Monday, March 26, 2007

LEWES ARMS: The First 100 days

It began with an essay in The Generalist in October last year, [State of the Nation: Think About Your Local), developed into a blog of its own ( and attracted national press cioverage,was featured on Radio 4's AM programme and the story was syndicated worldwide through Reuters (being picked up by the Jamaica Gleaner amongst others).

Now The Guardian have picked up the issue again, 100 days into a boycott of the pub that has reduced the Lewes Arms takings by 90%, become a legend in the beer world and has dragged Greene King back into the spotlight.

This story was picked up by Nick Cohen in The Observer who wrote:
'Furthermore: Please raise a glass to Lewes's drinking classes. At Westminster tomorrow, there will be a rally for the Sustainable Communities Bill, an attempt by MPs from all parties to break up the centralised English state by giving local authorities the power to deal with social and environmental grievances. It's a worthy measure, but what sets this initiative apart from many other good causes is the number of boozers who support it. Publicans, small breweries and the Campaign for Real Ale - the vanguard of England's beer-drinking classes, in short - are rallying behind the bill and being radicalised in the process.

'Writing in the Guardian last week, Tim Minogue of Private Eye explained why. He is one of a group of pickets who are turning customers away from the Lewes Arms. The Greene King conglomerate owns the 220-year-old Sussex pub and in December decided to practise restrictive trading by refusing to sell the bitter from Lewes's independent brewery. As with other exploitations of their market dominance by the pub corporations, Greene King's ban had nothing to do with drinkers' wishes, but was an act of commercial spite against a small business rival. Rather magnificently, its customers responded with a mass boycott that has turned the Lewes Arms into a ghost pub. '

'We usually discuss political cynicism in grand terms and talk about globalisation, the judges and the EU undermining democracy. More insidious is the inability of the English to make lives in their localities a bit better. If this bill succeeds, Lewes council will be able to compel Greene King to stock Harvey's Bitter. If it falls, it won't. That strikes me as reason enough for MPs to vote for it.'
Also see follow-up story in The Publican, the leading trade magazine.

STOP PRESS: Business section of today's Evening Standard:

Greene King makes locals more local
Landlords are to be given greater power to run local pubs after a shake-up by Greene King.

The brewer has been under fire in Lewes, West (?) Sussex, for removing guest bitter Harveys from the Lewes Arms. Regulars boycotted the pub and burnt effigies of Greene King management.

Today the company is splittting its managed house operations into local pubs, to be run by Jonathan Lawson and "destination" pubs headed by Jonathan Webster.

Lawson joined from sainbury's where he was director of the convenience store business. Webster was chief executive at Hardy & Hansons. Mark Angela who ran the business befored the split, is lraving with a year's salary of around £450,000.

Greene King said the move is not connected to its Lewes troubles. But chief executive Rooney Anand said: "Managers will be given greater autonomy and flexibility to match individual pub offers to local needs.

Greene King's 510 local pubs will focus on selling beer while its 280 larger "destination" pubs and hotels are to be food led.


So how does a rare copy of 'In The Bronx and Other Stories', an inscribed copy no less, end up in a second-hand bookshop in Lewes, where I recently purchased it. Micheline is one of the lesser known beat writers and was unknown to me. The inscription, dated 3/28/66 (US style)
says: 'For Jackod! (could be Sackod?), Jack Micheline.' Under this he has written: 'The finest writers of this nation still remain unpublished but known amongst the [looks like lions] in this land. We write and it is a way of life and love.' The book is a first edition published in June 1965 by the Sam Hooker Press, 103 Park Avenue, New York. It is comprised of short pieces of prose that bring to mind both Bukowski and Raymond Carver. The extract I have chosen is from 'Whisky, Madness and Bellvue' and begins 'To be a poet is to be mad. I was a poet....' He describes arriving at a literary party, the kind of event he hated.

'I grabbed the bourbon and beagn to drink. I had come from the streets where I had lived and written and pissed and cried. I drank more bourbon and got drunk quickly and ran upstairs where the food was. I was drunk; I had finished a fifth of whisky. I had remembered the cries in the flophouse the winter before, and the years I had wandered through the streets, the long winters of hell in New York; and the fear and hell and cowardice of our twentieth century; the lips of prostitutes and junkies and mad dogs; the streets crowded in summer with sweat and dreams and fights and families and sirens and bars, fights, cribs and cubicles; the narrow crowded, stinging, smelly city, hard as reality, filled with lost loves and pain and misery; the roar of the beaten, hungry, frightened and afraid. I grabbed the salami sandwi ches and threw them from the balcony out into the street.'

Find out more about him at the website of the Jack Micheline Foundation.


Three weeks in Sitges and Barcelona cleared my mind and soul. Hola!

