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Micropubs and Nightingales....

A few days ago, Facebook Memories brought up a blog post I wrote 7 years ago about Calan's micropub in Hebden Bridge. As it happened, I was in Hebden again last week, and here's how I spent the evening there....


There was a heavy drizzle in the air as the 1849 from Brighouse pulled into Hebden Bridge's rather attractive Victorian railway station. I put the hood up on my jacket and walked out past the car park towards the main road, pausing to look at the view along the canal towards the hillside beyond, a view that is always delightful whatever the weather and whatever the time of year. This time, the lush greens and early coppers of spring complemented the old stone buildings, mellowed by time, barges silently  clinging to the towpath, an odd puff of smoke emanating here and there, as a small dog sniffed and snuffled on an early evening walk with its owner.

Hebden Bridge

I reached the main road, crossed over, and turned left. A few minutes later, I was walking the steps up to the entrance to Vocation & Co, which was not too busy I thought for a Friday evening, with a couple of empty tables in the main bar and a few empty stools opposite the bar. From a board featuring Vocation's own beers, with 20% cask, 80% keg, I ordered a pint of the 5% Union Is Strength from the keg list. The beer was described as a 'charity pale'. The charity was undeclared, so I asked what charity they were supporting, which was the local Overgate Hospice. I was half way through enjoying it when a friend walked in who like me was going to the Nightingales gig at the Trades Club. A few minutes later we were joined by another familiar face, who introduced me to his companion, who I'd not met before. Talk of the upcoming gig ensued, along with another beer, this time it was 2/3 of the enjoyable 4.4% Session IPA. 

A Friday night beer board at Vocation & Co

I was conscious I needed to visit at least one place this evening (a blogger always has one eye on an upcoming blog!), so I finished my beer and bade my companions a temporary farewell, arranging to see them at the gig. It was raining more steadily as I walked past Nightjar, the small bar which is the tap for the Nightjar Brewery, based a mile or two down the road in Mytholmroyd, but as I have visited there regularly on my recent trips to Hebden Bridge, I didn't feel too bad about not calling in this time.

I was heading for The Pub, as the micropub formerly known as Calan's is called these days, which as I said in the introduction had cropped up in a Facebook memory earlier in the week. I was as regular a visitor as possible during the time it was run by Alan and Alyson, and later by Nadine and Damian. It was of course the first micropub to open in the area, and it is hard to believe that 7 years later, the opening of a new micropub is hardly an unusual event. But back then it certainly was, and over the years the variety and scope of micros has broadened from the rather strict definition that was around following the opening of the one that is acknowledged as the original by Martyn Hillier, the Butchers Arms in Herne Bay, Kent. The original ethos was that they would be a place for conversation. with no music, the likes of pork pies and crisps as the only food available, and no TV to distract, a model that Calan's always followed. Many still do, but over the last few years the micropub has evolved to be more all-encompassing, with some embracing music - both recorded and live, wider food options, craft keg, quiz nights, and possibly karaoke evenings, although I have, thankfully, not personally come across the latter....

I had decided I needed to pay a visit to the Pub, as on my previous two visits since it was taken over by the people who have the similarly named micro up the road in Todmorden, I had not really had the opportunity to fully appreciate it: the first time was in the crazy post-lockdown weeks when it was outside service only, the second had been a flying visit following beers elsewhere with a gig to go to minutes later.

