The local festival season is in full swing with the Halifax and Calderdale Beer Festival taking place the other week, whilst upcoming this weekend is the first ever Town festival, a grassroots music festival curated by the Grayston Unity in Halifax which is taking place at several venues across the town....
The Halifax and Calderdale CAMRA Beer Festival was held at the back end of September in the Viaduct Theatre, which is situated in the huge former mill complex of Dean Clough in Halifax. Stretching across the narrow Hebble Valley, the buildings that once housed the biggest carpet factory in the world, Crossleys, is now home to insurance companies, offices, bars, and restaurants, as well as the theatre, and is a thriving part of Halifax, situated just a few minutes' walk from the town centre.
It was the first beer festival that the branch had held since 2019, and over 60 cask ales were on offer, with 19 of them being served from a wooden cask which has become a regular and popular feature over the past few festivals. I had arranged to meet up with one of the guest speakers, Jane Stuart, on the Friday of the Festival, although a few days earlier I had been struck down with a heavy cold which did make my appearance touch and go until the day itself.
Whether it was the bright sunny morning that greeted me when I pulled back the curtains, the thought of enjoying a pint or two with a few like-minded folk, or simply nature taking its course, but I did feel much better than the day before. So, I headed into Halifax and walked down to Dean Clough. As I was approaching the entrance, I bumped into one of festival organisers, Tony, who introduced me to Jane, whom he had met off the train. Jane is a blogger, writer, and Blackpool FC fan who was here to talk about her life in beer. Now in a nutshell, Jane's very entertaining blog features visits following Blackpool FC on their away games, taking in not only the match, but as many like-minded football supporters would agree, what often ends up being the best part of any away trip, the real ale pubs, as well as a number of the attractions of the town or city and food highlights, all brought together as a football tourist guide with a healthy number of amusing moments and quirky observations in a highly readable style.
We entered, Jane and Tony went off to get set up for the talk, and I went in search of beer. I studied the programme, and decided to go for a half of Sublime, a 3.8% pale from Flagship Beer of Liverpool, a brewery I'd not come across before. It was rather an inappropriate name for a beer that I felt was at best ok. So not a great start. Much better was the 4.5% Nelson Sauvin single hop pale, Baby Blue, that I went for next from Wakefield's Five Town Brewery. I spotted a familiar figure skulking about in front of the wooden barrels. It was none other than blogger and now Good Beer Guide completist, Martin Taylor, who I had last seen in Sheffield in June. Martin had come along with his wife Christine to listen to Jane's talk. Discover how Martin became only the second person in history to visit all the current pubs in the Good Beer Guide at www.retiredmartin.com.
|Martin, Christine, and Jane enjoying a beer outside at Dukes, Halifax|
It was time for Jane's talk. The room was quite full, and she spoke about how she had got into visiting pubs, and how she had become a fan of real ale, and particularly dark beers. We were all invited to share memories of our first pub visits, with everyone joining in. Jane talked about her love for her hometown team, Blackpool, and how she had started going to away matches, and how the blog came about. She read an extract from her blog about a trip to Peterborough, and the time was soon up, a very enjoyable way to pass the hour. After a few more halves and conversations at the beer festival, we headed off for a tour of the pick of Halifax's pubs and had a splendid afternoon doing so. Read about Jane's visit here:
I returned to the beer festival for an hour or two the following day, with Les Gillon giving an interesting talk about the restoration of the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge. As a musician himself, Les talked about how the Puzzle Hall had become a key venue for jazz as well as other genres over the years, punching well above its weight in terms of the artists they could attract, and why it became a key part of the move to re-open the pub, which they did in December 2019. I enjoyed my visit to the Festival, it was good to catch up with a lot of familiar faces, some that I had not seen for a while. In terms of the beers, fortunately it got better after that duff start, with the best beer in my opinion (obviously I couldn't try them all!) being the Marlborough NZ Pale Ale from Anthology, a beer I have enjoyed many times. Generously hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka, this 5.2% hazy beer has aromas of grapefruit and gooseberries, with tropical fruit notes deriving from fermentation using London Ale III yeast. Delicious. Not far behind was the 7.4% milk stout from Revolutions Brewing Company, Super Swoon, which had moreish flavours of chocolate fudge, whilst in 3rd place was Rascal, the 3.8% straw-coloured ale with a crisp malt flavour and a robust hoppy finish from Problem Child Brewing. All in all, the Festival reflected the great effort put in by the team who pulled it all together!