(Left): Sitges at sunset

(Below) Graffiti in an area off the northern end of the Ramblas in Barcelona where a cluster of tasty record shops can be found.


The Generalist meets Davy Graham
Dressing room, Komedia, Brighton.
8th February 2007
[Photo Louis May]

Meeting Davy was like making a connection with Neal Cassidy. He is an original beat brother whose massive contribution to British music and guitar playing is still only just being fully recognised.

Notes scribbled on the train home that night, at fever pitch, with added amendments in brackets:

'Arived late. Full house. Young guitarist playing. Ordered a drink by which time Davy Graham is on stage wearing a polka dot shirt, sleeveless puffer jacket, jeans and trainers and a corduroy titfer. His slight figure, bathed in red light, was set against a blank stage with only wisps of dry ice for atmosphere.

He played eastern pieces, medieval folk, bach. Sang folk and work songs (people clapped along), played a couple of other guitar pieces and left the stage. [His complete set I estimate was not more than about 30-40mins.]. After a sustained attempt to gain an encore, the applause stopped and then, at the last moment, Davy returned, recited a Brooklyn poem [along the lines of that famous one: Der spring has sprung/der grass has riz/i wonder where dem boidies is] and left the stage.

[His whole set had been punctuated by people walking out and as the crowd as whole left, it was clear that very few people were happy at what they had seen. There must have been 2-300 present. The place was virtually sold out.

We [son Louis and I] headed for the dressing room, where his young manager stood guard. I said I was a friend of Shirley Collins come to pay my respects and gained entrance. Davy and his mate were drinking an orange juice and we immediately fell into conversation. We talked about his 1962 albums, his esatern music, Brian Jones and Brion Gysin's Joujouka recordings. I asked him about Ken Colyer and Ramblin' Jack Elliot ('a good picker' he recalled).His friend played some ragtime. Lots of young people came and went, seeking autographs. I gave Davy a big hug, which is what I been wanting to do as soon as I first saw him, and we left him and his young admirers [and went out into the night, both saddened and elated.]

Then I started this short pome:

Wounded Bird
On meeting Davy Graham

I couldn't believe
How beautiful he looked with his guitar
In his beat Bukowski splendour
How he looked like a sailor on a whaler
Happy sitting amongst the coils of rope
Completely at ease
He appeared to have long arms
And his agile fingers were beautifully shaped
And appeared to have a mind of their own
As they danced over the fretboard
A large reefer ('old style') on a white plate
Circulated in the narrow dressing room
After a gig notable for being both
Brief and unexpected
Both a triumph and a disaster
This wounded bird
Touches my heart

For more on Davy Graham see previous postings:

Further Folk Adventures: Martin Carthy & Davy Graham

Musical Roundup: This contains review of Will Hodgkinson's book 'Guitar Man', lots of links and details about Davy Graham.


There comes a time in every person's life when their Mum dies. From that moment, it seems as if someone has drawn a big line in the sand and all one's past begins to float gently, like an ocean liner packed with freight and passengers, down the river to the ocean. One can still visit it in a rowboat and spend time there, at least for a while, but the main challenge is to now face forward and embrace a new life, new opportunities and possibilities. My Mum was 93 and is now at peace. This is the poem i wrote the night before her funeral.

Release of the Spirit

(For Grace: 2 Dec 1913 – 15 December 2006)

The roses are still blooming

In the mild winter air

But the gardener whose delight they were

Is no longer there

The piano sits in silence

In the bungalow’s still air

But the pianist who made the music

Is no longer there

The dollies all stare sightless

Dressed up like ladies fair

But the girl who so adored them

Is no longer there

The ornaments on the mantle

Are arranged with artistic flair

But the dresser who carefully placed them

Is no longer there

The wandering cats of the street

Found love and comfort there

But the woman who loved them dearly

Is no longer there

The apple tree still stands

Its fruit gone, branches bare

But the woman who ate the crispy Cox’s

Is no longer there

The southern downland still survives

Full of memories beyond compare

But the dreamer who loved its stories

Is no longer there

The spirituals, hymns and carols

Once used to fill the air

But the singer who raised her joyous voice

Is no longer there

The restless sea is surging

Waves crested with mermaid’s hair

But the swimmer who surfed the shallows

Is no longer there

The colours of the rainbow

Imagine them if you dare

But the artist who employed them

Is no longer there


This lady was called Grace

Kathleen Lovegrove May

Her body may have left us

But her spirit is with us today


Fly sweetly

Dear heart

Into the bright light

Be at peace

For evermore

Safe and sure

In the knowledge

That your work

On earth is done

And your time

In heaven is at hand

John May

Written on the night of the 7th January 2007 and read for the first time at Grace’s Memorial Service at Steyne Gardens church in Worthing on the 8th.