Skip to main content

Shouting Out for the Independents....

It was Independent Venue Week last week, and over that time, in and amongst a few beers here and there, I managed to visit the odd gig. Here's my reflections on the week....

A few years ago, Sybil Bell had an idea.

Having run a venue in Bath for a while, Sybil realised its importance to both the local community and the local artists and those from further afield who performed there. The fact that there were countless other places up and down the country where similarly dedicated people were working very hard doing the same thing helped her decide that something should be done to celebrate the contribution of these local venues, and the people who work in them. Much-loved venues which have helped to launch and nurture many a musical career. Venues without which there would be no music scene as we know it today.  Venues which, sadly, all too often, have ended up on the wrong side of planning decisions. And, sadly, many much-loved places that have closed over the years for a myriad of reasons.

I'm talking to her in the Grayston Unity in Halifax, which, with a capacity of just 18, is the smallest venue in the UK. Sybil is the founder, Managing Director, and driving force behind Independent Venue Week, which aims to focus the spotlight on these much cherished places for a week rather than just on the musicians and other artists who perform in them. And just as Record Store Day has helped to draw attention to the nation's independent music shops, Independent Venue Week, backed by the Arts Council, has become a major event during its five year existence, with 172 venues from all around the country signed up this year.

6Music really got behind IVW, with Steve Lamacq hosting his teatime show from different venues around the country - Stowmarket, Guildford, Leicester, Hebden Bridge, and Liverpool over the week. Unfortunately, at certain venues, they hadn't been able to get a broadcast-quality line so had had to de-camp to the local BBC Radio Station. That was the case at Hebden Bridge, where I had a quick chat with Steve when he turned up at the Trades Club for the Richard Dawson gig that night. It was his first visit, and hopefully he enjoyed the music as much as I did, Richard's brilliant, often bleak, but always compelling songs keeping the audience enthralled throughout. The previous night, I had visited The Lantern in Halifax, another IVW venue, where the excellent Plumhall were supporting Ian McNabb. The former frontman of the Icicle Works, more than exceeded my expectations, performing some of his old songs and some I didn't know, often with brilliant lyrics, interspersed with some acerbic Scouse wit.

I missed the event at the Grayston on Thursday, when Tensheds were performing, as it clashed with Richard Dawson, but it is typical of the enterprise shown by Michael Ainsworth since he opened the quirky two room bar in Halifax in May 2016. There is not just music on there regularly, but also talks and quizzes, which have all helped to build a real sense of community, so that it is a place that is always worth visiting. And Michael is very much the person to go to if you want to know about what's going on in Halifax and its music scene and heritage. All the team that work there are very welcoming, and the fact the Grayston sells good beer and has a large selection of gins and other drinks helps, of course! 

And so back to Sunday. Sybil had come along with her colleagues Colin and Emily, Ali from Radio 6, and Nadine Shah, who had been on at the Trades Club the night before. Unfortunately, as I love her current album, 'Holiday Destination', I had been unable to get a ticket as it had been sold out for weeks. The afternoon had been billed intriguingly as an 'Open Mic with a Very Special Guest'. Nadine, one of the Ambassadors for IVW, mucked in and sang several songs with the group of local musicians who had turned up with their instruments. It was a wonderful afternoon, with the guests chatting to us locals for an hour or two, enjoying their visit to the Grayston and to Halifax at the end of a long week.

Chatting to Sybil, Colin, and Emily, I appreciated how much thought and planning goes in to the week, with their passion and commitment shining through. These local venues are a vital part of the fabric of this country, supporting their local communities and often going far beyond being just places of entertainment.  And it occurred to me that in that sense, there is much in common with the pubs and bars I write so often about in these blogs. Which is one of the reasons why it struck such a chord with me....

Here's to Independent Venue Week 2019....

Michael and Nadine at The Grayston Unity, Halifax

Sybil and Nadine
Nadine performing at the Grayston Unity, 4th February 2018

For my thoughts on the Halifax Piece Hall, here you go

And here's the title track from the excellent album 'Holiday Destination' by Nadine Shah....


  1. Some great pubs.. I live on the Lancashire side of tod and fully endorse the great pubs you recommend


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Best Buffet Bar None....

One place I am definitely looking forward to visiting again when they re-open is the Buffet Bar in Stalybridge. And whilst it will be great to pay a visit as soon as it is possible, that first visit back to the famous bar on the Manchester Piccadilly to Huddersfield trans-Pennine route will no doubt stir up in me a huge dose of mixed emotions.... Stalybridge Buffet Bar is one of the few remaining Victorian railway station buffet bars left in the country, and is probably the best-known. I started visiting the bar regularly in 2006, when my job meant I was working about a mile and a half away in Hyde. Back in those days, the bar was owned by John Hesketh, who had spotted the potential of the rambling old Victorian station buffet as a real ale mecca. It had originally opened in 1885, and had meandered on over the years quietly serving customers on the trans-Pennine route, but back then it was not known for its beer. John's idea of a good selection of real ales in an atmospheric bar cr

The Town That Thinks It's A Village....

My time has been a bit limited recently for venturing too far afield, so last weekend I made the short journey to Elland to check out a few of the town's pubs and bars. Here's what I found.... Elland is a small market town in West Yorkshire, located between Halifax and Huddersfield beside the River Calder. It goes back a bit, being recorded as Elant in the Domesday Book of 1086, and over the centuries the town grew as a result of the woollen industry, with the town becoming home to several large mills. The coming of the Aire and Calder Navigation and the railways further helped the growth of the town. The subsequent decline of the woollen industry in the town meant that there were a number of empty mills left standing, and those that didn't burn down were put to other use, such as the home of Gannex, the now-defunct textile company whose raincoats were worn by the rich and famous, including former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. More recently, several mills have been converte

A Calder Valley Ale Trail - UPDATE August 2020

T he definitive guide to the pubs and bars that line the railways in the towns and villages of the beautiful Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, now with an update in light of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.... August 9th, 2020. The idea for a guide to the pubs along the railway line along the Calder Valley came about as I got fed up with people going on about the Ale Trail from Huddersfield to Stalybridge. I reckoned that the scenery along the Calder Valley was generally more attractive than its southerly rival, and whilst there were some excellent pubs along that route, there were equally some mighty fine pubs in Calderdale. And there was clearly a demand for such a guide: the number of page views I have had for this blog, which has been updated a few times over the years, is several times higher than my next most popular. I had been thinking for some time though that it needed a fresh look and a re-write; the inserted sentences and deleted entries means that it doesn't quite flow