Last night I went out for a rare pint (or 5) with a couple of old mates from school. Mogwai was back from Sweden to spend a bit of time sorting out his comic/graphic novel ebay empire and in particular stock-take the bulging warehouse located at his parent’s house which, 30 years on, is still just around the corner from my parent’s. We knocked on for Andy and he was playing out too, so giving The Dragon on Parr Lane a miss (as you would if you knew it) we walked up to the Robert Peel. It was a bitter sweet experience:
We just wanted a drink and a natter but within 10 minutes of sitting down in a rather quiet Peel someone started playing guitar and invited anyone to join him. This was a bit annoying because we now had to raise our voices to make each other heard but the guitarist, Kodjo, just couldn’t be ignored. He started with Bill Wither’s Just the Two of Us which was so good it gave me a tingly feeling. One of a group of girls at the next table to us eventually got up to do some daft version of Twinkle Twinkle little star but other than that there was no participation in what turned out to be an open mic night.
Now, I’m no singer (although I AM an entertainer which is something subtly different) and it was a few years since my last Karaoke which in my opinion has got a bit too serious these days, but this guy was talented and trying hard to get us to join him. Whilst I was at the bar he played a perfect rendition of I wish by Stevie Wonder which is possibly my most favourite song ever (definately in my all time top 5) so I couldn’t ignore him and went over to compliment him on his talent and musical taste.
I was stuggling to find something to drink with both the 1664 Blanc and San Miguel being off (explained later), and not in the mood for Irish stout I had turned in semi-desparation to Stella. After the 4th pint of "Wife Beater" I had built up a bit of courage and the pub had already cleared to a point where I could count on 1 hand the number of people I didn’t know in there. I gave "I wish" a try but in my excitement, and despite Kodjo prompting me the up coming lyrics whilst playing AND singing the funky bass line, I lost the words in the second verse. I gave up at this point but it was only a temporary reprieve for the remaining people in the lounge as Kodjo dug out the words for me. Off we went again and considering it’s a song I’ve never done karaoke I did alright and really really enjoyed myself. I took quite a bit of heckling off the Landlord but I’m glad I gave him something to laugh at because the Peel is in a bad state and he’s about to throw in the towel.
We used to drink in the Peel at least twice a week, either on the way back from a workout at Silver’s Gym to shoot some pool or friday night which used to be rammed with people. At 18 the kids like us tended to go to the ‘Top Road’ which was Manchester Road running through Whitefield from Radcliffe New Road to the Junction at Besses (Bury wasn’t worth the effort and Manchester was more expensive). At least 6 of the pubs we used to drink in have disappeared (one of them’s turned into a Quantity Surveyors for feck’s sake!) so most of the pubs in Whitefield, Unsworth and Prestwich are in decline, but one of the attractions of the Peel was the cross-section of people it attracted from the immediate vicinity. In ‘our day’ it was never trying to be fashionable unlike the kiddy pubs in Whitefield, and despite being busy there was never any trouble. The Peel has passed through a few hands since then and has tried to develop family trade with an enlarged dining area but the Landlord conceded that to make it work it really needed a couple running it (rather than him + a manager): for one person to develop the food and run the kitchen whilst the other ran the bar. I’d never met the landlord before but he’s obviously tried (in vain) with stuff like an open mic night but concedes he is losing the battle and will probably jack it in to concentrate on other business ventures. The brewery won’t do a deal to reduce his rent whilst a replacement landlord is found so it looks like it might actually close.
Sadly I can’t do much to help it. 20 years ago myself and 5 or 6 mates might have been able to pledge some regular support to the place but most of us have families and no longer live around the corner from each other. We were never particularly heavy drinkers anyway and certainly don’t have the same drinking stamina these days.
Fortunately for me Kodjo and his band also play around the corner from my house at the St Margaret’s Tavern – I’ll keep an eye out for an open mic night there or even see if they need to replace their lead singer!