I moved here from London nearly 30 years ago. My partner at the time and I were looking for a good place to bring up children and came across Hebden Bridge which seemed just right, and at the time had the added bonus of cheap housing.
Once we’d moved in I started to rebuild my piano teaching practice from scratch.
At that time I had no idea of the wealth of culture on our doorstep. I knew about the cinema and the Trades Club, but not much of the other arts/music scene in the town.
Eventually though the penny dropped as to just how much we’d landed on our feet by choosing to live here. Hebden Bridge really was, and is, completely different to almost anywhere else.
Different because for one thing there was Cragg Vale Gamelan: a 30-strong community percussion orchestra loosely based on Indonesian instruments and music, which I joined when it started up in 1987.
It was highly original and fun. It was also a ready-made social group, with some great musicians. Just what I needed!
I learnt a lot with the gamelan over 17 years, in particular how to compose music and direct large groups of musicians; the latter coming in particularly handy later in the 90s with the formation of the Bloody Big Soul Band with Doris and the Dinnerladies, a 23-piece band that packed out the Picture House every time it performed there.
It was also through the gamelan that I met and teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Peadar Long, eventually forming the jazz/world music quintet Tongue & Groove.
We were always grateful to the venues in the Calder Valley that booked us regularly. Pubs like the Puzzle in Sowerby Bridge, and the much missed Nutclough in Hebden Bridge where I also played jazz piano every Friday night for almost a decade.
We also often gigged at the Trades Club and over the years it has been wonderful to witness the place becoming one of the best small venues in the country. Over that whole period I also needed an outlet for my classical playing and I was fortunate to be part of the very first Pennine Spring Music festival in 1985.
Over many years the festival gave me the opportunity to perform some of the greatest works for piano and orchestra; heady experiences that I will never forget.
Of course there are now numerous festivals in Hebden Bridge, the biggest being the Arts Festival which presents a sizeable music programme each year.
I became its music director in 1997, learning on the hoof how to book fantastic musicians who ticked all the boxes, artistically and commercially, and then running up to 25 performances during the festival fortnight.
As a result of everything I learnt during the 16 festivals I was involved in, I felt confident to start an annual season of concerts at Wainsgate Chapel, to programme our town’s very own jazz club and most recently to direct the inaugural Hebden Bridge Piano Festival in the new Town Hall.
At Wainsgate Chapel we have some eight or nine concerts a year featuring all kinds of music. There’ve been choirs, a string quartet, flamenco, Irish music, jazz, folk/roots and much else besides.
It’s all very low-tech as probably befits a venue on a rough track 900 feet up in the hills!
HX7 Jazz delivers a monthly gig at the Trades Club, featuring some of the very best regional, national, and often international performers.
We try to put the emphasis on original, contemporary jazz and jazz fusion, and have had great feedback from audiences, promoters and jazz musicians from all over the country.
At the time of writing, the Hebden Bridge Piano Festival was about to start. I think we got a great line up of experienced, internationally acclaimed performers and emerging new talent, and I’m both pleased and highly relieved that the advance ticket sales were so excellent.
This means there will certainly now be a Piano Festival in 2014, and it will hopefully become an annual event.
Of course, I’m only involved in some of the music that enriches our town.
There’s also the blues festival in May, Steve Tilston’s folk/roots weekend in the autumn, a brass band weekend in June, and so much excellent music all year round in the form of gigs, open mic nights and jam sessions in the pubs and bars. Plus a probable multitude of different music scenes that I’m undoubtedly too old to know about!
What I do know is that music and the other arts are thriving in Hebden Bridge in spite of the inevitable cutbacks, principally because so many artists live here who want to do what they can for the town. That’s certainly why I’m so involved with music here; I love this place and could never imagine living anywhere else.