Is Keith Newby Worcester’s most masochist… er, big-hearted gaffer? I’d say so!

You’ll have to go a country mile or two to come across a gaffer who’s off his rock…. er, as big-hearted – not to mention selfless and positively masochistic – as Keith Newby of the New Inn, Ombersley Road. See, he puts himself through pain all in the name of a good cause: he’s run marathons, had a lovingly (not to mention lavishly, lusciously and luxuriously) -grown ‘tache waxed-off, and now he’s set himself yet another grueller of a challenge for 2015… A lifelong acrophobic (a deep-seated dreader of heights) he’s been talked into spending five days and nights, exposed to the worst of the elements – come rain or shine, snow, hail, wind or hurricane – on scaffolding outside the New Inn between 23rd and 28th November all for charity. Any Scouser and Liverpool supporter who can hold his head high in Worcester and not seek to find excuses is alright by me. And anyone overcoming his own phobias (not to mention pain) for the good for others, gets my support and eminently deserves yours. Call in, tell ‘em I sent you, and donate a bob or two.

Are all Scousers hard-cases? Watch this: if you didn't wince, you're a better person than me! me you

Watch this: if you don’t wince, you’re a better person than me!

Here’s my video of what Keith and a skinful of other masochistic New Inn-ers went through in their bid to raise £2000 for St Richards Hospice in 2012. If you can watch it without the cheeks of your whass’name clenching together, you’re a better person than me. I filmed it and it still makes my eyes water: tell me you (and yours) didn’t, and I won’t believe you!!

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Posted by on November 13, 2015 in About


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The ace of clubs – read and sigh….

Now, if I get a complaint about the Worcester Pubs Then and Now books, it’s either: a) ‘cos I’ve left out some gaffer who was found getting across a barmaid, or whose miffed wife ran off with a randy customer; b) that I made no mention of the Camp House, which places me several steps down from Jack the Ripper in the annals of all-time infamy; or c) that I excluded the clubs, by which I refer to those of a social-, works-, and shared interest (such as working-mens’) nature.  On the first, I make no comment whatsoever save to say that neither occurrence could even remotely be described as rare. On the second, it’d be a fair point if it wasn’t for the dead give-away in the books’ titles ‘Worcester pubs’ (to wit, pubs within the city boundary – which does signally NOT include Grimley). And on c) hmmmmmm …we-e-e-ell, maybe. I pull-up short of uttering ‘fair cop, guv’ as the A-word (apology) isn’t in my dictionary. But that said, there’s a slim chance that if you’re brave enough to mention the subject to me face-to-face in a bar somewhere, I might – might, mind, no guarantees at all, depending on the day you ask and the state I’m in – concede that, yes, aside from its pubs, Worcester once was also home to some ace clubs.

[Ace of clubs, geddit? Tortured I know, but I was struggling for a catchy title].

The one-time Heenan's Club in Sansome Place. I won the kids' fancy dress competition in here on Coronation night, learned to play snooker (badly!), played in two bands on the stage, represented darts and crib teams both for and against and sunk more pints than'd float a battle-hic!-ship

The one-time Heenan’s Club in Sansome Place. I won the kids’ fancy dress competition in here on Coronation night, learned to play snooker (badly!), played in two bands on the stage, represented darts and crib teams both for and against and sunk more pints than’d float a battle-hic!-ship

I defend my stance of non-inclusion in the books on account of said clubs not only being largely possessive and clique-y to the point of exasperation, but also their not generally being freely accessible to the hoi-polloi (ie: me and ‘ee, aka the ordinary Joes of society). Even so, that’s not to say that they should be discounted en masse. It’s a point I’m also humbled to make as once upon a far-away time, we of the Faithful City had the advantage of lots of this rarefied phenomenon, some of which I joined and under whose colours I even managed to bluff my way through many a competitive match or two – an admission that today irks me no end as frankly, when it came to anything involving team spirit, I was generally the one left out and sulking in the corner. But for all that, I retain some joyous memories of Worcester’s clubs – few of which now remain to reciprocate the tale. Accordingly, as a belated tribute to them, here’s at least a working list of some of those hallowed establishments where, if only between twelve-ish and two-ish of a Sunday lunchtime, men could stand proud and pretend to be gaffers in their own homes if only while keeping a wary eye on the clock in case ‘Erself flounced in with his dinner, by now dried-up and burned to a frazzle, and walloped it on the bar with a withering look and a comment suitably waspish to match. Or worse…   No doubt there’s some I’ve omitted from the list below – and here, please feel free to enlighten me. But for now, the ace clubs of Worcester, for the greater part no more, I salute you. 

