Thursday, 19 April 2012

Sounds good to me?


    I was reading Tandleman's post about background music in pubs yesterday here and it reminded me of quite a few pub music experiences, not all of them good. So as not to post the longest ever comment I thought I'd paint a few aural pictures for you ont blog instead.

Springfield, not Illinois

On Broomspring Lane in Sheffield, surprisingly near my first pre eighteen drinking haunt the West End, was a small traditional Kimberley pub called the Springfield Tavern. Strangely empty at times you'd expect it to heave, this was a proper locals pub with pool and darts on the left and, well, erm, I can't really say, as I only ever went to the bar, and then in the room on the left.

This is because the left hand side housed the pool table, the jukebox, and was the perfect space to fit in a gaggle of (now mostly not underage) teenage drinkers who had fallen out with the West End. We didn't really mingle, we had nothing to share and likely very little to convey other than our involved and over emotional trauma's and stories of gigs played by obscure bands that we had been to or could never hope to afford to attend. We looked alien in this environment. We may as well have spoken alien, and we probably smelled like aliens. Were there a less suitable hostelry to essentially "adopt" as our new home, I can't really imagine what it would be in that area. Except maybe the Hanover.

Anyhoo, the Springfield no doubt got on with its business quite happily for the hours following and preceding 8 til 11PM on a Friday, but in that short window of opportunity, normal service was disrupted by a skulking dishevelled mass that would appear and divide the pub into two strictly delineated halves. And we had the jukebox.

Of course, having something that offers you precisely nothing that you want is no prize I can assure you. Whether by accident or design the Springfield had managed to assemble a bank of musical archaeology that was too old to be ironic, or too recent mainstream to be tolerable. We had the desire to stamp our sandalwood and death metal (odd combo I know) footprint on the pub though, and plans to oust us using poor music choice were to  backfire.

Every Friday night for about a year, we played just two tracks. Manic Street Preachers "Suicide is Painless" (Theme from M.A.S.H), and Iron Lion Zion by Ziggy Marley. Two opposites of style and taste, not particularly to anyone's liking, but better than the reams of Jim Reeves and Neil Diamond which seemed to be the only other choices. We were happy in our group, eking out minute quantities of alcohol and clubbing small change together to get drinks for those who were in danger of being asked to leave for not having a drink, and steadfastly never using the pool table (we needed the change for the jukebox see).

In the end this protracted war of music ownership fizzled out as we moved on to pastures new and the group slowly grew apart. No doubt throughout that time the same regulars continued to take their usual seats at the bar and round the tables to the right, and afterwards raised a toast to a Friday night without reggae or film theme rock. Hopefully, but not necessarily, they enjoyed the warm irony of a song about suicide played so frequently that you wanted to take your own life.

Sadly I read on the Internet where everything is true, that the pub had cosed down and been converted into flats. Ironically, flats probably built to house the students who swarming around the nearby streets must have stared down Broomspring Lane from Glossop Road, and spotted, without I suspect ever venturing into, the Springfield Tavern.

 Washington, neither in Washington State nor Tyne and Wear

In a time long long ago the Washington on Wellington Street used to open during the day. It was certainly always open around 5 or 6 o clock when I left work. As such it was, as well as one of my favourite dinnertime haunts, being so close to Charter Row, also one of my favourite meeting places for a night out. One night in the cold early months of the year I was meeting Rox for a few beers.

Rox was always late. It was just how the passage of time worked when our lives overlapped. So I was keen not to get there early, but I have this innate fear that I will be late on the only occasion when someone has gone to the trouble, (quite significant trouble it would be in this case) to arrive on time. So I strode in at 17.25 to meet her at 17.30. In reality I expected her for 18.00, and got myself a pint of disconcertingly nice yellow Moonshine.

One of the reasons I think the Washy started closing in the afternoon was painfully obvious as I sat supping my pint. The lass behind the bar had her I-Pod on, so bored was she with the lack of bar action, and I was the only one in until five minutes before I expected my drinking partner to arrive, when, as if to mock me, a procession of single visitors arrived, noisily letting the door close behind them to prick my interest, only to congregate one by one into a joyous throng.

Even if you mentioned to people that you intended meeting them at the Washy at something like 6 o clock they refused to believe it would be open, so there was no chance this would ever catch on. That evening, one of the last times I remember it opening in the late afternoon, it seemed a fitting dirge would be played to signal the demise of its frivolous all day opening.

Prior to the commotion I was trying hard to not pay attention to the music. The Washington has a good reputation in this respect, but usually when its blasting out at full volume sometime around 2 in the morning. At this time, all I could hear were the dulcet, depressing and wearyingly uninspiring tones of Dido.

In the room on the right it was moodily lit, and cold. It was raining outside, and the scene I found myself in was like a rubbish but very long music video featuring a lonely man drinking by himself, amidst a miasma of mounting unhappiness. Most of my pint (which I was trying to drink slowly) and three tracks in I couldn't cope anymore. I sprang from my seat and went to the bar to implore the lass to change the music.

Having explained that the music choice was forcing me to perform an unpaid role in a maudlin backlit advert for being stood up, she flicked a switch and a new track came on. It was quite upbeat, it seemed far less morose, and so I sat back down a little happier. Alas, this was just the end of one album. The last track. Next, it was Portishead.

Now I like Portishead, but this was becoming a bad joke. I seemed to have somehow teased the most depressing music available out of the Washington's collection and was now worrying that my mood would start reflecting the music and vice versa. When I explained my predicament the lass behind the bar laughed in a kind of half sympathetic half mocking way and put on something so jangly jolly and non descript that I almost laughed back, then sat down with my pint once again to await the arrival, at 18.20, of Rox.

It seems that the background music plays an important role in pubs, whether you want it on at all or not. If you are running a pub, whether or not the pub is busy or empty, you've got to think about the mood you wish to convey - and that applies to the horrors that may lurk in your jukebox.

If only they'd had a copy of "Tired of Waiting" by No Meanz No to play in the Washy that night....

Wee Beefy


  1. Ah, Springfield! Those were the days. We used to sneak port in there. I don't think I ever stepped into the right hand side. I remember the landlord being a bit grumpy, but anyone would be when we lot turned up and ordered a half between about 20 of us. I think we decanted from West End ( where I think we met) because some knob heads kept trying to beat one or two of us up! It was our own little indie haven! The only song I remember on the juke box in there was American Pie by Don McLean - Fluff

    1. Ah, maybe, I think for different reasons I only recall the Manics and Ziggy. I think we probably all started going in there instead of the West End beciuse of the sort of crap you and Nat were getting. Still, tha'll be oop ere soon and we can go to the West End again like its 1992.... (haven't been in this century!)