Monday, 15 November 2010

twilight alehouse

It was a damp November evening and I set off from the East Coast on my annual visit to the Hitchin Folk Club - still often mentioned in dispatches by Radio 2, Froots magazine et al as one of the best folk clubs in the country. I started returning a few years ago when they started booking an annual visit by tonight's guests. An easy drive, despite poor weather, and I was looking forward to seeing John Tams and Barry Coope.  After all, it was Remembrance Sunday so I was sure that it would be an emotional evening for Tam, and indeed for us. As always, they delivered and it was a cracking gig. Plenty of songs from the past and various shows that he's been involved in over the years.  Over The Hills and Far Away (theme song from Sharpe) and several from War Horse (currently being filmed by Spielberg) although not Scarecrow from Alright Jack.  The Home Service are reforming so I'll look out for those gigs - a live album from the Cambridge Folk Festival which I'm sure I was at.  Excellent.

A few things have changed over the years since I left the area. The last act I went to see when I lived down that way was the Oysterband some 22 years ago.  In those days there was a bar upstairs at the Sun Hotel and they had support acts and floor singers. Nowadays the main act play two sets and the support act is the raffle. And there's no bar upstairs. Everybody queues up like the good Englishmen we are - it was a long queue, though, at half time. Brendan suggested we go across the courtyard to the other bar. Good idea quoth I.  It appeared to be shut.  Never mind, let's nip 'round the corner to the one in the market square.  Shut. The Red Hart? Shut. The King's Arms, shut. As were all the others. 

Sunday night in Hitchin - in the town centre - and there wasn't a single pub open.  I've never known anything like it. It wasn't like that in my day.  We ended up at the back of the ridiculously long queue  waiting at the hotel bar. I remember when Hitchin was the place to go to find where all the parties were. It was a ghost town. It was like being in Letchworth before the Black Squirrel opened.

Even in sleepy Suffolk it's difficult to find a pub that's shut. Oh how time's have changed.  If anyone has any ideas as to how this sad state of affairs has come about, I'd be interested to know.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't anything to do with Remembrance Sunday - there were quite a few pubs open in other parts of the town as I drove my weary way home.  100 miles. Tired and slightly astounded.

Despite the pub thing, Brendan pointed out that there were only two young people in the audience.  He said, "There's not really a generation behind us."  And I guess he's right.

The vibrant folk club culture has gone and it seems that our traditional social life of pubs is very quickly disappearing.  I'm beginning to feel like a character from Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford watching the old ways go:

One last drink and then I'm on my own
Still trying to make the long voyage home


Andy Wright said...

Dave,I too am astounded! A quick response to advise that I will check with my Hitchin dwelling youngest who is a leading expert on public houses in Hitchin and in particular the particular hostelries you have mentioned and report back to you. This is a madness that cannot be tolerated, surely to Goodness!.By the way we may get to the Golden Hind on Friday but eldest born's baby is still staying put (must have seen the weather forecast!)and is now a week overdue. My guess is that the infant will arrive on.......Friday!

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Andy, good to hear from you. I'd definitely be interested to know what on Earth is going on in Hitchin! Of course, you used to live there in your former occupation - last century.

I'm not sure myself about Steve Ashley on Friday but that's because I'm knackered after a hectic weekend - the drive back last night was a bit punishing to say the least.

I hope all goes well with the imminent arrival. Keep me informed.

Martyn Cornell said...

Ah, the upstairs bar at the Sun - do you remember the occasion when we were sitting in there during half-time at a Dave Swarbrick gig (it was the Swarbrick/Simon Nicol duo, IIRC, although I may be guessing) trying to remember the proper name of the "Captain Pugwash theme tune" hornpipe that appears on the Babbacombe Lee album? Mr Swarbrick himself suddenly came through the door of the bar, and at everyone's prompting, you asked him for the name, to which he replied: "The Captain Pugwash theme tune!" (Proper answer - the Trumpet Hornpipe. And here's a rather splendid version, featuring the Captain himself, Tom the Cabin Boy [not Roger] and Master Mate [not Master Bates]. Everybody, one-two-three: diddleydee, diddleydee, dee-dee dee-dee, dee-dee dee-dee, diddleydee, diddleydee, dee-dee dee-dee, dee-dee dee-dee …)

Dave Leeke said...

Okay, I've taken a certain amount of "correction" (Michael Miles/Hughie Green, the Thunderbirds/Batman debacle etc) so now it's my turn: the tune on "Babbacombe Lee" is a medley of "St Ninian's Isle" and "Trumpet Hornpipe" and NOT ""Captain Pugwash".

It's enough to know I'm right - what's that Bowie lyric? "We can be heroes, just for one day".

My god, Martyn, for someone who has dedicated his life to ale, you have a remarkable memory.

I, however don't and deny everything.

Dave Leeke said...

And another thing, thanks for the link, Martyn. "Master Bates" is mentioned by name!