The Alma arms at 193 Highland Road, Southsea, Hampshire, PO4 9EZ [map] [gmap] for years was notorious as a hangout of the far right; the former landlord Barry Smith being an old-school Nazi who hosted regular events for local fascists and hooligan firms. The pub was taken over in July 2013 by Steve Lant who also runs The Nell Gwynne, in Jessie Road, Southsea, and The Old House at Home, in Locksway Road, Milton, Portsmouth, on behalf of Enterprise Inns. Since then the Alma has been keen to shed its Nazi image, to the extent of sucking up to local antifascist groups and other lefty causes.
Last Sunday Pompey Punx Collective put on a benefit gig at the Alma on behalf of Medical Aid for Palestinians; according to a friend of one of the bands the venue had been leaned on by the cops to hire ‘security’, supposedly in case of fascist ingress. When we arrived there were a couple of awkward looking bodybuilders striking poses in tight-fitting black uniforms and we wondered if someone had hired a striptease act. Anyway we got to see Grant Sharkey do his unique socially-conscious double bass comedy thing (his act is pretty hard to describe, you just need to check it out). The acoustics are shit by the way, no really they are.
It was a Sunday night and the place wasn’t exactly rammed, more like a private party as nearly everyone knew each other, but the atmosphere was dampened by these dudes glaring at people and constantly fussing over who had paid – frankly a gatecrasher would have stuck out like a dog’s bollocks and been challenged instantly. One of us put up a Palestine flag, and was told by the management (one Simon Lawrence, who confesses to be a mate of the old landlord) to take it down, so she wore it instead, the bodybuilders told her to take it off and she refused, we had a word, but they were intransigent, so we just ignored them. Grant’s set, which is the kind of material you really want to listen to, was marred by the bickering going on in the background. More fussing, it seems they were texting Grant’s lyrics to the owners! They didn’t want anything to do with politics they said, they actually used the phrase ‘sitting on the fence’ and we all know where that goes. They were there ‘as a deterrent’ – to what exactly? They didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, “have you done this before?”. Really they should stick to playing paintball. We were informed the event was now a closed one and no-one else would be admitted.
Next up was Thee Infidels, A riotous German Ska/punk band, they got through a couple of numbers then a male comrade put the flag on and was forcibly thrown out. We all followed, the band walked off the stage and came with us. We could not continue under these circumstances and started loading up the gear. About 20 minutes later there was a call from the owner to say he was calling the event off – a bit late for that, mush!
So, is this just a case of a venue badly run by incompetents out of their depth, or was it a set up in league with the police to shut down autonomous organising in the area? A proper antifascist gig was to follow in a couple of weeks, at which they would never have got away with such antics, so this little set piece seems well timed. Never mind, there are plenty of proper venues to choose from.
The Alma will now have to go back to hosting fascists because no one else is going to touch it with a barge pole.