Pub life: Do you like yer prog?

On a stool at the bar on his own, arranging his beer money in stacks on the runner, the Old Rocker stares at nothing in particular.

The landlord appears to empty the glass-washing macine and the Rocker perks up.

“Do you like yer prog, then?”

“Sorry?”

“Are you into yer prog?”

He points at the landlord’s T-shirt. The landlord looks down. King Crimson.

“Oh, right. Well, no, not particularly.”

“The Floyd, obviously.”

“Pink Floyd? No. Not particularly. Not after Syd Barrett left.”

“Gotcha – more of a psych guy.”

“Well… No, not really.”

“Punk?”

“Well…” The landlord waves a hand, refusing to commit.

The Old Rocker shifts in his seat, blinking blankly.

“So you’re not into prog much at all?”

“I like Krautrock.”

The Old Rocker thinks he’s done it – he’s found an in.

“Oh, yeah, man – great stuff! That driving motorik beat. Did you read the MOJO article a couple of months back–”

“Well, no, I don’t really have time to read magazines. I work thirteen days out of fourteen, and most evenings. The only music I hear is what’s on in here. And that’s on a loop.”

During the silence that hangs after his outpouring, he escapes to the other bar.

The Old Rocker settles down, moving his coins around, eyes fixed on a memory of ELP in ‘77.

PLAYLIST: 20th Century Pub

When we’re writing anything substantial we often find it useful to put together a soundtrack. Here’s the one we made for our new book, 20th Century Pub, which is due back from the printers anytime…. now.

It’s a funny old bunch of songs, some chosen because we like them, others because they evoke a mood or period. We could easily have included 50 songs from the 1920s to the 1940s that we listened to endlessly while working on the earlier portions of the book.

You’ll find the full playlist on Spotify here:

And below there are notes on each track along with YouTube videos where we could find decent ones for those of you averse to Spotify for whatever reason.

The book should be shipping in the next week or so despite an official publication date of 15 September. You can order it via Amazon UK or ask in your local bookshop.

In the meantime, have a listen to the playlist by way of a trailer, perhaps as an accompaniment to The Pubs of Boggleton.

Continue reading “PLAYLIST: 20th Century Pub”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 April 2017 — Metal, Myrcene, Milk Stout

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from heavy metal to heavy hops.

For Noisey, the music section of Vice, Sammy Maine has written what she calls ‘A Love Letter to British Metal Pubs’, highlighting the threat to this particular type of pub:

Another blow is the case of Bristol’s The Stag and Hounds—a metal/rock pub focused on the promotion of local and DIY shows—which will be closing next month. Announcing the news on their website, the team explained that ‘through a series of events and circumstances (some out of our control) we have looked at the books and it’s not viable for us to carry on to see the contract out.’ This kind of statement is becoming a broken record when it comes to fans of metal pubs—their presence tumbling thanks to various issues like tax hikes, the persistent demand for luxury flats and the feeling that they simply don’t feel hugely relevant or crucial anymore when metal can often feel more like a genre you pass through, rather than one you commit to.

(This is actually from a couple of weeks ago but we only noticed it the other day.)


Wild hops, Richmond, London.

Emma at Crema’s Beer Odyssey has shared a long, detailed post on the science of hops, based on research for a talk to a South London home brewing club. It is technical without being remote and typically forthright, acting (perhaps incidentally) as a rebuke to us and others who have failed to get on board the drink fresh train:

There are always people who say, ‘oh but I prefer my IPA with some age on it’ or similar. If you look around online it’s quite easy to find evidence of people drinking IPA or DIPA when it’s months or even years old and insisting it’s still great. It’s nice that they enjoy old beer but that’s not what the brewer intended. Of course, depending on the size of the brewery, there are steps which can be taken to give their beer as long a shelf life as possible (filtering and cold chain distribution, for example). For smaller breweries there is a much simpler option: advise your customers to drink fresh by applying a short best before date to your hop-forward beers, e.g. three or four months.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 April 2017 — Metal, Myrcene, Milk Stout”

Modern Pubmanship 6: Jukeboxes

This is the sixth in an occasional series of guest posts by etiquette expert R.M. Banks.

Not all public houses are enhanced by the addition of a jukebox. Some do quite well with the gentle avant-garde percussion provided by a burning log or two in the grate; others lack the acoustic qualities so that the addition of recorded music brings to mind someone falling downstairs while carrying a tin bath full of squeaky dog toys.

On the whole, though, I am personally all for them. Oh, yes, you can count me as a fee-paying member of the Juke Box Appreciation Society. I am always happy to kick in a quid for the pleasure of hearing five of the gramophone industry’s finest efforts, or two quid the dozen for that matter. A well husbanded juke-box, stuffed to the coin-slots with the right stuff, brings joie de vivre where once glum silence lay heavy as suet pudding; it lifts as it brightens as it shines!