Archdales, Barbourne Ex-Servicemen’s, Royal British Legion, Worcester City FC Social, United Services, Red Hill Social, Blue Calf, Windshields, Wards, Claines British Legion, Warndon Social, MEB, Metal Castings, Midland Red, Meco, Navy, Heenan and Froude Social (as pictured), St Stephens Workingmen’s, Gas Works, RAF Association, Public Works, Volunteers, Labour, Conservative, Quality Cleaners, Rainbow Hill Workingmen’s, St Johns Workingmen’s, Polish, Porcelain Works, Police.

PS: One last thought: count up how many are still around today. I’m struggling to get past six, poss seven, with one (the last) still in existence but no longer within the city boundary. Oh, and before you demand a suspended sentence for my crime of excluding the City’s night-clubs – ie strung up on a scaffold and hung by the neck until dead – may I point out that by the time Annabel’s, Sacha’s, Tanya’s, Tramps, the Hacienda, and their like came on the scene, I was married with kids and considered it best to stay well away. Feel free, though, to share your memories on the FB page ( along with the others. BB.

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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in About


Why I was stopped in my tracks with the hairs on the back of my neck pointing skywards yesterday…

KC2int100Two o’clock of a so-so Worcester Wednesday in November is not the time you expect to be stopped in your tracks and the hairs on the back of your neck point skywards. But yesterday I was, and they did.  Now, if such rare occurrences are going to happen at all, the King Charles II in New Street is about as likely a location as it gets – and so it proved to be. Chatting to the amiable punter next to me over a very more-ish pint of Kings Retreat, I mumbled something about the quality of the background music, what a nice touch it was, and that the sound system must be a bit good on account of the music appearing to be live. Stepping back a pace and eyeing me like I’d just oozed out of some extra-terrestrial spaceship, he told me that it was.  Live, that is.  It was coming from up the self-same stairs that the Charlie Two ‘isself must’ve trod 364 years ago, and it fitted the oak-pannelled bar like a suit of armour.  I was being carried away on the wings of summat extra-special, so I ventured up there and listened. Entranced.  Just me and the genius making these sounds and who hadn’t even noticed me standing there, swaying ever so slightly.  It was like nothing I’ve heard before.  Piano only, solo, rich and semi-classical although whose I hadn’t a clue, mixed-in with a touch of honky-tonk, swirled round with some dark sulky passages and then whooshed up with more nifty ivories finger-work like jazz, but not quite.  Wow!  I was tempted to applaud, but didn’t want to break the spell, so I slunk away unnoticed.  It hadn’t been a grand entrance and the exit was… well, a bit furtive and self-conscious, to be honest. It was only when the sounds faded away and he came down for a red wine top-up that I told him the effect his music had had.  I don’t think he particularly cared.  I got the distinct impression that he just wanted to get back upstairs and play some more to an empty room and that if nobody listened that’d be okay with him thanks all the same. I tell you, it took all the journalistic skills built up over half a century to wrench from him that his name is Stephan James Brookes, that he can’t really read music (like, so bloody what with a playing talent like that?), that he makes most of it up as he goes along, that he’s local and that he plays largely for himself at the King Charles a couple of times a week on an as-the-whim-takes-him basis. Oh yes, and that my request to get a photograph of him stood frankly no chance.  Okay, so if shyness is the price you pay for genius that’s alright with me – not that I was going to walk away from the challenge.  Which, as you see, I won.  Not that it was easy. But then, when I’m in the mood, I can be very persuasive.

Stef100This guy deserves recognition. It might take him ages to come out of his shell and I suspect the phrase ‘hard work’ will creep up somewhere in the dialogue.  But hellfire, I urge you to listen to him play.  Nor do I think he’s on the lookout for fame and fortune – both of which he deserves by the bucket-load.  If you happen to catch him at the KC2 and share my views, let him – and me – know.  And if you know someone in the know about making the most of what’s to me a phenomenal talent, let him/her know too.  I hope he goes far: I really, really do.

