LONDON (AFP) - Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson called for a fightback to save the traditional British pub as the Great British Beer Festival got under way on Tuesday.
The frontman for the British heavy metal pioneers blasted the rise of soulless, US-style bars pumping out "really awful music" - and blamed it on their giant chain owners seeing pubs as "cash cows" rather than community hubs.
The Great British Beer Festival transforms London's Olympia exhibition hall into the biggest pub in the world, serving an expected 55,000-plus punters over five days until Saturday.
The event is staged by Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, which says pubs are closing at a worsening rate - currently 31 a week - and being turned into supermarkets and estate agencies.
Meanwhile other "public houses", to give them their full name, are being revamped as bland, commercial drinking haunts.
"There needs to be a bit of a fightback but also I think there needs to be an appreciation that the pub should, in effect, be the same as the coffee shop," Dickinson, at the festival to crown the Champion Beer of Britain 2014, told AFP.
"We need to get back to the idea that a pub is a safe, calm place to go, where you can have a beer and chill out," the 56-year-old rocker explained.
"When we change the character of pubs, to turn them into American-style bars, where you take away the furniture, the carpets and the things that make people feel that it's comfortable to sit in a pub with a beer or a glass of water or something and just read the paper and chat to your friends... that's not a pub.
"And when you have loud 'oompah-oompah-oompah' music on all the time because you want people to come in and spend loads of money knocking back shots, that's a sure-fire way to have people walk away from pubs and have just concentrated dens of iniquity open until three in the morning."
STAR WARS VILLAINS
Camra is calling for a change in the law so that planning applications are always required before pubs are demolished or converted.
"You should be able to open up small pubs with good beer and a pleasant atmosphere, and that's one of the best ways of educating people on how to drink responsibly - not be a numpty, doing 20 shots and getting into a punch-up outside the pub," said Dickinson.
"It's not about opening pubs till two in the morning. Nothing wrong with closing a pub at 11 o'clock at night. If you haven't had enough to drink by then, there's something wrong with you!" The Great British Beer Festival raises a glass to beer brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask from which it is served, and throws out with the slops industrial-scale, pasteurised lager fizzed up with carbon dioxide gas.
The festival began with a parade by a marching drum band dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers, led by space villain Darth Vader.
Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker, a malty-tasting bitter with a dry, spicy aroma, was named the Champion Beer of Britain after blind tasting sessions.
Real ales often have eye-catching names to attract punters and the festival's 900-strong selection of beers did not disappoint with Ginger Tosser, Legless, Muddy Boot, Mild High Club, Funnel Blower, East Street Cream, Vanilla Stout and Shakademus on offer.
There were also beers from around the world, from as far afield as Iceland, Jamaica and the booming US real ale scene.
Meanwhile ciders and perries, made from pears, were also on offer.
Grey-bearded beer fest veterans in Pink Floyd t-shirts mingled with younger drinkers and women in full Bavarian dress.
Others perused goods such as soap made with beer and guides to a city's best drinking spots, played traditional pub games such as skittles and scoffed pub favourites like pork scratchings.