Ian Clayton Wins British Guild of Beer Writers Award

Ian Clayton has won a prestigious British Guild of Beer Writers award, picking up the Long Live the Local Award for Best Writer about Pubs for his book It’s The Beer Talking: Adventures in Public Houses, which was published earlier this year.

In his acceptance speech, Clayton said, ‘Public houses are like libraries, in that they both deserved to be looked after and cherished.’ A notion shared by the award’s sponsors, Long Live The Local, a campaign backed by a broad alliance of pubs, brewers and industry bodies to celebrate the vital role local pubs play in our community, culture and economy. The judges were briefed to find the best writing about the pub as a treasured national asset. The award was presented David Cunningham, programme director for Long Live The Local, at the Guild’s glitzy annual dinner held at One Great George Street in Westminster. Clayton received a framed citation, a specially engraved tankard and a cheque for £1000.

Clayton’s was the only book honoured at this year’s awards, which received more than 150 entries across 11 categories. Emma Inch, chair of judges for the Awards said ‘The standard of entries across all categories was extremely high and judges had a tough task choosing the winners and runners up.  We were impressed by the levels of knowledge, energy and passion that shone through the works submitted by our finalists, whether they had written a column, published a book or produced a film.’ Inch described Clayton’s book as a ‘picaresque adventure’.

Inch was joined on the judging panel by Laurence Creamer, Social & Digital Lead on industry campaign Long Live The Local; Tim Hayward, food & drink author, restaurant reviewer and regular on Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet;: Charlie McVeigh, founder of Draft House; Tony Naylor, food & drink writer contributing to The Guardian and BBC Good Food; Ross O’Hara, head brewer at Greene King; Kate Oppenheim, hospitality sector journalist and communications expert, currently publisher and editor of BII News; Tony Sophoclides, Strategic Affairs Director at UKHospitality.

Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers, Pete Brown, said of the award that he was ‘I’m delighted Ian’s book was a success because it shows us how many different ways there are to tackle pubs as a writer, which in turn reminds us how multi-faceted and essential pubs are.’

In It’s The Beer Talking, Ian Clayton turns his sights on one of the great loves of his life, the public house. When he started drinking in the 1970s, Clayton drank alongside men who’d fought in the First World War, thus by 2019 he’s shared first-hand stories that span over a century of life lived. In his foreword to the book, one of Britain’s leading beer writers, Roger Protz, bemoans the decline of the public house as the centre of British life, a victim of modern times. While the statistics of pub closures bear this out as undeniable fact, somewhere in Ian Clayton’s story lays a glimpse of something else. In this journey to the soul of the British pub, we see a spirit that endures, an eternal connection to public houses which is ever-present, behind the layers of paint, inside the stories, waiting to be released. Ian believes that pubs, like libraries, are repositories of wisdom, if we lose either, then the neighbourhood starts to shiver.

Ian Clayton is an author, broadcaster and storyteller from Featherstone, West Yorkshire. His stories are about making sense of where we come from. His books tackle subjects as diverse as rugby league, jazz and homelessness.  His recent memoirs include Song For My Father, Our Billie and Bringing It All Back Home, described by Record Collector magazine as ‘one of the best books about popular music ever written’.

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Upon Yon Hill The Game Will Commence

Haxey Hood sway 2008

Haxey Hood 2008. Ian Clayton and Martin Oxley getting stuck in to the sway.

Ian Clayton reflects on the long tradition of the Haxey Hood game, a sort of mass scrum of beer drinkers, which ‘stands head and shoulders for me above anything I’ve ever seen to do with pubs’. During the most recent hood, only one of the four pubs usually involved was open.

When I wrote It’s The Beer Talking, I wanted to include a section about pubs and folklore. There was no contest in my mind about what particular folklore I should write about. ‘The Haxey Hood Game’ stands head and shoulders for me above anything I’ve ever seen to do with pubs.

The game takes place on the twelfth day of Christmas (January 6) every year in Haxey and Westwoodside, two villages in the Isle of Axholme in North Lincolnshire. Unless the 6th falls on a Sunday, then it takes place on the day before. The locals will tell you that the game has taken place for going on seven hundred years, and that it celebrates a day when the local landowner’s wife Lady Mowbray had her hood blown off in the breeze while out riding. The hood was returned to her by some local farm labourers. Lady Mowbray, impressed by the act of chivalry, suggested that the event should be re-enacted each year on some fields she donated for the purpose. Since then a whole series of rituals has grown up: the singing of songs like ‘John Barleycorn’ and ‘Farmers Boy’ and the ‘smoking of a fool’ act as a preamble to the main action, all this in colourful folk costumes.

