Folk ‘n’ ale

The relationship between pubs and singarounds is surprisingly complex; getting a good match is harder than it might seem.

My main, fortnightly, singaround is based at a pub in Chorlton which has had quite a chequered history. When we started going there it was in a bad way; they served Landlord, Taylor’s Best Bitter and Golden Best, and if you were lucky two of them would be on at the same time. I remember a time when the beer ran out altogether, and by way of compensation the barman came round with the last few pints from the barrel in a jug; nice gesture, but it tasted about as good as you’d expect. The relative emptiness – well, let’s not mince words, the very nearly absolute emptiness – of the rest of the pub didn’t bother us; in fact it was all to the good, as it made the pub nice and quiet for us.

What did bother us after a while were the effects of the lack of custom; as well as pumps running dry, this led to the management being very reluctant to bar anyone, which in turn led to some, er, lively scenes in the rest of the pub. But we kept going, feeling vaguely that we were helping keep the place open. Unfortunately it didn’t work, and we spent several evenings parked rather uncomfortably in the corner of lounge bars in other pubs in the area. (The great pre-requisite for a singaround is a room: an upstairs room, a back room or ideally a snug.)

Fortunately, the Beech (this being the pub I’m talking about) reopened under new and, frankly, much better management; on an average night there’s a choice of about six decent beers, some of them very decent indeed. It’s not a craft beer joint, but it covers the range – from Hobgoblin to Oakham via Summer Lightning and Landlord; the beer’s always good and it’s not over-priced. (“Not over-priced” is a phrase which here means “somewhere in the range from £2.80 to £3.60”.) Unfortunately (for us), on an average night the place is rammed: as the MC of our singaround said the other night, “Around this time of the evening we enact a traditional ceremony, in which men come into the public bar and shout at each other.” The second half of the evening tends to be rather heavy on big songs with rousing choruses.

The room, the beer, the noise; getting them all right is harder than you’d think. For a while, when the Beech was being redecorated, we decamped to Dulcimer, where we occupied half of a rather large upstairs room. The landlord rather sportingly supplied a stack of beer tokens for participating singers and musicians; essentially, anyone getting there in the first half hour could count on a free pint. Since the beer was good, Dulcimer scored very high indeed on the beer front; less so on the room and the noise (it was big shouty numbers most of the way).

Another, monthly singaround has recently been launched, although it hasn’t got a permanent home yet. It started in an upstairs room at the Briton’s Protection. It was a great afternoon; the acoustics of the room were a bit soft (big room, lots of soft furnishings) but we got an excellent crowd. Also, the beer was good and Not Over-Priced.

Emboldened, we had a singaround in the snug at Peveril of the Peak. The room was great acoustically – if a bit small – and the pub was quiet; too quiet, in fact: the bar called last orders at 9.15 (!!!). The beer was Not Over-Priced (see above) but it was very dull – Jennings’ Cumberland, Deuchar’s quote IPA unquote, that kind of thing. Also, 9.15!

So we had a singaround in a side room at the Crown and Kettle. The beer was rather fine (Allgates!) and N. O.-P. Finding myself short of a drink at the end of the evening I went for a bottle of Ticketybrew’s Dubbel, which was very nice and… well, not very over-priced. Sadly the room wasn’t great – rather a lot of noise from the main bar.

(Not easy, this. Not especially interesting, maybe, but you have to agree it’s not easy.)

So then we had a singaround in a back room at the King’s Arms (Salford). There was quite a wide and interesting variety of beer, which wasn’t over-priced.The room was very pleasantly full of singers and had a door which closed – a rare and welcome feature. Unfortunately it also had a constant trickle of low-volume muzak from a defective PA which the bar staff were unable to turn off(!). Cursed, we are, cursed I tell you.

Our latest singaround to date was in a back room at the Gas Lamp. The room was amazing – tiled walls making for maximum reflection, which would be awful for a band playing different parts but is just what you want with unaccompanied singing, whether you’re dealing with big harmonies or quiet solos. The pub wasn’t particularly quiet, but our voices bouncing off the walls made so much noise I didn’t much care. As for the beer, there were two hand pumps on the bar, only one of which was working; it was serving a >5% black IPA from the Six O’Clock brewery, which (although very palatable) was over-priced, viz. £4. (This is less than Port Street Beer House are charging for it, admittedly.) Almost everything else was even dearer. I wound up having three pints (to be precise, a pint of the Six O’Clock, a pint of Jever and a 500 ml bottle of Franziskaner dunkel) and paying £12.80 – which would buy you four pints at most if not all of the pubs listed above, and would have covered two full evenings at Dulcimer. Really not good. Lovely room, though, and a great evening.

So bring me a back room (door optional) with tiled walls; bring me a pub (or bar) that’s solvent but not too busy; and please, bring me beer that’s Not Over-Priced. Alternatively, bring me a barrel and set it upright

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