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What A Weekend That Was!

The first-ever Town music festival has just ended in Halifax. It has been a fantastic weekend with some excellent music and events that will linger long in the memory for the hundreds that attended and no doubt for many of those that took part....

The Festival officially started on Thursday, but I suppose for me it started and ended at two different pubs both in the Calder Valley rather than Halifax. As I was due to be in conversation with several of our guests, I had reached out to them in advance to get an idea of how they would like to do it, any topics they would like to cover, etc. And so that was why, on a miserable, drizzly early evening last Wednesday I visited the Golden Lion in Todmorden to have a pre-festival chat with Richard Walker (who everyone calls Waka). Over an excellent pint of Big Trip - a new brewery from Ancoats - an expected 20 minutes conversation stretched to over an hour and a half, giving me plenty of ideas for our conversation on Saturday.

Fast forward 24 hours, and I was stood with around 170 other folk in the Albany Arcade in Halifax's Borough Market waiting for W.H.Lung to take to the stage. At bang on 9 bells they appeared, descending from the green room above the market hall and making their way through the crowd to the stage. Moments later, they kicked off an hour-plus set, lead singer Joe Evans strutting his stuff both on and off the stage, with a dancefloor vibe that still recalled the synth-based motorik of Kraftwerk and LCD Soundsystem, somehow at odds with the Beach Boys surfin' look that his stripey, preppy shirt suggested. But who cares, they were fantastic, and they set a high bar for those that followed to attain, with some excellent music from their first two albums, finishing off with the peerless Sympatico People.

W.H. Lung...hitting the heights

And then Friday came along. I'd missed guitar maestro Henry Parker and his band due to a fixture clash with W.H.Lung, but he was back playing some great music with his gypsy jazz band Appel 4 on the teatime, bringing a smoky, Parisien cafe vibe to the Grayston Unity (opening picture). Nice. Then it was over to the Meandering Bear for a beer and catching up with a few people before the Albany Arcade beckoned with exciting up-and-coming indie band Wax Tree Cast playing a storming set. Next, it was back to the nineties as the legendary Cud put in an energetic and entertaining shift, with vocalist Carl Puttnam providing non-stop chat between songs. An unexpected treat. Back to the Bear to catch some of the DJ set from Tod Only Knows, with a real mix of cool tunes including stuff I remembered from the seventies, such as Robert Wyatt's classic version of I'm A Believer. My friend Sybil had arrived from London, whilst Gig from the Golden Lion had come along with Will and his fellow DJ from Tod Only Knows. There was a good party vibe, so a couple more beers and another taxi home after an excellent evening.

Cud...they were good

Saturday started early, and I was back at the Grayston before noon as I was scheduled to host conversations for most of the afternoon. I had decided to follow the lead of Blackpool Jane at the recent Halifax and Calderdale Beer Festival and avoid the use of technology, so I had all my questions written out on a series of cards. First up, I spoke to Michael Ainsworth about his five decades of hosting bands, which even though we've become mates I didn't know a lot of the back story, and his recollections seemed to go down well with a decent-sized audience. Next, I was talking to three of the members of former Calder Valley band The Last Peach and their manager about their memories from their few short years' existence and how their jangly melodic tunes almost broke through to the big time. During a break, I went over to the Albany Arcade to check things there, and I caught a panel discussion on the theme Can Punk Save The Planet? with guests, singer Brix Smith, poet Kieron Higgins, and Professor Paul Hollins, with a mixed crowd watching on including a number of curious shoppers. 

Can Punk Save The Planet? 

Sadly, I was unable to get to any of the events at the Temperance Movement due to timetable clashes, and I had one more conversation scheduled, with Gig and Waka, so it was back to the Grayston Unity where they had already arrived. We got miked up, and we had a really interesting chat about what makes the Golden Lion such an iconic place, keeping a large audience enthralled and entertained, and the chat continued with several people sat around for a while after we'd finished the official conversation. Then it was over to the Meandering Bear for some beers before the evening's entertainment at the Arcade.

