From Hebden Bridge to Halifax: Our local landmarks in lyrics

This week, we plough the musical history books and discover that the Calder Valley has been the inspiration for many songwriters
This week, we plough the musical history books and discover that the Calder Valley has been the inspiration for many songwriters

This week, we plough the musical history books and discover that the Calder Valley has been the inspiration for many songwriters.

West Yorkshire is renowned for being the backdrop to many literary works, not least those of the Bronte family. But somewhat less known is the fact that our local landmarks have also been the muse to many songwriters over the years, from traditional folk artists to modern-day pop groups.

Northern powerhouse

Take The KLF, for example. In 1991, and in true KLF fashion, they scored a top 10 hit with the irony-laced single It’s Grim Up North. It was essentially a spoken word list of places

in the North of England set to a pounding industrial techno beat, topped off with a hymn-like crescendo of glossy synth strings.

The sub-text to the 10-minute long conceptual anthem - at the time lost on many London-based music journalists - is that the North is set to rise again and seize control.

Unsurprisingly, Calderdale reaped many mentions in the song’s lyrics, including Brighouse, Hebden Bridge and Halifax.

Back in time

We can also look to centuries past to find recorded mentions of our beloved region.

The much-travelled war song The Battle of Sowerby Bridge talks of “the fusiliers of King Cross” who “at break of day, down Copley way, went to fight the foe”, only for the foe to “retire to the wilds of Shibden Glen”. Ultimately, they chase the enemy off, “from Cavering Slacks to Boulder Clough to Norland Town”.

Another popular traditional song Miles Weatherhill tells the story of a horrific murder that took place in Christ Church in Todmorden in 1868. Miles was forbidden from seeing his housemaid sweetheart by the local vicar, Rev Anthony John Plow, and exacted his bloody revenge. Miles became the last person to be hanged in Manchester.

H is for Halifax

In more recent decades, our local town of Halifax has cropped up in all manner of quirky songs. The Oysterband’s Lost and Found plays out a scene of youthful ambition and urban tension where “dogs in the backyard jump up and bark” and “Hull and Halifax wake in the dark”.

My New House by Mancunian indie stalwarts The Fall repeatedly bellows “That Halifax copter, Dropped me a cropper”. Although, as is often the case, it’s nigh on impossible to decipher the true meaning of a Mark E Smith lyric.

Money, Money, Money

Meanwhile, indie scoundrels Chumbawamba penned a compelling pop-romp ditty in 1992 called Snip Snip Snip, all about the Cragg Vale Coiners, a band of gold counterfeiters from the late 18th century.

The pulsating song, which samples the Abba hit Money, Money, Money, contains the lines “Don’t be bloody silly, Keep away from bloody Billy, Cos he’s shopping all the chopping, Going down along the Valley…” and “Deliver us kicking from our pokes and sacks, To the hills of Hebden, hell and Halifax.”

The Bridge and beyond

For their ninth and most recent album, Home Counties, dance-pop trio St Etienne wrote the mysterious track After Hebden.

The opening verse ponders “Who could know just what’s in store, Heading home across the moor”, before reaching the conclusion: “Think it over what’s to lose, Watch it turn from grey to blue, All the wonders in the world, Turn the news off I feel old.”

Less mystical is Half Man Half Biscuit’s Lord Hereford (to give it an abbreviated and obscenity-free title).

To an infectious jangly pulse of guitar, they bluntly bemoan “the chattering classes that invaded Hebden Bridge, And priced the likes of me and mine, To the pots of the Pennine Ridge.”

The narrator is forced out of the area but not too far down the tracks: “I gave up hope ironically for Lent, Come see me living in a bivvie, If you’re ever up Pen-y-Ghent.”

Upper Valley

And finally, we couldn’t omit prog-rock band Barclay James Harvest where, in the song Hebden Bridge, vocalist and songwriter Woolly Wolstenholme delves into upper valley life in the likes of Lumbutts, Mankinholes and Stoodley Pike.

With its breath-taking scenery and collection of colourful, idiosyncratic towns, it’s no wonder the Valley has been - and remains - the setting to many musical constructs.

l This article has been produced in conjunction with Oxjam Calderdale, a local music festival that hosts gigs in West Yorkshire to support global charity Oxfam.

For more information, follow @OxjamCalderdale on Twitter and go to www.oxjamcalrderdale.org.uk to see the full list of fantastic events for October and book early bird tickets.