If there’s one thing to be said about this country is that no matter how green or grey the landscape, every town or city in the UK has its own quirks and foibles that make it unique from its neighbour. The West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield nestling in the bosom of the Pennine hills, more or less equidistant from its big-brother-cities, Leeds and Sheffield, is no exception. A curious geographical point which seems to induce derision and mockery nationwide for its eccentric characters and rural simplicity, look closely, however, and you’ll see how this often overlooked town has a few tricks up its sleeve- most notably in the field of music.
Not so long ago, I set a challenge to a few musically minded friends to name some famous bands from different towns and cities. People generally started by splitting up the north and south divide: Rolling Stones from the South/ Beatles from the North. Then the areas spread into the inclusion of Welsh bands, Scottish, bands from the midlands, but it was when the subdivisions started to be whittled down to individual towns and cities that we hit a stumbling block: Huddersfield was one of the towns distinctly lacking in musical achievement within the area of popular music over the last 60 years. Where it’s close neighbours such as Leeds and Sheffield were conjuring up a healthy list of reputable bands and artists over the years, such as Joe Cocker, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Sisters of Mercy, Mel B, Huddersfield’s output was leaving it looking distinctly like an also-ran. As one of those who have been lucky enough to have grown up with, and taken part in Huddersfield’s rich and vibrant music scene over the years, the notion that it should play second fiddle to these, not altogether ‘unsimilar’ cities, in the music stakes seems bizarre!
On the face of it, it’s probably safe to say that one of Huddersfield’s main problems over the years has been its location. The very fact that it is surrounded by these bully-boy cities like Sheffield, Leeds, Wakefield and Manchester already demotes this poor town in cultural weight by the fact that it is only a town. A brief hiatus on the map between exciting places. The places agents and music moguls may have gone to visit back in the 60’s and 70’s: Huddersfield must have seemed like an old cotton mill town lost in a bygone age. As always, however, the truth tells a different story…
As an overlooked town, Huddersfield had plenty of tricks up its sleeve when it comes to dazzling any newcomer with its jewels in the crown of the arts. Not only has it produced an alumni of famous actors and performers from James Mason, Lena Heady, Jodie Whittaker, Gordon Kaye, Roy Castle and Paul Copley, with its unique contrast of rustic, dark satanic mills and sweeping green landscapes it has also produced the backdrop to many a film and TV production over the years, most notably BBC’s Last of The Summer Wine. The satellite town of Holmfirth gave birth to cinema as we know it today where films by Bamforth and Co were shot in the vicinity. The Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival and Coral society are known world-wide for their excellence in the field of music…but what of popular music?
It is quite fitting that Johnny Rotten would choose Huddersfield as the Sex Pistols last ever UK gig, claiming it to be ‘The arsehole of the Universe!’ The pistols actually played their afternoon gig at Ivanhoes on Boxing Day as a fundraiser for the children of striking Firemen. Huddersfield went onto produce its own successful punk-turned mod outfit ‘The Killemeters’ fronted by Vic Vespa and championed by the NME’s Gary Bushell. Notable musical success’s include Billy Curry who studied music at the Technical College and went onto play strings and keyboards in Ultravox and Greenhead College student Tim Woodcock who not only won BBC’s ‘A Song For Christmas’ at the age of 18, but went on to achieve enormous success as a songwriter, writing with Gary Barlow and for Eliza Doolittle.
As for Huddersfield’s live music scene, it is still as strong today as it has been in the last 50 years. Huddersfield in the 60’s was home to the Builders Club which became a well renowned music venue attracting the likes of Eric Clapton-apparently when Paul Simon turned up at the club and announced his fee, he was greeted with, “nay lad- we don’t pay them prices!”
Other bands of note were the Ckreed Blues band fronted by legendary harmonica player Graham Philpott. The band also included Dave Hewitt who went onto move to America and become the bass player for Babe Ruth. Dave has since returned to Huddersfield with his wife Dana, who both now play in the Dana Ali band, an highly successful act in the region. The Thrash Metal band Evile also hail from Huddersfield and are one of the most successful in their field playing to thousands worldwide.
Most importantly, when the pub business seemed to be on its way out back in 2008, Huddersfield pubs utilised their homegrown talent of musicians to keep punters drinking and keeping both the pub trade and music scene alive. Daz Lucks at The Foresters at Crosland Moor has a band on every Sunday teatime and has gone one step further to promote the venue with t-shirts and jumpers emblazoned with the pubs own slogan ‘Supermarkets Don’t Do Bands!’
One of the best features of Huddersfield is its diversity in live music. There is simply music for all occasions. Want first class soloists who can play classic rock to swing time favourites faultlessly: look no further than Graeme Cox and Jamie Sykes. Want a band that can astound you with a mix of Comedy and Sheer musical excellence when reproducing the sounds of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin: check out Rory Holl and the men. Maybe you’d like to book yourself some acoustic music for your wedding party? Why not check out Huddersfield’s own National Award Winning Wedding Band, Rock My Reception.
So far the history books may tell us only one story of Huddersfield, but the story is far from over…..
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