Thursday, 28 April 2016

BRAPA - Manchester Punk Festival - Day One

If my sister and her boyfriend thought that inviting me to Manchester Punk Festival meant that I'd be happy to stand around drinking out of a plastic 'glass' watching crazy bands in equally crazy venues for two days solid when there were EXCITING BRAPA PUBS to be had within a couple of miles, then they had another think coming!

I'd still not recovered from Berkshire, never mind Fenwick, and my decision to get a cheap ticket via Leeds to Victoria was a silly decision as it was delayed, I should've sucked it up and gone straight to Piccadilly.  Oh well, that's life.

There was an "ill-wind" blowing around Manchester which I always find a real mixed bag of a city.  It's like Russian Roulette.  One minute, you are greeted warmly in a beautiful cosy pub like you are an old friend, you have a great pint and watch a superb band.  The next minute, a crazy woman is running down the road after you claiming you've tried to stamp on her dog, whilst a drag queen comes along to try and help, a girl from Burnley ditches you for a pop-punk club night, you get locked naked out of a hotel room, and the pub you are in becomes a virtual toilet late on a Saturday evening as grey buildings loom above and suffocate your soul.

Or may be that is just my own personal experiences.

Bet this solicitors makes some interesting business decisions!

882.  Cask Bar, Manchester

This pub was notable for meeting pub ticking extraordinaire Martin Taylor, or RM (they are the same person after all, Mrs RM was randomly painting a wall somewhere).  I was immediately showered with the generosity of a retro Hull City shirt ("Sportscard!), an Exploited record and a copy of Central Lancs beer mag which mentions BRAPA!  With such excitement, no wonder I couldn't find the hand pumps though the Euro bar style array of Belgian stuff (which I'll come back to) and those huge fonts always make me lose my focus.  Cosy little Euro style cafe bar, but didn't quite feel it had the magic of North Bar in Leeds (on a quiet afternoon).  Barman had a serious case of dropsy, smashing one glass whilst we were talking, he later wrestled one to the floor, and then juggled one for a finale!  Probably a solicitor masquerading.  The ale we tried, from Squawk brewery was perhaps my finest all weekend.  What didn't help the comfort was them leaving the door wide open despite the chilly wind, it's like the owners of Greyfriars of Reading had followed me up north just to annoy me.  I understand this policy at last orders when they are trying to flush out the dregs (the Vernon in Liverpool springs to mind), but mid afternoon, I just don't get it man!  I was off to Salford, Martin was off to St Helens, so we didn't have too long to chat but it was great to talk pub ticking with someone who understands the complexities(!), I could imagine him holding niche workshops in the Arden Arms in Stockport for newbies (telling any diners to piss off as they try and sit in the back room) on how to get the most out of your pub ticking experience.

Martin's gone, I'm left to contemplate this quite okay European style bar
I went to drop my bags at my Premier Inn before heading from Deansgate to Salford and who should I see checking in ahead of me but Martin.  how amusing!  He rightly told the receptionist to stop asking so many daft questions and that 4 flights of stairs does not require a lift when you are one of the UK's top pub visitors (though I paraphrase here).

I ended up walking to Salford, inspired by the 4 flights of stairs, and was glad to see it wasn't as bad as I remember.

April 1997 and oh my lord, I had a university interview here and I have to say it was grey, soul destroying, and by the time I got in the interview, I'd made up my mind I didn't want to come here.  Dad waited for me in a pub called the Peru Arms(?) on Lima Street(?) and it had signs up saying no guns, no drugs, no knives etc etc.  He feared for his life!  I meanwhile incurred the wrath of my interviewer by saying TFI Friday was my favourite programme (it wasn't) and he went mad, claiming sections like "freak or unique" and "ugly bloke" were shallow and degrading.  Good lord!  Never have I been so glad to get back to my York slum(!)

Sorry, back to the pubbing and Salford seemed to have had a facelift.

New Oxford - an absolute cracker
883.  New Oxford, Salford

Wow, though the location was in a posh kind of pedestrianised square, this was a proper backstreet boozer and I entered to find a local old character called Bob telling the pub he was an expert when it came to the weather, but he was not Fred the Weatherman!  (a joke it took me far too long to get).  Really friendly place, the landlord all Irish and toothless, nice smiley barmaid, other locals were pleasant.  So nothing like the Cask Bar you might think, well it actually was in that it had a HUGE selection of continental beers.  As I looked around, all these grizzled old boys were drinking Belgian beers in funny shaped glasses, whilst I supped my pint of porter by the door like the last bastion of English sense.  I just don't get this Belgian beer thing, 99% of ale/beer drinkers seem to rave about them, but to me, it's all fizz, high percentages, glasses not designed to get your lips around, high prices - I don't see the attraction, winter or summer, pub or a bottle at home.  I just don't.  But back to the pub, it was lovely.  A bit like King Charles Tavern in Newbury, you could sense the history but feel a few modern tweaks may have been best left alone.  Had they had proper old bench seating instead of the shiny swanky black leather toss, I shudder to think how wonderful it'd have felt.  Oh, and a note to the locals, you WILL say bye to me when you leave, I'm sat by the door smiling.  There was quickly time for the pub to have a Sade sing-a-long before I left, it was that kind of a place.

