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Feeling Like 2019 Again....

Over the past few days in and amongst the usual day to day stuff I have been on a leaving do, attended a CAMRA presentation, and visited a beer festival. These are all things that a couple of years ago would have scarcely raised an eyebrow, but such have been the limits on our social activities over the past 18 months or so that each one was anticipated with a certain degree of excitement....

Leeds was buzzing in the late afternoon sun last Friday when I got off the train to attend a leaving do for one of my work colleagues. I had arrived a little earlier than the arranged meeting time, and anticipating - correctly - that our likely calling points over the coming hours would be devoid of any decent cask or craft beer, I decided to try out the Bankers Cat, Thornbridge's relatively new outpost in Leeds, situated minutes from the station on Boar Lane. I had never had the opportunity to visit before, it actually opened in December 2019 but successive lockdowns restricted the periods it has been open. The pub has a beautiful interior, with plenty of dark wood panelling, seating booths, mirrors, sympathetic furnishings, and an attractive bar, with portraits of cats dressed in the kind of attire Victorian bankers may well have worn on the walls as you walk to the loo. I have to say the pint of Bristol Beer Factory Notorious I had was sublime (NBSS 4). I was very impressed with the place and look forward to visiting again. I went to meet my colleagues and hit the hotspots of Greek Street and Park Row and whilst the beer options were limited in the places we visited, it was a good night and it was great to see the places buzzing. My train back home was held up slightly leaving Leeds, but it was enough to miss my final bus home. Never mind, it did mean a consolation pint at the excellent Crafty Fox in Brighouse, an unexpected catch up with a mate, bumping into several familiar faces, and then the taxi home.

A beautiful interior with great beer: Leeds' Bankers Cat
One event I had been looking forward to for a few weeks was the beer festival at The Cross Keys, Siddal, Halifax. This has always been one of the standout local pub beer festivals, which had obviously not happened last year. And so, as I boarded the 542 from Halifax Bus Station, I was chock-full of anticipation. A few minutes later I was there, a pint from the busy front bar and nods to a few familiar faces. I wandered out to the beer garden, where under the marquee there were an additional 18 or so beers. The wonderful Landlubbers - who as they say are a group of guys who like to drink beer and have a sing song - had just started their set of sea shanties and the audience seemed to be very appreciative of their music, which can bring a smile, stir a sing along, and maybe lead to a leaky eye. Great stuff. They turn up at plenty of events around Halifax and Calderdale and are well worth checking out.

Shipshape sea shanties from the Landlubbers

There was a North Eastern theme to the beers on offer, with selections from breweries like Black Storm from Chester-le-Street, Crafty Monkey from Hartlepool, McColls from Bishop Auckland, and Durham from Bowburn in, well, County Durham. I particularly enjoyed the Let's Eat Pies and Talk About Mental Health from McColls, which was only 3.6% in strength but full of flavour, whilst the 4.6% Grainger Ale - presumably referring to the area in the centre of Newcastle - from Hadrian Border was also an excellent beer. I was sorry to miss Rising Lights from the Yard Of Ale brewery in Ferryhill, County Durham, whose beers are brewed at the Surtees Arms which I visited a couple of years ago on one of my trips to the North East. I remember a great local pub with a good craic and a friendly atmosphere which I would happily call in again if in the area.

The Surtees Arms, Ferryhill, Co Durham: home of Yard of Ale brewery

Back at the Cross Keys, it was great to catch up with friends and other faces I had not seen in ages, and nice to have those random conversations with people you may have never met before but strike a common chord as you chat about nothing really although it seems important at the time. My friends, the Rainey Street Band, were next up following the Landlubbers with a new bass player in Ed and some of the great bluegrass and Americana we have come to expect from one of Brighouse's finest bands. Their set included plenty of old favourites such as Wagon Wheel, Tell It To Me, and Radio Song and some new and unexpected material including Pyscho Killer, one of Talking Heads' best tunes. We had been treated to some wonderful music from two much loved local bands and unfortunately I couldn't stick around for the final artists, the excellent Hooson Maguire.

The Rainey Street Band at The Cross Keys

It was great to get back to a proper beer festival. The chance to catch up with old faces, return to a traditional festival with virtually all the normalities that we were accustomed to before lockdown, and witness some great music made it a fantastic day. All in all, a great event and a big shout out to Hugh and the rest of the Cross Keys team for some top beers and a wonderful experience.

Next up for me was The Grayston Unity, courtesy of a lift from my friends John and Yvonne, and there was some great beer available from Buxton and Fierce. The Grayston are currently regularly hosting events regularly on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, which are normally free but with a collection for the artist. There was some excellent music on from the prodigious Short Causeway from Hebden Bridge, whose amazing talent belies their tender years. If you get the chance to see them I would urge you to do so. They were followed by AK Patterson, a three-piece from Brighton who were also excellent and who at times reminded me a little of Anna B Savage, whose album A Common Turn is one of the year's best, in my humble opinion.

AK Patterson at The Grayston Unity, Halifax

I had also been at the Grayston earlier in the week for a CAMRA presentation that had been delayed from 2020 because of you-know-what. The recently-modified bar had been given a Highly Commended award for the quality of their beer, and a group of the local CAMRA members had come along, with Chair Richard Lee presenting the certificate to owner Michael Ainsworth and some of the team as pictured below.

Highly Commended: Michael, Steve, and Tom with local CAMRA Chair Richard Lee at The Grayston Unity

The Grayston is talking part in the return of the Halifax Indyfax Festival which takes place in the few days before and including the August Bank Holiday Weekend. The event, which in the years prior to the pandemic had built up quite a head of steam in bringing people into the town, is taking place across some of Halifax's finest bars - as well as the Grayston Unity, Meandering Bear, Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, Kobenhaven, The Alex, Dukes, and Good Mood are also joining in, with various events planned on top of the usual great beer on offer. At Meandering Bear there is a Meet The Brewer Night from crack New Mills brewers Torrside, whilst Dukes have a tap takeover from Unity Brewing from Southampton, whose beers are rarely seen in these parts. No doubt other plans will be in the pipeline, and it is great to see the return of another great and missed event.

The world isn't quite back to how it was. Things have moved on, we have all shared the frustrations, restrictions, and isolations, some have endured losses, all engendered by the pandemic. But over these last few days, with restrictions relaxed and shiny happy faces in much abundance, it has almost felt like we are back in the carefree days of 2019....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Another great posting. Point of interest - Black Storm is from Chester-le-Street, not Whitley Bay, and Durham is from Bowburn. Black Storm is in the process of moving their brewery to their taproom in Royal Quays, North Shields.

  2. Thanks, Neil. Now updated with your correct observations!


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