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A Todmorden Kind of Tale....

I was due to visit the West Yorkshire border town of Todmorden one evening last week for a gig but never made it. I did, however, get there on a visit a couple of days later to check out a couple of bars, whilst I caught local heroes Working Men's Club the day before when they performed at the Piece Hall in Halifax....

It was a hot, cloudless blue sky sunny Saturday as I caught the train from Halifax to Todmorden. It was late afternoon but the sun was beating down as fiercely as ever when I alighted after the short journey through the Calder Valley. I had been due there on the previous Thursday when I'd had a ticket to see His Lordship at the Golden Lion, but a combination of a late return from work, a need to catch up with a mate, and general lethargy brought on no doubt by the rising thermometer led me to abandon my plans. His Lordship is the latest project of James Walbourne, formerly of The Pretenders, who I had seen a couple of times with The Rails, the excellent folk band he founded with his wife, Kami, daughter of folk music royalty Richard and Linda Thompson. His Lordship's music could not be further removed from folk, playing high-energy rock as evinced by their excellent tune, All Cranked Up.

So why had I come to Tod, as everyone seems to call it, so soon after my no-show? Well, that evening I had planned to visit two of the town's venues, The Pub, the popular micro pub that has just moved to new and larger premises, and also visit The Alehouse, another micro, just because I was well overdue a visit with having only called there once before, a few months after it first opened its doors in 2018. I decided on the basis of furthest first to head for The Alehouse, as I seemed to remember it was a good walk there. Memories can deceive though and fortunately, because of my growing heat-induced thirst, it turned out to be only just over 5 minutes walk from the town centre along the Burnley Road towards the cricket ground which, as well as holding beer festivals over the years, hosts Lancashire League cricket and has seen both Lancashire and Yorkshire hold home Second XI matches there, not surprising when you realise that this border town comes under Calderdale Council based in Halifax, but has a Rochdale dialling code and an Oldham postcode. And up until 1888 the county border even ran through the town hall!

The Alehouse is situated in a slightly elevated terrace of shops which are separated from the pavement by railings with an area at the front which allows for tables to be placed outside there and the adjacent newsagents, with a tapas place on the other side staking the claim for their area with their own distinctive furniture. Needless to say, most of the outdoor tables were taken as I negotiated my way through to the bar so I could get a beer. The three staff were all young, smiley-friendly, and polite, and the guy kindly talked me through the beers, and realising I seemed to know something about beer, promptly asked if I was a CAMRA member, and insisted I took the CAMRA discount, which I normally waive. Top customer service, though. I actually bought 2 drinks, a pint of Eagles Crag Pale Ale, brewed in Todmorden, which is apparently a regular there, and a half of  Lancashire Stout from the Red Rose Brewery in Ramsbottom, which I had never encountered before. I found an empty table on the terrace to enjoy the sun and the beers. I preferred the Pale Eagle (NBSS 3.5), probably because it suited the weather better, but the stout was full of flavour and still worthy of a NBSS 3 rating, but I am sure on a cold winter's night it could really hit the spot. As I was enjoying chilling, sipping my beer and catching the waft of conversations from nearby tables, a guy turned up I assume from a shop further along the terrace with a basket containing pork pies, presumably the last of the day's stock, on sale for the princely sum of a pound. Sadly they had all gone before he had chance to get to my table, but no worries, I enjoyed my re-visit to The Alehouse.

A sunny afternoon at The Alehouse, Todmorden

I wandered back towards the town centre as a train crossed the bridge near the market, where I decided with a little time in hand to call in The Polished Knob. This place has always had a boisterous but friendly atmosphere, with a predominantly rocky soundtrack, and it was pretty much the same today. It also has several hand pumps often dispensing beers from over in Lancashire that you don't tend to see out of their own area. On this occasion I ordered a half of Old Laund Bitter, ABV 3.6%, brewed by the Reedley Hallows brewery in Burnley who have been around since 2012. The pub had had a makeover since I had last visited, and with multi-coloured leatherette buffets which resembled tall toadstools and a Space Invaders machine, it reminded me of some of the theme pubs you used to get in the 1970's. I retreated to a more conventional though still multi-coloured bench seat in a booth to drink me beer, which was pleasant if a bit thin and lacking in character (NBSS 3), rather fitting I thought as I caught the end of England's innings on my phone as they succumbed feebly to India in the 2nd T20 international at Edgbaston.

