Tuesday, 30 August 2011

My Moon Under Water. Part one: the jukebox.

In 1946, George Orwell wrote a short essay for the London Evening Standard called The Moon Under Water which outlined, to his mind, the ten precepts that constituted his eponymous — and sadly fictitious — perfect boozer. You will hardly have failed to notice the preponderance of pubs belonging to the JD Wetherspoon chain that also labour under the name. If you’ve not read The Moon Under Water, do check it out. I won’t go into the details of the essay, except to say that:

A) Many of Orwell’s post-war sensibilities still hold true for a decent pub, even if the chances that you may want to buy Aspirin in the bar, use the house telephone or drink stout from a pewter pint pot are slim these days.
B)  A Wetherspoon pub is as much like Orwell’s idea of a decent drinking hole as the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas is like visiting a medieval castle.

Anyway, it got me thinking about my own favourite boozer. Before I go further, I should point out that Mr Orwell knows a thing or two about weighing a sentence, balancing a paragraph and creating a sense of satisfaction and drama within the confines of a thousand words. Some of his big, long storybooks are fairly corking too. That one about Big Daddy watching you, great stuff. On the other hand, I am a chap who mainly thinks about boozers and barely gets going one thousand words in. I’d also better say up front that I’m not even going to pretend this place exists. It’s a fallacious folly, an impractical ideal, an unworkable, completely bloody brilliant pub. Modesty and decorum prohibit me calling it ‘The Murphy’s Head’ or ‘The Paulie Arms’. Since the jukebox is distinct and different from one day to the next, I am obliged to call it The Solomon Grundy.

Solomon Grundy…

                                                        Pop on Monday.
                                                        Fifties/Sixties on Tuesday.
                                                        Folk Night Wednesday.
                                                        Dancing on Thursday.
                                                        Rock on Friday.
                                                        Punk versus Prog Saturday.
                                                        Classical Sunday.

                                                                                                  …that’s the week in The Solomon Grundy.

Already you know as well as I that this pub cannot exist. I’m probably doing myself out of any regular clientele by varying the jukebox, restricting it to certain genres each day — but it’s my blog, my rules, so there. Besides, I got the idea from a real pub in Canterbury. They had an MP3 jukebox that subdivided into genres such as 80s POP, IRISH PUB and ELVIS FOREVER. Musical monomania, for all: four songs for a quid, ten songs for £2.

I borrowed another idea from a different pub in Canterbury. It’s a hotbed of inspiration down there, pub-wise, I tell you. There is a beautiful establishment, housed in a Fourteenth Century building, that does splendid Sunday lunches. Behind the bar lies an extensive array of local ales and even some intriguing lager choices. The wine selection is excellent. Decent spirits, check. The place had atmosphere in bags; the medieval building, wood-panelled walls, two vast functional fireplaces, unsophisticated, wide wooden tables and chairs. Nothing affected, all fully functional and aesthetically pleasing. The regulars sat in a row upon barrel-stools at the bar, chatting amiably to the staff like they had been there all day — and this was only noon. The thing I remembered most vividly, though, was the choice of music: Classical, played at a discreet volume. It worked, it really worked. It was a sacred, magic moment. Nothing looked or felt out of place. I was reminded of the tale I heard some years back about the manager of an inner city McDonald’s joint playing Classical music to deter bored, troublesome kids from loitering in the shop doorway. Seems there’s no better way to keep out ‘the rowdies’ as Orwell describes them, than to make the place anathema to people who, with the best will in the world, I have to describe as having simplistic tastes in music, befitting their lifestyles. Classical music creates exactly the kind of snobbish sonic forcefield I would encourage on a leisurely Sunday — only I’d extend the definition to incorporate Renaissance and Medieval music, because it works and I can.

The rest of the week is self-explanatory. Tuesday is a night of nostalgia, with classic pop and rock from the Sixties, Fifties and maybe earlier. Again, I’ve based this, somewhat harshly, on a preexisting model: a well-known pub in Highgate whose jukebox boasts nothing on it less than ten years old — letting time bestow worthy honour on the songs and artists with suitable ‘legs’ to become classics.

