Pete Robinson: "This town, is coming like a ghost town, All the pubs have been closed down..."

By Pete Robinson

...or something like that, so sang Coventry band The Specials back in the 80's. But pub-wise we'd never had it so good in that period. Despite two major recessions within 10 years of one another pubs were doing fine with closures quite a rarity.

Indeed up until two years ago I could count on one hand the number of pub closures that have occurred within my lifetime in the area that I live. Yet ever since then pubs have closed at an alarming rate.

At the last count THIRTEEN local pubs had gone in the first 18 months following the smoking ban, leaving around 80 in total.

This isn't natural erosion, it's carnage on a grand scale.

In The Guardian recently some poncey, jumped-up London journalist portrayed this as a good thing. "Only the rubbish pubs are closing", he said, "the ones that deserved to close". Because his local wine bars and gastropubs appeared to be unaffected this naive capital clot believed traditional watering holes up and down the country should be culled.

To my mind no pub deserves to close. I love the 'grotty back-street boozers' so typical of our islands because of their pure local charm. You meet real people in these places, not the insular sociophobes who stare in shocked disbelief when you attempt to strike up a conversation.

But it's not just those particular establishments that are closing. Lovely, traditional pubs are equally vulnerable.

Canalside pubs, coaching inns and time-honoured, decent locals all take their chances today.

Pubs like the Nag's Head, near the town centre in my home town of Nuneaton. This unassuming but delightful half-timbered pub was at least 150 years old. My grandfather drank there occasionally, as did my father. I spent many a happy hour in the Nags during my mis-spent youth, emptying pints of bitter hand-drawn from wooden barrels expertly 'tipped' in the cool cellar.

As I matured the Nags became essential for it's full-sized snooker tables in the back room. All ages mixed in this busy, popular pub.

In the 80's the Nags transformed itself into a live-music venue featuring up-and-coming local bands together with well known tributes. By the 90's the pub was flourishing in this role, having been 'knocked through' to maximise the stage and audience areas. The joint rocked, and we liked it.

This heady atmosphere ensured the pub's success beyond the new millennium - right up until July 1st 2007.

Even I would have put money on this place surviving the smoking ban. It was everything the pro-banners were advocating. Live music, fair prices, nice staff, a good position. My son's rock band regularly 'gigged' there to a full and appreciative house.

With the advent of the smoking ban the atmosphere completely changed - in more ways than one. The lighting system depended on customer's smoke. Without it the stage appeared stark while the lasers were invisible.

They eventually overcame this with the use of 'haze' and smoke machines, but the resulting artificial fug caught in the throat far worse than natural smoke ever did. Bands did their best to recreate the original unique 'feel' of the place, but they were playing to dwindling numbers.

The shrinking crowd - both smoking and non-smoking - was to be found outside on the pavement while talented musicians played only to small gatherings of diehard headbangers. Although well-behaved this outside throng required extra security together with additional expense, especially as passing mobs would occasionally assault the Nag's punters.

By that time the writing was on the wall. Even so it was terribly sad to witness this once-proud pub slide rapidly into decline, to become just another statistic.

Last year the Nag's Head closed it's doors for good. Today it is no more. Future generations will never know the Nag's Head was ever there. Nothing marks the spot, not even a pile of rubble.

That's all been cleared to make way for a new Lidl supermarket.

What stories that pub could have told. Tales of two World Wars, of kings, queens and coronations. Times of national fear and uncertainty, times of unbridled joy and celebration. The many thousands of colourful characters who must have graced it's bars.

The parties, the dances, the lock-ins.

This wasn't just a pub. It was an essential part of our culture and heritage, sacrificed to Nu-Labour's meddlesome social engineering as surely as deliberate murder.

Yes, I'll miss the old Nags. But then I'll also miss the Cock and Bear, the Bulls Head, the Graziers Arms, the Fox and Crane, the Oddfellows Arms, the Bull Inn, the Cherry Tree, even Yates Wine Lodge and several other less distinctive premises - all of which can be added to this small town's smoking ban roll-of-honour.

Soon I will be lamenting the passing of many more local pubs.

Pubs that are currently scraping by on borrowed time, some on their fifth change of licensee in two years. At this rate there will be very few pubs left in, say, 10 year's time.

I may be the oldest teenager in the business but time eventually catches up with all men. Where am I gonna drink when I'm old?

Omigod - I have a chilling vision of my mobility buggy parked outside the local Wetherspoons.

Ugh! I feel like slashing my wrists here and now if that's what the future holds.

Oh well, I'll let the Specials play out the end of this blog - as I sadly wipe away a tear...

Do you remember the good old days
Before the ghost town?
We danced and sang,
And the music played inna de boomtown
This town, is coming like a ghost town
This town, is coming like a ghost town
This town, is coming like a ghost town
This town, is coming like a ghost town

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