From the Portsmouth News, 30 April 1996

PORTSMOUTH / Culture lesson for heavy metal fans

Chris Buck background, Chris Smithies plays viola, foreground

Chris Buck sups his pint as Chris Smithies plays viola, at the Air Balloon

Classical soiree proves a real gas


Pub's highbrow musical evenings pull in the punters.


The News

There is now a Portsmouth pub where you can get Brahms and Liszt without touching a drop of the hard stuff.

For, once a month, having a pint at the Air Balloon, in Mile End Road, is more like taking tea at Ritz – musically at least.

Jukebox favourites such as Spaceman by Babylon Zoo are relegated to the bottom of the hit parade ... as a classical string quartet takes centre stage for the night.

Landlord Dave Beresford introduced the highbrow evenings shortly after taking over the pub – which had been a haunt of leather-clad bikers – seven months ago.

He said most of the regulars were more used to Motorhead and Hawkwind than Mozart and Haydn.

‘When I first came here the jukebox was full of heavy metal and nothing else.

‘So I thought I would be a bit different to get some culture in here for a change. And it definitely seems to have worked,’ he said.

‘Some of the old bikers sometimes poke their heads round the door and wonder what's going on.

‘But other people come in especially to hear the classical stuff.’

The ensemble is called the Granger String Quartet – after Havant instrument maker Colin Granger.

Violinist Gill Tolliday, a music teacher for Hampshire County Council who lives in Milton, said they mostly played well-known pieces such as Vivaldi's Four Seasons or tunes people would recognise from films or adverts.

‘It has surprised me how much the regulars seem to like good classical music. The place has been packed for the last two concerts,’ she said.

Drinker Chris Buck, a motor mechanic from North End, said he wouldn't usually listen to classical music and knew virtually nothing about it.

‘We normally have Radio One blaring out at work so this makes a change.

‘But I am growing to like it. It's very relaxing and dreamy – just the thing to help you wind down after work,’ he said.

Last night, composer John Webber, director of the Portsmouth New Music Orchestra, raised the cultural stakes with the premiere of a new work called Ricecare – which is Italian – for an experiment.

The piece was written for a string quintet with two flutes, a clarinet and, somewhat obscurely, a country music pedal steel guitar.

But, with its complex harmonic structure which veered between the avant garde and the cacophonous, it proved to be a little too much for some.

‘I think they are still warming up,’ said one bemused drinker halfway through the piece.