Bob sat to the left, and I'm drinking proper ale (but not Black Bombardier!)

Best pub colour in the UK, great curving building, but what is within?

884.  Salford Arms Hotel, Salford

The green exterior and curved corner was an encouraging start, and the barmaid (cute, blonde, typically sulky, think Xanthe from Neighbours but with that Salford stare i.e. "don't come any closer of I'll cut you!" humoured me as I spent ages choosing from all these Manc microbreweries I've never heard of, eventually opting for "Cut Like a Buffalo" cos it had a funny name, I'm not that discerning when it comes to ales.  Pubs though, I like to think I can judge and it was soon apparent that the shabby interior I thought was promising, was the dreadfully self-conscious 'shabby-chic', an awful concept that anyone who's visited Newcastle's 'Pleased to Meet You' can testify to. (oooh, I'll have a gin based cocktail under this faux rusty fan heater - no thanks).  I sat amongst decor of vinyl records, old maps of the world and beat-up 80's television sets and noticed the pub was trying to combine old man pub with student dive, and failing at both.  It smelt of puke mixed with disinfectant, the pool table and fruit machines jostled for attention, and how can you enjoy a relaxing pint with loud background hip-hop music about 'popping caps in the muthafuckin' bitches head?'   It's just not cricket.  Still, I've been in plenty worse.

Quirky but shite decor at the Salford Arms....
....great beers though!
I really wanted to get out to the Eagle next (3pm opener so ordinarily a more difficult one to tick off) but the sister had checked in and wanted me to be in the vicinity of the Manchester Punk Festival.  I wouldn't mess with her so I headed back into Manchester, had a quick burger from some strange cafe/restaurant place, but she still wasn't ready so I had time for another pub!

Final BRAPA tick of the day - it's a gem.
885.  Grey Horse Inn, Manchester

Yes, this was more like it.  From the offset, I knew this place epitomised all that is great about Manchester pubs.  Very central, yet tiny, unspoilt, really warm friendly welcome from the staff, the locals even trying to move so I could see the guest ales.  The pub wasn't busy, yet it was full - yet somehow I managed to get a prime seat facing the bar.  Perhaps the old crones took pity on me, I'd walked in with a bottle of fruity Volvic in a vain attempt to keep myself sober-hydrated for all the punk music / festival ales ahead of me.  Not very pubby behaviour, but they looked at me sympathetically like they realised when a chap was struggling!  The toilets were outdoor and I read something about this pub being linked to the circus (I'd been to an even tinier one before on same street called Circus Tavern), but what can a grey horse do, jump through a ring of fire?  You'd have the punk vegan animal activists on you before you can say hummus, which is partly why I pretended to my sister that I'd lost signal for a brief 40 minutes!  I drank a Hydes Old Indie, dirt cheap, dark and flavoursome and I paid a (back-handed) homage to Tim Burgess of the Charlatans who's music had saved me from the hip hop back in the Salford Arms, which was now a distant memory.  I was rejuvenated, and I hadn't touched the Volvic.  Time for punk rock. 

Ignore the Volvic, I'm still hardcore really!
Of the venues I then visited for the MPF on day one, Sound Control had no cask but three excellent bottles by Joseph Holt - Triple Crowned Hat Trick, 1849 and something honeyed.  And in Retro Bar, I got a really good pint of Robinson's Trooper - a beer I either seem to love or hate.  Could I class them as BRAPA pre-emptives, after Blackpool's Rose & Crown, anything is possible!

Join me tomorrow for a review of day two in Manc.



  1. Best use of Dropsy in a post this year.

    Did all those bad things really happen last week Simon, thought travel restictions in Burnley still in place.

  2. I must confess, all of those things have happened in some form, but dating from about 2009 to the present day! Manchester is such a mixed bag isn't it? I can't work out how much I like it.

  3. Getting fed up agreeing with you now. Best pub colour- yes, Pleased to Fleece You - yes, drinking Belgian bottles in a great cask pub - are you mad ? Get on Eurostar/bus to Bruges or Ghent and drink at source. To be fair some of the pubs in those towns are quite brilliant.

    And yes, something is very wrong with Salford Arms, Eagle much better.

  4. I once got worried about being locked out of a room above a pub in Bury in the dark. I was at least partially clothed.

    Belgian bottles have there place. That place, as Martin alludes to, is Belgium. Indeed, I've never really seen the point of bottles of any description in a pub, bar the possibility of taking them away from said pub.

    I must qualify, was Mrs Marting painting a picture of a wall or was she applying paint to a wall?

    Sportscard shirt, early Adam, late Fer Ark. I think possibly the Jan Molby season. First player I thought of wearing it was worryingly Stuart Green.

    I hate lifts.

    Of course you can count the Sound Control and Retro Bar as pre-emptives, there are 40 editions of the guide for them to get in.

    Dagger for Duncan

  5. Dagger for Duncan. Hope Simon has been keeping you up to date with the discovery, via Preston CAMRA, of existence of serious competition. Entering the forensic audit stage now.

    Lifts are for losers. I asked for top floor in Glasgow Prem Inn and walked the 14 floors each time. Knackering.

    Mrs Martin makes art on walls; I couldn't presume to know what it represents. Importantly, I wasn't there.