On the interest of the Publican
;Entering the thread on relations with publicans, we also have some experiences relevant to this discussion. I’m not sure what the situation of ownership of the land and building of the pubs in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales is these days, particularly in the larger towns and cities. However, it seems to us that three things make a great difference in the relations of pubs—and publicans—to session players.
First, does the publican own his building and land, or does s/he have a heavy monthly mortgage payment? In the former case, s/he has a lot more leeway, or if the landlord, miraculously charges low rents and allows him to miss a month or two during a period of difficulty. Is the landlord of the same culture and mentality? In the U.S., very few of these ideal situations exist. Most don’t live above the pubs or in a wing of the building, rather, nearly all publicans have a hefty mortgage or rent to pay, in addition to trying to keep a roof over his or her own family’s head, and putting adequate food on the table, etc.. Most landlords or mortgage lenders in the U.S. could care less if your particular pub exists or not; the building can always be sold or leased to someone else entirely different. They only care about getting the money and interest from a mortgage or rent.
Second, if the pub is in an urban area, or community, or small town/village, in what type of neighborhood does the pub exist? Ireland, Scotland and Wales are much more homogenous as an ethnic culture than the U.S., even in some degree of their cities. We believe England, now, is somewhere in between the U.S. and the other three. It’s much easier for a pub to always have clientele if the pub and the neighborhood/community are as one and much easier for sessions to have their way if all three—pub (that is owner/landlord and leasor-publican), community and session players are "one." This is a uncommon situation in the U.S., which is mostly urban areas greater than 25,000 people. In fact, over 60% of Americans live in mixed culture towns, of over 100,000 persons in size, established by ethnically diverse people within the last 70-90 years.
Third, how much competition exists in a community or neighborhood for the pub? In homogenous, tightly knit, older neighborhoods and towns (increasingly rare in the U.S.) there are neighborhood and community pubs with little or no competition. Again, though, this is a rare situation, especially for Irish, or otherwise "British" pubs. Although historically and genetically the U.S. population as a whole is still over 30% a quarter or more of Irish or Scottish descent, with another several percent of a quarter or more English or Welsh descent, most of these people actually do not KNOW or acknowledge their actual ancestry. In fact, a lot of Scots-Irish whose ancestors were in Ireland less than a generation, and largely "passed through," call themselves "Irish" because on the old colonial records (often kept by English appointees, or who served English appointees) were recorded simply as "having arrived from Ireland." Unless someone in these families actually dug through old records, such as the civil suit and other records mouldering and unorganized in many county courthouses in this country going back to the colonial era and original colonies, these Americans never see the additional references to the families’ real origins in Scotland, Wales, England, etc. We teach almost nothing of the plantation system in Ireland—and why and how it came about, the long border war between England and Scotland over Northumbria and Cumbria, etc., how many of the original colonial settlers were from "other than the heart of England,", how many descendants exist today, etc. Most Americans have little or no real sense of who they actually are than the nebulous, generic "American"—usually self-deprecatingly called "Heinz 57." This lack of real knowledge has been promoted, sometimes in a very heavy-handed manner, by the U.S. and states’ governments since the U.S. Civil War.
In our personal experience, sessions that are unpopular among patrons not all that interested in traditional music fail and are replaced with enertainments that cater to these other larger, ethnicities who do know more about their own identities and heritage, even when the publican ia a recent Irish immigrant. It seems to us that it’s possible for a greater number of pubs to exist in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and even England and have "traditional" music sessions without having undue concern about the wishes of the beverage and food buying patrons that are the mainstay of covering the mortgage/rent, and provision for the publican’s own family. It’s rarely possible for that situation to exist in the U.S. Here, if session players want sessions to exist at all, they have to be sensitive to the financial needs of the publican—and usually in neighborhoods in which any and all of the known British cultures or heritage are a small minority, and even the majority of regular beverage and food buying patrons are not of that cultural heritage, or don’t care.
Just 20 years ago, the city in which I live, which now has a million residents, had a self-identified demographic of about 15% mostly Irish descent. On the last survey taken at the same time as the latest census, that number had fallen to 6%. The same situation was noted by sociologists and political parties in the western parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania, although these were also noted to be much more "stable" regions where families that have existed and intermarried for 8-11 generations are still there. It’s not entirely a matter of a lot of new people moving into these areas, or the old groups dying off or moving away. It’s mostly a case of modern ignorance and disregard for heritage that has geatly increased in the last generation—largely with government and political promotion of that throughout the country.
So, there are three major issues in this discussion—the nature of pubs in places like Ireland, Scotland and England and the cultures in which they exist, compared with the nature of "traditional" Irish/British pubs in the U.S., the culture in which they must struggle to exist, and how EACH affects the existence/maintenance of sessions. We don’t think there is any "one size fits all" solution/attitude applicable to this situation.
Tony and Celia Becker