Everyone knows how brilliant Manchester is for music, culture and arts, but take a train half-an-hour out of the city and there’s something bubbling under in an unlikely place. Todmorden is a town on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire and in the last few years, a magical thing has been happening there. It’s an old working class market town that’s as northern as killing your brother’s kestrel, however, now has a small emerging music scene to rival any.
When first visiting Todmorden, I went for Saturday night drinks in the centre expecting the usual rural English town night out – a few casual pints in a beat up, half-empty pub and then piling into the one club which stays open late, topped off with a huge dose of unimaginative and frankly unbearable pop music. What happened was quite different. Starting in Thai restaurant and bar The Three Wise Monkeys, I was surprised to hear the DJ spinning Four Tet, Lone and Burial tracks, and from there things only got better.
I hopped it over to The Golden Lion, which looks like a normal Yorkshire pub from the outside, but in reality, is far from that. There was a psych band playing in the live room upstairs, a 90s house night pumping downstairs, a mix of all sorts of ages and people all with smiles on their faces, plus some of the craziest dance moves I’ve ever witnessed: the atmosphere was as brilliant as it was bizarre.
Since then, I’ve returned to the Lion several times and seen it grow into a locally renowned venue which is even attracting the interest of punters searching for a great night out from afar. They’ve had a new DJ booth and sound rig installed and are continuing to acquire more and more high profile artists to play in the 290-capacity venue. Most notably, Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston presented their A Love from Outer Space DJ set there last December – a night I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
We managed to catch up with promotions manager and event organiser Richard Walker, to ask him about what makes the Golden Lion so special.
Hi Richard. First off, can you tell me what your role is down at the Golden Lion?
“My main role is band and DJ bookings. I do this for White Rabbit nights which I curate and for the Golden Lion. The White Rabbit nights are predominately Psych nights. My involvement at the Golden Lion has been since it re-opened two years ago. I also promote nights at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, which I’ve been doing for the last three and a half years.”
The Golden Lion says it’s not a pub, but a community hub, what does that mean?
“Anyone who comes to the Lion knows straight away it’s not like a normal pub. There’s a sense of community, people can come and chat to their mates and chat to us. They can use the spare space to create art, do yoga, pilates and dance classes. We have a monthly UFO club meeting, the Green Party and Labour Party have meetings here, running groups, drama classes. We also have children after school clubs upstairs, along with French and Spanish lessons.”
Can you tell me a bit about the new DJ booth and sound system?
“The new DJ booth was essential and needed doing. This was put in by two friends Tony McCabe and Fred Fielding, they work for the Perfumed Garden at Beatherder festival. It was installed about three months ago. Because we are doing a few more high profile bookings we really needed it.
“The sound system is a creation of Kev Original from Dub Smugglers. It has been named the Chom Chum Hi-Fi, which in Thai means community. Because we have Kev and ourselves promoting reggae nights the rig was needed. It sounds amazing, Kev knows what he’s doing.”
What was it like to have Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston down to play? How did that gig come about?
“It was a very special night for us to have Andrew and Sean come and do A Love from Outer Space. That gig really elevated us as a venue. We were inundated with requests after that show.
“The show came about after I’d booked Andrew to DJ at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, with Blanck Mass. We picked him up from the airport and en-route stopped off to pick up a rider from the Golden Lion. Andrew came in had a look around and liked the place. Later that week I sent his agent a message, with my fingers crossed, to ask if he’d like to do ALFOS and he agreed. Andrew is an absolute gentleman, he’s a pleasure to work with.
“That said, there has been lots of memorable nights. Last June, we did an all-day event with lots of local DJ’s playing and to headline we had Justin Robertson and Timothy Fairplay. Circle Sky played live upstairs too which was a proud moment. Carlton Melton once played on a Monday night which was great. Bands like The Oscillation, Tomaga, Camera, Radar Men From The Moon, Eternal Tapestry, Grumbling Fur, The Blank Tapes have all played, which for me was an honour. I love those bands.”
Do you have people who aren’t from the Todmorden area travelling to the venue now?
“Yes. When we did the Carlton Melton show, people travelled up from London. The A Love from Outer Space show attracted people from Barcelona, Holland, Ireland, Scotland and London. The Grumbling Fur show attracted folk from the Midlands and Brighton.”
How do you go about finding bands and artists who are suited to the Golden Lion?
“I only book bands and DJs that I like, it’s that simple. I have a hit list who I want to come and play. I’ve not been turned down yet!”
Do you think Todmorden on a whole is becoming a more cultural place since the Golden Lion re-vamp?
“Todmorden is a lovely small market town. It attracts people from far and wide to come and live, it’s friendly, working class and down to earth. We are only seven miles from Burnley and Rochdale, ten miles from Halifax, 25-miles from Manchester and 32-miles from Leeds. It’s a great place to be based. There’s lovely countryside and I think in a small way recently the Golden Lion has added its stamp to Todmorden, making it quirkier and providing a night life of music that usually you would have had to travel out of town to get.”
Together with the individuality and quirkiness that Richard so brilliantly describes, there’s other benefits to choosing a night out in The Golden Lion over a city venue. One of which is the huge price difference. The beer in the Golden Lion is as brilliant as it is cheap and taking into consideration the money you’ll save avoiding city prices, it’s a much less expensive night out than you’d usually have – even adding in the return train ticket.
Clearly the Golden Lion’s success is down to the gut instinct of those who run it. It’s a venue, that unlike so many other, isn’t trying to be cool – Richard said it himself, “I only book bands and DJs that I like, it’s that simple.” Here’s to hoping his taste stays the same and the Lion continues to put on a great alternative to the big city nights out.
The Golden Lion’s future listings are as follows:
Horsebeach + Lee Southall (The Coral) + DJ Jason Boardman – April 8th
Gnod + Blondi’s Salvattion – April 13th
Great Ytene – April 21st
Bizarre Inc live – May 12th
David Holmes – 5hr DJ set – God’s Waiting Room – May 26th
Julie Byrne – May 27th
10,000 Russos – May 28th
Mad Professor Live – June 17th
Control of The Going + The Goa Express – June 23rd
Kevin Rowland (Dexy’s) DJ set – July 8th
Justin Robertson & Ewan Pearson – Aug 26th
A Love from Outer Space – Andrew Weatherall & Sean Johnson – Oct 14th