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Furrow and Square....

Square Chapel in Halifax is an unusual and distinctive building that sits close by the town's railway station. Unusual, because it is built out of red brick rather than the millstone grit which is the norm for this part of West Yorkshire. Distinctive, because of its beautiful solid-looking Georgian facade which dominates this part of the town and being one of the few square chapels ever built in this country.

And now, behind the frontage, there is a big extension designed to bring the Grade II-listed Square into the heart of the town's life and provide a place to visit every day for a wide variety of people. The original building dates from way back in 1772, from when it was a place of worship for years, situated by the town's historic Piece Hall, currently going under a restoration of its own. It held its last service as a chapel in 1857, then became an assembly hall, was requisitioned by the army in 1939 for a few years as part of the war effort, and limped on, becoming ever more dilapidated. It was acquired by the council in 1969, but, facing demolition, it was bought by a trust in 1988 and gradually its fortunes improved.

It started to be used for gigs and events, but with so much restoration work still required, in the early days, hard hats and blankets would be handed out to visitors to protect against falling masonry and the cold in an unheated building with missing windows. Eventually, the venue was upgraded, with additions of a cafe and bar, and the events became more frequent and varied. I always enjoyed visiting, whether it was for gigs or for the local CAMRA beer festival, which took place there for a few years. But the scale was still too small to reach out to the town as a whole, and so eventually, extra monies including some lottery funding were acquired, the place was shut for a good few month or two, and an extension on the town-centre side of the building was built.

It re-opened just over a week ago, with a cafe and bar which was for the first time open all day every day. I popped in to look at the place a few days later and was delighted to find a pleasant, light and airy bar with a strikingly-designed ceiling situated opposite the box office with 4 hand pumps and a number of taps selling craft ales and ciders. Amazingly, there was a pretty decent beer frequently sold in locally on offer at a mere £2.20, which not surprisingly caused some consternation amongst a number of local landlords. I assumed it was just an opening weekend offer, and indeed when I visited a few days later for a gig, the prices were higher, although still good value.

I'd got a ticket to see The Furrow Collective, who had deservedly won best folk band of the year at this year's Radio 2 Folk Awards. The group are made up of some of the stellar names from the current folk scene: Alisdair Robers, Lucy Farrell, Emily Portman, and Rachel Newton. They all have other projects, so it was part of a short tour of only 5 dates. I had seen Lucy perform previously, with Johnny Kearney, several years ago, supporting the Unthanks at the Band on the Wall in Manchester, but it was the first time I had seen the others. It was disappointing though, given the quality of the musicians, that the auditorium, which is now entered from the new cafe bar on the side rather than up some stairs from the station side, was at best half full, but those of us who had made the effort were well-rewarded with some fantastic traditional music, great songs, great harmonies, and lovely tunes, interspersed with some witty banter and stories. There was the usual instruments you would expect to see - guitars, fiddle, accordian, harp, etc, but when Lucy performed on a saw it was a first for me! I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, which I had only been able to attend due to an unexpected opening that arose in my diary at short notice. I got talking to Alisdair at the interval in the queue for the bar when I was pleased to see that he opted for the same beer as me, the excellent Aurora, from East Sussex brewers, Burning Sky. The rest of the band appeared to say hello, and sell and sign albums, bar Emily who is expecting imminently so no doubt needed to rest. I bought a copy of their new album, 'The Wild Hog'. Lovely music and lovely people, if you get chance to seem them you won't be disappointed.

So my first gig at the new Square Chapel. There is a nice feel about the place, it is a greatly improved resource for the town, and I would urge you to keep an eye out for the wide variety of events that will be coming up, featuring music, film, theatre, and much more. The new cafe bar is very pleasant and it is great to see they are offering some decent real ales, but that said, it inevitably does not have the atmosphere and character of a traditional pub, so won't appeal to everyone. But as a place to have a bite to eat or a few drinks when you are attending an event, or for a quick stop-off when in town it is absolutely fine....

Square Chapel, Halifax

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