This time, the opening act was local band The Hazy Janes, who play in a highly energetic and exhilarating style with nods to the likes of The White Stripes and Royal Blood. The main act tonight was The Chantel McGregor Band, and it was an absolute pleasure to be able to introduce them to a large crowd. Chantel is one of the best blues guitarists in the country and she was delighted to be playing close to her home city of Bradford, although she does visit Halifax regularly to indulge in her love of craft beers! She played a mix of old favourites; rockers, power ballads, with some wonderful guitar playing throughout and her and the band kept the crowd happy for almost an hour and a half. Another great evening here. Back this evening to the Grayston Unity where Sybil Bell was playing a solo DJ set for the after-show crowd and the night owls, the washed out and the washed up. I lasted an hour or so; another taxi ride home, another day fuelled by fresh air and adrenaline....

Chantel McGregor...another great gig

I woke up on the Sunday and headed into Halifax to the Ring O'Bells beside the Minster. Michael had invited those of us working at the festival for a Sunday lunch as normal eating patterns had been severely disrupted over the past few days (I'd managed 2 slices of toast in the previous 24 hours, for others it was dodgy kebabs at some unearthly hour). And a heaped plate of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roasties, and a host of vegetables washed down with a pint of Saltaire Blonde was very much appreciated.

And then it was up to the Grayston, where in the first event of the day, Trevor Simpson talked on the theme of Smalltown Saturday Night, the title of a book he wrote about why some of the biggest artists in the country would come to Halifax from 50's through to the 70's until the rise of the likes of Batley Variety Club effectively killed it off as they began to attract the big artists instead, the punters lured by the big names along with chicken and chips in a basket.

Not long after Trevor started, musician, writer, publisher, and broadcaster John Robb arrived, early for our 3 o'clock appointment. A cup of black tea, and he sat, listened, and seemed to enjoy Trevor's talk. And then we had an enthralling conversation hitting the tangents, as John put it, with the topics ranging from growing up in Blackpool, music provision in schools, touring, Blackpool FC, Estonian choir music, the punk ethos, and his thoughts on writing books. A fascinating conversation with an interesting guy in which I felt privileged to have been involved.

I scooted over to the Albany Arcade where Newfoundland's The Burning Hell were already in full flow. The audience seemed to be in thrall to them and it didn't take me long to similarly fall under their spell. Hell, I'd only heard them for the first time on the drive back from Todmorden on Wednesday when they were in session on Mark Riley's show on 6 Music. They were playing laid back folky-type songs with smart lyrics in front of a captivated and appreciative crowd. Absolutely wonderful.

The Burning Hell...please check them out

Back up at the Grayston, Mathias and Toby from The Burning Hell went along to play songs from their recently released Roger Miller tribute album for free, so a large group headed up there. Short arse me couldn't see that much with seemingly some of the local areas' tallest in attendance, and whilst the guys described their inspiration as being a country music weirdo, who cares, the music was wonderful. And then, a short while later, Grayston favourite Katie Spencer was drawing an amazing weekend to a close with her wonderful folk songs and exquisite guitar playing, keeping the large audience captivated. Knackered as I felt, Katie's music kept me spellbound as usual as her music, with much drawn from her excellent latest album The Edge of The Land transporting us all over to the East Yorkshire land and seascapes where she grew up. Truly music in which to lose yourself.

Captivating; Katie Spencer

The final scheduled event, a final half of beer, and a final taxi home, but it wasn't actually the end of the music. I had missed country singer Gordon McKinney's set on the Sunday as I was in conversation with John Robb, but the following evening he was playing at The Turk's Head, down the road in Sowerby Bridge, so a few of us went down to see him. And what a lovely evening it was, Gordon enthralling those assembled with his beautiful songs and his engaging manner. With his partner Heather Burns dancing to some of the music, he played for almost 2 hours which just flew by. It was not a Festival event, but it was in keeping with its grassroots spirit. And great to see a full pub on a Monday night too! I was exhausted by the end of it, but what a weekend that was....

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