Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Juke Box Blues


There's something about Liverpool that excites. As soon as you get off the train at Lime Street Station you feel it,  A sort of electricity in the air.  I last lived there over 22 years ago, but it still feels familiar, though it has changed. The centre has gone all posh, as if you've stepped into a parallel universe where everything is nearly the same, but isn't quite.

I was there a few Saturdays ago with my exiled Scouse mate Mike, with whom I worked many years ago. We had to visit a venerable icon and an old haunt.   In Hope St, in the sight of Paddy's Wigwam, (aka the Catholic Cathedral)  is the Philharmonic, a magnificently interiored,  Grade 2 listed building with Grade 1 listed urinals.  A fantastic choice of beer awaited us, though I immediately felt compelled to try Camden's wonderful Inner City Green. Properly conditioned, cool and sparkled as God intended, this was superb. Juicy malt, pronounced hoppiness and a lovely creamy head to drink it through, it deserved another, so we had another. The only two pinter of the day. Around us the pub throbbed with life. Wedding guests from the nearby Registry Office (or maybe the cathedral) provided a touch of glamour. It was busy and we recalled many a  night in the Brahms Room, a long time ago over pints of Warrington brewed Tetley.  Only one discordant note - unwanted music was just loud enough to be intrusive.  No need for it here when the buzz of animated conversation was heady enough to get you drunk.  But worse was to come.

Now the Swan is a bikers and rockers pub. Led Zeppelin was blasting out and the place looked more or less as it did twenty odd years ago. Pints of Phoenix Hopsack were procured (naughtily unsparkled) and we stood at the bar as more rock tracks came on the juke box.  Great stuff and in context to the place and its customers.  Bear that in mind. It is important. Less great was our next pub, the Richmond.  The beer was fine, but required top ups which were a bit grudging, but not only was the music boomingly  loud, it was also loud on the street where external speakers blasted out, numbing the mostly middle aged customers and passers-by into submission.  Surely that should be banned ?  Similarly in the White Star and on Matthew St itself, the jarring cacophony from external speakers was very unpleasant.  OK - no nanny like bans on glassware like Manchester, but a racket like you've never heard in all your life. Which to choose? Plastic glasses or peace and quiet? Close call.

This isn't a go against background music. It is about appropriateness and volume.  Despite the title, you don't even get to choose your own noise anymore - it is inflicted by the staff.  To my ears their is nothing better than the buzz in a busy pub. It is called atmosphere. Surely a little more discretion could be used?

We didn't get a duff pint all day either, but I didn't come across the re-brewed Higsons. Pity that.

15 comments:

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

I absolutely love drinking in Liverpool. One of my best mates lives there and I use any excuse to get over for a few drinks.

I also went there on a stag do and had a great time, without any of the usual stag do pitfalls. Good beer, good pubs, good company. I particularly like the Phil. Always good beer on and it has a bustling atmosphere, can't say I noticed any music at the time but im sure it changes day to day.

I actually wrote about my pic of the best beer bars/pubs a while back too http://eatingisntcheating.blogspot.com/2011/02/guide-to-some-of-liverpools-best-beer.html

Curmudgeon said...

All too often, the music seems to be chosen for the benefit of the bar staff rather than the customers, and is of a type that appeals to a much younger demographic than the average punter in that pub. At least a jukebox allows the punters to have some say in what is played.

Mind you, I reckon you can't go wrong with Classic Power Ballads of the 80s ;-)

Cooking Lager said...

When music is too loud it means you're too old.

Curmudgeon said...

Cookie, once you reach a certain age you have to ask for the music to be turned up to be able to hear it...

Bailey said...

I reckon they use music in pubs to influence the age profile of the clientele. It's the reverse of when they use classical music or the mosquito to stop teenagers gathering in public places.

If you can't have a conversation without shouting, though, the music is too loud.

Rule of thumb for noise levels in a pub: you should be able to hear the people you're with perfectly, but not the conversation of the people at the next table.