This weekend, meanwhile, another festival is taking place in Halifax, but with a completely different focus. This is the first ever Town Festival, a grassroots music festival curated by The Grayston Unity, which runs from Thursday 13th to 16th October in four separate venues across the town centre. And it is a programme that covers a wide range of music, with plenty of other events including talks and exhibitions. Many of the events over the weekend are free, but some do require a ticket.
Thursday opens up with a gig at Albany Arcade in the town's beautiful Victorian indoor market, featuring W.H.Lung who despite being named after a well-known Manchester-based Chinese supermarket have nothing oriental about their music, which is synth-based and owes much to the motorik sounds of Krautrock with a dash of LCD Soundsystem. I was lucky enough to see an early gig of theirs in their hometown of Manchester back in 2019 when they were supported by Working Men's Club. If they are half as good as they were that night, it will be a night to remember. They have released two albums since then which reflect their ongoing musical development. Support this time is from Granfalloon. Also on Thursday evening, my friend Sarah is running her monthly music quiz at the Meandering Bear, and at the Grayston Unity, you can expect some atmospheric contemporary folk and amazing guitar playing as the highly acclaimed Henry Parker is playing there along with his band. The problem is you can't be in two places at the same time! Also, on Thursday at the Temperance Movement cafe in Russell Arcade by the market there is an exhibition from local artist Marcus Jack entitled Gold Chains in Gold Frames, about how rap music was adopted into the culture of West Yorkshire and features paintings of key rap artists. Marcus also has an exhibition running all weekend at The Grayston Unity called Summat from Nowt, which features portraits of Haligonian makers and doers. You never know, you may know one or two of them!
|W.H.Lung at the Band on the Wall, 2019|
Moving on to Friday, there are a number of events to choose from. Appel 4 are playing their exciting gypsy jazz at the Grayston Unity at 4, whilst Leeds indie-rock band, Cud, who originally formed in 1987 before splitting and having a 12-year hiatus until reforming in 2007 are due to appear at the Albany Arcade when I am hoping the set will include their classic 1992 single, Rich and Strange. Support is from up-and-coming indie band Wax Tree Cast. Meanwhile, at the Meandering Bear, Will Lawrence from the Golden Lion at Todmorden will be playing an eclectic mix of vinyl under the banner Tod Only Knows.
Saturday is the busiest day of the festival. There are several talks taking place at the Grayston Unity, with yours truly in conversation with Michael Ainsworth talking about his five decades promoting music in Halifax, followed by members of legendary long lost Calderdale band The Last Peach and their manager telling their story, then singer and member of the Membranes, writer, journalist, and Louder Than War founder John Robb, and finally, if I've any voice left, Gig and Waka from the iconic pub/venue that is the Golden Lion in Todmorden. Over at the Albany Arcade, there is also a talk from Professor Paul Hollins who asks Can punk save the Planet? with several guests, one of whom is Brix Smith, formerly of The Fall and now of Brix and the Extricated. I am also led to believe that ever-popular Haligonian punk-with-a-Northern-Soul poet Keiron Higgins will be putting in an appearance. Music features with local multi-cultural artists Hind and the Jaffa Cakes, who were founded at the St Augustines refugee and asylum centre, appear in the afternoon, whilst in the evening former winner of Britain's Best Blues Guitarist Chantel McGregor will be playing a rare local gig with her band, supported by the excellent Hazy Janes. Over at the Temperance Movement, there is an early evening hip hop DJ set, whilst back at The Grayston in the evening there is music from another band off the Calderdale production line, The Masochists, followed by a DJ set from founder of Independent Venue Week, Sybil Bell.
Finally on Sunday, former football referee, author, music fan, and local legend Trevor Simpson is scheduled to talk at the Grayston Unity on the subject of Smalltown Saturday Night, the story of the nightlife of Halifax between the 1950's and 1970's when live music was a major feature, a time when many of the top names in pop music performed in the town. Over at the Albany Arcade, the final music event there of the festival features appearances from Newfoundland's legendary storytellers-in-song The Burning Hell, ably supported by Oklahoma's Gordon McKinney with some excellent and melodic folk-country-Americana. Jazz is the music as the Meandering Bear house band, The Unity Trio, take their chilled classic vibe along to The Grayston Unity. Meanwhile, at the Bear, local band Wonky Puss will be playing their quirky and often humorous folky songs. Finally, at The Grayston Unity, Mathias and Toby from The Burning Hell will be playing songs from their Roger Miller tribute album, before the final event of the festival, the always popular Katie Spencer, whose haunting folk music is justifiably attracting ever more attention and a wider audience.
|Always popular: Katie Spencer|
It promises to be another weekend where you need to be in Halifax....
More details about the Town Festival at www.thegraystonunity.co.uk.
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