The main action starts on fields between the two villages when a leather cylinder – the hood – is tossed into the air and then ‘the sway’ begins as people of all ages try to move the hood this way and that. These days the point of the game is to sway the hood towards one of four pubs: the Kings Arms, Duke William and The Loco in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside. The game ends when the landlord or landlady of one of these pubs takes hold of the hood. The hood is kept at that particular pub until the following year.

In some ways the game is an ancient form of rugby, but one without too many rules and with no restriction on player numbers. Anybody can take part and some years hundreds of players join in. It’s truly a community event, with people of all ages and backgrounds taking part. It’s a tough game and, depending on the weather, it can get very muddy. There is no time limit, nobody seems to know what time it starts and it can go on until well after dark. The local pubs take the precaution of removing all breakables from their rooms and lining furniture and carpets with protective sheeting.

I’ve been to it a couple of times. The last time in 2008 when I went with Martin Oxley my old drinking partner. We joined in with the singing and drinking and the laughter as the fool was smoked. The game started late that particular year, I think it was coming dark by the time we got up onto the fields. We were also plaiting our legs with the amount of ale we had supped. We didn’t want to miss anything so we started drinking at noon. For some reason Martin decided we ought to push with the lads and lasses from Westwoodside. For an hour or so there was a concerted effort to get the hood up the hill, from where it would have been an easier shove down the other side to the Carpenters Arms. Try as we might the sway barely budged. In fact it barely budged from the field for at least two hours. Eventually the sway appeared in the village high street at Haxey and after further struggles made its way that year down to the Kings Arms at the other end of the village. Martin and me had retired from it by then and supped some more in the Duke William. To be in that sway is an exhilarating experience. It’s colourful, rough and very sweaty and muddy. The whole thing moves around like something from nature, perhaps like a murmuration of starlings preparing to roost does. People do get hurt occasionally, but you’d expect that on a muddy field when hundreds of people are pushing and shoving, yet it’s all done with great humour and stewarded by experienced men called ‘The Boggins’. These men ensure that when the sway collapses and people are off their feet, the game stops until everybody is up again. You can’t run with the hood, throw it or pass it, it must simply be swayed until it gets to where it’s going. As an example of a community based game, I don’t think Haxey Hood has an equal. And because it is connected to local pubs, it is an important part of social life and friendship and an important reason why pubs are there in the first place.

I’ve heard that the age old folklore and pub culture of this year’s Haxey Hood was disturbed by modern issues. From what I can gather, the Kings Arms is currently closed down, as is The Loco. The Landlord at the Duke William decided not to open on the day of this year’s event, leaving just the Carpenters Arms to sway the hood to. Apparently the landlord at the Duke William has had some sort of falling out with the local community after a failed planning application to turn the pub into houses. In these times of pub closures and attempts and campaigns to keep them open, it seems to me that the good folk of Haxey have an inarguable right to retain their public houses. There won’t be many places you can go to that has a pub connected to a tradition that goes back seven centuries.

Here’s footage of the Haxey Hood in 2008. You can clearly see me and Martin Oxley getting stuck in at 5.35. I’m in my tweed overcoat and beret, Martin has his black captain’s hat on and a blue cagoule.

More on It’s The Beer Talking

What’s The Beer Book About?

A blog post by Ian Clayton on his new book It’s The Beer Talking: Adventures in Public Houses.

I’ve always written close to home. When I first started writing, everybody I asked said that I should write about what I know about. I’ve stuck to that ever since, so all of what I write takes place were I’m from. Wherever I have lived, I have never been more than a stone’s throw from a local pub. My new book It’s The Beer Talking: Adventures in Public Houses comes out at the end of October. I suppose the title tells you most of what you need to know about what is inside its covers. Yes it’s about beer and pubs and because it’s a memoir, it’s about what I’ve got up to in ale houses over the years. I hope it’s funny. I wanted to write a comedy, so it would be a bit of a bugger if it didn’t make folk laugh. There’s one or two sad bits in it as well, because even in pubs, life isn’t always funny ha ha. Like my other writing, it is based on memories and emotions and characters I have known. Most of it is true, some bits are made up and the rest, well, if it isn’t true, it ought to be!