Tandleman said...

Cookie - I understand that but when the pub's clientele is of an agewhere they don't want that and it is day time - I forgot to mention that - then it is inappropriate.

Bailey - Then they failed. It was mostly middle aged people who had to bellow above the din.

And what about external speakers?

Curmudgeon said...

"I reckon they use music in pubs to influence the age profile of the clientele."

That may be the theory, but when you're in a traditional pub with an average customer age of around 55, and they're playing Radio 1, it's just the bar staff taking the piss.

Bailey said...

Bet it put you right off your schooner of unfined keg mild.

Mark said...

I'm with you and enjoy just the natural background sound or light background music which is non-invasive. I particularly dislike very loud music. I go to the pub to talk to people and not to have my head filled with music.

Saying that, somewhere between pints 4 and 5, if the right song comes on then I like nothing more than a favourite song to play loudly...

Tyson said...

External speakers are just wrong, full stop. They would make me think twice about going in a place.

bornagainst said...

Weird how I never mind the music in The Swan, it's one of the best bits of it, but in so many other pubs it drives me up the wall. The Phil does itself no favours with the music, especially after they've just had a decent refit.

I was in the White Star at the weekend and it's such a wasted pub, it should be amazing.. instead, in the back room, they have 2 PA cabs mounted on the ceiling and a strobe light. In a really traditional 'loungue' area.

The Lion Tavern gets it totally right in my mind.

Tandleman said...

I'm glad it isn't just me and you confirm the accuracy of what I said. Next time the Lion then.

Saga Of Nails said...

It's about context and expectations. If you go to a pub on a Friday night you would expect the music to be louder then on a Tuesday afternoon. Also the amount of people in a place will affect your expecations of the volume of the music.

I dislike pubs that play music too quiet just as much as I dislike music that is too loud. If you are going to play music that is just audible then what is the point, you may as well not be playing music at all. Of course you cannot please all of your customers. Some people object to there being any music at all, although these people are a minority.

If you cannot easily hear somebody sat next to you, then you may as well be in a nightclub or city centre bar, so the music is clearly too loud.

I agree with Curmudgeon, too often the music is played for the benefit of the staff not the customers. I always reminded my staff that the music was for the customers not their own pleasure.

One pet hate of mine is pubs that play commercial radio stations. The last thing that I want when I'm in a pub is to hear the latest attention seeking advert popping up every fifteen minutes. I remember being in one pub where an advert featuring a loud beeping alarm clock regularly appeared. We left.

chriso said...

To me, pubs are for chat, not music. One of my big gripes about even specialist beer bars in America is that they often insist on playing ridiculously loud music supposedly because "that's what the customers want". Thankfully the Richmond was quiet when I visited a couple of months back so I guess it probably depends on what time it is and who is behind the bar. But external speakers are just plain wrong. As another former Liverpool resident, albeit a few years before you, I do love the pubs there. And by a remarkable coincidence, I have just put the finishing touches to a Liverpool pub guide. http://chrisobeer.blogspot.com/2011/08/going-down-to-liverpool-big-pub-guide.html

RedNev said...

Tandleman's message, which can be summarised as "horses for courses", is correct. In a pub, if you can't hear the people you're sitting with, then the music's too loud. This is a view I've held since my student days, so, CL, it has nothing to do with age. And, CL, if you apply that approach all the time, you can confidently expect to wear hearing aids when you're older.

I have less than perfect hearing so a high noise level can effectively make me deaf, even though those I'm with can still hear each other. It must be a real problem for those with much worse hearing than mine.

There are exceptions: you don't go into the Swan expecting to be guaranteed a quiet chat, and if there is an advertised music night, like a band or karaoke (wash my mouth out!), you know the noise will be greater.

I drink in Liverpool regularly - I'll be there on Bank Holiday Monday - but for a short visit, I'd recommend the Lion, the Ship & Mitre, the Globe and the Dispensary.