Retro look: The Polished Knob, Todmorden

I finished my half and went back out into the sunshine, where a short walk away was the other place I had planned to visit, The Pub, now situated on the cobbled Water Street a few minutes away from the tiny premises they had occupied on Brook Street near the market. Whenever I had been in there, it was always busy, and so it seems that when a former cafe became available, they decided to make the move. And it certainly is bigger, now occupying three larger rooms instead of 2 tiny rooms on 2 floors, plus there is space to be able to sit out at the front of the cobbles with a final appearance of Walsden Water over the wall before it disappears into a culvert which goes under the Town Hall on its way to join the River Calder.

It was busy when I walked in with a few people waiting to be served. Chalk boards listed the cask and craft beers on offer, both increased from the previous location as befits the additional space. From a cask range which also included Harrogate Brewery Plum Porter, Heritage, an Ossett/Thornbridge collaboration, Mudpuppy Bitter from the revived Salamander Brewery, and Spring Wells Pale Ale from Goose Eye, I went for a pint of Silver Spur, an ultra pale ale from Lords Brewery in Golcar, near Huddersfield, who have quietly been building a presence since 2015. Weighing in at 4.6%, it had plenty of flavour, and was the best beer of this late afternoon trip (NBSS 3.5). I had managed to get myself a stool at the bar as most other seating, both inside and out, was taken, and it was good to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. I decided to try something from the keg range before I left, and I went for a Helles from Bristol's Lost & Grounded Brewery which was especially refreshing on a day like this.

One thing though that may be a problem here is that even though the premises are much bigger than the previous site, there is only one unisex toilet, and I was surprised with the increased space they hadn't incorporated at least one more, as you would expect they will be hosting an increased number of customers. But that aside, I have to say I enjoyed my visit to the Pub's new premises, the beer was excellent, the staff friendly, and the atmosphere was good.

New premises for The Pub, Todmorden

I didn't have time to call at the Golden Lion, the location of the gig I had missed the other night, even though it is visible as you cross the road back to the station, situated just over the other side of the canal, as I had a train to catch back to Halifax. But like all the places I visited on this trip it is well worth a visit, being very much a focus for the town's alternative community, many attracted to the town for its more laidback, bohemian, feel than its valley neighbour Hebden Bridge perhaps has these days. At various spots in and around the town you will see the word Kindness displayed, one location being on the canal side near the Golden Lion, this being the over-riding theme of a community project which aims to bring people together to offer support and encouragement to those in the town who need it. And with a beer from Eagles Crag, a 4.4% Sesssion IPA called The Eagle of Kindness, it is a word which seems to aptly sum up the spirit of the town.

The Golden Lion, Todmorden, not visited this time

The previous evening I had seen one of the country's leading indie bands. Working Men's Club originated in Todmorden, and with their second album Fear, Fear due to drop very soon, they appeared as support to Primal Scream at the Piece Hall in Halifax. Sandwiched between opening with two of the highlights from their 2020 debut album, Valleys and Teeth, they played a number of tracks from their new album, which on this showing sounds like a step on from that excellent debut about which Dave Simpson of The Guardian wrote: "The West Yorkshire band take the stark electronics of the post-punk scene and warm them with Detroit techno and Italian house". It was impressive stuff, very much of the moment, with front man and lead singer Syd Minsky-Sargeant strutting around the stage, and snarling with his customary swagger. It was the 4th time I have seen them and they have come a long way from the first time, round the back of the Grayston Unity in Halifax a few years ago. And in my humble opinion, they were better than the main attraction, who were playing their album Screamadelica 30 years after its original release. They were good, but that was then and this is now.

Todmorden's finest: Working Men's Club

And that is a Todmorden kind of tale....

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And here are Working Men's Club with 'Valleys'.


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