBBF. It provides tremendously good publicity for real ale (the press loves it), the beer awards are widely broadcast and are taken very seriously by the industry, and it is clearly enjoyed by those who attend, both customers and volunteers. Plus it annoys the craft keg advocates who fulminate that it's an outdated dinosaur, like CAMRA itself, even though the rising attendance figures of the festival, like the membership figures of CAMRA, tend to disprove such arguments.

It's just that if I think about going, the first things that spring to mind are the hassle of travel, finding somewhere to stay and the overall cost. The choice I have in pubs within - say - an hour's travel from home means that the lure of being able to try different beers is much less of a unique selling point than it once was.

But that's just me, though: if you're going, I hope you have a good time.

The Great British Beer Festival - 11 to 15 August at Olympia, Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UX.

Monday 6 July 2015

Freshfield Cider Festival

I know this has already begun, but it continues until 3 August 
at The Freshfield, 1 Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7 BD. 
There's also a beer festival due, but I don't know the details yet. 
The Freshfield always has a good range of real ales.

Sunday 5 July 2015

The eyes have it

The eyes of an alkie?
I've just read an article about research by the University of Vermont that suggests that people with lighter eyes are more likely to suffer from alcoholism. The researchers found that among European-Americans, those with light-coloured eyes (i.e. green, grey or brown) are more likely to suffer from alcohol dependency than people of a similar background with dark brown eyes; blue-eyed people are apparently most at risk.

Eye colour was previously linked to alcohol in 2000 when a study found that among one sample of women, those with dark eyes averaged 4.91 drinks in the previous month as compared to 5.78 for their light-eyed counterparts.  

It's interesting, but no one can claim that even the higher figure, 5.78 drinks in a month, constitutes a definition of alcoholism. If there is anything in this, I don't think it's possible to conclude that eye colour can actually be the cause. At most, it might mean that someone who has been subjected to the many factors that can lead to alcoholism might have a slightly greater chance of actually developing a dependency if their eyes are the 'wrong' colour. Even then I'm not entirely convinced: my father had blue eyes and rarely had more than three bottles of Guinness on the few occasions he had a drink, although I do appreciate that a sample of one isn't statistically valid.

Predictably, the item where I read this was illustrated by two pints of draught bitter.
Report in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics.

Saturday 4 July 2015

Pubs - something old, something new ...

An old photo of the Falstaff
The Falstaff on King Street in Southport was once a great pub. It used to have up to 10 real ales, provided good, reasonably-priced meals and was the original venue for the singaround that now takes place in the Guest House on the first Monday of the month. It went into a slow decline after its licensee, Gail, left to take over the Guest House about 14 years ago. There was a brief interlude when the pub revived under a dynamic young licensee, Adrian Davies, but he was dismissed at short notice by the pubco; Adrian told me he didn't really understand why. It has in recent years advertised itself as an LGBT pub, but I've no idea how well that has gone. The last time I called in a couple of years ago, there were at most half a dozen customers and no real ale. It is a large, single-roomed pub, having expanded some time ago into neighbouring shops, and needs a lot of customers not to appear depressingly empty.

I was pleased to see Inglenook Inns & Taverns, who have taken it over, announce a £325,000 revamp. Inglenook runs the Thatch & Thistle that I wrote positively about recently. According to one of our local papers, the interior will be redesigned to include a coffee lounge, a raised dining area, booths and a zone suitable for larger parties. If as a result of these plans the large expanses are broken up, that would definitely be an improvement. The paper wrongly asserts that food will be provided for the first time: nonsense - the Falstaff used to have a good reputation for its food. It has a large terrace to the front which is great on a summer's day; we had acoustic song sessions there a couple of times. I'm hoping all this revives a pub that I used to regard as my local.

Also in the news are plans for a new micropub in a former shop in Sandon Road near Hillside Station, a couple of stops from Southport on the Liverpool line. The plans include limited opening hours (Monday to Friday 4pm to 9.30pm, and midday to 9.30pm at weekends), no hot food and no music. They haven't got permission yet, but the application is recommended for approval. Hillside is badly served for pubs: there's only The Crown on Liverpool Road. Interestingly, there's also an application to convert a shop into a café bar just around the corner in Hillside Road; if that is approved too, as is recommended, the number of licensed outlets in the area will triple.

This will be the fourth micropub in Southport - I wrote about the others in April. It is interesting that these are opening while some big old pubs in residential areas are suffering and closing, which all suggests less that going to the pub is a declining activity, and more that what people want from pubs is changing.

Friday 3 July 2015

Anna Shannon on Sunday

Anna Shannon
Born into a musical family, by the time Anna Shannon was ten, she was already accomplished on classical flute, and at twelve was playing oboe, clarinet and trumpet. Guitar, fiddle, sax and bowed psaltery followed, but it wasn’t until she was in her early twenties that she discovered the folk scene. He released her first album, The Whale Dreaming in 2006 after winning BBC Radio Yorkshire Songwriter of the Year which she had entered on spec. Since that time Anna has released several more albums, and her latest, A Celebration of Old England, released on the Wild Goose Records label, sees her forging a strong path in today’s diverse folk club and festival circuit.

Anna is making a return visit to the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday 5 July at 8.00pm. Tickets on-line or on the door. The venue usually sells Thwaites and/or Southport real ale.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Volunteer Canteen, Waterloo

Waterloo is fortunate in that it has four Good Beer Guide pubs within a quarter of an hour walk, all reasonably close to Waterloo Station on the Liverpool to Southport line. Of these, only the Volunteer Canteen on East Street is a traditional pub, the others being converted from shops and a bank. The Volly is a mid-terrace, Victorian pub with an interesting exterior in a backstreet less than 10 minutes from the station and bus stops. Originally called Waddington's Canteen Vaults after an early landlord, it gained its present name in 1906 as a tribute to the fact that some of its then regulars had survived fighting in the Boer War.

The lounge still has table service
It used to be owned by Higsons of Liverpool, as you can still see in the engraved windows (you can just make the name out if you click on the top photo). It is a two-roomed pub in which I could see few signs of modernisation. The attractive lounge still has table service, while the vaults seem to be more popular with regulars. They are in the process of setting up a community book swap/library in the lounge, making use of the old wooden bookcases. The bar serves both rooms, and I was told that the bar fittings on the lounge side are listed. There is a quiz night on Tuesdays, and a TV for sports, but other than those, it relies on just being a good local: a sign outside declares: "No pool - no jukebox - no fruit machines. Plenty of good traditional beer. Bar food". I found the people there to be very friendly, and I ended up chatting to several people who were obviously regulars.

The listed bar
The real ales that were on were:
Liverpool Organic Pilsner;
Liverpool Organic Special 857;
Peerless Storr; and
Courage Best Bitter.
The beers I had were all very drinkable, and I ended staying rather longer than I had planned.

The Volly was awarded Community Pub of the Year in 2014 and I can understand why. I wrote about it previously six years ago, and I'm pleased that it remains a fine pub that is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in the North Merseyside area.

If you suffer from technology dependency, there's free WiFi too.

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