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Stories from the Arcade.....

It was the first-ever Halifax Festival Of Words last weekend...and what a wonderful occasion it was. Here's a look back at some of the events that took place....

Plenty of places up and down the country have festivals based around books and writing. Cheltenham Literature Festival is the grandaddy of them all, going all the way back to 1949. And then there is the annual Hay Festival, which since its humble beginnings in 1988 in the small Powys second-hand book shop town of Hay-on-Wye, has grown to become a massive international event and is dubbed the 'Glastonbury of Book Festivals'. And if crime stories are more to your liking, then head to Harrogate, where every July for the past 14 years the Crime Writing Festival has been held at the Old Swan, the hotel where Agatha Christie stayed under an assumed name when she disappeared from the bright lights of London for a short time. All of them have their own different angle. And so, when the idea of a Halifax Festival was first mooted a few months ago over a number of conversations at the Grayston Unity and the Book Corner in the Piece Hall, it soon evolved into the concept that it should be eclectic and a celebration of language in all its forms, an event that should have something for every one. And so, last weekend, there were talks, conversations, interviews, stories for children, poetry, authors, how-to sessions, films, and loads of music!

Events were based across 3 locations, the Grayston Unity and the Book Corner, as mentioned above, plus a brand new space created in the Borough Market, in Albany Arcade, which was being used for the first time.
Albany Arcade, Halifax's latest venue....
The Festival had kicked off at The Grayston on the Thursday with a talk by local historian David Glover on the connections to the area of Branwell Bronte, the less well-known brother of the famous literary sisters, but the first event I made it to was at the same venue the following evening when the BBC's Elizabeth Alker was in conversation with Jonny Wilkinson (JW) from electro-rock favourites Hookworms. It was a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of a modern band, where despite increasing success, they all still have full-time jobs. Jonny, who teaches graphic design at a college in Leeds - Henry from the Orielles is one of his students - revealed that any tours of Europe need to be done out of term time, and that with a developing indie scene in Yorkshire there is no need these days for bands to head off to London to 'make it big'. Well, there's the cost for one thing. And then there's Jonny's love of the Calder Valley (he lives in Sowerby Bridge) where he can walk his dog on the local moors. After the gig, both he and Liz hung around for a while for a chat and couple of drinks. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and got my festival involvement off to a flying start.
The Hookworm and her: Liz and Jonny....
I was back at the Grayston the following lunchtime for the Story of Barmcake Magazine. As I walked in, owner Michael called me over and I was introduced to James Endeacott, the music industry legend with whom I was due to be in conversation later in the day. James, who was with his wife Gillian and long-standing mate Paul, had come down early as they were also interested in hearing about how founder Dave Griffiths puts together Barmcake. A few minutes later, we all shuffled into the back room, and Dave began his story. About how after leaving the 'Manchester Evening News', he decided to put together a magazine providing 'Northern Entertainment for the Middle-Aged', shunning the idea of doing anything online because he wanted to give people something physical they could hold and take home from one of the many bars and pubs across the North where it is available. Two editions are produced each year, and Issue 9 is due out anytime soon. Dave does virtually everything - writes the articles, does the interviews (normally by e-mail or telephone), sorts out the artwork, arranges the printing, and then the distribution of the 2,000 copies produced each time. It is a labour of love, surviving on donations and the advertising which Dave negotiates. And it is a great read with an eclectic mix of subjects covering music, theatre, pubs, places, art, film, in fact anything that Dave thinks will interest his target audience. Interviewees have included John Cooper Clarke, Martin Parr, Jim Cullen of Beers Manchester, George Costigan, John Shuttleworth, and Ken Dodd. There is also an extensive listings section in each edition. Occasionally Dave will enlist some help - his wife Prue wrote in one edition about Root and Branch, the theatre company she set up with a friend upon hitting 50 - but essentially Dave does it all. James asked if he ever thought of widening Barmcake's scope to draw in a younger audience, but no, he is very clear on who his target audience are. It was a most interesting talk, with Dave a lively and entertaining speaker. And after it finished, it was a pleasure to sit and have a drink and a natter with Dave, Prue, and their friend Chris.
Mr and Mrs Barmcake....
We headed over to the Albany Arcade, where some of the area's best singer songwriters were performing. I missed most of Craig Fee and Dave Gaunt, but managed to catch Gareth Scott. I went for a look around. Unlike Altrincham and Manchester's Mackie Mayor, which have been beautifully renovated and reinvented as essentially food and drink destinations, Albany Arcade is situated in what is still a working market. So as the music played, people were buying bags at the Bag Shop, chicken at Redmans, potted meat at Grosvenors, a bag of spuds at Max Crossleys. Some watched proceedings over a bite to eat and a drink at the Concorde Grill. All of this is situated within a stunning Grade II-listed Victorian Market which opened in the 1890's and was voted the best market in the country in 2008. As well as the fantastic wrought iron and glass structure, another amazing feature of the market is the fact that is home to two secret streets of houses situated on the roof, although as far as I know they are no longer occupied.
Stunning: Halifax Borough Market
Back on stage, Steve and Mike from Embrace were answering questions from Merlin Kalanovic, tour manager for them and The Charlatans, amongst others, and the guy that alerted me to Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, and it was very interesting to hear their stories as they approach the 20th anniversary of their first album being released.