Of course there are pitfalls.

First, there is the matter of good taste. If you were to flip through my record cabinet you would likely scoff, perhaps mock, or even come to look up on the very basis of our friendship with jaundiced eye. And the reverse would likely be true. Consider, then, a public bar containing, let us say, 30 people – what are the chances that all will be equally enthused upon hearing, to pick an example quite at random, the surging of the Hammond organ at the commencement of ‘Stop in the Name of Love’? Up to a point, this cannot be helped: a jukebox containing only songs that no one dislikes would be like a hospital meal of steamed fish and boiled potatoes. The soundest advice is to avoid the deep end of the pool – songs containing full-throated Scandinavian metal screaming, dischord intended to evoke mans inhumanity to man, treated piano, laxative basslines, children’s choirs, and so on. Jukebox songs ought to elicit a tapping of the foot, perhaps a gay whistle, but oughtn’t interfere with the conversation.

Continue reading “Modern Pubmanship 6: Jukeboxes”

MUSIC: Pub Crawling Blues

We were tipped off to this by a documentary about British blues music Lenny Henry made for Sky Arts.

It’s from a 1969 LP called Black London Blues which is pretty great from start to finish and is available on Spotify, iTunes, and to buy on CD.

And, yes, that is Ram John Holder as in Pork Pie from the 1990s sitcom Desmond’s, who turns out to be a very interesting bloke.

I had ten pints of bitter at the volunteer of Gloucester Place.
I’m pub crawling… I’m the Ram.
I’m pub crawling… I’m your man.

Who Drank My Beer? (1952)

We heard this song by Dave Bartholomew on a compilation of blues and R&B songs about booze that Bailey’s Dad was listening to over the weekend. It’s a sad tale of a bloke who goes (we think) to the bog and, when he comes back, finds that someone has finished his pint:

Who drank my beer while I was in the rear?
Who drank my beer while I was in the rear?
Point out that low-down moocher —
I’ll dislocate his future!

Manchester Jazz Pubs, 1950s

“When I lived in Manchester in the 1950s, the pubs were  bursting at the seams on Saturday evenings as fans got their weekly ration of jazz… In the Napoleon Inn, you had to ask the landlady to leave off playing the drums for a few minutes so she could go behind the bar and pull you a pint of Chester’s Fighting Mild.”

Harry Giltrap, CAMRA’s PINT magazine, 1982

Intense Beer for Adolescents?

Tents
Tents by Stuart Heath, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

This week, academics at the University of Cambridge published research into how taste in music develops over the course of people’s lifetimes.

As teenagers, people desire ‘intensity’, according to Dr Jason Rentfrow:

Adolescents’ quest for independence often takes the shape of a juxtaposed stance to the perceived ‘status quo’, that of parents and the establishment. ‘Intense’ music, seen as aggressive, tense and characterised by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period’s key ‘life challenges’.

In early adulthood, the research suggests, people begin to develop an appreciation of ‘contemporary’ and ‘mellow’ music as they seek not to stand out, but to fit in, and find intimacy with others.

Finally, in middle age, people become ‘sophisticated’, becoming keen on jazz and classical music; but, at the same time, seek something less ‘pretentious’ and so develop ‘an interest in country, folk and blues’.

The University’s press release also includes this statement:

The explosion in music consumption over the last century has made ‘what you listen to’ an important personality construct – as well as the root of many social and cultural tribes – and, for many people, their self-perception is closely associated with musical preference.

Increasingly, we think that is true of food and beer, too — for many, they are part of popular culture as much as they are refreshment or sustenance.

The success of Brewdog and ‘craft beer’ more generally in the UK is partly down to tapping a market among young people who might previously have rejected beer (mild-mannered, session-strength, subtle) outright.

The good news for more traditional brewers is that those young people are drinking beer and, in years to come, will likely put aside the brashness of Brewdog in favour of classical, unpretentious, folksy beer. (You can look back at 6+ years of our blog to see some evidence of this process taking place, though we’ve always been pretty fuddy-duddy.)

But what about when brands and brewers grow up and perhaps lose their rebellious image? In the world of music, the coolest band is usually one no-one over the age of 20 has even heard of.

What did John Lennon say about beer?

The Beatles in the pub.
‘Two lagers and lime and… two lagers and lime, please.’ Help (1965)

Nev, who recently made 800 posts on his long-running beer and music blog, mentioned the other day, in passing, a quotation from John Lennon that we’d not previously come across:

The price of fame is not being able to go to the Phil for a quiet pint.

