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Barges and Wagon Wheels: Brighouse Canal, Beer, and Music Festival 2016

'The guy in the blue shirt was approaching, walking towards me with his eyes fixed. There was something vaguely familiar about him, but who was he? Then it hit me. It was Andy who I used to work with in Leeds till about 12 years ago! Time had taken its toll on both of us. Andy, his wife Sheree, and their family were just some of the thousands who descended on Brighouse last weekend for the Canal, Beer, and Music Festival.'

And what a great time we all had. There were families, old-timers, rockers, hipsters, metalheads, bargees, you name it. The weather veered between heavy rain and hot sunshine, with the latter gaining the upper hand by the end of the weekend.

There were the usual market stalls, classic cars, and canal trips, and a wonderful cross-section of musical talent across no less than 4 stages over the two days. Too many to catch, I enjoyed the ones I did see, but amongst those I missed were artists of the calibre of Roger Davies, Bella Gaffney, Steve Chapman Smith, and the Hall Brothers. 

The first band I saw was Rugosa on the main stage on Saturday evening. Now re-vitalised since singer Bebe joined them, they played a great set of power metal, featuring favourites such as 'Shadows' and a storming cover of Iron Maiden's 'The Trooper'. Our Tom plays guitar in the band, and my sister and brother-in-law had come along to see their nephew play for the first time, which they seemed to enjoy. A great start to the proceedings.

I had missed Pinball Pete - aka crooner Pete Crosby - earlier in the day but enjoyed a chat with him when we all repaired to the Market Tavern for a pint. The place was rammed, with a folkie sing-along taking place, making for a fantastic atmosphere. 

After enjoying the usual excellent pint, we headed back to the main stage where the Brighouse Rock and Blues Band were getting ready to start. This was the local 'supergroup' comprising most of Blood, Sweat and Beers, along with Jason Fieldhouse from Rugosa, who were joined later in the set by Drighlington's very own JP Totham and a tambourine-wielding Janette Lever-Backhouse. With Fletch sounding as great as ever on vocals, we were treated to a brilliant set of rock and blues, marred slightly by stewards - yes I know it sounds bizarre - having to push the crowd back behind the barriers, so enthusiastically were the band received. 

We stuck around tn the rain for a little while and saw some of the set from Leeds indie-band, The Yum, who did a great cover version of Alannis Morrisette's 'Hand in My Pocket', and then it  was back to the Market Tavern, followed by The Beck. A great evening.

Day 2 began for me in the yard behind Wetherspoon's, where just after 12 the legendary Ryan Spendlove was doing his sound checks. This was a very low-key setting for one of the area's best musicians. Sadly he was only watched by a small number of us, but he was in excellent form as he ran through a set of his finest songs, such as 'Silicone Puppies'. Great stuff.

It was while I was watching Ryan that I was joined by my old work colleague Andy, as described above. We both then wandered across to the Thornton Square stage, where Gaynor Wilson and Paul McGladdery were setting up. I had seen them before at the Beck, where Paul had told me he lived in Saddleworth, which I drive through most days on my way to work. It also turns out that Maureen, who I used to work with where I am now is his Auntie! Small world. Paul has a prosthetic hand with a hook with which he strums his guitar and they really are worth seeing, with Gaynor playing a swirling fiddle to accompany some fine songs.

Andy and I caught up over the old days, before he went off to find the family. JP Totham took to the stage to play the usual storming set of well-known songs to the accompaniment of his banjolele. He has made songs such as 'Never Gonna Give You Up' and 'Get Lucky' his own. As a special treat he was joined on stage by Blood, Sweat and Beers guitarist Andy Smith, which added a new dimension to the proceedings. Very enjoyable!

In the meantime Andy had re-appeared with another ex-colleague, my old boss Mike, his wife Veronica, and friends Dave and Doreen. It was great to catch-up and along with the host of familiar faces and friends, this is what helps make all these events in Brighouse what they are. We all bade our farewells, and I headed over to the main stage in the Bethel Street car park where the Fear the Lizard were playing their final few songs. Unfortunately though there were problems with the sound system and Barry's voice was too far down in the mix, their set of the likes of the Foo Fighters would have sounded even better had everything been right!

As they finished, attempts to sort out the sound system continued before the Rainey Street Band came on to play the festival's closing set. During the delay we had a couple of pints from the Real Ale Tent, which was gradually selling a more limited range, testament to the festival's popularity. The sun was out and there was a great atmosphere.

Eventually the Rainey Street Band appeared, but there were still problems with the speakers. They battled through, though, and got everyone up and dancing to favourites such as 'Radio's On' , 'Rainey Street', and 'Whisky into my Whiskey'. They were in fine form as ever, and as the festival came to a conclusion they treated us to a superb version of their usual closing song, 'Wagon Wheel' with Dave and Tom leaping off the stage to crowd level as they sung. Now this Old Crow Medicine Show track has been a firm favourite in Brighouse since the days Pete Thompson used to have it blasting out during his time running The Beck, and since then the Raineys have adopted it as their own so that it is almost like Brighouse's own theme song. Splendid stuff!

Last year my festival report started off as a rant against the local 'Brighouse Echo', whose coverage of the musical part of the festival was woeful. Suffice to say that this year's coverage is non-existent. But, hey kids, we know it was great, don't we? They will though have to look at the sound system for next year as the net result is what brings people into the town and enables hard-working musical organiser Jason Fieldhouse to pull in artists of the calibre he does.

All in all though, niggles aside, a great weekend and a credit once again to the Brighouse Business Initiative for organising the event. I am already looking forward to next year....

On my cajon - Andy from the Rainey Street Band
The title for this blog is inspired by Ralph McTell's 'Barges' and 'Wagon Wheel', originally by the Old Crow Medicine Show, now adopted by The Rainey Street Band....


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