Steve and Mike from Embrace, being grilled by Merlin
I had arranged to meet James at 5.30 for a chat before our conversation on stage, so we headed away from the bustle of the market to the Lantern, where he was immediately recognised by Martin behind the bar. It turned out that he had done a DJ set there a few weeks before. We grabbed our drinks, James a Paolozzi, me a Cumbrian Five Hop, and headed to one of the tables for a chat. James is from the area, but headed off when he was 18 to the bright lights of London, where he was in '80's stargazers Loop, despite the fact he couldn't play guitar. They were on John Peel a couple of times and recorded an album called Heaven's End. He left Loop in 1988 and began a long association with Rough Trade Records, working in A and R, where a few years later he came across the Libertines ('lovely lads') and also worked with The Strokes. He set up his own 1965 Records, named after the year he was born, and whose current roster of artists includes one Nadine Shah and promising Norwich duo Sink Ya Teeth, who are due at The Lantern next month. We chatted about how he had started to come back regularly a few months ago when his dad had become ill before he sadly died, and this, along with reading Ben Myers' novel The Gallows Pole, based on the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, had led him to have a growing affinity with the area he had left 30-odd years ago. We chatted about our kids and family, the fact that he and Gillian have been together for 35 years. And about motivation, what keeps us going, the desire to discover that great new book, or artist, or album. We chatted about 6 Music and Steve Lamacq, on whose show we have both appeared, although my solitary appearance on the Good Day, Bad Day slot is put to shame by James' regular appearances reviewing the new releases on Round Table!
The Albany Arcade, Halifax Borough Market
We continued our conversation on DJ-ing (James hosts a daily show on the online station Soho Radio) as we headed back to the market. It was time to go on stage, and after we'd taken places on the bench, mikes in hands, MC Ed gave us both a glowing introduction. It was billed as 'A Conversation with...', but in reality I didn't have to say much, as James kept the crowd entertained with some excellent tales from his new pamphlet The Tall Short Stories of James Endeacott. Why he doesn't like the Boomtown Rats (I didn't have the heart to tell him I saw them 5 times!), plumbing issues at the house shared by the Libertines, and apparently meeting Robert De Niro when in New York with The Strokes. He is a massive fan of David Bowie, and used to jokingly refer to himself as the Fat White Duke, in deference to the Thin White Duke. He had us all in stitches when he recounted that on the day Bowie's death was announced, shocked and saddened like so many of us were that cold January day, after a few drinks with friends he referred to himself in an unscheduled tribute to the great man on LBC as the Fat White Duck! It was a pleasure to share the stage with James, although I don't think I'll be starting a new career as a chat show host any time soon!
It was time to leave the stage and make way for the next act, nattily-dressed local poet Keiron Higgins, the Punk With The Northern Soul, whose short and snappy vignettes of modern life went down very well with everybody. Please keep an eye out for Keiron, you will not be disappointed.
The Punk With The Northern Soul
After Keiron finished, James was back on the stage, delivering a DJ set which comprised some classic tunes largely from the '70's, 80's and earlier, the kind of the stuff I used to play when I was manning the decks. As the music filled the arcade, it was time to reflect, a time for a beer, and a time for a chat. I got a pint of Elland White Prussian from the pop-up bar. James's mate, Paul, had been joined by his wife Silvia. Paul and I chatted about what we were listening to. He recommended the new Villagers album, and is also enjoying a couple of my current favourites, the latest albums from Beak and Bodega. The football lads turned up, Town having drawn 1-1 in the teatime clash with Chesterfield, and they seemed to enjoy the tunes. The evening passed far too quickly, 10 o'clock came around and James closed his set with Sweet Sensation's Sad Sweet Dreamer. And then it was back to the Grayston for another drink or two. I bade farewell to James, Gillian, Paul and Silvia, it was lovely to meet them, and then it was time for the taxi home.
Throwing shapes as James sorts the tunes
What did the market traders think of this new venture in the market? I spoke to Corinne from Top Door Espresso, who was loving it, but she did say that some of the stall holders weren't too impressed. It is still a bit rough around the edges as you would expect with any new-build. It was disappointing that the large crowds that were there during the day had dwindled by mid-evening. But, all things considered, it was a brilliant day. The atmosphere was fantastic, the sound and lighting was top-rate, the entertainment was first-class. Those that came seemed to enjoy it, and hopefully Albany Arcade will come to be used on a regular basis.

And what of the Festival itself? Well, I was only able to get to a limited number of events, but based on what I did see and conversations with friends who had been to some of the other events, it seemed to go down very well, and by all accounts it has been an overwhelming success, and already another one is planned for next year! It was an absolute pleasure to be invited to take part, and  many thanks to Michael and Martin from the Grayston Unity, and Sarah from the Book Corner for organising a wonderful weekend.

Not bad for an idea that came about over a few drinks and conversations....

The Tall Short Stories of James Endeacott is available now, and is published by Rough Trade Books(ISBN 978-1-912722-12-9)

Barmcake Issue 9 is out anytime now, and is available from good pubs and other discerning places across West and South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, and North Derbyshire

Twitter: @realalemusic

How spooky is this? Just finishing off and up pops this tune!

The Libertines - Can't Stand Me Now


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