Tour of the best live music venues in Calderdale

Michael Ainsworth, owner of real ale bar The Grayston Unity in Halifax
Michael Ainsworth, owner of real ale bar The Grayston Unity in Halifax

This week Stephen Desmond speaks to Michael Ainsworth about the area’s proud legacy of hosting live bands.

Since the 1960s Calderdale has attracted an impressively long list of live musical talent.

The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge

The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge

Dusty Springfield made her debut UK solo appearance at the old Odeon in Halifax. The Kinks went to No.1 the day they played what is now a room above McDonalds. Rod Stewart, Joy Division, The Cure, The Jacksons, Iggy Pop – they’ve all passed through. And this has happened despite the fact there’s been a severe lack of bespoke live music venues in the area.

Aside from the internationally-renowned Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, the local live music scene has been driven by a handful of fiercely committed music lovers and agile, enthusiastic pub owners and theatre managers.

Blood, sweat and tears

In that department, Michael Ainsworth has perhaps been the most active. He runs a not-for-profit music promotion enterprise called The Doghouse and is now owner of real ale bar The Grayston Unity in Halifax - officially the smallest music venue in the UK.

The Moorings, Sowerby Bridge

The Moorings, Sowerby Bridge

Over the past three decades Michael has been booking the likes of John Grant, Midlake, Pulp and I Am Kloot, to mention just a few. But it has required a phenomenal amount of effort.

“I’ve used a number of venues. The Halifax Minster is a great place for live music. But it’s always been difficult getting agents to take notice. Most of them are in London and won’t consider sending a band here.”

Bucking the trend

The Trades Club has certainly given gravitas to the area, not to mention a plethora of eye-catching artists, including Patti Smith, Lee Scratch Perry, Nico, Donovan... I could go on. And on.

But the Trades is a rare success story. Live performances now generate more than 30 per cent of all revenues in the UK music industry but small independent venues are in decline.

So what needs to change?

“New young bands need small local venues and that requires funding,” says Michael. “The Arts Council recently went through a huge funding allocation and independent live music was largely ignored.”

Tellingly, opera and classical music continue to receive vast chunks of money from Arts Council England to support their own particular development initiatives.

DIY: Grass roots reborn

One project determined to help redress the balance is Oxjam Calderdale. Over the coming weeks, it is putting on a series of gigs featuring local talent to help raise money for global charity Oxfam. In doing so, it is collaborating with some amazingly colourful local venues…

Hebden Bridge Town Hall

One of just a handful of community-owned town halls in the UK. Grade 2 listed and dating back 1897, the Town Hall was once used as a fire station. Today it plays host to a diverse mix of events, from vintage fairs and beer festivals to charity days.

The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Erected in 1923, the building fell into disuse when the cotton factories closed down, but was taken over by the local Labour parties. The Trades Club now leases the first floor and is revered throughout the independent music scene.

The Albert

Refurbished following the floods, The Famous Albert, to give its full title, is a charming second home to local folk musicians and fervent fans of intimate, acoustic live music.

The Golden Lion

A vibrant and fast-growing name on the music circuit, the Lion puts on a range of brilliant nights covering punk, electronica and even film.

The Moorings

A lovely, traditional stone-built pub with canal views and a great little space for live entertainment.

l Go to to see listings and book tickets.