When my little brother visits us in sunny Huddersfield with his family, he favours renting a local house or cottage. During a family celebration in early December 2021, he rented a house in Golcar, and insisted that it was the house that our maternal grandparents Edward and Maggie Holdsworth lived in during their final few years. Realising that Nick was quite young and the coincidence was stretching the likelihood to its limit, I doubted that he was correct.
It turned out that it was indeed the same house. I had to visit of course to reminisce and discovered to my joy that little had changed. New fittings, but essentially the same layout. That visit immediately evoked many happy memories: the constant smell of new-baked bread, and granddad showing me how to play cards and encouraging me to sing, which he did with all his children and grandchildren.
A childhood introduction to music
One of the memories I and all my cousins have is the organ in the corner of the lounge. To be more accurate, it was a harmonium. Invented by Alexandre-Francois Debain in Paris France in the mid 1800s, it became the instrument of choice for those who wanted to produce a church organ sound in smaller venues like music rooms and private homes. There were even portable varieties for playing outside.
Granddad Holdsworth performing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’ in about 1910 and Granddad and Grandma Holdsworth in their back garden possibly celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in June 1953, with their three children, Zena, Eva, Frank and my mother Mary.
All three of their daughters sang in choirs for much of their lives, and Frank played in brass bands up to the final evening of his life, described in ‘Uncles in the war’ ramble. All of them lovely people, of whom I am very lucky to have very fond memories. Unfortunately, all now gone – but not forgotten.
Granddad Edward Holdsworth – “Ted ‘o’ Jims”, his nickname around Gowca– was a very skilled amateur musician. He was choirmaster at one of our local chapels, and organist at another. This was when all chapels, churches and schools had their own choirs and an organ or piano accompanist. Many villages and large factories had brass bands. There was music everywhere. Huddersfield still maintains a great tradition of producing music of all kinds and from many cultures.
Music in Yorkshire: vibrant and varied
Yorkshire brass bands are the envy of the world: Black Dyke, Brighouse and Rastrick, Grimethorpe Colliery and Sellers bands to name but four, all proudly part of Yorkshire. Choir music also features greatly in our Yorkshire traditions. Huddersfield Choral Society, Opera North based in Leeds, Colne Valley Male Voice Choir, and Yorkshire Bach Choir from York are but a very small number picked from an endlessly larger number of highly skilled and entertaining musicians performing the more traditional classical music.
In addition, there are wonderful examples all across our county of Indian and Asian music and dance groups, as well as pipe bands, and the very recently popular ukulele groups.
Over the years, traditions build, many for reasons lost in history. The first of the two choir traditions in this part of the world is to be found at the end of the first line in Cym Rhondda, where in the line ‘Guide me o thou great redeemer’, we replace redeemer with ‘Jehovah’. The second tradition, relevant to this time of year, dictates that we should only sing ‘Christians Awake’ on Christmas Day itself. Traditions of our forbears should be respected, if not necessarily adhered to. I have been known to sing ‘Christians Awake’ at other times as well, but don’t tell anybody. It is a great rousing carol, and, like Cwm Rhondda, a song that you can really get your teeth into.
One of my favourite kinds of music from outside these shores are the steel bands. These started from very humble beginnings in Trinidad, where young, industrious and talented lads made use of the oil drums left by the USA military following WW2, to provide music during their Mardi Gras. The family of a steel band could be as many as six different sections from bass through to tenor, and they are all called pans.
Excellent teachers and conductors
As well as having many talented individual music teachers, we have at least two music collages that are second to none outside London: Huddersfield University and Musica Kirklees. Thom Meredith is the principal of the latter and also the musical director and conductor of Colne Valley Male Voice Choir. During my time with this choir, featured in the ‘choir’ ramble, I found Thom to be an all-round fine fella, who luckily has the patience of Job.
Huddersfield venues: Moi sees the Beatles but Norky passes on the Sex Pistols
Huddersfield boasted many venues favoured by very famous musicians, a tradition that continues in the wonderful Huddersfield Town Hall. Other venues are no longer with us but at one time provided entertainment worthy of note, for example, on 29 November 1963, the ABC Cinema.
Along with an estimated 70 percent of the British public who claim to have seen the Beatles live, Moi actually did. Aged 14, she camped out all night on the pavement, along with her older school friend and dozens more Beatles fans. Moi told me that at least one very friendly and helpful police officer stayed with them all night to ensure their wellbeing.
They never heard a note from the stage, but had a great time. By November 1963, the Beatles didn’t need to be heard; just the fact that they were there, jiggling about a bit on the stage in person was exciting enough for the fans. It certainly was for Moi and her mate.
Another notable event took place on Christmas Day 1977, at Ivanhoe’s in Huddersfield. This was the final time Sex Pistols appeared together in Britain. In my humble opinion, if there was no sound from the stage on that occasion, I’m sure it would have been an improvement, although I wasn’t there – and could not have been paid enough to attend. ‘It takes all sorts’, ‘Nowt so queer as folk’, and any number of other clichés one might wish to use!