‘The Phil’ is the Philharmonic, a pub in Liverpool. We love the Beatles almost as much as we love beer and pubs, so we liked this a lot, but we’ve also been fretting about sources a lot recently. Aware that 99 per cent of beer quotes, just like statistics, are either made up or inaccurate, we decided to look into it.

The fact is, we can’t find any reference to where or when Lennon is supposed to have said the above. Some websites quote other websites. Most just say that he ‘famously’ said it, or that he said it ‘once’ to a reporter. The earliest reference in print, according to Google Books, is the Let’s Go guide to Europe from 2000.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t say it, but we can’t help wondering if the attribution ought to be a clever brewery PR man or pub landlord. Chris Routledge had this to say on the subject:

Did Lennon talk about beer, pubs or pints at all? We did find this interview from 1971 which includes a classic bit of Lennonian belligerence:

As kids we were all opposed to folk songs because they were so middle-class. It was all college students with big scarfs and a pint of beer in their hands singing folk songs in what we call la-di-da voices- ‘I worked in a mine in New-cast-le’ and all that shit… mostly folk music is people with fruity voices trying to keep alive something old and dead. It’s all a bit boring, like ballet: a minority thing kept going by a minority group. Today’s folk song is rock and roll.

We think he’s trying to wind up Nev and Phil, and pre-emptively taking a pop at CAMRA two months before they even existed. He certainly manages to give ‘pint of beer’ a particularly sneering spin.

Astrid Kirchher, a friend from the Beatles’ time in Hamburg in the early sixties, recalled, in the 1996 Anthology TV series, that, when Lennon drank beer as young man, it was because it was cheap, and a particularly effective accompaniment to Preludin pills (uppers). In the accompanying book, also talking about Hamburg, Paul McCartney says the he was the last to make the move (the upgrade?) to taking drugs, having said, until then: ‘Oh, I’ll stick to the beer, thanks.’

If you happen to know the interview where Lennon mentioned ‘the Phil’, or have come across him or any Beatle saying anything else about beer or pubs, we’d love to know. You might also enjoy this longish piece on rock music and pubs which mentions Ringo.

Rocking the Back Room at the Pub

Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey album.

“We’re about as psychedelic as a pint o’ beer wi’ the lads.” Alan Clark of The Hollies, 1967

The pub can’t claim to be the natural home of British rock and roll — that honour probably goes to the Soho coffee shops where skiffle first found a home in the mid-nineteen-fifties. In the wake of Lonnie Donegan, however, every spotty, posing schoolboy in Britain joined a band, and there weren’t enough cafes to contain them. It didn’t take long for pubs to take up the slack. There had long been music in pubs, ranging from the singalong round the Joanna to very-nearly-full-blown music hall shows, but, from this period onward, some publicans began to see live, amplified music as a possible saviour.

Louder music is required in public-houses to attract people away from television sets, a London licensee told the London County Council Public Control Committee yesterday. His application for a waiver of the special condition attached to his licence, forbidding amplification of music, was granted. The applicant, Mr Harry Sternshine, licensee of a public-house in the East End, said that a skiffle group in a neighbouring house was attracting his customers. (Guardian, 14 March 1957.)

Pubs with ‘back rooms’ (usually gloomy, damp and smelling of stale beer, in our experience) also became rehearsal spaces, in exchange for a small payment or the promise to ‘buy a few drinks’ afterwards. (The Rolling Stones, for example, rehearsed at the now defunct Bricklayers Arms on Duck Lane, Soho.) Those back, upstairs or downstairs rooms also offered temporary ‘clubs’ a home, as was the case with the Princess Louise in Holborn, whose upper rooms hosted some of the coolest skiffle and folk clubs from around 1957.

In their Guide to London Pubs (1968), Martin Green and Tony White offer a summary of the ups and downs of pop music in London pubs from the mid-fifties. Of the early sixties, they say:

Musical pubs became the glory of London pub life. Anywhere you went round London on a weekend evening, you were sure to hear the deafening twang and throb of a hundred guitars with percussion and amplifier… A new young audience of under twenty-fives was created and with a new pub vocabulary. If you went into one of the new musical pubs, you heard talk of others: ‘Heard that new lead guitar down at the Oak?’ or ‘Who’s on the drums now at the Crown?’

Man playin guitar in pub.We are fortunate that this period was captured on film in the 1964 documentary Portrait of Queenie, which includes much footage of bands and singers performing at the Ironbridge Tavern in Poplar, East London. It’s not a concert venue — people are talking and drinking at tables — but nor is it exactly ‘pubby’. A cabaret, perhaps? (At the other end of the cavernous room, an elderly cockney tries to drown out the bands by bashing away at the Old Pianner.)

