Meet the man who brought Pulp to Halifax three times and gave The Orielles their first gig

He brought Pulp to Halifax three times, gave The Orielles their first gig and played a huge part in Halifax earning the nickname ‘the Shoreditch of the North’.

By sarah fitton
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 6:02 pm

Michael Ainsworth has been promoting music in the town since the 1980s - and is still bringing some of the country’s most exciting burgeoning talent to Calderdale.

His bar - The Grayston Unity - has been a hub of cultural activity since it first opened in 2016 and is the UK’s smallest music venue.

Michael, who also co-owns Meandering Bear, said grassroots music has been at the centre of most of his career: “I’ve wanted to make a difference culturally by bringing live music to the town.”

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The Orielles

He started putting on gigs while at Percival Whitley College, where he was training to be a chef. His first show was in 1984 by a ska band called Spectre, and was followed by another by Leeds musicians The Three Johns.

He was at a gig by Halifax’s Chinese Gangster Element - who had played three John Peel sessions - when he got talking to the band and they asked him to manage them. It meant turning down a cheffing job offer, but he said yes and went on to secure them an NME review, gigs abroad and a record deal.

Michael founded The Morning After Club at The Shay - with acts including Pop Will Eat Itself - and The Return Club, which saw bands playing in the unusual location of the combat room at North Bridge Leisure Centre.

Sadly they had to leave that venue after one band - Parish Angels - stole several giant chess pieces left out for a match. Their coach was stopped in Saddleworth as they made their way back to Manchester by police looking for the huge figures.

Michael Ainsworth at The Grayston Unity

Michael has received demo tapes from some big names, including Billy Bragg and The Wedding Present, and arranged three Pulp shows - including at North Bridge Leisure Centre and The Piece Hall.

He was also heavily involved in starting The Doghouse gigs, giving The Courteeners their first gig outside Manchester, The Orielles their first show when they were just teens and gigs at Halifax Minster for The Unthanks, I Am Kloot and John Grant.

He still meets people today who were at his early gigs.

“There were more places to play in the 1980s, with more pubs putting music on,” he said. “There seemed to be a lot more local bands then, now there’s very few. If there are any that want to play, I will give them a go.

Michael is behind the popular Doghouse gigs

"I’ll always try and find them a spot.”

This year, Michael is organising an exciting new music festival for Halifax.

Town will see 20 different grassroots music events taking place across the town centre.

Artists already announced include WH Lung, The Burning Hell, Chantelle McGregor Band, Gordon McKinney, John Robb, Henry Parker and Holiday Ghosts.

Michael organised two Pulp gigs in Halifax

The festival is being curated by The Grayston Unity and some of the performances will take place there, as well as at Meandering Bear, Temperance Movement, Albany Arcade and Square Chapel.

Most of the events will be gigs but there will also be some talks and spoken word events.

Michael said he has always wanted to arrange a festival like this, and he is confident it will increase and move footfall around the town.

He said grassroots music venues have been among the hardest hit by the Covid pandemic but they play a vital role in the UK’s music scene.

“You don’t get to playing The Piece Hall or Glastonbury if you haven’t cut your teeth playing a 30 to 40 capacity venue.”

The festival takes place from Thursday October 13 to Sunday October 16.

Some of the funding has been given by Halifax BID and Calderdale Council’s town board for Halifax.

For more details about who is performing and how to buy tickets, visit Grayston Unity’s Facebook page.

The Grayston Unity is also raising money for Ukraine with a weekend of gigs.

All artists will play for free, 10 per cent of bar takings will be donated and bar staff working on the first night will give their wages.

The money raised will go to the British Red Cross appeal for the besieged country.

Knuckle will play on Friday, April 15 and Roger Davies will play at 3pm on Sunday, April 17.