Save Our Venues Spotlight: Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Ever reliable for buoyant atmosphere, meticulous sound engineering, and even better beverages, we spoke to Trades' manager Mal Campbell to find out more about the venue's past, hear about memorable performances, and get his perspective on the fate of grassroots music.
Posted: 3 August 2020 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall

Up to 90% of grassroots music venues in the UK face the very real threat of closure, and though the government recently announced a package to support the arts throughout the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, independent venues that rely heavily on the day-to-day live music eco-system to stay alive will inevitably fall through the cracks.

It's paramount these bastions of local creative communities survive, so to help the cause we're shining a spotlight on some of our favourite grassroots/independent music venues, sharing stories from artists and individuals closely associated with said venues, highlight their fundraising efforts, and emphasising the value and importance of these institutions that our music scene one of the world's most vibrant and innovative.

First up in this series, it's Trades Club in Hebden Bridge:

"If you’re into live music, then you’ve got to love The Trades Club. There’s a real energy and spirit in that club from the audience to the people that make it happen behind the scenes. I don’t know what we’d do without it. It’s definitely among a handful of the best live music venues in this country. Long may she sail."

- Jimi Goodwin (Doves)

Tucked away in the idyllic Yorkshire market town of Hebden Bridge lies the Trades Club; a modest 200-capacity venue that's existed since the early 20th century in various shapes and forms, Trades Club is the jewel in the crown of the regional music scene. 

Ever reliable for buoyant atmosphere, meticulous sound engineering, and even better beverages, such is Trades Club's reputation they regularly secure iconic names to perform whose demand would emphatically exceed the venue's capacity - think Patti Smith, think The Fall

As he prepares to launch a new fundraising campaign, we spoke to Booker & Promotions Manager Mal Campbell (below) to find out more about the venue's past, some of their more memorable performances, and his perspective on the fate of grassroots music.

How long has Trades Club been showcasing artists under its current iteration?

Next year it’ll be my tenth year at the helm of live shows at the club. My first show was Smoke Fairies on May 20th 2011. The early shows were quite lo-fi, the club's PA wasn’t up to much. I hired in lights to make sure it looked good. 

Have there been many artists you’ve supported early on their career that have now gone on to have major success?

Well it depends how you define 'major' success - it’s very hard for artists to make any money, as I’m sure you know. George Ezra was one, Blossoms played one of their early shows here, Sleaford Mods, IDLES. There’s plenty more that ought to be much bigger: Richard Dawson, Kathryn Joseph, Nadine Shah, BC Camplight, Gwenno.

"The Trades is the best venue in the world, (admittedly I haven’t been to every venue around the globe but believe me it is) Mal and the team are nothing short of majestic in their hospitality,  musical taste and expertise of how to make a small club in West Yorkshire feel like a true contender on an International stage but also the beating heart of a community."

- Maxine Peake

Which are some of the more memorable performances you’ve hosted over the years?

The Fall played in 2013 - that was a nerve-racking experience for me. I’d heard mixed reports from the shows that preceded ours. And Mark E Smith had always been an unpredictable character. I remember watching him come on stage with Gorillaz at Glastonbury a couple of years before. A headline slot in front of thousands of people, and he was absolutely belligerent towards the audience. I thought at the time 'he’s one of the last of a dying breed'. Anyway, Smith was on good form as Man Utd had won that day and their show was electrifying. Just the right amount of chaotic energy so the wheels didn't fall off. We got a good show!

The Orielles played in February 2018 - their first headline show - and the club was filled with teenagers. For many of them it was their first gig. To see the band, who’d played many support slots at the club move up to headlining and packing out the Trades was everything. And I know it really inspired lots of the teenagers there that night. In the audience were the kids that would go on to form Working Men’s Club, The Lounge Society, and The Short Causeway. It was a rapturous homecoming!

(Photo: Neelam Khan Vela)

The government announced a support package for the arts, but with up to 90% of grassroots music venues facing the threat of closure, how far do you think this will go to protect these venues, and is it enough?

It’s not clear how much the grassroots music venues will have out of the rescue package, and also the package has to get us to the end of the financial year. So, the answer is "we don’t know" at this point. Fortunately we have the Music Venues Trust fighting our corner. They’ve been a real game-changer for the Trades and venues like us across the country. 

How intrinsic is Trades Club to the lifeblood of the local music community?

I think that, particularly in recent years, the Trades has helped to nurture emerging bands from the Calder Valley and this is reflected in just how many good bands are coming up from this area. We try to give good opening slots to young bands to put them in front of audiences and we have a thriving open mic night which gives people an opportunity to play on our stage and develop their craft.

"The Trades is the best venue in the world."

- Nadine Shah

Is there any unique history or particularly facts that people don't know about the venue?

There’s a lot that’s unique about the club. The Club was built in 1924 as a joint enterprise by half a dozen local trades unions. This was back in the days when Hebden was a thriving centre for the cotton industry. The unions levied a one penny contribution from each member per week, and when finally built, the building was equipped with a fully sprung dance floor for the purposes of ballroom dancing. 

The Trades is a socialist members co-operative, a place for community and activism. We have around 1000 members. If you want to help support us, you could think about become a member?

We’ve got a close association with Heavenly Recordings and have hosted three Heavenly Weekends at the club since 2015. There was going to be one earlier this year for their 30th birthday but that's been postponed, like a lot of things! Heavenly has a similar ethos to the Trades and I’m really proud of our association with such a fine independent label and such inspiring, forward thinking people! 

How do you feel about potentially hosting socially distanced gigs, and it is a genuine prospect for grassroots venues like Trades Club?

Personally, I’m not feeling it. It’s the opposite of what I want to do. I’ve been to thousands of soundchecks and I know how much the audience contribute to the show. Maybe it’d work for organ recitals, but not for the kind of shows I'd want to go to. 

"The Trades is a hallowed place. The warmest of welcomes, the most enthusiastic of crowds, glittering sound and a thrillingly slippery fire escape. It represents everything that's good about live music, and it would be a crying shame if it were no longer there. Let's help it get through this awful period, and make sure that it emerges stronger, shinier and louder on the other side."

- Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub)

How do you see the music industry bouncing back from this situation?

It depends how long this goes on for, and when the government actually delivers the support package it announced three weeks ago. Some venues are hanging on by their fingernails. But the live sector is filled with a lot of creative people who aren’t in it for the money and we love what we do, so we will come back from this! Places like the Trades are all about community, and community is a powerful thing.

The Trades Club crowdfunder goes live this Friday (7th August) at 10:00am. To help support the cause, click here

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