I’ve written a lot of books, but I’m not always sure what to say when people ask me what my books are about. Perhaps my best known book is Bringing it all Back Home. It’s about music. All sorts of music, from music hall to the blues and pop. Then again it’s not really about music at all, it’s about where music has taken me and how it shapes me. Another more recent book is Song for My Father. I generally say that one is a book about my dad. Yet I didn’t know my dad for most of my life, so it’s a book about looking for him, what happened in the few months after we were reunited and mostly about what happened when we weren’t in each others lives. It’s The Beer Talking follows a similar template. There’s plenty of beer in it, a lot of laughter, one or two tears and now and again a bit of bawdy banter. It’s just a book of stories that take place against a backdrop of the public house. These stories are about the joy of joining in, celebrating who we are and the quest to find the perfect pint. There are journeys here and discovery, but because our favourite pubs are usually in our own back yard, it’s a book that takes place near home. In many ways it’s a book that takes delight in localness, the simple pleasure of where we are from, wherever that might be.

The book starts with my first taste of beer, in a smoke-filled working men’s club, then rattles like a boxful of dominoes through more than half a century of backstreet boozing all over the world in that rare old haunt we call the public house. In a time when local pubs are closing down at an alarming rate, the book is a bit of a call to treasure them. I say this because I believe that pubs are like libraries. More than any other buildings near where we live, they are storehouses of our communal knowledge. At times snapshots of our neighbourhood, at other times a refuge from what’s going on outside, but always somewhere familiar and welcoming. I love the pub most of all because that is where over the years I have found a lot of friendship. Come to think of it, It’s The Beer Talking is a book about friendship. As a matter of fact, all of my books are about friendship.

Be amongst the first to read It’s The Beer Talking. Advance copies can be ordered now. Click here.

A launch event will take place on Thursday 25th October, 7:30pm at The Junction, 109 Carlton Street, Castleford. All welcome. Details here.

It’s The Beer Talking: Adventures In Public Houses

It’s The Beer Talking: Adventures In Public Houses
Ian Clayton
Published by Route
Pre-order here

Ian’s book is brimming with laughter, tall stories, great memories and endless rounds of wonderful beer. It’s also a call to arms to save this unique institution. Roger Protz, Editor Good Beer Guide 2000-2018

Where do we go to meet old friends? What is our first port of call when we want to show new mates something that speaks about our identity? The pub of course, or better still our local.

Author Ian Clayton embarked on a lifelong love affair with local pubs in the middle of the 1970s. He has raised a glass in neighbourhood bars around the world for more than forty years. His stories are intertwined with quests to find perfect pints and peoples’ palaces and about joining in with the joy he finds in the unique gathering place we call the public house.

He moves across the generations and boundaries to take a glimpse at what makes the pub tick. Humorous and poignant by turns, It’s The Beer Talking tells of the laughter, the tears, the cheers, the remembering and forgetting, but most of all the camaraderie we all crave. This book will resonate with anyone who as ever uttered that immortal phrase, ‘Do you fancy a pint?’

Ian Clayton was four when he first tasted beer. That stolen mouthful from his grandad’s pint was important, it helped mark Ian’s path through life.  Here he develops this well-established theme and goes further by proving that every pub has a story to tell.  This book is filled with amazing characters who, along with Ian, have kept the pub alive and let the beer continue to do the talking. Barrie Pepper, former Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers

Ian’s love and appreciation of beer, pubs and the people that frequent them is obvious. His adventures in various locals around the world are both entertaining and poignant. Mark Seaman, Revolutions Brewery

Fermented magic. A heartfelt adventure of beer, tears and laughter. In my pub I often hear the line ‘You couldn’t write it’. Ian just has. Samantha Smith, Award Winning Landlady, Mallinson’s Brewery Taphouse


Ian Clayton is an author, broadcaster and storyteller from Featherstone, West Yorkshire. His stories are about making sense of where we come from. His books include Bringing It All Back Home, a bestselling book about music; Song For My Father about his lifelong search for a father figure; Our Billie about loss.

Order Details

In keeping with the tradition of Ian Clayton books, there will be a local release in advance of a general release. As Ian points out in his book, local doesn’t just mean near to where you live. We will be releasing advance copies of the book on 25th October 2018. The book wont be available on Amazon or other bookshops until its trade release in 2019.

Be amongst the first to read it. Click here to order an advance copy.

It’s The Beer Talking will be launched on Thursday 25th October, 7:30pm at The Junction, 109 Carlton Street, Castleford. All welcome. Details here.