Letter of the week: musical past of old pub

It is sad to see the demise of the Sheaf & Sickle at Long Lawford, especially when taking account of its history.

Whilst I never drank regularly at the pub, I was their pianist for many years starting in the 60s, playing Friday & Saturday evenings for the then manager Peter Cook.

I used to arrive at 7pm and proceed to dismantle the piano front so that people could see the keys and which would allow more sound to come forth. I played about 150 of the old singable songs from 1920 to 1950s and the noise increased each evening until I stopped around 11pm. Trade slowly built up over the years and customers were even coached in from Coventry for the singsong. There were occasions when I arrived at 7pm only to find the bar packed such that I couldn’t get in. It was only my pleading that they would have no music, that room was made for me. There were always two or three tables set aside for domino regulars and Peter Cook must have made a mint from these hectic evenings which often included dancing if there was room. Because I was not a heavy drinker, the piano top was often full of pints given to me by customers and which I left behind. I often wish I had installed a moneybox for cash instead of beer. I recall one evening when an old man called George (always wore a trilby) asked me to play “That’s what you are”. I said I didn’t know it and asked for him to sing it and give me a start. “No I can’t sing” was his reply. He returned after five minutes and asked me again, with the same reply. This happened five or six times during the evening, when he eventually conceded. Putting down his pint and clearing his throat, he began Nat King Cole’s: “Unforgettable……. that’s what you are”! Suddenly at its peak, Peter Cook was transferred to another pub and the thriving Sheaf was used as a ‘starter’ for trainees and less experienced managers. Although I continued with the music, by 1973 it was past its heyday and I had had enough. My playing was transferred to The Rose at Willoughby for several years, hosted by Des, and thankfully The Rose is still surviving. So the Sheaf will always hold many cherished memories and I am sad at its loss. These days I still play the same old ballads at nursing/residential homes where there is little singing amongst the old folk, but a genuine appreciation for bringing back memories of the past. 
Colin J Mills

Townsend Lane, Long Lawford