Behind the Scenes at Hebden Bridge Trades Club
Hebden Bridge attracts a lot of labels: hippy haven, LGBT capital of the North and, back in the day, a veggie’s delight (Suma began life here). It also has the unique appeal of being positioned, especially if you are travelling by train, half-way between Manchester and Leeds with convenient late-night routes to both.
And the West Yorkshire town is home to the legendary Trades Club; Hebden’s answer to Brudenell Social Club in Leeds with its mix of workers and serious drinkers at one side of the bar, students and revellers at the other. I’ve come over for Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart having followed his career since Public Image Ltd.
PiL fans weren’t disappointed – there were reworked renditions of Socialist and Poptones from Metal Box, and PiL’s title track too. If you know Jah Wobble’s signature bass style and Cockney rapport then you can imagine how he led the night with great aplomb. If you don’t, then get yourself a copy of the forthcoming box set which re-traces his seminal work over the years.
The high-points were the ecstatic and blissful performances of Visions of You and Becoming More Like God with their pseudo-mystical lyrics and slow funky tunes (I say pseudo because Jah Wobble never takes his mysticism too seriously). The supporting band were simply superb with some polyrhythmic drumming and guitar styles ranging from funk to reggae to world – there were no easy labels here.
And the same can be said for the eclectic mix of bands at the Trades Club – past, present and future. I spoke to the venue’s promoter Mal Campbell who recalls: “When I started here three years ago I drew up a wish list of about 80 artists and some of them were just preposterous. But actually now when I look at the list we’ve had quite a lot of them.”
Whereas some venue gig guides reveal a definite personal taste or predilection, Campbell says that’s not the case with the Trades. “I don’t just book to my own taste. I think you can tell if a venue is like that, then it becomes ego-driven. But I think I understand what’s good, I don’t ever book anything that I don’t like. We don’t book cover bands, everyone’s got to make a living but we don’t do that here. We don’t book people repeatedly, year-in, year-out. Even people we really like, we don’t over-book them.”
A cabaret night in aid of the protests against the war in Iraq stands out. “That’s a big part of what The Trades does as well – social activism is an enormous part of the history of the place. We’re still very much trying to incorporate that into what we do and it’s fundamental in what we do.”
As well as the Hebden Bridge home crowd, The Trades’ audience is widespread. “It’s a mixture – when we do the print-out of the names who come to the gigs and check them off at the door you see all the different postcodes. We’ve had people come from different countries too. It’s a lovely situation because there’s a real loyalty to the venue.”
For some 15 years now Cabaret Heaven have been bringing their outrageous brand of performance. Then there’s Flashlight, a regular club night with DJs of a stature that belies the size of both town and venue. And if you weren’t able to get tickets for the Martha Wainwright gig in late November, don’t panic because Campbell, having already booked Martha’s half-sister Lucy, is now hoping to go for the full Wainwright family set, so two more to go…
Other forthcoming attractions include Peter Hook and The Light over three nights (December 8-10) performing, over consecutive nights, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer, New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies and Movement, and Brotherhood and Lowlife.
So what would Campbell most like an audience to take away from a night at The Trades?
“I’d like to think it’s the best place to see a live band. I do genuinely think that when it goes right, as it did tonight with Jah Wobble, you can’t beat it. The intimacy is felt by band and audience, it feels like you’re in the middle of something really special. And the fact that we’re not corporate, we’re not part of a chain. It’s quirky and it’s a unique experience. Places like The Trades are really precious.”
By Rich Jevons
Freerange Comedy Festival at Brewery Arts Centre Kendal
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