The Concertina Band Club in a small south Yorkshire town near Doncaster is not a co-op or even a member of the Club and Institute Union that controls most clubs. But as its name suggests, it has an interesting story to tell.
Concertina bands were all the rage in Victorian and Edwardian England. They were based mainly in the north of the country, where every town had at least one band. The concertina was the only portable chromatic instrument at the time and, as it came with a variety of different keyboards, it was possible for bands to play complex harmonic music. The Mexborough band was formed in the 1880s. It played in a pub called the George & Dragon and practised in a local dance hall.
The Mexborough was a top band, giving a private performance for Edward VII and winning a thousand guinea prize in a competition at Alexandra Palace in 1906. After World War One the members decided they wanted their own club where they could play and underwrite their costs by selling beer: concertinas cost as much as motor-bikes. They bought an old joiner’s shop, turned it into a club and added a concert hall.
But concertina bands went into terminal decline. The piano accordion, which is easier to learn, started to replace the concertina. After the Second World War, it became increasingly difficult to recruit new players and the Mexborough band, down to six musicians, packed up in 1978. The club had a difficult time in the 1970s and 80s. It was a member of the CIU for 15 years but went bust, owing Tetley’s money. It was put up for sale and was bought in 1986 by Kenneth Pickering, whose steel fabrication business had run into problems as a result of the mining disputes in Yorkshire.
The independent club took beer from John Smith’s and Wards but Kenneth Pickering’s son, Andy, was a keen home brewer and in 1992 he installed a brewery in the cellar of the club. With equipment from Whitbread and Mansfield Brewery, Andy has an eight-barrel brew length plant, with a mash tun, copper, four fermenters and settling tanks. He buys pale and crystal malts from Fawcetts in Yorkshire and uses Fuggles, Styrian Goldings, Target and Whitbread Golding Variety hops.
"The Tina", as the club is known, still takes beer from Wards, now brewed by Jennings, but Andy Pickering produces Club Bitter, Old Dark Attic (both 3.9%), and Bengal Tiger, a 4.6% India Pale Ale. The beers are smooth and creamy in the south Yorkshire fashion, with thick heads of foam and a good underlying hop bitterness. Club Bitter is refreshing and easy drinking, with a touch of citrus fruit from the hops. Bengal Tiger’s smoothness belies is strength. It has a complex nose full of malt, hops and tart fruit, with a malty/hoppy palate and a lingering finish with tangy fruit notes.
Andy said he had always wanted to brew an IPA. A member of the club found the image of a Bengal tiger on his computer's Clip Art and he fashioned a pump clip from it. Commercial breweries would pay a large amount of money to design companies for that kind of work, but the Tina’s members have different attitudes.
The club has 400 members who pay £2 a year or £3 for couples. The rates have been frozen since 1997. A pint of Club Bitter costs £1.46 compared with £1.80 or £1.90 in local pubs. Andy’s mother, Patricia Pickering, now owns the club, and his brother-in-law, Alan Boyd, is the manager. They have phased out concerts but stage regular charity events for local schools and other worthy causes.
As well the fine beer, a visit to the Tina will enable you to see black and white photos of former concertina bands and Andy will show you a framed collection of beer labels from now defunct clubs breweries in the North-east, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Kent. It's your last chance to catch a glimpse of clubs breweries in all their 20th-century pomp before they succumbed to the steamroller of commercialism.
*Entry to the Tina is easy: just sign the book. The club is at 9a Dolcliffe Road, Mexborough (12-4, 7-11 Mon-Sat; 12-2, 7-10.30 Sun). It’s just off the high street and a few minutes’ walk from Mexborough station.