Music in pubs

by Steve Renshaw

The number of young people regularly drinking in pubs has slumped over the last few years. A recent study of the drinking habits of 18 to 24-year-olds carried out by CAMRA shows the number visiting pubs at least once a week has fallen from 38% to 16% in the past seven years. This is particularly bad news for the future viability of pubs.

One of the things that enterprising publicans are doing to attract a younger clientele is to put on live music, whether it’s karaoke, open mic nights or paid performers. But, of course, musical entertainment in pubs is nothing new. From their early days, beer houses had provided entertainment of some sort, be it singing, gaming or sport.

Music hall evolved from sing-songs in pub. In the 1830s, landlords set aside back rooms in their pubs for ‘saloon concerts’. By the 1850s many inns had their own halls for simple theatre and concerts. Indeed, some public houses were demolished and music hall theatres were built in their place.

In the 1880s, George Palmer, landlord of the Brown Cow Inn on Broadgate, used a room on the first floor of his premises as an entertainment hall. For some time, variety artists, some of whom became top-of-the-bill stars, visited the city and appeared there. Among them was Dan Leeson, the big-booted dancer, who performed in footwear measuring 30 inches in length.

A few years later, the Brown Cow changed its name to the Unity Arms and, later, the Unity Hotel. The most recent name change came in 1982, when the Jolly Brewer came into existence.

And the story comes full circle in 2004 when landlady, Emma Chapman, took over. Part of her original business plan was to have occasional live music in the pub. This proved to be so popular that it has become a major feature. When the beer garden was developed in 2005, a stage was built to accommodate bigger gigs.

So, to complete my research, I joined a group of young CAMRA members in the Brewer for a Friday evening session. The first thing you notice is the colourful, Art-Deco-style décor. But the other striking feature was the number of young people enjoying the lively atmosphere. And this isn’t a nightclub-style venue with nowhere to sit down! In fact, it was CAMRA’s Lincolnshire Pub of the Year in 2011.

After a couple of pints, we drifted outside to check out the headline act. Despite the rain, the sizeable crowd was rocking along with Knock Out Kaine, described in the flyer as ‘the Kings of Cock Rock’. Winner of KERRANG!’s Best Unsigned Live Act 2007/08, the band has just released a debut album.

I managed to last a couple of numbers before retiring inside with ears bleeding. One more pint and I was off in search of a taxi, happy in the knowledge that plenty of young people in Lincoln are enjoying what a good pub has to offer. Just a pity there wasn’t a big-booted dancer on the bill!

And what about the beer? Emma is a great supporter of local breweries. In fact, three of the six real ales on offer that evening were brewed within 25 miles of Lincoln. I chose Mowbray’s Mash from the Oldershaw Brewery in Grantham which, at 3.7% ABV, is an ideal session ale. When I put my pint on one of the sparkly tables, reflected light danced in the clear, amber liquid. As always at the Brewer, the beer was in tip-top condition, and I found the balance of biscuity malt and hoppy bitterness really refreshing.

To find out more about the Campaign for Real Ale in Lincoln, visit

Except where otherwise indicated, all content © 1971 - 2022 The Campaign for Real Ale. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information on this site is accurate and up to date, no responsibility for errors and omissions can be accepted. The views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the Campaign for Real Ale Ltd. Links to external sites do not imply any official CAMRA endorsement of the ideas expressed therein, or guarantee the validity of the information provided. Links to commercial sites are in no way an endorsement of any vendor’s products or services.