Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Rising Sun

"There is a house in New Orleans that they call The Rising Sun..."

It's a great song ain't it? One that I first heard as part of the soundtrack album to the David Essex film Stardust back in the mid '70s (possibly the greatest film soundtrack ever by the way and well worth tracking down for a smorgasboard of '60s classics). Sometime later I saw the video that was made to accompany it and which, come to think of it, must have been one of the very first ever made to promote a song in the way so familiar to the post-MTV generation. Alan Price's organ sound on it is just superb as is the impassioned vocal by Eric Burdon. Even today it's a classic and has not, to these ears become clich├ęd in any sense of the word. The song has lent this pub a fascination to me and has for the last 30 years or so. Sadly the pub does not repay the legacy of the song in any way at all.

But it does have it's pub sign still which is A Very Good Thing. It is another pub with a family connection, too. My parents helped to run it for several years leading up to and following the death of the landlady, Winnie Woodford, some years ago after a long battle against cancer. They did it as a favour to Jack, who was the landlord and Winnie's husband who had been a close friend to my father for many years.

Subsequently upon his death, in similar circumstances to his wife ~ don't smoke, kids, it's no good for you ~ the pub was sold and my family connection ended. The pub had been offered for sale to my father who did not want to buy it due to his advancing years. I wish he had mentioned it to me at the time as the price was very, and I mean very, favourable and as a cold business decision it could hardly have gone wrong. I'm sure something could have been arranged. That said I like a beer and being in charge of a pub might demand self-control levels that I just do not possess!! Still it's all history and I suspect that I'll never find out now. Since then the pub has been through several landlords. Nobody seems to stay long which is odd. I guess the brewery's terms are not very friendly and the rent is high.

So I know rather more about this pub than most and it ought to be one of Plymouth's "goldmine" pubs. It has a great reputation, it is ideally located on a main road, there is a couple of other pubs nearby which complement it and they actually provide a kind of symbiotic support to one another rather than outright competition and it is in the middle of a vast section of Plymouth's domiciliary hinterland. I hesitate to use the word "estate" since that implies council house domination and this is very much an owner-occupier neighbourhood and Higher Compton is as safe a Tory ward in the local elections as there is. Get the Tory nomination here and you have a job for life. Make no mistake this is one of the most middle-class areas of Plymouth and bears no comparison at all with the adjacent Efford which is chalk to Higher Compton's cheese, as it were, and it's sole pub, The Royal Marine, has long since been burned to the ground.

I have a friend named Rick Wilson who used to co-own the local Summerskills micro-brewery and he used to sagely mutter "chimney pots" whenever asked about pub potential. "Count the chimney pots" he'd say. Well there is literally thousands of them around here stretching out in all directions and in the main they are owned and not rented . "Location, location, location..." as The Wise Man once said. If you go wrong running this pub then you should not be running a pub.
Located but a short walk from The Bluebird The Rising Sun has a Methodist chapel as a next-door neighbour on one side and a real honest, old-fashioned hardware shop (one of the most useful shops in Plymouth, I reckon) on the other. Being Easter Saturday the church had a sign outside it to advertise Easter (I guess some people must be very forgetful). "It's a sign!!" I joked (well it was a sign, quite literally)and later that afternoon Jermaine Easter scored the first goal of the game. If I was a betting man then my money would surely have been on him as first goalscorer. The church is another factor that brings in regular trade. I know that for a fact because I got married in that chapel 13 years ago and met up with friends and family in the pub beforehand. One thing that I do recall about that lunchtime, apart from the pain from my ribs which had been broken on my Stag Night, was going to the loo just prior to going to the church for the ceremony. On arrival at the church one of Mrs B's friends, Maddie, pointed out to me that I was "flying low" as it were. I'm glad she did. It wouldn't have looked too good in the wedding photos would it?

As to the pub itself there is a small beer garden at the back which used to have Koi carp in the pond, I wonder if it still does? The garden was inhabited by smokers satisfying their craving as is their want in nearly every pub in the land these days. At the front there is a small car park which has had a table and benches installed in recent years and so is now virtually useless for parking cars in. Inside it is now a single bar pub and the wall which used to divide the Lounge and the Public Bar has been demolished. Happily the PB has been upgraded rather than the Lounge down-graded and it is rather pleasant in a traditional sort of way. It almost feels rather like a "country pub" as opposed to a "town" one which the nearby Bluebird undoubtedly is. As we walked we were assaulted by the unmistakable aroma of ascetic acid ~ vinegar!! How the place reeked of it!! Pubs shouldn't smell like that. They should be smoky and faintly redolent of stale beer, brasso and table polish all tinged with a hint of aftershave (if it's a weekend evening) and/or ladies' perfume (any evening or special occasion). The smoking ban has runed this. Nothing hides the rather unpleasant concoction of smells that can accumulate where men, mostly, gather to drink and the vinegar that beset the senses here was not pleasant. Obviously food was an option but I did not notice a menu and nobody was eating (so where did that vinegar smell come from?).

The "Lounge" area was obviously set aside for meals and was occupied by a few elderly people who were scattered around. They seemed to have positioned themselves with random precision so that they were all as far apart from one another as they could be. They were a probability density function in human form!! I can't say that it seemed especially welcoming and although there was sign outside proclaiming that "Sky TV Was Here!" there was no TV. There was a middle-aged woman behind the bar that did not seem to want to be there and who added little that was enjoyable to the experience of being there. There was a TV in the "Public Bar" side but it was not tuned to the Spurs match that was being played. Nor was it tuned to SSN. It was on switched on although it may as well not have been. I'm not sure how to say this but it was showing bloody ice skating. Well wrap me in bacofoil and call me ovenready if you like but that's just unacceptable... Ice skating!! Strange. Even now some time later I can't quite get my head around it. "I'm just off to The Sun, love. I don't want to miss the ice skating. I hope those pesky Romanian judges don't screw it up like they did last time...".

The ice skating apart as a pub they obviously do make some effort to entertain the punters though. There was a sign advertising a quiz night which is held every Monday (I like that sort of thing and wholeheartedly approve) and another publicising a Christian Sleep gig on the Thursday and it seems as though every Thursday is Music Night. Thursday night has always been a good night to go out in Plymouth. It always used to be payday for those on a weekly wage at the dockyard and so Thursdays were a bit special. I suppose the Music Night on a Thursday is a hangover from those days when the entire city was dominated by the rhythms of the dockyard hooter and shipwrights and others spoke of "back shift" and played endless hands of euchre. Still just as South Yorkshire and South Wales have lost their indigenous industries and main employers so the 'yard is now a shadow of what it once was when every family, my own included, had at least one yardie in it and schools focussed on the dockyard exam just as much as they did "O" Levels and CSEs. Those schools were the forerunners of today's vocational academies so beloved of New Labour really!! Is every city like this? Are we to be totally reliant on foreign employers and service industries for ever more? It does look that way. Still back to Christian Sleep... He has a website and you can listen, for free, to his CD The Moment Of Clarity there. It's not half bad either and I might just be tempted to catch him live one day.

The Moment Of Clarity ~ listen here

Anyway time was our enemy and just as there was just the merest suggestion that a pre-match buzz was building and obvious clutches of people were meeting up for the game we had to leave. We had arranged to meet others at the Golden Hind (already reviewed). To be honest the overall experience had been quite underwhelming, although beermats on the tables were most welcome ~ why do so few pubs put them out these days? ~ so we drank up and left.

Stonehouse 1 Higher Compton 0.


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