The Split Squad

Until fairly recently, I’d not heard of the Split Squad.

But, when I’d heard that Clem Burke was their drummer, and they had a gig around the corner in the Central Bar, I bought a couple of tickets right away.

In the days leading up to the gig, I played their stuff in the bar. Some of it sounded a little dated at first, like US indie music from the early 90s. But it really grew on me.

The band were genuinely good too, it was a great gig.

And Clem Burke was a lovely guy.

A long time ago

I don’t often post pictures of myself.

Someone I worked with a long time ago, sadly died a year or two ago. I’d not seen them in ages and they’d retired years ago.

Some old photos they’d taken back then seem to have been passed to someone from their team.

This is one of those photos, a picture of a picture.

I’ve no memory of the picture of the event, but I do remember the guys I was with. They were also team leaders in the same group.

Those windows definitely weren’t those of the office, so this must have been taken at an off site conference or other event.

I could easily be wrong, but I’d make a guess at the early 90s.

It’s pretty scary how time goes so quickly.

The Dead South

I might have inflicted the Dead South on customers in the bar over the past couple of weeks.

I’d wanted to see them when they last toured the UK, but somehow it never happened. Despite a virus that’s been hanging on for weeks, I wasn’t going to miss them last night.

And I’m so glad I made the effort. They were just brilliant.

Paul Carrack

A few days ago, with a rather nice bunch of people, I spent the day in York, ending with Paul Carrack at the Barbican.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time in York, often walking past the Barbican, I’d never been there for a gig.

And it was a good one – such a talented guy.

Mr Petherbridge

I once worked with a guy called Tom. That was a long time ago, back in 1979. He left after a few months to do a full time degree course at Sunderland Uni. We kept in touch, made easier by a good friend of mine (Ian) attending the same course. I guess you could say we were friends too.

We formed a social group, me, my then wife Gill, Ian, Tom and Louise. Things were great for a couple of years and we were a pretty close bunch. But, as they do, some cracks started to form and the group slowly started to dissolve. In Tom’s case, his mother remarried and moved to Wales. Since he was living at home at the time, he ended up moving too. He held back a little while, though, to finish his degree, occupying Louise’s spare room in Washington.

Following his move, in the early 80s, we lost touch. Remember, this was well before the worldwide web, email and mobile phones. It was a shame, but that’s the way things tend to go. And maybe we were all ready to go our different ways.

Around 15 (I’m really not sure) years later, I bumped into Tom while waiting for a bus home after work. He was in the area to visit his Dad (who he didn’t really get on with) and to see old places. At that time, he had a share in an audio company. Our reunion was interrupted by the arrival of my bus. We vaguely committed to keeping in touch; he still had my landline number. It was an awkward meeting, though, and I didn’t really expect to hear from him again.

Rolling forward to 2016/7, something reminded me of Tom. I don’t remember what, but I put his name into a search engine. His name, I should say, was Tom Whelan.

Unexpectedly, his name appeared in a lot of forum entries relating to a now defunct audio company. The company had been based in Barry, where I knew Tom had moved, so I was pretty confident I’d found the right person. His email address was included, so I gave it a shot. Looking back, I’m not sure why I did that. Maybe it was because there were loose ends after group dissolved. Possibly guilt too, since I’d not made an effort to keep in touch all those years ago.

He quickly replied and many email, then WhatsApp, exchanges later, we’d caught up. He’d married a Doctor, a Russian, and was himself self employed in electronics. He travelled daily from Barry to Bristol for work. Our exchanges continues, sometimes with gaps of weeks, even months, but we’d finally managed to keep in touch. Because of his Dad’s past bad behaviour towards his mother, and him too, he’d adopted his mother’s name, Petherbridge.

Before the Pandemic, he travelled to Russia with his wife to spend time with her family. He posted a bar of Russian chocolate to me. There was talk of him visiting the Northeast and a reunion of sorts with Ian. I’d toyed with the idea of making the trip to Barry. I kept him updated after the occasional lunch with Ian.

During my last lunch meeting with Ian, I mentioned my concern that I’d not heard from Tom for a few months. This wasn’t in itself unusual, since we often had those gaps. But this time was different. I’d sent Tom a picture of the building we’d both worked in, in March, but I’d had no response. Ian convinced me that I was probably worrying about nothing, as I would have done for him. Ian sent him a message, just in case.

As more time passed, my concerns returned. Ian hadn’t had a reply and I’d had no reply to an email I’d sent (in case he’d ended up with a new number.

A few months ago, I’d bought a pallet of beer from a brewery in Wales. This was soon followed by another order. The brewery is based in Barry. I asked the brewery if someone could call at Tom’s house, if anyone was passing nearby. Just to check he was ok.

On Monday, I received an email from the Brewery, asking for my number. Knowing that this wasn’t going to be good news, I quickly replied. They rang straight away.

They’d called that morning, but there was no answer at Tom’s house. So the tried a neighbour’s house. The neighbour told them that Tom had fallen ill a few months ago. Just a pee infection, but he’d developed sepsis and passed away.

Both Tom and I knew that we’d never re-establish that friendship from all those years ago. We’d become different people and everything we’d had in common had been left behind. Still, I’ve been feeling pretty sad since that phone call.

Anyway, goodbye Mr Petherbridge. If the pub we used to frequent on a Friday lunchtime still existed, I’d go there and raise a glass to you.

Tom Whelan, New Year, 1982.

Norfolk

It’s already fading away into the past, although it was only a couple of weeks ago.

The van coped really well with the distance, and the travelling between towns. Only a couple of things broke.

Our first stop, at Banham, involved a most pleasant afternoon with old friends (from the northeast).

Our stay in Banham was something of an accident; we’d not realised that we’d stayed at the same place a decade or so earlier. After a couple of days, we moved on.

I’d never been to Great Yarmouth before; I found, as I’d been advised, that it resembles Blackpool.

Gorleston was much nicer, although the dog enjoyed the beach at both places. We did manage to find some pretty cool bars, particularly the Tombstone brewery and Thirsty Crow.

On the return trip, there was the compulsory stay in Peterborough.

Bakewell

I’d never been to Bakewell before, or (until a couple of years ago) know about the Peakender beer festival. I really wanted to go last year, but knew it wouldn’t be wise to leave the bar for four days in our first year (I’d already done that for Glastonbury).

So, this year, we made the decision to go as a team and close the bar. We didn’t regret it for a second.

The festival was more than a beer thing, there was music and a lovely vibe about the place. It was dog friendly and we even found a nearby stream for the hound.

The Thornbridge brewery tap room was a must at the close of the festival, as was some time in the town itself.

And we were so pleased that the van only smoked a little bit and just one bit fell off.

Another two

So, last week, it was Fat Freddy’s Drop. In Durham.

And, the week before, Belle & Sebastian. Wonderful.

Whitby

I’ve been a CAMRA member for a few years now, since before I became involved in bars, but I’d never taken part in activities or excursions.

Working in the current bar has changed that; a lot of guys who’re members come into the bar and we know a lot of them by name.

When an email popped up, mentioning a trip to Whitby, we agreed a team Microbus outing. This happened on Saturday and we all had a great day. The trip was so well organised, but, after a visit to Whitby Brewery, there wasn’t an agenda. The opposite was the case, since some of the bars couldn’t accommodate everyone at the same time.

This was the first time all of us have have had a day out together since opening the bar – we’re all rarely in the same place at the same time.

We realised that we can do more to promote future events. We’ve some ideas. We’ll certainly take part in another.