I hate to admit it, but pubs have been a big part of my life since long before I turned 18. So has live music. Call it a dangerous mixture, but in the words of Sir Elton, I'm Still Standing. Just.
I spent my teenage years in a bygone era, when 'photo-ID' was not automatically demanded each and every time I entered licensed premises. No, I grew up in a time when publicans made an unwritten contract with young drinkers - behave like an adult and I am happy to serve you. But, behave like an idiot and you will never darken my door again. By and large, I behaved, and grew up loving the conversation, the darts, the pool table and the bar billiards, and, above all, the live music that was served up alongside my gratefully received pints of ale.
The system worked well. It encouraged us, as teenagers, to behave like adults. Rather than getting pissed in the woods on cheap cider purchased from dodgy off-licences, we grew up learning how to drink sensibly, in comfortable surroundings and engaging in mature conversation and lively debate. And, if we were lucky, enjoying the live music as well.
That love of a pub atmosphere, and of live music, has stayed with me my entire adult life. The one thing that has changed my drinking habits has been the rightful and correct toughening up of the laws concerning drinking and driving. Nowadays, trips into the excellent live music venues within the city of Norwich and its vibrant pub music scene have to be moderated with a solitary pint before clambering on to my Piaggio for the drive home.
Imagine, therefore, my delight and pleasure upon finding that my local hostelry, The Royal Oak in Poringland, has decided to mimic some of my favourite Norwich haunts and lay on on a season of weekend live music during the summer. Just a couple of minutes walk from my house, a great range of beers, and only the crossing of the main road to negotiate after sampling a number of different ales.
First up on their programme last Sunday lunchtime was renowned local act Don't Lose Heart. Describing themselves as an 'acoustic-ish duo', they consist of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Louisa Sadler, together with well-known local 'muso' Dickie Hartt, who for this performance played electric guitar (hence the tag 'acoustic-ish'). Well known on the Norwich folk and blues scene, and soon to be appearing at the Dereham Blues Festival, Don't Lose Heart play mostly original songs, but with a couple of respectful covers thrown in.
There is a beautiful rendition of John Martyn's classic 'Going Home', and a lesser known version of Vintage Trouble's 'Nobody Told Me', showing where the influences and inspiration for Louisa Sadler's own songwriting is based. Her songs are rooted in the traditions of folk music, but introduce lyrical content based on contemporary experience. Personal favourites of mine were 'Calling Card', 'Just The Singer', 'Dragons', and finally the sad but true story of the Elvis impersonator in 'He Makes Her Feel'. She sings in a style that melds Americana to her natural, slightly husky tones, and as she strums her acoustic guitar Dickie Hartt overlays gentle electric flourishes. Together, it is a rewarding and beautiful accompaniment to a pint or three of Adnams bitter.
On a day when the legendary singer songwriter Carole King was wowing the Hyde Park crowds with a concert that saw her perform the 'Tapestry' album in its entirity, it would be easy to think that Poringland, six miles south east of Norwich, would not be in a position to compete. Maybe not, but Don't Lose Heart gave it their best shot. Even the table of locals, in for their regular Sunday lunchtime session, were engaged by Louisa's willingness to banter on almost any subject, and seemed suitably impressed.
Thanks are indeed due to landlady Delia Perry for this push to bring quality live entertainment to the good folk of Poringland, and hopefully word will soon spread further afield as well. Having seen the acts already booked to appear later in the Summer, I can vouch for the quality of the upcoming line up - this is proper live entertainment, rather than karaoke singers performing to backing tracks, or third-rate tribute acts.
Get yourselves down to The Royal Oak sometime soon. If you live in Poringland or Framingham Earl this could be the best thing that has happened here in years. And if you live in the city and fancy a change of scenery, this could be a rewarding run out for you as well.