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Posted by on November 5, 2015 in About


Grim Reaper of the licensed trade hereabouts, or its Messiah? I know where I stand…

Styles100Saint or sinner? Depending on who you listen to, this man is either the kiss o’ death and Grim Reaper of the licensed trade hereabouts, or its Messiah and knight in shining armour. This is Peter Styles, owner of the Bush, Swan, Crown, Crown & Anchor, and Grosvenor all in St Johns, as well as the Sebright, Albion, Gun, Berwick (as was) and a good half a dozen more in the city and elsewhere in the county – and after­ a chat in the soon-to-be-revived Swan where I saw work-in-progress the other day and twigged that it’s pegged for opening by Christmas, I’m in no doubts as to where I stand. Firmly in the latter camp.

Granted, he’s a property developer and like every other – the pubcos included, as frankly that’s all they are too – he’s in business to see a return on investment. The difference is that he is not a company beholden to its remote shareholders whose only aim is profit at any cost: he’s actually a sole trader, investing his own money. What’s more, he actually gives a shot as to whether a pub closes or remains open and regardless of what that pudd’n-headed local CAMRA branch thinks, what he’s throwing is a lifeline and not a mill-stone.

That’s why he spends £100k a year at Jewsons, bringing each pub salvaged from the clutches of the pubcos up to scratch so that any new tenant can buy his beer and spirits anywhere he likes without being saddled with refurb and ancillary costs before he can pull his first pint. Sounds to me like a God-send and a plan for the future – and if the cost of keeping a pub open carries the risk of some additional element of change, so be it.   The construction of buildings on an unused car park (as per the Sebright Arms) or turning redundant upstairs rooms into flats (such as The Bush) is frankly a paltry price to pay in return for a) extension of the pub’s life as an alternative to its loss to yet another supermarket or yet more unaffordable housing, and b) financing the continuation of more of the same.

It’s also the route to what I consider to be the only salvation for a growing number of squeezed pubco pubs, clearing the way for committed and entrepreneurial landlords and/or, if they’re so inclined, local micro-breweries like Cannon Royall, Pope’s, St Georges, Winning Post and others, each running and servicing a clutch of maybe half a dozen pubs, gaffered by their own incentives-driven managers and all pulling in the same direction. It’s a situation that’s already working at the Bush (Cannon Royall), the King Charles (Craddock’s), and the Imperial (Black Country Ales) and there’s room for more. Inevitably, the time is going to come that an ailing pub he’s just bought is simply not viable – after all, there’s not much future in keeping pubs artificially alive and such a situation looks likely at the Albion, sad to say. But for the most part, I believe we can expect more of the same from Pete Styles who’s at least prepared to put his ackers where his mouth is by not ruthlessly shackling licensees to one-way and untenable contracts, thereby bleeding the industry white and forcing drinkers to chose the supermarket over the pub.

The more we chatted, the more I came to realise that he and I agree on most things pub-related, and that he’s nowhere near the Big Bad Wolf that some have marked his card as. Good on yer mate, I say. I like your style(s)!

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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in About


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No beating about the Bush… oh, I don’t know though!

What is it they say about one in the hand being worth two in the Bush? Well, what I’ve had in my hand of late is no concern of yours – but when it comes to ‘two in the Bush’, I’m yer man!  I say this because by an enormous coincidence, in the space of just four days this week, I’ve come across two photographs showing the recently re-opened Bush in St Johns from its hey-days of fifty and more years ago.

The first was when I was chatting to Dave Walker in the Brunswick on Sunday when out of a well-worn wallet he pulled a memory of one of his finest moments: the party after the Bush won the Worcester Crib League in 1962. Monday saw the picture – a bit dog-eared, but it’ll brush-up nicely, and showing Dave as a young man, as well as ever-popular Bush gaffers Les and Helen Jackson-Jones (here 1960-93, a remarkable span of years) – posted on the Worcester Pubs Then and Now FB site (

DWalk2Bush BoysWell, blow me if yesterday it was almost a case of déja-vù all over again (I know: it’s a very old joke!) when chatting to manager Claire, she ups and outs with ‘look what we found in the cellar this week’. And no, it wasn’t a lump of coal, it was a 57-year old photograph, this time in remarkably good nick, showing The Bush Boys performing here in 1958. Now, while I was to perform here with my own band six years later, I have to confess that the Bush Boys (and a girl!) were a tidge before my time – but a humming little combo they appear to be. There was Rita and her maraccas, that’s Mike Bowley who ran two little music shops in New Street up to fairly recently, layin’ down a mean bass-line on what looks suspiciously like a home-made one-string tea chest bass, Brian Maund on drums, wailin’ Moggy Holder as lead warbler, Bill Jeynes banjo (and probably guitar) and Wal Bowley on piano.

