Simon Clarke and Vicki Harding, along with Charles Tustain, are the hosts of Beers Without Frontiers, a podcast that discusses beers, breweries, pubs, bars, bottle shops and beer culture. Based in Warwickshire, the Beers Without Frontiers team are great supporters of the growing craft beer community in the Midlands.
I’ve known Simon and Vicki for a couple of years or so now. Having originally seen each other at many of the same meet the brewer and tap takeover events in Birmingham, we finally got talking on a crawl around Coventry, organised by Carl Marshall, formerly of Twisted Barrel Ale, and now brewing at Salopian. Since that day, we’ve become great friends and I have guested on their podcast on multiple episodes.
Whenever we hang out, the one subject that we talk about as much as, or even more than beer, is music. Simon and I, in particular, have bonded our love of progressive rock. Since I have been looking for a way to shoehorn some more music-based content onto Wednesday Beers, I thought the perfect way to do this would be to talk to Beers Without Frontiers.
Earlier this month, we met up for beers at Roberto’s Bar and Tasting Club in Birmingham, and I took the opportunity to ask a few beer and music crossover questions.
If you could share a beer with one musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
Simon: Ooh flippin’eck. Dead or alive? My initial thoughts are Frank Zappa. There’s a famous quote of his that I saw on a beer menu somewhere we were the other day that said “If you want to call yourself a country, you’ve got to have an army, and you’ve got to have this that and the other and at the very least, you need a beer. So yeah, that would be an intriguing one, to share a beer with the late, great Frank Zappa. [Editor: The quote Simon referred to is: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but in the very least you need a beer.”]
Vicki: So, the teenager in me says Paul Young.
S: Wherever you lay your pint.
V: Exactly. He was my first love and he will be my last, as I always say to Simon.
So, the second Simon is dead, then it’s all about Paul Young?
V: Yeah, but to give my final answer to the question, I think Peter Gabriel. I think he could be interesting to have a beer with.
He could be really awkward as well though, couldn’t he? Well, you never know.
S: He might turn up with a fox’s head on him.
Ok, so major music venues are generally pretty awful in the UK. Is there any gig that stands out in your memory where you’ve actually been able to have a good beer?
S: I think it’s probably more festivals, depending on which festival you go to. Not the big corporate ones, but like, we’ve been to Cropredy Folk Festival, down near Banbury, and they’ve got a lot of real ale on there, or even better than that, you can take your own beer in.
In terms of gig venues themselves, we went to the Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush the other week and I can’t remember what we were drinking this time, but they used to have beers from a local brewery that was somewhere in Notting Hill. It was a more of a traditional style, but it was so refreshing to have something that ain’t macro.
On the subject of good beers at gigs, you know, I really applaud what Signature Brew are doing down in London, trying to get good beers into music venues.
I went to a gig at OMEARA, near to London Bridge, and for me, that was awesome because they had cans of Gipsy Hill. Obviously, I was in London, I wasn’t driving, I was just staying at my sisters, so I was able to enjoy the gig with three or four cans, which is something I don’t do very often… in… in England to be honest.
S: What we do is if we’re going to a gig and we know the venue, you know, your Apollos, your O2 Academies, or your Arenas, we’ll go and drink something good beforehand, and then we’ll go to the gig and drink water, because there’s nothing good at the gig in those cases.
If you’re traveling further afield for a gig, it’s just a prime opportunity to explore the bars and pubs, or taprooms in the area.
V: Well, invariably, as you get to gigs a bit early anyway, especially if it’s not close to home, then why not? Even if there is anything decent in the gig venue, it’s the extortionate prices that put you off! At our local venue, the Leamington Assembly, they are started off doing Punk IPA didn’t they?
S: They used to have some Brooklyn stuff on in there.
V: Yeah, which is nice, but Jesus, the price for a little bottle!
S: Actually, I’ve just remembered, we went to the roundhouse in London on Wednesday night, and in the downstairs bar, they were doing Brooklyn Defender IPA or Punk IPA on tap, which is pretty decent as far as I’m concerned. But yeah, there’s still a long way to go for getting good beer at gigs in the UK.
So, moving on. I’m going to set the scene here, you’re in the pub, you’re three or four drinks in, it’s an friendly, chill kind of place, and there’s a jukebox in the corner. You’ve got some change, and this jukebox has every record ever made. What are you going to play?
S: To get great value and piss off as many people as possible, I’d choose something like Jethro Tull’s ‘Thick as a Brick’, of which there’s only two tracks, side one and side two, or maybe Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’. Great value for money, and your music stays playing longer than anyone else’s.
So rather than picking a people pleaser, you’ve decided to alienate as many people as possible?
S: Haha! Clear a few of the riff raff out. Perfect.
V: So, I would pick, ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, or B.Y.O.B. by System of a Down.
Your Podcast is called Beers Without Frontiers, a play on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Games Without Frontiers’, so my next question is, if Peter Gabriel was a beer, what style would he be?
S: Oh, I think something complex. He would probably be a barrel aged imperial stout. He has multiple layers of complexity to him, like a beer that’s almost in movements… I don’t mean bowel movements…
So, stout, barrel aged, spices, cardamom. Something like that.
S: Maybe… Elderflower!
What do you reckon, Vicki?
V: I don’t know. Maybe a wheat beer?
S: Banana and clove?
So, we’re talking to a German wheat beer as opposed to Belgian?
V: Yeah, more likely German.
So, imagine you are on tour with a band. You could be a musician, roadie, tour manager, whatever you like, this is all imaginary. The question is, what would your go-to tour beer be?
S: Well, it would have to be something sessionable. Nothing too crazy. Do you know what, I’d say something like Lost and Grounded’s ‘Hop-Hand Fallacy’. Nice, refreshing farmhouse ale.
V: I would say ‘Death By Coconut’, Oskar Blues, although I’m not sure how many of those you could drink in one go?
Are there any pubs, bars or taprooms that you have visited that stand out for having great playlists?
S: I have to say the Twisted Barrel Taproom. Whatever they are playing through their speakers, it’s always pretty good. I remember one time I was in there, and they played Kansas, ‘Carry on Wayward Son’. Spot on.
V: The other one I would add, although I’m not sure it’s as good now, is BrewDog Birmingham.
S: Back in the old days…
Yeah, circa 2013, 2014, you’d go in there on a Friday or Saturday night and there’d be a vinyl DJ on, playing some awesome funk and soul.
S: It made all the difference.
So, finally, the big question is, you’re tasked with DJing a beer festival. How would you tackle your beer festival playlist?
S: I would say you would have to have something from Queens of the Stone Age.
V: The Killers, System of a Down.
S: Pixies, erm, slightly divisive, but something from Rush.
V: Ok, I’m going to be even more divisive. I’d play some ABBA.
A few beers in, you’re definitely going to be singing along to Dancing Queen.
S: Sabbath, you’ve got to have some Sabbath in there. Children of the Grave.
V: Guns n Roses.
S: Oh, and some Zeppelin. Immigrant Song or something like that. Those are the kind of things that you would have on a beer festival playlist for sure.
V: Throw some Blur in.
S: Quality rock generally, quality rock.
Back to Beers Without Frontiers, how did you decide on the name of your podcast?
S: Well, to me, the concept of Beers Without Frontiers is that we’re in to traditional beer as well as your modern, craftier stuff. Beers Without Frontiers is about all styles, all types of beer, and the name just slipped off the tongue really, and it means we can use a little bit of Peter Gabriel in our intro music.
V: And to slightly quote George Michael, you “drink without prejudice”.
And that’s what Beers Without Frontiers is about.
 Fairport’s Cropredy Convention?