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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


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