How come I’m such an authority on the St Johns rock-n-roll scene? I’m not. I pinched the info from an article that appeared in the Evening – er, sorry, Worcester – News in 2011, lovingly penned by my old mate Mike Pryce who I doubt very much would have recalled the Bush of the day, either. It came from an interview he’d had with Mike Bowley, and a fascinating insight into the times, and the Bush, it is too. Read it here:      

If I’d written it, I’d have called it ‘Beating about the Bush’. Which goes a long way towards explaining why Mike Pryce is rather more famous than me. Then again, as Mike has been a tee-totaller for more years than people have been alive, when it comes to the Bush, I can tell him a tale or two. Like the time…. ah, but then a picture’s worth a thousand words – and this one shows St Johns folk at play in a rather more innocent (and I would venture to say, fun-filled) era. A rare history lesson.

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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in About


Poss? Or just pub goss? The yes/no interlude…

Yes, the old Imperial is re-opening next Thursday as a real-ale bar. Woo-oo-oo!

No, I didn’t get an invite

Yes, Bush St Johns is ditto next Friday under the Cannon Royall banner.

No, ditto

Yes, I’m intrigued at talk of a new Marstons venture to be signed-and-sealed next Tuesday (poss)

No, I’m not surprised that they’ve ditched all that purple paint they were splashin’ about everywhere a while back.

Yes, more than poss (or poss just goss) that Bushwackers is going to re-invent itself as something else with new owners quite soon

No, I’m not in the least bit surprised that everybody’s pal Richard Appleton of the Dragon has had enough of Worcester. Or was it the other way round?

Yes, ex-barmaid of the Virgin due to step-in I hear after licensees are given the boot for…   well, I gather a whole shed-load o’ reasons

No, contrary to rumour, they’re not leaving the Blackpole, despite some very unhappy staff there after ol’ Ray Brierley collected his bus pass

Yes, I’d like to think that Wetherspoons’ extensive plans to restore the former glories of the once-great Crown (now called Lloyds No1 for reasons best known to themselves) as a hotel from next week could prove fruitful

No, nothing’s going to change at the Courtyard, Horn and Trumpet, Old Greyhound and/or Blackpole despite a nasty to-do at the former that’s led to the axing of a couple of DRP licenses

Yes, M+B are going to be busy with new-look Raven and Perdi both re-emerging – one as a Toby’s Tavern and the other as a Harvester.

No, I can’t remember which

Yes, there’s talk of an up-coming beer festival at the Winning Post at the end of this month.

No, it doesn’t bother me in the least that the Paul Pry closes early most nights and remains closed on Mondays because yes… I’m ticketted!  

Yes, I’m delighted to hear that up to tea-time yesterday, organisation of the CAMRA beer fest on Pitchie had been largely faultless.

No, I didn’t go, ‘cos they didn’t see the 2012 event the same way that I did! What’s not to like?  See it here:

Yes, I wondered quite how when I heard that the recent re-fit of the Talbot in the Tything cost £200K

No, I never did get to meet its new gaffer and neither did many others ‘cos he spends all his time in the kitchen. Yet more changes afoot there, I hear.

Yes, Vine lucky if it re-opens at Xmas as re-build costs go through the roof.

No, no pun intended

Yes, plans for Co-op store at the Goodie appear to have stalled

No, I haven’t followed up on rumours that police are not happy with the way Glovers’ Needle has been run and might lodge objection to renewal at the appropriate time

Yes, Lakes re-vamp as a convenience store looks close to completion. Think of me when you go shopping: it’s where I had my wedding reception (1969)

And no… I won’t leave it so long before publication of the next blog.   Promise!

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in About


Herbie… just swannin’ around!