As skiffle gave way to harder-edged R&B, some pubs gained double identities: decrepit Victorian piles by day but better known, to the hipsters who came out at night, by faux-American names.

I went to the end of the District Line and found a place in the back of a pub called the Station Hotel, in Richmond. I started a blues club there on Sunday nights, the worst night o the week. That’s how the Crawdaddy Club started. The Rolling Stones used to do their own version of a Bo Diddley tune called ‘Let’s Do the Crawdaddy’. When Long John [Baldry] asked, ‘What do you call your place?’ I replied that I didn’t have a name for it. It just came out ‘Crawdaddy’, and from then on we were the Crawdaddy Club. (Giorgio Gomelsky in It Ain’t Easy, Paul Myers, 2007.)

The Crawdaddy was just one of a circuit of such venues around London. The blues and R&B bands that played in them spawned rock groups like The Who, The Yardbirds, The Small Faces and The Kinks, and musicians like Baldry and Rod Stewart. It was at the Railway Hotel, Wealdstone, Middlesex, in 1964, that Pete Townshend of The Who first accidentally smashed his guitar.

Detail from a The Who poster.

With Beatlemania and the ‘beat boom’, Green and White record a slight decline after 1965, though pubs continued to offer a proving ground for young rock musicians, along with church halls, on their way to new, specialist venues, or package tours of cinemas and ‘winter gardens’ around the country. At the same time, more and more pubs turned into (crap) ‘discotheques’, losing their essential ‘pubness’ along the way. In The Beverage Report (1970), Derek Cooper wrote disparagingly of this trend:

Symptomatic of the growing move towards food and music in what was formerly a pub outlet are the Courage Barclay and Simonds discodine centres. On Saturday night at their Kew pub 500 customers throng to see a disc jockey, meet go-go girls and eat chicken and chips at 10s 9d a portion.

With the nineteen-seventies, though, the pub came back into focus, at least in superficial terms. All those ‘veteran’ rock groups, their members nearing  or having hit 30, often divorced and coming down from a decade of partying, began to look back wistfully towards their early years and a simpler life. The Who’s 1971 ‘best of’, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, featured a sepia-toned portrait of The Railway Hotel, and The Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies, released the same year, used photographs of the Archway Tavern in North London. In his biography of The Who’s Keith Moon, Dear Boy, Tony Fletcher tells the story of the drummer’s chauffeur-driven visit, in the aftermath of a disappointing stadium gig, to the Hole in the Wall in Waterloo, then a rough cider drinkers’ hangout, where he felt quite at home. It is perhaps Beatle Ringo Starr who sums up this instinct best with the title of his 1970 album, which also features a portrait of a Victorian pub on the sleeve: Sentimental Journey.

As the decade wore on, and rock struggled to reconcile its ‘down home’ roots with the excess of stadium tours, concept albums and ‘glam’, the pub really had its hour, giving its name to an entire genre: pub rock. A musically diverse ‘movement’, the only thing many of the bands involved had in common was what they were reacting against, and the venues where they played. Crumbling, smelly Victorian pubs were the natural home for denim and leather clad guitar bands playing blues, R&B, country rock and ‘power pop’, and their fans. The venues, such as The Hope and Anchor in Islington, were more famous than many of the bands.

Once again, though, even vast Victorian gin palaces weren’t big enough: bands that ‘made it’, like Elvis Costello or Dr Feelgood, moved on to bigger venues. At the same time, ‘pub rock’ mutated into punk — a much more easily packaged scene, fueled by speed rather than beer, which didn’t quite belong in the blokey atmosphere of the boozer, but rather the basement club, student union or municipal hall.

The story arguably came full circle when crack London session rock musicians Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock formed a duo, Chas & Dave, in the mid-seventies, and invented a sound they called ‘rockney’. It had elements of boogie woogie and R&B, but also featured melodies and lyrics, performed in strong London accents, which harked back to pub piano singalongs of the pre-skiffle era.

When the barman won’t serve him anymore.
Gertcha, cowson, gertcha.
Bar stool preaching —
He’s always been the same.

They had breakthrough success when, fittingly, when several of their songs were used in a series of nostalgic black and white adverts for Courage Best. When Chas & Dave appeared on TV, it was often in the setting of a pub.

In the years that followed, pubs and rock music continued to collide — the Camden Crawl, one of the coolest annual events in the Britpop era, began with ‘a couple of pubs’, for example — but it was also during this time that ‘pub rock’ and its cousin ‘dad rock’ became insults, implying a certain plodding conservatism.

These days, it seems to us that, as an idea of ‘the perfect pub’ has solidified, rock music and the pub as concepts have been more-or-less entirely decoupled. Pubs still have music, and musicians still like pubs, but they don’t need each other as once they did.