Showcasing the Music Scene of Huddersfield
By Emily Raleigh
Huddersfield may be home to a Premier League football team, but it’s also home to a world class music scene. Famous internationally for its Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield has a lot more to offer than people realise. Its musical heritage spans hundreds of years with long-standing organisations such as the Choral Society and the Philharmonic Orchestra that still perform today, as well as being home to the British Music Collection housed at the University of Huddersfield.
It’s also quietly emerging as a new music destination, attracting bands and musicians from all over the world. Last year Little Mix announced their Huddersfield gig for Summer 2018, the first live concert at the John Smith’s Stadium for 11 years, which may be the catalyst the town needs to launch it as a concert destination once again.
Much like its football team, Huddersfield’s music scene is an underdog that punches above its weight against its bigger rivals. But what makes Huddersfield’s music different to other towns and cities?
“Status quo is being challenged”
If you talk to those that live and breathe the town’s music scene, they’ll tell you it’s the community feel and cultural roots. It has a unique, self-sufficient, forward-thinking music scene where everyone knows each other and collaborates. Everyone supports each other to help them succeed, from grassroots venues that help launch the careers of local bands, independent recording studios and record labels, to community groups that nurture people through music.
When it comes to grassroots venues, The Parish pub in the town centre is helping put Huddersfield on the touring circuit map regionally and globally. Sandwiched between Leeds and Manchester, Huddersfield is very much an underdog in the race to secure big name musical acts, but thanks to the hard work of promoter Mickey Baird (pictured, top), the status quo is being challenged.
Approaching ten years since its establishment as a live music venue, The Parish provides an intimate gig experience for live music, from local to international bands, and offers an opportunity for visitors to meet their idols post-show. The Parish plays a key role as part of Huddersfield’s wider cultural scene and is very much at the forefront of the town’s revival as a destination for live music.
Across town, Small Seeds offers a platform for alternative singers, musicians and performers. The venue’s philosophy revolves around helping artists find their voices, and audiences discover something new. Small Seeds hosts an established free open-mic night; an event that’s served as the proving ground for many young performers who have gone on to bigger and brighter things. From world music to spoken word artists, much like The Parish, Small Seeds plays a collaborative role in the wider patchwork that makes up Huddersfield’s music scene, and provides a vital outlet for the town’s emerging talent.
There’s also those that have carved successful music careers that were born and bred in Huddersfield. 21-year-old Jonny Mansfield is a vibraphonist/percussionist and composer who studied at Musica Kirklees and now plays in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, as well as other projects such as his Elftet. He began studying at the Royal Academy of Music in 2014 after being awarded the Colin Murray Scholarship. He has been a regular performer at the Marsden Jazz Festival – a long-established event on Huddersfield’s social calendar – since he was a child and played at the festival last year.
Making waves as an international DJ is AFISHAL (Michael Fish) who is pioneering a new visual way to DJ and making a big name for himself in the process. He learnt classical percussion at Musica Kirklees, but turned his skill around to a genre that suited him. Appearing on Britain’s Got Talent doing an innovative routine by setting his drum sticks on fire, kickstarted his career and he now performs gigs across world.
Known for his original custom-made DJ Rig that enables him to remix and perform music live in a visual way, with pads that light up when he strikes them, he has created a mesmerising performance where audiences get to see the music as well as hear it.
Huddersfield has also enabled the revival of cultures such as sound systems and vinyl, that have been preserved by two Huddersfield businessmen over the years.
Take Paul ‘Axis’ Huxtable, who is the epitome of the sound system culture in Huddersfield. He makes his living playing, promoting and touring with his authentic sound system, and over the last 25 years has gained an international following.
Brought over from Jamaica, and popular in the UK in the 60s and 70s, sound systems and reggae music is now making a comeback. And thanks to the dawn of the internet and social media, Paul now tours all over Europe with his business Axis Valv-a-tron Sound System, playing original roots and revival reggae music through his original sound system.
Paul builds his sound systems the traditional way in his workshop in Huddersfield, and is one of very few in the world that still do. People all over the globe, including Australia, commission them. There isn’t a continent that his hand-made sound systems don’t go to.
Following the recent vinyl revival, Vinyl Tap’s business has boomed, and today still plays a unique and key role in Huddersfield’s musical community. Launched by Tony Boothroyd, a trainee draughtsman in 1986, selling second hand vinyl from a cardboard box on Huddersfield market, Vinyl Tap now sells thousands of its products globally every month, and has had pop-up shops across Europe, and in the USA and Japan. It is arguably Britain’s largest vinyl records dealer and is still a regular haunt for online collectors searching for rare records.
From its small stage at the back of the shop, Vinyl Tap has hosted more than 150 live events, including BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne Show, Nine Black Alps, The Sherlocks and Hot Chip – they’ve even hosted auditions for The Voice and helped launch Radiohead’s last album.
Vinyl Tap regularly collaborates with other venues in the town, with the broad aim of helping Huddersfield compete with its big city neighbours. Perhaps the biggest indicator of Vinyl Tap’s significance was its inclusion in the University of Huddersfield’s student magazine as one of town’s top attractions – and a reason to come and study here.
Huddersfield boasts a richly diverse cultural make-up and a music heritage, from folk, jazz, brass, hip hop to rock, that plays a key role in the creative economy in Huddersfield. However, in a financially difficult time for the creative industry, we need to do all we can to support talent, to be able to continue to celebrate diverse music for another 100 years or more – so next time you’re in town check out what’s on offer.