Wednesday is Folk Night. The brief extends beyond the a cappella stylings of say, The Young Tradition, The Watersons and Anne Briggs to include livelier stuff like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Unthanks. No sense in keeping it sleepy any other day than Sunday.

Thursday — the Head Ballet. This is my most selfish choice in many ways: a selection of dance music from a fairly limited selection of sub-genres: global fusion, world trance — artists like Loop Guru, Transglobal Underground, Natacha Atlas and Dreadzone. It’s consistently groovy and uptempo, but crucially lacks the pilled-up frenzy of techno, the chavviness of garage or the samey mindlessness that mars much (though not all) drum’n’bass. I’ll admit I’m mainly electing to have a night of this on because I reckon it’s great stuff to hear loudly in a pub if you want a laugh, although I suspect there are bars all over Amsterdam that play this sort of thing already. Maybe I’m not so selfish. Thursday is the new Friday — go to any pub in London to see for yourself.

Friday is Sweaty Rock Night. Eddie Cochran, Cream, Free, Zeppelin, Purple, Guns’n’Roses, The Wildhearts, The Darkness, Kasabian, Pendulum etc. No fucking about — if it has electric guitars and a smoking rhythm section, it’s on.

Saturday is another selfish whimsy. Never mind The Beatles versus the Stones — put those two factions in a pub playing nothing else on the jukebox and I suspect both sides will grudgingly admit liking much of the other eventually. Opposing sides unite, joined in their mutual appreciation of the time and culture that spawned both bands. Now, pit the epic, expansive, excessive pomp and bombast of classic 1970s Progressive Rock against the short, sharp, spitting shards of Punk, the very music whose ‘Year Zero’ shock and awe tactics were deployed against the rock of yore. I suspect it will create a varied and delightful blend; the musical equivalent of chilli ice cream or chocolate-coated pretzels. Tasty. Like my Beatles/Stones analogy, may it create equilibrium rather than conflict, even if both sides will admit to nothing more than a mutual love for Hawkwind, Pink Fairies and Van Der Graaf Generator. On a Saturday night, sometimes you have to find your articulate aggression wherever you can.

And Monday?  Traditionally a quiet day for pubbing — I’ve elected it Pop Music Day: the widest selection of things on the jukebox, to keep everyone happy as much of the time as possible. You can select virtually anything on the entire weekly pub playlist — except Classical music. It’s a tiresome joke to derail the jolly atmosphere with a contemplative adagio any other day of the week but Sunday. 

I’ve not even talked about the pub yet. It says a lot about my business focus. By now already you may detect a certain lack of brewing acumen. Rumbled. Somehow, I don’t think I’d like to be Your Host behind the bar. In any event, I’m not suitable. I haven’t worked in a pub, but I’ve done my fair share of public retail — never again. I very firmly believe that certain outlets would run far more efficiently and with a greater atmosphere of fellow-feeling if the public were not allowed in at all. Bah, humbug and harrumph. Well, you know what I mean. The accountancy would bore me rigid, to boot. Be assured my staff are the finest, most attentive, intelligent, sympathetic and glamorous bunch of chaps and chapesses as any you’ve met. I’m just going to drink in the place.

I’ll discuss the boozer itself in greater detail soon. But first, a drink.

Ta-ta for now.


Currently listening:
Alessandro Striggio: Missa ecco sì beato giorno (Mass in 40 parts) (I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth, 2011)
Orlando Gibbons: Second Service & Consort Anthems (Magdalen College Choir/Fretwork, 2003)

Currently watching:
Blake’s 7 series 3 (BBC, 1980)
Man About The House series 4, 5 and 6 (Thames Television, 1974-1976)
Steptoe & Son: series 1 (BBC, 1962)
Doctor Who - series 6, part 2 (BBC, 2011) - brand new Doctor Who on telly. Marvellous.

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