So I walked up the yard passing through some delicious aromas coming out of the pizzeria and the Greek restaurant based in the neighbouring buildings. The tables at the front of the pub under the rain canopy were partly occupied, but along with only a few people inside, it was fairly quiet. The internal layout has changed somewhat from the Calan's days, with the bar now running along the back wall which has meant the loss of the small 'lounge' area. But in terms of space both behind and in front of the bar it does work. The beers on offer now include a number of keg options, but from a range of 6 cask beers, I went for a Pale Blue Dot, one of two beers on from Bristol Beer Factory. I may possibly have had this beer, described on the pump clip as being 'uber pale', previously, possibly at the Bankers Cat in Leeds, but I wasn't sure. It was most enjoyable, refreshing, and unlike most beers from BBF, it didn't have a particularly pronounced malt base. I rated it a very respectable NBSS 4. I noticed the neighbouring pump clip had a beer on from another Bristolian brewery, Fierce and Noble, whose beers I hadn't come across before, so with time running out before the gig, I just ordered a half of the Brizzle Pale. It wasn't quite up to the standards of its neighbour, but it still warranted a score of 3.5. I had a good natter about music with the lad behind the bar as I enjoyed my beers, but soon it was time to head off to the Trades Club. On this showing, the Pub is a must-visit if you are in Hebden Bridge, and I noticed from their WhatPub listing that, unlike most micropubs, they are open every day.

Bristol comes to Hebden Bridge at The Pub

I arrived at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, walked up the stairs, my name was checked off the list of attendees, and my wrist stamped, and I was in! I headed straight to the bar, and ordered a pint of the 5.2% Jay IPA from Nottingham's Magpie Brewery. It was good, another NBSS rating of 3.5. The support act had just started and, unusually for a music gig, it was a comedian! It was none other than Ted Chippington, who it seems is a friend of the Nightingales, and in searching for my friends I bumped into another, and we watched the deadpan Midlands comedian - who it seems is now based in Torquay - generate gales of laughter throughout his performance. A great start to the gig. 

I found the guys, who were up near the front, and a few minutes later the main event, The Nightingales walked on to the stage, with frontman Robert Lloyd taking a sip from a glass of what appeared to be rather generous measure of whisky before the band launched into their first number. The band was originally formed in Birmingham in 1979 by Lloyd and fellow members of punk band The Prefects, and during the 80's their style of post-punk/alternative rock brought them a strong cult following. Much loved by John Peel, they regularly appeared on his Radio 1 show, and over that period they did more sessions for him than any other artists except The Fall and Half Man, Half Biscuit. The band split in 1986 but reformed in the early 2000's, and whilst the band haven't achieved the Fall's equivalent of 6 football teams' worth of members, they have still had over 20 different members with Lloyd the only constant. The current band, comprising Lloyd on vocals, James Smith on guitar, Andreas Schmid on bass, and Fliss Kitson on drums, were on great form this evening at the Trades Club, and not surprisingly their show was very well-received by a pretty large crowd. The band tour regularly and are well-worth checking out next time they are in your area. And if you haven't come across it, check out the film King Rocker, made by comedian Stewart Lee about Robert Lloyd which is a great watch.

The Nightingales in full flight

It was back to the bar after the gig ended for a final drink of the evening, where I enjoyed another pint of the Jay IPA. A good night, it seemed, was had by all....

*************************
Following on from my blog last week about the pressures building on pubs and breweries, only a couple of days later we had the sad news that legendary Sheffield brewers Kelham Island had ceased trading. The brewery was founded in 1990 by the late Dave Wickett at the back of his free house on Alma Street, which he had re-named The Fat Cat, in what was then a somewhat rundown industrial area. The brewery's beers soon took off in Sheffield and beyond, and a few years later demand for them necessitated a move to bigger premises down the road. They became known for the quality of their ales, which included the 5.2% flagship straw-coloured strong pale ale, Pale Rider. The brewery's fortunes continued to grow in the subsequent years as the area around the pub and brewery started to see investment and new developments, becoming a trendy and popular area to live and visit as the old industries were replaced by apartments. Kelham Island was the longest-established of the independent Sheffield brewers, and its influence not just on other local brewers such as Abbeydale and Neepsend but far beyond the Steel City's boundaries can not be over-stated, and is a massive loss to the industry. The announcement about the closure said that the Fat Cat will continue to operate which was at least some good news on what was a bad day for the brewing industry.

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