 SWanghost copy

As ghosts go, you’d place Herbert firmly in the mischievous class. He moves chairs about, knocks things off shelves, opens and closes doors, and tightens up gas taps that need a wrench to free ‘em up again… oh yes, and he tampers with cameras and things: he set my flash-gun off for no good reason when I was down the cellar of the Swan in Barbourne on Thursday to witness something that’s altogether alien territory for me – a séance.   He’s also befriended landlady Claire Bull (pictured above) who’s been a bit wary of him and his playful pranks since taking over the pub last year, but now they’ve been properly introduced via mystic Julie Dyde, they’ve become grand pals: better still, he’s going to stick around and he’s predicting rosier times for the pub.  Herbert showed his hand, if not his face, on Thursday and I and six others were there to witness it… actually, seven because Herbert’s new girlfriend Betty made a ghostly showing too.Think I’m losing me marbles? As I said to Julie before the session, I don’t go along with all this nonsense. I’m a journalist, I deal in facts and you won’t fool me. Besides, ‘when in doubt invent a ghost’ is a tactic most of us hacks abide by. To which, Julie just smiled and said ‘cynicism is good’. She also warned me that when I look at the photographs I’d be taking, I’d probably see a few orbs floating around. Don’t bloody think so, I reckoned. I’m meticulous about my cameras and there’ll be no blobs on my lenses I can assure you of that! It was just then that a measuring cup fell off the bar and rolled across the floor, swiftly followed by my flash-gun going off with no assistance from me, promise! There was a distinct gurgling in my left ear’ole too, but I put that down to the central heating.  It took Herbert a few minutes to come out of his shell, via the makeshift ouija board on a wobbly table, but when he did there was no shutting him up. Yes, he’s the one that does the shifting in the Swan. Yes, he turns gas taps on and off just to remind folk that he’s there. Yes, he opens and closes doors too. Yes, he’d love a pint of Banks’s please (Claire doesn’t have Banks’s for the present). Okay then, a pint of lager will do at a pinch. Yes, he’s taken quite a shine to Claire. Yes, he’s going to look after her. Yes, the Swan will do OK. And no, Claire’s son Dan won’t win the pools. Like, ever. Herbie even pointed out someone with the initials RF that drew a blank with the séancers, although a quick look at the ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ book will reveal that the last-but-one tenant here was Rebecca Fahy, so I’m inclined to skip that one.

The séancers:  (l-r) Dan Bull, Ruby Delord; Colin Corbett, Julie Dyde, Claire Bull, Clive Corbett

The séancers: (l-r) Dan Bull, Ruby Delord; Colin Corbett, Julie Dyde, Claire Bull, Clive Corbett

Claire was pleased with the result. So was Julie who’s been calling up spirits for thirty years with some stunning results – especially around some of the City’s oldest pubs: she’s come across resident ghosts at the Hand in Glove (formerly White Hart where a misogynistic poltergeist has been known to vent his spleen on unsuspecting females, even with fatal consequences), the Eagle Vaults, Cardinal’s Hat, and what had once been Bottles Wine Bar – though she said she’d love to have a crack at Greyfriars, formerly the Old Oak in Friar Street. Nor does she do it for any commercial gain: she’s happy to share her gifts simply because she has this uncanny knack and because she wants to. More than a tidge unsettled I have to confess, I went for a wander through Gheluvelt park to get me ‘ead together as they say, and later mentioned the afternoon’s goings-on to Jim McKeever in the Winning Post who’s probably about as cynical and hard-nosed as I am: he just went white and he told me that Julie had done the same thing there ten years ago and that she told him things about him, his pub and his family that she couldn’t possibly – like, never in a million years ­– have guessed. 

Julie said there'd be blobs – or 'orbs' as she put it. No  bloody way, I thought.  We got blobs (unretouched pic - genuine.

Julie said there’d be blobs – or ‘orbs’ as she put it. No bloody way, I thought. We got blobs (unretouched pic – genuine.

Oh yes, and when I looked at the images that I took – using two cameras, just in case, both having been meticulously cleaned only a few hours before and both used earlier on in the day with not a trace of a smear or blemish – there, quite clearly, were two orbs floating around. Herbert and Betty foolin’ around. Again. Ooo-er!


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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in About


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