West Yorkshire Pennine geography provided the town of Hebden Bridge with enough fast flowing water power to make its mark in the 19th and early 20th century as a centre of weaving and clothing manufacture, earning the nickname Trousertown with its prolific output. In wartime, the town’s useful location, neighbouring Manchester and Leeds meant that it became an ideal destination for many northern evacuees, largely overlooked in its snug valley by would-be attackers.
As industry dwindled in the 1970s, the town experienced a different kind of migrant in what is now sometimes referred to as the hippy invasion. In real terms, the town drew a growing population of left-wing liberal artists, crafters, writers, photographers, musicians and social activists, among them the photographer Martin Parr whose photos from the period offer a snapshot of the town. As is often the case, the bohemians were soon followed by affluent open-minded home buyers eager to absorb the creative atmosphere. By the 1990s Hebden Bridge had become a desirable living area for professional commuters from Manchester and Leeds, again benefiting from its location roughly equidistant to the two big cities, creating another shift in the town’s unique demographic.
With its mixture of creatives and eager consumers, it's little surprise that the numerous cafes and pubs in the town often do a turn as venues for open mic nights and smaller bands. There is one venue in particular though that has stolen the show, an independent venue among independent venues, The Trades Club.
Built in 1923 by a joint group of local trade unions, the 200 capacity club boasted a sprung dancefloor with ballroom dancing in mind, charging its members one penny a week for membership. As the trade unions disappeared, the building came into the ownership of the local Labour Party who leased the first floor in 1982 as a music venue. In keeping with the spirit of the building the club operates as a socialist members club and has become one of the most admired small venues in the country attracting artists from Patti Smith and The Fall, through to St. Etienne, Sleaford Mods and The Moonlandingz.
"The Inspiral Carpets always loved playing The Trades Club. It was great to play our songs in such a legendary venue; it was always a great crowd, lovely staff, excellent food! Long live The Trades Club." - Graham Lambert, Inspiral Carpets
Despite being somewhat superficially described as "the hippest venue in The North” by The Guardian, the club's social importance shouldn't be underestimated. The community centred nature of the Trades Club was demonstrated more effectively than ever around Christmas 2015 when Hebden Bridge was flooded under five feet of overflowing river water. Though the ground floor rooms of the club were badly damaged like many of the buildings, homes and businesses in the town, the first-floor venue was able to act as a refuge for residents, providing shelter, food and solidarity in spirit to many of those affected.
"A memory rather than a gig. Delivering a bag of food to them after the 2015 floods and walking in on a beautiful scene of people silently and intently making soup by candlelight. Looked like a Renaissance painting; a moment of beauty in the painful chaos." - Kirsty Hall, Hebden Bridge
The work needed to repair the building proved further the Club's special relationship to the town and surrounding area when volunteers organised the necessary fundraising and did much of it themselves. Artists who contributed their time and fees included Tim Burgess, Phill Jupitus and Edwyn Collins.
"Best thing - it is a community owned venue five minutes walk from my house putting on some of the biggest bands around in an intimate, always friendly venue with knowledgeable crowds. Beats a soulless arena gig any day of the week." - Paul Clarke, Leeds
Like the Brudenell Social Club in nearby Leeds, the Trades Club is a not for profit enterprise putting the wants and needs of its members before lucrative inflated ticket prices. A refreshing ethos in the age of online booking fees and exorbitant arena show prices. With a background in making music, as opposed to making money from music, manager Mal Campbell has steered the club on its independent course. Through the country's financial troubles, felt even harder in the North, throughout changing times for the music industry, Mal has maintained the club's unique appeal as an award-winning small venue, that punches well above its weight.
"In short, The Trades Club has totally transformed life in the Calder Valley particularly in the last few years. So many memories Richard Hawley, The Moonlandingz, The Orielles, Josh T. Pearson, Heavenly Recordings’ fantastic weekends, Field Music, British Sea Power and so many more." - Dave Leggett, Todmorden
Among notable moments in recent years, fellow champions of politely fierce independence, Heavenly Recordings picked the club as the venue of choice for their 25th-anniversary celebrations in 2015 in the form of their Heavenly Festival and again returned in 2017 for the Heavenly Weekender. Duke Garwood, TOY, Temples and Hooton Tennis Club headlined the four-night festival to the delight of critics and discerning music lovers.
"Hebden is honestly the best town and the trades the best venue! Played our favourite shows there to the coolest of crowds plus Mal and Liz are legends. Once ya got Hebden fever it's hard to get rid! Seeing Khruangbin was a highlight too. Plus the Masala Dosas! Big love for trades x" - The Orielles
To many The Trades Club might seem like an anachronism, some might even think that to expect a venue to thrive in a town as relatively small and remote as Hebden Bridge is an outdated idea, but these are just two of the things that make it such a special place. With U.K. towns becoming ever more homogenised high streets, despite the best effort of independents across the country, gems like Hebden Bridge Trades Club are more important and more exciting than ever.
"The Trades Club is a joy and I feel hugely lucky to have it on my doorstep. A friendly venue where you are treated like a grown up not frisked like a criminal. Considerate crowds, great beer in a real glass. But mainly for the music; night after night of amazing eclectic bookings!" - Steve Gittner, Halifax
The Trades Club is just one of the clubs taking part in Independent Venue Week 2018. The week of events brings together Britain's independent venues along with breaking and established artists, promoters, labels, media, bloggers and tastemakers to create a nationwide series of gigs at the end of January. Find out more at www.independentvenueweek.com
Find out more about The Trades Club at thetradesclub.com
Listen to our playlist with The Trades Club's manager, Mal Campbell here.