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The Word's Out: Halifax's Finest Festival Yet....

After a year's absence because of you-know-what, the third Halifax Festival of Words took place this weekend. And it has been some weekend! Here's my reflections on what has once again been a great showcase for the town....

I have to declare an interest here. If I come over a little biased, I apologise in advance. But I have to say, having been involved in all three Festivals of Words, this was the best yet. And these are my own personal reflections, not a comprehensive report. 

The Festival of Words officially opened at 1pm last Friday at The Albany Arcade in Halifax Borough Market by the Town Crier, and was followed by a short set by Todmorden-based opera singer, Nicola Mills. I had only ever seen Nicola perform on a live stream before, but her voice rang around the market and led to many passers-by stopping and joining the assembled crowd for a few minutes before resuming their shopping. People emerged from Adam's Cafe, they came clutching pies from Grosveners, and carrying carrots from Max Crossley's. A group of children ran in and stopped, big, wide smiles on their faces. It was a wonderful, uplifting start to the proceedings.

A splendid opening: Nicola Mills hitting the right notes

I had no official duties to perform on the Friday, so after the opening ceremony I went for a drink with my friends James and Gillian at The Grayston Unity. It was busy there, with all seats taken as local historian David Glover was just about to make a start on his talk about the Cragg Vale Coiners, so once we had bought a drink we headed outside for a catch up. The afternoon soon passed by, and earlier plans to go home and come back out were abandoned as I wanted to make sure I was back at The Arcade to see the main musical event of the day, with Julia Bardo headlining. Up-and-coming Hebden Bridge band The Short Causeway had had to pull out at short notice, but late replacements, Pale Blue Eyes, a trio from Totnes, Devon, impressed many of us in the audience with a widescreen sound which recalled the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen at times. Julia Bardo was showcasing tracks from her recently released her debut album, Bauhaus, L’Appartamento. She has a wonderful, expressive voice, and it shone above a resolutely solid base provided by the band. Try and check out her soaring ballad It's OK To Not Be OK, which is one of my tunes of the year.

Excellent: Julia Bardo and band

Day 2 began early, and at 11am I was centre stage at The Grayston Unity talking about blogging and beer. It was great to see more than the one man and a dog I had expected (although Luna the dog was in the audience!), and I hope everyone present enjoyed my ramblings! Next up, I was speaking to Damian Morgan, the manager of Julia Bardo and The Orielles, who gave us all a fascinating insight into the job of managing artists, before I spoke to the Orielles themselves, who back in 2018 had launched their first album, Silver Dollar Moment, in their hometown at the Grayston. As with Damian, it was an interesting conversation with the band who have moved on impressively from that excellent debut album with its timeless indie pop having recently released a film, La Vita Holistica, the soundtrack being a new version of their 2nd album, Disco Volador. And that evening they were back, playing at the Albany Arcade where a sell-out crowd were treated to an excellent gig showcasing a dozen of their songs featuring a wide range of influences from indie pop to trippy dance to funk which was the best of theirs I have seen.

A great gig: The Orielles at the Albany Arcade

Earlier in the day I had introduced and then seen both the excellent Gareth Scott Band, whose set featured songs from his new album, The Basin Stone, and Yucatan, from Bethesda in North Wales who I had never come across before, and who played some elegant music, some sweeping instrumentals with most of the songs sung in Welsh.  As ever there were events I couldn't get to see through not being able to be in two places at once! Unfortunately I couldn't stick around at the Grayston to see James Endeacott talking about a life spent in record shops with Nick from Revo Records in Halifax. and they were also joined by Geoff who ran Groove Records in the former Piece Hall market. I also had to miss Keiron Higgins, the Bard of Halifax, on his tour of the town with words which brought in a few new venues to the Festival with department store Harveys, takeaway street food venue Disco Kitchen, and The Temperance Movement cafe, although the latter was involved in a few other events over the weekend. And I was sadly unable to make any of the events organised by the Book Corner. It was though, a great second day during which my voice felt like it had been in use all day, and as we all spilled out after dancing and singing along with the Orielles, it was then over to Meandering Bear with James Endeacott playing an excellent DJ set at the band's after show party before we headed home after a busy and exhilarating day.

And back again for Day 3, where a later than planned start by me meant I missed most of the talk at The Grayston from Dr Simon Walker and Heath Common talking Beat Raps and Rock Roots from Kerouac & Ginsberg to Dylan & The Beatles. I was then back on duty, introducing Bob Stanley from Saint Ettiene and his partner Tessa Norton talking about The Fall, the subject of their new book, and a fascinating hour it made for those of us present. Next up was Ben Graham talking about the legendary 1970 Festival that took place at Krumlin, high on the West Yorkshire hills, which was hit by unseasonably bad weather and various other disasters which resulted in its early finish and a place in rock folklore. It is one of those events where so many said they were there that it would have been as big as Woodstock! Well, I can assure you I wasn't there, but I have read Ben's book about it, Pink Floyd are Fogbound in Paris: The Story Of The Krumlin Festival, and can recommend it whether you were there or not.

Bob and Tessa talking all things Fall

I couldn't hang around for Ben's talk, but as I headed over to the Albany Arcade, I heard the rousing tones of The Landlubbers (opening picture) wafting over the town. I tracked them down to Russell Arcade where they were in full flow and fine voice performing their ever-popular sea shanties. They had been on earlier at the recently reopened Square Chapel and were due to play the Festival out at The Grayston Unity. I stuck around for a couple more tunes, but I needed to get a move on as The Lovely Eggs were due on stage shortly, although I couldn't stay for too long as I had one more introduction to do back at The Grayston, for The Guardian's Northern music correspondent, Dave Simpson, whose talk was another one I was sorry to have to miss.

I legged it back to the Arcade and made it back for the rest of The Lovely Eggs' set. It was the first time I had seen them, although they had played in Halifax many times when they were an up and coming young band. Based in Lancaster, they consist of married couple Holly and David Ross, with Holly on lead guitar and vocals, and David pounding away on the drum set. Favourites of 6 Music's Marc Riley, they play an energetic and exhilarating modern punk/grunge hybrid with crazy words and outrageously catchy sing along choruses. It was great fun and a fantastic performance from a band who were clearly enjoying themselves as much as the crowd. 

The Lovely Eggs in full flow

What a weekend. It was a real whirlwind and it was great that it brought so many people in to the town. People were listening, talking, singing, dancing, and playing music, and so many were laughing and smiling too. People from the town, but plenty of visitors too. I lost count of the number of people I spoke to and for me the weekend was fuelled by a heady mix of fresh air and adrenalin! I thoroughly enjoyed working at The Festival, and thanks and great credit to Michael from The Grayston Unity and Sarah from The Book Corner for organising such a high quality and varied programme with something for everyone, the sponsors, Discover Halifax and Snowflake Media, and everyone else - far too numerous to mention individually - who all played a part in making it such a memorable event.

I do need a rest now though!

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


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